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Mayor’s executive committee defers transit expansion funding debate

Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee has voted to defer a debate on a city staff report that recommends road tolls and new taxes to raise money for transit expansion until the end of May.

The money would help fund Metrolinx’s Big Move transit expansion plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) that’s expected to cost $50 billion over 25 years.

City manager Joe Pennachetti as well as the chief financial officer support development charges, a fuel tax, a parking levy and sales tax to fund the first wave of transit expansion.

Once the first wave of the Big Move project is completed in 2020, city staff say high occupancy toll lanes,  highway tolls or other road pricing, and a vehicle registration tax, which Ford nixed in his first year of office, should also be implemented.

Ford rejected the staff recommendations even before the report was to be debated at the meeting.

“I’m not supporting any of those revenue tools. People can’t afford those revenue tools. That’s all it is: tax, tax, tax,” he told reporters last week. “The city’s expensive enough to live in. We don’t need extra taxes.”

Bixi and the Gardiner Expressway were also up for debate on Tuesday.

Early in the meeting, Ford moved a motion on Porter Airlines, requesting that city staff prepare a report on the airline’s proposed expansion. Porter wants to fly jets out of the island airport, a plan that requires changing a tripartite agreement. Jets are currently prohibited at the airport.

After much debate, including Coun. Adam Vaughan accusing the executive committee of being run by lobbyist, Ford’s motion was approved and will now head to city council.

While the city notes that bike-sharing company Bixi has been successful from an “operational” perspective, with 4,630 paid subscribers and more than 1.3 million trips, it still owes the city $3.9 million.

Cycling advocates have called for the city to buy out the loan but Ford  –  who campaigned on a pledge to end the “war on cars” and scrapped the vehicle registration tax – does not support the proposal.

“No. I’m not going to subsidize them. Absolutely not,” Ford told reporters last Wednesday.

“If there’s money, obviously I want the money. And if they can’t pay for it, then obviously we have to take other actions. That’s why I’m always careful when people come and ask us for money. There has to be guarantees.”

Representatives from Cycle Toronto, bike rental shop Wheel Excitement Inc. and Hamish Wilson of Bixi all addressed committee on Tuesday.  After about an hour of discussion the committee decided to move the Bixi debate to a closed session. It was then decided that that committee would refer the Bixi report to the deputy manager.

“It is very unfortunate that council has not been able to have any discussion on this,” Coun. Janet Davis told the media after the closed door session.

Staff is expected to come back with the Bixi report in July.

City staff recommend restructuring the program and reporting back to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on June 19.

The executive committee will continue its focus on transit as it looks at proposed revisions to repair work on the crumbling Gardiner Expressway.

Earlier this month, city staff recommended beginning deck replacement program on the west end of the elevated highway instead of the east deck.

The work was moved so that an Environmental Assessment could be conducted on the 2.4-kilometre segment of the Gardiner between Jarvis Street and the Don Roadway.

The move will save the city $10.2 million in the Transportation Services 2013 Capital Budget and 2014 to 2022 Capital Plan, but the work will mean an overall increase of $19.4 million by 2025.

Click here for the meeting agenda.