Yesterday (October 26), the GTTA Board met in Toronto and unveiled its planning and timetable for the creation of a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). There is a report outlining the work plan for the next year, and an accompanying chart on the GTTA’s site. Related to this is the Communications Framework containing a chart of the public participation process.
This is a very aggressive timetable compared with studies we have seen in the GTA, and the intent is to have a completed plan by fall 2008. Much work needs to be done producing position papers and analyses to convert the shopping list of schemes like MoveOntario 2020 into a prioritized, coherent plan. One refreshing change is that work will not stop for the summer doldrums. Indeed the final feedback and approval processes are scheduled for summer 2008.
A number of interesting comments came out during discussion of these items.
The GTTA is looking forward to the new, streamlined Class Environmental Assessment process that came into effect for most transit projects in September, but recognizes that this is only one part of a larger legislative scheme. For example, federal funding of transit will trigger the Canadian EA process, and this is comparably onerous to the old Ontario one. Other legislation triggers the need for other types of review.
The GTTA hopes to consolidate as much work of these various studies as possible into one process, and is working with the federal environmental officials to ensure that this can be done.
Mayor Miller raised the issue that the structure of the EA fights the consultative process by spending undue time on the choice of technology when the issues that most exercise the public are matters of design and neighbourhood impact. There is hope that with the new streamlined Class EA, more time can be devoted to the subjects that engage people, the “what will it do to me” question.
Funding and prioritization of projects are important parts of the GTTA’s work. On the funding side, the GTTA will co-ordinate its efforts with those of other large regional agencies in Montreal and Vancouver, as well as with the “big city mayors” caucus and its lobby for federal infrastructure funding.
As for prioritization, the short-term focus is on “quick win” projects that can get shovels in the ground and visible improvements as soon as possible (two years or less from project start). As things now stand, only $100-million has been allocated by Queen’s Park for these projects, and an important issue later this fall will be to see whether additional funds will be available in the upcoming fiscal year starting April 1, 2008.
The hard debates will come in 2008 as the project list grows with items missed by MoveOntario 2020 notably much of the day-to-day capital cost of infrastructure and fleet renewal.
Mayors Miller and McCallion made comments that show some, at least, of the GTTA board members are seeing transit on the large scale necessary.
Miller noted that the idea of consulting with “commuters” was inappropriate because these are only a subset of the total transit-using population. Indeed, many issues related to needs for extra household cars and of transit captives in the suburbs come back to transit service designs that only serve downtown-bound commuters.
McCallion noted the importance of service. Subsidies to transit riders via tax rebates have their place, but, as she said, if it’s the middle of winter, and there is no bus to get on, the subsidy is worthless.
As the GTTA Board evolves from a club of regional mayors and chairs to a group that must consider hard questions of policy, planning and finance, their workload will go up and the decisions will not come as easily. Much will depend on funding promises from Queen’s Park and how much Ottawa is prepared to contribute. If the available funds won’t pay for what is really needed, the GTTA could descend into the sort of us-versus-them debates that paralyzed transit planning at the old Metro Toronto council.
The next year will prove whether we, as a region, can address our transportation problems and rise above me-first bickering.
Postscript: The public meeting began with a declaration by Chair Rob McIsaac to Mayor Miller that he had no intention of attempting a TTC takeover. That issue surface with a Toronto Star story, quickly denied by all concerned, that Queen’s Park would like to take over the TTC.
What I think is happing here is left-over manoeuvring about the new Toronto taxes. Some Councillors feel that if the TTC were uploaded, then the new taxes wouldn’t be needed. However, Queen’s Park really doesn’t want to have to worry about the Queen Car, and leaving the TTC (and other systems) in local hands has the benefit of offloading detailed decision-making and complaints about service and fares to the local politicians. Dalton gets the photo ops when construction begins on a new line while David gets to explain why people can’t get better service.