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Transit Amalgamation is a Suspiciously Bad Idea

The recent news that the provincial government is considering "uploading" the TTC onto a new regional transportation committee is indicative of so many problems, I don't know where to begin.

First, let me consider the notion of a merged, regional transit body.

The TTC itself already covers a vast region, with dense urban areas, and far-flung suburban sprawl. Surrounding the TTC's domain -- the megacity of Toronto -- are several sprawling regions, where residents find themselves choking in the traffic caused by instadevelopment, as they attempt to make their way from cul-de-sac to office park.

Within the area covered by the TTC, we already find that the dense urban areas offer an environment that supports a sustainable transit system, and the sprawling suburbs do less well. The TTC recovers a very high proportion of its expenses from passenger fares, but clearly there is a divide between the more- and less-urban parts of the system. Public support to the TTC goes towards supplying a reasonable level of service to the less-transit-friendly parts of the city. The urban areas are self-supporting. As John Barber writes today: need only revisit 1970, when Metro Toronto took over the TTC and mandated expensive new service in low-density suburbs. Once businesslike and self-sufficient, the TTC has been in the hole ever since.

Forcing the TTC to extend across the GTA -- by amalgamating it with the other regional systems -- would further dilute the equity of the TTC's base. However, this time, transit would be extended to regions that are virtually hopeless, where the construction of sprawl continues unabated.

Why do it? The answer lies in the next section: The Harris/Eves government keeps looking for ways to milk the city taxpayer to support the suburban Tory voter.

I'm out of town again, but taking the taxi to the airport gave me the opportunity to see something I would have never looked at closely -- a copy of The Toronto Sun. Tuesday's issue had an article about the education portion of property taxes in Toronto.

Education property taxes are different from the city portion of municipal property tax. Since the Harris "reforms", education property taxes are collected around the province based on current value assessment, and then doled out to school boards based on a funding formula. It seems someone has calculated that only half of the money that Toronto pays in property taxes for education gets spent in this city. That's why our per-student funding has been cut by a whopping 25%.

This is not an accident however. It is part of a clear pattern of how the Harris/Eves government has dealt with our city. The megacity amalgamation, downloading, education "uploading", and current value assessment were all part of a massive transfer of wealth -- out of the city, and into the Tory-voting suburban regions. (I haven't looked into it, but I suspect there may be a similar pattern in other cities in Ontario.)

Sure, Toronto has a lot of wealth, and we ought to help out those in need. However, the most needy in this province are also right here in the city. They aren't the recipients of our siphoned taxes. The suburban regions are the beneficiaries.

Now, faced with a cry for help from their suburban voters -- "please save us from our self-designed traffic chaos" -- Queen's Park needs to do something. So, they want to take a system that works (the TTC), dilute it, and stretch it to cover the entire GTA.

We're getting screwed. Again.

To sum it up, I'll quote again from John Barber's column today:

Despite all the sloppy, false rhetoric about "seamless service" that nobody wants, the only real reason for taking over the TTC today is to repeat the process of building up weak suburban services by shifting resources out of Toronto. As Mike Harris proved time and time again, it's easier to grab than it is to build, especially when you can force somebody else to pay for your depredations.

That's not going to be David Shiner, David Young, John Tory, Betty Disero or anybody at the Board of Trade. The people who pay, by means of diminished service on existing city routes and higher fares, will be those who actually ride the subways and buses. The new plan, Mr. Miller predicted, "will screw the TTC rider endlessly."



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