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Ontario and Toronto sign terms of reference
on provincial 'uploading' of TTC subway system

The Government of Ontario and the City of Toronto and Government of Ontario have signed terms of reference - basically an agreement that outlines the agenda for talks between the two levels of government - on the provincial proposal to “upload” responsibility for the TTC subway system.

The province and city announced the terms of reference today, Tuesday, February 12 and said they will work together to review three possible ways for for the two governments to exchange responsibility for higher-order rapid transit in Toronto:

  1. The province fully uploads the capital costs of the entire TTC subway system, owning the assets, while the TTC continues day-to-day operations;
  2. The province uploads the capital costs of new subway-expansion projects, owning the assets, while the TTC continues day-to-day operations; and
  3. The province supports the capital costs new subway-expansion projects, but would no own the assets.

With all three scenarios, the TTC would continue to receive revenue from fares and operate buses and streetcars.

In an announcing the agreement, Premier Doug Ford stated,

“Necessary maintenance and investment in the subway system has been put off for too long. We’ve also been waiting far too long for subway expansions. New subway construction has been stuck in red tape, for years. It’s time to take action and speed things up.

“That’s why I’m very happy we’ve agreed with the City of Toronto on a joint Terms of Reference which has, at its core, shared objectives and principles, to guide a discussion about how the two levels of government can best work together to achieve them. We have committed to a deliberate, fact-based conversation with the City on our upload plan.

“These Terms of Reference will help guide our next steps and steer the consultation process with the City and the TTC on uploading the subway infrastructure from the City of Toronto, including the building and maintenance of new and existing subway lines. With an upload, our government can cut through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster. We are improving how transit is built in Ontario to get Ontarians moving. We will build a world-class transit system that everyone in Ontario can be proud of.”

A news release explained the city’s position on the alliance:

“The Province and City have maintained a longstanding partnership with respect to advancing public transit initiatives and both acknowledge that the TTC’s subway system is an important component of an integrated transit network serving Toronto, as well as the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“Both parties share a number of objectives, including the accelerated implementation of priority expansion projects; the integration of transit services across all modes and agencies (TTC, Metrolinx, other 905 transit agencies); the modernization and enhancement of the existing subway system, while ensuring the system is maintained in a state of good repair; the continuity of safe, reliable service to all residents who depend on it for mobility; and a long-term sustainable, predictable, funding model for the existing transit system and future transit needs.

“Toronto City Council [has] directed City Manager Chris Murray to proceed with an agreed-to terms of reference and to report back to City Council in the first quarter of 2019 with a progress report.”

According to an article by Canadian Press reporter Shawn Jeffords, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the best way to protect the city’s transit system is to participate in the upload talks.

“‘I continue to firmly believe that any actions taken with regard to our subway system need to be in the best interests of the people of Toronto, including transit riders and employees, and that Toronto must be completely involved and fully consulted,’ he said in a statement.

“Tory said unlike the province’s actions to cut Toronto city council nearly in half last fall, the Ford government has committed to study and consult on the issue of the subway upload.

“‘What they did not do here was rush off and introduce the bill in the legislature and say “this is how we’re uploading the subway, take it or leave it”,’ he said. ‘They have, so far, been in very good faith in sitting down and having a series of terms of reference that will now shape a discussion that will put a lot of information on the table.’

The province has agreed to hold a number of consultation meetings with members of the public about its plan.

Supporters suggest that Toronto would benefit because the province has the ability to borrow money and carry a deficit, which means its better equipped financially to upgrade and expand subway infrastucture.

But, what do others think of the plan?

In an article in the Toronto Star by Queen’s Park reporter Rob Ferguson, Queen’s Park bureau chief Robert Benzie and transportation writer Ben Spurr extensively details opponents’ points of view:

“At Queen’s Park, the opposition New Democrats said Toronto’s subways are “one step closer to being stolen by Doug Ford.”

“‘What Toronto’s subways need is the provincial investment they’re owed, not a complicated Doug Ford scheme to break subways apart from the TTC,’ said MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale).

“Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was also not convinced.

“‘Centralizing power in the premier’s office is not a silver bullet for fixing transportation delays,’ he said in a statement, calling for a downtown relief line as soon as possible.

“‘Given Ford’s well-documented distaste for above-ground public transit, I am skeptical about the ability of his government to make evidence-based decisions for the TTC,’ Schreiner said.

“‘Putting the relief line on the back burner while Ford builds subways to the suburbs would be disastrous for the TTC and for anyone trying to travel in Toronto.’

Josh Matlow, the one member of council who voted against entering into talks with the province, said he took no comfort in the fact the terms state the two parties will consider options under which the city would retain ownership of existing subway assets while ceding new projects to the province.

“‘I think we’re being suckered,’ said Matlow (Ward 12-St. Paul’s).

“Citing past statements by the premier and the province’s recently announced strategy of using private development at station sites to fund transit, he charged the Ford government is dead set on taking over Toronto’s subway system wholesale and selling off land and air rights along the lines.

“Matlow said councillors would be a ‘bunch of Pollyannas’ to believe otherwise.

“‘Metaphorically, they’ve already announced that they want to take over your house and all the belongings in it. And to get you to the table to give them your keys and the number for your alarm they’ve said, oh yeah, we’ll also discuss some other options too. Maybe we’ll only take your furniture.’

“Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10- Spadina-Fort York) slammed the upload talks as ‘a waste of time.’

“Cressy said if Ontario was sincere about improving transit, it would increase its spending for the TTC instead of trying to take the subway system from the city.

“‘If the province truly wants to support the TTC and the movement of people and goods and services in this city, they should invest in it,’ he said.”

Premier Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party announced the upload plan as part of its platform during the provincial election in June 2018.

In May, City Council resolved that the City “should continue to own, operate and maintain the Toronto subway system and that transit within the City of Toronto should not be uploaded or otherwise transferred, in whole or in part, to the Province of Ontario”.

On August 31, 2018, the Premier appointed a Special Advisor to Cabinet - Transit Upload to help deliver on the his government’s commitment to assume responsibility for TTC subway infrastructure.

In November, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Jeff Yurek asked the city “to engage in a discovery exercise” with the province to reach a joint understanding of the fair valuation of the assets and liabilities of the TTC subway system, the TTC’s current backlog of deferred maintenance on subway assets and the costs to operate the subways, separate from the bus and streetcar network. The minister also proposed that Infrastructure Ontario join the Province, City, TTC and Metrolinx in the Toronto Relief Line subway project to examine opportunities to advance design and delivery, “consistent with the intention of accelerating key subway projects in Toronto”.

On December 13, 2018, Toronto City Council:

  • reaffirmed its support for keeping ownership of the TTC with the City of Toronto and requested the Province to “demonstrate clearly and with evidence the goals they believe can only be achieved through a change in subway ownership”;
  • Indicated interest in working with the Province to get the Relief Line subway built as a priority and as quickly as possible; and
  • authorized City Manager, Chris Murray, and the TTC’s Chief Executive Officer, Rick Leary, to negotiate with the Province the terms of reference the various partners announced today.

The agreement is signed by Michael Lindsay, the province’s special adviser to cabinet, Deputy Minister of Transportation Shelley Tapp, Murray and Leary.

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