The merits of the new “OneCity” proposal for public-transit expansion in Toronto are debatable. But by putting forward a serious idea of what that expansion would look like and how to pay for it, a group of municipal councillors have significantly raised the pitifully low bar for discussion about how to ease congestion.
The proposal, brought forward this week by Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz and several colleagues, is wildly ambitious. It proposes 21 new projects – subway, light-rail transit and bus – at a cost of $30-billion over 30 years. Their feasibility will need longer study than Ms. Stintz seems to want. And it remains to be seen whether the federal and provincial governments, expected to foot a third of the bill each, want any part of it.
Then there is the matter of how the city would pay for the remaining costs. The proposal calls for money to be raised by adding nearly 2 per cent to property tax bills each year. This would accumulate to an average $180 increase, which advocates think is a fair price for getting around the city more easily. But property tax is not an endless spring to which politicians can constantly return, and there are other ways to generate cash needed for transportation infrastructure that better reflects those who use it. At very least, there should be concern for seniors who maintain homes on fixed incomes.
Give Ms. Stintz her due, however, merely for levelling with Torontonians about the costs of a better transit system – something Mayor Rob Ford has resolutely refused to do. He responded to OneCity by insisting taxpayers are already overburdened, and claiming against all available evidence that he can convince the private sector to shoulder the burden.
Ms. Stintz has advanced one idea to raise money to pay for the expansion, but there are others, including road tolls, congestion fees, special fares for new routes, and lobbying for a greater share of gas taxes. There is also the possibility of looking for savings on the operational side that could see money now spent on underused routes redirected to new transit projects.
A more comprehensive transit plan for the country’s largest city is long overdue. But impatience should not obscure the fact that OneCity marks the start, not the end, of a critical debate about the options at hand.