New subway train

Premier Kathleen Wynne promises $1.5B per year to invest in transit.

The Royal York Hotel is not TAF’s usual lunch spot, but we found ourselves there this past Monday, along with a dozen members of Move the GTHA. Our path to the Royal York has been one we’ve been travelling for almost two years now, starting with a half-day session in the Don Valley Brickworks in June of 2012. It was during this session that Move the GTHA was born from a dozen community groups representing varying perspectives on life in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Whether we worried about the quality of life in the Toronto region as we wasted more time sitting in traffic, the $6B in annual losses in productivity due to congestion, the growing incidence of chronic disease related to inactivity, or greenhouse gas and air pollution, we all agreed on one thing. We wanted serious, long-term investment in improved transportation infrastructure in the GTHA, especially for transit, and we saw the time between June 2012 and June 2014 as a key window within which we would succeed or fail in securing this commitment from government.

Fast forward past the Metrolinx Investment Strategy release in May 2013 and Anne Golden and Paul Beford’s Transit Investment Strategy in December 2013, to Monday’s event hosted by the Toronto and Region Board of Trade (a Move the GTHA ally). Before lunch was even served to the more than 500 people who attended, Premier Kathleen Wynne planted the flag on the government’s approach to investing in transportation infrastructure province-wide. She announced that the provincial budget – expected in the next few weeks – will include $1.5 billion per year starting in 2014/15 dedicated to funding transit in the GTHA.

At our table were representatives from Toronto Environmental Alliance, CivicAction, Registered Nurses Association of Ontario,Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, the Pembina Institute, and Transport Action Ontario – all active members of Move the GTHA. Others from Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Code Red TO, Toronto Public Health, and Evergreen CityWorks – the Move the GTHA convenor – were in the room or monitoring the speech closely. We were fresh from a morning phone call where we had discussed – as we do on a weekly basis – our approach to creating unified messages to amplify the urgency we all feel about securing the necessary investment to get our region moving. And we took this important opportunity to hear first-hand and analyze jointly what our Provincial leader had to say.

Premier Wynne is making transportation investment a priority in her budget, earmarking portions of existing general revenue streams to create a $1.5 billion GTHA fund dedicated to building and improving the transportation system.

While not the $2 billion per year Metrolinx indicates is needed, the level of investment proposed would certainly kick The Big Move into gear and would significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that stem from transportation – a source of emissions that is persistently growing. But we need more details explaining how the investment in transit will be managed within the full scope of the Provincial budget, and how operating costs and improvements, not just capital costs, will be addressed. All the same, buoyed by the Province’s commitment, the room gave the Premier a standing ovation.

Based on a recent Angus Reid poll, commissioned jointly by the groups involved in Move the GTHA, the public is warming to the idea of prioritizing transportation funding, with 59% of respondents saying they would be more likely to support a political leader who proposed one or more funding ideas to improve their transportation options. But key revenue generating tools like increases to the gas tax and to the HST still receive a resounding thumbs down from the public.

The municipal realm offers a similarly conflicted response. Toronto City Council passed a resolution on May 7, 2013 indicating their endorsement for dedicated revenues to be implemented by the Province to fund the Metrolinx Big Move plan, yet did not endorse any specific revenue generating approaches and explicitly rejected twelve revenue tools under consideration.

So while the Premier’s announcement does offer a watershed moment in this long-simmering public dialogue, what happens when the provincial budget is presented next month is critical.

Along with our Move the GTHA colleagues, we will make sure the implementation of a regional transportation system is top-of-mind among political decision makers and the public. TAF’s carbon reduction mandate – and the planet – demands it.