Councillors raise concerns over Ontario’s plan to upload TTC
Concerns are being raised by Toronto city councillors about the province's plans to upload the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) subway infrastructure and maintenance costs in the new year.
A provincially-appointed special advisor is expected to deliver a report in early December on the "path forward," according to Ontario's transportation minister. This report will then trigger consultation and negotiations with the City of Toronto in 2019.
"We'll work out the details as we go forward," Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek told reporters at Queen's Park on Thursday.
Among the top concerns for city councillors: what will uploading mean for the future of Toronto's transit planning, how will it impact overcrowding on the Yonge line and what could financial compensation look like?
Downtown councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam argues the province is "stealing" the subway system unless it adequately pays the city a fair market value for real estate, potential development rights and the investment from Toronto taxpayers for upgrades.
"If they're going to take it from us, we're going to say no," Wong-Tam told CTV News Toronto. "If they want to buy it, we have to put a price tag on it."
Wong-Tam wants to present a motion at city council to consider auditing the value of subway stations to determine the price tag.
Yurek said that uploading the maintenance responsibilities of subway infrastructure will take a "huge cost" off the city's hands.
There are concerns as well about extending subway lines into the suburbs and the impact that would have on the overburdened Yonge line.
The TTC says currently about 28,000 people travel through Bloor-Yonge Station between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. every weekday. Many stations from Bloor to Union are either at capacity or over capacity, with riders often crammed into subway cars.
Councillor Josh Matlow says adding more riders from regions outside the GTA would add more pressure to an already over taxed system.
"Any reasonable honest person would address the existing overcrowding before trying to stuff more people into a system," Matlow told CTV News Toronto.
Matlow suggested building transit lines further into York and Durham regions would allow the Ford government to "score political points" to win suburban votes, even if the "evidence doesn't support" building those lines.
Downtown relief line
Yurek wouldn't commit to the Downtown relief line, which many city councillors believe is a key transit priority to divert riders away from the Yonge line.
The relief line would travel along Queen Street and Eastern Avenue before turning north at Carlaw Avenue. It would connect with Line 2 on Danforth Avenue.
The project is meant to provide an alternative route from downtown to the east end, which would reduce overcrowding at interchange stations.
Yurek clarified that the government is "thinking about Ontario as a whole.”
"Once the upload is complete, then we will have the ability to plan and build and finance further expansions in the TTC as well as the GTHA region,” Yurek said.
For Wong-Tam that was enough to declare the relief line “dead," saying she isn't seeing the support needed to build it.
While consultations with the City of Toronto will begin in 2019, there are questions about whether the province would assert its power to deliver a key election promise.
The City of Toronto Act is a creation of the province, and councillors say Premier Doug Ford has demonstrated a willingness to change the act to guarantee an outcome.
When Yurek was asked if the city's wishes would be respected if it says no, he responded "we'll cross that bridge when it happens.
Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters Thursday that he looks forward to consulting with the province about the plan to upload the TTC and to ensure that the deal is beneficial to TTC riders, employees and taxpayers.
“The premier has indicated to me that he would consult. I take him at his word on that,” he said. “They are intending to listen to what we have to say and to go through with us the process of examining any intention that they’d like to go forward with to make sure it is in the best interest of TTC riders and fair to the city of Toronto (and) fair to those taxpayers.”