Metrolinx Investment Strategy needed now

As the Transit City “phasing” or “cuts” debate continues, it has moved from a calm debate about funding priorities to a full-on rhetorical donnybrook. Parties on both sides of the argument are seemingly at each other’s throats, with mayor Miller publicly and angrily stating that he never agreed to Metrolinx “cuts” and Transport minister Kathleen Wynne offering an inferred threat that Transit City may be cut altogether if the mayor continues to be uncooperative.

The reason for such debate is the paring back of the original provincial commitment to Transit City. Miller is angered, and rightly so, that the funding for a number of routes has been substantially postponed, and some routes, like the Eglinton Crosstown, are proposed to be stubs of their former selves. The official provincial line is that the government is still building everything—it’s just going to take a few years longer. There is some truth to this but to say there are no cuts is a stretch.

Glen Murray, newly minted MPP for Toronto Centre, urbanist, and former mayor of Winnipeg, should understand these battles, as well as the importance of transit to cities. And he does—very often tweeting things such as, “Lets get on with building a transit/active transit centred region. That is why I ran for office.” Sounds very positive and determined. However, Mr Murray isn’t the transport minister, and so what he says about Transit City is disconnected from the official line at the transport ministry. Mr Murray actively discusses alternative financing to get Transit City rolling with his Twitter followers, suggesting that the federal government needs to get more involved financially, that the City should put forward more money, and that the City needs to explore alternative financial resources under the City of Toronto Act. Yet, none of these elements are being (publicly) suggested by the transport minister herself.

Certainly, these things should be on the table, and hopefully they are. But Metrolinx still insists on waiting until 2013 to release their investment strategy. Why the delay? Certainly they are doing a lot of work at 20 Bay, but the delayed release of the Investment Strategy was seen by many as a weakness of the original Regional Transportation Plan, and today we see why. In a political vacuum, it would have been appropriate to discuss financial strategies after a few projects had been built. Yet, here we are today, no “Big Move” projects are completed, Mr Murray is talking about, literally, “investment strategies,” but Metrolinx isn’t. We are certainly not in a political vacuum.

While personally disappointed with the proposed Transit City delays, having worked in the industry I appreciate the pressures that Metrolinx and other agencies operate under. That being said, in these recession-laced times, proposals for new transit-dedicated funds supported through road tolls, gas taxes, and other user fees absolutely must be on the table right now. Candidates for Toronto’s mayor are lukewarm at best in their support of Transit City, and one has to wonder if the Liberals will survive the next provincial election. Given this political climate, if these alternate funding arrangements are not on the table, the GTA truly risks losing the largest investment in public transit in a half-century.

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