Mayor David Miller promised yesterday to build new dedicated lanes for buses and streetcars, like the contentious ones on St. Clair Avenue, as a way to fight growing traffic congestion.
"Businesses worry about the cost of congestion. Residents worry about smog. Transit is the solution to these problems," Mr. Miller told reporters at a campaign news conference outside Downsview subway station.
He says his vision, largely outlined in a 2005 Toronto Transit Commission report, would "make streetcars and buses as speedy and reliable as the subway," and extend rapid transit into suburban areas where the only public-transit options now are infrequent buses.
"Subways are great, very fast and very efficient. . . . But the fact is that subways are expensive," Mr. Miller said, citing the $2-billion cost estimate for the proposed subway extension to Vaughan, which he supports.
The city must spend the limited cash available to spread better public transit across the city, he argued. ". . . Our city is big, and it is growing fast. We can't wait for subways to be built."
One of his main opponents for the mayor's chair, Councillor Jane Pitfield, says she opposes the idea of more dedicated streetcar and bus rights-of-way, saying the city should keep building subways.
Ms. Pitfield said the mayor's dedicated transit lanes would only slow down traffic, and argued that subways are better suited to Toronto winters. She has vowed to halt the controversial St. Clair streetcar lanes at Bathurst Street, despite voting for the project two years ago.
"I think one St. Clair is more than enough," Ms. Pitfield said yesterday in a phone interview. "So if you want more St. Clairs, I would say support David Miller."
Ms. Pitfield has pledged instead to concentrate on building two kilometres of subway a year for the next 25 years. She said she would be more persuasive in seeking funding for subways from other governments than Mr. Miller, and has insisted the city could build new subways for just $100-million a kilometre. However, the cost estimates for the subway to Vaughan are closer to $240-million a kilometre.
The dedicated bus or streetcar lanes Mr. Miller promised could be built for as little as $50-million a year, he said, with an aim to spend $1-billion over 20 years and build as many as 10 new rapid-transit lines.
While the city could undertake some of the work itself, he said, funding from other levels of government is still needed. He pledged to join with other mayors to push the federal government to develop a "national transit strategy" to provide new funding.
Mayoral candidate Stephen LeDrew said the plan underscored how little Mr. Miller has accomplished since 2003. "It took three years to come up with this?"
In an interview, Mr. LeDrew said he supported finding new ways to help finance "incremental" subway construction, and did not support dedicated rights-of-way that "carve up neighbourhoods."
The mayor defended his record on the public transit file, which has seen two fare hikes but rapidly increasing ridership. He says his lobbying helped secure $500-million over the next two years from federal and provincial governments to buy new buses and allow increased service on select suburban routes.
Mr. Miller also committed to implementing a discounted TTC pass for university students, an idea that is being pursued by TTC staff in talks with student unions.
He did not suggest a price for the pass, which is expected to be mandatory as part of student fees, but $60 -- a steep discount from the current $99.75 adult pass -- has been the estimated working figure.
Among the proposed rapid-transit lines singled out in Mr. Miller's platform, many of which are in various stages of planning, are: dedicated bus lines on Yonge Street from Finch Avenue to Steeles; on Kingston Road from Victoria Park to Eglinton; and from Downsview station to York University until the subway is built.