NEWS

Toronto transit debate adjourns without decision

03/21/2012 05:22 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT

The Toronto city hall debate over whether council should choose subways or light rail on Sheppard Avenue adjourned for the day without a decision, as Mayor Rob Ford sought to delay what seemed like a sure win for LRT supporters.

In a debate Wednesday that Coun. Josh Colle described as "bizarro world," allies of the fiscally conservative mayor talked of parking levies and an increase in the property taxes while opponents including council's left argued new fees weren't a good idea.

The debate ended at about 8 p.m. and will re-start tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

Ford attempted to have the meeting resume on April 4, but lost the vote 25 to 19.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, a Ford ally and subway proponent, said the intent was to hold off the meeting until at least Thursday.

"It was successful," he said. "We delayed for at least 24 hours."

Coun. Shelley Carroll, an LRT supporter, was unimpressed.

"I sincerely hope it's not because they want to start phoning councillors and working them over as they start to head to bed," she said.

Earlier in the day-long meeting, budget chief Mike Del Grande brought forward an 11th-hour parking-levy proposal that became a key part of the debate. It would charge businesses about $100 a spot for 900,000 commercial parking spots in the city.

Del Grande said the $100 million the tax could raise annually could help extend the Sheppard line to Scarborough Town Centre by 2020.

Two competing visions for transit expansion along Sheppard are at stake.

The Sheppard subway, often jokingly referred to as the “stubway,” runs only five stops east of Yonge Street before stopping at Don Mills station.

Ford wants to extend the line with more subways; his opponents want light rail along that route.

Ford has argued in favour of subways because they move more people, don’t compete with cars and are preferred by most Scarborough residents.

His opponents’ argument against the Sheppard expansion comes down to cash: there is no firm plan in place to pay for it and $8.4 billion in provincial money for transit expansion is already earmarked for a package that includes light rail on Eglinton and Finch.

'Nowhere near world-class'

Del Grande hopes his proposal can ease those complaints.

"No matter what you do, somebody is always going to find an excuse why you cant do it," he said. "And that's why we are in the pickle that we're in in this city that wants to be world-class but is nowhere near world-class."

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, a Ford ally, said the city should have had a transportation fund a long time ago.

"Toronto way, way back should have had some kind of a fund…that would have put money aside that we could build a bit of subway or a bit of rapid transit each and every year," he said.

CBC city hall reporter Jamie Strashin said it's unclear how the levy would work, but some councillors, including Coun. Joe Mihevc, dismissed the idea.

"Every term of council we will get an additional 1.2, 1.3 kilometres of subway. That's it!"

In contrast, Mihevc said, light rail can stretch from one end of Scarborough to the other.

Strashin said it also wasn't clear yet whether the mayor supports the levy. He's said repeatedly that he's not interested in thinking about new funding tools until there are shovels in the ground.

"I think he's having great difficulty with it," Holyday said. "I don't know exactly how it will play out. I have great difficulty with it, too."

Mammoliti said the motion is a last-ditch effort to stop LRTs.

"Those of us that feel strongly about subways have got to find a financial formula that works," he said. "If we don't, then I think we're stuck in losing this vote today."

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