On paper, a Greater Toronto Transit Authority is a wonderful concept. Transit advocates have been pushing for years for an agency with some real authority to make transit truly seamless throughout the region.
The brightest among them envision everything from light rail link-ups extending all the way to the 905 to designated bus lanes on existing highways.
What the province actually has in mind isn't clear and that's what's worrying Queen's Park watchers.
Mayor David Miller himself is in the dark and not sure if a GTTA is even needed. If this week's Board of Trade proposal to set up an agency dominated by private interests to finance toll roads and other transportation projects is any clue, it looks like private interests may be trying to hijack the process.
Most observers agree that unless the latest GTTA proposal Ontario Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar plans to drop on Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet gets serious about transferring lots of provincial money into the future authority's bank account, its creation won't mean much.
"We are going to end up putting some money into it," the minister maintains. But until he's made McGuinty and his executive council colleagues aware of what he has in mind (hey, they shot him down once before), Takhar isn't at liberty to say "whether we'll give them fiscal powers or some sort of funding formula. We're going to address that once the (governance) framework is charted out."
The lack of information about the GTTA's finances has already raised concerns with municipal officials.
"It's never been clear to us what they want to do," says one insider who worries Queen's Park may attempt to fund the authority by clawing back gas tax money it's already given municipalities for local transit.
Miller insists that the city will only support the GTTA if it comes with "new money" for projects.
But the mayor is even more adamant that representation on the authority must be determined by population. For example, if it's going to be a nine-member board, then Toronto should have five reps and the rest of the GTA four.
"Because it's a transit authority, we could argue that it should be representation by ridership, but the city's prepared to live with representation by population," Miller says.
"There is a risk that if this is done incorrectly, it will cause a dynamic that significantly underfunds the TTC."
He was left unimpressed by a pitch the Board of Trade made at Queen's Park this week proposing a 13-member board dominated by seven transportation experts from the private sector.
"The Board of Trade wants the provincial government to facilitate the privatization of public transit. That would be a disaster," the mayor says.
It's pretty hard to argue with that assessment, given the experience of Highway 407, the $10-billion toll road that Mike Harris's provincial Tory government leased away to a Spanish-led conglomerate for $3 billion over 99 years.
Miller says he's still not clear about what the Liberals hope to accomplish with the GTTA.
"The truth is, there's excellent regional transit coordination between the 905 and the 416 now," he says. "I think you can make a persuasive argument that you don't have to do this."
But Takhar is pushing ahead. "The economic viability of this region depends on us having a good infrastructure in place," the minister says. "I think people will come on board."
Of course, a lot will depend on who's picking up the cost of the ticket and who's doing the driving. It's no surprise that politicians with 905 area codes say they want nothing to do with the GTTA if Toronto's at the controls.
Around the Hall this week
While it seems to be taking for ever to make things happen on the waterfront, there was some good news this week. Council's policy and finance committee gave unanimous approval Tuesday, November 22, to the East Bayfront proposal for 6,300 housing units and 2 million square feet of commercial space on a 25-hectare stretch between Jarvis and Parliament south of the Gardiner Expressway. John Campbell, head of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, told the committee that the federal and provincial governments still require 150 environmental assessments to be completed before it's full steam ahead for the much-anticipated redevelopment. The committee also heard that the plan will require the three levels of government to spend more than $233 million on infrastructure over the next 15 years. Mayor David Miller predicted that shovels will be in the ground within 18 months if council endorses the committee's recommendation at its December 5 meeting.
Political Anniversary celebrations seem to be all the rage around City Hall these days. Last week Olivia Chow, the councillor for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), was feted at the Toronto Hilton Hotel to mark her 20 years in municipal politics in what looks like a prelude to another federal election run. Tonight (Thursday, November 24), it's Joe Pantalone's turn to celebrate his 25th year in public office with a get-together at Bar Italia.
No danger of Joe Pants leaving municipal politics any time soon, but the councillor for Trinity-Spadina plans to introduce a Little Italy legacy book that he's "mentoring" on its way to publication next May.