Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Right’s Transit Illusions

A couple of weeks ago, before Premier McGuinty shut down the Legislative Assembly, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West – Glanbrook) introduced his party’s plan to address transportation problems in the Greater Toronto Area. First, I applaud Mr. Hudak for proposing substantial ideas on these matters. I hope NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) will follow his lead and suggest hoe her party would govern.

Allow me to summarize Mr. Hudak’s proposal:

1.      The TTC’s light rail and subways should be transferred to a regional transit agency, like Go, and administered by the province.

2.      The major freeways that pass through Toronto would go to the same agency.

3.       Funding would be prioritized for subways, when available.

Karen Stintz, a City Councillor for Toronto and TTC Chair, has raised major objections to Hudak’s proposal. In case you are unfamiliar with Ms. Stintz she falls on the right side of the spectrum in Toronto city politics, but understands the critical need for infrastructure investment. As reported in the National Post, Stintz said that uploading the subways would damage the TTC. The subways are money-makers for the municipal transit agency. With their removal the city would be burdened with running a bus system without financial support

The transfer of power is also a terrible condemnation of the city of Toronto’s ability to govern itself. Perhaps it deserves the slur, but a technocratic, less accountable agency would manage a critical aspect of daily life in the city. I sincerely doubt Toronto is ungovernable, it just has suffered a severe lack of leadership in the past few years. I hope Rob Ford’s successor, whoever he or she is, can build a coalition and some consensus on this issue.

The freeway proposal is interesting and would be put to best use if tolls could be extracted.

Stintz’s big criticism, echoed elsewhere, is Hudak’s idea to support subways without a tangible plan to fund them. As a result Toronto would continue to not build desperately needed infrastructure that is already buckling. Toronto and the province need to hash out an effective way to fund major infrastructure/transit projects in the GTA. Toll roads on the major highways might be a start, as well as a penalized car zone like exists in the heart of London, England. Regardless, as Matt Elliot at Metro says, it’s time to end the TTC fairytales and start to figure this out

I do not know why so many prominent politicians on the right do not understand transit. Mayor Ford's intentions for Toronto's transit system are, if anything, less impractical than Tim Hudak's. John Lorinc, a Toronto journalist who often writes on city politics, urban planning and transit, recently offered some insight on Twitter. He made the argument that fiscal conservatives should support a transit program. The delays in construction dramatically escalate the cost and by putting it off it only exacerbates the problem.

It would be great if someone like Karen Stintz was the right-wing mayor of Toronto, but we’re not so lucky. With a provincial election looming in the not-too-distant future we may have a senseless conservative in Queen’s Park and City Hall running things. Transit should be a less partisan issue, but it is here in Ontario, and we all suffer because of it.

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