New Premier, New Policies? (Updated)

Updated February 2, 2013 at 12:30 am:  The costing for Next Wave projects has been corrected to reflect that spending for local projects and roads is included in the total of $34-billion rather than as an additional cost on top of that number.

The Ontario Liberal Party has a new leader, and soon the province will have a new Premier.  Although I am not a Liberal supporter, I am extremely pleased by Kathleen Wynne’s rise to head our provincial government.  She represents the progressive wing of the party, and a fresh outlook after the increasingly frustrating reign of Dalton McGuinty.  A change of focus is already evident with social services, education labour relations, job creation and transportation infrastructure getting prominent mention.

Transportation is not first on the list, but it is vital to the GTHA.  Mobility has many benefits for business and for individuals.  Transportation infrastructure, especially transit, has far too often been treated as a cost to be avoided, to be offloaded, to be deferred while we strangle in congestion.  That congestion isn’t just on roads, plugged highways and arterials, but on the very transit systems we keep telling drivers can be our way out of the mess of 21st century gridlock.

The scope of what we need is enormous.  Within Toronto, we are accustomed to annual ridership figures now over half a billion, although this is well below half of all the journeys in the city.  Elsewhere in the greater Toronto area, transit does well to carry 10% of all travel.  The GTHA requires much, much more investment in transit infrastructure and in service to attract a larger share of the market.  Making transit a credible alternative to the automobile will not be easy, and reaching a target of 1/3 of work trips by transit in 2031 requires far more than a few trains and buses.

“More of the same” is not an option for a new government, especially one with a tenuous minority in the legislature.  Transportation problems are too big and have been set aside for another day for far too long.

Later this year, we will see the long-awaited Metrolinx “Investment Strategy”, a document that should have been published at least two years ago.  The necessary background information has been available for some time, but nobody at Queen’s Park wanted to talk about new “revenue tools”.  This lack of political fortitude and leadership, coupled with project funding delays and scope changes, cost the GTHA more lost time and compounded the deficit in transit building.

Fortunately Ontario now has a Premier-designate who is willing to talk about raising the money necessary to improve transit.  The challenge will be to actually go from talk to implementation and the creation of a funded transit plan.

We are at an important time in the political and economic cycle for the debate and real progress to begin.  Too many big announcements came just at high points when the economy boomed, only to lose the momentum to a downturn, retrenchment, and a shift of focus away from transit expansion, let alone changes in government. This pattern stretches back to the early 1970s and the Davis government’s aim to build cities for people with transit rather than with cars.

We are having the difficult, “mature” conversation about new taxes (whatever we might call them) when times are tougher.  Building transit funds into the base of government spending rather than as good-time baubles will be a major change, if it happens.

Metrolinx and The Big Move

Metrolinx was created in 2006 “to improve the coordination and integration of all modes of transportation” in the region.  In June 2007, Premier McGuinty announced MoveOntario2020, a grab-bag of 52 separate projects that would cost only $17.5-billion to build with 2/3 coming from Queen’s Park and the rest from Ottawa.  Over half of these would be finished by 2015 with much of the remainder by 2020.

By late 2008, Metrolinx issued “The Big Move” setting out a 25-year regional plan, but the cost had gone up to $50-billion.  The $11.5b provincial share of MoveOntario2020 wound up funding far less than originally intended.  Recently Metrolinx announced “The Next Wave” of projects, but funding for these is uncertain.

A disheartening fact is that so little of the promised total has actually been spent on anything beyond press releases.  Meanwhile, the delivery dates for projects are pushed back so that as much spending as possible falls in later years, not on current budgets.  Today in 2013 the end date remains elusively 25 years in the future, almost a mirage on the horizon of transit planning.

Raising money on paper to build out Metrolinx’ dream is not enough.  Real money must come along with construction and operation, not endless delay.

The Big Move is skewed to regional commuter projects with little attention to the value of local transit systems who will provide the feeder/distributor network.  GO Transit’s model of commuters driving to parking garages will not work for a more diverse set of travel demands and a wider passenger base.  Transit is a network of systems, and funding only part of them simply won’t do the job.

As a regional agency, Metrolinx needs to connect with the public as it grows into a major operator with millions, not thousands, of daily riders.  An appointed, almost unreachable board who meet publicly a few times a year simply cannot provide the accountability its growing mandate as a transit operator will demand.  Metrolinx must become an agency people think of as “theirs” much as many in Toronto have a personal love/hate relationship with the TTC.  If transit is something we build for “everyone else” and most voters don’t even know what Metrolinx or The Big Move are, we have a huge problem.  This won’t be fixed by strategic media buys, but by actual accomplishments people can see and benefit from.

Community outreach by staff may be well-intentioned, but staff cannot answer hard questions that stray into matters of policy and long-term planning.  For that, a political component is required, and the decision-making process must be much more transparent.  Plans should be developed in public, not by ministerial announcements.

The Next Wave projects appeared without any background material setting out the rationale for their selection.  Many components of the 15-year plan (originally aimed at 2023) are not even in the Next Wave, and there is no indication when or if they will be in a revised 25-year plan.

The Mature Discussion

[The following paragraph and a later reference have been updated to reflect a correct interpretation of the Next Wave's cost.]

The funding discussion has started, but the context remains uncertain.  The Next Wave list was announced with a total cost of $34-billion, and a further roughly $11b would flow to local transit and road improvements.  That $45-billion will soak up all of a $2b annual revenue stream for over two decades, not allowing for inflation in construction costs.

The funding discussion has started, but the context remains uncertain.  The Next Wave list was announced with a total cost of $34-billion, of which 25% or $8.5b would would flow to local transit and road improvements leaving $25.5b for Metrolinx projects.  That $34-billion will soak up all of a $2b annual revenue stream for most of two decades, not allowing for inflation in construction costs.

Many projects in the 15- and 25-year plans don’t appear in any funding list today, and there is no sense of how we might pay for them.

Voters need honesty about what the plan will achieve and cost, and what is left behind.  Metrolinx has been clear that even if we build their entire list of projects, this will only just keep pace with increasing population and travel demand.  For those lucky enough to live near corridors with significant service improvement, travel times will go down, but the rest won’t be so lucky.  However, we now see that the original $50b total and $2b annual spending is well below the level needed just to keep pace never mind get ahead of the curve.

If 1/4 of any new revenue goes to roads and local transit (as the Next Wave materials show), that would be $500m/year on a $2b base (the number commonly used for public sessions on new revenue tools).  This may sound like a lot, but spread across the GTHA it may not go very far especially if other revenue streams such as gas taxes and infrastructure stimulus funds stay at current levels or decline.  How much would go to capital works and how much to operating subsidies?  Does Metrolinx have any thoughts on a provincial standard for quality (coverage, frequency, crowding) and regional integration of service and fares?

Metrolinx quotes project costs in “old” dollars–2008$ for the original Big Move, 2014$ for the Next Wave announcement–but lines are built and operated in current dollars.  That $34b Next Wave total does not include inflation, and this will have to be built into the revenue streams so that they can keep pace.

Premier-designate Wynne has stated that she would “love to see” Ottawa come in with new money, but that we must “take responsibility … locally and provincially” to pay for transit.  [CBC Metro Morning, January 28, 2013] This will free us from meaningless announcements that depend on a 1/3 federal share whose arrival is uncertain, at best.  But what does this mean for municipalities?  Do they face new costs on their own tax base, and does the GTHA face balkanization of service depending on the local will to support improved transit?

GO Transit’s role will change from being mainly a provider of peak-period, peak-direction service to an all-day regional rapid transit system with frequent service on major routes.  This requires a completely new attitude to funding and service at GO which makes virtue of a high farebox recovery ratio, something that is possible only where there is strong latent demand (commuters) and customers who can be served cheaply with a comparatively small amount of service.  All-day service costs money, not to mention the cost of local service improvements to transit systems that GO will feed.  GO’s cost recovery ratio will almost certainly fall and this must be built into the new cost and revenue stream.

Premier-designate Wynne trumpets the job creation possibilities of transit spending echoing so many Premiers and Mayors before her, but this can be a dangerous path.  Transit construction should not be promoted just to create work for the engineering and construction industry, but because the end product will actually make a difference to the GTHA’s transportation network.  Big projects should exist because they have big effects and benefits, not simply because they employ many people.  Indeed, many medium-sized projects may have a greater benefit than a few very big ones.

Transit isn’t just about construction, but also operations and maintenance.  Opening a new subway line may offer many photo-ops and lots of ribbon cutting, but once the trains are running, someone has to pay for them.  As one example, the TTC faces a $10m annual increase in net expenses for the Spadina Extension, but nobody has offered to help in the cost of providing this regional service.  Meanwhile, GO Transit continues to tithe local municipalities for a share of its capital programs.

Fare and service integration will cost money too.  If a rider now facing separate fares for trip segments in the 905 and 416 will receive an integrated (and cheaper) fare based on usage (be that measured in time or kilometres, a subject for a separate article), then additional subsidy and a mechanism for revenue sharing across the region will be needed.

GO Transit is a particularly annoying case in this regard as “co-fares” for a local transit trip to a GO train are offered in the 905 but not in the 416.  If we are serious about “fare integration”, this means all systems are treated the same way regardless of their area codes.

The Air Rail Link

The ARL is a pet project at Queen’s Park and is too far “down the track” for changes in the short term before the service begins operation in advance of the Pan Am Games.  This started life as a federal project under the Chretien regime with SNC-Lavalin as a private sector partner, and moved to Ontario as a provincial PPP.  The partnership fell apart when Queen’s Park refused to guarantee revenues to a business with dubious prospects.

We are stuck with this line for the short term, but Metrolinx and the government need to explain why other airport services, notably the Eglinton and Finch LRT connections, don’t even appear in the Next Wave.  When these parts of Transit City were originally delayed, the excuse was that the GTAA (the airport authority) wouldn’t be ready to incorporate a transit terminal for the LRT lines until 2020.  Now we are looking well into the 2020s if not the 2030s for anything beyond a premium fare, downtown-focused route to serve the airport.

Pearson Airport is supposed to be one of the two major “Mobility Hubs” in the Metrolinx network, a companion of Union Station, but you would never believe this from the paltry attention it gets in long range plans, and especially in the concentration on air passenger trips while the large workforce at and near the airport is ignored.

Electrification

For many years GO Transit and Metrolinx resisted calls to electrify major routes in their rail network.  GO’s attitude, understandable in years past, was that the limited funds it received were better spent improving service and expanding infrastructure.  That may be short-sighted like so much planning in the GTHA, but at least it is a credible position.

As the scope of The Big Move and future service levels on GO corridors became clear, so did the need for electrification.  Some at Metrolinx advanced arguments against the project that betrayed either a deep misunderstanding of the technology or a willful ignorance intended to portray the scheme as too expensive and technically impractical.  Now Metrolinx sees that it cannot achieve the service levels foreseen in The Big Move without electrification, but much delay could have been avoided.

When an agency is caught out giving misleading and incorrect information on major policy issues, this damages not just the debate at hand, but the whole credibility of transit proposals.  One need only look at the TTC’s experiences with projects gone wrong to see how screwups (even those not entirely of their own making) stick like barnacles dragging down their credibility as project proponents (including to staff and politicos at the province).  Metrolinx cannot afford to damage its reputation as a purveyor of trustworthy planning.

Electrification brings challenges for Metrolinx in finding appropriate rolling stock, adapting its infrastructure and especially in convincing the mainline railways–over whose tracks electrified service will run–to allow this cohabitation.  These are fundamental problems affecting the future evolution of the GO network and the achievement of its transformation in The Big Move.

Funding Strategies, Ownership and Accounting

As the Transit City proposals evolved, Queen’s Park generously decided to provide 100% funding, but with this came a lot of baggage.  With 100% funding came 100% control over scope and timing.  Project delivery schedules have been stretched, and lines that should have been open within the next few years are now out at 2020 to suit debt and cash flow plans.

The lines remain in provincial ownership, an accounting ruse to keep spending from showing up as increased provincial debt from capital subsidy to Toronto.  (New infrastructure such as the Eglinton LRT counts as an asset, one that could be sold to a private operator, balancing off the debt floated to build it.)  The pretense about “regional” vs “local” roles for Metrolinx and the TTC has completely vanished, and Metrolinx finds itself the proprietor of lines that go nowhere near the 416 boundary.  These lines are unlikely to become truly “regional” for decades.

As the GTHA moves to new sources of revenue and funds construction with current income rather than borrowing, this accounting legerdemain loses its justification.  Indeed, between local, federal and regional contributions, one might ask what right Queen’s Park has to “own” any new projects that are functionally part of local transit systems.  This is not just an issue for Toronto but for any municipality where major capital projects are contemplated.  If Metrolinx is to become an owner/operator on a wide scale, this will require a complete rethink of their relationship with local service provision, not just ad hoc arrangements on a project basis.

Who “owns” the new revenue streams?  Will Queen’s Park or the GTHA municipalities set priorities on how it should be spent?  If GTHA municipalities agree to tax themselves to fund transit, shouldn’t they have a say, or will the money simply be used to fund announcements from the Premier’s office?

Local projects have a role, but what defines what is “local” to be funded out of municipal revenues and/or the 25% of Next Wave income?  Why is the Finch LRT a Metrolinx project while the waterfront transit schemes languish for want of funding?  Which Bus Rapid Transit projects will get full provincial funding and which will be left to municipalities?  We need a consistent policy on funding responsibilities almost as much as the new revenue streams.

Beyond the GTHA

There is more to Ontario than the GTHA and more to transit requirements than commuter trips to Bay and Front in downtown Toronto.  Northern Ontario is right to question why their train service gets cut while billions are spent in the GTHA.  Transportation needs across the province involve more than trains, however, especially with the decline in coverage and service on private sector intercity bus routes.

Public sector competition and the rise of GO has been blamed for the disappearance of private bus services, but this is a common problem in jurisdictions where there is no public agency muscling into the market.  Ontario must seriously consider whether intercity transit is a role for public providers and not just in the GTHA.

Via Rail is another competitor for passengers even though it is a public agency.  Declining funding from Ottawa plus uncertainty over GO’s intentions for expansion in Via corridors (notably Toronto-Kitchener) threatens declining service regardless of who actually operates the line.  Ontario needs a policy that integrates all of its routes and providers in a coherent plan.

Roads and Trucking

Metrolinx is charged not only with improving transit in the GTHA but also with addressing problems faced by road users be they commuters in automobiles or the trucking industry.  Goods movement shifted from rail to road decades ago, and this pattern will not be reversed.

Ontario has plans for highway expansion, although any new road schemes trigger loud debate.  An important task is the examination of existing constraints in the network and likely future problem spots from traffic growth.  Which of these can be addressed and how?

Part of those billions in lost productivity we hear so much about come not from long commutes but from the overhead represented by trucks stuck in traffic.  Should Ontario focus on new infrastructure dedicated for goods movement?  Is it even practical to think of disentangling road demand for auto travel from demand for trucks?

Congestion

Today the heart of the transportation debate is “congestion”.  Everyone hates it.  Everyone wants it to go away.  Politically, the urge is to say “we feel your pain” and give hope that somehow things will be better.  Somewhere.  Someday.  [Cue music here.]

But we need to be honest about what can be achieved and how long this will take.  Civic Action’s “32 minute” campaign keys off the difference between the “do nothing” approach and the full buildout of The Big Move.  Commuters will face 32 minutes more travel, on average, if nothing is done to provide more capacity and improve travel speeds.  That is an average, and it depends on a transportation plan that is only partly funded and mostly unbuilt.

An average improvement implies winners and losers, and we need to be honest about where the major benefits lie.  Getting drivers off of the roads and into transit will shift some demand, but this will backfill thanks to population growth.  Some travel is a legacy of car-oriented land use planning in the location of housing and jobs, and this simply does not lend itself to transit diversion.  Those trips are not going away, and there will only be a major change in land use when the economic forces driving sprawl change.

When The Big Move was still in draft, the cost was too high both in dollars and in political capital, and the plan was cut back to “only” $50b.  How much more is needed?  Which projects have the greatest transportation benefit?  Where are the “do it now” pressure points?

The Big Move is a plan to only barely keep up with projected growth, but it does not get “ahead of the curve”.  We may think the cost of such a goal beyond our reach, but what is the cost of doing nothing, or of only building a few showcase projects?  We need to know what our options are and how much we must spend to make a real difference.

Fundamentally what we need is honesty about the scope of our problems and how we can practically address them.  The challenge for a new government is to engage voters and businesses with an open discussion, a clear set of believable goals and advocacy that will ensure support for major expansion of transit will transcend short term electoral politics.

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40 Responses to New Premier, New Policies? (Updated)

  1. Tom West says:

    “The Big Move is skewed to regional commuter projects with little attention to the value of local transit systems who will provide the feeder/distributor network.”

    This is the fundamental problem of a regional transit agency: almost by definition, it focuses on regional projects and operations — but those cannot succeed without an effective local transit network. It is pointless having rapid transit (of whatever mode) running every 2 minutes if the local transit network runs every half hour. (York Region has this problem with VIVA, I feel)

    Either someone has to tell a local agency that its service is unacceptably poor and must improve, or it stays silent while we all suffer the consequences of the agency’s failings. Will Metrolinx mandate local agencies to provide minimum service standard? (Something like x% of the population living within y meters of service every z minutes perhaps). What will be the consequences for not meeting that standard?

    “GO Transit is a particularly annoying case in this regard as ‘co-fares’ for a local transit trip to a GO train are offered in the 905 but not in the 416.”

    GO needs to sort out what role it has in moving people within Toronto. Currently it seems to pretend it has no role. (Hence why its off-peak buses-on-train-corridors don’t stop in the 416). However, I’ve seen the station-level passenger numbers, and they show lots of people use GO for travel within Toronto. GO doesn’t serve stations like Agincourt so the good people of Markham can commute *to* there!

    I do take heart from the idea that 25% flows to local projects, and I would hope that most of it ends up supporting transit operations. (NB: no word on how to divide the revenue stream between municipalities… ). After all, buying a bus costs $0.5 million, but operating costs about $0.5 million per year. I suspect 905 agencies would rather have operational support than capital support for local service!

    “When these parts of Transit City were originally delayed, the excuse was that the GTAA (the airport authority) wouldn’t be ready to incorporate a transit terminal for the LRT lines until 2020.”

    Sounds a very poor excuse – given the construction timeline, they could certainly have built Eglinton out to the airport in the first phase. I also know that the GTAA very much wants better transit service to the airport, and they also know that LRT would be needed to make a significant dent in the mode share. (Pearson’s current capacity constraint is how many people can be dropped off in front of the terminal buildings.) They also know that the workforce is a big part of the travel demand.

    “Fundamentally what we need is honesty about the scope of our problems and how we can practically address them.”

    Damn straight!

  2. anon says:

    Some travel is a legacy of car-oriented land use planning in the location of housing and jobs, and this simply does not lend itself to transit diversion. Those trips are not going away, and there will only be a major change in land use when the economic forces driving sprawl change.

    This is a defeatist attitude. Many of the forces driving sprawl are due to policy. Poor land use isn’t due to mysterious forces that we must wait upon to change on their own, it’s of our own making and it’s incumbent upon us to proactively change those forces to build and rebuild in a way that’s scalable and sustainable. Transit planning without thinking about transportation planning of all modes (e.g. no mention of cycle plans?) and land use and road network design is missing the forest for the trees.

    Steve: I agree that there are not “mysterious forces”, but the fact is that the sprawl already exists, and there are only minimal efforts to change this. The forces behind this are economic and political — as long as the development industry figures it can make money by converting farmland to housing, and home buyers feel that this is their preferred option (whether for financial or lifestyle reasons), then politicians are loathe to force any other model. Indeed some municipal governments deeply resent any attempt to throttle development. If the GTHA didn’t have such strong, sustained population growth, the economic situation would be different, but so would our transportation issues.

    Similarly, businesses locate outside of urban areas in low density parks because this suits their own cost requirements and, for some, simplifies their trucking access to and from highways. That these locations are difficult to serve by transit is not part of their business model.

    My point is that there is travel demand that will not go away simply because we say it was bad planning in decades past, and some of that demand will be extremely hard to serve with transit. If we pretend this isn’t the case because it does not suit our philosophical model, then we are doomed to planning for a world that does not exist.

  3. Benny Cheung says:

    This is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Look at places in Asian where governments show more authoritarianism, projects get built and laws are passed quickly. This is why politicians should not be involved in transit. Governments did not built the railroad linking New York to San Francisco. Governments should create the right legal environment so that the private sector can build as much and fast as possible.

    Looking at privately built rail lines and stations, there is a large difference between public ones. There is no room for retail in public built stations. Whether it is Hankyu or Seibu lines, stations always have retail in them. In the larger stations, department stores and supermarket reside in them. In the smaller ones, restaurants and bookstores live there. This allows commuters to do things on the way to their destinations. This dimension is very important in making transit convenient. Let me raise this question, do you want to access a Green Machine and tellers inside a station or walk outside for two minutes (in the case of Woodbine Station)?

    Steve: An important issue for older stations in Toronto is that they were built at a time when “just the basics” was the order of the day. More recently, the TTC is slammed for making stations more extensive than strictly required for transit use. If a private company wants to buy property to build a combined station and commercial site, they just do it. The public is prohibited under the Expropriations Act for acquiring property for a use not directly related to the service they provide. If they can fit in a news stand, fine, but not a mall. We would also hear bitter complaints from the private sector about subsidized competition with their operations.

    The ARL has the potential to expand the catchment area of YYZ, so do not write off its usefulness just yet. When GO and VIA run frequent services to outlying communities like London, Waterloo and Kingston, it will reduce the poaching of traffic from places like ORD and JFK. Right now, one can fly to ORD from Waterloo where one can connect to AA and UA’s vast international network. If these traffic can head to YYZ for their flights to Asia and Europe, this will be good news for the aviation industry in Canada.

  4. anon says:

    My point is not that we should plan as though everything will be built as a new urbanist utopia, nor that we should ignore existing sprawl. Rather, it’s that the solution to getting to/from work/home/school/park/play isn’t just transit, but involves putting in the substantial effort to fix the mistakes of the 20th century. How can the province really claim to be trying to fix our transportation issues if there’s no spending on fixing those non-transit-friendly cul-de-sacs, no spending on retrofitting in increased intersection density, no spending on bike lanes, etc?

    Steve: I agree up to a point, although this gets into an area where local municipalities have an important role.

    Transit is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s tied to the other pieces and it seems insane for the province to discuss spending $40B on transit but $0 on pedestrian and bike infrastructure, $0 on helping cities make changes like Toronto’s avenues studies and mid-rise guidelines, $0 on converting existing neighbourhoods to be more transit-friendly by straightening out windy cul-de-sac filled neighbourhoods, etc.

    Steve: The pedestrian and cycling components come out of the “local” 25% in the Next Wave.

    It seems to me that we should fix what we can first, spend money on the cheap things like bike lanes first, and then use expensive, heavy-lifting transit where needed. After all, if we retrofit our 2km suburban concession grid to include a 500m grid, that will dramatically change transit needs and open up more solutions. Shouldn’t we do that first? Shouldn’t it at least be on the radar?

  5. anon says:

    I guess if I were to rephrase that long rant in the form of a question, I would ask why all conversations about new revenue tools to build transportation infrastructure always exclude active transport and land-use improvements? Should we not be evaluating those too, as part of the cost-benefit analyses of picking which transportation projects to fund? I can’t recall ever seeing a cost-benefit analysis that included multiple modes. If we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure, it seems to me that all options should be on the table.

    Steve: Metrolinx’ focus is regional and that means that the vast majority of trips they think about are beyond the abilities of a significant number of travellers to use active modes. They do talk about this in terms of land use changes around major stations, but this gets into local planning and the fact that some stations are not ideally located with respect to other parts of the pedestrian landscape. Yes, Metrolinx does think about land use, but not as a first priority because land use changes take a long time to have a significant effect especially in established communities.

  6. Philipp says:

    Thanks for bringing up the Air Rail Link and electrification of the GO train system. As a resident of a ward that is adjacent to the line, I was just recently informed that Metrolinx is soliciting applications for membership in a “Noise Wall Community Advisory Committee.” Clearly, the noise wall would be unnecessary with electrification, so it’s disheartening to see them throw good money after bad. I only wish the new premier would revisit that. Wouldn’t it be great to have an ARL that doubles as a subway, enabling trips between places like Weston, the Junction, Queen/Dufferin, and Liberty Village? Building a wall along the corridor just further alienates the residents from this train line, instead of incorporating it into their transit environment.

  7. Jos Callinet says:

    Anon, I think what Steve is saying here is – even though there are areas that are sprawl-oriented and thus are poor candidates for transit service expansion – there are many others that lend themselves far more readily to transit expansion, and it is in these underserved areas that Metrolinx can and should focus their planning and investment on.

    Once people see tangible transit improvements they can actually use and really benefit from, my educated guess is they will ask (and be willing to pay) for more of them.

  8. Kevin Reidy says:

    What was the rationale for merging Metrolinx-a planning agency-with GO Transit-an operating agency?

    Steve: Consolidation of transit-related functions that formerly reported directly through the Ministry of Transportation under the Metrolinx umbrella. Similarly Presto has been rolled into Metrolinx. Yes, there is a gaping cultural divide between GO and Metrolinx, and in some ways it’s unclear who took over whom.

  9. Jon Johnson says:

    Any transit development plan that wishes to be implemented MUST focus on two things:

    (1) Strong Productivity Growth
    (2) Champion Equality of Opportunity across the region (nobody gets left behind)

    Any plan that does not visibly champion these two principles will end up in the waste bin.

  10. Karl Junkin says:

    Goods movement shifted from rail to road decades ago, and this pattern will not be reversed.

    For short-haul and medium-haul trucking, I agree. However, I believe that efforts that specifically target longer-haul trucking (>400km), particularly along routes that run along congested highways through urban areas but are not bound for/originating in those areas, would be worthwhile and have an appreciable impact through a couple of lenses, including safety and economics.

  11. Jon Johnson says:

    I am frankly tired of this debate over transit.

    The Government of Canada has provided Ontario with the ability to raise the HST by two percent, an extremely powerful tool. By raising the HST the provincial government has the capacity to implement practically any regional transit plan that it wants. Over a twenty year period it is akin to having unlimited funds.

    My suggestion to those who will listen is this, have the courage to implement the most reasonable plan that encourages productivity and equality of opportunity. Do it right the first time.

    There will be opposition, there always is. But history will remember and praise the success of the project.

    Steve: Actually, the feds explicitly did NOT want provinces to move into the vacated tax space as this would defeat their whole scheme to boost the economy via the tax cut. To suggest that the feds graciously got out of the way so that provinces could raise new revenues is, to put it charitably, revisionist history.

  12. Mud Puppy says:

    Your point about the role of Metrolinx as an owner of otherwise local transit lines is an important one, especially when viewed within the context of P3 procurement. This model of governance and project management carries the risk that the integrated nature of our local transit system, which we have taken for granted, will gradually be eroded.

    In the case of Toronto, will Metrolinx and its P3 partner(s) place as much importance on the feeder bus/streetcar network when planning and designing the new LRT lines as the TTC traditionally has, or will the buses become the “poor cousin” to be left to the TTC to manage and fund as a separate system? The latter is more likely as the focus on the new lines inevitably narrows to keeping costs down and development potential (and private profits) up.

    I fear we may yet see the end of our enviable integrated transit network, which will be the complete opposite result of what Metrolinx was created to do. Even so, will anyone even care, or will everyone be so dazzled with the shiny new lines and rhetoric about the private sector P3 “efficiency” that we will fail to notice what’s happening until it’s too late? Depressingly, I think I already know the answer to my question.

  13. Jon Johnson says:

    “To suggest that the feds graciously got out of the way so that provinces could raise new revenues is, to put it charitably, revisionist history.”

    Whether the Feds are charitable or not is absolutely irrelevant to this issue. All that counts is that the province has the power to raise the funds necessary to implement the projects.

    What counts is this, by increasing the HST to historic norms the province can fully pay for an ideal transit system within a reasonable time frame.

    All that is necessary is political will.

    Steve: Ottawa was quite clear when the combined tax was cut by two percent that it would be very upset (i.e. would withhold funding). Political will is hard to come by when you have a loaded gun pointed at your head.

  14. Raymond Kennedy says:

    @Philipp You state

    ““Noise Wall Community Advisory Committee.” Clearly, the noise wall would be unnecessary with electrification.

    It isn’t clear at all. In fact, quite the opposite is clear. Electric trains are NOT silent. They may be a little quieter but the most noise comes from the train itself. Vibrations are also a source of aggravation.

    Steve: This is a matter of some debate. There is a difference between noise generated by a locomotive hauling a long train up a hill, and the noise from wheel/rail contact and from auxiliary units such as AC on the train. The noise profile of self-propelled cars such as those intended for the ARL is different from regular GO trains because there is a power unit on each car, but much smaller than what would be found on a locomotive.

    The best example for comparison can be had simply by standing near any location where the subway runs in an open right-of-way.

  15. Moaz Yusuf Ahmad says:

    Kathleen Wynne has a tough road ahead of her, but it seems to me that she was the best candidate for the job of premier because of her combination of cabinet experience, leadership potential, and her progressive approach to politics as well as economic and social policy.

    More importantly, she was the candidate who could best prepare the Liberal party to face the greatest threat to their continuation as the Government of Ontario … the NDP.

    If Wynne can work with the NDP, she can prevent an election. If she cannot work with the NDP but can present a new face to the voters and the public sector and private sector unions, she may not be able to avoid an election but can probably maintain a minority Liberal government, with a few lost seats as “punishment” from the voters.

    If she cannot work with the NDP, and cannot bring back the image of cooperation, then in the event of an election the progressive vote would end up being split and the PC party would likely win a minority government … or in a really crazy situation all 3 parties could end up with more or less equal numbers of seats, which would be really interesting to see. Can someone say “provincial unity government?” (probably hard for anyone at Queen’s Park to say it though).

    Wynne has made it clear that we are going to have to spend more in order to get better transit. Can she also act to ensure that the money is spent in the most efficient and effective way possible (while still leaving room for “regional” and “local” improvements that are spread through the GTHAN…cannot forget Niagara)? Because the legacy of the previous government does not suggest that they were in full control of all the files and folders on their collective desks.

    As for the revenue tools itself…a regional sales tax is simple and effective but it won’t directly motivate people to use public transit, reduce the number of driving trips or encourage redevelopment of the GTHA into a more urban-like form. A system of tolls would raise revenues but cost more, and it would not necessarily remove a lot of long-range trips from our roads and highways … nor would it encourage that urban form. A parking levy might reduce unnecessary trips, increase demand for public transit and (and I think this is important) get private corporations to reconsider their massive parking lots and sprawl-friendly developments … but will it raise enough revenue to pay for the transit?

    My personal view is that we will need a combination of the 3 mentioned above. 1% sales tax paying for big-ticket “regional” transit projects, express lane toll routes (yeah, that again) paying for “local” rapid transit and regular transit projects, and parking levies to pay for improvements to active transport, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and local transit

    Cheers, Moaz

    Steve: I think any idea that the revenue tools would have a direct relationship to changing travel patterns is a pipedream. The thing that will encourage people to use transit is to have more and better transit service. I really get tired, no a lot more than that, fed up with people whose only model for behaviour depends on economic incentives rather than simply providing better service and making the product more attractive.

    As for the NDP, if they know what’s good for them, they will support the Wynne government rather than finding ways to pick fights and force an election. We do not need a repeat of the situation where the centre-left’s credibility falls apart and the Tories rule with only 1/3 of the vote.

  16. Sharon Yetman says:

    The part that throws me is if Metrolinx is trying to get money from all these municipalities, when in fact the grand total is 1.5 Billion for Peel LRT, 1.2 Billion for Hamilton LRT, 2.8 Billion for Yonge Subway, 7.4 Billion for DRL. (the 4 BIG projects ) only cost 12.9 Billion Dollars, and yet Metrolinx are attempting to get 34 Billion in new taxes. The Ontario Goverment already have a 13 Billion Dollar Annual budget for all infrastructure projects.

    Arguably 13 Billion Dollars plus 10% for inflation say 14.3 Billion spread over 15 years, the Ontario Government could pay for all of the transit projects at setting aside 1 Billion of their 13 Billion Annual Budget for hese 4 major transit projects. Yet Metrolinx is fear mongering everyone for 34 Billion Dollars new wave projects. Does this not just sound like a way to tax the people and lower provincial debt, since our gas tax, hst, land transfer tax, health tax, income tax, licence tax, and dozens of other taxes, are they not to provide “transit infrastructure funding” on a ongoing budgetted basis?

    Steve: You left out a few biggies notably GO service expansion and electrification. Here is the full Next Wave list:

    Brampton-Queen BRT     $  600m
    Dundas BRT                600
    Durham BRT                500
    GO Expansion            4,900
    GO Lakeshore Express    1,700
    GO KW Electrification     900
    Hamilton                1,000
    Hurontario LRT          1,600
    DRL                     7,400
    Yonge North             3,400
    
    Total                 $22,600m
    

    Of the $34-billion, 25% is earmarked for local projects and road leaving only $25.5b for the 10 Metrolinx projects. Yes, there is a discrepancy, but not as great as you make out. I will enquire about this.

  17. I never liked GO’s handling of both the Toronto-Niagara and Toronto-Kitchener lines. The Kitchener route is a somewhat natural extension from Georgetown. But VIA has pulled service on the Niagara line although they did do reasonable service (even #92, which departed Niagara Falls in the early afternoon on the weekends had decent patronage anytime I rode it.)

    To me, it would be a good idea for the Federal and Provincial Governments to provide a joint funding policy for VIA, like with Amtrak in the U.S. That way the Ontario Government can help provide service to some areas without expanding GO Transit. For example, when service increases for Kitchener, the earlier VIA train from London to Toronto (via Kitchener) could be reinstated – it would make it more practical for everyone as the VIA train would not make all the stops that the GO train would – so longer distance travellers wouldn’t have as long a ride (yet paying a premium for the service) and passengers from the ‘smaller’ stations would have more spaces to find on the existing trains.

    Steve: This line also needs to be reviewed for its role as a service connecting cities other than Toronto along the route. It needs trains at times that are convenient for university students as one obvious example. We need to get away from a focus on getting folks to and from Union Station in Toronto.

  18. Neil says:

    I’ve never understood why an “Investment Strategy” is the task of Metrolinx. Other departments and ministries aren’t burdened with figuring how to fund themselves. This is the ministry of finance’s job.

    Finance has many levers: Flat taxes like GST, graduated taxes like income tax. Raise 1 or more of them. I don’t care which. Either way the money comes from us. Provincial or Federal? Does it matter? It will still come from us. Tax businesses, they pass on the costs to their consumers. That’s us. We will pay for transit or no one will. Adults know this. Who needs the conversation?

  19. Bradley Wentworth says:

    @anon

    To be fair to Metrolinx they seem to have a core of active transportation activists. They just don’t toot their own horn. One of them told me Metrolinx paid for the bike racks on all local transit buses across the GTHA. Plus they put them on GO buses which took a lot more bureaucratic wrangling because stowing a bike externally like that on a 400 series freeway contravenes the Highway Traffic Act, so they had to get an exception from every municipality GO Buses travel through. That must have been fun.

    I’ve helped organize bike mechanics to fix bikes for free at Metrolinx information tents they set up at various farmers’ markets last summer. Their goal was to explain various ongoing construction projects; free bike tune-ups were a perk/enticement. The problem as I see it is twofold: first, as Steve pointed out, it’s not Metrolinx’ mandate to promote local, active transportation (perhaps it should be?) Second, active transportation has an uphill climb against a legal and cultural establishment that favours the automobile, whether it’s minimum parking requirements for new construction or the vast millions or billions spent on advertising/bailing out the auto industry respectively.

    This all stems from personal anecdotes by the way, but from the conversations I’ve had with actual Metrolinx employees (sadly, not members of the board) I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

  20. W. K. Lis says:

    It may also help to put an end to FREE PARKING. Also none residential (non-visitor) parking should be pay parking, even if only a token amount to cover the cost of ticket machines.

    Today, I see parking lots of shopping malls (IE. Dufferin Mall) where there is free parking, but close by there is meter parking on the arterial roads (IE. Bloor Street). So what happens, people drive (even if they live a couple blocks away).

    It is worse in the 905 and suburban areas of Toronto. Acres or hectares of asphalt deserts that provide a free storage area for motor vehicles that courageous pedestrians have to safari across, hoping that they don’t get hit to become dinner for a hungry automobile.

    In addition, they are single-level (lucky if they are two or three) story, single-use buildings. Why can’t offices be above the stores? Why can’t residencies be above the offices (to insulate from the noise of the stores)?

  21. Sharon Yetman says:

    Thanks Steve,

    How many kilometers is being built with the 4.7 Billion Dollars of Go Expansion? Why does this cost so much since it is primarily just laying track, and signalling? As for the all day service, that just means trains are not parked doing nothing during the day.

    Go Lakeshore Line, is this also not, simply laying new track? How many kilometers of track is being built here? Why would this cost as much as 1.7 Billion Dollars? Thanks for you answers. You do certainly help hold governments accountable.

    Steve: The GO expansion involves more than track. There is major work to upgrade the signal system both for handling closer train spacing, and to make the electronics compatible with electrification. Then there is the electrification itself. Finally, peak service will be improved and that does require more trains (and more storage/maintenance facilities). Some of this info is available on various Metrolinx websites either as part of The Big Move, the Next Wave, the GO site, or Metrolinx board meeting presentations.

    As to your question about the discrepancy in Next Move costing, Metrolinx advises that they will send me a reply sometime on Monday.

  22. Steve, I agree that building more and better transit will encourage some people to use transit but we also have to reconcile that with the twin problems of long distance commutes (which are currently not favourable to transit unless you are bound for Union station) and the GTHA growing by 100,000 people per year.

    Remember how you pointed out that GO Lakeshore has served to absorb a lot of commuter trips…so, while the QEW is still jammed during rush hour it would be much, much worse without GO train and bus services.

    With all those new people (and most of that growth happening in the transit and pedestrian-unfriendly suburbs), I don’t think that better transit by itself is going to be enough. Hence, we need incentives and disincentives to driving (and eventually owning) cars.

    Aside from a variety of revenue sources, Metrolinx needs a better variety of carrots and sticks.

    Steve: If we only bring out a big stick penalizing all drivers (including those who have no option), but don’t also make transit much more attractive for non-core trips where this is possible, all we will get is a lot of very angry motorists. Even though I am not a car driver, too often I hear calls to do nasty things to motorists but little by way of replacement strategies that would benefit not just those drivers, but transit users in general.

    The biggest incentive to not own a car is having good transit close to where you live, work and play. As we know from the reaction to gas prices, motorists will downsize, they may drive less, but they will still drive. Pricing penalties have to be huge to have an effect, and they have to remain in place long enough to outlast the current “fleet” owned by the people whose behaviour we seek to change. That’s a critical point when the cost of that extra car (or even the first one) suddenly jumps.

  23. Better service and a more attractive product are economic incentives because they have the ability to influence the choices and decisions we make.

    Cars already have those economic incentives built into their ownership and use which is why many people choose to drive over walking, cycling or using transit. On top of that our society (governments, corporations) have added a lot of monetary incentives to encourage car ownership and driving … from “free”, wide roads and vast “free” parking to sprawled out suburban development and discouraging proper density … not to mention all those commercials selling cars and government “investment” in auto manufacturers.

    That is why I think that better transit will make a difference for some but it will not be enough, by itself, to effect real change throughout the GTHA+N

    Cheers, Moaz

  24. Kevin says:

    Steve: Ottawa was quite clear when the combined tax was cut by two percent that it would be very upset (i.e. would withhold funding). Political will is hard to come by when you have a loaded gun pointed at your head.

    I’m no partisan; or an apologist for any government; however, I must have missed this.

    I should note, both Quebec and Nova Scotia did raise their HST/PST rates to occupy some or all vacated space left by the feds, and I gather they were not penalized for so doing, nor am I aware of a any Federal power that would permit that.

    Obviously there are always ‘discretionary’ funding envelopes where some ‘penalty’ could be exacted; but given the list of Federal projects funded in both of those provinces AFTER the increases in HST … I can’t say that I see any ‘penalty’ in action.

    I do stand to be corrected.

    Steve: This was part of the “deal” for Ontario to adopt the HST. Stay out of the “tax room” created, or Ottawa won’t give you the payments on cost shared programs you are expecting. Ontario received $4.3-billion, and this was conditional on adoption of the HST. (The source for this information is a quote from the Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan, who should know what he is talking about.) BC voters chose to ditch the HST, and BC faces paying $1.8-billion back to Ottawa.

  25. Michael Forest says:

    Jon Johnson said:

    “What counts is this, by increasing the HST to historic norms the province can fully pay for an ideal transit system within a reasonable time frame.”

    As a resident of Toronto, I would agree with this approach.

    However, residents of rural Ontario will likely object to any new taxes imposed on them to support transit expansion in the GTA and Ottawa area, since they will not see any benefit from such expansion.

    Region-based revenue tools are more likely to be accepted.

  26. Raymond Kennedy says:

    The low cost of ownership of a private automobile and its operating costs contributes to the ridiculous traffic gridlock affecting the GTA. Look at what passes by you on every street and road. 90% of private autos transport one person, the driver. It works against transit.

    In many countries the cost of automobile ownership is very high. Countries as far apart and as different as Sweden, Thailand and Denmark all tax automobiles heavily. Denmark: Sales tax 25% Then Registration of said vehicle costs 10% on the first $10,000 and 180% on the balance! Grand total = 203% of purchase price! Gas is $9.69 a gallon! How’s that?

    We will never get rid of gridlock no matter what we do. (because no government has the guts to do what is necessary) . It will only get worse.

  27. Karl Junkin says:

    Raymond Kennedy said: It isn’t clear at all. In fact, quite the opposite is clear. Electric trains are NOT silent. They may be a little quieter but the most noise comes from the train itself. Vibrations are also a source of aggravation.

    The best example for comparison can be had simply by standing near any location where the subway runs in an open right-of-way.

    Steve: Actually, the example of a subway right-of-way was mine in a reply, I think, but I digress.

    It’s true that everything makes noise. The kind of shoes you wear in combination with the kind of floor you walk on will influence how much noise is generated, but all make noise, even if nearly inaudible. Philipp’s point, in fairness, was not that electric trains make no noise, but that a noise wall wouldn’t be required with electric vehicles. Philipp is correct as the noise increase relative to current operations would be a lot less than what was modelled for a diesel-based expansion.

    Over the years, I’ve lived in properties that are adjacent to GO corridors in east-end Toronto, in Mississauga, in Brampton, and in Etobicoke. I know first hand what living beside the GO tracks sounds like (including basement apartments in two out of the four examples above). I’ve also lived beside non-underground subway tracks, and I agree that this is an excellent comparison.

    What seems to get no acknowledgement or recognition is the fact that rail-wheel noise doesn’t travel very far. If you stand at the “front end” (relative to your direction of travel) of the platform at Victoria Park or Warden, for example, you will not hear the train until it enters the station enclosure, with the exception of special trackwork. Same applies for southbound entering Eglinton West, westbound entering Kipling, and Rosedale (I leave out Davisville because it has special trackwork out the wazoo), among others. If you’re more than 100m or so away from the train, you’re not going to hear the rail-wheel noise unless you make a conscious effort to try and listen for it, unless there’s a track switch or diamond in the area. You WILL hear it in underground parts of the system because the tunnels trap the noise, as well as create additional noise from air displacement within a confined space between car body and tunnel wall – this is why once the train enters the enclosure at Warden, Victoria Park, or Eglinton West stations, you suddenly hear the train clearly; the noise is now largely trapped by the station enclosure.

    I remember about a year and change ago, I was having a chat about the Junction area (where 3 GO lines converge) with a friend, and we happened to be near the subway tracks between High Park and Runnymede. We got close to the tracks, and waited for a train to go by, as we were discussing relative noise levels. The verdict was that subway, even up close, doesn’t make much noise; it’s a perfectly acceptable level of noise as the noise doesn’t travel very well. Even when we could see the train with our eyes, we couldn’t hear it until it was ~100m from us (it was definitely less than a 6-car train length).

    The diesel locomotives, by contrast, can be heard from a kilometre away. I ride GO daily, and for trains leaving in the opposite direction, I can hear that engine continue to roar from 3 platform lengths away. 3 GO platforms is a kilometre. Moreover, up close, the diesel engines are handily noisier by many decibels than any subway train (without squeaky brakes).

    The difference in noise levels between diesel locomotives and subways is like night and day.

    Steve: This has to be tempered by the situation. Wheel on rail noise is at a fairly high frequency while diesel engines throb at a low frequency. That’s an important component of why the latter travel farther. Ground-borne vibration is a problem in the subway because of the track structure and tunnel which provide less damping than ties and ballast on a railway. Also, the wheel noise from subway trains is along the length of the train and tends to travel outward from the train, not along its length where the noise is shielded by the carbodies. That’s why you don’t hear the trains coming at Vic Park and other transitions from open air track to stations.

    The situation along the Weston corridor is of concern because the tracks and buildings are close together. That said, the noise profile from a self-propelled diesel car (e.g. the ARL) will not be the same as from a locomotive and overall noise cannot be expressed in “trains per day” without making this distinction.

  28. W. K. Lis says:

    It should be remembered that with the car, the rural farmer was no longer isolated. Without the car (or truck), the furthest one could go was how long before their horse got tired. With the car, that distance takes less time (until they hit the traffic jam).

    There were more villages, built around crossroads than now. But to buy the latest goods, one had to either do a mail-order or plan a trip into the big city or town.

    Today, with the car, even the hobbyist or “gentlemen” farmer can live far from the city, but still make it to the nearest shopping mall or their 9-to-5 job without having to do a trip into downtown.

    Until the price of oil increases that is. Then, slowly, they could become isolatists again. Those nearest the cities will demand more transit service to serve them, but the costs to deliver that service will get more and more expensive. To reduce costs before then, we need to stop the sprawl that requires the use of a car for just about every transportation needs.

    Steve: I agree, but dealing with congestion that now exists on the basis of land use requires major, long-term upheavals that, even if we could force society into implementing them, would have little effect even in a moderate timeframe of 15 years.

    I live in a neighbourhood where all my shopping is in walking distance from my home. This is not just a question of having a convenience store a block away, but of a whole commercial ecology of pharmacies, restaurants, cafes, banks, a Loblaws, a flower shop, an LCBO, barbers and hair dressers, a few dollar stores, and so on. How does one establish this sort of thing in the middle of an existing residential community where no space was left for it? The closest built form we have in the older suburbs is the strip mall which, of course, was designed around the car rather than the pedestrian, but even these are not necessarily in walking distance for many people.

    If you know the old neighbourhoods of Toronto (1920s and earlier), you will recognize former corner stores that are now used as houses or offices. They are everywhere, but that fine-grained network of really local “on every corner” variety store is long gone. That change is as much a result of economics of scale as of an auto-oriented society.

  29. Steve wrote:

    “We need to get away from a focus on getting folks to and from Union Station in Toronto.”

    True. But for VIA Rail and GO Transit, the only other option I can readily see is Summerhill. Bloor station, and Kipling work too – but then again it all depends on an intergration between the railway companies and the TTC. And where people are actually going.

    Steve: I was speaking in the context of the GTHA. Downtown Toronto is not the only market and there is travel demand at a smaller scale centred on cities along the rail lines. When GO moves to all day, two-way service, this will change the role of these stations which are mainly in the central part of older cities. However, there must be local transit connecting to those trains so that their benefit does not stop at the walking-distance perimeter from the stations.

    There is also the problem of population centres that are not on rail corridors and which, for transit, are dependent on the bus industry. As we have seen elsewhere in Canada, this is a declining mode of travel with service completely removed in many locations. Should there be a public policy and duty to provide service on this scale, not just within the major cities? That’s an inevitable question for a provincial discussion of transportation priorities and funding.

    Steve wrote:

    “If we only bring out a big stick penalizing all drivers (including those who have no option), but don’t also make transit much more attractive for non-core trips where this is possible, all we will get is a lot of very angry motorists. Even though I am not a car driver, too often I hear calls to do nasty things to motorists but little by way of replacement strategies that would benefit not just those drivers, but transit users in general.”

    That’s a major problem – especially with politicians. You cannot simply tell someone not to drive. We do live in a democracy and we cannot tell someone that he/she cannot own a car. However, we need incentives to take transit as well as a transit system that actually works. I believe a toll can work – perhaps limiting it to highways at first. Basically, if you want to drive, you have an option on the ‘slower’ non-highway options (main streets, side streets) for free, or pay to take the ‘faster’ highway.

    But as Michael Forest stated, Regional options might work as well. Again, in the middle of rural Ontario, a vehicle is almost required – transit options cannot go miles without customers. While urban dwellers can certainly provide the density required for transit and a good transit system can, and should, provide an alternative to a car, which would then become less of a must.

  30. Kevin says:

    Steve:

    This was part of the “deal” for Ontario to adopt the HST. Stay out of the “tax room” created, or Ottawa won’t give you the payments on cost shared programs you are expecting. Ontario received $4.3-billion, and this was conditional on adoption of the HST. (The source for this information is a quote from the Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan, who should know what he is talking about.) BC voters chose to ditch the HST, and BC faces paying $1.8-billion back to Ottawa.

    Not to get tied up on this issue, but that didn’t sound quite right still. So I went searching for the info.

    What I found is this, from the paper on Ontario HST implementation by Certified General Accountants of Ontario:

    “Further, Ontario may increase or decrease the OVAT rate only after two years from implementation.” (bottom of page 8)

    So there was a limitation, however this no longer applies. (rule would have expired July 1, 2012)

  31. Robert Wightman says:

    Raymond Kennedy says:

    February 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    “In many countries the cost of automobile ownership is very high. Countries as far apart and as different as Sweden, Thailand and Denmark all tax automobiles heavily. Denmark: Sales tax 25%, then Registration of said vehicle costs 10% on the first $10,000 and 180% on the balance! Grand total = 203% of purchase price! Gas is $9.69 a gallon! How’s that? ”

    Your value of 203% does not compute. If a car costs $40 000 then:

         the sales tax is 25% of $40 000 or $10 000
         registration is  10% of $10 000 or $ 1 000
         plus            180% of $30 000 or $54 000
         grand total is                     $65 000
    

    which is 162.5% of $40 000. The grand total of costs as a percentage varies with the cost of the car and 203% is only true for one value. If you bought a $10 000 car then the sales tax would be $2500 and the registration would be $1000 for a total of $3500 which is only 35% of the car’s value, a lot less than 203%, but still a tidy sum.

    I am not saying your idea is wrong but trying to turn a complicated sliding rate into a single value is not possible. It only makes your argument looked flawed to anyone who tries the math on a different value than you chose. The minimum value of sales tax plus registration is 35% for cars up to $10 000 and increases beyond that. Do you mean dollars or Euro’s?

    Steve: The value above $10k will be taxed at 205% (the 25% sales tax plus the 180% registration tax). The more expensive the car, the higher the combined tax rate and it will close in on, but never reach, 205% as the price goes up. The effective rate reaches 100%, the value of the car, just beyond the $16k mark, and hits 150% at about $31k. By the time the vehicle price hits $200k, the tax is up to 197% and climbing slowly. It doesn’t reach 200% until the price gets to about $350k. 203% would apply only to a car costing over $800k, not the sort of thing found in a typical driveway.

  32. Kevin, thanks for checking that out. Perhaps Wynne already knows. It might explain her confident stance on increasing revenues with these available tools.

    In any case I will make the point to my mpp, mp and local councillor. I expect the media will pick up on this soon … faster if we help.

    Cheers, Moaz

  33. Raymond Kennedy says:

    @Robert Wightman. As I read it the Registration fee is AFTER adding the 25% sales tax to the purchase price. Other countries also have very high taxes/fees on automobiles.

  34. It’s a nice idea to do the automobile tax – but I think we have enough problems with the car industry in Canada – and the CAW will lobby against anything that might continue the lowering of car manufacturing in Canada. Plus, this sort of taxation would likely be political suicide on its own.

    A small tax might work – but it has to be uniform. Or better yet, add two cents a litre for fuel. Basically, the more you drive the more you pay for transportation infrastructure and operation.

    Steve: But should only motorists pay for subway expansion?

  35. Isaac Morland says:

    A good place to start would be for government to eliminate policies that discourage or make impossible the construction of good urban form.

    Those wonderful old streets with continuous apartments-above-commercial are illegal to build in almost every zone. Same for the corner grocery stores. Now, I don’t know where either of those would be commercially successful if built, but right now it’s illegal to build them so we’ll never know.

    Similarly, minimum parking requirements are a bizarre imposition on the freedom of property owners to develop their property as they see fit. Imagine if Loblaw’s was required to produce so much bread that its market value was zero and it effectively had to be given away (and still much of it would be thrown out). That though experiment is not fiction if we replace “bread” with “parking”. Except that the negative economic impacts are much worse with parking, because the value of the resources in question is higher (bread is cheap).

    So I would start by dramatically liberalizing zoning laws. “Live-work” should be as-of-right in every residential zone. No parking minima. Reduced or eliminated setback requirements in every zone with respect to setback from roads; setback requirements between adjacent properties should be a matter between those owners. That is, I would not be able to build closer to my neighbour than some particular distance, as of right, but if they waived the setback I could build however close we agreed (and yes, of course it goes without saying that sometimes people would therefore pay their neighbours for the right to build up to the property line).

    If the above were fleshed out into an actual proposal, rather than a one-paragraph description of an idea, it would be a beginning to allowing everybody, not just those working in government, the freedom to try out possible solutions locally. This would cost very little since it’s just a matter of reducing the onerous impact of regulation on land use.

    Next, all expressways should be fully funded—capital and operating—out of tolls, similar to the 407 (except that the government should not be so grossly irresponsible as to sell any of them to a Spanish consortium for cheap, or indeed at any price that a private consortium would be willing to pay). Expressways are clearly a value-added government service that benefit those who are able to use them, and they are now easy to toll. This is distinct from local roads which clearly must exist and benefit everybody, and which are harder to toll. Of course this idea is probably a non-starter but maybe in the new environment we can at least consider making new expressways pay for themselves.

    The tolling concept also supersedes any discussion of HOV/HOT lanes or other complicated schemes that invite abuse. Just charge enough that there is no excessive congestion. Congestion gone, and lots of money available to build what is required. Same deal for parking (see SF Park).

  36. Robert Wightman says:

    Raymond Kennedy says:

    February 3, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    “@Robert Wightman. As I read it the Registration fee is AFTER adding the 25% sales tax to the purchase price. Other countries also have very high taxes/fees on automobiles”

    If this is the case then the effective tax rate is 37.5% on the value up to $10 000 or euros and 225% on the value above $10 000. In either case 203% is only for 1 specific value. One of the reasons that there is so much tax avoidance in some countries is that the tax rates are unfair or enforced in an inequitable manner. We do not want that to happen here.

    We cannot expect one group of tax payers to pay the entire, or major portion, of the costs for improved transit. Since improving transit will also improve the ability of roads to carry motor vehicles motorists, as well as transit users, should pay part of the cost. Any new taxes not only need to be fair, they need to be seen as fair and reasonable.

    Using gas and vehicle taxes to fund transit could in the long run be self defeating because people will switch to more fuel efficient cars will will reduce the revenue stream. Their ability to reduce road use and congestion though will be beneficial to society.

    People have to realize that nothing is free and that they need to pay for what they get. The trick is to find a good balance.

  37. Steve wrote:

    “But should only motorists pay for subway expansion?”

    Well, should I have to pay for the cost of maintaining the vast number of roads that I never, nor likely ever will, use? Motorists already get free access to roads – which is partly why I think we need a toll for highways.

    But no, motorists are not the only ones who should pay – but better service will attract some drivers away. However, a two cents a litre tax would be a start. But also, by using tolls to cover the costs of the roads, that money would be freed up from the current budget to cover transit – so not a direct “payment” but indirectly.

    As for other options, there are taxes on property, development charges that go to transit, 2% of the HST being dedicated to transit, etc. And as a user I already pay for the operating budget. But then again, the Eglinton LRT will be a route I might never use (I don’t use the current bus now), but I do support my taxes going to it as it is a benefit.

  38. Walter says:

    Two comments that should be made:

    The HST of 13% was created as the sum of the old GST and PST – this was actually a tax hike. The new HST gets applied to a lot of services that were subject to no PST before.

    Also, I believe there are many people who do not think they use roads, but they buy food and merchandise that arrives by road, they create garbage (recyclables) which is picked up using the roads, they use buses that run on the roads, and they are accessible to emergency services using the roads.

    Generally, the problem with road tolls is that it punishes people who followed the rules before. Someone who lives near Yonge and Sheppard and drives downtown pays no tolls, although we have never wanted them to drive along Yonge and they have an alternative readily available. Someone who lives near 404 and Vic Park was encouraged to move there since there is a reasonable route downtown via the DVP and there is not transit alternative. This person will have to pay tolls.

  39. Lars says:

    Robert Wightman;

    Danish math is not the same as Canadian math. The base price for cars in Denmark is cheaper then in Canada before taxes. They get away with this because manufacturers want to compete, plus it’s a small population so they will cut their losses. Also as far as gas price is concerned, nobody drives far in that tiny country and cars are small with low consumption, so the average car owner pays less in fuel costs per paycheck. Plus insurance is cheaper over there. In the end, public transit is relatively expensive in Demark unless you are entitled to a discount like the elderly.

    Denmark and Canada is apples to oranges. Not that there is anything wrong with comparing to other places, but the grass is not as green as it may look.

  40. Robert Wightman says:

    Lars says:

    February 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm
    @Robert Wightman;

    “Danish math is not the same as Canadian math. The base price for cars in Denmark is cheaper then in Canada before taxes. They get away with this because manufacturers want to compete, plus it’s a small population so they will cut their losses. Also as far as gas price is concerned, nobody drives far in that tiny country and cars are small with low consumption, so the average car owner pays less in fuel costs per paycheck. Plus insurance is cheaper over there. In the end, public transit is relatively expensive in Demark unless you are entitled to a discount like the elderly.”

    I am sorry but Math is Math regardless of what country it is in and the effective tax rate is 37.5% on the value up to $10 000 or euros and 225% on the value above $10 000. In either case 203% is only for 1 specific value. The pricing system and taxation system may be different 37.5% is still 37.5%. I fail to comprehend your whole statement and why is it addressed to me. I did not make the original argument; I just pointed out the flaw in the logic.

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