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Toronto’s transit solution can’t end in TorontoRandall Moore/The Globe and Mail

On Tuesday, Toronto's executive committee is scheduled to consider a city manager's report calling for public consultations on new, dedicated revenue tools for transit expansion. Most important, the report calls for the regional transportation plan to be implemented and funded on a regional basis. We urge the executive committee to heed these recommendations.

In recent months, Toronto's city council has shown leadership by connecting the need to finance transportation infrastructure expansion with the need for new revenue tools. But that debate has focused on revenue that would be collected and spent solely within the city. This reflects a well-intentioned desire to address Toronto's urgent transit needs, and improve life for constituents. For that, they should be commended.

But as the city manager's report sets forth, council needs to move this discussion forward within the context of the broader region.

Every day, more than 350,000 people commute into Toronto. Nearly as many Torontonians pass them in the other direction while heading to work in other municipalities. Residents and organizations across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area dream of moving faster and more easily within and across municipal boundaries, and reaching that goal requires regional solutions.

The negative effects of congestion are being felt in urban centres across Canada, and municipalities from Vancouver to Ottawa are grappling with the issue in a variety of ways. But the situation in the GTHA is particularly acute. While the region's economy is responsible for 20 per cent of Canada's GDP, lost productivity in the GTHA due to congestion is siphoning $6-billion annually from the region's economy, and it's expected to reach $15-billion by 2030. Commute times here are longer than car-clogged Los Angeles and getting longer.

Considering the city's size and central location, Toronto's councillors are well positioned to lead on this crucial social, environmental and economic issue. Torontonians are used to hearing about big transit ideas that end up going nowhere. The coming debate has the potential to lead toward lasting solutions to the region's mobility issues. Council could do this by building support for a regional solution.

Many residents are unaware that a regional transportation vision and plan already exist. In 2008, Metrolinx, the regional transportation agency for the GTHA, released The Big Move, a $50-billion, 25-year plan for creating a seamless, regionally integrated transportation network. It's the result of intensive consultation that has been adopted by the Metrolinx board with agreement from the region's municipal councils. Such a plan is needed to support economic growth and dramatically improve how people, goods and services flow throughout the region.

While several key projects in the Toronto region are under way, totalling $12.3-billion, these investments represent only a first step. Nearly 80 per cent of the plan remains unfunded.

Ontario has asked Metrolinx to produce a strategy on how to finance the rest of the plan. With all levels of government facing serious fiscal constraints, the focus is likely to be on a combination of other new revenue tools such as fuel tax, road tolls, parking levies or a percentage on the sales, income or property tax. Metrolinx is required by legislation to submit its strategy to the Ontario government and the heads of the GTHA municipal councils by June 1, 2013. This critical deadline must be met.

Regardless of the tools selected, it's essential they be implemented regionally. Experts agree that most of the major revenue tools available to fund transportation improvements only work at the regional level and thus require regional co-operation.

Having municipalities such as Toronto participating in this discussion and moving its residents toward acceptance of the need for a regional transportation network and the revenue tools to support it will go a long way to ending our region's congestion.

The next few months will be critical in building consensus on what actions governments should take to raise the needed funds. Leaders and residents from around the region will be invited to join us in this conversation.

Ultimately, solving the GTHA's mobility issue will happen only if the region's residents, businesses and civic organizations are engaged, informed and supportive. A regional transportation network that is efficient, accessible, affordable, publicly accountable and fully connected will benefit residents and businesses across the GTHA. We need regional solutions to pay for it. Toronto's councillors have an opportunity to show leadership. We urge them to do so.

Mitzie Hunter is the CEO of CivicAction, Geoff Cape the CEO of Evergreen, Cherise Burda the transportation director at the Pembina Institute, Carol Wilding the president and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade, and Franz Hartmann the executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

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