Will Toronto’s Transit City Return?

In Toronto, it seems politicians are having a lot of fun with transit. New mayor and anti-tram and tea-bag type Rob Ford received a backhand from the voters when they did not give the Ontario Conservatives a mandate to in the recent election. In fact, the brutish antics of Mayor Ford helped in the defeat of the Hudak conservative party in a classic "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" election..

Could light rail return to the transit table in Toronto or will Toronto Mayor Ford huffs and bluffs his way along, desperately trying to get multi billion dollars subways built instead, while at the same time transportation crumbles under his reign.

Who is not afraid to bell the Ford cat?


The results of last week's provincial government election in Ontario are encouraging to Toronto supporters of "Transit City," who now believe the surface light rail plan killed by Mayor Rob Ford during his first day in office could be revived, the "now toronto dot com" site reports:

"Transit City's minority report – For some, last week's provincial election has reopened door on reviving light rail project

By Ben Spurr

The results of the provincial election have encouraged progressives still holding out hope for the resurrection of Transit City.

Councillor Adam Vaughan is among the devotees waiting for the transit plan's second coming, and lately he's seeing good omens. One of them is that the mayor's replacement for Transit City has stalled, for the time being at least. The province agreed to fund part of it (the underground LRT along Eglinton), but so far Ford has been unable to secure enough private funds for an extension of the Sheppard Avenue subway.

Another encouraging sign for Vaughan is the results of last week's provincial election, which saw the pro-Transit City NDP gain more power in a minority government, and confirmed that "Ford Nation" no longer has the ear of the province. The political playing field is looking rather different than when Dalton McGuinty acquiesced to a newly-elected and still popular Ford on Transit City.

"You've got a group of councillors who support Transit City, and you've got a significant group of provincial legislators from the GTA who want light rapid transit," says Vaughan. "Meanwhile you've got a mayor who's still dreaming in Technicolor when it comes to Sheppard avenue. The mayor's just one voice in a sea of people with a lot more power than him."

On the transit file, Ford is looking increasingly desperate. The morning after the provincial election, the first thing he did was venture out of his cocoon of protective right-wing media for an interview on the liberal CBC in which he publicly aired his demand for more provincial funding for Toronto transit.

A spokesperson for transportation minister Kathleen Wynne says the province has no plans to give the city more transit money at this time, but if that changes, NDP transit critic Cheri DiNovo says any provincial funding should come with strings attached.

"If the province is going to be paying huge amounts for more transit, the province should have a say in what it's used for," DiNovo says. "And Transit City is the best way of spending it. I'm sure Ford would rather see something built than nothing built. If we're paying the piper we get to call the tune."

Ford's allies at city hall see it differently. As far as TTC chair Karen Stintz is concerned, Transit City, which would have seen a network of light rail branching out across the city, is as dead as ever. The very question of revisiting it exasperates her. "It's not on the table," she says. "I don't even know how to answer the question."

Councillor John Parker, who sits on the TTC board but is on record voicing reservations about Ford's subway plans, doesn't think the provincial election changed anything.

"The proposal that's currently being pursued is one that the mayor worked out with the premier and the minister of transportation," Parker said. "I don't notice changes in any of those offices after the provincial election. So I would expect that the current plan is what those three kingpins are committed to and want to pursue."

Parker admits that if the province forks over more transit money, Queen's Park would have leverage to alter current plans, but he doesn't think it's likely the Liberal minority would make significant changes.

"If you go to somebody else and ask them for money, it would be reasonable for them to tie conditions to it," he said. "But those strings already seem to have been identified. They resulted in the announcement that the mayor's office and Queen's Park made jointly this year," which committed funding for burying the Eglinton crosstown, and scuttled Transit City.

There remains one development that could alter the political equation. When Ford decided to cancel Transit City, he made Toronto liable for the costs associated with work already underway.

That bill from the province is expected to be upwards of $49 million, but mercifully for Ford, who is in the middle of a crusade to stop waste at city hall, it has yet to arrive. Once it does, Transit City may start looking a lot more attractive, says Vaughan.

"There is no $49-million bill to repay if Transit City gets back on track," he said. "For a city and a province looking to save money, the easiest way to save money is to stop canceling things and to start building things."

A spokesperson for Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, refused to confirm if the entire $49 million would be wiped out if Transit City were rebooted. He also declined to say when Ford can expect the bill. 

A Toronto City Council member who formerly served as vice chair of Toronto Transit Commission [TTC] wants to know whether his council colleagues favor a heavy rail subway for Sheppard Avenue or if they wish to return to surface light rail. Mayor Rob Ford declared the surface LRT "Transit City" plan dead on his first day in office. The "inside toronto dot com" site has a report:


Oct 17, 2011 – 7:30 AM
Subway or LRT along Sheppard, councillor seeks answers from city
Mihevc to make motion at next city council meeting

Former TTC vice chair Joe Mihevc will be asking a few questions about transit along Sheppard Avenue at the upcoming council meeting – in an effort to start debate over whether the city should go ahead with Mayor Rob Ford's plan to build a subway into Scarborough, or to go back to the light rail transit plan that the mayor declared "dead" after his election last year.

Mihevc, who represents St. Pauls on Toronto Council, is submitting an administrative inquiry at the Oct. 24 council meeting that will be seeking answers on the sudden shift in direction on transit policy last year.

In the wake of the provincial election last week and events of this past year, Mihevc said the time is right to start a debate on the $4.2 billion transit plan that Ford embarked upon.

"These are absolutely critical questions related to the future of this city, given all the mobility problems that are only exacerbating themselves," he said.

"So the ground has shifted and obviously the events of the summer – mainly the mayor's declining fortunes and then the provincial election, where from the mayor's point of view a tripartite agreement on the funding of the Sheppard subway didn't materialize… that also plays into this."

Mihevc is asking under what authority the mayor cancelled Transit City; for a status report on the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Company, which was formed earlier this year to devise a plan to have the private sector help pay for the subway; and for a proper assessment of what the city is exposed to in terms of cancellation costs for the Sheppard LRT, which was underway when Ford declared the program dead.

The questions will require an immediate response at the next council meeting. But Mihevc and other councillors are hoping the answers will just be a jumping-off point to a discussion overall of re-instituting the Transit City plan that had been underway when Ford took over as mayor from David Miller.

Over the past year, the mayor entered into talks with Premier Dalton McGuinty to shift the $8 billion in funding that was to have paid for surface light rail transit on Sheppard Avenue and on Eglinton Avenue, entirely over to the Eglinton Scarborough Crosstown LRT.

The city said it would cover the cost of a subway – $4.2 billion – to replace the Sheppard light rail line, through partnerships with the private sector. The premier and the mayor signed a memorandum of understanding and the province set to work on a new, entirely underground Eglinton line.

But council must still debate the memorandum for it to have any force. Although the memorandum was signed in the spring, Ford has yet to bring it before council.
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