'We need new streetcars now': Tory defends his proposed property tax hike

Mayor John Tory says Toronto needs more streetcars "now" — and its one of the reasons the city needs to increase property taxes.

The mayor revealed a plan Wednesday to extend and increase the city building fund — a special property tax levy dedicated to transit and housing projects. The plan will cost the average Toronto household around $43 next year, he said.

"We can't afford, as a city, not to do these things," said Tory, speaking on CBC's Metro Morning Thursday.

The tax hike will help pay for the public transit and affordable housing that we "absolutely" must build, Tory said.

Evan Mitsui/CBC

Toronto needs 60 new streetcars: TTC

Toronto's streetcar network has a stark need for new funding, according to the latest report to the TTC board.

The city needs about 60 new streetcars as part of its five-year service plan, said TTC spokesperson Stuart Green, and about 100 over the next decade.

A new report says the TTC will need to find $414 million for streetcars by 2024 to enhance its network and keep pace with population growth.

Without funding, the report warns, buses could stay on streetcar routes and the TTC might have to "forego service improvements for growth and reliability for multiple years."

Angelina King/CBC

"We need new streetcars now. Now," said Tory on Metro Morning.

Coun. Gord Perks says Toronto also needs 90 new buses to maintain current service levels.

"The problems that we're experiencing are epidemic and right across the system," said Perks.

"The bread and butter of transit is buying buses and buying streetcars. We haven't done that in 10 years and it shows."

The TTC is decommissioning its fleet of old CLRV streetcars this year, which first arrived in December 1977.   

Green said the city needs 40 new streetcars to bring them back to all routes, and another 20 for a small amount of growth.

$33B backlog

Tory said the tax hike will help bring down the TTC's $33-billion state-of- good-repair backlog.

Earlier this week, a fire on subway tracks shut down part of Line 2 for hours — and Tory says it happened because wooden wire covers had not been replaced with fibreglass.

CBC

"Those are the kind of things that get spread out over a long period of time because people are trying to save money," he said.

Most of the money from the city fund would go into infrastructure and repair work, said Green, but some could be used for new vehicles. The federal and provincial government may also provide money, he said.

'It's the right thing to do'

Tory said he'll launch an "aggressive campaign" to get money from other levels of government for housing and transit, but the city has to "put up our share."

He expects that extending the city building fund for six more years will bring in more than $5 billion for transit and housing.

"I will be accountable for the decision because I think it's the right thing to do," said Tory, who says the city has "about two tools" to raise revenue.

"And I think people trust me to do the right thing."

Sannah Choi/CBC

Beyond just streetcars, the report says the TTC's five-year service plan will require $779.5 million — $745.4 million of which is not currently funded.

Perks said the mayor has "refused" to put money in the budget for new streetcars over the past several years.

"Maybe this signals a change," Perks said. "if so that's a great thing."

Earlier this week, Tory also announced a plan to build 40,000 new affordable and supportive housing options.

Tory's tax plan means the property tax levy would continue for six more years, and increase by 1.5 per cent in 2020 and 2021.

City council still has to approve the tax increase.