The ambitious OneCity transit proposal has hit a major bump in the road after the province rejected the plan.
On June 29, Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli told reporters the ministry would not halt work on the four previously approved LRT lines in order to give the green light to the $30-billion proposal.
The plan, which that would build 175 kilometres of public transit composed of six subway lines, 10 light rail transit vehicles, and five bus and streetcar routes over the course of 30 years, was unveiled on June 27 by TTC Chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker to bring rapid transit to all four corners of the city.
“Out of the March panel report, we identified that a further plan was required beyond the four lines that were approved and any expansion needed to include a funding mechanism,” Stintz told the Town Crier.
The city would foot one-third of the bill through new taxing power. On average, property tax increases would start at $45 a year and grow to $180 a year. The resulting $272 million a year in revenue would be solely dedicated to building transit infrastructure.
However, this plan would require a regulatory change from the province, which has thus far rejected the idea.
Even if the province changes its mind, OneCity would still require the provincial and federal governments to foot two-thirds of the bill.
“It is our hope that the provincial and federal governments will come to the table, but even if they don’t, it will still leave us with revenue,” Stintz said.
Councillors from across the city had mixed reactions to the proposal, which was largely formulated in private and presented to the mayor’s chief of staff shortly before it was unveiled. The mayor has stated he opposes the proposal.
“Isn’t this exciting? Somebody’s actually thinking of transit into the future,” remarked Ward 30 councillor Paula Fletcher.
“I think this is going to force the other levels of government to actually put their money where their mouth is and decide how they’re going to fund transit,” she said. “It’s not free.”
Fletcher noted portions of the proposal, such as building Light Rail Transit on Don Mills Road and building a subway link from Pape Station to Union Station, are recycled or tweaked proposals from the Transit City and Downtown Relief Line plans.
“Much of this had been talked about for decades,” she said.
Ward 13 councillor Sarah Doucette expressed disappointment at the mayor immediately opposing the proposal.
“I hate when people just say no — we have to look at these things,” she said. “We have to come in with open eyes, open minds and see how we can fund it.”
But the OneCity presentation was “long on the glitz and glitter and a little short on the calm rational analysis,” according to Ward 26 councillor John Parker.
“I wouldn’t have urged that we make a circus out of the whole exercise,” he said.
Despite that, it’s a good first step in creating dialogue about building transit in Toronto, he said.
“It comes with question marks all over it and we need to work out some of the issues,” Parker said. “It’s certainly not the last word in the matter…. I regard it as a conversation starter and to that degree, I see it as a welcome one.”
Ward 25 councillor Jaye Robinson said she found the proposal intriguing, but unrealistic.
“Regarding the funding formulas, that’s not something I’m convinced on,” she said. “I think it’s presumptuous to think the provincial and federal government will come to the table.”
Ward 10 councillor James Pasternak was pleased to see the proposal included extending the Sheppard line to Downsview Station. However, he too expressed reservations about raising the necessary funds.
“It’s very easy to draw lines on a page,” he said. “Getting the political will to raise the money is a lot tougher.”
Stintz said the proposal is still preliminary and could change. The next step is for council to approve a staff feasibility study in July.
“We have an opportunity to continue to advance this initiative for further study,” Stintz said. “The conclusions may be different than what the original proposal looks like, but I think there’s value in continuing to study the proposal.”