How the mayoral candidates plan to pay for public transit

Watch video above: Candidates aiming to take Rob Ford’s job unveil their transit plans. Jackson Proskow reports. 

TORONTO – The race for mayor of Toronto may well come down to a ballot box question about transportation.

In the first four months of the campaign, the major candidates have focused heavily on issues of transit and traffic gridlock.

On Tuesday, former TTC chair Karen Stintz revealed more details of her plan to pay for transit expansion that includes moving city revenues toward easing gridlock.

Stintz plans to dedicate $330 million in revenue from traffic fines over 15 years.

She also wants to institute a $3 levy on the daily parking rates at Green P garages in the downtown core. (As an example, a $9 daily maximum rate would increase to $12.) She says that will raise $700 million over 15 years from the Toronto Parking Authority for transportation.

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“My funding plan will ensure that we fully fund Toronto’s portion of the eastern section of the downtown relief line without raising property taxes,” she said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “And my plan will also generate additional funds for other congestion priorities including filling potholes and fixing the east Gardiner.”

Stintz says those monies, on top of $500 million from the sale of the city’s share of Toronto Hydro (which she says, she can convince the Ontario government to allow), would fund the city’s portion of the first phase of the Yonge Street Relief Subway Line.

But redirecting money inevitably leaves other programs or services lacking funds. Stintz stressed during her press conference that funding gaps would be minimal because of the long-term nature of her funding plan but if there was a “hole” in the budget, she would make cuts rather than raise property taxes.

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Olivia Chow promised to borrow up to $1 billion to spend on the TTC’s state of good repair and the construction of a Yonge Street Relief Line. The money would be repaid through a property tax levy. In essence, Chow would use the same financing model as Rob Ford did for the Scarborough subway, but direct the funds to other projects.

In a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade  Tuesday Chow called the relief line a long-term priority.

“The fact is that a relief line can’t happen overnight,” Chow said. “Let’s start planning now to build one as soon as we can.”

Chow also planned to lobby the provincial and federal governments for help with the TTC’s operating costs.

Chow remains focused on improving bus service, promising an annual $15 million investment in rush-hour service. She would scrap the Scarborough subway extension in favour of building the cancelled LRT line.

So far John Tory has remained mum on his position of how to fund the Yonge Street line, promising in several interviews to release a full fiscal plan for the city after the province releases its budget in May.

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Tory planned to attend a transit congestion open house on Tuesday at the North York Civic Centre, to hear from members of the public.

Where does current mayor Rob Ford stand in all of this? In April 2013, he was asked about his views on new provincial taxes to pay for transit when Ford feigned a vomiting sound, before telling reporters “you can’t tax people, implement these new taxes to pay for transit.”

Ford has not yet provided an updated policy position on how he would pay for future transit expansion, although he did support a dedicated property tax increase to fund the Scarborough subway extension.

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