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Campaign mounts to help save Toronto's transit plan

Protesting delay

By Natalie Alcoba

Several hundred people came out in support of a grassroots campaign to combat a transit funding delay by the Ontario government, even as the chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission suggested the city could live with a modified rollout of light rail lines if there were guarantees they would get built.

“If they’ve got a cash flow problem, we’re happy to talk, we’re happy to stretch out some of these projects. This isn’t just a hard line in the sand. This is about being reasonable,” Adam Giambrone told reporters yesterday. “But when you talk about a 10-, 20-year plan, I think most people realize that’s not a plan, that’s something that you’re putting off and cancelling projects, effectively.”

The McGuinty government announced last month that it was “delaying” $4-billion in funding for transit expansion, which could affect three transit lines—the Scarborough RT, the new Eglinton Crosstown and Finch LRTs — in Toronto and the York Viva rapid bus system.

Metrolinx, the provincial agency tasked with building an integrated transit network in the GTA, will be bringing forward a plan for an amended schedule next month.

Provincial officials insist the lines will be built, but it will take longer. City and transit advocates, however, don’t seem to believe them, and have mounted a PR offensive against what they call a “cut.”

Yesterday’s rally was organized by the Public Transit Coalition, an alliance of community and environmental groups, labour unions and transit riders.

Speakers said the planned LRT network known as Transit City is about giving all residents access to “fair transit service.” They showed a map that colour-coded areas according to affluence and pointed out that the new lines would connect the poorer neighbourhoods with the rest of the city.

Although independent of a similar city campaign, the event got a loud boost when Mayor David Miller arrived to pump up the crowd. His 30-second spots urging residents to help “Save Transit City” have been airing on subway platforms since last week.

Attendees last night said Transit City is about filling in Toronto’s infrastructure gap.

“Everyone talks about how important it is, but nothing gets done,” said Matthew Allman, who lives in Scarborough and relies on transit to get around.

Despite the uncertainty, Mr. Giambrone said the TTC is determined to keep projects moving. He said it is planning to order tunnel-boring machines for the Eglinton Crosstown in June.

“If this is really about a deferral for a chunk of it out of the five years, then we want to see where the financial models are, so that we can actually see that, yes, you’re planning on spending this money, these aren’t cancellations,” Mr. Giambrone said.