Transit Toronto is sponsored by TransSee.ca bus tracker and next vehicle arrivals. TransSee features include vehicle tracking by route or fleet number, schedule adherence, off route vehicles and more advanced features. Works on all mobile devices and on any browser.
Supports Toronto area agencies TTC, GO trains, MiWay, YRT, HSR and GRT, as well as NY MTA, LA metro, SF MUNI, Boston MBTA, and (new) Barrie.

GO sidetracked in bill battle

City, province still fighting over the expansion tab

Queen’s Park says TTC is now funded — so pay up

KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

GO Transit finds itself the innocent bystander in a war of words over who is supposed to pay what in terms of transit funding in Greater Toronto.

“Clearly, the funding that they’re fighting about concerns GO,” said GO chair Gordon Chong. “We’re being used in the sense that the city has a fight with the province and we happen to be the meat in the sandwich. So the province and the city should figure it out. They can’t go on like this every year. It is stupid.”

With various names in the primary roles, the city and the province have been fighting over the issue for years.

It has come to the fore again with the province’s announcement that it will funnel $355 million in gasoline tax revenues to the city over the next three years, $91 million of that in the first year. Mayor David Miller took exception to attached conditions that require Toronto to start paying its share of GO’s expansion costs. The city’s unpaid bill has grown to about $32 million since 2002.

Budget chief David Soknacki said that without more money for the TTC for 2005, it can’t boost transit ridership. Paying a big share of GO’s expansion will eat into the $91 million, leaving the total far below the $90 million the city received from the province in 2004, including a $70 million transfusion the provincial government insists was meant as a one-time bailout.

The fact is that Toronto paid part of GO’s operating budget in 1999, 2000 and 2001 because it was ordered to do so by then premier Mike Harris, who had downloaded financial responsibility for GO to the municipalities through the Greater Toronto Services Board.

The province took back responsibility for GO in 2001, with the proviso that the GTSB come to some sort of funding agreement for expansion plans. In 2002, Toronto representatives reached an agreement through the GTSB to pay for part of GO’s “capital growth” budget.

Though Toronto held the majority on the services board, that agreement was rejected in a 2002 political showdown between then mayor Mel Lastman and the provincial Tories.

City councillors backing Lastman said Toronto would pay for GO only after the TTC’s needs were fully met. Harris, Lastman and the GTSB are long gone, but the legacy continues.

Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), who was budget chief at the time, insists that Harris announced he was “taking back the cost of funding GO Transit — period, stop, end of story.” But ministry staff continued to tell cities they were responsible for capital funding.

“Council at the time made it very clear that the City of Toronto was not going to pay the bill,” Shiner said. “I believe the mayor is currently right in saying we shouldn’t pay for that.”

The city’s unpaid GO bill will only get bigger as the system presses forward with plans to add tracks, increase service and double annual riders.

Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar says the new gas-tax share meets the TTC’s need for predictable, sustainable transit funding, so the city should pay its GO bill.

“I made clear to them we will honour our obligations and they have to honour their obligations,” he said. “The municipalities agreed among themselves to pay one-third of the growth capital costs and we are asking them to honour those commitments.”

There are three GO budgets:

  • The operating budget, about $240 million, is covered by fares, advertising and a $40 million provincial subsidy.

  • The rehabilitation budget, $100 million, keeps equipment in good repair and is mostly covered by the province.

  • The $100 million capital growth budget, designated for expanding service, is under dispute. In theory, it’s supposed to be split evenly three ways. In practical terms, Ottawa will pay only $17 million while the province will pay $50 million, leaving municipalities to pay the remaining $33 million.

Like Toronto, Hamilton has refused to pay. The regional governments have paid through development levies, although resentment sometimes surfaces.

“I’m not going to argue about it,” Takhar said. “I think we’re offering great assistance to the City of Toronto. … All I would say is look at the numbers.” In a news release yesterday, the province outlined the ways GO benefits Toronto:

  • Ninety-six per cent of GO’s rail riders travel downtown.

  • Downtown office towers and, by extension, the city’s commercial property-tax base, are clear beneficiaries of GO.

  • GO has 16 rail stations and five bus terminals in the city, serving Toronto residents.

  • About 9.5 million of GO’s passengers transfer to the TTC every year, feeding in revenue.

  • 30,000 people move through Union Station hourly at peak times, carrying the equivalent of three Gardiner Expressways.

Councillor Howard Moscoe, who chairs the TTC, said yesterday that Miller should sit down with Premier Dalton McGuinty and resolve their differences. “We’ve worked so hard to build up goodwill, there’s no point in us fighting,” he said.

Efforts are being made to set up a meeting, said Soknacki, who wants to discuss with Queen’s Park a range of issues. Though the current spat centres on transit, the real fight is about the city’s ongoing budget crisis.

With files from Kerry Gillespie and Paul Moloney




dividerinside