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City Hall, Queen's Park spar over TTC

By Natalie Alcoba

The ongoing dance between the City of Toronto and Queen’s Park over the future of the Toronto Transit Commission was on display yesterday, with Dalton McGuinty weighing in on the essential service debate and David Miller countering that all the TTC needs is more money.

Mr. McGuinty has had a lot to say about Toronto’s transit system lately. He defended a decision not to issue an annual transit cheque, and dispelled the notion that permanent funding could be negotiated by year-end. But his foray into whether the TTC should be deemed an essential service got the Mayor’s back up.

These “side issues,” Mr. Miller said, serve only to cloud the underlying structural funding problem at the TTC and shield the province from answering tough questions. “Are they going to support proper mechanisms, whether it is tolls or sales taxes or whatever is decided, in order to permanently fund transit, not just in Toronto, in Ottawa, in Hamilton, across this province?” he asked. “Without proper operating funding, you can’t succeed.”

With money, however, often come strings — the province will own the LRT lines that it is paying for in Toronto — and the prospect of permanent funding has observers speculating that Queen’s Park may be looking for more control over the TTC. It coincides with calls for an overhaul of a commission that is currently made of nine councillors, and critics say should include or be run by the private sector.

“We all recognize no political body is going to give money without having some say in terms of what is happening to the organization,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre), a former member of the Toronto Transit Commission. He is a proponent of folding the TTC into a larger, regional transit provider, such as Metrolinx, a provincial agency that is overseeing Ontario’s ambitious plan to expand rapid transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“I don’t see how you develop successful regional and local transit without moving in that direction,” Mr. Thompson said. “It can’t be simply that Metrolinx does A, TTC does B and we get them to talk when we need to.”

In a recent interview with the National Post, Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said there are no plans to have Metrolinx take over the TTC. She stressed that the province is in its own financial straits.

“Whatever we do involves greater cost on our part and we’re just not in a position to take that on,” Mr. McGuinty said. But unfurling regional transit can best be achieved through a regional transit authority such as Metrolinx, said Michael Warren, a former chief general manager of the TTC.

“I’m suggesting that the municipalities that are involved need to put a caveat. If we’re going to have a single authority, the province must participate much more heavily in the operating costs,” Mr. Warren said.

Local officials also need to grapple with the reality that governments will never have enough money to finance the generational transit catch-up that Toronto is facing, says Mr. Warren. The TTC needs to start thinking of alternative funding models, such as private-public partnerships, to build badly needed infrastructure, he said.

“This is a complicated area of municipal activity that needs really knowledgeable and strong leadership,” said Mr. Warren, who pushed for a return to the days when the chair of the TTC hailed from the private sector and transportation experts occupied some of the seats. Mr. Miller insists the challenges facing the TTC are not about governance, they’re about funding. At the end of the day, riders don’t care if it’s the local government or the provincial government that is running their subways or buses, says Mr. Thompson.

“As long as it’s operating efficiently, and it’s properly funded, and its giving the level of satisfaction that people want for it, then the system works.”

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