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OP-ED: How do we pay for the regional transportation network we so urgently need?

Op-Ed by John Tory and Mitzie Hunter
Toronto Star

In recent days and weeks, it’s clear that transportation and “getting there” is becoming an increasingly intolerable daily hassle for people and organizations across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Through the latest polls, at hearings at Queen’s Park, in municipal forums and motions, or in a rant at home or around the water cooler, we’re saying that we’re reaching the end of our patience. We’ve had enough of accommodating a system that is primitive and a major barrier to achieving the potential of this great and potentially global star of a city region.

CivicAction convened close to 1,000 rising and senior leaders at its 2011 Greater Toronto Summit, and we heard loud and clear that an improved regional transportation system is critical to our region’s prosperity.

If we do not leave the decades of underinvestment behind, our economic prosperity, our personal quality of life and our environmental health will be in serious jeopardy: costs of congestion will soar from an already staggering $6 billion to a $15 billion by the year 2030, according to a Toronto Board of Trade study. Air pollution will contribute to tens of thousands of premature deaths; and we will see worsening social outcomes for people who are aging, live with low incomes, or live in areas underserved by transit.

Lack of action is simply not an option.

We have made some progress. The Ontario provincial government agency Metrolinx produced a regional transportation plan in November 2008. The Big Move was signed off on by the province and the region’s municipal councils. That is an accomplishment in itself. But the big unanswered question is, “How do we pay for it?”

The Big Move is, at conservative estimates, a $50-billion plan. Only about 20 per cent, or just over $10 billion, is funded by the provincial and federal governments. That leaves the remaining close to $40 billion up in the air. Existing government revenues alone will not be enough to fund the capital plan, let alone the operation and maintenance of the system.

So whatever the new sources of revenue may be, they have to be new, and sustainable.

Asking people and businesses for more money is always difficult. But people are coming to realize the personal consequences of doing nothing. As the recent Pembina Institute research indicates, people will pay more if they are confident the additional money will be dedicated to fund and improve our transportation network.

By June 1, 2013, Metrolinx is mandated to report on ways to fund the rest of The Big Move. Whatever the recommendations, we need an open-minded response by our politicians without political rhetoric and “do nothing” positions. In today’s uncertain economic climate, we’re in unchartered territory, and inventive approaches will be essential.

To ensure a non-partisan conversation, CivicAction has launched an initiative bringing together a diverse group of leaders representing business, labour, not for profit, academic and community organizations. Together, we will develop a campaign this fall that will invite leaders of organizations to sign on as champions and engage their communities in discussing the urgent need for a dramatically improved regional transportation network, and how to pay for it.

We have some of the most creative thinkers here in the GTHA. Collectively, we can get people behind a desire to see forward movement by their governments on this most critical issue.

History shows us that we’ve done major infrastructure projects before that have helped advance the region and which we now can’t imagine living without.

Let’s show that we are capable of an adult discussion about something we all want, we all need, and we all know must be funded.

John Tory is chair and Mitzie Hunter is chief executive officer of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance.

View the original article here.