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TTC to the Feds: Congestion Is a Problem You Need to Care About

What TTC chief general manager Gary Webster will be telling the House of Commons today

Photo by {a href=""}sniderscion{/a} from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Does Canada need a national transit strategy?

That is the question the House of Commons’ Standing Committee of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities—prompted by a private members’ bill introduced by Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina)—is considering. They are currently conducting hearings into the idea, and speaking today at 3:30 p.m. is TTC chief general manager Gary Webster.

Because the National Public Transit Strategy Act is a private members’ bill, it cannot include any appropriations requests—that is, it can’t ask the government to spend money. (Only the government—the prime minister or cabinet members—can introduce bills that are directly attached to funding.) But what it can do, what it does in this case, is highlight an issue and try to install it more centrally as a policy concern. Chow’s proposal, in essence, is that the government “establish a national strategy to provide public transit that is fast, affordable and accessible.”

In Toronto, we’re experts at least in the depth of the need for such transit.

While we don’t know yet what direction the committee’s questions of Webster might take, here for starters is the text of his prepared remarks. He begins with a description of the TTC—number of riders, size of its budget, and other key facts and figures—and then moves on to substantive policy questions. Below is the full text of his address from that point forward.

Comments regarding the Proposal for a National Transit Strategy to the Parliament of Canada, Standing Committee on Transportation

Laying new streetcar and subway rail isn’t as exciting as cutting the ribbon for the first trip of a new Toronto Rocket subway train, but if this fundamental need for funding of basic infrastructure—what we call State of Good Repair—isn’t met, then the system will no longer be able to operate those much needed new trains.

Maintaining an infrastructure with an asset value of $11 billion is critical to a modern transit system in a city like Toronto—on that, I think we can all agree.

Continued and sustained capital investment in the TTC infrastructure ensures that we can meet the enormous demand for transit service in the Toronto region.

Through fares our customers contribute over 70% of the TTC’s operating budget with the other 30% subsidized by property taxes levied on home owners and businesses in the City of Toronto only. Our customers and the Toronto taxpayers are doing their part. This cost recovery is one of the highest for any transit operation—making the TTC one of the most efficient transit systems in the western world. But we, like other large transit operators, need the tools in the form of long term, sustainable and predictable funding to continue to meet customer demands for modernization and improved service.

Public transit is just that: public – supported and sustained through public investment.

The federal government has been a key partner in funding the subway extension north into York Region, as well as providing the much needed capital funding of projects like the new high capacity Toronto Rocket subway trains. These investments help make the TTC more efficient.

We appreciate the investment the federal government has made in transit and particularly in the TTC. The size and age of our system along with the demand for more capacity due to the growth we are facing means we need even more support.

You’re all familiar with the congestion story in the GTHA; it will not improve until transit systems like the TTC can focus on transit and the demands of our customers – your constituents.

We spend too much time wondering how the system will be funded each budget cycle, rather than planning improved service so our customers can get to work and school on time—key to the success of the Toronto region’s economy.

The Federal Gas Tax, CSIF, Building Canada Fund—all are examples of federal government investment in transit. We thank you; you have demonstrated a recognition of the value of transit investment.

This investment needs to continue.

Long-term sustainable funding ensures reinvestment to ensure infrastructure is modernized and expanded to address the annual growth in ridership of 3%.

As set out in the TTC’s approved Capital Program, we have a $7.8 billion capital need over the next 10 years, but we only have $5.5 billion in funding commitments from the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. These needs will only increase as the system ages and as the demand for service grows. So, we have needs for more long term sustainable investment in TTC, but we also have real immediate needs. One of our most pressing needs is the modernization of Toronto’s streetcar fleet as well as the need for a MSF. This streetcar network carries 300,000 people every day to employment and education opportunities. A federal contribution to new, modern and much larger streetcars will improve TTC performance and significantly increase the ridership that could be carried on this network.

Our message is that a new, permanent relationship needs to be forged with all governments and all transit operators—one that recognizes basic infrastructure needs, as well as the increasing demand from the public that transit be efficient; that transit be reliable; that transit be a viable alternative to the private automobile; and, finally, that the story not be about annual hand-wringing over how the TTC will meet its budget targets each year, but rather how sustained, predictable federal funding for transit will contribute to the TTC continuing to improve service and meet its growing demands.

We support the principles set out by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus and the Canadian Urban Transit Association in their presentations to the Government of Canada to establish a National Transit Strategy.

In Toronto, we are asking our customers to pay more for transit through their fares. We are asking the City and the Province of Ontario to put a funding strategy in place, so the Toronto taxpayers know how they are expected to contribute to transit. We are asking the province and Metrolinx for more capital investment for our transit needs. For the Government of Canada, we are asking you to respond to the request for a National Transit Strategy in a way that meets the unique and growing needs of the TTC. We ask that your response to a National Transit Strategy reflect the significant infrastructure requirements of the TTC, its age and the growth required to meet the capacity demands of growing ridership. We also ask that any funding allocations be based on transit ridership. As noted in this presentation we have some very real and immediate needs in which we need your help. We also need more sustainable capital investment in TTC.

A healthy, properly funded transit system is no longer a luxury for good economic times—it is a “must-do” to ensure the economy remains healthy and to ensure people can get to work.

Thank you, again, for allowing me to share the perspective of Canada’s largest transit system and the growing challenges we face. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.


  • BenjGoldstein

    Second largest country in the world and no transit strategy. Canada is lagging so far behind in policy it is shameful.

    • Anonymous

      Canada is the second largest country only in terms of land mass. The population is quite small. But still, the policy is shameful.

  • Pedro Marques

    If we spent just a tiny fraction of what is spent on healthcare or education or the military, we’d all be zooming around in a version of the London Underground in Toronto.

    Gridlock costs the country tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity and hinders our city’s ability to compete with cities in other countries. Tell me why this isn’t a federal concern?

  • Synonymous

    Saturday Night: Leave the Shoe at 1:10, got the 506 at Spadina, it short turns so I get off at Bay at 1:25. Wait. Wait some more. Another 506 finally turns up, at 1:55. Home at 2:20. 7 km, no traffic. 70 minutes

    Sunday Afternoon: 1:05 pm. Just miss 506 getting to the intersection. Text TTC to find out how long they will be. 10 minutes they say. Watch the buses go up and down the street. Wait some more. 506 materializes, at 1:45. Destination reached at 2:05. 4 km, Sunday traffic, 60 minutes.

    Tonight: Wait at King and Brant for 10 minutes, get passed by a 504 not in service, trailed by one at crush capacity. Couple minutes later another shows up, which I hop on, and then tells me it is short turning at Church. I get on the next one 2 minutes later, and that one tells me it is short turning at Church. Wait another 4 minutes for one that, mercifully, takes me to its intended destination, where I can transfer again to get where I want to go. 6 km, Light traffic (for downtown rush), 5 streetcars, 60 minutes.

    This. Is. Not. Working.

  • Vote Ndp

    If we didnt spend billions on bailing out the automakers we could have used the billions to fund public transit

  • Anonymous

    TTC to the Feds: Congestion is a problem you need to care about.

    So the Fed come up with a solution.

    Feds to Queen’s Park: Congestion is a problem you need to care about.

    So Queen’s Park comes up with a colution.

    Queen’s Park to Toronto/GTA: Congestion is a problem you need to care about.

  • Anonymous

    No kidding. The Americans hand out money like you wouldn’t believe to fund urban transit — simple fact, if Toronto was in the US it would have built 3 Transit Cities by now and cost 50% less to ride. Here’s just one quick example of how their “feds” throw cash at dozens of cities in the form of financing and credit:

    Bottom line: Toronto is no longer a leading transit city. It’s American peers have superior funding. The Feds in Canada need to get their act together.

  • James Alcock

    This is inadequate. Streetcars contribute to congestion by blocking the roads. They should be scrapped and replaced with trolleybuses that can pull over to the curb. Transit alone will not fix our gridlock. We need new roads as well as subways and light rail.

  • James Alcock

    This is what we should be doing. We need new subways and highways.

    Toronto needs:

    Replace the streetcars with trolleybuses
    A full Sheppard Subway from Downsview to Scarborough Town Centre
    A full Eglinton Subway from the Airport to Kennedy
    Bloor-Danforth Subway extensions west to Sherway Gardens and east to the Zoo
    A ‘U’ shaped Downtown Relief Subway along Queen Street
    Extension of the Allen Expressway south to Dupont Street and north to 407
    Extension of Highway 400 south to the Gardiner Expressway
    Eastern extension of the Gardiner Expressway along the Gatineau hydro corridor to 401
    Synchronize all of the traffic lights
    Construct roundabouts at some busy major intersections
    Create more one-way streets in downtown Toronto
    All GO trains running every 15 minutes with an integrated fare with TTC

    Estimated cost: about $16 billion
    (phased in over 10 years – $1.6 billion per year)