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New city transit blueprint looks north

Plans include subway link to Vaughan, tolls, vehicle fees

By Paul Moloney
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau

Toronto’s proposed official plan calls for a massive expansion of the transit system to be paid for by either road tolls or vehicle registration fees and parking levies.

The document would entrench the city’s commitment to extend the Spadina subway line from Downsview station north to York University, a project the Toronto Transit Commission is already studying.

The TTC is looking at whether projected ridership warrants going even farther north, to the Vaughan city centre near Highway 407 and 400.

A special levy on motorists could be set to generate enough revenue to pay for the $1.4 billion project over, say, 30 years, said TTC general secretary Vince Rodo.

The TTC hasn’t crunched the numbers to determine how high the fees would have to be, Rodo added.

Vaughan Mayor Lorna Jackson is enthusiastic about the subway line and has already approached federal Transport Minister David Collenette for infrastructure funds.

“The university is very anxious to get a subway,” Jackson said. “But interestingly enough, they don’t want it to stop there, and the reason is they cannot handle the amount of parking.”

Farther north, the TTC could build a giant parking lot for 3,000 cars to coax commuters off both Highway 407 and 400, Jackson said.

“I think it’s in Toronto’s interest to intercept commuters. That would be very convenient, straight off the highway into the parking lot and on to the subway,” she said.

The document - A Transportation Vision for the City of Toronto Official Plan - also calls for the Sheppard subway, now under construction, to be extended from Don Mills Rd. to Scarborough Town Centre.

It resurrects the Eglinton subway from Eglinton West station on the Spadina line west to Black Creek Dr., and takes the Bloor subway west into Mississauga.

“It basically says to the world that this is what the city intends to do over the the long term,” said Councillor Howard Moscoe, the TTC chair. “All we’re waiting for is some money to fall from Queen’s Park.”

The report pours cold water on the city’s campaign for a share of provincial fuel taxes for transit expansion, since that would take money from health, education and social services.

Instead, it favours “alternative mechanisms such as road pricing or new GTA levies on automobiles and their use.”

Moscoe suggested road tolls could be placed on dedicated lanes on major expressways to speed motorists in and out of downtown. “If you want a fast route, pay a little money. It’s an idea whose time has come.”

New fees would require a strong sales pitch throughout the GTA

But Councillor Joe Pantalone, who chaired council’s official plan committee, said tolls could hurt downtown.

“If tolls mean people stop coming downtown, then congratulations, you’re just encouraging sprawl,” Pantalone said.

A GTA vehicle and parking fee may be more palatable because both 416 and 905 residents would pay, but it would clearly require a strong sales pitch by a regional coalition of municipal leaders, he said.

The argument would have to be that it’s in no one’s interest to see traffic congestion and smog grow worse because of a lack of transit, he added.

“I think any funding formula has to solve not only Toronto’s problems but the 905 regions’ problems, too. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy that has unfortunately developed between Toronto and 905 doesn’t help anybody.”

Getting the Harris government’s approval for new levies could be difficult, Moscoe admitted, but the transit priorities in the official plan will be the city’s policy for years to come.

“Every government has its day. This government will disappear and hopefully we’ll get a friendlier welcome from the next government that comes along.”