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Transit to gobble up majority of city's capital budget

More than $717 million being spent on upgrades

Feb. 8, 2007

More than half of the city’s $1.4 billion capital budget will be used for transit projects this year, members of Toronto’s budget committee heard Thursday.

And while no one denies that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is in need of the funding, the fact that such a large percentage of the budget is being allocated towards transit means other departments will experience a backlog.

“We are no longer operating as a city. We are operating as a transit authority with a little bit of stuff on the side. That is now what’s happening. It’s a little bit of stuff on the side,” Ward 27 Councillor Kyle Rae (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) said. “It’s shameful what’s happened to our budget.”

In outlining the 2007 capital budget Thursday, Joseph Pennachetti, the city’s chief financial officer, reported that 51 per cent of the total capital budget - or $717.3 million - will be directed towards transit projects.

“Councillor Rae has a valid point,” Pennachetti told reporters. “There are other significant pressures in what would normally be called the core municipal services.”

However, despite the growing backlog in some departments, particularly parks, forestry and recreation, Pennachetti said, “We are in pretty good shape in terms of meeting the overall needs of our programs.”

Rae maintains that the current financial arrangement for funding Toronto’s transit system is creating a “disastrous situation” for the city.

“This is a glaring tragedy for this city, that we’re not able to sustain our other departments because of 51 per cent of our capital budget is going into the TTC,” he said, noting that senior levels of government need to contribute more towards transit here.

In an interview, budget chief Shelley Carroll told reporters the money that is being invested in the TTC is desperately needed.

“We can’t keep herding cattle onto buses and subways. This city is growing. We’re making the investment now,” she said, adding, “There’s no question that if other orders of government don’t step up to the plate it’s going to be a problem because it is gobbling up the rest of the city’s budget.”

The TTC’s capital budget includes the delivery of 220 new replacement buses plus a further 100 buses to expand service; the purchase of 234 new subway cars; the completion of the Mount Dennis bus garage and the installation of new signalling systems on the subway lines.

“From a TTC point of view this is a very positive step. This is very good,” TTC chief general manager Gary Webster said of the budget. “Council approved new subway cars in September, hopefully this process results in us being able to begin the procurement process of new streetcars and our bus plan is in place. So this is very, very positive.”