Does this sound familiar? “It is to be regretted that the proposal of a Yonge Street subway…has been linked up with a doubtful Queen Street proposal and with a suggested contribution by the taxpayers which is beyond anything the taxpayers are likely to approve.”
This excerpt from a 1945 Toronto Star editorial on subway construction shows how little has changed.
No surprise, therefore, that the Ford brothers – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his older brother, Doug, the rookie Councillor for Ward 2 – took to the airwaves on Sunday afternoon in a two-hour show to keep up the promotion of the Sheppard subway extension.
On radio station NewsTalk 1010, Mayor Ford said that not running the Eglinton Ave. LRT fully underground would be “political suicide” for Premier Dalton McGuinty. It makes for a catchy sound bite or headline, but there is little substance to Ford’s pronouncements since he still has that difficult issue of finding the money to fulfill his vote-getting promise of extending the Sheppard line in Scarborough. And also he doesn’t seem to have the support of a majority of councillors who now seem to fear him less than they did earlier on.
We keep hearing about the two Torontos that have emerged since amalgamation in 1998. These days, it seems the two Torontos can be identified as the one that supports more subway lines and the one that supports the construction of street-level light rapid transit (LRT).
Some may see this as a left-right issue – with those who back Ford for subways, and those who back former mayor, David Miller, for LRTs. This is silliness.
A significant enough portion of the Scarborough electorate gave Rob Ford their vote because he sold them on his being able to get subways into northern parts of the city that are currently underserved by public transit. So, whatever else opponents may want to say about Ford, he is on track with voters about the desire for subways.
Ford’s lack of finesse in procedure has made for poor optics and those who were not in his corner to begin with have used it as fodder but, for the sake of Torontonians who need better transit and for the sake of the future productivity of this city, everyone at Toronto City Council needs to get onside with this.
We understand that Council is holding to the fact that funding is there from the province for the LRT plan, whereas the Sheppard subway extension has yet to be funded.
That is why Ford has to step back from his overly optimistic position that we can have a new subway built without it costing the public any money.
We would all like that, but on the subway construction the reality is that there will be no free ride. Ford has run up the flagpole the notion of creating a parking levy as one way to raise money. Such a tax would be on large parking lots as those at shopping malls and would, by one estimate, bring in $90 million annually. It has been suggested that it could be implemented not just in Toronto, but across the Greater Toronto Area.
Ford needs to man up and talk about adding other ‘revenue tools’ as well, such as road tolls. And yes, as we have said before, transit users will also have to bear some of the cost, meaning further fare increases. After all, they will be the ultimate beneficiaries of a more efficient transit system.
Back in the 1940s, when Toronto had a population close to one million and many said this city was not a place for subways, the estimated cost to build the Yonge line was $65 million. Today, to carry out Ford’s subway construction plan, we would now need $12.4 billion.
If city and provincial politicians had the foresight or the courage decades ago, they would not only have built more subways but it would have cost us much less than it would today. If they delay any more, it would cost future generations even more.
However we feel about subways, if we are to look honestly at the projected population growth in this city – among other things – we are at some point going to have to face the facts and build more subways.
Better now than later.