Province and city nail down terms for TTC subway upload talks
Premier Doug Ford’s government is one step closer to uploading Toronto’s subway system, after hammering out the conditions for the upcoming takeover talks with the city.
A terms of reference agreement was signed on Monday by Toronto City Manager Chris Murray, TTC CEO Richard Leary and provincial advisor Michael Lindsay.
The document sets the stage for an “evidence based review” of how much the subway system is worth, the repair and maintenance backlog and what the province would be responsible for once the upload is complete.
“The signing of the Terms of Reference between the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto signal a shared interest to improve subway service, to build more transit projects, to expand, and to integrate the regional network and get people moving,” Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said in a statement.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that he felt the agreement reflected the city’s position, as voted on in council.
“I think it is a good document that has been agreed upon by the two parties to now shape the discussion,” he said. “I felt that all of the points that city council indicated with a very strong vote should be there, were there, including an understanding that the city council position going in is the subway should remain in city hands.”
Options to be discussed
The province and city find themselves on opposite ends of the conversation. The Progressive Conservatives are looking to fulfill a key campaign promise, while city council has voted several times, as recently as December, to keep the subway system in the TTC’s hands.
On the table are three options: full upload, partial upload, or no upload.
In the full upload model the province would own the subway infrastructure itself, including the stations, land and lucrative air rights as well as be responsible for building and maintaining new and existing subway lines. Under this option, the the city would still be responsible for day-to-day operations and staffing, and keep the money collected from fares.
The second option, a partial upload, would see the province own any newly-built subway lines and stations while the existing subway infrastructure remained with the TTC.
The final option would see the city remain the sole owner of the subway system, while the province takes over responsibility for delivering new transit projects, similar to the existing relationship between municipalities and Metrolinx -- the provincial agency responsible for regional transit expansion.
While the city has yet to put a price tag on the cost of the subway system, city council asked top bureaucrats late last year to bring in a validator to draw up the final figure.
However, government officials say the cost of the repair backlog, which the province would assume, would likely be deducted from that bill.
Advocacy group CodeRedTO said that while it welcomed the “transparency” of the provincial government’s agreement, there appeared to be some options that were not addressed in the Terms of Reference.
“The city and province agreed in their problem statement that there is a need for a "long-term, sustainable, predictable funding model." However, the allowable options do not include simply improving funding for transit, as has been universally supported over the last decade by BIAs, Boards of Trade, transit riders, transportation planners and researchers,” the organization said in a statement.
“Transfer of ownership is not necessary to fund operations or capital expansion. We encourage the province to consider creating new dedicated revenue streams, as we see in almost all other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States.”
A government official, speaking on background, said while there is no timeline for the discussions to take place, the province intends to introduce legislation in the spring, giving both governments just a few months to negotiate.
The official said it took some “heavy lifting” to even get to this agreement and the only reason the terms of reference was signed was because the province agreed to give the city “a fair hearing.”
The terms of reference include rules of engagement, including negotiating in good faith, sharing information in a “timely and transparent” manner and issuing joint communiques during the process.
However, the official noted Lindsay is “untethered” in his ability to negotiate the path forward for the province.
The province also agreed to include “meaningful consultation” with the public and stakeholders, which was a key demand made by city council in December.
If that happens, Lindsey may be required to issue a final report to the government, as laid out in his terms by the Ministry of Transportation.
“If public consultation is undertaken, the Special Advisor and Panel may be expected to deliver a final report to government that captures the feedback received throughout the process,” Lindsay’s terms of reference state.
Yurek has maintained that Lindsey is only providing ongoing confidential advice to the Premier Doug Ford and the cabinet, while government officials said the legislation would act as the final report.
Ward 12 city councillor Josh Matlow told CTV News Toronto that the city should never have signed the document.
“I don’t think that the provincial government knows exactly how they are going to do it, they know they want to do it, but they need Toronto’s help,” Matlow said. “I don’t think we should capitulate and surrender and go to the table and hand over the keys to the house and show them the alarm code of how to get in in the middle of the night.”