Ontario remains committed to helping Toronto pay for upcoming transit improvements, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli says, but warns that city councillors still have key decisions to make before those projects can get fully underway.
Chiarelli said Thursday that the provincial government and Metrolinx, the provincial agency that will build Toronto's new transit lines, need more information about what city council wants to do with transit along Sheppard Avenue.
A dramatic vote at Toronto’s city hall Wednesday night saw councillors replace Mayor Rob Ford’s plan for buried transit lines with a revised version of Transit City, the light-rail network that was approved by council during former mayor David Miller’s tenure.
But Chiarelli said that proposal includes having an advisory panel examine the options for Sheppard Avenue, which means the plan is not yet complete.
“I want to be clear that the plan endorsed yesterday by council is still very much a work in progress,” Chiarelli said during a news conference at Queen’s Park.
“While council has in fact prioritized three LRT lines — the Scarborough LRT, the Finch West LRT, and the Eglinton Crosstown LRT — they have also deferred judgment on the Sheppard Avenue corridor.”
Chiarelli said that means whenever the panel reports back to council, their conclusions will have to be rigorously reviewed by the province.
But the transportation minister said the money the province had promised for Toronto transit isn’t going anywhere.
“The McGuinty government remains firm in its commitment to invest $8.4 billion in Toronto’s public transit,” Chiarelli said.
“I am confident that the mayor will pause to reflect on what council decided yesterday as the province and Metrolinx will, so that we will be able to move forward together to build the transit solutions Toronto needs.”
Ford not giving up on transit ‘promise’
After Wednesday’s vote Ford first dismissed the council vote as “irrelevant,” saying the prior deal he struck with the province to keep the Eglinton line underground would stand.
However, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday that he had made it very clear to Ford that “he was to see approval” of his transit plan with city council, when the province signed a memorandum of understanding with the mayor last year.
On Wednesday evening, Ford posted a message on Facebook, in which he reiterated his intent to push for underground transit in the east end.
“The residents of Scarborough, Toronto's fastest growing region, deserve underground rapid transit — and I promised to deliver it to them,” Ford said in the message posted just after 6 p.m.
“Today’s vote does not change my promise.”
Later that evening, Ford made a point of taking a ride on public transit.
Isaac Ransom, one of the mayor's staff members, posted photos of the mayor speaking to a man on a subway, and another of Ford standing on a TTC bus.
“It was great meeting & chatting with folks on the #TTC last night,” Ford wrote in a post on Twitter on Thursday morning.
Ford’s push for subways still resonates with many voters.
Scarborough resident Jason Lyons told CBC News that he spends three hours a day riding public transit to commute downtown — and he sides with the mayor’s vision for underground transit.
“It’s completely better to have a subway than an LRT or streetcars coming up here, it’s not worth taxpayers’ money,” Lyons said Thursday.
“I pay a lot of money towards taxes, I would like to have a subway and I think Rob Ford was right about that.”