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Toronto Developers Object to Paying for Subway

Developers object to a levy the city would use to raise money for a transit project to replace the aging Scarborough RT line. (Photo by Adam E. Moreira)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

In Toronto, “The People Want Subways,” but the Developers Don’t
Ousted Toronto Mayor Rob Ford killed an ambitious proposal to build a series of light-rail lines along major thoroughfares not only by objecting to their taking up lanes for auto traffic but by asserting that “the people want subways.”

Following that logic, the Toronto City Council voted at Ford’s urging to reject a light-rail replacement for the aging Scarborough RT light metro in favor of a three-station extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line into Scarborough. The LRT line’s entire cost would have been picked up by the Ontario provincial government, while the city must raise C$910 million ($682.9 million U.S.) on its own to put down on the subway’s projected C$3.56 billion ($2.66 billion U.S.) price tag. (The C$1.8 billion that Metrolinx, the regional transit planning agency for the Greater Toronto area, pledged for the LRT line remains available for construction of the subway as well.)

Now, the Toronto Star reports that one powerful group of people is pushing back against the method the City Council has picked to raise that money, much to the surprise of Ford’s successor, John Tory.

The group is the organization that represents developers in the region, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), and they object to new development charges levied by Council to raise C$165 million ($128.2 million U.S.) toward the city’s share. (A special levy that all Toronto property owners will pay for the next 30 years will raise another C$745 million.)

BILD is appealing the development charges to the Ontario Municipal Board on the grounds that they unfairly tax new homeowners citywide for mass transit for the city’s east end.

Tory defends the charges as properly implemented. “I think the important thing to keep in mind here is that when you build transit, the land interests of those who own land around transit increases,” he told the Star. “And I think it’s only fair that those who are going to benefit pay some of the costs of servicing this land with new transit. That’s the principle we operated on. We operated within the law and the appeal will take its course.”

BILD also argues that projected ridership figures are not high enough to justify a subway and that the area would be better served by LRT.

Report Recommends Single Tram System for Barcelona
Barcelona, the capital of northeast Spain’s Catalonia region, currently has a metro and two light-rail transit networks. A new report issued jointly by a regional passenger rail advocacy group and the chief organization of professional engineers in Catalonia says that a recently revived plan to link the two tram networks could lead to significant cost savings for the city’s Metropolitan Transport Authority.

An article in the International Railway Journal cites a study conducted by the local passenger watchdog group Promoción del Transport Públic (PTP) and the Official Association of Civil Engineers of Catalonia that concluded that building a 3.6-km (2.23-mile) line along Diagonal Avenue connecting the three Trambaix lines and the three Trambesòs lines would save the local transit agency €2 million ($2.12 million U.S.) annually.

In addition, the line would cut pollution and allow the city’s buses to be deployed more efficiently, reducing bus traffic by 1.9 million to 3.1 million bus-km per year, and freeing up buses to provide service elsewhere. The operational savings come from the trams’ higher speed and greater capacity.

The report estimates that the line could easily be accommodated in the broad Diagonal Avenue and that it could be built for as little as €15 million per kilometer ($25.6 million per mile).

Edinburgh Bus Drivers Launch Anti-Tram Campaign
Last week in New Starts, I noted that the Edinburgh City Council had come up with a way to finance the missing segment of the city’s originally planned starter tram line.

This week, the news is that the tram may well be built over the dead bodies of the bus drivers whose riders’ fares will pay for the line extension.

The Edinburgh Evening News reports that a Facebook group launched by the drivers has already attracted 450 members, including many drivers for Lothian Buses, the municipal-owned local bus company. The financing plan approved by Council calls for £20 million ($30.2 million U.S) of the tram’s estimated cost to be paid for by profits from Lothian Buses.

Organizers of the “Stop the Edinburgh Tram Extension” group argue that the tram should not be built at a time when the Council must identify £170 million ($256.5 million U.S.) in overall savings from its budget, and say it will cost bus drivers their jobs.

At least one member of the group doesn’t expect the campaign to succeed: “We don’t expect the councillors to listen, just like last time, but we have to try,” a driver who did not wish to be identified told the Evening News.

One possible reason for the anonymity: Lothian Buses also operates the tram line for the city’s public transit agency, Transport for Edinburgh.

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