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James: Fanciful transit proposals are stuck in traffic

By Royson James
City columnist

The mind boggles on the issue of transit in Toronto.

Speaking simultaneously, and not listening to each other, supposedly intelligent people are promoting fanciful transit proposals even as Big Daddy provincial government chops the city’s transit allowance.

Nobody’s at fault here. Everybody is. Congestion and long commutes and traffic frustration are major concerns of voters. Politicians and planners nod in agreement. And still we stall modest proposals to address a fraction of the need.

A Martian returning home would take an unfathomable tale of a city in transit denial, even as civic leaders trumpet a new era of transit greatness. Consider:

The TTC, our largest transit provider, is wrestling with public relations disaster — fare hikes, surly drivers, misbehaving political leaders — and ridership climbs higher.

For the first time in decades Ontario’s premier is a friend of the city, offering hundreds of millions in bailout and aid, speaking in support of the city, forging a bond with the city’s mayor.

And with one announcement that delays transit funds for four years, the buddies in good times have a huge public falling out, replete with name-calling and mudslinging and public calling out.

In retaliation, the premier’s transportation minister, another supposed Toronto ally, warns the mayor to play ball and get with the program, or risk the future of the entire project.

While this rages, Metrolinx, the agency designated to plan the roll-out of the GTA’s transit future, seems aligned with the province. Toronto has to face reality, the Metrolinx boss Bob Prichard seems to be saying. Transit City is already projected to cost beyond the budget approved by Queen’s Park. Ontario’s budgetary reality demands a resizing downwards.

Prichard forgets that a couple of years ago his predecessor, Rob MacIsaac, concluded the announced plans were “the most significant promise to take place in memory … It’s clearly not enough.”

And now we can’t even fund that — $11.5 billion over 12 years, when the regional need borders on $100 billion over 25 years.

Metrolinx made the mistake then of deferring news of the harsh funding choices citizens here face. Reality has not settled in.

There are Star readers who swear they’d gladly part with $10 a day in road tolls, if only Toronto would give them subways, subways, subways. And there are others who swear a pox on city hall, if a single penny is generated in “transportation taxes.”

There’s a mayoral candidate, Rob Ford, who has such an aversion to spending he once said he’d cut every budget except that of the police, just to save a buck at city hall.

Yet that same Ford, now running for mayor on an anti-spending platform, is proposing to build subways instead of light rail, even though subways cost three, five, seven times more.

There is a mayoral candidate, Rocco Rossi, who says he’d put a stop to the current Transit City plan and review the proposal because he’s not sure if the city can afford the lines or manage them properly.

This same Rossi, seeking to distinguish himself from a crowded field of right-wingers, says he’d build two kilometres of subways every year for a decade, should he become Toronto mayor.

And there’s one George Smitherman who has not yet told us his genius transit plan — apparently it will be unwrapped May 28 — but has slammed Rossi for slowing Transit City and suggesting building only 20 kilometres of subways. Of course, Smitherman says he’ll use his considerable skills to repair the relationship with the province.

Finally, Toronto, a city with barely two nickels to rub together, is offering to fund the first five years of Transit City, to give the province budget room.

The point of these sobering ruminations? Go figure.




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