The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.
The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme. Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling. A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.
On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built. Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled. Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance. Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.
Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic). Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion. If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto. Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.
On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project. Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.
Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power. Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight. A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.
Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy. Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not. Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.
In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3. If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.
The briefing package for OneCity is available online.
My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.
To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.
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