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Queen's Park could be taking TTC for a ride

Royson James

THE NINE newly appointed city councillors who make up the Toronto Transit Commission are in for a nasty surprise at their inaugural meeting today at city hall.

Commuters and taxpayers will get theirs soon after.

TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme will tell the politicians that the transit system needs $1.5 billion over the next five years to keep the trains, buses and streetcars running and in a state of good repair.

The news doesn’t get any better after that. The 10-year forecast calls for $3.8 billion, or $380 million a year.

Shortly after the politicians digest the massive figure and before city council votes on it, the transit commissioners will turn their attention to the operating budget. This is expected to grow beyond the whopping $764 million approved for this year - two times what it takes to run the entire City of Mississauga.

The city gives the transit system $144 million in property taxes to help with its operating budget. And city taxpayers cover the borrowing costs to pay for the multi-billion building and maintenance program for the TTC.

Yet, this is not nearly enough to run the system. Why? Blame it on provincial and federal government neglect.

In the United States, for example, the federal government pays half the maintenance costs and about 5 per cent of the operating cost of transit systems. And state governments south of the border pay on average 21 per cent of the operating budget and 12 per cent of the maintenance and building costs.

The TTC gets no federal or provincial help. And Queen’s Park has been hiding behind a carefully contrived deception.

Queen’s Park unloaded transit costs on the city, but it did so after taking on education and other costs in a revenue-neutral swap, Premier Mike Harris says.

But unless the Premier has some secret numbers that are the direct opposite of those put forward by the city and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, his claims are unsupportable.

What we also know for sure is that Harris and the Tories made the swap in a manner that was contrary to the advice the government got from the many panels, groups, board of trade and experts who studied the issue.

David Crombie’s Who Does What panel warned the government that the swap would not work unless “municipalities gain some ability to finance additional costs with revenue that is freed up from the property tax base, or other sources such as the existing provincial gasoline tax.”

Even if the swap was revenue-neutral, the looming costs of maintaining the TTC, the province’s only transit system with a subway, are so staggering that property taxpayers should not be expected to pay it all.

Instead of fixing the problem, the bullies at Queen’s Park are dropping hints that they may take over the TTC.

Well, they took over education and we see the calm and efficiency and peace that has broken out in our schools. They took over and closed hospitals and, my, haven’t the people responded with shouts of praise.

Now they might be after control of the TTC? To what end?

Eighty per cent of the $3.8 billion capital costs are for basic maintenance. The majority of the rest is for the Sheppard subway - the same subway that the Tories endorsed when they took office and killed all the other transit expansion plans.

Methinks the Tories are bluffing. This story must continue to be told till they come to their senses and give the TTC and other transit systems more funds.

Royson James’ column usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.