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Op-Ed: Greater Toronto’s political gridlock over transportation must end

Governments need to commit new funds to a regional transportation network and, at the same time, show how they will take better care of taxpayers’ money.

That was the consensus of Canadian and international urban experts at a recent forum in Toronto, where the path to an efficient, affordable, accessible and connected network in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) was debated.

It’s not news that the GTHA, which produces a fifth of Canada’s gross domestic product, has a traffic-congestion crisis on its hands. The cost of inaction is high – approximately $6-billion in lost economic opportunity annually – and it will only get worse.

Every year, the GTHA welcomes 100,000 new residents. It’s like having the population of Kingston moving in next year, or Hamilton over five years, or Greater Montreal within the next few decades. We keep building new condos, but not the infrastructure to support them. We have more cranes than anywhere else, so why have we got fewer trains than most other cities of our scale?

We need to invest to maintain our global competitiveness. According to a TD Economics report that framed the forum’s discussion, nine in10 executives surveyed view infrastructure as an important factor in where they locate and expand their businesses. Global innovators are attracted to our region by our quality of life – except when it comes to getting around.

We’ve reached the tipping point. Through CivicAction’s Your32 campaign , residents showed us what they’re giving up through congestion, and that they’re fed up. Seventy-one per cent said so in our recent poll.

The question is how to fix it. Provincial agency Metrolinx will submit recommendations on how to pay for the rest of The Big Move regional transportation plan to the Queen’s Park and heads of municipal governments by June 1.

Money can be found through efficiencies and innovative ways to engage the private sector, but to raise the kind of money that’s needed our elected officials must find new sustainable sources of funding.

Toronto region civic leaders are ready to join a grand regional coalition to stand with politicians to ensure investment happens and that it benefits people and businesses in ways that truly matter. We need to show the people who represent us that we’re ready to see them act under the terms that are important to us. Residents can do that by joining civic leaders and elected officials at all levels across the GTHA to “get a move on” and sign CivicAction’s pledge of support at your32.com .

We are not advocating a blank cheque. We want to see that funds dedicated to transportation are efficiently spent, fair, and sustainable. We need to see governments show a commitment to transparency and accountability in how they spend taxpayer money.

Canada’s largest city-region is not alone in having to confront this issue:

  • In Los Angeles – a hotbed of anti-tax sentiment – citizens voted 67 per cent in favour of a sales tax dedicated to public transit; – Resident of Stockholm voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending a congestion pricing scheme after a trial period in 2006.
  • Bangkok recently raised $5-billion to build urban transit through an IPO.
  • Metro Vancouver has dedicated funding for transportation, and is now investigating how it can develop a more sustainable mix of sources and increase the transparency and accountability of dollars spent.
  • Denver has found ways to maximize the benefits of transportation infrastructure spending for communities through purchasing guidelines and social and employment plans.

The move to index the gas tax in this year’s federal budget signals that transportation is emerging as a key issue in cities across Canada.

In Toronto, we’re at a critical juncture. Now more than ever we need to show our political leaders the breadth of our support and our expectations for their leadership.

When our politicians receive Metrolinx’s Investment Strategy, we want them to know that the public is ready for new sources, and we want them to be ready to take action once and for all.

As PwC’s global cities expert Jan Sturesson put it at the forum, “cities need local leadership to seize global opportunities.” It is time for the GTHA to do exactly that.

Read the op-ed here.

Author:

John Tory and Mitzie Hunter

Appeared In (Publisher):

The Globe & Mail