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The Future of Transportation in the GTA

What do you call people who demand that the government supply an expensive resource to the extent that demand is always exceeded, but adamantly reject the notion of being asked to pay for it? I call them the Canadian Automobile Association.

At a recent anniversary event, four mayoral candidates (excluding Barbara Hall) celebrated the CAA's 100th year, and were introduced to the organization's lobbying position:

"CAA believes it's important that Toronto's next mayor shares a balanced view on transportation issues and supports a plan to improve roads as well as transit," said [Mike] Beauchesne [manager, CAA Central Ontario], adding that better roads would improve air quality by decreasing the time that cars, trucks and buses idle unnecessarily in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Beauchesne also emphasized that an improved expressway network would increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists who now contend with commuters on downtown streets that weren't designed or intended for massive traffic volumes.

However, I find it hard to believe that any candidates were convinced that building new highways in the City of Toronto is a workable strategy -- it's politically impossible. And, hopefully none of them were foolish enough to believe that doing so would reduce "bumper-to-bumper traffic".

On the provincial level, however, the Tories are in step with the CAA's message. Their new campaign platform -- which happens to be titled "The Road Ahead" -- describes plans for a massive extension of the highway system in the outer areas of the GTA. Highways 410, 427, and 404 would all be extended north, the Bradford Bypass would be built, and Highway 407 would be extended to the east. This all represents a significant part of their "Smart Growth" agenda. Of course, nothing could do more to promote sprawl than extending highways into undeveloped land in all directions. The CAA will soon be able to complain about bumper-to-bumper traffic across the countryside. Unfortunately for them, the Tories have mentioned no financial commitments for these ideas, so drivers would be stuck having to pay for their own roads.

In terms of public transit, the Tories do mention $200 million for suburban GTA bus rapid transit, $50 million for rapid transit in York Region, $75 million for HOV and bus lanes on highways 403 and 404, as well as $430 million for GO improvements. (Some of these initiatives are offering matching funds to federal promises.) The Liberals, on the other hand, promise to double current provincial involvement by commiting 2 cents of the gas tax to municipalities for transit. Like the Tories, they promise a "seamless integrated ticket system" across the GTA.

Meanwhile, on the mayoral-race front, John Tory may be trying to join David Miller as a strong advocate of transit. Miller already has a very strong transit action plan, and Tory hasn't come close to that yet. However, Tory has made some positive signals in a recent release. First of all, he says that he "fully support[s] the Ridership Growth Strategy and believe[s] transit expansion is critical to the future of this city". Second, and more notably, he finally takes on his Queen's Park friends:

The Provincial government once paid for 75 percent of capital improvements and 50 percent of the operating losses of the TTC. Now they contribute nothing to cover TTC operating losses and a random amount each year toward capital improvements that ends up being only a fraction of the money that used to be there.

My first concern -- since he opposes a property tax increase to pay for the Ridership Growth Strategy -- is what he'll do if his pal Eves gets reelected and there is no new money from the province. Will he say we can't afford to move forward? And is he commited to championing the more politically-difficult aspects of the Ridership Growth Strategy, such as dedicated transit lanes?

Going back to the CAA... There does seem to be one solution to bumper-to-bumper traffic that seems to work -- London's three-month-old congestion charge. The Guardian has reported that the new £5-a-day charge to drive into central London has reduced traffic such that journey times for commuters have been reduced 13%.



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