Chaos as Toronto city hall and the possibility of an early provincial election should not derail the city’s most ambitious transit plans in a generation, politicians said Wednesday as they inked formal deals for four new LRT lines and a smart-card fare system that should be ubiquitous by 2016.
The agreements were a tangible sign of progress in a long-running process that has been beset by setbacks and political infighting.
“Our signatures today bring an end to four years of debate and delay,” said Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli.
He was joined by Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Sti ntz and CEO Andy Byford, as well as City Manager Joe Pennachetti and Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx, which will own the LRT lines.
Ms. Stintz noted that the $8.4-billion being brought to the table by the provincial government was the biggest investment they’ve made in the city since amalgamation, in 1998. “It truly is a historic event,” she said.
But lurking in the wings is a political situation that remains fraught at both the levels of government who are participating in the plan. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has signalled his departure, setting in motion a leadership race and the possibility of a premature election. And Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is fighting for his political life after a judge ordered him out of office over a conflict of interest.
And there are fresh recollections of previous transit plans cancelled, changed or shelved. The 1990s Tory government of Mike Harris cancelled an Eglinton subway when they took power. Former Toronto mayor David Miller’s wide-ranging plan known as Transit City was killed by Mr. Ford when he assumed office in 2010. And then Mr. Ford’s plan was kiboshed by a council revolution led by Ms. Stintz, whose own idea later failed to gain traction.
The politicians signing the agreements Wednesday acknowledged this context but said that it was becoming progressively more difficult to back out of the current plan.
Ms. Stintz – while admitting that “anything can happen” – said that it would become more expensive to change course once contracts were being let, a process that can now begin. She called it “a fair statement” that every additional step makes it harder to undo the plan.
“The train has left the station, in a sense,” Mr. Chiarelli said. “It’s hard to see that people will undo projects that are well under construction.”
The officials pledged to have the Presto smart-card – which is already used by 400,000 people , more than twice the number at the start of the year – implemented across eight regional transit systems and the GO network by 2016. This would allow riders to use one fare system to travel from Hamilton to Barrie to Peterborough, Mr. Chiarelli said.
They also formalized existing plans to add four light-rail transit lines in Toronto by 2020. Running partly underground, these will dramatically improve transit service on Eglinton and in the suburbs.