Toronto Budget Woes

July 20th, 2007 by Potato

The budget woes of Canada’s largest city have been in the news a lot lately, culminating in Mayor Miller’s defeat in council to increase revenues. Since I don’t really live in Toronto any more, I haven’t been paying too much attention to the whole situation, and have some mixed feelings on the whole idea. On the one hand, Toronto needs money, and some of the ideas were pretty good ones, in particular the vehicle registration surcharges. Property taxes are one of the only other routes open, but at this point I think (even as a non-property owner) that they’re starting to get excessive — high property taxes encourage sprawl, which is already pretty far out of hand. A casino is neither here nor there for me — but I think with casinos in Orillia and Niagara and slots in many closer locations, Toronto’s gambling needs are pretty well serviced; on the other hand, Montreal, Ottawa, and Halifax seem to live with their casinos without turning into hotbeds of sin. I’m particularly pissed that the other levels of government haven’t been able to help Toronto out, particularly the Federal government which has found billions of dollars for almost everything else under the sun (perhaps if Toronto elected a separatist party, we’d get appeasement money too).

After city council voted to delay any funding increases until after the results of the provincial election in the fall, they had to start looking for ways to cut. The CBC has an article on the planned TTC cuts that made me do a double take:

  • Cancelling about 20 low-ridership bus routes, including the Dupont, Pharmacy and Calvington lines, as soon as October.
  • Abandoning plans to put 100 new buses into service this fall, instead using them to replace old vehicles.
  • Closing the Sheppard subway line at the beginning of 2008.
  • Cancelling all planned service improvements.
  • Hiking fares by 10 to 25 cents.
  • In the immortal words of Kyle’s mom: What-what-WHAAAT??!! They’re going to close the brand-new Sheppard subway line? I haven’t ridden that line yet, even for novelty’s sake, but I imagine the ridership is low (especially if they’re planning on closing it). But realistically, how much can it cost to run a line that’s already built, compared with the busses they’d need? Electricity is cheap (especially compared to gas prices lately), a train only needs two employees (and it would take more than two busses to replace a train, unless they’re really empty), and maintenance/wear-and-tear on an electric train is way lower than a bus. Plus since installing the line, the condo developers have set up shop all along Sheppard. In just a year or two there’s going to be a metric shit-tonne of people trying to commute along that corridor. I just can’t see the sense in closing it (especially after the billion dollars needed to build it has already been sunk).

    And more fare hikes? It’s already gone up over 75 cents in less than 10 years.

    $130 million is what the TTC is looking to cut, according the the article. Pennies compared to the billions in extra spending the “conservative” government brought in (and a sad farewell to the concept of paying down our debt). One thought: if I were in charge of a major political party, perhaps one with millions of dollars at its disposal to launch unending attack ads outside of any election call, I’d consider (though the legalities may be tricky) just throwing that ad money at public transit to build goodwill and make much better use of the resources. How many voters are actually swayed by ads anyway?

    So, here’s what I consider to be a very good question: should transit be a municipal issue? All our levels of government are interested in pissing down the chain lately: provincial and federal levels passing responsibilities down to municipalities; municipalities running out of money, cutting programs, and telling people to deal with issues themselves. But perhaps with transit, we should buck it up to a provincial or federal responsibility. That might also make transit more equal between cities: Toronto, for instance, has pretty darned good transit with the TTC. The 905, by and large, has decent transit options for getting to Toronto, but not getting around their own municipalities. London has a decent bus system, especially for a city of its size, but lacks some amenities such as late night busses (in Toronto you can take the subway home from a bar if you leave just a little bit before closing, and the vomit comet after that; London shuts down bus service to Richmond Row at midnight). A province-wide transit authority (with a lot more money) would be able to give every reasonably-sized municipality decent bus service, and would be able to integrate the services between cities: perhaps making it possible to take a bus from Sheppard to John St. along Yonge without having to pay two fares; also synchronizing the schedules between different services.

    I’m drafting letters to my MP & MPP while the image analysis computer here chugs away (as useless as I know that will be, what with the provincial government in hibernation until the election, and the federal government under the thrall of the insane fuck-wads conservatives, while my MPP is Liberal; as is my parents’). I’ll post them soonish.

    Update: Of course, Wayfare is probably right “They won’t close the subway, it’s just a political move.” Political grandstanding of this sort is quite common, and the TTC probably wouldn’t close the Sheppard line just as it gets into the design stage for the Spadina subway extension…

    One Response to “Toronto Budget Woes”

    1. Potato Says:

      Haven’t sent it yet, but the letter for my MP is pretty straightforward:

      I’m considering putting something in about why I’m writing a London MP for a concern over the TTC, and maybe something about my concern for integrating transit between cities…

      Dear Mr. Pearson

      The news is filled lately with stories of cash-strapped municipalities, in particular Toronto which recently faced a divisive council vote on novel ways of generating revenue.

      The fallout of that vote is that many municipal programs and services are slated to be cut, including service cuts and fare hikes for the TTC. (Story: )

      I am writing you in hopes that the federal government can take steps to support public transit – the TTC, as well as the LTC and other public transit systems across the country – with stable and substantial long-term funding. Toronto should be expanding its service areas and ridership, especially as gas prices rise and environmental concerns mount. To close a subway line, so soon after being built, seems so wrong.