Pembina Institute

Unpacking the truths about transit investment

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.

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Nancy — Oct 21, 2013 - 06:09 PM MT

Until Rob Ford's myopic view and all the right wing nuts look at more sensible modes of mass transit we will be burdened with disjointed connections. This is because of Ford and his band of merry neo-cons have a vendetta against green living and want to jam the roadways with more gas guzzling vehicles we will have an inferior transit system.

Joe Murray — Oct 21, 2013 - 02:27 PM MT

Congrats, Cherise!

Nice post. I see the job of the panel as helping the public understand the points made above, particularly 'New dedicated revenue sources are required.'

On a small point, I wouldn't drop where people live from the second point. Maybe 'Transit does not automatically drive development. To be successful and affordable, transit routes must connect with current and anticipated employment and living locations.'

With regard to Frank's point, as LVC rates rise, the incentive to develop closer to new light and heavy transit rail lines declines, leader to less desirable growth patterns. A bit of a balancing act is required.

Best wishes in your on-going attempts to influence the public on this very important issue.

Elizabeth Asselstine — Oct 21, 2013 - 01:56 PM MT

I agree with your assessment but until the what and where is taken out of politicians' hands and given to the transit experts, I don't expect any solution.

Frank de Jong — Oct 21, 2013 - 01:34 PM MT

Yes, "everyone" benefits from new transit, but the people and businesses who own land near transit stations benefit disproportionately. For fairness, new transit should be financed by "land value capture" so that the unearned rise in land value caused by the new infrastructure is used to pay for it. LVC makes new transit self-financing, no new taxes needed.

Herman Boerma — Oct 21, 2013 - 07:47 PM MT

Excellent point!

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