Smart Track’s Coming Off The Rails

Smart Track.

catchytitleIt’s catchy, succinct. Two words, and it tells you everything you need to know.

It’s smart and… it involves tracks.

Smart Track. Rolls off the tongue without so much as giving it a second thought.

Which is a good thing (at least for the John Tory camp) because when people start putting more than a passing thought into this much hyped transit plan, the only thing left to say about it… Track. fingerscrossedYes, it definitely involves track.

Just over a week ago, the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee began to wonder how exactly John Tory was going to fund the city’s contribution to the ambitious 53 kilometre, 22 station plan. “I don’t propose to offer hardworking Torontonians transit relief in exchange for a financial headache that could last for years,” Tory said back in June. “Therefore, I will not raise property taxes to build the SmartTrack line. The city’s one-third portion will come from tax-increment financing.”

Tax-increment financing, everyone! The solution for not paying for stuff we need now has a name to it. And a fancy-schmancy, official sounding name it is too.

“But it is far from clear that TIF could work here in Toronto, especially for such a costly project,” Mr. Gee writes.

doesnotcomputeWait, what? ‘Far from clear that TIF could work…?’ Did I read you right there, Mr. Gee. “This leading candidate for mayor is just feeding more false hopes,” he concludes.


A leading candidate feeding us false hopes on transit. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

Where Marcus Gee was cautiously skeptical about the Tory Smart Track plan, John Barber, writing in the Toronto Star a week later, was nothing short of stupendously apoplectic. “As mayor, John Tory could derail Toronto by trying to implement his half-baked, financially fraudulent transit plan,” states the sub-headline. And Barber is just getting started.

The magic carpet Tory has commandeered for this trip is called tax-increment financing (TIF), whereby the city borrows $3-billion and promises to pay it off with future tax revenue generated by property development attracted to the new stations. Tory’s breezy backgrounder cites a study by Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, to explain how the magic is supposed to work. But because the type is so big and the single page so small, it doesn’t have space to report the study’s conclusion: that TIF is the riskiest, least desirable of all potential transit financing mechanisms, given one star out of five in the study’s final rating.

“But because the type is so big and the single page so small, it doesn’t have space to report the study’s conclusion…”swoon

If he wasn’t so grumpy looking all the time, I’d plant a big wet one on John Barber for that sentence alone.

John Tory’s big plan for building much needed new transit is untried and untested here in Ontario. Expert panels brought together to come up with the best ways to fund transit expansion have ranked tax-increment funding well down the list of feasible approaches. As Marcus Gee pointed out in his article, a recent panel chaired by Anne Golden listed tax-increment funding “as one of its ‘smaller’ revenue sources.” Both Gee and Barber point out the funding of subway construction in New York has fallen far short of the original TIF projections.

What happens then? Unsurprisingly, taxpayers are left to make up the differencedoesntaddup1.


If we want new infrastructure, whether it’s transit or roads or new sewer lines, we should be paying for it. When did we start believing this stuff comes at no cost to us? When crass, craven politicians like John Tory started pitching us a line, telling us there was a magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow made from unicorn tears.

Nobody seems to dispute the worthiness of the plan itself. The province has been working on their version of it for a few years now. doesntaddup2If it actually contributes to helping reduce gridlock and congestion, bring it on.

But stop trying to convince us it won’t cost us a dime. We bought into that scam 4 years ago and here we are, plans delayed, plans scuttled, relief years, if not decades away.

in arrearsly submitted by Cityslikr

2 thoughts on “Smart Track’s Coming Off The Rails

    • ‘Nobody seems to dispute the worthiness of the plan itself. The province has been working on their version of it for a few years now.’

      Problems arise everywhere Tory’s transit plank diverges from RER.
      Essentially SmartTrick is designed to move votes, not riders.
      Tory veers SmartTrack off the Weston line to follow Eglinton Avenue, which sinks billions into tunnelling through Mt. Dennis (an inconvenient LRT transfer), the Richview corridor and 401 interchange. That might make sense for a high capacity subway, but not for single level express EMUs running optimistically up to 4 times an hour.
      TIF funding backed by debt would more than max out Toronto’s borrowing limits. The $1 billion + Scarborough ext and $2.7 billion GO expansion would make it difficult to contribute to the DRL or any other Toronto priority.

      TTC price for Metrolinx trains on GO tracks?
      Not gonna happen. This is what inflates the campaign’s daily ridership estimates to 200,000, or more than the 7 current GO lines combined.
      TTC prices on 53 kms of express rail would require a huge operating subsidy. The TTC’s per ride subsidy is an average of .41 cents per ride, while longer express services like GO charge higher fares, but still require over $4 (average) per ride. Metrolinx’s latest 15 minute express service, (on the same corridors) the UPX line, is projected to charge a projected $20 to $30 (still unstated), in a misguided attempt to break even.
      Rail & Union Station capacity
      Tory’s plan adds an additional 15 minute (Eglinton) service to the western Lakeshore line. The UPX line also adds an extra 15 minute service to this section. Even without STrack’s 200,000 daily riders, Metrolinx had projected that the Lakeshore line and Union Station would already be approaching capacity by the time ST opens (no rail expert agrees with Tory’s 7 year time frame).

      Due to the upcoming capacity challenges on the Lakeshore corridor & Union Station, Metrolinx is currently studying adding a second underground central Lakeshore line (expensive) or having the DRL add a station at Bathurst yard to offload trains using the Georgetown corridor (as ST would).
      SmartTrack would likely delay and gerrymander RER, should the unstudied line be prioritized. Adding a new 15 minute GO service to a Mississauga business park, competes with offering service to other, perhaps more worthwhile, existing GO stations.
      Tory has not unveiled the campaign studies whose figures he announces as fact. Considering that the campaign informed the public that the Richview corridor was empty, based on outdated google images, it seems to be pretty back of the napkin.
      I suggest that the time frame and price tag be adjusted to reflect the need for significant tunnelling, which has finally been discovered.
      Torontonians have got to stop rewarding Mayoral candidates who draw new lines on maps to get elected.

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