Greasing the wheel: federal transit funding is a win for Toronto commuters

Blog - Aug. 24, 2016 - By Dianne Zimmerman

Toronto subway. Photo: Roberta Franchuk, Pembina Institute

There’s nothing like a multi-billion dollar announcement to make a Tuesday in August a little more exciting. Prime Minister Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a $2.97 billion investment in projects across the province, with $474 million going to Toronto. This funding is from federal, provincial and municipal governments, with the federal portion being the first phase of the previously announced infrastructure spending from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. We’re very happy to see this necessary commitment to improving transit from all levels of government. Investing in transit is key to reducing GHG emissions from the transportation sector – Ontario’s largest source of emissions.

In a recent report by Move the GTHA, co-signed by the Pembina Institute, we brought attention to the considerable gap in rapid transit funding and the need for government action.  While yesterday’s announcement provides exciting details about where committed funds will go, the funding gap – and the need for ongoing revenue generation for operations and maintenance – remains the same.

Nonetheless, this first phase of infrastructure funding is giving a big boost to much needed repair and maintenance work. This will help reduce delays and may even eliminate un-airconditioned “hot cars” on the subway – something I’m especially excited for after this sweaty summer. Transit maintenance and repair may not be overly exciting but as noted by TTC chairman Josh Colle, it makes for a more comfortable, reliable and efficient system – which makes for happier riders and more people choosing transit. This helps reduce traffic congestion and reduces emissions – a win-win for everyone.

Yesterday’s announcement was also a win for linking cycling and transit. Around eight per cent of the funding is earmarked for cycling expansion across the city, including growing avenues like Eglinton East. There will also be increased bicycle parking at over 40 TTC stations. This smart planning will help encourage people to cycle that last bit of the journey home, rather than drive.

And more music to the ears of Toronto commuters: funding has been allocated specifically to planning and design of proposed transit lines. This will help keep the ball rolling on critical projects like SmartTrack, the relief line, and the Eglinton West LRT. This investment is much needed to ensure transit is moving people efficiently to all corners of the city. As we discussed in a blog earlier this summer, it’s important to ensure transit is connecting the most people to employment centres. If more people are able to easily commute by transit or cycling it will have a big impact on reducing congestion and GHG emissions.

We hope that yesterday’s good news is just the beginning – we’re looking forward to seeing similarly smart public transit investment in the second phase of federal infrastructure spending. As the Prime Minister and Canada’s premiers work together to build a pan-Canadian climate change plan, we know smart, evidence-based transit investments must be part of the solution. Investments that drive down emissions and support implementation of new or existing climate policies should continue to be prioritized across all levels of government. The government is looking for feedback on its Phase 2 infrastructure investments – and we’re looking forward to commenting on how important transit infrastructure will be to Canada’s collective climate and community-building goals.


Dianne Zimmerman

Dianne is director of the Pembina Institute’s transportation and urban solutions program. She is based in Toronto.


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