Senior Governments – Financial strings, and somebody else’s money

The biggest issue in the last few decades in Toronto has been the basic failure to advance any projects that are both meaningful, and cost effective. There have been a couple of very large projects advanced, but only the Vaughan subway extension had gotten underway, in what represented a very long time. Further this projects, will greatly increase the cost associated with providing transit, while achieving little that a much less costly project would have achieved just as easily. We have finally made a serious start on the Eglinton LRT, but are spending large dollars tunneling long segments, and the argument has been long and fierce to tunnel more. Is the degree of tunneling really required? The amount has certainly been expanded from initial conception.

The capacity of the Vaughan extension seems excessive especially beyond York University? The question has to be: How did transit of this type get picked? LRT and other alternatives were never really considered for the route selected. If this money was city of Toronto money, would we have selected this form of transit, or would we have looked again? We know and like subway, so if it is not our bill, why not opt for the more expensive option? Like many kids eating out on somebody else’s tab. What if instead of having money tied to projects, we had it tied to basic infrastructure. Would we spend it a little differently? Would we try harder to make our dollars go further?

The fact that senior government funding is project specific, and the projects political profile makes it easier to get attention, hence votes, distorts the behavior of all levels of government. The result is funding being concentrated on few large projects. Imagine how different this would be if instead we were told that you have a billion from each senior government each year to spend on transit expansion projects period. Would we really spend all our allowance in one place? If our transit subsidy to be completely ridership based, would we spend more effort on reducing the costs of service improvement?

The other major issues, is the quickness with which promises for transit funding can be made, changed and withdrawn. The quickest construction project requires more than a couple of years to plan and complete. Normally even BRT does not get implemented from concept to service in a couple of years. Projects need to be planned and executed in a stable funding environment. The more often the money can be changed, the more often politics can enter, the harder it is to get anything built. Infrastructure- including transit needs to have certainty. We need to realize that there is a limit to the money available, even if we can create a stable funding model. Toronto proper is far enough behind now it needs a substantial bulge of funding, but, there are very real limits to how quickly any improvement could be implemented, without causing too much disruption.

I would suggest that Toronto, should now be pursuing, and the senior governments, should be prepared to talk about a basic change to the funding approach, not just for Toronto, but all cities. Creating real solutions means putting the money in a trust account, and make the funding far more flexible. The choice of mode should be based entirely on the situation, and the fact that senior governments will involve themselves in multi billion dollar projects, but not projects that are only a couple of hundred million, distorts the structure of transit. Toronto, now needs a bulge for transit infrastructure expansion of about $12 billion beyond current Crosstown and Vaughan subway construction. If that were all to go to subway expansion, it would not really spread transit improvement all that far. It should however, be enough to build a complete LRT loop in Scarborough, Sheppard East & Morningside, and Finch West to the airport and an extension from Mt Dennis to the Renforth Gateway on the Crosstown, as well as the eastern side of the DRL from Eglinton & Don Mills across the core. If this were to be put aside today, into a trust it would permit much better planning, and would provide political momentum to projects that the planners believe are the most important for the city itself. These basic projects along with repairs to the YUS line and stations should go a long ways to putting the Toronto transit infrastructure back in a position, where steady investment would be able provide the infrastructure required within Toronto. Toronto, has to address a number of other transit requirements, especially within the downtown area, however some of the most pressing could be partially relieved by careful routing of the Don Mills subway, and expansion of the services offered on existing lines.

We as voters need to be a lot smarter about how we see promises, and how we vote. We are being lured in with promises of money not in the current budget, for specific projects, instead of real financing for a broad transit infrastructure. To make real headway, the region needs to see itself as a region, and voters need to recognize the limits of the funding, and the need to get real service for the entire GTA.

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