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City 'can't afford' TTC

With $3.8 billion needed over 10 years, transit officials say province must help

Paul Moloney


GETTING READY TO ROLL: Mario DiPaolo works on the interior of a bus at the Duncan Shops


REPAIRS: Luca Rinaldi, foreground, and Enzo Margiotta work in bus wheel well.

More than a token dispute

Toronto transit commissioners won’t take no for an answer.

Although Premier Mike Harris has refused to provide provincial subsidies for transit, city councillors on the TTC vowed yesterday to keep up the fight.

The system needs a colossal amount of cash, $3.8 billion over the next 10 years, TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme told the commission.

The money is required to keep the current level of service intact by replacing worn-out buses and subway cars and rebuilding streetcars, Ducharme said yesterday.

He rejected raising fares as the answer, saying ridership would plummet. Fares currently pay 80 per cent of operating costs, such as wages and fuel, with the city picking up the balance, he said. That leaves nothing for replacing buses and subway cars.

Over the next three-year term, Ducharme said, city council should start placing orders for new vehicles needed between 2006 and 2010. That includes 880 buses at $500,000 each and 232 subway cars at $2 million apiece.

Add to that the need to rebuild streetcars, beef up Scarborough rapid transit and repair track, tunnels and signals, and the total tab comes to $3.8 billion over the 2001-2010 period, he said.

Ducharme said that’s much too rich for the municipal property tax base to shoulder alone. “We know the city can’t afford it. There’s no city in the world that has its transit funding only from the municipal tax base.”

The Ontario government used to pay 75 per cent of the TTC’s capital costs for equipment replacement and repairs, but the Harris government halted that arrangement.

Ducharme painted a grim picture of deteriorating quality of life and damage to the city’s economy if transit languishes. He said Harris should be told: “You better open your eyes to the fact Toronto is important. Therefore, you better do something about it or you’re going to have a severe impact on the economy.”

Councillor Brian Ashton (Scarborough Southwest), the TTC’s newly appointed chair, didn’t need convincing.

“If we don’t have the necessary capital funds, the TTC will spiral into a long, long period of decay … (and) Toronto will slowly decay as a first-class city.”

Ducharme said the $3.8 billion will only allow enough extra service to keep up with modest growth in ridership - from 410 million passengers this year to 466 million by 2010.

But the TTC estimates higher population growth could boost transit ridership to 525 million by 2010. Officials were instructed yesterday to calculate what it would cost to handle that volume of business.

The commission voted to set up a strategy group of transit commissioners and other city councillors to lobby the province for cash.

But Harris indicated the province has no plans to bail out the TTC.

Ontario has given $829 million and fulfilled its financial commitments to the TTC through 2002, he told reporters.

“We committed, and they signed on and said, ‘Thank you very much,’ to a five-year (advance) of close to a billion dollars of capital money in 1998,” he said.

“So now if they are now talking beyond 2002, that’s something that we can look at with some of our infrastructure money that we announced in the last budget.”

In 1998, as part of downloading, the province took on the education portion of the property tax bill from municipalities and freed up $600 million in tax room for the City of Toronto to pay for services.

The Premier said the TTC should turn to Ottawa for more cash, and provincial Transportation Minister David Turnbull agreed, saying federal gas taxes should be used for transit.

“I would start there (Ottawa) first because they haven’t created any tax room and we have… . The federal government is raising, in Ontario, in excess of $2 billion a year in gasoline taxes,” he said.

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette (Don Valley East) said Ottawa is indeed eyeing a plan to donate up to $1 billion worth of its fuel tax revenues to municipalities to fund transit systems such as the TTC.

“I think what we recognize is that we have an interest and we should become involved in some way … because the investment decisions faced by GO Transit and the Toronto Transit Commission in particular are so enormous,” he said outside a caucus meeting.

Collenette said Harris could also use provincial fuel taxes to fund the TTC.

Currently, Collenette’s government pays nothing toward urban transit costs in Canada. But properly funding the TTC and GO Transit is crucial to ensuring the viability of Toronto’s 2008 Olympic Games bid, which Harris enthusiastically supports, Collenette said.

GO Transit officials were also less than cheery yesterday at a Union Station ceremony marking this year’s 40 millionth passenger.

“Both systems are suffering and they need to be addressed,” GO Transit chairman Eldred King said. The most effective way to lobby for money, he said, would be through a joint effort with the TTC.

With files from Theresa Boyle, William Walker and Martin Patriquin

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