Yesterday, Toronto City Councillors voted for a transit network plan that would have much to recommend it—if there were any likelihood that it would be built. The Mayor and City Staff did not ask Councillors to indicate how much money they would be willing to provide through tax or borrowing to pay for their plan, so Councillors duly voted to have everything.
Indeed, they went further, pushing pet subway projects onto the agenda for consideration next year with costly new studies—extending Sheppard Subway east to Scarborough Town Centre, linking Downsview with Yonge and Sheppard, and extending the Bloor Danforth subway from Kipling west to Sherway Gardens—though these have all been examined by City Staff in the past and found to be economically challenging.
It is understandable if regrettable that many Councillors would seek to get what they perceive to be the best possible transit connections for their constituents regardless of cost or the overall network, but it is disappointing that the mayor, John Tory, continues to paint himself as a pragmatist while voting in favour of consideration of future subway links he must be aware are extraordinarily unlikely to come to pass, even well after 2031.
On the key contentious issue of the one-stop Scarborough subway, both sides of the argument talked past each other. Councillor Josh Matlow suggested in his push to build the original LRT that the Province and federal government backed, that this would be the only way to keep the budget for transit improvements to the level originally allocated in 2010. Without it, he suggested that all of the money would be needed to go towards the Scarborough Subway Extension and none would be left over to build the extension of the Crosstown LRT eastward to the University of Toronto Scarborough.
This would have been an opportunity for the Mayor to make it clear whether that LRT extension would be at risk, or whether he would commit to building both. Sadly, he was not asked the question. The Council has voted for both to proceed further, but of course at present this is mostly underfunded, as with most of the rest of the 15 year transit plan. A discussion of how any of this will be funded has been promised in the fall but this will doubtless take months and should really have been the starting point for the transit debate.
An optimist might suggest that the Mayor's hard line on freezing property taxes and directing his staff to find ways to minimise the impact of the resulting real cuts in funding, is consistent with the desire to renew and extend our public transit network at last. Perhaps he is seeking to cut or minimise all the other costs he can in order to be able to present the public with a large, separate infrastructure tax that they would be willing to pay.
However, it seems more likely he is hoping that the provincial and federal governments will step in and largely fund the three largest elements of this transit plan—the Relief Line, the Scarborough Subway Extension, and SmartTrack—and the rest of this important network can be safely placed into "further study" limbo. If this is the result, then Council will have once again wasted millions of dollars on studies of projects that were never going to be funded, and Toronto will be much the poorer for his failure to spell out to the public what the tough choices are and why they will need to dig into their wallets before he can start digging into the streets.