This week’s CivicAction Forum assembled 300 civic, non-profit, business and academic leaders to discuss the transportation challenges facing the GTHA. It was great to be there and I came away with five key insights.
We are at a pivotal moment. Momentum is building among civic leaders – the topic of creating new revenue tools to support regional transportation improvements was practically taboo just six months ago. Now it’s rolling off the tongues of a diverse group of stakeholders driven by bold leadership from the Toronto and Region Board of Trade, CivicAction, and the new Premier.
There is no free lunch. A history of the funding of transit in Toronto showed us that the citizens of Toronto in previous generations bit the bullet and paid to create the transportation assets we now use. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of our growing region without setting aside the money to pay for the infrastructure costs whether sewers, aging electrical grids, or transit. Now we have to pay the piper so we don’t saddle the next generation with our problems. To claim otherwise is misleading and counter-productive.
Public trust has to be earned. It’s abundantly clear that any new funds raised must be dedicated to clearly articulated transportation priorities. The costs need to be shared fairly. There must be transparency and good governance of these funds including regular reporting on how they are being spent and maybe even penalties if targets are not met. Before they’re asked to pay more, people need to be convinced that their contributions are being stewarded well.
Timing is everything. Significant relief from our current congestion will not come immediately. Many of The Big Move projects fit into the “enjoy it with your grandchildren” category illustrated by the Premier’s story of donning her white gloves to ride the new Toronto subway in the late 50s with her grandmother. That said, there are strategies for faster relief like adding more buses and GO trains, expanding active transportation infrastructure (especially where it dovetails with transit and provides coherent commuting routes), and supporting car-sharing, car-pooling, optional toll lanes, and working from home (which saves us the 77 minutes of average commute time, more than double that attractive “32”). And maybe public-private financing arrangements could accelerate project development to deliver new transit options sooner and show people how their monetary contributions are making a practical difference.
We need to get beyond the “inner circle”. An understanding that new revenue streams are needed to resolve our congestion issue has yet to filter down to the voting public. Recent polls show that while 71 percent of respondents are “fed up” with gridlock in the GTHA, only 43 percent think that new dough is needed to resolve it. While CivicAction has launched a new pledge campaign to be driven by their civic leaders, no one is yet conveying clear messages to the broader public. Over the next eight weeks, Toronto Environment Alliance in concert with Move the GTHA is providing Transit Advocate Workshops across the region to stimulate more local conversations across the region through neighbourhood meetings and door-to-door canvassing. Some crisp public messaging from Metrolinx wouldn’t go amiss, and a focus on the $16B of transportation work already underway would be a great place to start.
How about a dozen more initiatives to capture public attention in a way that informs and inspires – who has some creative ideas?