Toronto Mayor Rob Ford promised 32 kilometres of underground transit, seemingly without a cost to residents, as he rolled out a key plank in his transportation plan Wednesday.
The mayor is betting big on subways while dismissing light rail as “fancy streetcars” that make congestion worse. His $9-billion proposal, which has no specific funding plan, would see new subways on Finch and Sheppard, as well as a downtown relief line and a promise to bury the eastern portion of the Eglinton Crosstown.
It was unclear how much, if any of this building would happen in first term. Mr. Ford did not answer the question directly.
“You can’t snap your fingers and build a subway,” he said at the campaign announcement. “This is a bold ambitious vision for years to come.”
Lacking were many basic details and Mr. Ford left the event with numerous questions unanswered. It’s not clear why two of his projects have price tags lower than is commonly known, how the subways will be built for less per kilometre than the extension currently going up to York and why the province would choose to reallocate money it has pledged to the Finch and Sheppard LRTs.
Instead, Mr. Ford offered a denunciation of his opponents for supporting light rail. He said it would be a “two-tier” system for Scarborough not to have underground transit, as the denser parts of the city have. And he suggested it was simply logical to keep building subways.
“You bore, bore, bore until the cows come home,” he said. “I have funding options in place and this is not, not, putting the onus on the taxpayers. This is not implementing revenue tolls or taxes.”
The Ford plan makes no mention of ways Toronto residents might pay their share of such a large expansion of underground transit. Instead, funding for the $9-billion plan appears to rely on assistance from other levels of government and some combination of options that could include public-private partnerships, sale of assets and air rights over stations and tax increment financing. The last of these, which involves borrowing against the development transit might spur, is controversial, with critics saying citizens are on the hook if revenues fall short.
Mr. Ford pointed to plans to extend the subway farther into Scarborough as evidence he can get transit built and work with other levels of government.
The notion drew mockery from his leading opponents.
“If you look at the so-called Scarborough subway, there’s no studies, no environmental assessment, nothing has been done,” Olivia Chow said. “Even the application to the federal government [for funding] hasn’t gone in.”
John Tory seemed to reference obliquely the fact that the Scarborough deal was reached before Mr. Ford admitted smoking crack or was stripped of most of his power at city hall.
“I would ask him this question: how do you propose to get these things done when you can’t get along with anybody?” he asked. “He can’t get along with anybody. I mean, he literally can’t get along with the council, with the other governments. I mean, you know, the last time he had conversations with these people I suspect was about five Jimmy Kimmel shows ago. They don’t take him seriously any more.”
And David Soknacki offered a warning to Toronto residents. “Don’t be fooled again by Ford’s reboot of his 2010 promise of free subways,” he said in a statement.
As Mr. Ford formally launched his transit platform Wednesday morning, congestion, transportation and public transit have shaped up to be the key issues of the campaign so far. The other candidates already having rolled out their promises.
Mr. Tory is banking on provincial promises to electrify GO and increase service, adding some new track to their proposal and calling it his Smart Track plan. Ms. Chow is proposing the eastern portion of the downtown relief line in the long term and more bus service for now. The funding models for both their plans have sparked criticism for being unrealistic.