In December 2013, the Neptis Foundation published a review of the Metrolinx Big Move plan authored by Michael Schabas. This review received prominent attention in the Toronto Star and is regularly cited in their coverage of transportation issues. Some elements also appear in recent comments by Transportation Minister Glen Murray, and it is reasonable to assume that his view of Metrolinx priorities has been influenced by the Neptis paper.
Since its publication, I have resisted writing a detailed critique in part because of the sheer size of the document and my disappointment with many claims made in it, and a hope that it would quietly fade from view. Recent Ministerial musings suggest that this will not happen.
The stated goals of the report arose from four basic questions posed shortly after The Big Move was released in 2008:
- What evidence suggests that the projects in the Big Move will double the number of transit riders and significantly reduce congestion in the region, as promised by Metrolinx?
- Does each project offer good value for money?
- Do all the projects add up to a substantial regional transit network or is the Big Move just an amalgam of projects put forward by diverse sponsors?
- How do the projects in the Big Move relate to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, its land use equivalent? [Page 2]
The report itself addresses a somewhat different set of questions and notably omits the land use component.
- Will the Big Move projects achieve the Metrolinx objective of doubling transit ridership?
- Are these projects consistent with Metrolinx’s own “guiding principles”?
- Are they well-designed, consistent with international best practice, and integrated with other transport infrastructure?
- Will they support a shift of inter-regional travel onto transit?
- Are there alternative, more effective schemes that should be considered?
- What changes would help Metrolinx produce better results? [Page 14]
Schabas’ work is frustrating because on some points he is cogent, right on the mark.
Metrolinx has bumbled through its existence protected from significant criticism, swaddled in a cocoon of “good news” and the presumed excellence of its work. To be fair, the agency operates in a political environment where independent thought, especially in public, is rare, and years of planning can be overturned by governmental whim and the need to win votes.
That said, Metrolinx is a frustrating, secretive organization conducting much of its business in private, and tightly scripting public events. Schabas rightly exposes inconsistencies in Metrolinx work, although his own analysis and alternatives are, in places, flawed and blinkered.