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Who's really funding new transit in Toronto?

Posted by Chris Bateman / April 13, 2014

Transit funding torontoIt's not easy to build new transit in Toronto. Right now, the Yonge relief line, arguably the most urgent and important transit upgrade in the city's history, is at least 16 years and several billion dollars away - a carrot on the end of a very, very long stick.

The biggest obstacle is funding. Subways are astronomically expensive: the smallest version of the relief line, which would link a station on Yonge with one on the Danforth, will cost upwards of $3 billion ($13 billion to reach Eglinton), excluding the western arm to Bloor. Even big cities like Toronto cannot afford a price tag that big without revenue tools and help from higher levels of government.

transit funding torontoRight now, there's a general sense the province and federal government aren't pulling their weight and that fundraising tools, like the proposed gas tax, are ways of stealthily passing the buck. But that's not so, according to Anne Golden, the chair of a panel charged with finding new ways of paying for transit. "There is absolutely no evidence to support the idea this can be funded by efficiencies or savings," she told the Toronto Star.

True, Queen's Park and Ottawa avoid funding operating costs - that is, the day-to-day expenses of running transit such as staff costs, parts, and overheads. But the province (and to a certain extent the federal government) have typically put up cash in towards capital funding, the mega-cost of actually building a subway or LRT line.

The chart below breaks down how much each level of government is paying towards the cost of building each of the city's six active projects: the Spadina Line extension, Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, the Georgetown South GO line improvements, the Union-Pearson Express, and the Sheppard East and Finch West LRTs.

toronto transit fundingIn total, the province is paying about $10.7 billion, the feds $1.03 billion, and Toronto about $526 million for the Spadina Line extension. The Scarborough subway wasn't included because so many of the details are up in the air (see the chart at the bottom of the post.)

transit funding torontoSpeaking to Torontoist in March, shortly after receiving a tongue-in-cheek Sardine Award for "failing to fix public transit," provincial transportation minister Glen Murray criticized Toronto for not using provisions in the City of Toronto Act, passed in 2006, that gives the city the ability to implement transit taxes.

"We've given the taxing authority and [Toronto doesn't] use it," he said. "Use what you've got first, before you ask for more."

With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the funding for each project. Is it time Toronto used its tax powers to start contributing towards the capital cost of transit, or should Metrolinx/the province and the feds keep footing the bill?


toronto spadina extensionTotal capital cost: $2.6 billion ($2006)
Breakdown: Province - $870 million (33.4%), Federal government - $697 million (26.8%), Toronto - $526 million (20.2%), York Region - $352 million (13.5%).


toronto eglinton lrtTotal capital cost: $6.6 billion (including $400 million re-routed from the defunct Scarborough LRT.)
Province: $6.6 billion (100%)


toronto georgetown corridorTotal capital cost: $1.2 billion ($2010)
Breakdown: Federal government - $55.3 million (4.6%), Province - $1.14 billion (95.4%)


toronto eglinton lrtTotal capital cost: $456 million
Breakdown: Province - $456 million (100%)


toronto sheppard lrtTotal capital cost: $1 billion ($2010)
Breakdown: Federal government - $333 million (33.3%), Province - $667 million (66.7%)


toronto eglinton lrtTotal capital cost: $1 billion ($2010)
Breakdown: Province - $1 billion (100%)


toronto scarborough subwayTotal capital cost: $1.8 billion - $2.9 billion (depending on alignment, whose figures you believe.)
Breakdown: Province - $1.48 billion (less $85 million in sunk costs,) Federal government - $660 million, Toronto - $910 million

(Figures represent the money pledged by each level of government to date. In the case of Toronto's contribution, that's the revenue from the city's 1.6% property tax increase.)

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photos by Christian Bobak



Alex / April 13, 2014 at 09:52 am
You should add a graph of how much the Scarborough LRT would've been and who was paying for it.

*spolier* there wouldn't have been any blue in there.
Alexander / April 13, 2014 at 11:05 am
The answer: The Taxpayer. Period.
Rob / April 13, 2014 at 11:52 am
It will cost upwards of 3B$ to build the DRL From downtown to the danforth and 1-8-2.9B$ for the BD extension? Maybe those who would work on the DRL should first work on the BD extension. It seems like these two projects should be much different in cost that the article states.

I'm not trying to be obnoxious (maybe it seems that way), but can someone explain to me how the two projects are so similar in cost?

I assume the amount of tunneling to be quite different on the two projects. That's why I'd guess the prices should be more different.
lxpatterson / April 13, 2014 at 11:57 am
That all seems very azz-backwards when matching who is paying with who benefits. For instance, the LRT lines will primarily benefit Torontonians, but the province is paying for it; the subway extension will mainly benefit York region and those North of the city, but Toronto is footing a good portion of the bill.
Rob replying to a comment from lxpatterson / April 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm
I've wondered this too. Was the resistance for the Spadina extension into York Region as fierce as the current subway projects?

If not, why?
Vinnie replying to a comment from Committed / April 13, 2014 at 12:16 pm
actually, "Committed", Rob Ford said he'd be able to get the "private sector" to build subways for us. They were lined up out the door to get the chance to do this, he said. How'd that work out? lol

MER1978 replying to a comment from Committed / April 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm
"Scarborough subway is a done deal."

The LRT plan was fully funded AND we were at the point where we could put shovels in the ground and start building when it was cancelled... meanwhile the subway extension is years away from a fully fleshed out plan... is subway magic or something because I'm really not buying this whole "done deal" rhetorical BS.

"Someone should inform Anne, no one said our subways were going to be built soley from savings and effiencies."

Ummmm that is precisely what the Hudak Conservatives have been saying for the last several years.
MER1978 replying to a comment from Rob / April 13, 2014 at 12:26 pm
The full DRL line should be Yonge to Eglinton if not Yonge to Sheppard... the $3 billion dollar estimate would be for a first phase of say Yonge/King to Danforth/Pape... which is about the same distance as the 100% unneeded Scarborough subway extension.
MER1978 replying to a comment from lxpatterson / April 13, 2014 at 12:34 pm
"That all seems very azz-backwards when matching who is paying with who benefits. For instance, the LRT lines will primarily benefit Torontonians, but the province is paying for it; the subway extension will mainly benefit York region and those North of the city, but Toronto is footing a good portion of the bill."

It's "azz-backwards" because municipalities are expected to fund some of the most expensive infrastructure items yet they collect a very small amount of the taxes we pay.

Torontonians pay loads of money to the province and feds... just because it shows Ontario or Canada on the charts... every penny of that money could have been paid for by residents of this city.
Rob replying to a comment from MER1978 / April 13, 2014 at 02:11 pm
That's what confuses me. If the initial DRL and the BD expansion are about the same length, but one is underground and one is almost entirely above ground, wouldn't that mean that the 3B$ figure is low. Maybe 4-5B$ be more accurate (assuming the BD extension is 3B$).

The DRL being built under more things should increase the number of unforeseen issues, obstacles, and costs. Yes/ no?
MER1978 replying to a comment from Rob / April 13, 2014 at 02:32 pm
What makes you think that the BD extension would be almost entirely above ground... the plan the city proposed and the one that the federal government supported would have most of the extension under McCowan... none of the existing SRT right of way would be reused... not that the one plan proposing subway using the existing right of way was ever all that realistic in the first place.
Moaz Ahmad / April 13, 2014 at 03:20 pm
The difference between the cost of the DRL and the BD Subway extension is accounted for by the fact that the DRL will be built under city streets and requires interchanges to be built with the Yonge Line and the Bloor-Danforth line as well as tunneling under both lines without disrupting the existing subways. Compared to that the Bloor-Danforth extension is a cakewalk. Build simple cut & cover stations at Lawrence, Ellesmere and Sheppard. Launch the tunnel at Sheppard and McCowan (more likely Scarborough Town Centre) and tunnel under McCowan and Eglinton back to Kennedy Station. Extract the tunnel boring machines and complete the tunnel.
Moaz Ahmad / April 13, 2014 at 03:27 pm
That said, I support a DRL running from Yonge to Danforth via Wellington, Front, the railway corridor and Pape, and across the Don Valley (ideally to Overlea and Millwood) in the first phase. This would reduce much of the disruption and keep costs low by using the shortest route across the valley. Overlea has a wide centre median and Don Mills is huge so the second phase can be cut and cover construction all the way to Don Mills & Eglinton. Cheers, Moaz
jameson / April 13, 2014 at 05:03 pm
These graphs are really taken out of context...They're individual projects, they don't show the fact that Toronto hasn't received consistent federal or provincial transit funding.

Toronto itself could pay for more capital funding it is aligned its property tax rates with the rest of the GTA btw.
MER1978 replying to a comment from Committed / April 13, 2014 at 05:09 pm
"Ford isn't responsible for what happened in Scarborough."

You might want to tell him that as he takes full credit for it and was the only one posing for pictures with federal Conservatives when they announced their support.

"Shelly Carroll, Glenn DiBaeremaeker and their buddies at city hall are, when they ignored residents call for a subway. Same things happen at the provincial level too, but I guess you've already heard."

Funny because cancelling the existing plan and moving to the totally unnecessary wasteful subway extension only happened after Rob Ford lied non stop about LRT for well over a year poisoning the debate and shifting polls to show majority support for subway. That support mysteriously vanished immediately after council put its support behind the subway and all of Ford's lies became too obvious to ignore.

We shouldn't be building billion dollar transit infrastructure because of how much residents think they deserve subway... I'm sure residents across the city would say they want subway if you asked them... last time I checked we don't have trillions to make that happen so maybe we should build based on density and trip patterns so we aren't wasting what limited funding we have.

"Yes, it's definitely a DONE DEAL, and plans for this subway won't take any longer to expedite than the plans for these other projects."

So council could cancel the fully funded and planned LRT but somehow they aren't able to do the exact same thing with the subway plan because...

"The increased tax responsibility goes to the left. It was Ford who fought to keep them at 1.6% (although this number is open for debate); a compromise between the 2 sides to get the subway deal passed."

Oh please... the increase required was already well established... all Rob Ford did was introduce a motion for far less money than what was needed like we were playing let's make a deal... his motion failed and we got the increase that we were told was needed to fund the extension.

"I'll worry about what Hudak says and does when he's elected Premier of Ontario. You expect too much from someone who's not yet in charge. Talk at me again when he fails to deliver, after he becomes premier."

Oh so in a minority government the opposition has no influence on anything... gee that must be why the Liberals have floated then backed away from dedicated transit taxes twice already.

"After Ford is re-elected I'm sure he and the private sector will do business."

Where were all these private dollars during his term? So far his re election campaign is "I did everything I promised I would... now here's my re election platform where I re promise like 90% of the things I promised last time".
Gee replying to a comment from Committed / April 13, 2014 at 05:16 pm
Committed wrote: "plans for this subway won't take any longer to expedite than the plans for these other projects."

Dream on. Nobody even knows when the construction for the Scarborough is going to begin. It's not likely to even begin construction until almost 2020. The LRT was planned, funded, and construction began in 2009 before being halted, it was supposed to open for the Pan Am games in 2015.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Committed / April 13, 2014 at 05:22 pm
"when they ignored residents' call for a subway."

That and your other priceless quotes make it apparent that you think mob rule should govern when it comes to transportation planning.

Good luck with that.
Yardl / April 13, 2014 at 06:13 pm
We need to ask why other big metropolis such as Chicago, New York, LA, and London can afford to build a few to dozens of miles of subway a year. Of course some of them are a bit bigger but that doesn't explain why they can build 10x as much subway track over a generation than we can. They don't have more than 10x the property taxes as we do. We are just wasting too much government money on fluffy 'quality of life' items and city payroll -and- too little on serious infrastructure. We are too distracted by the 'slow and beautiful and caring' toronto causes that put money into feel-good causes and expensive social assistance programs on crazy high-cost city properties. We can still be compassionate liberals by offering programs but not in the city core. It is not our duty to bring services to people - but to have services available for people in areas that are suited and priced to their lifestyle - which is north of eglinton and in the suburbs. It is nonsense to give people affordable housing in neighborhoods where they can't afford to eat, shop, and likely don't work anyway. Money will become available with the crushing of NIMBYism and the institution of 'tough fiscal love' a la Ford Nation.
MER1978 replying to a comment from Yardl / April 13, 2014 at 06:41 pm
There is very little subway being built around the world at this point unless you include underground LRT which is exactly what we're building on Eglinton.
MER1978 replying to a comment from Committed / April 13, 2014 at 06:56 pm
"Just because you (the minority) think it's a waste, doesn't mean the majority has to agree with you."

Where do you even figure there was majority support for the subway extension in the first place... are we talking about the number of people who came up to Rob Ford at a Tim Horton's and told him they wanted subway... or maybe at one of his free burgers for everyone campaign events?

I have yet to see a poll with a majority supporting the subway option since the vote on the extension... I'm sure that's just a coincidence now that Rob Ford's lies about the situation are now blatantly obvious.

"1.6% is what Rob talked them down to. They were going for 2.2-2.8%. That's a hell of a deal. It wasn't pretty but he sure got the job done."

Yeah sorry that's pure BS... 1.6% was always the number.

"The facts haven't changed. Hudaks still not premier. A minority government can't float anything without support."

They can float ideas without support from the other parties... but good luck making it law... AG's comment is clearly directed at the Conservatives and their constant fiction that we will be able to balance the budget and massively build out transit without increasing taxes.

"What term? You mean this one that saw his powers taken away by these same councillors? Nothings happening now because of the idiots on council, not because of Rob."

I really don't get what point you're making... the subway isn't going to be cancelled during this current term but it absolutely could with a new mayor... that's why your whole "done deal" rhetoric is BS.

"Ford did plenty, and when he's re-elected he's going to do plenty more. Count on it."

Nobody is saying he has done nothing... mostly when you sort through his mountain of lies he has done a small fraction of what he says he has... or maybe you can explain why almost all of his re election platform is a re write of his 2010 platform.

"That thing you guys do with twisting what people say, and mis-representing facts isn't working for you no more. People are onto you. Might I recommend honesty for a change of pace?"

This from a Ford supporter... what a joke... the man can't get through a sentence without lying.
josh / April 13, 2014 at 08:21 pm
Why can't the money come front the Ford fries and shake fund?
jwspencer replying to a comment from Yardl / April 13, 2014 at 09:08 pm
Jesus Christ
MER1978 replying to a comment from Committed / April 14, 2014 at 08:26 am
"There's a difference between dreaming and wishful thinking. Majority of councillors and majority of Scarborough. You saying those liberal politicians (including one MPP and one former MPP) are bs'ing about the numbers too?"

You'll have to show where I was denying that polls were showing a majority supporting the subway option... I never said that... what I did say is the only politician in this city with easy constant access to get his message out in the media through a radio show and vote buying burger campaign events lied non stop about the existing plan poisoning the debate and briefly shifting polls to support his BS... if you truly believe that the majority support this project then find me a poll that shows majority support since the vote... it's funny how once the cost, length and number of stations are presented in the question people no longer pick the subway option.

"Half truths don't count either. They were going for 2.2-2.8. I watch council meetings faithfully. Rob bargained them down. Why don't you check the minutes, or anyone else for that matter. That should settle it. Nice try taking credit for Robs' good work."

Rob Ford did NOTHING when it comes to the most recent budget... though he had many months to make suggestions he didn't do that probably because he wouldn't get the media coverage... instead he waited until the budget was presented and then ranted on and on about how council should throw in items that he seemingly pulled out of his butt.

Rob Ford's good work... he has missed more than 1000 council votes.

"One thing's for sure, if DeBaerrmaeker , Carroll, Mihevc still have jobs, they'll know Scarborough wants an LRT. If they don't, they'll know Scarborough wants a subway."

The fact that you group those 3 together just shows how ignorant you are on this issue.

1. De Baeremaeker is the only Scarborough councillor of the 3.
2. De Baeremaeker has been pushing the subway option for a long time probably longer than Ford.

"Again, Hudak is not the premier of Ontario! When and if he is I will address at that time what he does and does not do. The Tories float ideas all the time. As stated in my previous post he has no support from the liberals or the NDP."

Again... In a minority government you don't need to be the premier to influence policy and enact new legislation... anything else?

"Your interpretation of what Rob did and didn't do differ from mine. He did many things, until he was side lined by jealous councillors. Seriously. What are they afraid of? They're terrified he's going to do a better job than they did."

The fact that he popped up all over wiretaps in a gang investigation and surrounds himself with criminals and finally admitted to smoking crack cocaine after lying about it for almost 6 months... nope those aren't the reasons... it's obviously jealousy... keep on dreaming Fraud Nation.

"As if the politicians you know have perfectly clean hands. Rob is not the most polished of the bunch, but he's definitely one of the most dedicated."

So which other councillors spend all of their free time with criminals and smoke crack with the largest gang in the city?

This is not and never has been about expecting perfection... there are levels of imperfection which are tolerable... Rob Ford and perfection don't live in the same universe.

"What an amazing brother and politician Doug is. I don't think he gets to hear it enough."

Yeah he's amazing at being a massive liar and pretending him and his brother are victims when really they're the biggest bullies we've ever had on council.
Joe Q. / April 14, 2014 at 09:34 am
Majority rule on where best to locate a transformer station to best distribute electricity to the people of Toronto -- nope, we don't do that. We hire experts to do the planning based on technical issues, feasibility, and demand patterns.

Same thing goes for water mains, sewer pipes, etc. Even Rob Ford would agree.

Somehow, though, when it comes to subways, experts' analysis of technical issues, feasibility, and demand patterns are seen as worthless, or even worse, elitist.

The demands of the people for a subway -- running straight through Scarborough -- MUST be fulfilled. Never mind that Scarborough has half the population density of downtown Toronto, which is already groaning under the load of passengers on the subway lines and many downtown surface routes. Scarborough residents DEMAND a subway -- we MUST give it to them, experts, planning, and feasibility be damned.
orton replying to a comment from Yardl / April 14, 2014 at 11:10 am
This question has been answered so many times I'm amazed that there are people who apparently can't grasp the concept. Those other cities you mentioned get plenty of Federal funding. Toronto does not.
There is no way of making this simple fact clearer and somehow I get the feeling it won't sink in this time, either.
Herman Rosenfeld / April 14, 2014 at 02:26 pm
There is a glaring omission here - which allows the author of this article for create a false impression: that transit in Toronto is being funded by the province, some from the Feds, and a tiny proportion from the city. The point being that the city has to stop complaining about the province and pay its fair share.

Actually, there is some truth to this, but only the proverbial "grain". The missing point here is that the actual operations of the TTC - which determines how the existing capital stock is used and run - things like the amount and use of buses, streetcars, signalling, how many people can work to maintain and run them, matter. The total cost of TTC operations is around $1.5 billion, the 3rd largest in the continent. And the city is almost totally responsible for paying for it.

This is different than all other major North America cities, and translates into a 70% farebox ratio - that is, over two-thirds of the operating budget comes from user fees. This can partially be addressed by an increase in the city's subsidy per rider, which, in turn, can be funded by some of the tax instruments that the provincial government gave to the city (and that the Ford fanatics want to get rid of, or have already done so).

(Actually, in this article, the author underestimates the meaning of Operations, calling it, "..the day-to-day expenses of running transit such as staff costs, parts, and overheads".

But that won't make much of a difference in the total operating shortfall. Up until 1995, the province paid 50% of the operating budget of the TTC. Harris's Tories ended that, and this Liberal government - that claims to be so different than the Common Sense Revolutionaries - refuses to pay its fair share.

This is the missing component that has led to the steady increase in fares - that many working people cannot afford - and the ongoing deterioration of bus, subway and streetcar service and the disgusting crowding and bunching at key times.

Capital spending and new subway, LRT and other transit lines are critical. But please, show the reality that current operations are not being funded by the levels of government that should exercise that responsibility. The province needs to provide at least $700 million per year to keep fares down (actually, to reduce them), and increase service. Currently they refuse to do so.

Why don't you call them on it, instead of acting like an enabler?

Herman Rosenfeld, TTCriders, Toronto
DPChurch / April 15, 2014 at 07:17 am
The declaration that because a "majority" of Scarborough residents want a subway, instead of an equally functional but more appropriate LRT, infuriates me. They are both rapid transit trains. If we didn't label them, most riders probably wouldn't discern a difference (New TTC trains! Cool!)

The key difference is the price. The Scarborough LRT was FULLY funded by the province - including all ongoing operating and maintenance costs. (That last part was a HUGE and unprecedented gift from the province.) The Scarborough subway requires all Torontonians to pay property tax increase for all
tommy replying to a comment from Herman Rosenfeld / April 15, 2014 at 03:21 pm
Herman has a fantastic point here about the operation budget, and I think many people overlook the critical fact that whatever we build, we'll have to pay to operate for decades to come.

My fear for the Scarborough subway is that we have no plan to increase transit use or population density along the new line. No new riders, no new revenue coming in. This means the rest of the system and Toronto taxpayers will have to pay the balance for operation of the line, which will lead to very real cuts to other routes in the city.

This is already happening with the underused Sheppard line - each ride is subsidized at 8 dollars. That's 8 dollars that could be better spent running our critical bus system, or even stowing away for future infrastructure projects. Instead it is wasted paying for a transit method that is overkill for the ridership, but deemed 'better' by people unfamiliar with how transit works. It's a game of MOVING people, not pampering them.

It is CRITICAL that we realize this soon, because we can easily bankrupt the TTC by buildings lines our ridership can not support. There's no point in building expensive transit, then having to shut it down or not using it to it's full potential because we can't fund it - remember: the Sheppard line is designed for 6-car trains, but the TTC struggles to even fill the 4-car trains it is now running. THIS is why we are against the Scarborough extension!

If Jennifer Keesmaat and Rob Ford want to draw up plans to redesign Scarborough along McCown to increase population, job and commercial density, then I'll be the first person to sign the Scarborough Subway petition. But until there is a plan - a real, solid, costed, logical plan - I'll fight against any subway extension to Scarborough.

PS - As an example: each subway stop on the new Spadina extension has a real, useful design to improve transit connections and increase ridership. Downsview-GO Barrie line, Finch/Keele-36 bus and new LRT, York University-replaces >1000 buses, Steeles-Commuter parking, 407-new GO 407 busway, Vaughan-YRT/Viva.
Herman Rosenfeld / April 15, 2014 at 03:33 pm
In reply to Tommy's points: I heartily agree!

Ben Smith / April 17, 2014 at 01:53 am
As a parting gift from my work placement at the Canadian Urban Transit Association, I received a copy of the Canadian Transit Fact Book which details funding and other stats for most systems across the country.

Being an industry document, I cannot divulge all the details from it, at least without receiving their permission (hey, still want a good reference after all), I can say that even big city systems get the majority of operating funding from the municipality. The province gives very little, if anything at all, to the running of transit. Most cities cover about 50% of the operating costs from local tax revenue, Toronto only covers about 25%.

The problem also extends to the TTC themselves. Rather than simply wanting more money, they need to make it clear what that money is going to be used towards. If the city doubled its investment in the operation of transit, perhaps we could see things like 2 hour transfers and passes which pay for themselves after a reasonable number of trips, things which are common in most all transit systems.

As for Murray's comments, while true, I think the real blame goes towards the previous administration. If the VRT went to transit, or even general transport infrastructure, I think it would have been more accepted. Even better, communicate the outline of how the money was being spent (x amount towards light rail and transit infrastructure, y amount to operating costs, z amount towards road maintenance and improvements, etc). Instead it was put into general revenue, which while it still meant it was used for the aforementioned, it was spread too thinly across other departments to have the impact needed.

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