The Province has effectively abandoned its commitment to transfomative transit investment.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 26, 2010
Transit advocates cheered a few years ago when the Ontario Government followed up its progressive Greenbelt and Places To Grow frameworks with MoveOntario 2020, an ambitious plan to drag the underfunded, fragmentary regional transit network in the GTA+Hamilton into the 21st century.
The province moved quickly to form Metrolinx, a provincial arms-length body to coordinate planning and funding for new subway, LRT and streetcar investments to knit the region together and ease pressure on our congested highway network.
Suddenly the prospects for a new LRT system in Hamilton looked optimistic. The Liberals even ran for re-election in the 2007 provincial election by warning Hamilton that a Conservative win would threaten their promised two new light rail lines.
GO Transit, the long-suffering regional transit system first established in the 1970s, was drawn into the fold so the parts could all interoperate smoothly and the GO infrastructure could get much-needed improvements.
When the Metrolinx board members - the mayors from the various GTA municipalities - shied away from bold, transformative plans that might threaten their local electoral prospects, the province announced they would replace the board with an appointed set of planners and technocrats.
With great fanfare, Metrolinx announced that they were preparing a benefits case analysis for rapid transit in Hamilton. They proudly stated that the analysis would consider the big picture - environmental, social, economic, and community factors rather than a narrow cost-benefit analysis.
And then - nothing. Months and months of delays, official silence and reports of internal disorder as Metrolinx struggled to integrate GO Transit and the new board struggled to get up to speed.
About that new Metrolinx board: instead of transportation and economic development policy experts, it turned out to be a grab bag of patronage appointees with mostly irrelevant expertise in such fields as mortgage securities trading and marketing.
Hamilton's representative, Richard Koroscil, is the President of Hamilton International Airport and a huge proponent of expanding the urban boundary by thousands of hectares to develop new greenfields around the airport.
When the Benefits Case Analysis was finally published earlier this year, it carefully avoided making any actual recommendations on whether Hamilton should get LRT or bus rapid transit - though the comparative analysis strongly favoured LRT.
Even worse, Metrolinx passed the funding buck (no pun intended) by stating that any funding commitment must come from the Province. So much for taking politics out of regional transit planning.
Speaking of politics: this week, the province provoked outrage in Toronto by delaying $4 billion in planned transit investments in its 2010 budget. Toronto Mayor David Miller exclaimed:
This is beyond short-sighted. It makes absolutely no economic sense, it makes no sense from a social policy perspective.
It looks like the Province has effectively abandoned its commitment to transfomative transit investment. Like so many governments before it, the McGuinty Government spent all its enthusiasm on studies and bureaucracy only to run out of
money once it actually came time to sign the cheque.
Eventually the studies pass their best-by dates, the government will turn over, other crises will grab its attention, and the dismal status of the GTA's regional transportation framework will remain quo. One day, years from now, a government may rediscover enthusiasm for transit, at which point it will be time to commission a new raft of studies.
That's in Toronto, a dynamic world city with a proven high quality transit network and strong Liberal representation in Queen's Park.
What hope does poor Hamilton have, without a strong contingent of Liberal MPPs or even so much as a funding commitment to cancel?