Olivia Chow has staked a lot of political capital on the humble bus, calling for a 10-per-cent increase in service. Plans for improved rail are further off, with promises of support for light rail on Sheppard and Finch and pledges to start funding work on a downtown relief line (DRL).
The focus on buses keeps the immediate costs down. The LRT projects will be done and paid for by the province. It will be years before serious bills come due on the DRL. The plan is fairly uncontroversial, albeit modest. But questions have been raised about funding, where the buses will come from and how the extra vehicles will fit on roadsalready plagued with crowding.
Boosting bus service would add $15-million a year in operational costs and, in the short run, mean overruling the TTC to keep some of the vehicles past their usual lifespan. And serious improvements to capacity wouldn't come until new buses are purchased, a sizable capital expense.
The Tory camp argues that the cost of buying buses and building a place to store them would vastly outstrip the $15-million pledge. But Ms. Chow counters that capital costs are funded differently. Her campaign says she would push ahead with building a planned bus garage, $100-million of which is unfunded, and spend $84-million over two years on new buses. The carrying costs for this debt, which the campaign is estimating at $8-million a year, would be covered through a rise in the land-transfer tax on houses worth more than $2-million.
Another $8-million from the land-transfer tax increase, which the Chow camp says should raise $20-million a year over all, would go toward carrying the cost of money borrowed to fund the $200-million engineering studies for the DRL.
As for building the DRL, her position is a little more vague. Ms. Chow is pledging to cancel the billion-dollar levy for a Scarborough subway extension, reverting to a province-funded LRT, but retain that borrowing room. Reinstating it in some future form would raise money that would go for TTC upkeep and part of the DRL. With the first part of the relief line expected to cost more than $3-billion, the province and the federal government would therefore have to put in more than $2-billion to build it. Future phases of the DRL would be left to another day.