In May 2014, in the midst of an election somewhat less heated than the one down south, mayoral candidate John Tory’s transit plan took a sharp and sudden turn.
Where he previously advocated for the relief line subway as Toronto’s top priority, Tory decided to go all-in on a new thing: SmartTrack.
I was skeptical. But Tory promised that his plan, which envisioned using mostly-existing GO Transit tracks to provide local service, could provide substantial transit capacity, could be built quickly, and could be funded with something called “tax increment financing” – avoiding property tax increases.
Just two years later, Tory has struck out with all three promises.
His first strike came earlier this year, when the vision of 13 new heavy rail stations offering “frequent express service” along the SmartTrack route was dramatically scaled back.
Now plans call for just six new stations, with service frequencies of between six and 10 minutes at peak periods. Some of the missing stations will be replaced with an LRT line on Eglinton West – a project that was once part of Mayor David Miller’s transit plan.
Tory’s second strike came last week, when a detailed report on Toronto’s transit plan noted that SmartTrack station construction would take place between 2017 and 2024. That latter date is a far cry from Tory’s campaign pledge that the full line would open in 2021. There are no indications that the original timeline is even slightly achievable.
Even with SmartTrack’s scale cut back, Toronto’s bureaucrats found no workable scenario where tax increment financing can cover the city’s $2 billion share of the project cost.
Filling the gap could mean property tax increases, new taxes or fees, or windfalls gained from selling things like Toronto Hydro. But however Tory and Toronto City Council make the numbers add up, the conclusion should be the same: Tory’s original plan failed.
The most frustrating thing?
While Tory’s SmartTrack plan is up at the plate whiffing at predictable curveballs, the relief line subway is sitting on the bench, waiting its turn.
Staffers in Tory’s office disagree with that characterization, telling me that plans for the relief line continue to move forward simultaneously with SmartTrack.
But transit funding is a finite resource and plans need to be properly prioritized. With outsized promises and a fancy map, SmartTrack made for a good campaign pledge. But as a transit priority in a growing city, it doesn’t seem smart enough.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2016/11/07/three-strikes-against-john-tory-and-toronto-smarttrack.html on 2016-11-07T00:00:00.000Z