On the eve of an election, politicians of all stripes are throwing their weight behind a transit plan with an unknown cost and timeline. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Similar circumstances in 2013 and 2014 led to a single $4-billion subway stop on Toronto’s books, which will replace four stops on the aging Scarborough RT. As much as critics — including this newspaper and my own organization — opposed the one-stop plan because it took scarce funds away from a 50-stop LRT network, the fact is that the Scarborough subway extension is nearly ready to build.
Déjà vu: the Scarborough plan is changing again. Premier Doug Ford upended Toronto’s transit plans this summer when he passed Bill 107 and took transit planning control away from our city. The Eglinton East LRT to Malvern and the Waterfront LRT disappeared from the provincial map. The Scarborough subway gets two more stops, which will delay the opening until 2029 at the earliest, leaving SRT riders on the bus after it closes in 2026. The Relief Line, which has undergone years of planning and consultation, was thrown out the window.
Which brings us to the Ontario Line. Our elected officials should be cautious about endorsing a proposal with so little information. Consider this telling line from the city’s staff report: “Given the current stage of the project and the early state of design and development, the City and TTC are unable to assess the validity of the stated timetable or the estimated cost at this time.”
Toronto Transit Commission CEO Rick Leary has raised doubts about the capacity and life-expectancy of the Ontario Line. City staff have raised 61 questions about the line. Here are a few more: Will the Ontario Line cost a single TTC fare to ride and be integrated with the rest of the system? Will communities along the line be meaningfully consulted?
We only get one chance to build a relief line.
Mayor John Tory says the deal he negotiated with Ford is a win-win. Our city keeps the subway system we’ve all paid for. Ontario builds new transit lines and Toronto gets to redirect its capital contributions to state of good repair and possibly other transit projects.
The city may have freed up some funds for state of good repair and this is good news. But it won’t come close to the TTC’s $24-billion capital gap, and the province hasn’t budged on its $1.1 billion gas tax cuts.
Toronto riders will be on the hook for operating new lines through the fare box. New rapid transit projects will be owned by Metrolinx and built, designed, financed, and maintained privately. And the deal leaves the door open to privatizing maintenance of the existing subway.
Stopping the upload is indeed a major win. But with Ford still calling the shots about where and how transit gets built, we’ve lost too much. City council must insist on stronger conditions that defend Toronto’s interests.
Get more opinion in your inbox
Get the latest from your favourite Star columnists with our Opinion newsletter.