Comment 9209

By Tom (registered) | Posted July 22, 2007 at 16:04:46

In the words of noted TTC lobbyist Steve Munro, this brou-ha-ha, at least at this stage, is "Much Ado About Very Little." For the time being, anyway, this is politicking aimed at turning up the pressure on those councillors that voted against his tax hikes and trying to scare the province into bailing them out. Judging by Sorbara's comments, that isn't happening, so I guess we'll just have to see who moves next.

Miller, Giambrone et al have been as loud and public about the TTC cuts as they have precisely because they illustrate the scale of the funding shortfalls as dramatically as possible. The very fact that public transit has the resonance that it does in Toronto is heartening, if anything. Ordinary Torontonians, even those out in darkest suburbia, do think of TTC service when they mentally list off the things provided for by the city, and it does get people talking. Compare that to our situation here, where the HSR is virtually an afterthought in the city's budgeting process and debates about fare-vs-service appear in the Spectator, what, twice a year at best?

Ben, I think, is buying the hyperbole a little bit too wholeheartedly if he's saying the plan is to "dismantle" the Sheppard Subway. The proposal on the table is to lock the doors and turn off the lights. Sheppard is an odd creature: the hardcore transitheads in Toronto loathe it, by and large, precisely because it cost so much and thus far has failed to grow ridership to anywhere near large enough to justify subway-grade capacity. IIRC, 40,000 people take it every day, which in subway terms is an embarassing trickle. Now, not to confuse the sunk capital costs with the ongoing operating costs, but I gather that on a pure cost-benefit level, the Sheppard line is objectively speaking pretty much bottom of the table. You can snip and prune bus routes here and there and recoup some savings gradually, or you can go big-bang on Sheppard and get back the $10 million a year it apparently doesn't make back in fares.

Also, Ryan, I don't think this is really a post-amalgamation urban-suburban issue, either. The TTC was previously a creature tied to the Metro Toronto regional structures, and it's always been reliant on keeping the suburban councillors feeling like they're getting value for money. Again, I'd take those political waters over ours anyday--we, god bless us, have a cast of characters that includes a city councillor who votes against transit every opportunity she gets, despite the fact that her ward is neither served by transit, nor do her constituents pay for it.

I agree that "You simply can't build and run a decent transit system on property tax and fares. It's just not possible." But this isn't so much a question of whether there needs to be more revenue streams than just those ones, but who those revenue streams should be plugged into.

I think most of us would agree that people outside of Toronto do benefit, to an extent, on the continued operation of a high-quality transit system there. It's hard to get a perfect measure on what sort of an inflow of cash is reasonable, though. On at least the capital side, the province has been pretty good about putting up the money for improvements... hopefully MoveOntario 2020 or something like it will go ahead with the proposed 66-33 prov-fed funding split and the tax base in places like Oakville and London and Sudbury will help pay for tracks in Toronto and Hamilton that many of the funders will never ride on.

But with that in mind, is it really fair for Toronto city councillors to intentionally keep their taxes low and cry for the provincial treasury (ie, the tax dollars of non-Torontonians) to cover the costs of operating the TTC? The City of Toronto Act gave Toronto city council the power to gather that revenue from inside their own city... Hamilton can't, for instance, even consider levying new land-transfer taxes or vehicle registration taxes to pay for the HSR (not that, sadly, I could see them doing it). That a section of the council would rather waive those powers and try to get "free" money from other taxpayers is really irritating to me.

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