Premier Ford has been clear that he wants to takeover Toronto’s subway system. But what Premier Ford hasn’t said is how he will do it, how far he will go and how he’ll address questions of split accountability and control. We know that with Premier Ford at the wheel of public transit, Torontonians can expect higher fares for less service due to a higher risk of privatization and delays in building the infrastructure we badly need.
The Toronto Star outlines the uncertainty and confusion remaining regarding Premier Ford’s transit plans for Toronto. Read the story below.
Experts fear for Toronto’s long-term transit plans if province moves to upload parts TTC (Ben Spurr, Transportation Reporter, August 26th 2018)
The Progressive Conservatives’ victory in Ontario’s June election has reignited conversation about the province taking partial control of the TTC.
And though Premier Doug Ford’s new government has yet to announce detailed plans for what might be in store for the city-owned transit system, experts and former city officials warn that giving control of parts of the network to the province could do significant damage to Toronto’s long-term transit plans.
Conservative and Liberal governments in Ontario going back decades have contemplated “uploading” the TTC to the province.
But unlike their predecessors, who mused about taking wholesale control of Toronto’s transit network, during the 2018 campaign the PCs officially proposed only a limited upload, in which Ontario would take ownership of subway infrastructure but the TTC would continue operating the lines and collecting fare revenue.
The party argues putting the subway network on the province’s books would allow Queen’s Park to take advantage of accounting rules not available to the city, and enable it to more efficiently finance the construction of new lines by amortizing their costs over the life of the project.
Ford also suggested earlier this month that removing stewardship of the subway from Toronto’s “dysfunctional” city council would accelerate transit building.
“I think the TTC does a great job and their employees do a great job, especially in operating. I believe other people can build subways a lot more efficiently,” he said at Queen’s Park on Aug. 15.
The lack of details on the potentially transformative change for the TTC has led to speculation that the Tories will deviate from what they pitched during the campaign and embrace a wider takeover of the transit system that could include subway operations as well.
Transportation Minister John Yakabuski fuelled that speculation last week when he told reporters at Queen’s Park that uploading “can mean a lot of things to a lot of people” and “everything is on the table.”
A spokesperson later downplayed those comments, however, saying the government is not considering taking over TTC operations.
“The government is focused on a plan to upload the responsibility for subway infrastructure from the City of Toronto,” said Transportation Ministry spokesperson Justine Lewkowicz in an email.
“Responsibility for day-to-day operations would remain with the city and the TTC. The city would continue to keep the revenue generated by the subway system.”
David Gunn, who was general manager of the TTC from 1995 to 1999, cautioned against having different levels of government operate different parts of the network.
“The beauty of the TTC was that it was an integrated system,” he said in an interview, noting the bus, streetcar and subway lines are closely intertwined.
“If you have ownership of a part of that system in somebody else’s hand, are they going to start screwing it up? Are they going to screw up the easy transfer, the relationship and the scheduling that goes between bus, rail and the streetcar?”
But even the Ford government going ahead with a more modest version of the subway upload, in which they would merely take ownership of the lines, could lead to significant complications.
While Ford has said there would be “nothing but a benefit to the city of Toronto” in the province taking ownership of the subway “off their shoulders,” it’s not clear how responsibility would be shared for keeping the existing system in a state of good repair.
The PCs have pledged to spend $160 million a year on maintaining the rail network. But according to the TTC, the subway will require an average of $327 million annually in capital work over the next decade, double what the Tories have offered. The ministry spokesperson didn’t answer a question about how the costs of subway maintenance would be divided up.
While Ford has argued provincial control would enable the government to more effectively deliver transit projects, according to former mayor David Miller, ceding final say to Queen’s Park over what gets built would hobble the city’s ability to plan for its future.
The municipal government is responsible for approving residential and commercial development, but if it can’t also direct new lines to those areas, it would be impossible to ensure future growth is adequately served by transit, Miller argued.
“It’s a basic thing in a city to be able to plan transportation along with land use. It’s a core function of a city. And you can’t plan one without having authority over the other,” said Miller, a progressive who in 2008 rebuffed Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty’s suggestion that Metrolinx, the then-fledgling provincial transit agency, should take over the TTC.
Miller called the Conservatives’ new iteration of the upload plan “disastrous.”
Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s school of geography and planning, predicted that Queen’s Park taking ownership of the subway network could make it more likely the province would prioritize building new lines outside Toronto, despite transit demand being highest within the city.
“The owner of the asset and the one who’s paying for it gets to typically decide what gets built,” he said.
“I think if you have a government that is at the provincial level, and especially one that has its power base in the suburban regions, that could then have a real impact on what gets built. Are we building long-distance subways?” he asked.
The Progressive Conservatives dominated the GTA’s suburbs in the election, winning 22 of 26 of the ridings immediately surrounding Toronto.
After the election, Ford raised eyebrows by suggesting his government would build a subway all the way to Pickering, an area east of Toronto where the PCs were victorious but where demand at the existing GO Transit station falls well below levels that would normally justify a subway.
Ford has also advocated building an extension of the TTC’s Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) to Richmond Hill, a plan the TTC has long opposed because it would only add passengers to the line, which already regularly operates above capacity. The TTC has said the extension shouldn’t be built until a relief line serving downtown Toronto is completed.
Former TTC chief executive Andy Byford, who left the agency last year to become president of the New York City Transit Authority, declined to weigh in on details of the PCs’ uploading plan. But he said that if the governance of the TTC does change, it can’t be allowed to pull the focus away from completing the relief line, which he described as the city’s “top priority.”
“Whichever model is adopted — whether it be status quo or something else — it must deliver that absolute and increasingly pressing imperative,” he told the Star.
Siemiatycki said another potential consequence of uploading is a further tilt toward building transit “megaprojects” at the expense of investing in local service.
The provincial government’s “purview tends to be focused on very big investments” that are “highly visible,” he said.
Large transit projects are needed in the GTA, Siemiatycki said, but additional funding for the existing bus and streetcar network, as well as new, smaller projects like bus rapid transit routes, are the only initiatives that will bring relief to riders in the short term.
However, Siemiatycki stressed that uploading parts of the TTC isn’t necessarily a bad idea.
“If this government comes to the table and says we are going to take (the TTC subway) on, but we are going to invest heavily, and new money on top of what’s already allocated, and we’re going to apply evidence to make decisions, that could conceivably be positive,” he said.
The opposition NDP strongly opposes the Conservative plan. Jessica Bell, the party’s transit critic, said if the province wants to improve the TTC it should commit to providing more funding for the agency’s daily operations.
“If Doug Ford is truly committed to getting Torontonians moving and using public transit, investing in the TTC is a better way to go than uploading the subway system,” said Bell, the MPP for University-Rosedale.
Bell also warned the upload would “put us on the path to privatizing” the TTC. The Tories haven’t said they have any plans to contract out work on the system, however.
In May, council voted 30-6 to tell the province that control of transit within Toronto should remain under the TTC.
Earlier this month Mayor John Tory reiterated his position that he would be “willing to entertain the discussion” of uploading the subways, but only after “extensive consultation” with the public, city and the TTC, and if the Progressive Conservatives put forward a plan that represented “a good deal for the people of the city.”
“It’s our TTC, it’s our subway,” he said.
Ford has said he would work with the mayor before moving ahead with any subway takeover. But there is little to stop the province if it wishes to alter governance of the TTC, which derives its authority from provincial legislation.