Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has asked city staff to prepare a report explaining how to fund a Scarborough subway expansion, setting the stage for another bruising battle on council.
The report is to come before council later this month and will land amid intensified political jockeying over the future of transit in the Toronto suburb.
"People spoke loud and clear, they want subways," Mr. Ford said Wednesday. "Waiting will only pass the burden onto future generations, a cost that greatly increases over time."
He said he had asked City Manager Joe Pennachetti to prepare a report that will give council "information and options" needed to make "a clear and informed" decision.
At issue is the replacement for the aging Scarborough rapid transit line, which is nearing the end of its useful life. The city has inked a deal with the regional transit agency Metrolinx to replace the SRT with a provincially funded light-rail line, at a cost of $1.8-billion.
Proponents of the light-rail option argue that the area is not dense enough to warrant buried transit and note that the LRT will run separately from traffic and be almost as fast as a subway, but much cheaper. Critics say that Scarborough residents are being given second-rate transit and that the extra cost for a subway – estimates range from around $500-million to $925-million – is money well spent.
Earlier this year, councillors voted in favour of a subway in the area without clarifying how the extra cost would be borne. Mr. Ford, in particular, has long insisted he won't ask citizens to pay more. In a sign of how contentious the transit file has become locally, council has also ruled out almost all revenue tools for funding the next generation of expansion.
Last week Metrolinx informed the city that they would stop work on the LRT project next month unless they can get proper clarity from Toronto. And on Tuesday Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig said that it would be up to the city and the TTC to "deliver" the project if they opt for a subway instead of the current plan.
Mr. Ford has been consistent in his opposition to above-ground transit but has yet to offer a detailed plan for how to fund an alternative that will be buried.
"They are many viable options to fund and finance the completion of the Bloor-Danforth subway extension," he said Wednesday. "I have asked the city manager to explore some of these options and include them in his report. Folks, the time to act is now."
Mr. Pennachetti said that his report, which will go before council July 16, will look at what the city has committed to in the master agreement with Metrolinx, attempt to nail down the actual cost increase of changing to a Scarborough subway and provide a "high-level" view of how to fund it.
"It will not be a firm financing scheme, if you will," he told reporters.