Whether it was crammed streetcars, new "funding tools" or the Scarborough subway extension, Toronto spent a lot of time talking transit in 2013.
The Scarborough subway extension
After months of at times nasty back-and-forth debate, council opted to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway line past Kennedy station. The move threw out a provincially funded (and council approved) plan to build a seven-stop light rail line along the route. Rob Ford — an adamant proponent of subways over surface rail — claimed victory with this decision, which he said responds to the will of local residents. Others decried it as an example of politics over planning as Scarborough is seen as a crucial source of Ford support.
There are also questions about how the extension will be paid for. A subway extension comes with a hefty $3.5 billion price tag (light rail was $1.8 billion). To make up the difference, the city will have to bring in a 1.6-per-cent property tax hike phased in over three years.
Opponents of the plan are worried that hidden costs will push the final price higher, and the tax increases need to cover for it. The city will also lose $85 million in so-called sunk costs from a contract to buy LRT vehicles that will now be torn up.
After the vote — a 24-20 squeaker — councillors continued to debate the plan:
Janet Davis said she voted against the plan, citing too many questions about the cost. “We’re going to throw away a billion dollars that we could use to fix our storm water infrastructure, to fix our recreation facilities, to fix the TTC,” she said.
TTC chair Karen Stintz, who voted for the subway extension, said the aging SRT can keep running while the new subway is built. "We will have continuous service from Kennedy,” she said. “We will be able to bring three extra subway stops to an area that is under-served by transit.”
Josh Matlow, a no voter, said it's too much money to spend on a line that will serve just one section of the city. He also said the Downtown Relief Line is "Toronto's real transit priority."
Delays, and TTC apologies during 'crush hour'
Rob Ford was the undisputed leader of apologies in 2013 but TTC boss Andy Byford came a close second. On three separate occasions this year, Byford issued apologies for poor service after difficult commutes. This in a year when the TTC introduced a customer charter to improve service.
Some of the problems were not the TTC's fault but the apologies came in a year when Toronto's subways and streetcars struggled with overcrowding and technical problems, particularly during the morning and afternoon "crush hour" when passengers cram into overcrowded vehicles. The system continues to see surging ridership, which puts more pressure on aging infrastructure. Byford himself has warned about the need to replace outdated signals, aging track and an antiquated radio system.
Transit expansion: who will pay and how?
Five years ago the province announced "The Big Move" a plan to build $50 billion worth of transit in the Toronto and Hamilton area over the next 25 years. What wasn't released was a plan to pay for it. Reams have been written over the past few years about the need for transit "revenue tools," which is a way of saying tolls, taxes and fees without actually using those words. In December the latest in a long series of tome-length transit funding studies landed. It called for new gas taxes or an HST boost to raise about $2 billion a year. With no politician keen to have their name attached to new taxes, it will be interesting to see whether this report gathers dust like so many others before it.
Some moves forward
The TTC is making some enhancements that riders will see in 2014 including larger streetcars, bigger buses and expanded use of the Presto fare card.
Construction on the Eglinton-Crosstown line will continue, but won't carry its first passenger until 2020. Work on the Union-Pearson Airport Express continues but won't hit the rails until 2015, just in time for the Pan-Am Games.