Miller, province in a war of words over Transit City

[attach]1631[/attach]Less simply won’t do when it comes to the scale of Toronto’s transit projects. That was the message from Mayor David Miller’s office in response to a recent proposal from Metrolinx to scale back the size of Transit City in order to accommodate the province’s tighter budget.

While the original Transit City Plan called for four rapid transit lines — Sheppard East, Scarborough, Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown — to be completed by 2016, the new proposal would see shorter lines with fewer stops completed as late as 2022. The Eglinton line would be 13 km shorter, would have 13 fewer stops and would end at Jane Street instead of going to the airport. It would be completed sometime between 2019 and 2022 instead of the original target date of 2016, while the Finch West and Scarborough projects wouldn’t be started until 2015. The Sheppard line would be complete more or less on target in 2014, but with one fewer stop.

Although the rhetoric around Transit City may have intensified since the new proposal was released May 3, Miller’s message remains more or less unchanged since he sat down for an editorial meeting with the Town Crier in April.

“Toronto deserves much better,” said Miller, who used the meeting to call attention to a history of unfinished transit projects in Toronto.

“If we miss this chance, it’s going to be another 30 years before we have a rapid transit plan that meets the needs of our inner suburbs,” he said.

“I’ve seen it with the Eglinton subway, which started and then when a different government got elected, they actually stopped the construction and ordered the city to fill in the hole which cost $100 million to dig … which is virtually criminal and it’s tragic.”

He pointed out the funding delay would impact the city’s poorer residents, as the LRT lines which hang in the balance, such as Finch West, are those which would service the city’s priority neighbourhoods.

“They reach the people who are excluded from the fabric of our society the most,” said Miller.

Calling the matter an issue of trust in the premier, Miller recalled that Dalton McGuinty announced the funding twice and referred to it in numerous other announcements.

“The premiere made an announcement,” said Miller. “That means in our world that you can go to the bank and bank on it and we did.
We actually started the work.

“You cannot stand for a provincial government announcing funding, tasking you to develop a strategy for that funding, spend a year developing that strategy, spend literally millions of dollars on engineering and then at the last minute be told, ‘oh, we’re kidding.’ It’s just not acceptable.”

After the province announced that they wouldn’t have enough money to fund Transit City on the schedule they’d originally planned, the McGuinty government asked Metrolinx, the GTA’s regional transportation authority, to explore options for reducing the cost of the projects. However, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was sparse on the details of how the funding might be changed, saying only that half of the $8 billion already committed to the plan’s four priority lines would be delayed.

Furious at what he perceived to be a sidelining of projects Miller went on the offensive. He immediately sought clarification on the timing of the funding delay and said he wouldn’t take part in meetings with Metrolinx until a clear timeline was announced. A media blitz followed, accompanied by public TTC announcements from Miller himself, urging riders to let McGuinty know that Transit City should go ahead as planned.

Since the Metrolinx proposal was sent to Miller’s office on May 3, a heightened war of words has ensued between city hall and Queen’s Park, each accusing the other of not being cooperative.

While Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne was widely quoted as threatening that “the projects might not happen if Miller continued to undermine the process”, his office shot back, saying the threat “sounds a bit like it was from the Nancy Drew school of

Miller said the city is willing to work with the province if six months is all that’s needed.

“But if it’s taking a five year project and making it a 10 year project, I’ve got very serious concerns,” said Miller, “particularly if they’re suggesting some of the lines need to start in the last five years, because we’ve all seen that before. It’ll never happen.”

The Metrolinx board is set to vote on the proposed changes to Transit City on May 19. If the proposal passes, it will then go to the provincial cabinet for approval.

Miller on tolls, subways, and social equality

Road tolls
“I’d be prepared to support a regional kind of road toll, as long as it was regional and supported public transit.
In the absence of public transit, people would see it (tolls) as a money grab. It’s very important from that perspective, to get transit under construction so that people can see that if they’re paying this money, it’s going to make their lives better,” said Miller.

TTC Customer Service
“TTC commission is not out of touch with commuters. TTC is run by engineers concerned with providing the most service at the least possible cost… It has the highest ridership in history, but it needs some institutional change. They’re working on it.”

Miller emphasized that light rail projects can be completed relatively quickly, while subway projects take a lot longer to complete.
He noted the new subway line to York University will take seven years to finish, but predicted the extension of the Yonge subway line to Richmond Hill will take generations.

Social equality
“Neighbourhoods like Rexdale, northeast Scarborough, the Finch corridor don’t have rapid transit. People often have to take two or three buses to get to work. Those are also areas that are marked by poverty where people might have to work two or three part time jobs to support their family. Rapid transit becomes not just an environmental issue, not just a transportation issue … it’s an issue of social inclusion.”