Asking Santa For Transit Dollars (Updated)

Updated April 15, 2016: Further information received from the Infrastructure Canada has been incorporated, as noted, in this article.

The new, transit-friendly Trudeau government has announced a major shift in Ottawa’s funding for municipal transit including policy changes to improve the flow of money:

  • Decisions about which projects should be funded with federal dollars will rest with local agencies rather than being dictated by Ottawa.
  • Federal funding will pay for up to 50% of projects compared to previous schemes in which each level of government contributed 1/3 (e.g. the Vaughan subway extension).
  • The pool of funds will be distributed based on ridership, not on population, so that provinces with well-used transit systems will receive most of the money.

In the first three years, $3.4-billion will be allocated with about 44% coming to Ontario. Of this, the TTC expects to see about $880-million according to TTC Chair Josh Colle as quoted by the CBC with money going to “what can be done quickly” with “the greatest customer impact.”

That will be a challenge on a few counts.

The TTC’s Capital Budget for 2016-2025 includes about $2.7-billion in unfunded projects, but some of these are not planned to start, indeed are not even required, in the immediate future.


The table above (from the City Budget Analyst Notes) shuffles around a bit every time we see it, but the outline remains the same. The serious problem with capital funding begins in 2018 when the City’s headroom for additional borrowing (in the absence of some other scheme to finance its capital programs) will be exhausted.

The $55.4m shown for 60 additional streetcars may or may not actually be triggered as a 2016 expense depending (a) on how many cars Bombardier delivers this year, and (b) on how much Toronto trusts Bombardier with an add-on order when the base contract is running so late.

Most of the list above deals simply with replacing or repairing vehicles and infrastructure that are at the end of their natural lives, and only a small part of the total (99 buses, 60 LRVs) would actually bring more service and capacity to the system. Toronto has not shown much enthusiasm for funding additional operating costs that a larger fleet represents and persists in the belief that ridership growth can somehow be handled by “efficiencies” within the base budget.

Another problem, of course, is that if $2.7b is “below the line” in unfunded status, and Ottawa is prepared to contribute only 50%, then the remaining 50% still has to come from somewhere, likely from the City of Toronto which claims to have no ability to finance this spending.

Many other projects are not even included in the ten year budget notably Waterfront transit and the Relief Line, not to mention some costs associated with capacity expansion on the existing subway. Queen’s Park is funding the first wave of LRT construction in Toronto, but other proposals sit on the wish list:

  • The main section of the Crosstown from Mount Dennis to Kennedy is fully funded by Queen’s Park, as is the Finch West LRT from Finch West Station to Humber College.
  • The Crosstown East LRT is to be funded through a shuffle of available money among Scarborough transit projects. It is not yet clear whether changes to SmartTrack and the Scarborough Subway Extension will actually balance out the LRT’s full cost.
  • The Crosstown West LRT would, in theory, be funded from “savings” through the cutback of SmartTrack to Mount Dennis, but ST itself is not fully funded or costed. How much will actually be available remains to be seen, especially when Queen’s Park’s share will only be an “in kind” contribution through GO-RER upgrades.
  • The Finch West LRT extension to the airport, the Crosstown extension north beyond UTSC to Malvern, and a Sheppard East rapid transit line have no funding.

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