Development of the transit we need in the Toronto region has been held back by decades of inattention, indecision, political jockeying, and choices divorced from evidence. Ontario’s Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel recently identified the six misconceptions that are impeding a mature discussion of the choices before us. Based on these “hard truths,” we need to determine priorities in order to move forward with a sustainable transit investment strategy.
The panel is convinced that a plan to pay for new transit cannot be separated from how we select the projects themselves. Given the current financial pressures on the provincial government, prudence dictates that any new dedicated funding be used to create a network of high performing rapid transit lines.
The panel has developed a screen to help prioritize the transit we should build.
First, will the investment address congestion or add to it? And will it provide people with choice? The next set of infrastructure projects must be targeted to ease rush-hour congestion.
Second, will a new project help build a network to connect and support all transportation modes? Connections with local transit must be seamless. All transit operators must work together to deliver coordinated schedules and integrated fare and information systems.
Third, does a new transit project match up with current and future employment? Recent research has shown that the pattern of employment location in the GTHA is changing. Three decades ago about two-thirds of all office space was located in the downtown core. Today that number is less than 25 per cent. This pattern has not been matched by rapid transit. This must be rectified.
In total, the screen comprises seven criteria, which are listed with additional context and research in the Panel’s second discussion paper, The Transit We Need, at www.transitpanel.ca. All of the criteria are essential components of an effective region-wide network.
Costs of congestion in the GTHA today are estimated to be between $6-billion and $11-billion dollars a year. With the predicted influx of people and cars, these costs will only grow. It is time to build a new regional network that unites city and suburb, connects people to existing and future employment areas, releases the main bottlenecks of congestion, and offers improved access and choice.
Metrolinx created a bold vision in 2008 with The Big Move: a regional transportation plan with a seamless grid of road, transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure expansion. As a brokered agreement among the regions, The Big Move required compromise to ensure that the leadership of the whole region could buy into it. Launching it was a major achievement.
That said, things have changed over the past five years. Not surprisingly, we know more now than we knew then. The panel, which is charged with reviewing and advising on the Metrolinx Investment Strategy, is taking account of new conditions and the latest information. For instance, recent research has emphasized the critical importance of linking public transit to jobs, current and anticipated. As well, the constrained economy of the last several years is limiting people’s willingness to accept a new set of taxes to pay for the required expansion.
The wider benefits of transit investments are now better understood. So too are the costs of current congestion and crowding. But there is a double disconnect: The first disconnect is about what we should be building and where. The second disconnect is the public’s apparent unwillingness to pay for the scope and scale of the investment that most agree is needed.
The idea of a regional relief line that would connect several of the existing and proposed Metrolinx projects in a single line linking municipalities from Mississauga to Markham via downtown Toronto is worthy of exploration. Indeed, Metrolinx is in the midst of studying regional relief strategies right now. This would not constitute a re-mapping of the Big Move, but rather a strategic modification to better accommodate current and anticipated growth.
The panel invites members of the public to come out to our town hall meetings and engage online.
How do we build the transit we need? We think the power is in the network.
Anne Golden and Paul Bedford are chair and vice-chair, respectively, of Ontario’s Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel. Get consultation dates and download the Panel’s second discussion paper, The Transit We Need, at www.transitpanel.ca