Over the last few days, it has been a transit junkie’s feast. Last week David Quarmby from Transport for London (TfL) was at the Toronto Region Board of Trade touting a regional governance model to oversee transit. An eye opener was Quarmby’s proposal of TTC being handed over to Metrolinx, which I will discuss later. Along with the Neptis report criticizing the current Big Move, a new direction is needed for regional transportation planning.
Yesterday, Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne was also at the Board of Trade to make an announcement regarding transit funding where an increased portion of the gas tax would fund much of the Big Move. Yet in a media scrum, Robert Prichard, chair of the Metrolinx Board was quoted in a tweet from Steve Paikin:
Um, check Section 32 of the Metrolinx Act there, Richard.
Let’s backtrack to all the missteps that have occurred to get us to this point.
In 2009, Dalton McGuinty announced to that in order to fast track projects from the Big Move, politicians from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area would be eliminated from the Metrolinx Board and replaced with those from the private sector.
Fast forward to May 2013. The Investment Strategy was announced, albeit two years later, provided options to pay for future transportation infrastructure. Councils from the GTHA were given choices to implement the revenue tools. These ended up being an exercise in futility as the city council soundly rejected all but a few of the revenue tools.
A provincially appointed Transit Panel led by Anne Golden, the same person who led the Greater Toronto Task Force in 1996, came out with a watered down version of the Investment Strategy. These were soundly rejected a few weeks ago from Kathleen Wynne. Now we have reached this point. Touting its record on transit which originally included less funding for the original Transit City Plan in 2009 (which Rob Ford killed altogether in 2011); flip flopping on transit expansion in Scarborough with Minister of Infrastructure Glen Murray making an announcement supporting a subway extension instead of light rail transit; and, an about face on providing transit revenue tools for transportation infrastructure.
The Liberals announced (in preparation for a potential spring election) Moving Ontario Forward, with plans to build $29 billion of transportation infrastructure. This includes 30,000 parking spaces and 15 minute two-way, all-day GO Transit service with electrification and calling it high speed rail. I have a huge dilemma with these statements. Metrolinx not only has built suburban parking structures at its GO stations, but it is free parking. To build additional parking spaces while Metrolinx and its Transit Supportive Land Use Guidelines mention transit oriented development, goes to show they are talking out both sides of their mouths. Second, electrification is an outdated technology. This technology is similar to that of the ACELA line in the Northeastern United States. While California and other states are talking about building true steel wheel high speed rail options, and several European and Asian countries already have high speed rail in place, Metrolinx decided to enter the 20th century with electrification. The hard negotiations occurs with the Federal Government and the freight rail operators to purchase rights of way for high speed rail. It could have been part of the Windsor-Quebec City corridor while being developed in phases.
Options to consider
Returning the Metrolinx board to politicians is the right thing to do. But also the right thing to do is to have a stable regional governance structure in place where politicians are elected at large. Many Metropolitan Plannning Organizations in the United States appoint politicians to boards and committees beyond transportation. Also there must be taxation powers similar to that of Metro Vancouver.
Quarmby’s idea of placing TTC in the hands of Metrolinx may not be a bad idea. Not necessarily putting it in the hands of the province, but to consider amalagamating many of the GTA transit systems into one regional network. After all, transit passengers only care about getting to their destination in the quickest way possible. They don’t care who delivers the service. Furthermore, new routes can be laid out reflecting current travel patterns. Metrolinx can hire local transit planners alongside regional planners to work on a new network, and not be as pessimistic as Steve Munro or politicians like Oakville Mayor Rob Burton who want to maintain their local political fiefdoms.
Cities and regions are the economic engines of the province and the country. Innovation and creativity come from these metropolitan areas. In the book, The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley they cite several examples from various American cities such as Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles, where regional collaboration and the political will overcome the deficits caused by state and federal governments. I strongly suggest politicians, public administrators and urban planners should read this book and take lessons on defeating political gridlock.
Taking politics out of transit may be wishful thinking, as Karen Stintz once stated. But if our elected officials have the creativity to get out of this political gridlock, then maybe there will be less politics and more results from our politicians.
NB: This article was originally posted and archived on Global News in 2014 but removed my name as author.