Toronto May Need Subways, But Not the Way Rob Ford Wants To Build Them

When Rob Ford ran for Mayor, he positioned himself as a penny-pinching conservative. His election slogan was “Respect for taxpayers”. He should have added – except when it comes to subways.

When it comes to subways, taxpayers’ money is less important: not only will the government build and subsidize subways on the taxpayer’s dime; but the Mayor is using all his influence to convince other levels of government to chip in on the project.

And this is how we arrive at the situation when Rob “Respect for taxpayer” Ford is advocating for residents of Victoria, BC to subsidize subways in Toronto via Federal subsidy. People in Thunder Bay, ON get shafted twice: they will subsidize Toronto subways through both Federal and Provincial grants. Torontonians will pay the most – all three levels of taxes – but at least they get to ride it once in a while.

Except for those that don’t live by the subway, but who cares about them anyway.

If the respect for taxpayers is a real one, then Ford should change his approach.

Firstly, we must do away with the notion that people who don’t use the subway subsidize people who do. I’m pretty sure they have other uses for their money.

And second, we should be honest with ourselves and admit that we don’t really know whether or not Toronto even needs subways.

No amount of debate, no amount of studies, no amount of media coverage, can ever, ever settle this question. There simply is no correct answer.

Toronto does not need subways anymore than it needs 5 additional IKEA stores. We do not know if it does or does not, or how you even define “need” when applied to a city. This is not they way our system works.

Building subways requires resources – heavy machinery, fuel, electricity, concrete, steel, electronics, rolling stock. It requires a lot of people to spend their time working on it, instead of doing something else. In return, it provides benefit: reduces transit times, eliminates the need to use a car (and for some people, even the need to own a car), makes our roads less busy and travel less troublesome.

How do you determine whether or not the benefits justify the costs?

In all other areas of our economy, you open a business and see if it makes a profit. If it does, then chances are the resource allocation was worthwhile, and the entrepreneur gets rich. If it doesn’t, then chances are the resource allocation was not worthwhile, and the entrepreneur loses his investment.

So if the taxpayer is to be respected, we must apply the same line of reasoning to subways. Someone needs to build subways for profit, without any subsidies, and we can see if they are profitable or not.

If Rob Ford wants to show real respect for taxpayers, this is what he should do.

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