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politics

Can the Metrolinx Investment Strategy Succeed?

The regional transit agency has released its plan for raising the $34 billion we need to build new transit. Are we, finally, making progress on this issue?

Photo by seango, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by seango, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

As we reported yesterday, Metrolinx has released its Investment Strategy [PDF], a set of recommendations about how to pay for transit and road improvements in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Those recommendations: increase the HST by one per cent; implement a levy on non-residential, off-street parking; increase the fuel tax by five cents; and increase development charges by 15 per cent.

Is this a good proposal, and will it get anywhere?

This History: Waiting For a Strategy

Back in June 2007, then-Premier Dalton McGuinty announced MoveOntario 2020 with a list of 52 projects cobbled together from regional and GO Transit plans. The estimated cost, about $16 billion, would be shared between two thirds from Queen’s Park and a hoped-for one third from Ottawa.

The agency now known as Metrolinx was given the job of finalizing a plan, which became known as The Big Move, and was formally adopted in November 2008. By then, the estimated cost had climbed to $50 billion (with even higher numbers in draft versions of the plan); $2 billion was established as the annual target for funding. Today, Metrolinx still talks about that $2 billion, but now that’s only expected to cover a handful of projects from the original list, plus a 25 per cent diversion to municipal governments to help with smaller-bore, local transit needs.

Even before The Big Move was published, an Investment Strategy Update [PDF] was presented to the Metrolinx Board. Little in that document is surprising, and most of the major revenue sources being proposed now—the sales tax, fuel tax, and parking levy—were on the 2008 list. That update also included projections of the funding needed annually for various network concepts then under development (page 7), ranging from an extra $2 billion to $6.2 billion.

The much higher-than-anticipated cost of transit investments, coupled with the banking crisis of late 2008, changed everything. A government once committed to a massive transit network struggled to afford just the first phase of projects, whose cost had ballooned to the originally announced value of the entire program.

The scope and timing of projects, notably Toronto’s Transit City lines, were adjusted. Routes that were originally slated for near-completion in 2013 were dispatched to the end of the decade. Outer portions of routes (Eglinton and Finch LRTs to the airport, Sheppard LRT to University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus, a Scarborough LRT to Malvern) were sacrificed to a still-unfunded second phase.

If it were not for the legislated requirement that Metrolinx produce an Investment Strategy by June 1, 2013, Queen’s Park might still be bumbling along avoiding significant, long-term commitment to solving regional transit woes.


The Primary Tools

Metrolinx proposes four primary and three secondary funding tools. The primary tools are:

Harmonized Sales Tax (1 per cent increase)
This tax does the bulk of the work funding transit projects and operations, with projected new revenue of $1.3 billion being raised annually in the GTHA. (It will actually raise a little more than that: Metrolinx’s plan includes a $100 million allowance for a means-tested “mobility tax credit.” This would be similar to the sales tax credit now available to those with low or no income.)

If the tax is applied province-wide—easier to manage legislatively—an additional $1.7 billion will be available, raised from the rest of the province, to fund transportation projects outside of the GTHA. Because this territory is beyond Metrolinx’s planning area, no work has been done on how this revenue might be managed or allocated.

Business Parking Levy
A tax on non-residential parking would be levied throughout the GTHA on a sliding scale based on property values. In effect, parking would become a new land use for taxation purposes. This tax, averaging 25 cents per space per day, would bring in $350 million.

Fuel and Gasoline Tax (5 cents per litre)
This tax would produce $330 million, though that figure could be affected by future changes in driving habits and fuel economy. Any revenue would be in addition to the current dedicated fuel tax transfer to municipalities.

Development Charges (15% increase)
Across the GTHA, development charges are applied to new construction, to cover the cost of supporting infrastructure municipalities must provide. Assuming that building continues at current rates, this would yield an additional $100 million in revenue.


Funds raised by all the new taxes would be put in a dedicated transportation trust fund, one that would be administered by a board separate from Metrolinx. This would, says Metrolinx, ensure accountability and transparency, demonstrating to a skeptical public that new transit is indeed being funded with the new revenue tools.


The Secondary Tools

The secondary tools are not included in the fundraising totals—they don’t count immediately towards the $2 billion a year we need to raise. They are recommended as policies to consider not because they would raise a lot of money but but because they are intended to influence behaviour, whether this be by commuting motorists or by landowners who benefit from public investments in transit.

High Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT)
A High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane is one set aside for vehicles with multiple passengers. High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes extend this scheme by giving solo drivers, who are also able to use the lane if they pay a toll. This concept is popular in some circles, but dubbed “Lexus Lanes” by others, as it confers a benefit only for those willing and able to pay.

The real problem with the HOT concept is its assumption that there is surplus, unused capacity in the HOV lane available for sale. Traffic that would otherwise be in the free lanes is shifted to the allegedly emptier HOT lane. This is completely contrary to the principle that HOV lanes are intended to encourage shared use and thereby to increase overall road capacity.

If a road is full today, changing one lane to a tolled HOT lane will not create capacity out of thin air. If anything, the HOV lane should demonstrate a lower congestion level than the free highway in order to attract the desired car-pooling behaviour.

In a worst case scenario, this could be a highway expansion plan in disguise, if the HOV/HOT lane cannot be carved out of existing space. Implementing any tolling scheme also requires substantial capital outlay for vehicle and passenger monitoring. The gross revenue varies depending on the scale of the HOV/HOT network, and it is unclear how much would remain available for other transportation improvements.

Paid Parking
GO Transit’s expansion is historically rooted in provision of parking at stations. With the shift from large surface lots to parking structures, the cost of providing parking has grown, but GO’s model continues to encourage commuters to drive to the transit station. This approach is limited both by parking capacity and traffic congestion at stations. Also, parking may not be the best land use at locations that will become local development nodes. Parking—intrinsically designed for peak commuting to downtown—is of little use for all-day, two-way demand.

Charging for parking could generate $20–40 million annually, although this will certainly annoy GO customers, just as it has TTC riders who lost the free parking once available with the Metropass. The real challenge for Metrolinx should be to simply stop building more spaces, not to find ways to reduce their cost through new revenues.

Land Value Capture
The premise of this tool is that transit investments make land more valuable, and this value should somehow help to pay back the investment that made it possible. However, the definition of what “value” should be taxed and how this might be calculated remains a mystery.

A fundamental problem is that development does not necessarily follow construction quickly. Examples on the existing TTC and GO rail networks abound. The value of a rapid transit line is enjoyed not just by the immediate properties, but by the transformation of access in general (be it by car or feeder bus) when a line opens up new territory or major service improvements change a route’s convenience and attractiveness.

Should land be taxed just because a new station pops up, or should the tax await development? What is the catchment area for a new tax? This and other related questions have not been answered, but Metrolinx recommends working with municipalities and the development industry to develop a “land value capture strategy”.


Which Tools Will Be Used, and How?

The Investment Strategy, formally, is only advice Metrolinx is offering Queen’s Park. The ink was barely dry on the report when Transportation Minister Glen Murray took to the airwaves, mentioning the many other revenue suggestions he had received. He suggested that the mix of new taxes, indeed the entire Metrolinx proposal, was still very much in play, saying that the “Metrolinx contribution is significant, but it is just one of many voices the government will be listening to over the summer.” (This is from an interview on CBC radio’s Here & Now; see the second of the two clips at that link.)

Via a press release [PDF], Murray also announced that the government will strike a review committee over the summer of 2013 to consider the Metrolinx report and manage outreach to municipal politicians and citizens. In effect, the Metrolinx work will be rehashed to put a ministerial stamp on its conclusions.

In the lead-up to Metrolinx’s announcement, through public consultations, third-party advocacy, and media reports, the emphasis has been on which taxes would be used to generate $2 billion per year. What is missing is any detailed plan for actually spending the money. All we have right now is a list of projects with no delivery dates, nor any estimate of the benefits they will bring.

Both opposition parties have rejected new taxes to fund transit expansion. Metrolinx, as a non-political agency, did not examine any potential reallocation of government finances through revisions of corporate tax structures—an NDP demand—nor the spending cuts demanded by the Tories. Alternate agendas both in government and opposition will make any speedy resolution to the transit funding question unlikely.

By late 2013, the government must make up its mind and either bring forward enabling legislation for new taxes, or at least build an agreed-upon set of proposals into the 2014 provincial budget plans. There is little time for more dithering and second-guessing of an already extended research and consultation process.


Is $2 Billion Enough?

Experience with The Big Move and with transit projects generally tells us that cost estimates don’t stay fixed for long.

Metrolinx now quotes its “Next Wave” projects in 2014 dollars, but will build them years in the future with unknown inflationary effects thanks to economic changes in labour, materials, and financing, not to mention changing capacity in the construction industry.

Add to this the need to pay for operating new lines as they open—a question that remains unresolved. The faster Metrolinx expands GO service, the sooner it must bear the cost of running that service and maintaining new infrastructure.

Local transit will also need to be improved to provide access to the regional network. Simple changes like running GO trains every 30 minutes rather than hourly have profound implications for infrequent, off-peak transit service and the cost to local municipalities.


The Challenge of “Local Funding”

Twenty-five percent of the new revenue, or $500 million a year, will be shunted to municipalities for their local transportation goals—that is, dedicated to projects outside of The Big Move network itself.

  • Fifteen per cent ($300 million a year) will go toward local transportation improvements (road or transit) that are intended to increase transit ridership or road capacity. Municipalities will have to provide matching funds, but this must be net new money, not simply a reallocation of existing spending. Metrolinx sees this as a funding source for increased transit service, but it is unclear how long such improvements would be eligible as a stimulus for new riding. Operating subsidies are a continuing cost, and they could be crowded out by one-time capital spending.
  • Five per cent ($100 million a year) will go to investments in the controlled access highway network (like 400-series highways).
  • Five per cent ($100 million a year) will go to a mixed bag of active transportation (cycling and pedestrian) improvements, fare systems, and other leftovers in the plan.

Critical aspects of local service and fare integration—a challenge needing much more than a shared PRESTO smartcard—will not be addressed until mid-2014. The substantial cost of improved local transit service is lumped into a funding pool with many other demands, including road expansion, and there is no sense that the magnitude of spending required has been matched against the proposed funding.

For years Metrolinx has been preoccupied with a network of large-scale projects and has dismissed local needs as somebody else’s problem. Now they have discovered the “last mile”: the portion of a commuter’s trip between a regional service and a home or work destination. (Think about taking the bus from the nearest subway station to your home.) Coupled with a commitment to providing regional service and fare integration, local transit is a major concern in its own right. Metrolinx’s work in this vital area is threadbare, a condition that will not be easily remedied given the disparity of goals and priorities for each municipal transit agency.

A further problem lies in the definition of what counts as a “regional” project and, hence, one that would be funded as a Metrolinx undertaking, not as a local scheme. If Metrolinx includes a project in The Big Move, it gets full provincial funding, but the municipality loses control. One example is the proposed LRT/streetcar network on the Toronto waterfront touted by Glen Murray as a high priority, even though it’s not part of the Metrolinx scheme. Completing all components, including expansion of Union Station Loop, construction of new trackage through the East Bayfront, West Donlands and Port Lands, and associated street realignments, has a cost comparable to some Big Move projects. If this must come out of the “local funding” pot, it will elbow aside any other operating or capital proposals for several years.


What Will We Build?

The new money is intended for what are called the “Next Wave” projects. These include:

  • Two subway lines (the so-called Relief Line and the Richmond Hill extension of the Yonge line);
  • Two light rail lines (Mississauga and Hamilton);
  • Three bus rapid transit lines (Brampton’s Queen Street, Dundas Street, and Durham-Scarborough);
  • Many GO improvements (two-way all-day service throughout the network and electrification of the Lake Shore and Kitchener corridors).

According to Metrolinx president Bruce McCuaig, the board members were quite insistent that the new revenues be dedicated to specific projects, and that there be a review mechanism to discuss whether to change or discontinue the new taxes and levies once their initial purpose is achieved.

Additional funding from Ottawa could speed up work on the Next Wave projects, or it could free up capital to add new projects to this group. Until such money appears, if ever, all of the unfunded projects that are supposed to come after the Next Wave, including Transit City Phase 2 and other pieces of The Big Move, are in funding limbo.


When Will We Build?

One major open question is the financing strategy that will support all of this. Metrolinx has not, as yet, provided a clear recommendation: do we build $2 billion a year worth of transit, as the money comes in, or use the new revenue tools to underwrite borrowing a much larger sum (against the future revenue the taxes would bring in) to facilitate faster construction?

Each approach may be appropriate for different types of projects. For example, a large subway such as the Relief Line (now shorn of its “Downtown” moniker) would soak up all available funding if it were built only with current revenues. The scope, length and lifespan of the investment would be more suitable for debt financing. Much smaller projects could be built directly with in-year tax revenues, by contrast.

In its report, Metrolinx included estimates for how long it would take to design, conduct an environmental assessment, and construct each Next Wave project:

big move next wave projects

Some of these timeframes, notably the electrification of GO service on the Lake Shore and Kitchener lines, are very long, and their contribution to reducing travel times will not be felt for at least a decade. Can all of these be undertaken at once, or will the process be drawn out by Metrolinx limitations on concurrency in its staging plan, due in June 2014?

The Next Wave will not move speedily. It may consume 15 years worth of new revenue, but the GTHA could wait much longer to see meaningful results.


Metrolinx Governance

As part of its recommendations, Metrolinx is proposing that its board grow from twelve to eighteen members, with the additional six being appointed by the municipalities to represent their interests. How this would be achieved is unclear given the complexity of a region-wide recruitment process. Equally, it could be argued that Queen’s Park should give up some of its existing seats on the board to keep its size manageable. When everyone wants to speak, even a twelve-member board can chew up a lot of time.

The projects now approved in the Metrolinx Base Program and Next Wave represent a spending breakdown roughly proportionate to the population in the “416″ and the “905″ areas. This coarse grouping will not likely survive examination at a finer level at the individual municipalities. Some areas may still feel “left out” and this could affect broad acceptance of the plans. The worst possible scenario would be a board that gerrymandered The Big Move to suit pet projects rather than fairly-applied regional objectives and criteria.


Selling the Plan

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park face a considerable political challenge in convincing Ontario residents that new taxes will bring meaningful, timely improvements to their travel experience. Polls and community meetings suggest that everyone—including the business community—accepts the need for greater transit spending, but the preferred source is often “anyone but me.”

The new taxes will place varying burdens on different groups, but these will be eventually offset by the transfer of personal expenses (eliminating a second or third car, reducing the time needed to commute) to public ones. That “eventually” is the nub of Metrolinx’s problem. Voters will pay for many years before they benefit from better transit, and those years must see plans and funding survive swings in government policy and economic activity.

With an annual population growth of 100,000, the GTHA will be one million people bigger before most of the Next Wave finishes construction. That’s a million more people who will complain about congestion, but most will drive for want of an alternative. Even the hoped-for changes in land use sought by Metrolinx will take decades to produce a meaningful shift in population and travel patterns across the region, and the network will have to serve the sprawling GTHA as it is built, not as it might exist in a planner’s fantasy.

In its staging plan, Metrolinx must show how improvements will be felt in the near and medium term, not just in a hypothetical future where all of The Big Move is in operation. Savings in travel time and reductions in congestion must be calculated and demonstrated for the intermediate stages when only parts of the plan are finished. Good results will beget support for more transit projects, but the government—whatever its party—must have the will to stay with the plan rather than amending it to suit electoral needs.

This is a very large, some would say impossible, expectation. In the short term, the government must survive long enough to implement the new taxes and push enough projects out the door to establish momentum for transit expansion. Even a political optimist will see this as difficult, but with good will and continued strong support from senior figures at Queen’s Park it remains possible.

The pessimistic view—more stalemates, little or no expansion, a further relegation of transit to a distant secondary role—does not bear consideration.

Comments

  • XXX

    “The pessimistic view—more stalemates, little or no expansion, a further relegation of transit to a distant secondary role—does not bear consideration.”

    reject the “view” if you want, ignore the political realities that give rise to that view at the peril of your entire project. The failures of the Ontario Liberals are non-trivial and there are very good reasons not to trust them with a project of this scale not to mention the attendant funding. If your best sales job is screw you if you don’t agree with me then you deserve what you get.

    • SmarterThanYou86

      You’re biggest problem is you’re thinking of transit as a political issue – it’s not, we all win regardless of our political stripe – Torontoist is correct in saying that pessimistic views towards transit do not bear consideration as these views will only keep us back – if you don’t like that point of view, get off this comment board – you’re not winning any friends or influencing anyone here.

      • XXX

        If it isn’t a political issue then why are so many politicians involved? I don’t think we will “win” if the province / Metrolinx / TTC are unable to create something meaningful with the new revenues and their record rather strongly suggests they won’t.

        If the Torontoist doesn’t want me posting here either identify yourself as staff or have on of the mods reply to this comment and I won’t visit the site / comment again.

        • OgtheDim

          Politicians are involved because government is the only way to be able to deliver the revenue necessary to get this done.
          KInda like health care, roads, etc. etc.

          • XXX

            Yeah the Liberals did a bang up job with health care, I guess none of your loved ones got the watered down chemo drugs, or needed the delisted services and they (mis)managed ehealth so “well” lets give them another $2 billion a year for transit.

          • torontothegreat

            Holy fawk you’re a skittlebitz…

          • Smokez

            ESL

          • OgtheDim

            Buddy, take a basic civics course. Pols are involved because Santa Clause, pixie dust, and unicorn farts do not build transit.

          • XXX

            Pal, read a newspaper. The pols you’re relying on aren’t qualified to manage a lemonade stand let alone a $2 billion dollar transit expansion.

          • OgtheDim

            Buddy, look around you during a commute.

            WE NEED SOMETHING DONE AND NOBODY ELSE BUT FLAWED PEOPLE ARE GOING TO DO IT.

            You want perfection, save your game. Back here in reality, the political system, with the current players, is what we got.
            Waiting for competency (in your case, that seems to be Hudak having a Road to Damscus experience) ain’t gonna solve our problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Walter-Lis/571716919 Walter Lis

    Free parking should become obsolete. Minimum parking requirement by-laws should be repealed. Parking over 3 hours in total per day for employees should become a taxable benefit.

  • Michael

    Eleven years for the relief line .. Eleven years of during which some mindless opportunist could cancel the whole thing at any hour. This plan has my confidence!

  • Albin

    I’m fairly happy with the funding choices (noting that HST will also go to the newly budgeted rural roads fund and municipalities, and is not taxing farmers for GTA build.) I’ve never liked the Relief Line and think it’s a mistake to build on this scale without dealing once and for all with the Gardiner. I think the “relief” solution is there and not in digging up the middle of the downtown.

  • lexo

    Why are corporate tax cuts still on the books? That would add a ton of revenue for infrastructure projects. Business would benefit from reduced gridlock, so it’s basically like taking the money and investing in the company. However it’s short-sighted and unfair to add taxes when there are still tax cuts in the budget. I would be ok with tying tax cuts to job creation. It’s not like it would be an increase in taxes… but a freeze – just holding the course on the current level of corporate taxation for another budget.

    • OgtheDim

      Cause the Tories don’t want them, and the NDP has used the total savings of not doing those cuts 3 times now. Its a useful thing politically for the Libs to tie as a can to the NDP.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kevin.giant Kevin Love

    I favour funding the project by borrowing the money upfront, building the project and then repaying the debt with the dedicated funding sources. This does two things:

    1. It gets us transit ASAP instead of some day in the dim and distant future.

    2. It prevents some future foolish short-sighted politician from messing up the whole plan.

    • torontothegreat

      It’s funny how the government shills the idea of borrowing to invest, but when it comes to it’s own house…

  • Peter

    Of course the Metrolinx Investment Strategy won’t succeed–the Supreme Overlord of Everything Public Transit Steve Munro says so.

    It’s incredibly easy to be forever the critic and the armchair quarterback, two roles that Steve Munro has mastered. It is much harder to actually make things happen.

    Perhaps the first constructive change Steve Munro would be happy with is if he was appointed Emperor of Ontario.

    • OgtheDIm

      Meh…..frankly, who cares what any of us say, as long as discussion leads to action. (Mind you, this would take Hudak losing the next election and no Lanark Boy/Doug Ford type getting in and becoming premier.)

    • William Paul

      yes, first Munro would appoint himself Emperor of toronto. Munro does not know any kind of financial responsibility. He reasons that we want and need streetcars every 2 minutes, buses that run all day everywhere and LRT’s all over the place. He takes the Left’s ‘tax-and-spend’ policy which is since we need it, we will tax everyone to death, pile on the property tax, whatever it takes – charge the drivers whatever fee is necessary and so on. And not satisfied that we are getting one subway to Vaughan and a bunch of silly littlle LRT’s, Munro now wants more, let’s add a downtown relief subway…geez, we haven’t even built the LRT’s yet. Now for the 1% HST add-on…I defy anyone to tell me HOW the gov is going to separate the “1%”…exactly..it will go into general revenue…just another tax grab!
      From reading some of Munro’s posts, you are right, he is never stified, never happy with how anything is going..the TTC cleans their trains and Munro whines about putting more service instead..well, no, that’;s not how it works except for in his world. Just once, I would like to read a balanced piece from him. I think, correct me if I’m wrong. he lobbies the councillors trying to infect his slant on their way of thinking. Real nice

      • Steve Munro

        Occasionally, the trolls might actually read what I write and note that I am quite supportive of what Metrolinx is doing. However, there are big challenges to implement it some of which stems from the comparative inactivity during McGuinty’s era. As for keeping the 1% separate, that’s easy — we know how much sales tax is collected each year and the transit share will be a simple calculation. The money goes to a separate fund. I have no use for the naysayers who paint any criticism as being “unsatisfied” and uninformed. The only way the city improves is for people to demand better. The trolls would prefer to misrepresent arguments rather than engage with issues.

        • Peter

          Now my life is complete, I’ve been called a troll by a man who has no skin in the game, yet self-appoints himself as the Voice of Reason.

          • Steve Munro

            And your claim to fame is?

          • Peter

            I don’t claim any “fame”. I don’t claim any expertise other than what I have been educated in and my field of work which I have gainfully been employed in for years. I have the credentials to do my job–nothing more, nothing less.

            Do you have a degree in public transport or engineering? Do you have a degree in political administration? Have you worked in either field? Nobody has ever explained the answers to these questions so I find it difficult to give you much credibility.

          • IB

            If you’re not trolling, what is it in particular that Steve Munro is wrong about in this article? Being a critic and not having “skin in the game” (which I guess in this instance would either mean being a politician or working for Metrolinx) is not in and of itself a legitimate argument against what he’s saying.

          • William Paul

            1) Steve Munro is wrong that the extra 1% provincial HST hike will go directly into transit (we are REALLY going to to trust the Libs to do this? REally? – I don’t believe they can)

            2) the Provinciall Libs have no business saddling us with ANY new tax while they continue to waste our money on energy, cancelled plants, eHealth, Ornge, OHIP extra tax-grab

            3) it is hard sometimes to take him seriously when “nothing is good enough”..for example we are about to get a brand new N-S subway which will happen to serve the Finch West folk, along with another 8 billion in little LRT lines yet this is not enough, Steve want a downtown DRL subway NOW also.

            4) Steve says: “The new taxes will place varying burdens on different groups, but these will be eventually offset by the transfer of personal expenses (eliminating a second or third car, reducing the time needed to commute) to public ones” really? you expect people to give up second cars??? Wrong – this will make it easier for existing transit users to commute and shave time off their trips, that’s all

            5) I am against spending and / or borrowing to provide an un-needed network at this moment in time. To compare, YUS, 40 years later and the TTC were right all along, there was no need for a Steeles Station. There still isn’t. Most buses take
            about 3 minutes to travel the distance even in rush hour

            6) Streve says “more stalemates, little or no expansion, a further relegation of transit to a distant secondary role—does not bear consideration.”

            He is just never happy! There has been more transit talk and more transit action in the last couple of years than in the previous 30. Be grateful for what has been achieved please! A ‘for-sure’ actual subway extension that will benefit all west-end people immensely (right up to Steeles) and a “something’ along Eglinton for sure (by something I mean LRT or subway-does not matter which, crosstown transit is being built)

            If ONLY these two lines get built we are giants leaps ahead and we should be grateful to QP for funding this (as TO council wanted no part of it and let Metrolinx own the whole damn thing

            I know it’s the lobbyist’s job to continually ask for more and never be grateful for what you have or are getting but it seems to be Steves’ way or the highway. Fair game on his blog as there are no checks and balances and people can spout all they want but I think since this forum is a slight step-above a blog, one should be open to other ideas and not so fast to shut down any differing opinions!

          • michaelgreason

            I have been reading Steve’s blog for a long time. He is not doctrinaire or dictatorial – in fact quite the opposite. While I don’t speak for Steve, my reading of his work has left me with the belief that he supports all forms of transportation – in their place. In addition, I have learned much from Steve after he spends hours researching transit issues and reporting to his readers who expend much less effort. I have learned a lot from Steve – and tremendously value Toronto’s Streetcars, whose preservation if you remember – was the start of Steve’s advocacy.

      • Rogie Vachon

        Then start your own blog if you don’t like his.

    • http://bowjamesbow.ca/blog.shtml James Bow

      In the end, what are we all but armchair quarterbacks and critics? In the end, what are you doing right here in regards to this post? And yet, I think the post that Steve has written is a hell of a lot more product than what you’re doing. The reason why Steve has earned my respect on this issue is because of his hard work on this file spanning decades, and his ability to construct good arguments that stand the test of reasoned debate.

      We are all entitled to have an opinion and argue for it. The respect we win for our opinions depends on how persuasively and how well we argue for our opinions. I think it’s a productive thing to speak out and argue persuasively. Though it can take a while, this is still the best and, some ways, only tool we have to change minds.

      Your response is basically to heckle and suggest that Steve should sit down and shut up. That’s not exactly constructive. That’s certainly not an argument. It may have value in that it allows you a safety valve for that pent up anger that’s clearly inside you, but forgive me if I don’t see it as an argument that I can really respect. William Paul may express himself in a similar passionate way, but he at least has also brought forward points that can be argued, and that I can respect.

  • Moaz Ahmadmoa

    There is a lot that needs to be said and many questions that need to be asked about the revenue tools and the funding and prioritizing of the Big Move Next Wave projects.

    Of course I would like to see them all implemented as quickly as possible and as such, I think that a province-wide 1% HST increase, delaying the corporate tax rollbacks, a slightly larger increase (5.3c/L) to the gas tax and parking levy will do a lot more for transit and transportation expansion than the current Metrolinx revenue tools proposal.

    The province is already collecting 14.7 c/L of gas taxes and the 5c / L will be added to that, for a total of 19.7c/L. From the current 14.7c/L we know that 5c/L is devoted (not dedicated) to transit and transportation. This is matched by another 5c/L coming out of the 10c/L federal excise tax on fuel. However, only the “new” 5c/L would be specifically dedicated to The Big Move Next Wave projects. It is therefore vital that the province and federal government be convinced to perpetually dedicate that existing 5c/L each to transit and transportation.

    That simple reallocation would give us a guaranteed dedicated 15c/L of fuel dedicated to transit and transportation…which could be used to borrow more money and accelerate the construction of Big Move next wave projects

    However, if the Federal government does not cooperate, I would like to see the Ontario government raise the dedicated revenue to 10c/L by combining the new 5c/L with the existing 5c/L.

    As for the local transit component 15% of $2 billion or about $300 million…that is not a large amount of money when divided among 10 transit agencies. If divided equally that is $30 million each … a small, easily-matched amount for Toronto’s transit, and a larger, yet not-as-easy-to-match amount for smaller jurisdictions like Oakville or Milton.

    In terms of expanding the Board by adding 6 members appointed by municipalities, the easiest way to do this would be to fill these seats with the regional chairs of Halton, Peel, York and Durham, and representatives of city staff from Hamilton and Toronto. This allows local representation with less worry that powerful political personalities could steal the show (cough…McCallion…cough) or distract the discussion with a different show … or ignore it altogether.

    The next task for Metrolinx is to sell the revenue tools and show people that projects are taking place. 2 Big Move projects (Mississauga BRT/transitway 1st phase and VIVA Hwy 7 rapidway from Bayview to 404) are coming into service later this year … so let’s hope Metrolinx highlights these projects.

    There are also two projects … 30 min frequencies on the Lakeshore GO line and Durham Region’s new Pulse express buses … starting on June 29th. I don’t know if these are “Big Move” projects or not, but I wouldn’t mind terribly if Metrolinx uses these projects to show people in the GTHA that things are happening and their money is being spent wisely.

    Cheers, Moaz

    • Steve Munro

      The existing 5c/litre of fuel tax is already funding capital and operating expenses at transit systems throughout the province. If it were rededicated to financing the Big Move projects, this revenue would have to be replaced, somehow, for all of the municipalities who depend on it. There is a great deal of confusion because there are three sets of Metrolinx projects, each funded in a different way, but they are all spoken of in a jumble.

      The current debate is over money to fund the “Next Wave” projects in the Big Move, as well as a 25% share going to a grab-bag of roads and local transit.

      The first wave of the Big Move (the $16b Queen’s Park talks about regularly) is funded roughly 3/4 by Ontario from general revenue, with the rest coming from Ottawa and local governments. Some of these projects like the Spadina Subway extension have been underway for some time, and some like Yonge Subway resignalling are only funded for part of the line. All of the funding is from “general revenue” (the various tax streams at all levels of government). A much smaller set of “Quick Win” projects is also funded this way.

      Finally, there are projects, mainly GO Transit expansion work, that are funded from Ontario general revenue through the annual budget allocation to Metrolinx, and special subsidies to individual projects such as the purchase of new Toronto streetcars that flow directly to the agencies involved.

      All of this makes for great confusion when someone (including many politicians) point to a project and try to explain where the money came from. NOTHING of what is underway today will be funded by the new taxes, but there will be many construction progress reports and ribbon-cuttings that legitimately will tout the value of transit spending. Some observers might ask why, if we are building so much outside of the Next Wave, we need new revenue streams to fund it. The answer lies in the fight to reduce provincial deficits and to put any new borrowing on a sustainable basis with dedicated revenue.

      Many argue that elimination of existing waste spending is the answer, and that is certainly part of any government review. Holding transit expansion hostage has a larger cost. Those who would throttle transit growth to fight boondoggles like gas plant relocations, air ambulances and the like must answer two fundamental questions: do you believe in transit expansion and how will you pay for it.

      • William Paul

        I think Mr Munro that the big question/roadblock for me and a lot of people is the Libs. themselves. If it were anybody but Hudak in the wings…everybody would be screaming foul,how un-democratic, shame etc. Wynne, however nice, was NOT elected. She was anoited or crowned. After all the Libs have BS’s us about and all the wasted money down the drain, I have a real hard time thinking they can be trusted on this transit file. I think, we the people, should be able to actually elect our leader first. If Wynne gets it..great, If hudak…fine, horwath..fine. At least we are owed an election, which is our democratic right. I find it shameful that Wynne is going to saddle us with a tax without being elected. Even though I do not like the Libs, IF whe was elected, I would have no problem with a transit tax and would more than likely jump on your bandwagons….

        • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

          “Wynne, however nice, was NOT elected.”

          What? Who is the Member for Don Valley West, then? Why is there a Wikipedia page titled “Ontario Liberal Party leadership election, 2013″ (which looks awful similar to the one titled “Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leadership election, 2009″)?

          “we the people” hints that you’ve forgotten Grade 9 Civics. To review: In Ontario and Canada, there is no direct vote for the head of government.

          • William Paul

            however you want to phrase it, or spin it, McGuinty was elected Premier and the Liberals were elected by us to ‘run’ Ontario. Yes, Wynn was elected, but she was NOT elected to lead the party aka Premier. (yes queened by the Libs, not people of Ontario). Wynne now claims she was not part of gas plant cancellations, prorogue etc etc…I say, for her to to continue to ‘rule’, we should have an election adn have the chance to elect the liberals again, this time with Wynne as premier…you guys would be screaming foul if roles were reversed and Hudak got in this way. You would be whining for election. And yes we do influence…(If I don’t like McGuinty being Premier, I won’t vote Liberal..period!)

          • OgtheDim

            Its not spin. Its the Westminster system of democray.

            NOBODY is elected Premier. Its never on the ballot. McGuinty wasn’t elected Premier. His party was elected to govern, and he is their leader.

            Oh, and I suppose you were also fomenting about Earnie Eves during SARS? There we were, in the midst of a full blown health crisis……….and………heavens!!!!!……we had an unelected Premier!!!!!!
            Meh….if you can’t be bothered to understand the basic tenets of our particular form of democracy, why do you expect to have influence.

          • William Paul

            dictionary definitions mean nothing.. If I do not like the head of the party, I will NOT vote for any member of that party. Yes, there should have been election with Eves. I happen to like Harris 1) he cut back bloated transit subsidies, made the TTC find internal savings and cut out some fat. Yes, it meant less service ..so? 2) he attempted to weed out the welfare dole. Welfare is a safety net, NOT a profession 3) attempted to cut TO councillors down from 44 to 22. Well overdue. 40+ councillors is like fielding 22 men in baseball. Half stand around not doing much, little here and there and the loudrocks go for the photo-ops tec etc etc Eves SHOULD have called election.. Different times though, no real chat/big internet etc…TO Star was indifferent as usual.
            You are showing your colors in your last line..”expect to have influence”? Wow, a socialist statement to be sure. I do not expect not want influence. I have seen your little comments over in Steve’s sandbox..good for you..hope you are happy!

          • Testu

            Okay, so your argument is that you understand how our political system works (and thus why you’re wrong), but you really don’t like it, and that somehow makes your point valid?

            We elect our local representatives. The party members elect their leader. If you’re not a member of the party that won the majority of the seats in the province you don’t get to have a say in who the leader of the government is. Our political representation has worked this way for a long time, if you disagree with it, that’s understandable, but it doesn’t invalidate the system itself.

          • William Paul

            Well, the Conservative candidates in my area are the best but if I vote for them everyone I know, including Steve Munro, are deathly afraid of Hudak being elected Premier as he may tinker with some of the transit plans. So if we do not elect a Premier why is everyone so afraid of Hudak? That’a all I hear..do not vote conservative because we do not want Hudak! Same with the Feds ands Harper

          • Testu

            Because Hudak is currently the head of the PC party and Harper the head of the federal Conservative party. They were elected as such by the registered members of their respective parties and if their respective parties hold more seats that any other party after their respective elections they will be the head of the provincial or federal governments. If they are replaced by another as party leader while the party remains in control of the majority of seats, that new person will become the head of the government. They are referred to as a shorthand for the party they currently lead.

            It’s really very simple. We do not, and never have, vote for the leader of the government provincially or federally. A lot of people don’t realize that but that does not make it untrue in any way.

          • XXX

            It’s really very simple since Kathleen Wynne was not the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party during the last provincial election AND the Gas Plant Scandal has cost the citizens of this fine province at least $600 million with a possible upper limit of $1 billion dollars AND given that parliament was prorogued for months to avoid contempt charges and so that McGuinty could resign in disgrace the liberal party should show respect to the people of this province by seeking a fresh mandate. Rob Ford spent $3,000 incorrectly and Clayton Ruby and friends want the case to go to the supreme court of Canada. The Ontario liberals wasted up to $1 BILLION dollars on the gas plant scandal alone and you would do nothing, and argue that this is simply an outcome of the system we should accept.

            I do not accept this. No one should.

            “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”

          • Testu

            That’s a lot of words to say “I don’t like the way the system works”.

            You can try to deflect the argument to other issues all you like but the fact remains that Kathleen Wynne is the Premier of Ontario until such time as the government is toppled by a no-confidence motion or Oct. 1st 2015 rolls around.

            I don’t agree with the misuse of public funds to cover ridiculous political missteps nor do I think the government should not be accountable for their expenditures. However I do believe that generally speaking, our political system works reasonable well.

            If you disagree you can always push your MPP to propose a direct democracy initiative.

      • XXX

        “Those who would throttle transit growth to fight boondoggles like gas plant relocations, air ambulances and the like must answer two fundamental questions: do you believe in transit expansion and how will you pay for it.”

        Those who would proceed with transit growth irrespective of the demonstrated managerial incompetence of the Ontario Liberal Party must answer two fundamental questions: Why should we trust them with a $50 billion dollar project when they have repeatedly failed to execute on time and on budget much smaller projects (E-health, Cancer care Ontario [both watered down chemo drugs & accounting irregularities], Green Energy scandal, etc.) and Who will pay if the Liberals cannot execute this vision: Steve Munro? Premier Wynne? or the taxpayer yet again?

      • Moaz Ahmadmoa

        There are multiple problems here that need to be resolved by the Ontario government and Metrolinx.

        Firstly, this existing gas tax money is allocated to transit but not dedicated, (temporarily or permanently). This means that the money is reallocated every year and can be taken away as desired.

        Secondly, as you said there are multiple projects and multiple funding streams. If the province really wants to show a commitment to transit they should funnel all the projects through the proposed trust fund. Even if they keep the spending level the same, the trust fund will consolidate funding, making it easier to manage, and ensuring that the funds would remain focused on transit and transportation projects.

        Thirdly,we should consider what will happen to the existing funding when the projects funded through gas tax revenues are finished. Under the current funding scheme,what is to stop this existing 5c/L from being shifted to other projects, leaving us with an added 5c/L in taxes but no net new benefits for transit?

        Metrolinx and the provincial government have provided rescue funds. Now we are talking about tools to pay for expansion. But after that we need to ensure that transit has a stable long term source of funding.

        If the existing gas tax money is rolled into the trust fund,

        • Moaz Ahmadmoa

          I meant to say, if the existing gas tax money is rolled into the trust fund, it helps create that long term, stable funding that we need.

  • Andrew

    I do not think that it makes sense to build the Transit City light rail plan without major modifications if these transit taxes are implemented, because the transit taxes will raise such a massive amount of money that it is feasible to build a much larger number of subways than originally planned. $2 billion per year * 20 years = $40 billion, in addition to the $8.6 billion for Transit City = $48.6 billion. By extending the transit taxes to a longer timeframe (e.g. 30 years) and borrowing against the future revenue at very low interest rates even more funding can be raised. Changes need to be made like making the outer ends of Eglinton elevated, and extending Eglinton to the airport and to Square One. Also Sheppard really ought to be a subway as should be Don Mills between Eglinton and Finch – due to fiscal realities these extensions would be phased and built sometime in the future, but with a much larger amount of funding available and large-scale development in these areas, precluding a subway extension in the future is a bad idea. Although I realize that a large share of the transit tax revenue will go to the 905 suburbs (Toronto’s share based on population would be around 40%), and a lot of the funding will be used for GO train expansion and operating funding for improved bus service, it does not make sense to spend almost $50 billion on transit but only include a tiny number of subways. The transit taxes will be very unpopular otherwise.

    • Moaz Ahmadmoa

      Andrew, it is $2bn per year from 2014-2031 … 17 years and $34 billion. I do agree that some modification may be needed to some of the projects though perhaps not in the way you would expect.

      I can see that any extra money that can be raised in any manner would already be earmarked for projects that are not included in the Big Move Next Wave project list but are necessary … like the East Bayfront LRT line (which is short a few hundred million)…as well as GO rail & bus service expansion and ‘one time’ payments like new buses.

      Another important project will be the Relief Line / Don Mills Line / Don River Line … as proposed in the Next Wave it is not going to be enough for the city’s transit needs, so any new or unexpected money would definitely be welcome.

      Cheers, Moaz

      • Andrew

        The report contradicts itself, saying that the budget is $34B but that the transit taxes would be reviewed after 20 years. The length that the transit taxes are put in place is subject to change anyway. Regardless, it is an unprecedented amount of money and more than enough to build a large subway system and improve the GO train system. Elevating the Eglinton line is an obvious way to increase capacity and does not cost very much, and an extension to Square One (using the BRT alignment) would increase the demand substantially. Sheppard may not be as high a priority and a subway here would be fairly expensive, but there has been a large amount of condominium development along this route (one of the largest concentrations outside of the downtown core), and a Don Mills line would make this far more useful. The transfer at Sheppard/Don Mills created by the Sheppard LRT would result in a disjointed transit network.

        • Moaz Ahmadmoa

          I agree with the disjointed network but I think that the better solution is to convert the Sheppard subway to LRT and build a continuous line fromalvern to Sheppard and Keele or Sheppard and Jane.

          The only thing is that we would have to wait until 2020 when people see that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT is actually operating (especially the underground part where it is as “subway-like” as anyone could hope for.

          It should help when people see that a 3 car Eglinton line LRT train can carry 80 more people than a 4 car Sheppard subway train.

    • Walter

      Andrew,
      I think you hit the nail on the head. I have yet to hear a transit plan as good as yours. Eglinton can be elevated for minimal extra cost to provide a “subway” to Scarborough. The DRL, or Don Mills Subway, needs to go up to Finch (Seneca) so it can actually intercept riders before they get to Yonge – the exact route through downtown is a separate arguement. Sheppard is better delayed and built as subway later, rather than upsetting everyone now for no good reason just to force in an LRT. Since the Mississauga Busway is well under construction, I think extension to Square One would only happen after the Busway has been in operation for a couple of decades.

      • Moaz Ahmadmoa

        I would very much like to see MiWay (Mississauga Transit) contracted to run an express bus service along Eglinton from Weston to Renforth on behalf of the TTC once the Eglinton line opens. Of course since this will be in 2020 and MiWay usually keeps buses for 12 years, then perhaps they can sell/lease all the 60 foot articulated buses they bought in 2008 to the TTC. The TTC can then operate these buses along with the new ones they are buying now,and run upgraded express bus services along all major roads. MiWay can be cpntracted to maintain all the old buses as part of the lease/purchase agreement.

  • Saurabh Gupta

    My biggest gripe is that deferral of corporate tax cuts is not even on the table. If I remember correctly, the plan is to bring the provincial rate down to 10% from 11.5%. That’s roughly $1.5 billion in annual revenue. If corporations will also benefit due to increased transit, they should also be expected to pay up.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Keep in mind nearly a third of that $1.5b will be recovered in the form of commercial parking levies and development charges. (These may ultimately be “passed on” to consumers, but aren’t all corporate taxes?)

      I still think a commuter payroll tax should be considered, to shift some of the cost of local transit to people who use it regularly but do not pay property tax in that locale.

      • torontothegreat

        “These may ultimately be “passed on” to consumers, but aren’t all corporate taxes?”

        No. Not even close.

      • Moaz Ahmadmoa

        Not all the parking levies can be passed on to consumers directly. Think of a shopping mall, grocery store or big box complex that depends on large amounts of open parking space with multiple entrances for many cars

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          What can’t be passed on directly will be passed on in other ways – through store lease prices, for example.

          • Moaz Ahmadmoa

            Sure, but those costs will not be as high because they will have to be filtered through multiple levels. Increased store rents may be offset by lowered profit margins or other efficiencies.

            The point is that a 25c per day levy does not mean that I will be paying 25c more each time I park. Divide 25c/day among 1000 customers and the added cost is negligible. I used to waste more money (literally 1c /second) waiting at red lights.

            Cheers, Moaz

  • Mark Dowling

    Think we might need to include some cash for flood relief works for the south end of the Richmond Hill GO line if we expect it to carry much more load :)

  • Gauephat

    How does electrifying a single rail line to 16 to 21 years?

    • Moaz Ahmadmoa

      When you have full daytime freight operations plus GO operation plus needing ‘headroom’ for double-height freight cars plus your work hours are restricted because there are houses on both sides of your rail line it certainly would be complicated and take time to build … but the 16 to 21 years is really because it is not a Metrolinx priority.

    • Mark Dowling

      Basically about how much money the province can afford to shell out at once, plus GO will need new electric locomotives as each line comes on stream (although their existing diesels will have a market elsewhere)

      Here’s the details in mind-numbing detail:
      http://www.gotransit.com/electrification/en/current_study/updates.aspx

      • Moaz Ahmadmoa

        I’ve been told that the province is already allocating 5c/L of gas taxes ($330 mn per year by Metrolinx numbers) for transit/transportation projects.

        Instead of allocating 5c/L ($330 million/year) of existing money that is already being spent AND raising another 5c/L ($330 million/year) to dedicate to transit/transportation projects, why not put all the money into one basket (the proposed Trust Fund).

        Now with the stroke of a pen you have $660 million /year instead of $330 million /year of dedicated revenue … and Metrolinx can borrow ahead based on a higher amount of money, meaning the projects can happen (and economic benefits can be seen) much, much sooner.

        Cheers, Moaz

  • Harald Koch

    I’m completely skeptical for one simple reason – all government revenue goes into the same bucket, and the government creates a new budget every year. There’s *nothing* that will ensure that any revenue from these new sources will actually get spent on transportation.

    • Walter

      Back in the “old days”, the Provincial government said they would take the toll off the Burlington Skyway when it was paid for. They actually did it in the 70′s. It seems government could be trusted in the past – we just need an “old time” government to warrent that trust.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Walter-Lis/571716919 Walter Lis

        Unfortunately, those were the “red” Tories in control, not the “blue” Tories of Harris & Hudak.

    • Moaz Ahmadmoa

      There is the proposal that all these revenues will go into a trust fund, presumably managed and doled out by Metrolinx.

      If the fund is created then money would not go into general revenues … but there would have to be strict accountability measures put in place to ensure that the money was not wasted, misallocated or misappropriated.

    • http://bowjamesbow.ca/blog.shtml James Bow

      There are a few things which can tell us whether the revenue from these new sources are spent on this plan. We have some hard numbers, finally. We have the cost of these projects that Metrolinx hopes to move forward, and we have the amounts that these new sources are going to raise. My expectation would be that if these new revenues are raised, then these projects go forward. If these projects do not go forward, then, Houston, we have a problem.

      The auditor general has done a pretty good job of highlighting when current and previous governments have spent improperly, so I would expect that the auditor general would have full access to the books to ensure that (a) the money raised was what it said it was and (b) Metrolinx received the same amount of money promptly in order to spend on these projects. If the auditor general raises the red flag, then we as the voter need to hold our government to account.

      That’s easier to do these days now that the Liberals are in a minority situation. If we can keep them there, we can have some hope that they’ll stay relatively honest and (fingers crossed) competent.

    • Dan TO

      The day Ontario gets a new premier, these initiatives will most likely get cancelled.

      It’s unlikely much will have been accomplished by the time this happens with the exception of full shelf of shiny new Metrolinx reports.

      Once cancelled, any money collected will most likely end up getting transferred to the general revenue.

  • ponerology

    We have seen this song and dance before. Many times before sadly.
    1) Get elected
    2) Propose plan
    3) Argue about and defend plan
    4) Come up with funding plan and start assessment process (and construction if lucky)
    5) Lose election/retire from politics
    6) New person comes in who wants to make their own plan (or status quo because “we can’t afford old plan”), cancels existing plan. Go back to step 1.

  • Joshua Tossavainen

    Ontario has a $9.7 billion deficit which is expected to rise to $11.7 billion this year. The province has a $280 billion debt, and it is already costing taxpayers nearly $10 billion per year in interest alone.

    Even if the government manages to resist the temptation to put these taxes into general revenue and all of it goes directly into transit building, how are we supposed to afford the additional services when we can’t even afford the level of services we have right now?

    Obviously doing nothing is not a solution but I hesitate to hand over more money to a government which is clearly incapable of spending within its means.

    • ponerology

      Your argument makes little sense. We have a provincial debt therefore we should do nothing to improve the situation because we can’t afford to do anything. However doing nothing is not a solution. There are only two ways to deal with a deficit and that’s to raise taxes or cut services. Explain how exactly “finding efficiencies” in government (or even making the entire public sector work for free) comes anywhere close to raising enough money to removing the deficit AND paying for transit expansion.

      • Joshua Tossavainen

        Perhaps I should have been more specific. I hesitate to hand more money over to the provincial government as it is clearly incapable of spending within its means. If we raise the taxes as Metrolinx suggests, history has shown that most of it will likely end up in general revenue in order to try and balance the books. Given the present circumstances I think it is completely naïve and foolish to rely on the province for help.

        Obviously the same thing can happen at the municipal level too (the way the car tax was handled comes to mind). But there is a key difference – municipalities are not allowed to run a deficit. I at least have some level of confidence that if Toronto used its own revenue tools to fund transit expansion some of the money will actually end up going there, compared to just throwing it all into the provincial government’s bottomless money pit. Even after David Miller’s spending increases Toronto still has lower taxes than the rest of the GTA, so it ought to be capable of handling some level of transit expansion on its own.

        Btw, I would like to point out that as wages are by far the number 1 expense in any budget, technically speaking if all public sector workers worked for free we could eliminate the debt and build one HELL of a transit system. Obliviously the idea of forcing all public sector workers to work for free is a ridiculously stupid (not to mention illegal) so I hope that your comment was intended for sarcasm and not some kind of union posturing.
        I would also like to point out that the provincial deficit and debt are not going to magically disappear, and they are not to be taken lightly. It’s already costing us nearly $10 billion a year just to pay the interest on our debt, and that’s with interest rates at very low levels. If we don’t want to end up like Spain or Greece, we are going to have to make some hard choices to address this situation, and do it soon.

        • Moaz Ahmadmoa

          Joshua, Metrolinx has proposed that all new revenue raised by these tools goes into a dedicated and irrevocable trust fund which will only be spent on transit and transportation.

          The proper mechanism will be there to ensure that the money is used for what it was raised for.

          Whether or not is enough to build confidence and restore trust is something that will hopefully be seen soon.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            And given the government’s track record when it comes to ensuring that new taxes go towards where they are intended, we should trust them because…?

          • Moaz Ahmadmoa

            I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Trust them because the public has a short memory and the news cycle is faster than ever. Trust them because the others are offering nothing better? Or trust them because not building the transit we need is much worse than what most of us can imagine.

            Or don’t trust them, add an average 32 minutes to your commute, and pay through the nose for everything.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            Or trust them and still add an average 32 minutes to your commute because little was actually accomplished, while also paying through the nose for everything.

          • Moaz Ahmadmoa

            Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree for now. You’re obviously convinced that nothing will change. Will change be enough to change your mind? I guess we’ll have to revisit this when the first review of The Next Wave happens.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            Agreed. I feel it’s better for the city to raise the taxes, and you feel it’s better for the province to raise the taxes. We’ll see which one ends up working.

        • dsmithhfx

          “we are going to have to make some hard choices to address this situation”

          Basically, “we” would have to raise corporate, property, sales and income taxes to politically unpalatable levels, probably inducing a recession, political chaos (serial elections of short-lived, minority/coalition governments), widespread tax cheating and capital flight — as we have seen in jurisdictions where such measures have been imposed. My question: are you (who, let me guess, hates taxes) ready to make those choices, and for what benefit, exactly?

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            There are three different ways to eliminate the deficit: raise taxes, cut services, lower wages, or some combination thereof. I don’t know what the best solution is, as I am not an expert in the field, but I would imagine that it would probably have to include some measures from all of them.

            The benefit to eliminating our deficit and reducing our debt is obvious: the lower our debt, the less interest we have to pay on it. We are already having to pay $10 billion each year on interest alone… and keep in mind that interest rates are pretty low at the moment. If we were not in debt, that money could actually go somewhere useful, like, say, building transit?

            The more we go into debt, the difficult it is going to be to pay it off, and the more of our taxes will have to go into paying off the interest, rather than going into services like transit. This is not rocket science, and I am surprised that you seem to fail to grasp the simple concept that debt = bad.

            I’m afraid to say that your solution, which seems to be “let the magical unicorns take care of everything!” is not going to help.

            This is why I am suggesting that Toronto should use it’s own revenue tools if it wants to build transit. The province is no financial shape to help, and a good portion of any taxes that it raises will likely end up in general revenue to try reduce that deficit. Which I think is probably a necessity, but that’s not going to help Toronto build transit, is it?

            And if you actually naïve enough to believe Metrolinx’s claims that the new taxes will go into a special place where politicians won’t be able to divert it somewhere else if they want to… I’m afraid I can’t help you there. But I do have a used car that I think you’d be interested in – it’s in perfect condition, I swear!

          • dsmithhfx

            “I am surprised that you seem to fail to grasp the simple concept that debt = bad”

            You are confusing “simple” with “simplistic”. Not paying debt when interest rates are at historic lows, and unlikely to rise significantly anytime soon, makes a lot more sense.

            Our deficit is in the infrastructure we have failed to maintain and build out to meet the needs of an expanding population, while cutting corporate tax rates and maintaining subsidies of corporate welfare bums.

            Globalization has also played a role in decimating domestic industries and with them, our tax base. So now you have hugely profitable corporations, such as GE, Google and Apple paying little-to-zero taxes.

            So-called “austerity” measures, such as you are advocating simply add insult to injury, without addressing underlying structural flaws, and are based on a half-baked theory that has recently been discredited.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            The Ontario debt, at roughly $280 billion dollars, is currently costing taxpayers $10.6 billion in interest per year. It is already the 3rd largest item in the Ontario budget after healthcare and education. If we were not in debt that $10.6 billion would easily pay for all of our infrastructure needs and then some- it is over 5 x what Metrolinx is asking for. Or you look at it this way: we are basically paying for the equivalent of 20 cancelled gas plant contracts per year right now, and that number is continuing to rise. Our debt has more than tripled in the past 20 years. If that trend continues unchecked, in 20 years taxpayers will be throwing away over $31 billion per year on interest. And that’s of course assuming that the interest rates remain where they are for the next 20 years. Will they remain at the present level for that long? Hopefully so, but one cannot guarantee it.

            I have never stated that we should be implementing tax cuts, nor have I said that government should be heavily subsidising corporations. I did say that raising taxes will probably be a necessary component in getting out of this mess.

            You have yet to answer why Toronto should be asking the province for help. It should within the city’s capability to build new transit using its own revenue tools without relying on the promises of a debt-straddled province. That’s one less level of bureaucracy we would have to deal with.

          • Testu

            Using what revenue tools exactly? The city has very limited powers over taxation. They can charge tolls and add specific surcharges to certain types of transactions (e.g. VRT and land transfer tax) but those can be removed very easily as we’ve seen with the VRT. If the tools can’t be counted on to provide even short term funding how can they be used to pay for large scale infrastructure projects?

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            The VRT was removed because voters realised the money was just being dumped into general revenue rather than being used for its intended purpose. Compare that to the Ontario Health Premium, which is still on the books despite a lot of the funding also going into general revenue, not to mention that a majority of the current fuel taxes are also going into general revenue. Making a tax more difficult to remove does not mean it will do its intended job. Metrolinx proposed taxes are no different- at the end of the day it’s the politicians that decide where that money will be spent. And right now, you have to admit that the current provincial government’s record is not impressive.

            In addition to what you have mentioned, property taxes are a major potential source of revenue. Toronto still has amongst the lowest rates in the GTA. If the rates were brought to levels that are comparable to other municipalities and the increases earmarked for transit expansion, the amount of money generated would be quite significant. When combined with other revenue tools that you mentioned, I think that would be more than enough, and I see no reason why we need to go the province for help – it’s just going to add another layer of bureaucracy.

          • Testu

            The VRT was repealed because Rob Ford was able to repeal it. Period. He said he would in his campaign, and he did.*

            It was never sold as anything but additional revenue for the city, it was created as soon as the city was granted the power to levy such additional charges after the previous failed campaign to give Toronto 1% of the PST.

            *This is also why it is very unlikely that property taxes will be increased to match those in the surrounding municipalities, and thus be a useful source of additional revenue. The mayor has campaigned on lowering taxes and made a point of not even matching property tax increases to inflation. As long as the funding is left in the hands of municipal politicians this is what we’re going to get.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            But how is this any different at the provincial level? There are enough people in the province who will vote for a candidate that is against any new or increased tax on principle alone as well. Both the NDP and the conservatives are against Metrolinx’s taxes, and considering that they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, that’s saying a lot.

            Even if the taxes are passed, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they will go where they are intended, or that Toronto will get a proportional share of the funding.

            If we continue to rely on the province for help, we will continue to have that extra layer of bureaucracy and political interference. Every time the TTC wants to build something, it will still have to go to both city hall and the province for approval. And we already have plenty of examples of how that plays out, like the Scarborough RT.

            That’s not to say that the municipal level is any different, but at least if Toronto funded it’s own projects we could halve the amount of political interference and jockeying that we have today.

          • dsmithhfx

            “You have yet to answer why Toronto should be asking the province for help.”

            Because it’s in the province?

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            If you are going to quote something, please put it into context. I am wondering why Toronto should be asking for provincial help, given that I believe Toronto’s revenue tools, while more limited than the province’s, are still capable of funding sufficient transit expansion on thier own. Why do we need the extra layer of bureaucracy and interference?

          • OgtheDim

            Cause transit issues in the GTHA go beyond the needs of the 416.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            And in an ideal world I’d agree that would be the way to go.
            Unfortunately, the reality is that if the province raises the taxes every municipality is going to fight tooth and nail for a bigger piece of the pie, regardless of whether or not it’s warranted. We can already see this with things like the Spadina extension and York Region’s constant demands to extend the Yonge subway (even though it is already full). Having to deal with all the fighting in city hall and the TTC is already bad enough- we don’t need all the extra fighting that will come with new province-wide taxes. Let the other municipalities deal with the province if they wish; Toronto should be building transit for itself for a change.

          • Testu

            “I believe Toronto’s revenue tools, while more limited than the
            province’s, are still capable of funding sufficient transit expansion on
            thier(sic) own”

            Do you have any data to back up this belief?

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            Again, like the Metrolinx taxes, this is a hypothetical situation with no guarantee that it will pass or be used properly. Here is what I have gathered so far:

            The VRT was generating about $64 million per year before it was cancelled. Road tolls were anticipated to be generating $45 million per year.

            So those two taxes alone are able to raise about $109 million per year. BRT construction is around $30 million per kilometre and LRT is around $75-$100 million per km, so that’s a fairly significant amount. Or it could be 1/3 of the amount required to start building subways.

            The City currently collects about $3.7 billion per year in property taxes. Each 1% increase would generate about $37 million per year in additional revenue (provided the tax raises were across the board). I don’t know the exact specifics yet on how much money would be generated if the property taxes were raised to the same level as other municipalities, and I am trying to figure that out.

            When combined with other revenue tools, it seems like we are capable of building transit on our own if we wanted to.

            No argument from me that there would be a hell of a lot of opposition to such a plans… but that’s no different than the amount of opposition that Metrolinx is facing right now. The difference being that we’d have one less group of politicians to have to deal with.

          • dsmithhfx

            That was the short answer. Here’s the long one: Because most of the province’s taxpayers live and/or work in the GTA, and we should get something to show for all the taxes we fork over to Queen’s Park. According to a shopworn fiscal conservative bromide, ‘there’s only one taxpayer’. Show us the money.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            You’re right, we should get something to show for all the taxes we fork over to Queen’s Park. And yet despite the new taxes which the current provincial government imposed on us of the past 10 years, we’re not. If the new taxes Metrolinx is proposing go through, based on the current track record of this government, we’ll get nothing out of it.
            And once again you are trying to make a straw man argument, as nowhere have I suggested that we cut the current amount of transit funding. I don’t know what the best solution is as I am not an expert in the field, but I can clearly see that we need to address this sooner or later, or we’re going to end up paying for the consequences.

            And yes, as a taxpayer I am quite concerned that we are wasting $10.6 billion per year on interest, especially it’s expected to triple to over $31 billion per year within 20 years. If throwing away $31 billion per year does not concern you, I am very happy that you are not the premier.

          • dsmithhfx

            So you don’t trust governments, we should what, wait for the tooth fairy?

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            Again, you are still misrepresenting what I am saying. I honestly don’t know if it’s due to a lack of understanding on your part, or if you are being deliberately deceptive by picking out things that I have said and taking them out of context in order to make them easier for you to try and refute.

            Let me be clear: I support raising additional taxes in order to build better transit in Toronto. I do not support putting that revenue in the hands of a debt ridden provincial government which has a history of using new taxes (like the Ontario Health Premium) as general revenue tools rather than what they were intended for.

            Even though Toronto has limited revenue tools when compared to the province, from what I’ve seen so far I believe that more than enough revenue can be raised to build transit without getting the province involved.

            What’s the difference between Toronto raising taxes to build transit for itself, as opposed to the province raising taxes and earmarking it for the city (assuming of course that they actually do so)? If Toronto raises the taxes, only the TTC and city hall will have to be dealt with. If the province gets involved, we’ll have do deal with the TTC, city hall, Queen’s Park and Metrolinx. That’s a lot of extra bureaucracy and political interference to have to deal with, and I feel that it’s totally unnecessary.

            I bring up the debt because if it weren’t there, that’s $10.6 billion per year we could have spent on transit right now. Imagine what we could have done with the $31 billion per year we might very well be paying 20 years from now. Even with inflation, that’s still a lot of money.

          • dsmithhfx

            Again I ask: what “straw man argument” are you talking about? Do you even know what that means, or do you just think it makes you sound clever? We have a provincial government that is going to raise taxes specifically to build transit, and all we hear from you, who claims to support that, is a whinge of windbag proportions about past boondoggles and provincial debt. STFU already. The city can’t do it alone, not with the present occupier of the Mayor’s office. That much we do know.

          • Joshua Tossavainen

            You have been distorting my position by claiming I am
            against any new taxes and do not recognize the importance of building new transit, which is blatantly false. That is a straw man argument because it is a much easier opinion for you to refute than the one I am making. I assumed that you chose to do it deliberately, though it may be the case that you simply misunderstood where I was coming from.

            I am glad to see that you have finally made an attempt at
            refuting part of my position by stating that the city cannot use it’s revenue tools with the present occupier of the Mayor’s Office. I agree with you that the present mayor certainly is an obstacle, though council has proven to be
            willing and able to overrule him. It’s not really different from the fact the provincial opposition parties, which together outnumber the current ruling party, have already stated that they will not support any of Metrolinx’s proposed taxes.

            If voters really want to see transit built, the solution is
            to vote the Mayor out of office and/or hand the liberals another majority government after the next elections.

            Toronto is capable of generating the taxes it needs to fund
            transit expansion, as is the province. The question essentially boils down to who we would rather hand our money over to – the city, or the province? I believe that the city is the better option, you believe that the province is
            the better option, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

            As to the debt, please explain to me why you feel spending
            $10.6 billion per year on interest charges is of no consequence. Or that it is of no consequence that in 20 years time we may end up having to spend at least
            $31 billion per year on interest if the current trends continue. I am having a very hard time understanding why you seem to think that’s perfectly fine… wouldn’t that kind of money be better spent elsewhere?