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Successful Olympics depends on transit

Joseph Hall
COMMUTER CORNER

If Toronto is to move people around the city during the 2008 Olympics, one thing is certain: The games will cost taxpayers money. A lot of money.

In their attempt to draw a positive bottom line on Olympic funding projections, Toronto bid officials have placed a Chinese wall between the things they say they will have to pay for and things that are not specific to the Games.

Transportation facilities are apparently being counted among the latter. But adequate transportation is critical to a successful Olympics.

It was rickety, late and lost buses that largely cost Atlanta its potential Olympic prestige, and it still feels the sting of the resulting international scorn five years later.

If Toronto is to avoid a similar embarrassment should this city be awarded the Games in July, Queens’ Park, Ottawa or some combination of the two will have to pour billions of dollars into transit and roads across Greater Toronto.

And they’ll have to start pouring soon.

Just look, for example, at GO Transit, which was alluded to in a flattering way in a report the city received last week from the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation team.

Those evaluators were apparently under the impression that the “extensive commuter bus and rail network” that is GO was on its way to a 50 per cent increase in its annual passenger capacity.

While GO has a 10-year capital plan to achieve such an increase, the problem is the system doesn’t have the capital.

The 10-year plan, which would simply allow GO to keep pace with the GTA’s growing population, would cost $1 billion and have to be accelerated to meet a Games’ deadline.

So far, Queen’s Park has pledged $250 million over four years, to be shared by all inter-regional transit systems in the Golden Horseshoe.

If the province is shortchanging GO, however, the Toronto Transit Commission has received nothing but rebuke from the Harris Tories.

The province, which once picked up 75 per cent of the system’s capital costs, has cut its contribution to zero.

And the city, which has been made totally responsible for the TTC’s purchasing and repair programs, has capped its capital contribution at $200 million a year.

That is hundreds of millions of dollars short of what the system needs to meet its own 10-year capital plan and to live up to its commitments should Toronto win the Games.

The TTC Olympic plan will depend almost entirely on the system’s ability to accelerate its purchase of the 1,340 buses it must buy over the next decade to keep its fleet healthy.

By obtaining new buses that would normally have come on line between 2008 and 2010 and by delaying the retirement of some older vehicles, the TTC can put some 800 extra buses on the road for the Games.

The remainder of the 1,500 extra buses the city would need would have to be borrowed from nearby transit agencies in Ontario, New York and Quebec, and rented from private operators.

`If nobody buys us those buses, we’ve got bigger problems’

“We don’t want to buy anything we don’t need for the Olympics, just give us what we need a little faster,” says the TTC’s Gary Webster.

As with GO, however, the TTC has no idea if its 10-year capital program will be funded at all, let alone accelerated. If no more money is forthcoming, the TTC’s annual capital shortfalls over the remainder of the decade will range from $43 million to $349 million a year. May. 21, 2001. 01:15 AM

Successful Olympics depends on transit

Joseph Hall COMMUTER CORNER

If Toronto is to move people around the city during the 2008 Olympics, one thing is certain: The games will cost taxpayers money. A lot of money.

In their attempt to draw a positive bottom line on Olympic funding projections, Toronto bid officials have placed a Chinese wall between the things they say they will have to pay for and things that are not specific to the Games.

Transportation facilities are apparently being counted among the latter. But adequate transportation is critical to a successful Olympics.

It was rickety, late and lost buses that largely cost Atlanta its potential Olympic prestige, and it still feels the sting of the resulting international scorn five years later.

If Toronto is to avoid a similar embarrassment should this city be awarded the Games in July, Queens’ Park, Ottawa or some combination of the two will have to pour billions of dollars into transit and roads across Greater Toronto.

And they’ll have to start pouring soon.

Just look, for example, at GO Transit, which was alluded to in a flattering way in a report the city received last week from the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation team.

Those evaluators were apparently under the impression that the “extensive commuter bus and rail network” that is GO was on its way to a 50 per cent increase in its annual passenger capacity.

While GO has a 10-year capital plan to achieve such an increase, the problem is the system doesn’t have the capital.

The 10-year plan, which would simply allow GO to keep pace with the GTA’s growing population, would cost $1 billion and have to be accelerated to meet a Games’ deadline.

So far, Queen’s Park has pledged $250 million over four years, to be shared by all inter-regional transit systems in the Golden Horseshoe.

If the province is shortchanging GO, however, the Toronto Transit Commission has received nothing but rebuke from the Harris Tories.

The province, which once picked up 75 per cent of the system’s capital costs, has cut its contribution to zero.

And the city, which has been made totally responsible for the TTC’s purchasing and repair programs, has capped its capital contribution at $200 million a year.

That is hundreds of millions of dollars short of what the system needs to meet its own 10-year capital plan and to live up to its commitments should Toronto win the Games.

The TTC Olympic plan will depend almost entirely on the system’s ability to accelerate its purchase of the 1,340 buses it must buy over the next decade to keep its fleet healthy.

By obtaining new buses that would normally have come on line between 2008 and 2010 and by delaying the retirement of some older vehicles, the TTC can put some 800 extra buses on the road for the Games.

The remainder of the 1,500 extra buses the city would need would have to be borrowed from nearby transit agencies in Ontario, New York and Quebec, and rented from private operators.


‘If nobody buys us those buses, we’ve got bigger problems’


“We don’t want to buy anything we don’t need for the Olympics, just give us what we need a little faster,” says the TTC’s Gary Webster.

As with GO, however, the TTC has no idea if its 10-year capital program will be funded at all, let alone accelerated. If no more money is forthcoming, the TTC’s annual capital shortfalls over the remainder of the decade will range from $43 million to $349 million a year.

“If somebody doesn’t buy the 1,340 buses we need, we can’t make our Games contribution,” Webster says. “But if nobody buys us those buses, we’ve got bigger problems than just meeting the Olympics anyway.”

Queen’s Park has guaranteed to cover any financial shortfalls directly related to the Olympics. But if it doesn’t also fund the GTA’s transit needs, it will guarantee Toronto’s Games will be a failure.

Readers can contact Joseph Hall by phone at (416) 869-4390 or e-mail at gjhall@thestar.ca. If somebody doesn't buy the 1,340 buses we need, we can't make our Games contribution,'' Webster says.But if nobody buys us those buses, we’ve got bigger problems than just meeting the Olympics anyway.”

Queen’s Park has guaranteed to cover any financial shortfalls directly related to the Olympics. But if it doesn’t also fund the GTA’s transit needs, it will guarantee Toronto’s Games will be a failure.

Readers can contact Joseph Hall by phone at (416) 869-4390 or e-mail at gjhall@thestar.ca.




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