The Transit Investment Panel: Hard Truths

After Metrolinx produced its report on revenue sources that might fund their regional plan, The Big Move, the whole thing was turned over to a newly created panel by Queen’s Park to review the options.

This panel now has its own website, and has issued the first of three discussion papers on the “Hard Truths” about transit in the GTHA.

One of the most damning statements about the depths to which Toronto has fallen appears in the Introduction:

Toronto used to be considered a transit system leader and all levels of government made bold investments to earn that reputation. We are reaping the benefits of those investments to this day, as a city, region, province, and country.

The Toronto region now ranks as the worst performer in Canada in moving people to and from work and is near the bottom of global rankings.

That’s what happens to a city that rests on a decades-old reputation for its transit network.  Toronto was spared some of the worst effects of hollowed-out downtowns thanks to postwar immigration and a robust local economy, but this masked deeper problems with the lack of investment in mobility around the city and region.  The central city, the one in all the tourist posters, prospered while gradually the suburbs strangled in traffic.

Debates about transit plans and funding are mired in misconceptions about what can and should be done, and the Hard Truths paper is intended to reset the discussion.  Whether the panel will be successful in their aim given the highly polarized political context remains to be seen.

These are hard truths, but until we accept them, we will not be able to have a mature discussion. Decisions will not be based on reason and evidence, but will be one-off decisions aimed at short term political gain.

The six truths are:

  • Subways are not the only good form of transit.
  • Transit does not automatically drive development.
  • The cost of building transit is not the main expense.
  • Transit riders are not the only beneficiaries of new infrastructure.
  • Transit expansion in the region is not at a standstill.
  • We can’t pay for the region-wide transit we need by cutting waste in government alone.

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