Unpacking the truths about transit investment

Blog - Oct. 21, 2013 - By Cherise Burda

Today Premier Wynne’s Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel released its first issue paper entitled: The Hard Truths about Transit in the Toronto Region

I am honoured to be a member of the panel, which was established with a mandate to advise the Province whether the Metrolinx’s Investment Strategy recommendations are the right ones. The first four weeks we spent grappling with this central question: Despite consensus on the seriousness of the transportation and congestion problem in Toronto, why can’t we agree on how to solve it?

Unpacking this question involved meeting with dozens of experts, ministries, agencies and stakeholders, and consulting stacks of reports, financial statements and papers.

Map of Toronto's Big Move transportation plan. Photo: Bigmove.caOur goal is to make responsible decisions about what transit to build, where, and how to pay for it. The panel identified a number of persistent myths, distortions and misconceptions that have been driving reasonable debate off the rails.

We concluded that before we can make sensible and informed recommendations about transit investment, we must all first understand and accept these hard truths:

  • Subways are not the only good form of transit. What matters is matching the right transit mode and technology to the proposed route to avoid wasting scarce capital, reducing funds for other projects, and creating burdensome debt.
  • Transit does not automatically drive development. To be successful and affordable, transit routes must connect with current and anticipated employment.
  • The cost of building the transit is not the main expense. Life cycle operating and maintenance costs are a major portion and must be included in the analysis leading to decisions.
  • Transit riders are not the only beneficiaries of new transit infrastructure. Everyone benefits — economically, socially and environmentally — from new transit infrastructure.
  • Transit expansion in the region is not at a standstill. There is $16 billion worth of transit construction now in progress throughout the GTHA.
  • We can’t pay for the region-wide transit we need by cutting waste in government alone. New dedicated revenue sources are required.

These truths will guide the panel going forward in considering how best to make transit investments. In the meantime we encourage everyone to read the issue paper and visit the panel website, share opinions with the panel and follow @TransitPanel on Twitter.

Cherise Burda

Cherise Burda is Ontario director at the Pembina Institute, directing research and implementation strategies for transportation and renewable energy solutions, including policy initiatives for urban form.


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