A bill just tabled by the Ontario Government will merge Metrolinx with GO Transit and replace the current Board of municipal politicians with appointed transportation planners.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 31, 2009
The Ontario Government just tabled legislation [PDF link] to merge Metrolinx, the regional rapid transit authority for the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton (GTAH) with GO Transit, the longstanding operator of interurban commuter rail.
Under Bill 163, the Province will replace the Metrolinx Board with an appointed 15 member board of transportation planners and project management specialists who, the government hopes, can speed the process and get money flowing into projects more quickly. The bill prohibits elected officials or employees at any level of government from sitting on the board.
At the same time, the bill moves the administration of the GO Transit System under Metrolinx and integrates the Regional Transportation Plan more closely with the Places to Grow framework and the official plans of the municipalities in the GTAH.
GO Transit chair Peter Smith will serve on the new Metrolinx board of directors.
Among the new powers the bill affords to Metrolinx are the power to enter into commercial contracts to design, develop, construct and maintain transportation systems, and to acquire or lease property as required to carry out the Regional Transportation Plan.
The Globe and Mail reports that Robert Pritchard, just leaving a position as the CEO of Torstar Corporation, has been picked to oversee the transition.
Observers have been anticipating such a move as progress at Metrolinx has been slower than the Province has hoped.
Rumblings emerged in mid-February when a report in the Toronto Sun suggested that the nine-member Metrolinx Board, selected by the municipalities and composed mainly of GTA+H Mayors and Regional chairs, suffered from "red tape, funding disputes, resident opposition and parochial decision-making".
Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac is quoted saying, "What's clear to me from the Premier is that he wants action and I think that's a message that all of the transit operations across the region should be cognizant of."
Last year, Metrolinx punted on its investment strategy after board members, possibly concerned about political fallout, were reluctant to investigate new revenue streams - e.g. highway tolls - to carry out the Regional Transportation Plan beyond the funds committed by the Provincial Government.
This change to the Metrolinx governance structure come fast on the heels of a massive new Provincial funding announcement that places an emphasis on transit and on integrating regional transportation in the GTAH to stimulate the economy in the short term and to relieve gridlock in the longer term.