Why I prefer LRT to SST (Scarborough Subway Tax)

Today, The Globe and Mail published Oliver Moore’s interview of me regarding my preference of LRT overall.

Please let me share why.

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The most unpopular tax we’ve ever seen.
Glenn De Baeremaeker

People didn’t like it. The sooner we get out of it the better.
Doug Holyday

An unpopular tax? Obviously. But which tax were those esteemed Councillors enraged by?

The $60 Vehicle Registration Tax. The VRT.

Both sides of the political spectrum – left and right – “hated” Toronto’s VRT, which cost each car owner in Toronto $60/year per car. Upon its repeal by this Council in December, 2010, Speaker Frances Nunziata announced this $60 gift with,  “ Merry Christmas to all our constituents. link

How upset were you about the $60 Vehicle Registration Tax? I wasn’t happy about it, primarily because it went to nothing in particular. That said, I am more disappointed about another tax which isn’t getting attention…

The Scarborough Subway Tax, which I call the “SST”, is what you’re seeing on your 2014 property tax bills as the “Transit Expansion Levy”.

Forget that it says “Transit”; this tax is for the Scarborough Subway, a subway experts say we don’t need.  Surprisingly, like my tax bill, the City’s website does not even admit this . The City also does not acknowledge the potential $40 million in annual operating costs which Council approved when it decided to choose subway instead of LRT (the Province would have covered those costs).

I think of the Scarborough Subway Tax – SST – is a new Vehicle Registration Tax, but with even less purpose. For most of my Ward 16 neighbours, the SST – imposed to cover an unnecessary project –  will cost more than the flat $60 VRT.

The average North Toronto home assessment is about $1,000,000; at $1 million, the Scarborough Subway Tax will cost each household $81 a year, for 30 years. This means your cut of this tax, to build this unnecessary subway, is at least $2,355.

(Want to calculate your SST, your Scarborough Subway Tax? Go to www.subwaytax.com to see how much it will cost you.)

The numbers can go higher, depending on increases to the property tax rate, and/or the cost of the subway.

A floor has been set for your tax, but not a ceiling.

I do not support the Scarborough Subway, and would not have voted for City Council Item CC39.5 , Scarborough Rapid Transit Options: Reporting on Council Terms and Conditions . Technically, I support the Scarborough LRT because I trust the judgement of our transit planners and our city planners. Fiscally, I support the Scarborough LRT over subway because you don’t spend where and when you don’t need to.

My friend, Councillor Michael Thompson, on the subject of preferring a Sheppard LRT over a subway, said it best:

“If you’re building subways based on ridership growth and demand, that’s not where you want to go.”

Michael Thompson pro LRT
From Natalie Alcoba, National Post, May 5, 2010 ( )

At no point did I prefer the Scarborough Subway to the Scarborough LRT; in fact, I hated the Scarborough Subway idea once the costs were better understood, and knew the conditions set by Council in Item CC37.17 would not be met.

CC37.17 was the July 16, 2013, Council decision that stated its preference for a Scarborough Subway instead of an LRT, but only if specific financial and logistical conditions were agreed to by the Province. Glen Murray, Minister of Transportation at the time, soon declared that the Province would not meet those conditions, but Council still went for this imperfect and costly deal, by a close vote of 24-20.

I have always supported the merits and limited exposure for Toronto taxpayers which Transit City still offers, as per the Metrolinx/City/TTC Master Agreement for LRTs in Toronto, signed in 2012. What was signed was the best deal for the City and for transit riders.

It still is.

Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig continues to say so, declaring just before the provincial election his continued support for LRT:

Q: What’s the best solution for Scarborough: subway or light rail transit?
McCuaig: Light rail. We’d already invested $80 million in the project.

From Toronto Life Magazine, April 24, 2014 link
I truly appreciate the Province’s huge, needed commitment to new transit. The signed, approved 2012 Master Agreement, for $9 billion [2014 dollars], was an absolute win for the City. Transit resources are scarce, very scarce. The LRT Agreement not only commits the province to pay to build Toronto $9 billion in new transit infrastructure, it also uploads tens of millions of dollars annually in TTC transit operation and repair costs from this City to the province… if it all comes to fruition.

Again, the LRT Master Agreement still stands.

I would have put forward my opinion sooner but the provincial election had to take its course. A winner had to be declared. That said, I did post some of my thoughts in April, coincidentally days before the election was announced:

I also signaled my displeasure with the whole subway-LRT process during the election; I aksed Premier Wynne directly in a Toronto Star Q & A about the Scarborough Subway and her preferences. (She did reply.)

Premier Wynne could only give a political answer at that point. Premier Wynne was the first of three Ministers of Transportation with whom I worked with while at City Hall. She – not Dalton McGuinty or Tim Hudak or Andrea Horwath – is firmly in control and can now finally confirm which she truly prefers.

I truly hope the Premier offers the new City Council the opportunity to work together to stick with the Master Agreement as it stands. There will be some costs, but they will minimal relative to the costs we would incur if we continue with this subway folly.

Our federal government has also offered to advance the City $660 million from its New Building Canada Fund , which means everybody across Canada is contributing to something we don’t need. There are better uses of its $660 million return of money to Toronto taxpayers, infrastructure we truly need. So much needs replacing: Housing, buses, roads, schools, water pipes. There is plenty we can use that money for, now. I see no reason why a Conservative federal government and its new Finance Minister, my MP Joe Oliver, should disagree when considering the facts of how to use $660 million rather than the politics of it.

flaherty LRT 2

I am truly honoured to have been, for three years, a part of the city’s transit discussion as Senior Advisor to TTC Chair Karen Stintz. As a candidate for Council, I must now share my personal, expert opinion on this major issue, as I now hope to  directly represent my neighbours and defend their interests on their behalf at City Hall. They clearly want wise yet limited spending of their money.

Keeping our Master Agreement is just sensible, non-revolutionary common sense. Also, a deal is a deal.

In my home is a signed petition of historic significance. This petition helped the Transit Debate of Feburary, 2012, happen. It saved Transit City. Its caption to me at the bottom says, “Here’s to three years of blood, sweat, and tears. Thank you for your contribution to transit history.”

I helped save Transit City once already. I am saying here that I am prepared to do it again.

I am so proud I was a part of it all in 2012, saving Toronto taxpayers from the wasting of billions of our tax dollars. With your help, I am prepared to help save our money again, to invest more prudently and to restore sound city-building and planning practices.

This is $2 billion more than taxpayers need to spend. As Mayor Ford has said, repeatedly, “There is only one taxpayer.” In this hyped-up election campaign, any number put forward as savings, “I’ve saved taxpayers ______ dollars,” must be balanced with this SST, a potential waste of $2 billion.

This is reversible.

This is the best, largest way to quickly curb waste at Toronto City Hall, an issue which I heard much about from Ward 16 over the years.

Want to help me save Transit City AND at least a couple billion tax dollars? Send me a message: JP[at]BoutrosTO.com.

I hope to hear from you.

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