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Councillors reluctantly OK PRESTO deal

Decried last month as being unfair to the region, councillors say they have no choice now but to sign an agreement in principle with Metrolinx, the province’s transit agency, over the use of the PRESTO program.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Using transit in Durham Region could become more expensive in years to come thanks to a new deal with the province that local councillors say they had no choice but to accept.

Approved at committee of the whole and up for a final vote at regional council, the region will be agreeing to terms on a new deal with Metrolinx over the PRESTO program which will see Durham will hand over more money to the province in coming years.

Under the agreement in principle between the two parties, the provincial agency will receive a growing share of the fares collected through the PRESTO system, starting at two per cent, or about $200,000, in 2017 and up to six per cent, or about $1.5 million by 2021, carrying through until the end of the agreement in 2027.

On top of that, the deal would see “additional business requirements from the 905 transit agencies” that would be provided by Metrolinx at a cost of up to three per cent of revenue collected via PRESTO.

The agreement in principle was initially up for a vote of approval at the March meeting of the committee of the whole and council, but was postponed due to councillors’ displeasure with the deal, pointing out how Toronto and its transit agency, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) received a much better deal, only having to give up 4.65 per cent of its fares at the most.

“Any sense that Metrolinx is willing to come to the table with additional money…they have made it very clear that that’s a non-starter, that they’re not coming to the table with any money,” Gary Cubitt, the region’s chief administrative officer, told councillors, adding that he expects the deal will be passed by other municipalities by the end of the month.

While reluctantly approving the bill, councillors still took the opportunity to criticize what they see as a heavy-handed approach by the province.

“I think that negotiation is a fairly loose term to use with regards to this agreement. We were basically told what we had to do, we had no ability to change what was being offered to us,” says Councillor Amy McQuaid-England.

“And then we were threatened with our gas tax if we didn’t agree. I think that the province and Metrolinx really need to understand, and PRESTO needs to understand, that when you treat municipalities this way, when you don’t treat municipalities fairly across Ontario and you pit us against Toronto and you don’t give us options to be able to negotiate, you basically are affecting not only how our users use transit, but you’re also affecting the public perception and what these agreements are meant to do.”

While the councillors did agree to the financial terms of the deal, amendments made to the region’s recommendations will see Durham call on the province to cap the added expenses for the 905 at a set percentage and that the management group that governs the PRESTO agreement needs more representation from the 905 area.