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New agency may help end city's transit woes

Cover capital projects

James Wallace
National Post

The Ontario government plans to create a new agency to finance and oversee public transit in the Toronto region, the National Post has learned.

The agency is expected to help the city and surrounding suburbs cope with stifling traffic gridlock by co-ordinating regional bus, rail and subway services and by pouring in badly needed cash.

Ontario municipalities have been without provincial funding for four years.

“It’s a first step,” a senior provincial source said. “There’s an opportunity to make a difference, even if we just provide seed money to get things started.”

Provincial officials hope to announce plans next month to spend up to $100-million helping municipalities bankroll capital projects — from new buses to streetcar repairs.

Toronto city council, and the sprawling transit system it runs, will likely walk away with close to half of that cash.

Chris Hodgson, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, is seeking Cabinet approval for the plan today but neither he nor his spokesman would comment.

The model being discussed would see the agency hand out money for capital projects but leave the responsibility for operating costs and management of local transit services with city councils.

Further down the road, the agency could oversee such projects as a rail link to the airport, the expansion of GO Transit and the merger or privatization of GO and the TTC’s subway service.

The model for the new agency is being fleshed out by the Greater Toronto Services Board (GTSB), which already co-ordinates regional services such as waste management.

Gordon Chong, chairman of the GTSB, refused to comment on the new plan, but said there is a need to co-ordinate the region’s public transit.

The Ontario government abandoned public transit funding in 1998, after a report by David Crombie, a former Toronto mayor. Mr. Crombie concluded provincial grants were encouraging municipal councils to mismanage their transit systems.

The Toronto Transit Commission and other local transit authorities have become more efficient in the intervening years but failed to make up for the lost cash, which stood at $435-million for Metro Toronto alone in 1996.

As a result, Toronto’s transit system is almost entirely reliant on fares.




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