What is this? A Thank You card from downtown councillors to the suburbs?
So, there we have it, less than 24 hours after Scarborough and Etobicoke ended up getting street-level LRTs, that will look “sleek as an iPad” (courtesy of Councillor De Baeremaeker), but that will slow down their transit and driving commutes (and their emergency response times), the LRT proponents are now publicly calling for a subway “Downtown Relief Line” to get them off their painfully slow Queen Street LRT.
You would’ve thought that these LRT proponents might have had to wait some months, or even a few weeks, to start talking about a new subway line for downtown, specially soon after they came from a heated battle against the majority of non-downtown councillors for obligating them to swallow a slow LRT in their northern wards. But no, decorum has left the building of City Hall.
Blog reader, Steve, called my attention about an article on the National Post, where Councillor McMahon, is mentioned as saying that a downtown relief line should be the next transit priority for Toronto because with the crowds in the subway she feels like she’s “back in Tokyo”, but with “less polite” people (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/03/23/subway-or-lrt-downtown-toronto-needs-a-relief-line-ttc-chief-andy-byford/). Also, during her presentation Thursday for a motion to prepare a “long term Rapid Transit Funding Strategy”, when she was asked if she was proposing to include all kinds of revenue tools, she said yes, and raised her arms emphasizing gasoline taxes, and her favourite: “road tolls”. Yes, that’s right: Road Tolls! Ms McMahon says that she doesn’t drive to work; however, the majority of people in Etobicoke and Scarborough do. Therefore, the people who’s Emergency Response time and commute time are about to get worse, with the LRT pill that they’re given, are the same people who are now asked to finance a subway for downtown councillors to zoom by in great comfort.
It has been over half a century of governments loading up with gas tax monies (a tax that was also intended to fund transportation investments and expenses, but, a few decades later, disseminated into the general purse), and a new generation of “enlightened” politicians is now asking us to pay for the use of a poor and dated city road network, so they can use those funds to obtain overpriced transit solutions for somebody else.
Yes, I understand the need to gather financing, through some kind of taxation, so we can continue a rapid transit construction program for this city. The problem rises when the funds currently presented for transit solutions ($8.5 billion from our provincial coffers) are not used in the most effective manner, which in this case, should have been to build the Eglinton Crosstown line completely underground from Jane to Kennedy, both Sheppard subway extensions to Downsview and the Scarborough Town Centre (STC), and the extension of the Danforth subway line from Kennedy to the STC. As I mentioned in the past, this can be done by building subways at a reasonable $200 million per km rate (http://wp.me/p2aKPf-2V), instead of TTC’s bloated claim of over $300 million per km.
We can talk about a 1% to 2% increase on property taxes, or tolls for new roads (yes, there is still plenty of space to build new roads in Toronto, and without bulldozing neighbourhoods as it was done in the past), but not while you are trying to spend half a billion dollars per kilometre to build an LRT line under Eglinton. You might be talking about taking care of taxpayers’ money with your LRT proposals, however, your actions show the opposite when you can’t even control the budgeting or spending on your proposed transit lines.
So what is going to happen next? Well, they are probably going to find out that the Eglinton LRT underground section actually cost less than $300 M/km. And that after completing the Sheppard and Finch LRT lines, they still ended up with a couple of billion dollars extra for the Downtown Relief Line. However, in order to completely finance it, they are then going to ask for gas tax increases, and road tolls!
I am not against the Downtown Relief Line, and I don’t think that most Torontonians are, either. Quite on the contrary, I believe that it is a very important component for a good transit network in our city. However, the way that the whole transit file is being handled at City Hall is quite suspicious, to say the least. Politicians denying proper rapid transit to some parts of the city, and soon after, they go calling those same residents to pay extra taxes for proper rapid transit in another part of the city, smells like a big fraud. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, it is pretty bad political optics, and specially for the Scarborough and Etobicoke councillors who support street-level LRTs. This whole scheme looks like a big Thank You card from some councillors, for giving them Rob Ford as their Mayor.
On the other hand, Andy Byford, the new TTC chief, is now saying that he considers subways to be a better transit option to Toronto, including along Sheppard; however, his declaration came too late. For a month he told us that he wasn’t afraid to tell his opinions about his preferred transit system, but he didn’t do it until all councillors’ convictions were made up, on voting day. And now, partly because of this negligence, the residents of Scarborough will have to pay for it.