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The Globe and Mail

Transportation moves voters, but politicians are loath to discuss it

Victoria Fox filling up the first of three family vehicles at a service centre at Lawrence Ave East and Leslie St. on May, 9 2011.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It's expensive, it's politically charged, and voters take it seriously.

Transportation may not be the most prominent issue on Ontario politicians' agendas, but it's one they know they need to pay attention to.

In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the province's biggest economic hub, traffic congestion costs $6-billion a year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Gridlock also limits job opportunities and reduces the amount of time people can spend with family and friends.

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Politicians are loath to address the topic of how to raise more money for improvements to transit and road infrastructure, especially with another recession looming and fiscal constraints the order of the day. Measures such as road tolls to drive into Toronto, a regional sales tax or an increased gas tax would raise billions of dollars to help build and operate a better transportation infrastructure, according to figures from the Toronto Civic Action Alliance.

Alliance CEO Julia Deans said their surveys show people are willing to pay the extra cost if they know it is earmarked for better transportation.

"It's not politically a savoury thing to say we're going to need more money," said Ms. Deans. "But people will pay if they know they are going to get the reward."

Here's a look at what each of Ontario's main political parties say they plan to do to improve Ontario's transportation.

Liberals

The Liberals have pledged to make permanent the two-cent-a-litre gas tax dedicated to transit infrastructure, a move municipal transit agencies have welcomed. They say it means they can more easily make long-term plans without worrying about funding.

The platform highlights plans to bring light-rail transit to Waterloo and Ottawa. It also says that a Liberal government will implement all-day GO train service on routes in the Greater Toronto, Hamilton and surrounding areas, as part of a $35-billion transportation infrastructure plan that includes road improvements and public transit.

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However, the platform contains little that is new. Most of the promised funds are for projects that have already been announced or are under way.

NDP

With much of its constituency in Toronto's urban core, the NDP transportation platform focuses heavily on alternatives to the automobile. Its key plank is a promise to reverse some of the downloading to municipalities that took place under the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government. The NDP says it will pay half the municipalities' share of transit operating costs, in return for a four-year freeze on fares.

The party also promises to set a ceiling on gas-price increases. And it wants to establish a provincial cycling strategy that would put paved bicycle lanes on city streets and some highways. The strategy would require drivers to leave at least one metre of space when they are passing a bicycle.

Municipalities welcome the prospect of sharing operating costs with the province, but transit advocate and blogger Steve Munro said that if fares are frozen in return, the initiative could end up costing systems like the Toronto Transit Commission money.

Progressive Conservatives

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The Tories say they will make the gas tax permanent, and will give all communities a share of the revenue – not just those that are large enough to have bus or subway systems. About 100 municipalities currently receive a share.

Mr. Hudak has said that none of the larger cities will be starved as a result because he would increase the dedicated revenue from the tax to accommodate smaller communities.

The Tories say they will invest $35-billion over three years on new infrastructure and that "much" of that money will go to improve transit and roads. However, Richmond Hill candidate Vic Gupta said the party has not decided exactly how the funds will be spent. He said he envisions a "balanced plan" that would improve transit and at the same time "stop the war on the car." The Tories have ruled out any new taxes or fees such as road tolls to help pay for transportation.

With a report from Kim Mackrael

Tuesday: Toronto Board of Trade's Carol Wilding argues further delays will cost us more down the road. Click here for article.

Wednesday: Join our live discussion about Ontario's transit system.

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