The urban advocacy group CivicAction introduced on Friday a Regional Transportation Champions Council, a group convened in an attempt to expedite transportation development in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region. The group boasts 27 boldface names including former mayor David Crombie and one time chief planner Paul Bedford. Urban Affairs reporter Siri Agrell spoke with Council member Mike Pedersen, head of Wealth Management at TD.
What is this group actually going to be doing?
What we want to do is try to have an informed and open debate about the urgent need for improvement to the region’s transportation infrastructure and the various options that exist to pay for it. So people from this council will go into the community to talk to residents and employees and clients and students – whoever their constituents are – about what it means to them to have a better transportation system and what they’re willing to do to make it better. And then we’ll bring all those voices to the various levels of government.
I feel like we already have a lot of debate on the issue, what we need is for something to actually happen.
That’s obviously our view as well. There’s been debate for a long time. This issue’s been around for decades and we’re not seeing the action we need. CivicAction seeks to get involved in issues we think are really important to the region’s success.
In this case, yes there’s debate, but we think having more dialogue outside the political realm can be helpful.
How can it be helpful? Lots of people are already talking about it. Are you guys going to use your access to go right to the Premier? What practical steps are you going to take?
I think there’s an inner circle that is debating these issues. The media attention is often focused on narrow debates like subways versus LRT and so on. I don’t think there’s enough awareness among residents and voters about how urgent the need is and what the consequences will be if we don’t act and what options actually exist for doing something about it and paying for it.
Are you an advocate for a specific financing model?
No. We’re being quite careful not to advocate either for a particular solution or financing model. That’s obviously tough. All the levels of government have fiscal challenges and few people are in the mood for more taxes. My personal view is that while people don’t want to pay for it, they might agree to if the plan is a good one and perceived as fair.
Are you a transit user?
I often take the subway. I cycle. Sometimes I walk. I take the Bloor Line and then the Yonge Line. I enjoy the air-conditioning compared with decades ago.
Would you pay more to take the TTC?
I would be, but this is a very individual thing. I think it needs to be designed so it’s fair for everyone and encourages different behaviours: driving less or taking transit or taking things at different times.
A lot of people interpret “fair for everyone” as a funding model where they specifically are not affected. How do we convince everyone – drivers and transit users alike – that they’re going to have to pay?
People are getting more and more frustrated. Commute times are long and it’s going to get worse. People have to decide that something must be done. When you look at how many people are coming to this region every year, 125,000 every single year, it doesn’t take much to figure out that we need to act quickly. People need to understand the economic impact: I think the estimate is that it costs the economy $6-billion a year. Not to mention that every time you have to get on the Don Valley you lose the will to live
Are there places you’re looking for inspiration?
There are a lot of innovative things happening. There’s technology now, transponders, that allow you to know exactly where people are driving, what lane they’re in. You could have user pay systems that gave people choices, in real time, of how they wanted to drive or move themselves. And you could raise money in that way.
Stockholm has done great things with congestion pricing.
And the neat thing about that is they piloted it and allowed citizens to experience it before holding a vote to keep it.
Do we need some sort of transit referendum like that?
It could be. Before you can have a referendum you need to know what the plan is.
The TD offices must offer an interesting cross section of views on transportation.
This is a big issue for TD. We’re a North American business, we’re the sixth biggest bank in North America and we’re headquartered in Toronto. We employ nearly 30,000 people here. When our employees and customers can’t get around easily it hurts our business. Last year we brought 30 senior executives to Toronto and hundreds of employees moved here from elsewhere. I frequently have discussions with people who are contemplating moving to Toronto and the transportation thing is a real negative.