Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Continued Cost of Congestion

Eleven months ago I wrote about the cost of congestion. At the time the annual cost to Toronto of traffic congestion was pegged at about $6 billion each year. In addition, Toronto’s commute (80 minutes on average) was the longest in the world.

Metrolinx provides different numbers here, but regardless, it is the trend line. Metrolinx reports that the cost of Toronto’s congestion in 2006 was $2.7 billion, and estimates it would inflate to $7.8 billion by2031. The study likely takes into account planned transit projects. I am not entirely sure it should.

The relatively simply light rail projects in Toronto (St. Clair and Eglinton lines) are not expected to be complete until 2020. That’s a long time. Toronto’s transit programmes are also delayed periodically by changes in regime. The 1995 and 2010 elections killed established transit plans. It’s almost as though the TTC cannot get any headway before the mood of city hall shifts and causes a problem.

Coming out of Brampton I have seen some of the benefits of long-term stable planning. Mayor Susan Fennell has been in office for a number of terms and was elected first in 2000. The city’s Züm strategy and Brampton Transit reforms were able to get going because the leadership backed them. Admittedly it is easier to introduce bus systems than light rail or subways. The investment in infrastructure is far less, as is the wrangling of political support.

Toronto seems to have quite a partisan attitude to public transit. The left and right battle over the existence of transit, much like American politicians do for transit. It is a destructive debate that is not common (or so I imagine) in other major cities. I sincerely doubt right-wing politicians in Paris, London or New York see a limited role for transit. Good transit is good for business, again, see the cost of congestion. Without eliminating cars from the road through draconian methods the only other solution is to move people onto trains, buses and streetcars.

Ironically, in this Toronto Star article the author warns that Metrolinx, a provincial organization designed to aid public transit, may be unduly interfering with Toronto’s initiatives.  The last thing Toronto’s transit network needs it more interference. I agree with the suggestion that Metrolinx should focus more on regional connections.

I also wonder if the provincial capital should be experimenting more with bus rapid transit programmes. As this 2011 article lays out it can be much more cost efficient. BRT is also less disruptive. Though Mayor Ford is pro-car in the so-called War Against Cars, buses may be viewed as more palatable. Regardless, the band-aid and weak solutions will continue to hurt Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area in the decades to come. As I’ve said before it behooves municipalities and the citizens who live in the Golden Horseshoe to view this as a common problem. What’s good for Toronto and other parts of the region strengthen us all. Something must improve by 2031.

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