Most unsurprising news of the day: Ford wants private cash to help build subways

Most unsurprising news of the day: Ford wants private cash to help build subways

Ever since Rob Ford won the election and declared subways for all, the big question has been where the city would find the money for his plan to scrap Transit City and replace it with an extension of the Sheppard subway system. The news broke yesterday from the Globe that Ford is hoping to entice private money to build, and possibly maintain, the Sheppard extension.

This would free up most of the $8.15-billion the province pledged to Toronto transit for an underground light-rail line on Eglinton Avenue and a replacement for the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line.

“In order to do what the mayor wants to do, we’ve agreed that the city will find those [extra] resources,” said Mark Towhey, Mr. Ford’s interim chief of staff. “We’ve also decided that we’re not going to charge the taxpayer for those. … The solution that we’ve worked through at this point is essentially a private financing initiative.”…

The mayor’s office wants to designate a narrow band of land on the subway corridor – which would eventually stretch to Downsview station in the west and the Scarborough Town Centre in the east – as a zone where tax-increment financing and transit-oriented development fees could be used to pay back a private consortium’s upfront investment over decades.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite true to say this won’t cost the city money. As Peter Kuitenbrouwer notes in the National Post, if the city was to allow denser development along Sheppard those fees could have gone to the city instead of a private subway-builder. At first glance, though, the deal doesn’t sound like it has to be terrible—it’s just dependant on other factors, like density. For subways to be worth the cost, they need to be built around greater density than Toronto has usually gone for.

This also saves money to extend the underground part of the Eglinton crosstown LRT (which will apparently be saved) and extend the Bloor-Danforth line to replace the Scarborough RT line. Probably most pleased with this deal is Dalton McGuinty. If the plan pans out, he won’t have to spend one more red cent than already promised to Toronto.

There are still plenty of reasons to be skeptical of a public-private partnership (P3, in government lingo). Steve Munro, transit expert and not exactly a Ford supporter, says his reaction is mixed. At the very least this answers the biggest question Ford has faced about his plans—how to fill the gap between the money he needed and the money he had. Now, the public just needs to see the details.

• Ford pitches private financing plan for Sheppard subway extension [Globe and Mail]
• Peter Kuitenbrouwer: Rob Ford’s subway dream sticks it to taxpayers [National Post]
• City eyes private partner to extend Sheppard subway [Toronto Star]
• City will seek private financing for subway [Toronto Sun]
McGuinty emerges a winner in Sheppard subway plan [Globe and Mail]
• Ford Proposes Privately Built Sheppard Subway []