What single action could transform urban transportation in the Toronto region?

That was a question posed yesterday morning to a panel assembled by the Transit Alliance focused on greening up Toronto.

As we continue to struggle with the seemingly unsolvable problems of transit funding, planning, and implementation, four transit-focused representatives shared their insights about what might just get us unstuck.

“Listen to the customer,” said David Paterson, VP Corporate and Environmental Affairs, GM Canada. New cars offer comfort, privacy, convenience and on-the-go wifi access. Public transit has to compete with that, and the customer experience on alternative forms of transportation is of critical importance.

“Make sure current systems are reliable,” said Toronto City Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon. We often get focused on the new, when those of us who currently ride transit know that it is definitely needing some love to get it up to scratch. We must make sure there is support for good maintenance of the transportation assets we already have. She also urges us to:

“Vote for the right politicians – or run yourself,” to ensure that City Hall has champions to help advance public transit and active transportation systems.

Make transit seamless across the region,” said Bruce McCuaig, CEO of Metrolinx. We have this for highways and roads – why do regional transit trips have awkward transfers and different price structures? He also prioritized:

“Provide more choice for the first and last mile,” to give people lots of ways to make there way to and from transit at either end of the trip, and to support, by design, effective transition around transit interchanges.

“Integrate land use and transit planning,” said Dr. Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environment Commissioner. These processes are two sides of the same coin and we won’t have green cities without the planning to intensify development and ensure it is aligned with transit lines. Furthermore, we need to adopt:

 “Adopt full cost pricing,” to fairly reflect the true cost of different transportation options. For example, she said, when you take all the social costs into account, including health impacts and business productivity, each kilometer of vehicle travel costs $9. That means that it is drivers, not transit users, who are really the free riders.

“Consitutency building,” says Jennifer Keesmaat, City of Toronto Chief Planner. She is promoting, complete, walkable (and sociable) communities, better transit, and more mid-rise development. But, she concluded, to really get a green city we have to build the constituencies who believe in, or are experiencing the multiple benefits of new green approaches – for example the next generation of young professionals who are rejecting the long commute and living walking distance from their jobs instead.

Some wise advice from people who have given this issue a lot of deep thought.