Metrolinx 2.0: PCs and Liberals on same track when it comes to transit

While the Ontario PCs recently laid out their vision for transit, it looks remarkably similar to policies already underway.

In a recent white paper entitled “Paths to Prosperity: Building Great Cities”, the
Ontario PCs lay out a vision for the future of transit and infrastructure in the GTA that looks remarkably similar to the one put in place over the last decade by the governing Liberal party.

The first move by the PCs would be to replace Metrolinx – the provincial agency established in 2006 by the Liberal government to integrate transit planning across the GTA – with another provincial transit agency that would be larger in size and scope. Call it Metrolinx 2.0.

The paper says the time has come for a “truly regional” transit system that would “transfer operations of TTC subways and LRTs to Go Transit, and uploading major highways in the GTA.” With such an agency, the paper argues, the PCs would “demand better value and better customer service.”

And like Ontario’s Liberal party – who this summer helped lead the cause for a subway in Scarborough even as the TTC and other transit officials said ridership didn’t warrant such an investment – the PCs want new subways built across the GTA.

The first PC project on offer will be what is commonly referred to as the Downtown Relief Line – which the PCs are now calling the East-West Express Line. That project was recently criticized in a comprehensive report from the Neptis Foundation, which said that “in its current form [it] is not worthwhile, costing more than it delivers.” Yet the PCs believe that project – with the same route – is the most “desperately needed” subway line in Toronto. Metrolinx and the TTC have also labelled it a project a priority.

The PCs then go on to endorse a Scarborough subway, burying as much of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT as possible and extending the Sheppard Subway – all of which have been floated as possibilities in the past by politicians and transit officials alike.

As for congestion, the PCs believe that “people shouldn’t have to pay tolls” – something that the Liberal party has been unwilling to introduce in recent years, even though in the
Liberals’ last budget they proposed adding tolls for solo drivers in the HOV lanes. Whether those tolls lanes are ever actually implemented remains to be seen.

The PC paper then calls on pension funds from across the country to invest in “government-owned businesses” such as subways, highways, bridges and roads – arguing that these funds already have stakes in similar projects around the world. That, again, aligns with comments made by Ontario’s Finance Minister Charles Sousa who promised recently to make it easier for pension funds to invest in major infrastructure projects by lifting the restriction that institutional investors can only own 30 percent of such projects.

The PCs also believe that “road widening and highway extensions are a big part” of what is needed to relieve congestion on the region’s crowded highways. The Liberals, meanwhile, have already promised to extend the 427 and 407 highways.

The PCs also push for competitive, open tendering and public-private partnerships – even though these policies have already been put in place by the Liberals.

And the PCs want to establish an Ontario Transportation Trust to fund new projects. The proposed trust would distribute as much as $2 billion annually from selling surplus government land and buildings, commercializing subways stations and dedicating new revenues from a growing economy. Yet, that sounds remarkably similar to the Trillium Trust proposed by the Liberals, which would be a dedicated infrastructure fund that would raise money from assets sales.

One idea that the PCs ignore, much like the Liberals, is a policy to introduce competition – either through competitive tendering or other means – in the operation of transit routes and lines across the GTA. While the paper calls for greater commercialization at subway and Go Transit stations, it doesn’t call for a truly competitive and customer-oriented transit system.

Overall, the PCs transit vision is less a vision for new, innovative policies when it comes to transit than a repackaging of many of the same ideas already put in place.

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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