Canadians are not being bold, therefore nothing is getting done. Specifically, the pace of progress related to transit in the GTA is glacial. On Monday January 21 2013, Leslie Woo (VP Policy, Planning and Innovation for Metrolinx) and John Tory (broadcaster and former MPP) held the floor at a packed WSIC event as we engaged with them on the topic of transit in the GTA.
The two speakers come from different backgrounds and so provided complimentary aspects to the discussion. Leslie focused more on implementation and current plans, while John spoke more about the bigger picture such as quality of life and the politics surrounding infrastructure.
First some facts to set the stage: With four LRT projects currently underway, and the subway extension past York to Vaughan the transit situation in Toronto looks like it is improving. The city’s population is increasing by 100 000 per year. Congestion is currently estimated to cost 26 000 jobs. Family’s spend considerable amount of time apart traveling from job to home, or home to store. The situation outside of Toronto proper is that the public transit there does not conveniently and effectively support the needs of the community; there is often one car per person per household leading to high costs and pollution.
I will break it down by region. There’s Toronto, and the suburbs. Being a Torontonian, I’ll start there. The four LRT lines (parts of which will be underground) will be great for the city. The plan will connect the-stub-of-a-line along Sheppard with the (newly rebuilt) Scarborough LRT. The plan will put a cross town line along the middle north part of the city at Eglington, and another one in the north west
along Finch. All great! There is a lot of discussion about whether or not a subway line is justified in each region vs. and LRT and this is all based on projected ridership. I personally ask: do we really need to be jammed in like sardines (and still the TTC can’t seem to make money!?) for a line to be viable? Maybe I ask too much. And yet, as John Tory said: built it and they will come. I say, with 100 grand of
people coming every year, they are coming with or without “it”.
Onto the suburbs. Leslie spoke about changing GO transit’s role from commuter rail to regional transit. Mississauga is currently building a Bus Rapid Transit, but as Canada’s six largest city, it too is demanding a dedicated train (LRT) service. Then there are places like Brampton, Markham, Pickering, and so on that have budding bus systems, but continue to be lower priority.
One might envision a seamless, multimodal transportation system. The question we were left with is how do we (the people) make this happen. John mentioned that politicians respond to what people tell them, so we should contact our local representatives and tell them that we support transit expansion. The second aspect is who pays for this? Public funds come from taxes, but private funds need to be repaid with interest.
As with the pension discussion, this is about money. In both cases where is it going to come from? Are we willing to sacrifice something (namely disposable income) for this service? People are notoriously bad at making long term decision with positive benefits if the short term involves pain. At then end of the day, maybe we just have to make a decision and move on? Be bold GTA’ers!