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Finally, mayor gets transit bucks

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STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

After posing for a picture on the Union Station subway platform, Mayor David Miller makes his way back to city hall with the city�s first gas tax instalment, which he received from federal ministers John Godfrey, Joe Volpe and Tony Ianno yesterday as a giant novelty cheque for $24,450,000. The city will get $407 million over five years. Story, B1.

Huge cheque turns heads

Soon, it may turn around transit

JOHN SPEARS
CITY HALL BUREAU

Nothing grabs attention quite like the sight of a tall, blond mayor stalking the city’s streets and subway system carrying a giant cheque for $24.45 million.

Wearing a grin and toting the cheque, Miller hopped the subway to carry the symbolic payment from the federal government back to his office at Toronto City Hall after a news conference at Union Station.

“Tremendous. Long overdue,” a beaming Cindy Winwood said after waving to the mayor with his cheque as they both boarded the subway at Union.

Winwood, a TTC regular for 20 years, says she’s “never had a complaint” about the service, but figures it could use some money for improvements.

“A lot of the buses are outdated; they don’t have the handicapped facilities that they should have,” she said.

A cab driver did a double-take at the mayor as he strolled with his cheque along Queen St.

“Isn’t that John Tory?” he asked his passenger. (Miller defeated Tory in the last election; Tory now leads the Ontario Conservatives.)

The $24.45 million presented to Miller yesterday is the first instalment of federal gas-tax money that Ottawa has agreed to turn over to Toronto and other cities for environmentally sustainable projects. Toronto will spend it on public transit.

The city is slated to get $48 million this year. The sum will rise each year for five years until the flow is maintained at an annual level of $162 million, said federal Infrastructure Minister John Godfrey.

Toronto’s total over the first five years will be $407.3 million, plus $197 million expected to be doled out over two years as a result of an NDP-Liberal amendment to the federal budget.

The Toronto Transit Commission plans to buy hundreds of buses, subway cars and streetcars with the help of provincial and federal funds. Miller said keeping the current system in good repair and expanding surface service are priorities.

“The TTC has an ambitious plan to expand using buses and streetcar right-of-ways,” he said after receiving the cheque.

Extending the subway to York University is desirable, but the $1.5 billion price tag is an obstacle, he said.

“We would like to do that; it’s important, but we have to take care of the system we have first,” he said. “Then we have to expand where we can using buses and streetcars, and then subways. Those are the priorities.”

Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, whose government would share the cost of extending the line, said earlier this week that he wants to start building the York subway “earlier rather than later.”

Miller praised the timing of the new federal funding.

“With gasoline prices going through the roof, funding for public transit has never been more important. The best way to keep people from being held hostage at the gas pump is to give them a real alternative to driving.”

Godfrey echoed Miller’s sentiments when asked whether Ottawa, which has a comfortable surplus, would consider cutting the gas tax to ease the cost of gasoline. Godfrey said the tax isn’t one of the principal factors driving up gasoline prices.

“It is appropriate that we’re taking gas-tax money and putting it into public transit. This is absolutely the time to be doing that,” he said.

Miller said he hopes to see more co-operation � and more money � from Ottawa.

“What I see is the partnership that has happened between the City of Toronto and the federal government only growing,” he said.

Toronto “is the only city in this country that has a direct agreement with the federal government for transit funding.”

Marilyn Churley, New Democrat MPP for Toronto-Danforth, said the federal government should put the windfall revenue it’s receiving from the spike in gasoline prices into public transit.

“They didn’t take that opportunity,” she said. “The money they announced today is welcome, but that money was spent yesterday.”




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