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Passengers head down the stairs to the TTC subway system at Union Station on Jan. 3, 2019.

Fred Lum

The Toronto Transit Commission is warning that its network could decline into the sort of tailspin that has damaged other transit agencies unless it gets tens of billions of dollars of capital investment over the next 15 years – most of it currently without a source of funding.

In a comprehensive report that lays out for the first time the scale of the challenge facing the TTC – which carries more people than any other transit provider in the country – agency officials argued for new trains, expanded stations and hundreds more surface vehicles.

The plan comes as the province mulls taking over the subway network, which accounts for two-thirds of the $33-billion total bill. Queen’s Park has previously said that its takeover would include responsibility for capital maintenance, though its estimates of what that would cost were far below what the TTC is now detailing.

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A spokesman for Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek declined to comment on whether the province was willing to take on such a financial responsibility.

The $33-billion tab does not include transit expansion. It is presented as the capital requirements needed to keep the system in good repair and able to accommodate the expected pressure of new passengers.

“This is not a wish-list … this is the fundamentals,” TTC chief executive Rick Leary said. “There’s no wow factor here, I’m asking for … just the basics.”

Transit blogger Steve Munro said he had questions about some of the figures, which the TTC itself acknowledges are subject to refinement, but called it an important step for the total cost to be made public.

“The size of that number has been hidden from city council and the [TTC board] for years,” he said. “This should be a wake-up call for the city.”

If all the projects the TTC has detailed are funded and completed, the plan promises, the city will have substantially improved its current transit network.

The money could pay for dozens of new trains, a full replacement of the bus fleet and 100 new streetcars – a 50-per-cent increase in those vehicles. Bloor-Yonge station, the key downtown interchange that handles more than 200,000 people per day, would be expanded to reduce crowding. Escalators and elevators would be overhauled, safety systems strengthened and modern signals installed in the tunnels.

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Throughout the report, the TTC warns about the risk of not making the investments it calls for.

“A backlog of deferred maintenance has grown, putting the safety, accessibility and sustainability of our transit system at risk,” reads the introduction to the report, which was released Friday in advance of next week’s TTC board meeting.

“Without the investments outlined in this plan, service reliability and crowding will worsen, as the maintenance backlog grows and becomes more difficult and costlier to fix. This is the fate now faced by some other major transit systems in North America that allowed their assets to badly deteriorate.”

One example of this is New York City, which clawed its subway system back from its nadir in the 1970s and ’80s, only to let it decline again. That city’s transit head, former TTC chief executive Andy Byford, tabled a plan earlier this year to bring the system back again for a cost of between US$19-billion and US$43-billion.

During the last provincial election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives said that they expected about $160-million annually in capital expenditures once they took over the subways. According to the TTC’s report, though, the subway-related work that is not currently funded amounts to about $16-billion over 15 years, an annual expenditure close to seven times what the Tories were assuming.

As such, Friday’s report should be considered a warning, said Cameron MacLeod, executive director of the transit advocacy group CodeRedTO.

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“It’s very likely that the proponents of a subway upload … did not have a realistic picture of what they were agreeing to,” he said.

“I think that [this report] is a profound shift. Because the conversation really needs to be about, look, if you buy the house you are going to have to fix the foundation. And the conversation so far has really just been about repainting.”

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