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Who’s promising what for the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory knows what the city needs and is not afraid to fight for it. Tuesday, in what may be a last desperate attempt to prove to the current provincial government he is not to be trifled with, Tory announced that he would remove his support for the Yonge North Subway Extension unless Ontario provided more funds for the relief line.

The Ontario government has informed the City of Toronto that they will be implementing a budget freeze, which means no new money will come in for this important project. Over the last few weeks, Tory has been meeting with other party leaders to see what they will be offering the city in terms of transit and infrastructure. Here is the rundown:

Liberals

Ontario’s 2017-18 budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

Conservatives

Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, met with Mayor Tory at the beginning of May to outline further promises for social housing and funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation— something the Liberal government did not allot money for in this year’s budget. The promises made included allowing TCHC to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line was not mentioned at all in the statement released following the meeting. It should also be noted that during the provincial budget release, Brown said he was not in favour of tolls or short-term accommodation levys.

NDP

Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP Party, was the latest major politician to meet with Tory. She promised to provide one third of the repair costs for social housing if elected.

In a press release passed out to journalists following the Liberal budget, Horwath also announced the party would enter into a 50 per cent funding agreement with municipal partners to help pay for transit operating costs.

Horwath has not ruled out the use of tolls or short-term accommodation levies; although she has not said she has not clarified if she would implement such revenue tools.

Green Party

The Green Party is all for the use of tolls (dynamic tolling) and congestion charges, in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway back to the province.

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. This would also free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

Tory threatens to stop Yonge extension until relief line funded

Toronto Mayor John Tory has threatened to remove his support of the Yonge North Subway Extension unless the province agrees to provide funding to help construct the relief line.

This announcement was made following a report that was released for approval by the Executive Committee on both transit projects, seeking approval for the alignment and design/planning stages. This new report also included the cost estimate for the relief line — $6.8 billion for the construction of the first phase of the project. There is little doubt the cost will continue to rise as the design of the line continues.

As of now, there is no dedicating funding from the federal or provincial government for the relief line. The Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, has promised $150 million for the planning of the project, but that’s it. According to a press statement released by the minister, the province has also notified city officials of a budget freeze in 2018,” which would leave no room for funding either of these projects at the municipal level.”

Del Duca doesn’t see this as a problem. “We’ve been at the table right at the start for both of these projects, by contributing $150-million to the Relief Line planning and design work, nearly three times the amount the City has committed, and $55 million towards the same work on Yonge North,” he said in the statement. “However, Mayor Tory just can’t take yes for an answer.”

What Del Duca fails to realize is that $150 million for the planning of the project will do nothing to help move the relief line along. It’s small change for a project as large as this. By 2031, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity, unable to carry new riders. It’s important to remember the development of SmartTrack will not offer relief to Line 1. The many transit extensions being built prior to the relief line will actually drive traffic towards this central line, increasing capacity until it’s no longer feasible to operate.

That’s why Tory said at a press conference that he would not support the development of the Yonge North Subway Extension until the province changes their mind on funding this important project. The extension is a project supported by many Liberal candidates in the York region.

“We might have to consider just diverting our resources to other work,” he said to reporters. “If we are uncertain that the relief line will be funded or not, then why would we be devoting our time working on the Yonge Street North Extension because the two are very much interconnected.”

Tory emphasized that without provincial or federal funding, there is no way the City of Toronto can afford to build this critical subway line.

The new relief line, if approved by city council, will travel down Carlaw between Gerrard St. and Eastern. The next phase of the work will be to accelerate the planning and design of the southern part of the line, including developing the next budget estimates.

Are simple economics to blame for rising housing costs?

Toronto is undergoing a serious housing crisis — everyone is saying so! Experts, real estate agents, the media, and even politicians admit openly the cost of housing is getting out of control. And yet, even after months of knowing this fact, no one is doing anything about it.

Sure, the government is enacting rent control and a non-resident speculation tax. But this same government, whether municipal, provincial, or federal, hasn’t done what experts are claiming is the easiest and most effective thing they can do for the housing market: build!

“The only reason why prices rise is because there are more buyers than sellers,” explained Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital. “Prices rise for no other reason.”

Thursday, new statistics became available through the census that said Toronto has 5,000 fewer detached homes homes in 2016 compared to 2011. It’s what Love calls simple economics. When there are three people interested in purchasing one home, the problem isn’t foreigners or lack of regulation; it’s demand and supply. It means there aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Sure, we have lots of high-rise buildings popping up throughout the downtown core, but a family with three children most likely won’t want to live in an apartment building. Without diversity in housing, there will always be people left without.

It seems so simple; why is this so hard to understand? What is preventing people from building more family-friendly homes in Toronto and throughout the Golden Horseshoe?

Most people blame the NIMBYs — the people who claim they don’t want condos built in their back yard — or the bureaucratic red tape of development agencies. But Love says everyone is to blame. At the end of the day, he asks, “do we want to be Chicago, or Detroit?” A world-class city needs housing, daycare, parks, and transit — so, how do we get it?

First of all, the government needs to intensely invest in transit and open up surrounding geographies for development. If people who work in Toronto have the option of living in places like Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa — with the possibility of commuting on an express train — many people will do so! An hour commute is not unreasonable if it means saving money on a home. This would also free up homes within the city for those who want or need it.

Why not take it even further and build on top of the rail, Love asks. The purpose of expanding the Golden Horseshoe through transit is to connect people and create communities and neighbourhoods along these hubs. This can’t be done if people have to walk for 30 minutes just to get to the bus.

Second of all, the city needs to encourage development zoning and encourage the building of low and mid-rise condominiums. “People are terrified of 60-story buildings,” Love said. “But mid-rise is fine! I would pre-zone areas to allow for that density.”

This type of variety in housing is necessary not only in order to accommodate the many types of people looking for homes in the GTHA., but also to allow for the immediate development of land in neighbourhoods that are against the building of tall condominiums. Pre-zoning would also reduce the number of complaints and bureaucratic tape that surrounds development. Instead of a developer purchasing land and then deciding what to do with it, the community would actually have a say in what kind of buildings or homes will be put in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, allowing a second kitchen within a home to be used as a secondary apartment, within designated areas, would be a short-term solution that would allow homeowners to rent our basements and provide housing for short-term occupancy.

These short and long term solutions were all suggested with the clear understanding that prices go up because there are more buyers than sellers, a concept Love says won’t be accepted until there is a significant change in public opinion.

The biggest problem is that NIMBY-ism and the fear of immigrants taking our land, jobs, and homes, are much more attractive for both the media and government agencies. Rather than stand with the experts, public servants are focusing on issues that will bring them votes, things like free prescription and lower electricity bills. Things only ever get done when the government is scared of losing power. If the public told governments to build, to increase the supply so that more people could purchase homes, it would have to do so. Until then, they will continue to blame tax foreigners and claim to help cool the market while families are left homeless.

It’s time the government consulted experts and remembered their university or college introduction to economics course — prices rise when the demand is higher than the supply. And here in the Golden Horseshoe, we have about as much demand as you can get.

Who will win Toronto’s votes?

Monday saw a battle to woo voters, with representatives from both the Conservative and Liberal Party of Ontario in Toronto to discuss their plans for housing and transit in the city.

After receiving little support in the provincial budget last week, Mayor John Tory sat down with Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown Monday morning to discuss funding for social housing and SmartTrack.

The meeting itself was behind closed doors, but the media was given a press release following the exchange indicating PC promises to Toronto if elected into power in 2018. This included allowing Toronto Community Housing to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line, the project every transit and city building agency has indicated as its priority, was not mentioned in the statement. There was also no mention of allowing municipal sources of revenue such as tolls and short-term accommodation taxes — which makes sense considering Brown made it clear during the budget lockup that the Conservative Party was against both sources of revenue.

At the same time this statement was released, the Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca took questions from reporters in Etobicoke. In it, he re-stated that the Ontario Liberals are big supporters of Toronto and “no one was invested more than them” in the city.

The Liberal Party has only promised $105 million for the planning of the relief line.

Honestly, at this moment in time, it doesn’t seem like Toronto will win with either party. There is still no promise for further funding for social housing or important transit initiatives like the relief line — two things that are critical to the growth and survival of Toronto.

I wonder if the mayor is planning on speaking with the New Democratic Party to find out their views? During the budget lockup, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she was committed “to a 50 per cent funding agreement along with its municipal partners” to help in operating costs for transit. It would be interesting to see what her commitment was to Golden Horseshoe Area.

It’s the perfect time to light a fire under Queen’s Park for more transit and housing — and Tory knows it. It’s about negotiating the best deal as soon as possible, because it’s all about the votes at the end of the day.

2017 budget highlights include health care, no new transit

Thursday, the Ontario Liberal government put forward the first balanced budget in the last decade.

“This budget is fiscally responsible,” Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa said to reporters in budget lockup, prior to the Throne Speech. “Balancing the budget allows us to make these important investments — investments that have real meaningful impacts in people’s lives.”

The 2017 Ontario Budget, entitled A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, is meant to spearhead a balanced budget for the next three years. The document focuses greatly on health care and education, while investing less in infrastructure and transit. There are some special tidbits for families, including a 35 per cent reduction on hydro bills for eligible households, free prescription medication for children and young adults, and funding for work-related opportunities through a new Career Kick-Start Strategy.

Sousa was adamant the budget did not have anything to do with the impending provincial election.

“Our message for the people of Ontario is that we, together, have balanced the budget, have taken the precautions of assumed growth, and now we are taking the necessary steps moving forward,” he said. “We want to be competitive long term. These decisions we make today are not based on election times. They are based on long-term benefit for the people of Ontario.”

It’s important to note that despite the balanced budget, there still exists a projected total debt of $332.4 billion as of March 31, 2017.

Here are some of the highlights from the 2017 provincial budget:

Health care

The biggest announcements in the 2017 Ontario Budget was the Child and Youth Pharmacare benefit program, which will provide free prescription medications for everyone ages 24 and under — also called OHIP Plus. The coverage includes rare disease medications, cancer drugs, medication for diabetes, asthma, mental health, HIV, and birth control. The new OHIP program will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2018.

The cost of this program, which was left out of the budgetary documents and press releases, is $465 million annually.

Ontario will also expand access to safe abortion by providing publicly funding the new abortion pill Mifegymiso.

Other investments include:

  • $9 billion over 10 years to support construction of new “hospital projects” across the province
  • $518 million to provide a three per cent to help decrease wait times and maintain elective surgeries, among other hospital services.
  • $15 million for primary care and OHIP-funded non-physician specialized health services
  • $74 million over three years for mental health services, including supportive housing units and structures psychotherapy

Transportation

The provincial government, while making significant investments in health care and education, chose to maintain investments on pre-existing projects rather then provide new funding for further transit networks like the downtown relief line.

In addition to the province’s continual $190 billion investment over a 13-year period, which started in 2014, Ontario is investing an additional $56 billion in public transportation for the GO Network and other pre-existing infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown, Hamilton Rapid Transit, and the Mississauga Transitway.

The budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Other transit projects receiving funding include:

  • $1 billion for the second stage of the Ottawa LRT
  • $43 million for proposed transit hub in downtown Kitchener, which will connect to GO and Via Rail.

Housing

The province introduced their Fair Housing Plan, which is meant to help increase affordability for buyers and renters. The cost of housing has increased up to 33.2 per cent since 2016. Ontario has proposed a non-resident speculation tax to help cool the market. This will be a 15 per cent tax on the price of homes for non-Canadians, non-permanent residents, and foreign corporations. If passed, this tax would be effective as of April 21, 2017. Ontario has also committed to improving rent control in Ontario to include units occupied on or after Nov. 1, 1991.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

The authority to implement such a tax will also be extended to all “single-tier and lower-tier municipalities”, with the understanding that 50 per cent of the funds accumulated from the levy be given to the municipality’s regional tourism organization.

An amendment to the City of Toronto Act will have to be approved before such a levy becomes a reality.

Other investments include:

  • $200 million over three years to improve access for up to 6,000 families and individuals to housing assistance and services
  • $125 million over five years for multi-residential rebates to help encourage development
  • $70-100 million for a pilot project throughout GTHA to leverage land assets to build affordable housing
  • Proposed amendment of legislation that would grant Toronto authority to add a levy to property tax on vacant homes.
  • Frozen municipal property taxes for multi-residential properties where taxes are high

Child Care

Ontario will support an access to licensed childcare for an additional 24,000 children ages four and under. The $200 million in funding allotted to this project for 2017-18 includes a mix of subsidies and the creation of physical spaces for childcare.

In fall of 2016, Ontario spent $65.5 million to create 3,400 licensed childcare spaces.

Climate Change

This year’s budget didn’t put as much of an emphasis on the province’s environmental efforts. Through the cap and trade program, the government has accumulated $472 million in funding that must be re-invested into programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This specific funding was from Ontario’s first carbon auction in March.

Through these auctions, Ontario expects to raise $1.8 billion in 2017-18 and then $1.4 billion annually following that year. Examples of where this money can be spent include promoting electric vehicles, modernizing transit, preserving lands, enhancing research, and Green Investment Fund initiatives.

Other investments include:

  • $377 million through the Green Ontario Fund to make it easier for households and businesses to adopt proven low-carbon technologies.
  • $200 million in funding for schools to improve energy efficiency and install renewable energy technologies
  • $85 million to support additional retrofits in social housing
  • $50 million in commuter cycling infrastructure like cycling lanes and barriers
  • $22 million in electric vehicle charging infrastructure

 

More to come.

Tory hits back at province for transit and relief line funds

Early Tuesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter and a list of budget recommendations to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, calling on Ontario to become “a full partner in cost-sharing of major infrastructure investments going forward.”

The letter outlines Toronto’s infrastructure expectations given the province’s rejection of tolls. Tory said the province has an “obligation” to help the city pay for the maintenance of both the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, in addition to helping pay for new lines in the transit network, like the Yonge Relief Line.

Tory’s budget recommendation included the approval of a new revenue tool — a levy on hotel and short-term accommodation. The city of Toronto needs legislative authority from the province in order to tax lodgings; however, it doesn’t want this tool to interfere with the funding already given to Tourism Toronto. Tory is proposing a four per cent tax on hotels and short-term accommodations like airbnb.

In addition to a revenue tool, Tory has outlined a list of recommended items the province should fund, including $820 million to help rehabilitate the Gardiner Expressway, $3.36 billion for the transit network plan, $863 million for Toronto Community Housing, and $50 million for child care subsidies.

These recommendations follow a public exchange by Tory and Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca on Monday, in which Tory told the media the province was not acting like a “full partner” in their commitment to build transit. Tory stood at the Bloor – Yonge subway platform and said the province needed to come up with a plan to help contribute to the relief line and other transit projects. He suggested the province, as well as the federal government, each contribute 40 per cent of the funds for the project. Toronto would then pay for the remaining 20 per cent.

Del Duca responded with his own press statement, saying the Ontario government has “always been a strong partner with Toronto city council” and that they were “not going to play political games with transit.” With words bolded and underlined, Del Duca mentioned the measly $150 million the provincial government has already pledged to the relief line and claimed to be a “stable provincial funding partner at the table” unlike the federal government.

The reality is that Toronto needs billions to develop its transit network — a network that will benefit residents throughout the GTHA as more people use public transportation instead of driving on already congested roadways. The refusal of the provincial government to allow Toronto to fund its own projects through revenue tools like tolls puts projects like the downtown relief line in jeopardy. Toronto’s growth and development is, effectively, at the mercy of Queen’s Park.

Tory understands this and is fighting back. He is trying to make it abundantly clear that if the province doesn’t allow Toronto to explore and use its own revenue tools, then it has to step up to the plate and help pay for these important projects.

There are universal benefits to developing Toronto’s transit network. It will help reduce carbon emissions as less people drive into the city. It will help connect the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area so that people can get from their home to work in a seamless manner. And it will help reduce congestion for those who have no choice but to use their car to get around.

Funding this network is a win-win scenario — and if the province is not going play politics with transit, they would see that.

Canada budget 2017 highlights transit and housing

At 4 p.m. on March 22, the Government of Canada released their 2017 budget. As Canada celebrates it’s 150th anniversary, this budget, entitled “Building A Strong Middle Class”, is being described by many as uneventful and uninspiring. There was a lot of emphasis on innovation and skill training; but at the same time, little money was dedicated to facing new problems such as immigration, refugees, and post-secondary education.

The budget creates a deficit of about $29 billion for 2016/2017. The Liberals plan on reducing that deficit to about $14 billion by the end of their term.

The Liberal government says this budget was created under a gender-based analysis, meaning that all aspects within the budget, even those that don’t pertain to gender, were assessed based on the impact it would have on women. A gender statement within the budget makes reference to the still-high gender gap in Canada and the additional violence women experience on a regular basis.

“When making decisions that significantly affect peoples’ lives, governments must understand to what extent their policy choices will produce different outcomes for all people,” the gender-statement in the 2017 budget reads.

“A meaningful and transparent discussion around gender and other intersecting identities allows for a greater understanding of the challenges this country faces, and helps the Government make informed decisions to address those challenges—with better results for all Canadians.”

Here are some of the other highlights within the budget:

Transit: The government has dedicated $20.6 billion, spread out over the next 11 years, to public transportation projects. This funding will be used to cover up to 40 per cent of new subways and rail light lines — which is big for cities like Ottawa and Toronto that are in the middle of creating large integrated transit systems.

At the same time, the government is eliminating the public transit tax credit, which allows transit users to claim 15 per cent of what they pay.

Infrastructure: With the growth of the affordable housing crisis, the federal government has decided to invest $11.2 billion over 11 years for affordable housing. This money will be divided into a few different programs, including $225 million will go towards improving housing conditions for Indigenous Peoples not living on reserves.

Child Care: The Liberal government is going to spend $7 billion on childcare, creating about 400,000 new subsidized childcare spaces in the next three years. Parental leave has also been increased to 18 months, and expecting mothers can claim Employment Insurance benefits up to 12 weeks prior to giving birth — it used to be eight weeks.

Skills/Training: Innovation Canada will be receiving $950 million over five years to support innovators and to build “super-clusters”. The budget also agrees to allow those on Employment Insurance benefits to apply to go back to school or undertake training, something which was not possible in previous years.

 

Do you have an opinion on the 2017 budget? Let us know in the comments below!

Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

Toronto city council approves budget in light of tolls

City council voted to approve a “low-tax budget”, as described by city manager Peter Wallace during his presentation on the floor. It wasn’t an easy decision, and councillors spent about 15 hours debating and arguing the minutia details of each motion presented.

At the end of the day, the budget was approved nearly as-is 27-16.

In total, Toronto homeowners can expect an increase of 2 per cent on their residential property taxes, equalling 3.29 per cent, or $90 on average per home. While some councillors tried to introduce motions to decrease or increase that number, most saw it as a compromise for homeowners.

City staff frustratingly had to explain to councillors how taxes worked and that “budgets aren’t just about numbers. They are about the reality of city services.” When councillors tried to argue for more reduction in the budget or for lower taxes, staff had to remind them that property taxes were still well below inflation, and that over the past 19 years, city council has approved a property tax at or below the rate of inflation 15 times.

“The budget is consistent with Council expense policy and service direction and remains neutral in terms of overall revenue burden as a share of the economy,” said City Manager Peter Wallace. “I encourage Council to continue to address the cost drivers for City services and agencies, and look at stable revenue options to strengthen our fiscal sustainability.”

The new budget includes some investment in Toronto Community Housing, Toronto Transit Commission, and overall capital projects. At the same time, many reductions had to be made in order to balance the budget, including dipping into reserve funds in order to accommodate an extra $2 million in street sweeping.

“Today, City Council approved a balanced, responsible budget that invests in the needs of the people who live and work in Toronto,” said Mayor Tory in a statement released around midnight. “This budget delivers significant new funding for transit, child care and housing. Through the City Building Fund, we will begin to make much-needed investments in transit expansion and major infrastructure repair.”

Critics of the 2017 budget have called it a band-aid solution. Without the introduction of new revenue tools, the city will be forced to continuously reduce services while increasing taxes. Wallace pointed out that without the options of tolls — an option the provincial government squashed last month — it will be very difficult to maintain the services within the city. Before next year’s budget, Wallace says Toronto will have to ask itself how it will replace the approximate $5 billion tolls could have brought in to fund capital projects.

King St. redesign plans put transit first

King Street is not only one of the busiest inner-city roads in Toronto, it is one of the most hectic routes in the entire country. When rush-hour hits at the end of a busy work day, walking is often faster than commuting on public transit on this street and it leaves many transit users extremely frustrated.

Luckily, the City of Toronto is taking steps to redesign King St. and make it more transit friendly. The project was announced at the Transit Alliance’s Green Cities breakfast last month.

On Monday, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat and the Toronto planning division presented three possible options in a public consultation that was widely attended by King St. commuters. The improvements are focused around access, reliability, and speed. The project would affect King St., from Dufferin St. to River St., and is set to cost about $200,000.

The first option to focus on transit on King St. is called “Separated Lanes”. This would separate the streetcars from the vehicles by providing one lane for each going northbound and southbound. This is the least popular choice so far because it would continue to allow thorough traffic for vehicles, but only having one lane would slow car commuters substantially. This option also wouldn’t give more room to pedestrians and bike lanes wouldn’t be constructed.

The second option, which has been dubbed the favourite of the planning division, is called “Alternating Loops”. This would include a dedicated transit lane for the streetcars and an alternating lane for vehicles to have one-way access, and would change every block. This alternative would allow for the lane that isn’t being used for one-way car traffic to have pedestrian access and a dedicated cycling lane. The one-way alternating street would also give delivery vehicles and taxis access to King St., but the vehicle would be forced to turn at the end of the block.

The last possibility is called “Transit Promenade” and would focus on pedestrians with widened sidewalks down the entire stretch on King St. The streetcars and vehicles would continue to be mixed mid-block, but thorough access would be forbidden. Vehicles could travel down the street mid-block and would have to turn right at the end of each block. This would allow for pedestrians and cyclists to consistently access the roadway.

Once the public consultations are complete and a specific plan is chosen, Keesmaat and the planning division will seek city council approval in July and would begin a pilot project in the fall.  Currently Keesmaat pointed out that cars are given 64 per cent of the road on King St. and only move 16 per cent of Toronto commuters, which is not simply not logical. The city will also complete a ‘modelling study’ while they complete the public consultations, which will monitor traffic on nearby routes to ensure that the plan to redesign King St. doesn’t cripple commutes in other parts of the busy downtown area.

Redesigning King St. to become more focused on transit users and pedestrians will get people moving in a way that doesn’t put vehicles first. This is better for the environment, moving mass amounts of people, and is the best way to get everyone home at the end of the day. It will be exciting to walk down King St. after the pilot project is launched, whichever option is chosen.