New panel, same transit problems for GTA

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s new transportation panel won’t help solve the GTA’s transit woes.

The haphazard state of transit policy in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) became even more disjointed this week with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement of a “Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel.”

The stated purpose of the politically appointed panel is to “review” suggestions from Metrolinx, the provincial agency in charge of transportation projects from Hamilton to Oshawa, on how to fund transit. Metrolinx has tabled a $50 billion plan to build subways, light rail transit (LRT) and dedicated bus lines, among other ideas, across the region.

To fund those plans, Metrolinx has called on the province to do four things: raise the sales tax, hike gasoline taxes, apply a levy on all off-street, non-residential parking and increase development charges on all new construction across the GTA.

Premier Wynne, presumably, wants reassurances that what’s being recommended is worth pursuing.

Yet, there are two major problems with this panel.

First, Premier Wynne’s new panel largely lacks extensive experience in transportation. Of the twelve members on the panel, only 3 can, in any way, be said to have extensive experience in transportation. How can we expect a board largely made up of individuals with little transit experience to thoroughly review the plans being made by Metrolinx?

Second, this panel further politicizes transit in GTA. Metrolinx, far from being an independent agency, is itself a political organization that is ultimately responsible to the provincial government. The original idea for Metrolinx came in a 2003 election campaign by eventual winner Dalton McGuinty. The board at Metrolinx is also appointed by the province.

And it’s the province that ultimately foots the bill for Metrolinx, due to its status as a Crown Corporation and legislation that says its borrowing must be approved by the Ministry of Finance.

Yet, here we are, with the province creating another panel to oversee an agency that it supposedly already oversees. Is this a rational way to think about transit in GTA?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to political follies being made in the name of transit. The recent political manoeuvring over a subway in Scarborough highlights the dangers that politicians can inflict on a transit system. In that case both politicians at City Hall and Queens Park are advocating for a subway that they admit will never have the ridership to make it financially sustainable. But promising a subway does payoff at the ballot box.

Another panel run by political appointments to review the decisions of a government agency is no way to run a transit system.

Brady Yauch is an economist and Executive Director of the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI). You can reach Brady by email at: bradyyauch (at) consumerpolicyinstitute.org or at (416) 964-9223 ext 236.

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