What Is Ontario’s Transit Future?

Memo to Dalton McGuinty, Dwight Duncan and Kathleen Wynne:

Queen’s Park makes much of its forward-looking plans for transit, of its commitment to improving travel in the GTA, of its recognition that without more and better transportation, the GTA faces economic strangulation.  Many of the press releases and flattering photos remain available on the Premier’s website.

Now your budget tells the GTA that transit must wait, and begs the questions “how long” and “for what”.  You owe the people who supported your transit vision answers.

Do you still believe in transit?  Do you mean only to defer Metrolinx projects beyond the current financial crunch to smoothe the growth in provincial debt, or has “The Big Move” gone the way of so many other grand schemes for transit networks?  Will you ever return to funding local transit system operations, or are these at the mercy of priorities and financial pressures of municipal governments?

When you announced MoveOntario 2020, you trumpeted the importance of transit to the economic engine that is the GTA.  What has changed?  Do you think a few years’ delay won’t hurt too much?  What happens if years turn into decades?

Is a real commitment to transit too rich for your taste?  Do you worry that transit agencies at all levels lowball their project estimates and overspend at every opportunity?  Do you feel transit cannot compentently be delivered at either the municipal or provincial level?

How do you explain wasteful spending on a subway to Vaughan?  How do you explain discrepancies between the scale of infrastructure spending and demand projections in the Georgetown corridor and the actual claims of your own agency about likely future service?  How do you explain a farecard project whose cost projections have tripled and which shows no sign of implementation?

Will you engage GTA residents with an open discussion of the future of their transportation systems, or will you hide behind a secretive agency, unwilling to face hard decisions about transit funding?

Anyone can take the easy route.  Blame the economy for the current crisis, and seize the opportunity to rethink commitments.  Let the ham-fisted incompetence of one local project, St. Clair, tar the credibility of transit plans generally.  Say this is just a chance to take a breather in the race to better transit, that we’re not quitting the field.

What do you say to the growing population of the GTA, population that will swell whether you fund more transit construction or not?  What do you say to those who knew traffic congestion would always be with us, but thought its growth would be muted as much travel diverted from cars to transit lines?  How many photo ops with twirling windmills will you need to offset delays or cancellations in transit projects?

Ontario talks about its planned attack on the deficit, about its goals for better education systems and health care, but it is silent on the transit portfolio.  Where is the multi-year plan?  What has happened even to the “top 15” projects, let alone “The Big Move”?

You owe us an explanation, and you owe it to us now.