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Province's $250M won't do: Ootes

Money for transit

James Wallace
National Post

A provincial budget pledge to spend $250-million expanding mass transit in the Toronto region will do little to alleviate gridlock or solve the TTC’s pressing money troubles, Case Ootes, the Deputy Mayor, said yesterday.

“I don’t want to be a wet blanket but I don’t think that comes near to addressing our problems.”

Mr. Ootes said it will cost $850-million annually to expand the transportation network of roads, rail service and highways in the region to keep pace with growth and deal with congestion.

“What we need is not money for new projects but a comprehensive strategy for transit in the greater Toronto area,” he said.

The $250-million is one-time money that will be paid out over the next four years for new transit projects. It is conditional upon matching funds from local government or the private sector.

Ontario’s Conservative government abandoned transit funding during its first term, arguing it was a local responsibility. But Jim Flaherty, the Minister of Finance, said the government sees a role for itself, Ottawa and the private sector in expanding the transit service.

“We are going back into the transit business on the capital side, saying we will help the regions work together so that we have, hopefully, seamless transit between the regions,” the Minister said.

Brian Ashton, chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission, ridiculed Mr. Flaherty’s offer.

“It’s not worth a token in the fare box of the TTC,” Mr. Ashton said, explaining the city cannot afford to contribute matching funds for new projects.

He said the TTC cannot afford to maintain its existing fleet of subways, buses and streetcars, let alone find money for new projects to expand service.

“We need about an additional $50-million for each of the next five years just to hang on by our fingernails,” Mr. Ashton said.

The TTC’s long-term financial outlook is so grim, the commission intends to begin work this summer to identify areas where services can be cut and will announce specific plans for reductions in the fall, he said.

“We’re going to have to dramatically shrink the TTC,” Mr. Ashton said. “And that’s not a threat, it’s not the sky is falling or anything else, it’s just the reality.”

Gordon Chong, chairman of the Greater Toronto Services Board, said the provincial money for capital investment will do little to ease Toronto’s chronic traffic congestion on its own. He said Queen’s Park and Ottawa need to make a long-term commitment to transit.

Alexandra Gillespie, a spokes- man for Chris Hodgson, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, said the money promised in the budget is not the only solution being considered by the province.

Mr. Hodgson has begun consultations that will result in specific programs to combat gridlock, Ms. Gillespie said.

Judy Sgro, chairman of the federal Liberal caucus task force on urban issues, said transit funding for municipalities is her “highest priority.”

“It’s not just an issue of writing a cheque,” Ms. Sgro said.

“We know they’re struggling. We’re looking at seeing at how we can be of assistance.”