Last week’s debate on transit funding was certainly not Council’s finest hour. The good news is that Council is strongly behind an array of transit improvements, including both subways and LRTs. The bad news is the mish-mash of confusing and sometimes contradictory motions provided no coherent answer to the burning questions: what are our transit priorities and how are we going to pay for them?
Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for transit planning, will report to the Province by early June, recommending new fees or taxes that would be a dedicated source of revenue for transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). The Council debate was intended to provide some clear direction from Toronto.
The need for immediate action couldn’t be clearer. In addition to causing enormous frustration for residents, gridlock threatens Toronto’s economic well-being. The cost of failing to act is far greater than the money that will need to come from all levels of government and from new revenue sources.
Although new taxes are generally unwelcome, there seems to be increasing consensus from business leaders (e.g. the Toronto Board of Trade) and residents that this is an urgently needed investment. It’s also clear that any new taxes must be “dedicated” – i.e. used only for transit expansion.
After consulting with residents at a transit forum I held earlier in the year, and from many conversations and emails, I think the least painful solution is some mix of a regional sales tax and/or fuel tax, along with additional development charges. I do not support the following taxes to fund transit expansion: property tax increases (which would disproportionally hit areas with high property values,such as Willowdale); payroll taxes (which would hurt job creation and business development) and highway tolls within the city (unfair to North York residents driving into downtown).
I voted with a majority of Councillors to replace the Scarborough SRT from Kennedy to Scarborough Town Centre with a subway. In this instance, I think the additional $500 million cost (approx. 25% of the project cost) is justified.
I did not support a Sheppard West subway, which comes at a very high cost and would bring even more high-density development to an area that already has too much. The TTC and Metrolinx do not support this subway, which would do little to ease congestion on the existing Yonge line. It is therefore extremely unlikely that it will be planned or funded.
In many recent community meetings, residents have expressed concern that the expansion of the Yonge subway line to Richmond Hill could make the subway under Yonge St. as crowded as the road above it. It is my strong position that the subway shouldn’t be extended north until we have increased capacity on the existing Yonge line. This can be done through such measures as improvements to Bloor station and construction of the Downtown Relief Line (which could just as accurately be called the Willowdale relief line). At Council, I made a motion that it be Toronto’s position that the Yonge line not be extended north until we have added capacity at least equal to the increased ridership the extension would bring. My motion passed 36 to 7.
The full list of motions and amendments on this transit discussion at council can be found here.