On June 27, TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker released “OneCity” which is proposed to be a $30 billion, 30 year transit plan. The package includes many priorities that I agree with, and have been advocating for including a relief subway line and rapid transit connection to Pearson International Airport (these two lines have in fact already been approved by council as priorities and are part of the Big Move regional transit plan).
I applaud Councillors Stintz and De Baeremaeker for contributing to our important conversation about funding rapid transit expansion. Unlike unrealistic claims of that subways can be built without a capital funding plan, their proposal recognizes that we will have to pay to improve public transportation. However, I do have some significant concerns about the specific funding model my colleagues have suggested to support their forward-thinking plan.
Under their proposed funding mechanism, the Current Value Assessment (CVA) Uplift (a regulatory change that would need provincial approval) would eliminate the cap that ties assessment increases to the rate of inflation. The City would capture a portion of annual property-value increases for a dedicated transit fund which would amount to a gradual tax increase of $180 a year per average household by 2016. This increase would raise $272-million per year after the four-year phase-in. However, this plan would not be equitable throughout Toronto due to varying property assessments.
For example, in Ward 22, it is estimated that the average household would pay closer to $400 per year. Moreover, this tax increase does not take into account the regular, annual inflationary property tax increases council typically approves to fund its many other services and priorities such as childcare, housing, parks and libraries.
As you know, given the fact that almost as many people commute from Toronto, as they do going in to our city on a daily basis, I have been advocating for a regional approach to building a transit network. Implementing a regional sales tax, tolls or other tools across the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) would create new, and dependable, revenue streams paid into by everyone in our region rather than have any one city cover capital expenses through their property tax base. The OneCity proposal does not take into account how to cover the large cost of ongoing operating needs.
Tolls or a regional sales tax would also offset the current burden on transit riders to pay for the preponderance of transit costs solely through the fare box. My motion for Toronto and GGH municipalities to enter into negotiations with Metrolinx (the provincially mandated transit planning body for Toronto and the GGH) was recently adopted at Executive Committee and will come to full Council in July. This motion requests the City Manager to work with Metrolinx to explore a variety of regional funding mechanisms with officials from across the GGH to move forward with a regional transit funding plan. Any funding initiative should be done on a regional basis to mitigate unintended consequences including job loss and consumer avoidance. Ultimately, we want the City of Toronto to have a leading seat at the table with its partners as Metrolinx’s process moves closer to fruition.
Metrolinx has stated that it will deliver a $40 billion transit funding plan to support the Big Move Plan early next year that will include all the municipalities in the GGH. I believe it may be prudent to read this report, and consider a shared and regional system, before Toronto offers to assume a OneCity approach.
I will continue working with Council to create a transit funding model that delivers on the priorities that matter most to residents. Moreover, I submit that while we debate how best to expand our transit system, we must always keep in mind that addressing the current, unacceptable overcrowding on the Yonge subway line during rush hours, and state of good repair, must be our top priority while we introduce more riders to the system. The new transit lines already approved by Council, and supported by Metrolinx, are moving forward including Finch Avenue, Sheppard Avenue and the Eglinton Crosstown. These projects will be paid for by a “one-time” funding allocation from the provincial government.
Your feedback is very important to me and I will continue to keep you informed as this discussion progresses. I am committed to creating an efficient, reliable and accessible rapid transit system that helps reduce gridlock and connects our region, neighbourhoods and residents. The path we take must be both visionary and evidence-based, fully funded and fiscally responsible.
Ultimately, I am pleased that we are now debating how exactly we should fund transit expansion- rather than whether there’s a need to have a plan at all.
Toronto City Councillor