Attempts to revive plans for a Scarborough subway are fanning the flames of Toronto’s past transit battles, and have some councillors warning it could endanger existing funding agreements.
A group of councillors that includes Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz are pushing to replace the aging Scarborough rapid transit line with an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway, rather than light rail as planned. Under the plan, the subway extension would run from Kennedy Station to McCowan Road and Sheppard Avenue.
Mayor Rob Ford said Tuesday he would support those efforts, but remains opposed to raising new revenue for transit expansion through taxation. “As long as it doesn’t use any taxes, I have no problem supporting that. As long as there’s no taxes involved.”
The subway question may come down to the city’s willingness to buy into the province’s proposal for dedicated revenue tools – possibly taxes, tolls or fees – to build public transit, Queen’s Park and city hall sources said.
The province is not keen on revisiting the Scarborough subway in part because projections do not show enough ridership in the area to justify one, and also because officials are wary of yet again altering transit-building plans that have been delayed for several years by political gridlock at Toronto city hall, government sources said. However, Queen’s Park may be persuaded to build a subway to the Scarborough Town Centre if the city is willing to embrace revenue streams and foot the bill.
Scarborough councillors say their support of new taxes and tolls now under consideration by the province hinges on reviving subway plans – an option, they say, that would require only $500-million more than what is budgeted for the light rail option.
Mr. Ford, on the other hand, is using the same argument he relied on last year in his fight against light rail lines. He said Tuesday that the city has about $1-billion to build subways – a number he arrives at by combining federal funds for public-private partnership deals and the money that might have been saved under past plans to build only the Eglinton Crosstown line.
Such talk, councillor Gord Perks said, puts at risk the $8.4-billion in transit funding the province has committed to the light rail network in a signed agreement with the city.
“I think it’s crazy,” Mr. Perks said. “I’m terrified for the future of Toronto when the mayor and the chair of the TTC are in a bidding war with monopoly money in order to win friends in Scarborough. It’s not good for the city.”
Councillor Josh Matlow said the new debate is an example of politics getting in the way of evidence-based transit planning. “I think while we are counting votes, we can’t lose track of the dollars.”
Mr. Matlow predicted the switch to a subway line would cost more than an extra $500-million.