The recent discussion around “revenue tools” to fund transit in the GTA (mostly the 416), is absolutely necessary, and the people of Toronto and the greater Toronto area need to understand that this infrastructure has been ignored for too long. With the exception of minor tweaking and a needless Sheppard line, this subway system looks the same as it did in my youth (the 60’s). That is a shameful thing. So while we need to talk about continued development of the system to alleviate transit problems in the GTA, and how to pay for it, the answer does not lie in taxing drivers and drivers only.
Step 1 – Continued funding of Transit
Before we discuss funding, it’s important to know what’s being funded.
From 1954 to 1974 the system as we know it (other than Sheppard) was built. In the 40 years since, there has been no meaningful development of the rapid transit / subway in the GTA. That’s the mindset that needs to change. Transit should be funded not in huge gushes but in a constant, affordable stream. That makes it more sustainable and palatable, and ensures continued transit expansion as development occurs in and around Toronto. We should be witnessing, over time, a continued expansion of one or two stops per year, over the next several decades. Had we done that for the past 40 years we would already have the system we need and covet.
So where does that funding come from?
This would take incredible political courage by a provincial government… but i would just go ahead and smush together the TTC, and the systems in Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Oakville, Hamilton, Burlington, Oshawa, and so on all under the Metrolinx banner, and then add a graduated fare system. Sure the politicians and unions would cry. Who cares?!
Just do it, and figure out a way around all the challenges rather than saying why it can’t be done. If it can’t be done then we’re not as creative, resourceful, determined or responsible as the people who put together the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in the San Francisco area, or the ones in Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or even Ottawa.
So the first step to solving transit problems in the GTA is continued funding, and the stream will be primarily through a graduated fare system covering the space from Hamilton to Newmarket to Oshawa. By putting in place an overall graduated system that includes the GO system, you could definitely raise the AVERAGE cost of both the transit piece and the GO piece. I would put all the transit systems together and allow one to travel via the Presto card from one end to the other. Then I would drop the minimum cost of a trip to about 75 cents (one stop) and add a premium for distance that makes a trip from say Hamilton to Oshawa end up being maybe $20. This cost is still a tiny fraction of the alternatives.
Putting it in terms of the current Toronto Subway System…
it costs $3 to ride regardless of the distance. I would make the minimum cost (one stop) the aforementioned 75 cents and then make the numbers work so that the MAXIMUM fare from Kipling to the end of the SRT would be about $5 (perhaps a bit more if it can be justified). I would then make the AVERAGE ride work out to about $3.50 to $4.00, which is actually a huge increase in revenue (15 to 33%). This revenue increase likely won’t be accompanied by a hue and cry by riders because of the move to a value based system. The increased value of the average ride should also increase ridership too, and together these might very well pay for all needed expansion.
If they don’t cover it, we move as a last alternative to Step 3.
Step 3 – If needed – Toll roads
A gas tax is regressive and can’t be avoided if one needs to use a car. It’s also arbitrary to tax all of Ontario to fund the GTA’s problems just as a cut off line for a gas tax would be arbitrary. I would look at adding tolls to the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway, to fund any shortfall. This is more fair because unlike a gas tax which can’t be avoided by choice, there are alternatives to both of those routes. Those who can’t or don’t want to pay such tolls can avoid the cost (in dollar terms, anyway) by avoiding the highways, just like with the 407 today.
An alternative to Toll Roads is to implement a system like the one they first had in Singapore before their current toll system, which is basically a toll to enter the downtown (or perhaps to enter the city proper).
Slower Expansion but Expansion nonetheless
Or we can just slow down expansion plans and simply don’t spend as much each year. But don’t stop! Never stop. Just keep going forever (or until we tell you to stop) at a pace that’s sustainable and relatively painless for taxpayers, and the staff of the transit authority. In good times perhaps it’s more and in times like the past several years maybe less (or maybe even more if the Federal Government were to want to stimulate jobs in the GTA). But you always move forward and you always do it in a way that makes sense.
Transit Problems in the GTA will never go away. Continuing to bandaid and try to please dozens of political agendas, and giving negative power to hundreds of bureaucrats and politicians while giving no one the power to say yes to anything, is a formula for the status quo (nothing).
Empowering Metrolinx and getting the local politicians out of the transit business ENTIRELY is the answer. The question is do provincial politicians have the courage to do it.