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TTC deserves some of Tories' transit cash

Joseph Hall

Guess what the second largest inter-regional transit system in Ontario is.

Well this may come as a surprise to the Ontario government, but it’s the Toronto Transit Commission. No contest.

The TTC carries some 25 million riders between Toronto and the 905 regions every year. Only GO Transit, with 40 million passengers annually, can claim more.

So when the provincial Tories announced in their budget last week that only inter-regional systems could share in a new $250 million, four-year transit initiative, there could be no rational reason for them to exclude the TTC.

And if - as an Ontario SuperBuild Corp. official told The Star’s Richard Brennan - the money was designed solely for inter-regional transit expansion that connects two or more regional municipalities in the GTA or the Golden Horseshoe, then the TTC still fits the bill.

The system, which already runs dozens of buses into York and Peel Regions, would love to expand its subways into Mississauga and Vaughan or further upgrade its hugely successful route to Pearson International Airport.

“That (budget money) is something we would pursue, absolutely,” says TTC deputy general manager Lynn Hilborn.

“It was disappointing that the word `Toronto’ was missing from the budget, but I feel we have a real opportunity to argue within their definition of inter-regional that we qualify.”

One reasonable launching point into the new money stream would be in expanded parking lots on the city’s periphery, Hilborn says.

With most parts of the 905 inadequately served by public transit, the vast majority of suburban residents use their cars to get in and out of the city. Building huge parking lots at the end of TTC subway lines could take some of those 905 vehicles off the road for at least part of their trip.

“That’s one place we could see the money going that would fit into the (budget) criteria,” Hilborn says.

“But if you fit in all the criteria they ask for, then I think they’d have a hard time saying we’re any different than Hamilton or Oakville or anyone else who might get some of that money.”

It’s unlikely, however, the province will see it this way.

What’s more probable is that Queen’s Park simply meant to snub the TTC, which as the country’s largest transit system has raised the loudest voice against the provincial abandonment of public transit.

And while this budget breeze holds a whiff of vindictiveness for the TTC, it will surely be welcomed at GO Transit, where most of the money will likely wind up.

GO, of course, is a worthy agency that could certainly use the infusion.

It has been waiting more than two years now for a sign that somebody, anybody, would help fund a 10-year, $1 billion capital expansion plan.

That plan, which would simply allow the system to keep up with expected population growth, has already fallen behind schedule as it languished in fiscal limbo.

Even if most of the money does flow to GO, that system will still be well short of its actual capital requirements.

The $250 million may well be a signal that the Tories are hearing the cries for meaningful transit funding coming from all sectors of the province, most notably their beloved business interests.

But if the money represents the sum total of their penitence, rather than a hesitant first step, it can buy no real atonement.