Just as Mayor Rob Ford is trying to squeeze every penny out of Toronto’s budget, news comes that the city is bracing for a $65-million bill for a transit plan he cancelled on his first day in office.
The multimillion-dollar price tag is the latest estimate for cancelling the Sheppard and Finch light-rail lines – part of former mayor David Miller’s Transit City plan. It comes as the city’s transit users are facing fare hikes and reduced service, measures planned for the new year to meet the mayor’s demands for a 10-per-cent budget cut. The new expense surfaced Tuesday during budget discussions, where city councillors also weighed the merits of closing pools and community centres in order to save dollars.
The cost of the cancelled lines is not even included in those discussions. The outstanding expense to the struggling transit system is not part of next year’s budget because the city is still waiting for a bill from the province.
“We haven’t received an invoice,” TTC general manager Gary Webster told the city’s budget committee when asked about the missing charge. Metrolinx, the province’s transit agency, has put the cost at $65-million, he said.
The provincial agency said it is working on the final figure. “Currently, we are still reviewing the costs with the TTC and our light-rail vehicle supplier. It is important for us to be as accurate as possible,” said a Metrolinx spokeswoman in a statement.
It has been just over a year since Mr. Ford took office and pulled the plug on the web of light-rail lines known as Transit City, taking his victory as a sign that Toronto voters wanted subways instead. Under a new deal, the province agreed to plow most of the money meant for Mr. Miller’s plan into burying the new crosstown line for its entire length beneath Eglinton Avenue. That left Mr. Ford looking for $4.2-billion for a promised subway line along Sheppard Avenue.
The new $65-million cancellation cost is the second surprise in less than a week from the TTC. Last week, Mr. Webster revealed to the same budget committee that Scarborough commuters will have to bear four years of bus service while their rickety LRT is replaced.
Critics of the mayor lamented that this latest discovery is more evidence of the sorry state of long-term transit planning. “At the end of the day we are blowing the public transit agenda of this city,” said councillor Joe Mihevc, a past TTC commissioner.
“Imagine if we had spent $65-million actually delivering rapid transit,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan. “Instead, what we have is a budget that is about shrinking resources and in some cases tragically misspending resources.”
Mr. Vaughan said the city is “willfully ignoring,” the coming bill in order to hide the cost of the mayor’s actions.
Budget committee vice-chair and councillor Doug Ford, came to the defence of the mayor, his brother, saying part of the problem with the city’s budget is a decision by the past council to order new streetcars without any source of funding. That move, he argued, has contributed to Toronto’s rising debt. He defended the cancellation of Transit City, saying it is what Toronto voters wanted.
“We know, poll after poll after poll, people want subways,” Doug Ford said. “They are very clear. The mandate was very clear in the election. People want subways.”
Councillor Mike Del Grande said the cost of the cancellation is not on the city’s books because it has not been settled. “Nothing has been firmed or finalized,” he said.
Asked if he is worried about the outstanding liability to the city as he hunts for ways to save school nutrition programs and other services, he said it is one of many concerns. “I worry about everything,” he said.