On Tuesday, February 12, The Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto signed terms of reference—basically an agreement that outlines the agenda for talks between the two levels of government—on the provincial proposal to "upload" ownership and responsibility for the TTC subway system.

TTC Toronto Rocket train leaves Glencairn station on Line 1, image, James Bow, Transit Toronto

When the Province and City announced the terms of reference, they declared they would work together to review three possible ways for the two governments to exchange responsibility for higher-order rapid transit in Toronto:

  1. The province fully uploads the capital costs of the entire TTC subway system, owning the assets, while the TTC continues day-to-day operations;
  2. The province uploads the capital costs of new subway-expansion projects, owning the assets, while the TTC continues day-to-day operations; and
  3. The province supports the capital costs of new subway-expansion projects, but wouldn't own the assets.

Visual identifier for City of Vaughan campaign for the Toronto York subway extension, image, Transit Toronto

With all three scenarios, the TTC would continue to receive revenue from fares and operate buses and streetcars.

In announcing the agreement, Premier Ford stated,

"Necessary maintenance and investment in the subway system has been put off for too long. We've also been waiting far too long for subway expansions. New subway construction has been stuck in red tape, for years. It's time to take action and speed things up.

"That's why I'm very happy we've agreed with the City of Toronto on a joint Terms of Reference which has, at its core, shared objectives and principles, to guide a discussion about how the two levels of government can best work together to achieve them. We have committed to a deliberate, fact-based conversation with the City on our upload plan.

"These Terms of Reference will help guide our next steps and steer the consultation process with the City and the TTC on uploading the subway infrastructure from the City of Toronto, including the building and maintenance of new and existing subway lines. With an upload, our government can cut through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster. We are improving how transit is built in Ontario to get Ontarians moving. We will build a world-class transit system that everyone in Ontario can be proud of."

A view of the TTC's recently opened Finch West Station, image by Urban Toronto contributor, someMidtowner

A news release explained the city's position on the alliance:

 "The Province and City have maintained a longstanding partnership with respect to advancing public transit initiatives and both acknowledge that the TTC's subway system is an important component of an integrated transit network serving Toronto, as well as the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

"Both parties share a number of objectives, including the accelerated implementation of priority expansion projects; the integration of transit services across all modes and agencies (TTC, Metrolinx, other 905 transit agencies); the modernization and enhancement of the existing subway system, while ensuring the system is maintained in a state of good repair; the continuity of safe, reliable service to all residents who depend on it for mobility; and a long-term sustainable, predictable, funding model for the existing transit system and future transit needs.

"Toronto City Council [has] directed City Manager Chris Murray to proceed with an agreed-to terms of reference and to report back to City Council in the first quarter of 2019 with a progress report."

Rebuilt TTC Scarborough RT trains pass each other at Midland Station, photo, James Bow, Transit Toronto

According to an article by Canadian Press reporter Shawn Jeffords, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the best way to protect the city's transit system is to participate in the upload talks.

"'I continue to firmly believe that any actions taken with regard to our subway system need to be in the best interests of the people of Toronto, including transit riders and employees, and that Toronto must be completely involved and fully consulted,' he said in a statement.

"Tory said unlike the province's actions to cut Toronto city council nearly in half last fall, the Ford government has committed to study and consult on the issue of the subway upload.

"'What they did not do here was rush off and introduce the bill in the legislature and say "this is how we're uploading the subway, take it or leave it",' he said. 'They have, so far, been in very good faith in sitting down and having a series of terms of reference that will now shape a discussion that will put a lot of information on the table.'

The province has agreed to hold a number of consultation meetings with members of the public about its plan.

Supporters suggest that Toronto would benefit because the province has the ability to borrow money and carry a deficit, which means it's better equipped financially to upgrade and expand subway infrastructure.

But, what do others think of the plan?

Track level at the future Keelesdale Crosstown LRT station, image, Metrolinx

Shortly after the province and city announced the terms, Councillor Josh Matlow, the one member of council who voted against entering into talks with the province, tweeted, "I oppose being drawn into a process to help Premier Ford upload Toronto’s subway system, its land value and potential air rights. I support moving forward to improve the existing system, address overcrowding, repairs and build evidence-based transit to connect our city and region.

He continued, "Based on the Doug Ford government’s own stated goals, I’m skeptical the 'good faith negotiations' with the City of Toronto are much more than enabling Ford’s efforts to takeover the subway and sell off its land and air rights. Let’s not be suckered. It’s not about improving transit."

His colleague, Councillor Gord Perks, was also unimpressed. In a long Twitter thread, he said, "The Conservative sloganeering that this will somehow result in more transit faster persists. There is nothing in the [terms of reference] that give any substance to those claims. Nothing. Not one word."

A view of the future Mount Dennis LRT station and the historic Kodak building, image, Urban Toronto contributer, drum 118

He added, "This whole thing is giving me deja vu. Remember what happened when Rob Ford [the Premier's late brother] was Mayor? Transit City [a network of light rail lines that former Mayor David Miller proposed] was put on hold, while staff and consultants were sent off to look for private sector subway solutions. No solutions were found. Nothing was built. Four years disappeared. This process will have the same result. We will chase after a new magic bean: uploading for Doug Ford's entire term and we will get no new transit. In fact, everything we are trying to do will be slowed down while we 'negotiate'.

"The thing that would improve transitACTUALLY PAYING FOR IT—will not happen. ...it is fair to say that the upload is a giant distraction from the fact that the TTC gets less funding from provincial / state level governments than any other North American or European system."

Councillor Joe Cressy called the subway upload "a slogan in search of a solution". He said, "The TTC is a complex network involving 4 rapid transit lines, 570 bus routes, 10 streetcar routes, Wheel-Trans, and 570 million annual riders. It's a network that only works if it is owned and operated as one."

Premier Ford's Progressive Conservative Party announced the upload plan as part of its platform during the provincial election in June 2018.

The City has approved this alignment for the relief line south subway, image, City of Toronto

In May, City Council resolved that the City "should continue to own, operate and maintain the Toronto subway system and that transit within the City of Toronto should not be uploaded or otherwise transferred, in whole or in part, to the Province of Ontario".

On August 31, 2018, the Premier appointed Michael Lindsay as "special advisor to cabinet - transit upload" to help deliver on his government's commitment to assume responsibility for TTC subway infrastructure.

In November, Ontario's minister of transportation, Jeff Yurek, asked the city "to engage in a discovery exercise" with the province to reach a joint understanding of the fair valuation of the assets and liabilities of the TTC subway system, the TTC's current backlog of deferred maintenance on subway assets and the costs to operate the subways, separate from the bus and streetcar network. The minister also proposed that Infrastructure Ontario join the Province, City, TTC, and Metrolinx in Toronto's Relief Line subway project to examine opportunities to advance design and delivery, "consistent with the intention of accelerating key subway projects in Toronto".

On December 13, 2018, Toronto City Council:

  • reaffirmed its support for keeping ownership of the TTC with the City of Toronto and requested the Province to "demonstrate clearly and with evidence the goals they believe can only be achieved through a change in subway ownership";
  • Indicated interest in working with the province to get the Relief Line subway built as a priority and as quickly as possible; and
  • authorized city manager Murray, and the TTC's chief executive officer, Rick Leary, to negotiate with the Province the terms of reference the various partners announced today.

The agreement is signed by Lindsay, deputy minister of transportation Shelley Tapp, Murray and Leary.

The TTC's 15-year capital investment plan is mostly unfunded, image, TTC

Last month, Leary presented a 15-year capital investment plan to the Toronto Transit Commission—the TTC's board of directors—revealing that his agency requires $33.5 billion just to maintain current levels of service. The document's authors conclude: "Without the investments outlined in this Plan, service reliability and crowding will worsen, as the maintenance backlog grows and becomes more difficult and costlier to fix. This is the fate now faced by some other major transit systems in North America that allowed their assets to badly deteriorate. Our customers, our city, our province and our nation can’t afford to let that happen."

Are you in favour or against the plan by the province to upload the TTC subway? Tell us what you think by commenting in the form below or join the discussion in our dedicated Forum thread.

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