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Taxpayers should foot subway losses, TTC says

Councillors talk of `mothballing’ Sheppard line

Paul Moloney

Taxpayers should subsidize the operating losses of the Sheppard subway line when it opens next year, the Toronto Transit Commission says.

The 6.4-kilometre, five-station line between Yonge St. and Don Mills Rd. is expected to lose $7.5 million a year, TTC chief general manager Rick Ducharme said yesterday.

The TTC would need the subsidy for many years since the $7.5 million loss is expected to dwindle only gradually as ridership creeps up.

The subsidy request has some councillors considering whether to mothball the new subway line before it opens.

The line will be busy, with about 30 million riders a year, but almost all will be people who now take buses along Sheppard, Ducharme said in an interview.

The TTC will save some money by running fewer buses, but the higher costs of running a subway will put the service into the red, he said.

“We’ve always had a subsidy agreement on new subways until the line pays for itself,” said Councillor Howard Moscoe (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), a TTC commissioner.

“It’s a normal thing for the start-up of a new subway,” Moscoe said. “It’s not an unreasonable request.”

City councillors are trying to find ways to reduce an expected $305 million budget shortfall for 2001.

If city council refuses the subsidy, the TTC would have to look at cutting service elsewhere in the city or raising fares, Ducharme said.

Council’s budget committee has asked the TTC to report on mothballing the $1 billion line before it even opens, a request TTC chair Councillor Brian Ashton (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) dismissed as “crazy politics.”

But Councillor Olivia Chow, a budget committee member, said the mothballing idea deserves study.

“I think of course we should look closely at those figures, not that I would support mothballing necessarily,” said Chow (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina).

“If you want to run it as a business, those (lines) that are least efficient go first.”

Moscoe said he’s prepared to look at mothballing because he is frustrated over broken promises of funding for the line.

“If need be, I’ll mothball the subway and lease it out to movie companies to get some revenue, because that’s about the only revenue we’re going to make on it.”

Moscoe said then-North York mayor Mel Lastman had sold the project to the former Metro council on the basis that special charges would be levied on new development to go toward the Sheppard line. And a dedicated 1 per cent tax levy was to have generated cash for the line, he said.

“All of these ideas emanated from the mayor. It seems that Mel has abandoned the citizens of North York, so I’m not surprised that he would abandon his pet project as well.”

Councillor David Miller (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) wants answers to what happened to the special tax levy.

“It vanished,” Miller said. “In the hurly burly of amalgamation, it just absolutely vanished. I think we need to know what happened to that.”

Ducharme is to appear before budget committee tomorrow to respond to the issue of mothballing the Sheppard line and also the existing Scarborough rapid transit line from Kennedy subway station to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Councillor Sherene Shaw (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), said the idea of shutting down the Scarborough line was “asinine.”

“It’s short-sighted and stupid.”