This morning, Premier McGuinty and Mayor Rob Ford announced a new plan for rapid transit expansion in Toronto. The mayor’s plan replaces the previous Transit City initiative which would have seen Light Rapid Transit (LRT) lines on Eglinton, Sheppard, Finch and through Scarborough with some portions built underground.
Mayor Ford has put forward a transit plan that will put the entirety of the Eglinton LRT line underground and a replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit line with an LRT. The Mayor has also proposed to construct a $4 billion subway on Sheppard Ave using private financing.
The original Metrolinx plan for the Eglinton LRT, funded by the provincial government, called for the line to be underground from Black Creek to Laird. The difference between the plans is that an 8km portion of the Eglinton line from Laird east to Kennedy will now also be underground at an additional cost of $2 billion. To bury this portion of the line, Toronto will have to reallocate funds away from the proposed Finch West LRT, as the City would no longer have the capital dollars to construct a rapid transit line there. However, there is some discussion about enhancing bus service along that route.
It is important to note that there is no additional money from the Province towards today's announcement. The City will be required to fund the Sheppard subway on its own. The Mayor has mused about various private financing schemes but has yet to provide formal details. While I strongly support transit expansion for Toronto, without ensuring that the revenue needed for the ongoing operating costs can be found, I am concerned that constructing subways through suburban areas of Toronto with low densities will become a long-term liability for taxpayers. The current stretch of the Sheppard subway is already subsidised by our property taxes due to low ridership.
I applaud the provincial government’s commitment to fund rapid transit expansion for our city and am delighted that work will begin on the Eglinton line this year- something we’ve been waiting for far too long. In addition, when funding is made available, I'd like to see the Eglinton line extend to Pearson airport and beyond as part of a regional transit strategy.
I am concerned, however, about the process in which this plan has been delivered as Toronto residents have not been consulted and there is no surety that this plan, nor its finances, will be debated at Council. It is also prudent to consider the estimated $49 million that Toronto will have to pay to cancel the Transit City plan at a time when there is a projected $784 million gap in the 2012 City operating budget.
Public transportation is the primary mode of travel for many of us and affects the planning of our neighbourhoods. Toronto residents deserve an opportunity to provide their input regarding the future of transit as it is an integral part of our lives.
Ultimately, I believe we need to have a thoughtful, evidence-based debate at Council to achieve a financially feasible transit plan with a detailed, transparent budget that will be accessible to as many Torontonians as possible.
Toronto City Councillor
Ward 22, St. Paul’s