Transit woes demand tough love
Our hopes for an expanded transit system across the GTA have been dashed with the tabling of the provincial budget. Our mayor is outraged. He thinks the decision; in his words is "thick" and every candidate for mayor has something to say about Santa Dalton becoming a Transit Scrooge. Like a Hollywood movie script, political theatre needs good guys and bad guys, and besides lamenting about it, again in our mayors’ words, "how are people in our poorest communities going to get to work," what are we and our leaders prepared to do to make our Transit City plan a reality?
There’s no disputing that the current municipal leadership is transit supportive; they’ve been tremendous advocates for Toronto’s transit plans and we’ve seen payoffs in the past. Unfortunately, in tough economic times, which may be with us for some time to come, their passionate and at times zealous approach no longer resonates with our provincial and federal bankers. Our population will continue to grow and the need for expanded transit along with it. The question now becomes – what’s our plan ‘B’?
Will we simply wait to put our cup out again and hope that in a few years time a benevolent Premier or Prime Minister has a change of heart and fills it up with the billions of dollars that are needed for transit? Or do we start acting like the world class city we long to be and use the powers granted to us by the Province under the City of Toronto Act and become masters of our own destiny. If expanded transit is really that important to Toronto and the rest of the region then we need to devise a pan-GTA financial strategy that is dependable and sustainable.
Last year the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) prepared a Territorial Review of Toronto and they determined that traffic congestion, resulting time delays and long commutes cost us over $3.3 billion annually in lost productivity. One of their key recommendations outlined in Chapter 2.3 of their report, was for Toronto and the surrounding region to begin tackling transportation challenges by creating incentives for reducing car use, securing access to additional revenue sources, and longer term funding and investment commitments by our federal government.
When the OECD report was issued last year politicians and citizens alike seemed indifferent and I don’t recall any mass protests or outrage expressed that traffic congestion and long commutes were resulting in a collective loss of an obscene amount of money. The main comment from our Mayor was that the federal government should take note and solve Toronto’s problems. I agree that the federal government does have a role to play on the tax policy and investment fronts but we also need to help ourselves. We seemed to take the news in stride and now as the municipal elections begin to grip our interest no one appears to be connecting the dots.
Consider this – our transit dreams won’t happen without billions of dollars, traffic congestion and the resulting lost productivity costs us billions of dollars, the OECD recommends that we devise incentives for reducing car use and develop additional revenue sources, and we have a Premier acting more like Scrooge than Santa. If someone is brave enough to connect the dots they’ll see that the answer to our problems – road pricing - is staring us in the face.