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TTC budget wave threatens to swamp city

Commuter Corner
Joseph Hall

When you plot the TTC’s 10-year capital budget figures out graphically, they bear an ominous resemblance to an oncoming tidal wave.

And unless someone does something soon, that’s just how they’re going to act when they run up against the city a few years from now.

From a low point of about $170 million for capital projects in 2002, the system’s budget graph swells up to about half a billion dollars in each of 2007, 2008 and 2009.

During those years, the commission will need to purchase most of the 212 subway cars and 770 low-floor buses it will require during the rest of the decade as well as rebuild 148 streetcars.

And every year the provincial Tories fail to get back into transit funding - as they did yet again in last weeks budget - the resulting $1.5 billion wave will be harder and harder to handle.

“You can either pay me now or pay me later,” says TTC chair Howard Moscoe. “The thing is, if you wait until later, you likely won’t be able to afford to pay me.”

What the TTC has proposed is to level off its vicious budgetary crests and troughs by acquiring a constant level of capital funding of about $350 million annually over the next eight or nine years.

By pre-purchasing some subway cars that will be absolutely essential by decade’s end, for example, the system will spend a little more money than need be now to ease its crushing funding requirements later on.

That’s a strategy the cash-strapped city - left responsible for the system’s entire capital budget last year when the province downloaded its 75 per cent share - has already rejected as too expensive.

But if $350 million is too steep, that leaves one to wonder what will happen when the budget balloons to $500 million in seven or eight years.

It also leaves the province as the only possible breakwall against that oncoming tsunami.

Unless Queen’s Park takes up this responsibility - and polls have shown public support solidly behind provincial transit funding - then the seeds of a real disaster could be sown.

In the transit game, the first thing to fall behind during tough budgetary times has traditionally been system upkeep.

“And if we don’t keep our state of good repair flowing and if we don’t replenish our buses with new buses as required or new subway cars as required, it will end up in a crisis,” Moscoe says.

“And the end product of the last crisis was the (1995) subway crash.”

The Tories have maintained that since they abandoned transit they left Toronto with plenty of money through provincial uploading to pay for the TTC and the city’s share of GO Transit.

But unless Mayor Mel Lastman, virtually every member of council and all senior staff at both transit agencies are lying, that is simply not the case.

Moving along:

On a particularly gruesome stretch of Queen St. W. last week, construction left only one lane open to westbound traffic between Bay St. and University Ave.

That left motorists tied up in a grinding gridlock as far back as Jarvis St. during the morning rush hours.

On Friday morning, however, the situation was made even worse by the inconsiderate actions of at least three TTC streetcar drivers.

Three times during a 20-minute period alone, the stretched streetcars that run the Queen St. route pulled into intersections on stale green lights.

The more than predictable result was that the streetcars were stuck right there, blocking north and southbound motorists for their entire green-light turns.

TTC streetcars carry tens of thousands of people to and from work every day. They thus rid the roads of tens of thousands of cars and should be given some priority on the streets.

But they do not have the right to block intersections and, during summer construction season, someone up at the system’s Davisville headquarters should be laying down this law.

Readers can contact Joseph Hall by phone at (416) 869-4390 or e-mail at