In a serious blow to TTC chair Karen Stintz and her allies, Toronto city council has killed the OneCity transit plan by reducing it from a 30-year, $30-billion vision to a footnote in a future study and a pledge to hold public consultations on a city-wide transit strategy in the fall.
Ms. Stintz and TTC vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker couldn’t even muster enough votes to put on the floor a motion to study converting the Scarborough RT into a subway instead of a light-rail line.
Making that Scarborough subway a priority was the only major element of the OneCity proposal that Ms. Stintz hadn’t agreed to drop before the meeting because she couldn’t amass enough votes for a study of her bold, original pitch.
In the end, council voted 43-1 in favour of a motion that confirmed studies already under way and asked that Torontonians have input on a long-term plan, including how to pay for it.
Ms. Stintz painted that as a successful step toward a funded transit blueprint tied to the city’s official plan.
“I feel very confident that city council will step up to the plate, they will fund the plan and, for the first time, city council will have its own transit plan that can be relied upon to survive election cycles,” she said after the vote.
Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, had a different take.
“The OneCity plan went down in flames ... I can assure everyone in Toronto the mayor’s back in charge of transit and we’re going to move forward.”
Mayor Rob Ford declined to comment and didn’t speak during the afternoon-long debate on the matter.
Councillor Shelley Carroll called the outcome a “face-saving” move, while Peter Milczyn, the TTC commissioner who moved the motion, put it more bluntly.
“OneCity never happened,” he said. “It was a press conference.”
Widespread fanfare greeted OneCity when Ms. Stintz and Mr. De Baeremaeker unveiled it on June 27.
They proposed using a special property-tax increase that would work out to a 1.9-per-cent increase per year – levelling off after four years and continuing at that rate for three decades – to pay for 170 kilometres of new subway, light-rail, streetcar and bus lines.
Although Ms. Stintz was only asking for a study of the OneCity concept, it didn’t take long for opposition to mount.
The mayor slammed the property-tax element, left-leaning councillors lined up against the overall plan, and the provincial government said it was too late for city council to change its mind about the replacement for the deteriorating Scarborough RT, a project Queen’s Park is bankrolling.
“I am disappointed that we missed an opportunity, I believe, to build the subway extension through Kennedy [station] to Sheppard [Avenue], but the will of council is supreme,” Ms. Stintz said on the floor.
As part of the battle between subway and LRT earlier this year, city council voted in February to confirm the RT replacement as an above-ground light-rail line.
OneCity advocated reversing that decision and asking the municipal government to pay nearly $500-million to bury the line.
But with $41-million in design work completed and light-rail cars already ordered, council voted 26-14 to uphold Speaker Frances Nunziata’s ruling that changing the plan was out of order.
Council did agree to make a light rail line along the eastern waterfront a priority.
Councillor Paula Fletcher, who voted to debate the Scarborough subway line, said she is disappointed council did not have a chance to discuss the issue.
“In the debates earlier this year, all attention was focused on the Eglinton and Sheppard lines and no attention was given to what will happen to TTC service in Scarborough when the aging rapid transit line is replaced,” she said.
Replacing the line with light-rail will mean shutting it down for four years. At current ridership, it will take 160 buses an hour to maintain service, she said, while a subway could be built while the existing line continues to run.
Those facts were never on the table during the debate about choosing subways or light-rail, she added.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” she said.
Councillor Adam Vaughan said the problem with the OneCity proposal was that it was announced without consulting staff or the public.
“They’ve fallen into a trap that Rob Ford set” of big announcements and slogans, he said.
Councillor Maria Augimeri, another TTC commissioner, said Ms. Stintz and Mr. De Baeremaeker should be praised for their “courage” in promoting a plan to pay for desperately needed public-transit expansion in Toronto.
“I think we ought to applaud them for that,” she said.
Ms. Stintz said she believed the motion passed on Wednesday would get things moving.
“We don’t want to be the city that talks about transit any more. We want to be the city that builds transit,” she said.