A Public Private Partnership I Could Support


Photo by David Cavlovic.

By now you'll know that I have a healthy distrust of privatization and public-private partnerships. I typically find that they are a means of bilking taxpayers of their own money on projects that the government should be doing as efficiently on its own. But, as with everything, there are exceptions.

On Urban Toronto, I encountered an intriguing proposal: what if future subway stations in Toronto were built by public-private partnership? It would work by having the City of Toronto buy up property on the corners of intersections where the subway is expected to stop, then having the TTC build tunnels beneath the street while the city sells the land to developers. Developers are allowed to build as high and as dense as they want, and they're given a property tax holiday for five or ten years, on the condition that they have to pay for the construction of the subway station they are sitting on, and possibly a share of costs to tunnel the line.

The 6.4 km long Sheppard subway cost roughly $900 million to build, but the bulk of that money was spent designing and building stations. The Sheppard-Yonge interchange alone cost over $100 million. If the TTC could shed the cost of stations and possibly even get the tunnels paid for by private developers, they could have their subway and operate it too. The developers would benefit from the tax holiday, from being allowed to build on prime real-estate, and from a direct connection to the subway network; the TTC would benefit by having their new line's ridership bolstered by development that is open right when the subway opens. This would also increase densities and the presence of transit-friendly development along the route.

The TTC is already looking at selling the air rights over a number of stations that have already been built. The massive renovations at the Eglinton bus terminal presage a highrise development that will bring the TTC big bucks. Unlike water or the provision of healthcare, I have no philosophical objection to private ownership of the lands surrounding a subway, and I know that most people on all sides of the spectrum think the way I do, so why not follow this approach as a subway is being built?

Of course, the fact that this approach hasn't been taken in fifty years of subway development (despite Mel Lastman's attempts twenty years ago to get private funding for the Sheppard subway) suggests that there may not be enough takers to make such an arrangement worthwhile. Even spread across several stations, the numbers are still daunting. For example, it will cost $2 billion to complete the Sheppard subway from Don Mills to the Scarborough Town Centre; with five stations enroute (Consumers, Victoria Park, Warden, Kennedy, Progress), splitting the $2 billion cost among those stations comes to $400 million per station. That's still a hefty price tag. Even if four developers take up property on each corner of each intersection, that still requires twenty developers to step forward and add $100 million each to the cost of their developments. Are there that many who would be interested?

Still, if it could work, it would seem to be an ideal arrangement for public-private cooperation. There is considerable benefit to be had for all in subway development, and there is especial benefit to be had by some. If those some can be enticed to help out, why shouldn't everybody benefit?

Worth a Chuckle

What is it about the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek? The riding where Sheila Copps and Tony Valeri fought tooth, nail and spit seems to have something in the water, because the Green Party has reported similar problems. I quote from their press release below:

Richard Safka, a 21-year-old McMaster student, was the Green Party of Ontario (GPO) candidate for Stoney Creek in the October 2003 provincial election. His supporters from that campaign are eager to see him run again, this time for MP. Likewise, Hamilton East GPO candidate Raymond Dartsch, a 35-year-old registered nurse, has been courted by fellow Greens to throw his hat into the federal ring.

With the recent boundary changes, Safka and Dartsch now find themselves living in the same riding and this has led to an awkward dispute. "Richard ran a solid campaign last year and had the best results, in terms of votes received, of any candidate in Hamilton. Bright, articulate young people like Richard are the future of the Green Party and of Canada. We need Richard as our candidate," says Dartsch.

"I'd have to disagree," says Safka. "Raymond has a long history as a dedicated fighter for Green policies for Hamilton East, one of Canada's most environmentally challenged electoral districts. Raymond has earned the privilege of carrying the flag for the Green Party in my riding."

Ha ha, guys. Points to you for raising the party's profile in a pretty witty and biting way.

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