Toronto needs to find new ways to build public transit faster in order to keep newly elected governments from scrapping and redrawing existing plans, a new report from the Toronto Region Board of Trade says.
Toronto’s next mayor and council also need to accept that Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government will follow through with its pledge to take over ownership of, or “upload,” the city’s subway lines, the report says.
City leaders, the board of trade recommends, must now brace themselves for talks with Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government over issues such as regional fares and the future role of the Toronto Transit Commission.
“Toronto’s transit system was once considered world-class, but decades of underinvestment – by all levels of government – has prevented its expansion to keep pace with growth,” Jan De Silva, the board’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Both Mayor John Tory and his main challenger in next month’s municipal election, Jennifer Keesmaat, have made public transit central to their campaigns, with Mr. Tory warning that fiddling with the network transit plan approved by council will only lead to delays and Ms. Keesmaat attacking his scaled-back SmartTrack plan as a failure.
The board’s report, one of a series released before the Oct. 22 municipal election, says the city needs to build transit more quickly, before other governments win elections and change their minds: “We need to act as a global city and complete major projects quickly enough that political risks from changes in government are no longer a threat to actual construction outcomes.”
To do this, the report says more resources should be poured into the planning and design of subway lines to shrink lead times on projects. And it says the city could streamline the way it carries out the province’s cumbersome environmental assessments, which can take years. These exercises should focus only on real environmental risks, the board of trade says, and should not be used as a “slow and expensive substitute for other consultation processes.”
In a paper last year, the board already came out in favour of uploading not just the subway, but all transit operations in the Toronto region. Mr. Ford’s government has promised to upload the ownership of just the subway system, something it argues will allow it to build more lines more quickly.
The board’s latest transit report agrees, citing “less time and money wasted on politicized debates and intergovernmental conflicts.” The upload will also provide “fiscal relief” for city hall, which can turn its focus to other issues, the report says. But the city must be ready to negotiate a whole host of issues around the upload, the report warns, such as how fares across the greater Toronto area will be integrated and the future role of the TTC.
When she released her transit plan last month, Ms. Keesmaat was unconcerned about the prospect of the province owning the city’s subway lines – but she stressed that the mayor and council must approve any new projects that would be built. She also said public transit must remain publicly owned.
After the Ford government appointed a special adviser to head up a three-member panel to look at how to upload the subway earlier this month, Mr. Tory said he would only support any upload proposal if it would substantially improve the way the system runs – and only after consultations with the city and the TTC.