Congestion is crippling Canadian cities. Enraged commuters know the impact, with untold hours of lost family time and dollars of lost productivity. And the numbers confirm it: In a new survey of major world cities by the Toronto Board of Trade, Toronto and Montreal have the worst commute times, worse even than London or New York City. Vancouver ranks 21st out of 24 on overall transportation performance.
Building more roads isn't the answer. Canadians need real options, and that means more public transit. Canadian cities can't run deficits and have limited taxing power, and so lack the financial tools for the massive investments required in buses, light rail and subways.
The federal government, by dedicating 5 cents of the 10 cents of federal tax on every litre of gas sold in Canada to a municipal infrastructure fund, has in recent years gotten into the game. The Liberals, under Paul Martin, deserve credit for devising the system, and the Conservatives are to be lauded for pledging, in their recent budget, to make it permanent.
But the funding is spread too thin, and it isn't enough. The federal parties should commit the full gas tax - another $2-billion a year - for Canadian cities, specifically to build more public transit. If they are serious about forming a majority government, the Conservatives, with no seats at all downtown in any of Canada's three largest cities, need to make this a special priority.
Cities elect a majority of MPs. But they get short shrift in election campaigns. The parties should reject more middle-class tax credits and get on with the job of building public transit - a recipe for real economic growth.