By Dan McDermott, Chapter Director
The unveiling of the expansive, and yes, expensive, OneCity Toronto transit plan by Toronto Councillors Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker brought forth an instantaneous rush of enthusiastic support from those of us who have been hoping that some politician would have the vision and courage to annunciate the fulsome transit vision that Toronto needs. To our mind Councillors Stintz and De Baeremaeker gave their plan instant credibility by daring to say that taxes would need to go up to pay for the fulfillment of this vision. The Toronto Star has given OneCity cautious praise, saluting its daring and ambition while questioning specific points. Sadly the Ontario Government has now weighed in pouring cold water on OneCity and stating flatly that they are not willing to reopen discussions on the current LRT focused plan, which is essentially the reborn version of the Transit City plan the McGuinty Government signed off on in the last days of the David Miller years.
In truth my support for Transit City was always tepid. I felt distinctly uncomfortable and out of place in rallies and meetings that insisted on messaging that the plan was perfection itself. My support for Transit City was tactical and based on the thought that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I was distinctly uneasy with messaging that insisted on denigrating subways as part of supporting LRTs. The mention that my transit vision for Toronto included both would usually provoke a frowning response that would end with the punch line that subways are unaffordable. “Yes” I would reply, “they are if we are not prepared to raise taxes to pay for them”.
Stintz and De Baeremaeker meet the funding question head on by advocating increasing the property tax to pay for OneCity. It has been often noted that Torontonians pay significantly lower property taxes than do their adjacent neighbours in other municipalities. The Star questions this means of paying for the plan noting that road pricing and gas tax hikes might be a better option, or at least part of the mix. My own long standing preference for funding transit is to tax drivers to pay for it. That said, I’m not going to quibble about which taxes will get us to the transit system that most Torontonians know we really need.
OneCity incorporates a mix of options and routes to bring effective transit to all corners of Toronto. The plan favours subways where it views them as the most efficient option and LRTs where they would be the more logical choice. And on the subject of un a Ford able transit options, OneCity forces His Worship to put up or shut up on his mantra of subways, subways, subways. In point of fact Rob Ford only likes subways when someone else will pay for them. He was not prepared to add a dime to the provincial funding commitment for Transit City to accommodate his subway vision. Predictably, the Mayor has come out forcefully against OneCity solely on the basis of the tax component. Ford continues to assert that the private sector will come on board to fund his subway vision. Available evidence suggests this will occur sometime after Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy have made their contributions to the Mayor’s subway fund.
My fear is that some environmentalists will blink in the face of the OneCity vision. They may see the initial refusal of the McGuinty Government to even discuss OneCity as a signal that entertaining the OneCity vision may stop all progress toward expanding Toronto’s transit network. My challenge to those who would prefer not to discuss the OneCity vision is to compare the map of the OneCity plan with the one for Transit City, and then compare both to the maps of the world’s municipal transit leaders. The OneCity map is in that big league. Transit City will still leave Toronto in the minor leagues. Build OneCity and they will come.