Sitting on a bus stuck in traffic on your way to the subway station, you think "there has to be a better way to get around town..." If that sounds familiar, you're not alone. The GTHA is suffocating from its own success. As our economy grows and new people move into our cities and suburbs, moving everyone around can be a challenge. After decades of under-investing in our transportation network, Metrolinx is making a bold statement with its $50 Billion Big Move transit infrastructure plan.

Metrolinx, Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, Province Ontario TransitTransit Panel Logo, image courtesy of Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel

Metrolinx has released a list of funding tools after consulting with residents and stakeholder in the province. The last piece of the pie is the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel. Tasked with scrutinizing Metrolinx's network and funding plans, the panel has published three papers. The three papers are titled, Hard Truths about Transit in the Toronto Region, The Transit We Need and What We Heard: Key Themes from Public Meetings.

In Hard Truths about Transit in the Toronto Region, 6 major points were made to set the record straight.

  1. Subways aren't the only good form of transit: Despite the sloganeering heard in transit debates, what matters is matching the right kind of transit to the ridership, and route. Building expensive subways without ridership means higher subsidies are needed, hurting service on the rest of the network.
  2. Transit does not automatically drive development: While transit can be a catalyst for developer interest market forces and potential surrounding land use are the most important factors.
  3. The cost of building transit is not the main expense: Operating subsidies, financing costs and maintenance work are more than half of the total lifetime costs of a route
  4. Transit Users are not the only beneficiaries of new transit infrastructure: Moving cars off our roads lowers commute times while making our business and transportation industries more efficient and competitive.  Better transit connectivity also improves social equality and consumer choice.
  5. Transit expansion in the region is not at a standstill: $16 Billion in First Wave Big Move Projects like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Mississauga Transitway BRT, Toronto-York-Spadina Subway Extension (cool video here) and Union-Pearson Express are well underway.
  6. We can't pay for the transit we need by cutting waste in government alone: Ontario has the lowest per capita spending across Canada and provincial spending is increasing at less than 1% per year. After government cuts and efficiencies taken from the Drummond Report, there is little left to be had.

Eglinton, Crosstown LRT, Metrolinx, TTC, City of Toronto, BombardierEglinton Crosstown LRT vehicle, image courtesy of Metrolinx

The second paper, The Transit We Need, lays out a criteria to filter and guide what transit to build and when.

  1. Helps to ease congestion: If it wont ease congestion, its not worth the expense
  2. Adds up to a connected region-wide network: In an integrated regional economy we need to give choice to people to move around to get from work to home to school. One line can't do everything for everyone.
  3. Aligns with current and future employment locations: 850,000 new workers are expected in the GTHA by 2031, connecting to their job locations is pivotal and enhancing access to present ones is integral for ridership growth.
  4. Coordinates with the locations of community and public institutions: Our transit must connect to our homes, work and public institutions like universities and hospitals. Creating walkable, mixed use multi-modal communities strengthens our region and drives ridership.
  5. Provides the appropriate type of transit for the situation: BRT, LRT, Subway, and GO Transit all play a different role in our network and must be built to match their needs.
  6. Build confidence in the full plan, by phasing implementation: Building projects in phases allows us to better allocate funds, build confidence in new service improvements and funding tools, and take advantage of future technological enhancements.
  7. Provides tangible benefits and improvement in the short-term: By making easy improvements to current service while new infrastructure is built, we can encourage transit use and build confidence in our growing network.

Miway, Missisauga, Transitway, BRT Metrolinx, Big moveMississauga Transitway BRT, image courtesy of IBI Group

In their last report, What We Heard: Key Themes from Public Meetings, the Transit Panel took input from the Public at large. Here's what we told them.

  1. Dedicate it or Forget it: The Public needs to know their money isn't going to a slush fund, by creating a dedicated, transparent and accountable Trust Fund the public can see where there money is going and what its doing for them now.
  2. Everybody Should Pay: If all sectors of society, public and private benefit, no one should get a free ride. We all have to pay and Municipal, Provincial and Federal governments need to hold up their end of the bargain and commit to the plan.
  3. Educate, Inform and Communicate: Make it easy for the public to understand how transit investment improves their lives, and keep the message going to build support for the plan and change attitudes.
  4. Deliver Local Transportation Improvements: Make sure local transit is improved, connected and integrated with our rapid transit network. Municipalities should only be able to use these local funds for improvements, not to offset tax revenues.

UPX, Union Pearson Express, Metrolinx, GO Transit, GTSUnion-Pearson Express vehicle, image courtesy of Metrolinx

In addition to these key themes, the public also noted that taxes should be used to change behaviour while providing sustainable, consistent funding through government changes. Transit planning needs to be depoliticized and evidence must be used to plan for regional social equity and a proper network. Lastly, projects must be coordinated to take advantage of high ridership immediately while minimizing economic and traffic impacts and providing the quickest return on investment.

The Transit Panel is expected to report back to the government with its complete findings in mid-December.  The region has long suffered at the behest of political inaction and bickering but combining the evidence from Metrolinx, the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel and the voices of the public and private , its up to our politicians to muster up the courage and be bold. Its time to Move the GTHA.

Curious about some of the transportation projects currently underway around Toronto? Click on our dataBase links below to see what's happening now. Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment below or joining in on one of our various transportation Forum threads here.