Transit Deal: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

This week, Toronto City Council endorsed a deal with Metrolinx and the Province of Ontario that will create some stability after a turbulent year in which the Province had announced plans to seize all high-speed transit assets in the city. The deal allows all parties to move forward productively, but comes with details both good and bad.

Here’s a look at some of the key details.

The Good

The Province has backed down from a plan to seize the City’s transit network. As transit and city planning are closely tied, it makes sense for the City to control subway lines, stations and surrounding land to make sure they continue to be developed according to the City’s official plan and remain public assets.

The Province has also taken responsibility for funding its expansion plan, announced in spring 2019. The extensions of Line 1 (Yonge to Richmond Hill), Line 2 (Danforth to Scarborough Centre) and the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to Pearson Airport, along with the creation of the Ontario Line (an expansion of the Relief Line concept linking the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place) are projected to total about $28.5 billion in cost. The City will direct its share of Federal transit funding to these projects, but will not otherwise be expected to provide funding. When complete, these lines will all be operated by the TTC.

Without the need to fund these expansion projects, the City will be able to focus its attention on the state-of-good-repair (SOGR) of existing infrastructure and other system improvements.

John successfully moved a motion at Council to ensure that the Line 1 extension would not be opened until the Ontario Line/Relief line was operational. Adding this clause to the deal would give some protection to transit riders in Willowdale as Line 1 nears its capacity.

The Bad

The current SOGR backlog on the TTC is now estimated to exceed $33 billion. The City has raised about $1.2 billion for the Scarborough subway extension that can now be re-allocated for repairs, but additional funding sources to bridge this gap have not been identified.

There are concerns that in focusing funding the expansion projects, the Province would be less likely to contribute to the SOGR backlog. The City lacks the revenue tools to effectively raise such a large amount on its own.

There also remain many unknowns about what the Ontario Line actually will look like. The precise train technology, station location and route have yet to be determined and will only be known once Metrolinx initiates a procurement process.

With that level of uncertainty, it would not be surprising to encounter delays in the line’s development. If the Line 1 extension nears completion long before the Ontario Line, there will be strong temptation at the Province to open the extension before the required “relief” is provided. The City has now effectively given up any control in this regard.

The Ugly

The critical issue on the TTC system remains crowding on Line 1 (Yonge). Though the Ontario Line and the TTC’s Automated Train Control (ATC) project will offer relief, extending the line and increasing growth along the corridor mean that the line will still reach its capacity in about 20 years.

That means the City needs to start planning its next relief phases now and commit to a plan for funding it.

The ATC project, to be completed in 2022, will allow trains to be spaced on Line 1 much more closely together, allowing the TTC to add more trains, and capacity, to the line. Funding for the purchase of those trains however has not yet been identified.

As a first step towards Line 1 relief, John successfully moved a motion at Council this week asking the City Manager to prepare a funding plan for Council’s consideration so that these new trains can be purchased when needed.

This funding plan would be an important first step, but we still have a very long way to go.