Ontario is demanding that Toronto show it can pay for its share of Mayor John Tory's key transit proposal, even as the two governments continue to joust over the scope of his plan and other projects keep climbing in price.
Included in more than 700 pages of transit reports released Tuesday is a sobering picture of the difficulties facing Toronto. Timelines are lengthening and costs are mounting.
The one-stop Scarborough subway extension, costed at $2-billion a few months ago and pegged as recently as Friday at about $2.9-billion, will actually cost $3.16-billion. The additional cost is attributed to the price of extending the life of the current transit serving the region and then decommissioning it. The extension is not likely to open until late 2025, two years later than expected, assuming construction starts in 2020.
The Downtown Relief Line, which experts have long described as the city's top transit priority, has more than doubled in price. A high-level estimate has long put the cost of the project at $3.2-billion. Staff say now it would be more likely to cost $6.8-billion. This assumes the line would be service by 2031, with construction taking about a decade, though there is no funding currently attached to it.
The bright spot on Tuesday was the province and Mr. Tory announcing four new GO stations in Toronto, two of them in the sections of the rail system that Mr. Tory has dubbed "the SmartTrack network." A similar announcement is expected Wednesday, offering the prospect of easier access to GO rail service within the city.
But the political bonhomie of the announcement was overshadowed hours later when the city and Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, released their reports.
Those reports make clear that Mr. Tory's campaign promise, SmartTrack, has diminished into little more than a rebranding of a GO expansion that was happening anyway. But Metrolinx says it is time for the city to put real money on the table to help pay for this and other projects.
"The Province and Metrolinx require the City of Toronto's commitment to full funding (including capital with escalation and financing, operating/maintenance costs for SmartTrack, and operating/maintenance costs for LRTs) by November 2016," says a report from Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig, which will go to the agency's board next week.
Deputy city manager John Livey said this demand illustrates why city staff have been making clear that Toronto has to come up with new revenue sources if it wants to fund capital projects. But Councillor Gord Perks went further, saying council's back is now to the wall.
"We have to have an agreement signed by November and we have not got any money in place to allow us to get that agreement signed," he said. "Members of council have to be really clear at the next council meeting that they're prepared to increase property taxes to pay for operating the system we have and that they're willing to look at a new revenue tool to pay for any expansion."
A bonus for the city is that the shrinking nature of SmartTrack also means its price is dropping. During the campaign, Mr. Tory put the cost at $8-billion. Metrolinx now says it should cost in the range of $700-million to $1-billion on top of what the province was spending already, not including the related LRT on Eglinton Avenue West.
That Metrolinx cost estimate – which assumed four to five new stations – could still change. The city wants "up to six" new stations, a far cry from the 13 Mr. Tory promised during his election campaign, while Metrolinx is recommending four.
One of the reports confirmed that what the mayor is calling SmartTrack would be GO trains running on the current GO rail corridors at frequencies Metrolinx was already planning, with some additional stations. Service at the busiest time of day would be a train every 10 minutes in the portion between Mount Dennis and Union Station, with trains every five to 10 minutes in the section between Union Station and Unionville.
This is far from the "subway-like" frequencies Mr. Tory had promised. Another difficulty is that ridership modelling showed his plan attracting the most people when trains were running at five-minute intervals and riders paid the same price as the Toronto Transit Commission passengers. With Metrolinx making clear trains will come less frequently, negotiations over fares have become even more important.
On Tuesday, Toronto went public with its push for sharply reduced fares for people riding GO within the city, including Mr. Tory's proposal.
The city argues that the current fare structure discourages short-distance use of GO, and discriminates against city residents, even as parts of the TTC system struggle to manage demand.
To help smooth out fare inequities, the city wants a different pricing model on GO that would lower the base cost. And it wants TTC riders to have the same sort of co-fare discount enjoyed by suburbanites, where residents pay a nominal sum to get on local transit after riding GO.
"If your goal is to get people using the service in a variety of different ways, and not just as a regional commuter system, the fare has to reflect that," chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat said.