There is broad public support for the province taking over transit systems across Southern Ontario, according to a new poll.
The survey was done for the Toronto Region Board of Trade, which is pushing for such an upload and for the creation of a transit governance body it dubs Superlinx. Its proposal goes well beyond the Ontario government’s current plan, now being studied behind closed doors by a provincially appointed panel, to take over Toronto’s subway network.
“Having transit systems managed and operated within municipal boundaries simply doesn’t reflect the reality of where people live and where they work,” Board of Trade president Jan De Silva said Wednesday.
“The public is supportive of this [upload], and I think that’s an important new piece of information as we’re bringing this forward, the fact that 79 per cent of the region supports this direction.”
A merged transit agency run by the province got majority support in each region in the Environics Research poll, from a low of 65 per cent in Hamilton to a high of 89 per cent in York Region. The board initially floated their Superlinx idea nearly a year ago, saying it would replace Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit and a number of small transit agencies, and take over the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
The idea has proved controversial and one critic is Toronto councillor Gord Perks, who argues that rather than a governance problem with transit, there’s a shortage of funding. He’s worried that the needs of Toronto transit riders, by far the biggest group in the region, will get lost amid political priorities at the province level.
“As we’ve seen with the operation of Metrolinx, you can appoint the board all you want but it’s going to be the minister’s office that decides, or the premier’s office, that decides what happens,” he said.
“Right now, there’s a match between your local government and your local transit system. The person that you elect in your neighbourhood has some kind of say over how much transit service you get. If that becomes a provincial agency … then [a transportation minister] who was elected by the people of the Ottawa Valley will decide how frequent your service is, and that’s unacceptable.”
The provincial government including in their election campaign a promise to take over Toronto’s subway network and assume responsibility for expansion planning.
Mayor John Tory has argued that council could only agree to such an upload if there were clear benefits to the city. In May, council voted 30-6 in favour of a motion that included a clause making clear that subways should continue to be owned by the city. Mr. Tory was absent for that vote, although many of his allies sided with the majority.
The Tories' subway upload idea is now being studied by a government-appointed panel led by Michael Lindsay, a former vice-president at Infrastructure Ontario, which is expected to report back next year. Mr. Lindsay has not spoken publicly about his work but has been meeting with transit leaders, some of whom have widely divergent views of how difficult such an upload might be.
Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster told reporters in September that it would be “quite straightforward” for his agency to take over the much more heavily used subway system. But TTC chief executive Rick Leary sent a note to staff a few days later, warning that any such move would be complicated.
“The suggestion that [the TTC’s] its rolling stock, yards, carhouses, tunnels, signals, stations, ventilation, electrical, drainage and all other interdependent systems can be somehow easily transferred or uploaded is simply not the case,” Mr. Leary wrote.