Special Report: Cycling

Provincial Funding to Expand Toronto Bike Share, Boost Cycling in Other Municipalities

Hamilton has an opportunity to apply for funding through the Ontario Municipal Cycling Infrastructure Program.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 08, 2015

this article has been updated

The Ontario Government has announced $4.9 million in funding to expand Toronto's bike share system as part of a commitment to funding for cycling infrastructure.

Toronto Bike Share station (RTH file photo)
Toronto Bike Share station (RTH file photo)

The network opened in 2011 with 800 bikes and 80 stations throughout the downtown and has around 4,000 active users. With the new Provincial funding, Toronto Bike Share will be able to double the number of bikes and stations and expand the territory it covers, including increasing connectivity with local and regional transit.

Toronto Bike Share uses the Bixi system developed in Montreal, in which the technology to oversee rentals and bike availability resides in the stations.

The Montreal-based Public Bike Share Corporation (PBSC) which created the Bixi technology declared bankruptcy last year after two years of struggles and delays to update the software that runs the system, a lawsuit by the software company that had created the original software, and resulting cash flow problems.

Toronto Bike Share uses the technology developed by PBSC but is now operated by Motivate, which also operates bike share systems in Washington, Boston, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities.

Funding Opportunity to Expand Hamilton Bike Share

Here at home, Hamilton Bike Share just launched this past spring with a bike share system using next-generation technology from Social Bicycles (Sobi).

Hamilton Bike Share station at Hunter GO Station (RTH file photo)
Hamilton Bike Share station at Hunter GO Station (RTH file photo)

Unlike the Bixi system, Sobi uses inexpensive "dumb" hub stations and loads all the technology on the bikes themselves via onboard computers that include wireless network connections and GPS.

As a result, the capital costs are much lower and the operator can administer the system more proactively, following the movement of the bikes through the network in real time.

Heat map of Hamilton Bike Share trip from the launch to July 2, 2015
Heat map of Hamilton Bike Share trip from the launch to July 2, 2015

Hamilton's system was funded with $1.6 million in Metrolinx "Quick Wins" capital, which was enough to fund a network of 750 bikes and 110 stations. It is operated by Hamilton Bike Share Incorporated (HBSI), a local not-for-profit corporation in a very lean operation with one service truck (borrowed from Hamilton Community Car Share) and a handful of staff.

The entire cost to build and operate the bike share is equivalent to the cost to build and operate one city bus.

The system is only a few months old and already has more than 5,000 riders with annual, monthly or pay-as-you-go memberships, who have taken almost 60,000 total trips and ridden over 120,000 total kilometres. This has exceeded even the optimistic projections of project supporters, not to mention the many doubters and squelchers who insisted that bike share would never work in Hamilton.

But the system only covers an area of 45 square kilometres, spanning from part of Dundas through Wards 1 and 2 and part of Ward 3, as well as a few stations on the mountain near Concession Street. Because of the flexibility of the Sobi technology, it will be easy to expand the system, especially farther into ward 3 where the density of stations is lower.

As the service grows steadily toward operational sustainability, the biggest challenge will be finding the capital to buy more bikes and stations.

Provincial Funding

Fortunately, the Province has committed to providing funding for cycling infrastructure. As local MPP Ted McMeekin, Minister for Municipal Affairs, put it at the Hamilton Bike Share launch, this government has an "activist agenda" to promote more healthy active transportation in Ontario.

Minister Ted McMeekin, left, at Hamilton Bike Share launch with City of Hamilton transportation manager Peter Topalovic (RTH file photo)
Minister Ted McMeekin, left, at Hamilton Bike Share launch with City of Hamilton transportation manager Peter Topalovic (RTH file photo)

On July 3, 2015, the Province announced that municipalities can apply to the Ontario Municipal Cycling Infrastructure Program, a three-year, $10 million commitment to cycling infrastructure.

According to Patrick Searle, spokesperson for Ontario Transport Minister Steven Del Duca, Hamilton is welcome to apply for funding through this program.

RTH contacted Peter Topalovic, the City of Hamilton transportation manager who spearheaded the Hamilton Bike Share project, to ask if the City is considering applying for funding through this program.

Topalovic replied, "It seems from the release that Hamilton is a potential recipient for regional funding and we are well poised to expand our system, should the province decide to provide additional capital dollars. I do not yet know what the application procedure will entail, but I will be following up with Metrolinx staff."

Excellent Opportunity

This is an excellent opportunity for Hamilton to build on success and expand the benefits of its bike share program to a broader area.

For members, Hamilton Bike Share is a very cost-effective and inclusive way to get around the city. A pay-as-you-go membership costs $5 an hour, pro-rated to the minute. A monthly membership (good for 60 minutes a day) costs $15, and an annual membership (good for 60 minutes a day) costs $85.

In addition, a $25,000 donation from Union Gas established the Everyone Rides program to provide free annual memberships to Hamiltonians who live below the poverty line.

The operator was not able to provide detailed demographic data about its members, but it noted in response to an RTH query that the gender breakdown of its members is very equitable, with a 53 percent male, 47 percent female distribution.

Generally, low rates of cycling are associated with high rates of gender imbalance, so the high percentage of female bike share members is a very encouraging sign about the system's accessibility.

Hamilton Bike Share still has many challenges to overcome, including growing both its membership and advertising/sponsorship revenues. But as Nicholas Kevlahan argued earlier this week, they have defied the skeptics and are off to a very strong start.

More bikes and stations will mean higher gross operating costs, so the system will have to grow in such a way as to increase the revenue to match its operating costs.

It may not quite be time to expand the system while it is still getting established, but it is certainly time to start thinking and planning how the system will grow as it becomes a more important part of Hamilton's transportation mix.

Update: Alas, it looks as though this fund can't be used for bike share systems.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2015 at 19:32:07

Press is occuring. And Toronto needs to notice.

"What does success look like for hamilton bike share", July 6th http://raisethehammer.org/article/2645/w...

"Hamilton’s SoBi bike-share hits 5,000 members", July 5th http://www.thespec.com/news-story/570933...

"The surprise success of SoBi Hamilton", July 9th http://www.hamiltonbusiness.com/dir/2015...

Metrolinx is giving Toronto $4.9M to just add only 1000 BIXI bikes to their system. Instead, unprofitable BIXI should be scrapped -- Metrolinx should spend $4.9M on 2000-3000 cheaper SoBi bikes Lakeshore-to-Toronto, instead of adding 1000 expensive BIXI bikes.

•SoBi costs less than half as much average cost per bike

•SoBi serves at least 2-3x bigger area per bike

•SoBi provides more stations more cheaply

•SoBi reduces bike rebalancing costs (people can dock anywhere, full docks aren't a distaster), crowdsourced bike rebalancing is available

With $4.9 million, Toronto can simply scrap the whole BIXI-derived system (resell to another city that needs a bikeshare expansion), and switch completely to a SoBi system. Based on the fact that Hamilton serves more users in a less-bike-friendly city in a mere 6 months, over a larger area with fewer bikes, the SoBi system has about 2-3x city coverage for the same number of bikes. Now double or triple the bike fleet, and you can have 6-9x coverage.

That means, for the Metrolinx $4.9 million, you can scrap BIXI completely, and have a much larger SoBi system stretching all the way from Liberty Village to the Beaches. Operating costs would even actually go down, especially if crowdsourced bike rebalancing features are activated.

Toronto should scrap BIXI and go cheaper SoBi that gives more for less.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 11:36:48 in reply to Comment 112678

Ooops, the links have gone bad. I can't edit, but the correct links are:

"What does success look like for hamilton bike share", July 6th http://raisethehammer.org/article/2645/w...

"Hamilton’s SoBi bike-share hits 5,000 members", July 5th http://www.thespec.com/news-story/570933...

"The surprise success of SoBi Hamilton", July 9th http://www.hamiltonbusiness.com/dir/2015...

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-09 11:36:59

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted July 08, 2015 at 23:53:21

I would add to this that Ottawa has just launched their bike share, also using SoBi's technology. http://velogo.ca/

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 11:34:02 in reply to Comment 112680

Yes, Ottawa used to use BIXI technology but has switched to SoBi.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 00:08:13 in reply to Comment 112680

Thus, if you are visiting Ottawa, you can log into your SoBi web portal and subscribe to Ottawa's bike share using the same account, likely pay as you go if you are just visiting, but whatever floats your boat.

More of a reason Toronto should switch.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 13:14:35 in reply to Comment 112681

LOVELY! Integrated customer logon already comes with SoBi?

[signs on, adds myself to Ottawa VeloGo SoBi, done in 30 seconds]

Yes, really, as I wrote this.

So SoBi credit appears to behave like Presto credit. You sign up on one, you're already one click away from accessing another SoBi city instantly. Unlock bikes with the same PIN code! Nice!

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-09 13:30:45

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By Bikster (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 10:22:36

Integrate the fares on all social bikes across GTHA, and integrate them with other public transit. Make it all dirt cheap and we will see quick reduction in carbon emissions.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 11:35:03

That would be nice, but that wouldn't be politically easy yet today.

Baby steps first -- let's first convince Bike Share Toronto to switch to SoBi technology. Synergy later.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-09 11:35:16

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 13:15:42 in reply to Comment 112689

Ooops. I take it back.


In just 30 seconds I just added myself to Ottawa's "VeloGo" SoBi system, using my existing Hamilton SoBi account!

SoBi is already integrated and behaves sort of like Presto credit. I just added myself to Ottawa's brand new SoBi system in 30 seconds, though I had to pay a $5 one-time signup fee (instantly debited upon clicking Agree) to get Pay-Per-Use in Ottawa. I can now use my same PIN code on the keypad on Ottawas SoBi bikes immediately! Now I'll use it next time I am in Ottawa, as my family lives there!

TORONTO.... SWITCH TO SOBI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

VANCOUVER.... CHOOSE SOBI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-09 13:38:24

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By Silver (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 14:06:17

The best way to finance the program is to institute fees, licensing, registration, plates, yearly safety inspections and taxes for all cyclists. They need to be held accountable for their transportation. Cycling is not a right; it uses valuable resources and cyclists need to pay for it.

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By Nutz (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 17:42:02 in reply to Comment 112694


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By Why (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 15:34:30 in reply to Comment 112694

Cyclists already pay tax. It has been pointed out here numerous times that 80 or 90% of cyclists have cars. Why should you be taxed twice?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 15:44:44 in reply to Comment 112703

Not to mention that municipal roads (which is what we are talking about) are paid almost entirely by property taxes, not license fees or gas taxes. Sidewalks are also paid by property taxes, for that matter.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 15:56:55 in reply to Comment 112704

Sidewalks are also paid by property taxes, for that matter.


All those strollers ... and kids on scooters .... think of the lost income potential.

  1. Register strollers
  2. Collect licensing fees from stroller owners
  3. ????
  4. PROFIT!!!

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2015 at 13:28:24 in reply to Comment 112705

A bike tax would also be a baby tax, too -- just like a stroller tax.

Discouraging bikes also means a less kid friendly world.

We don't want to shrink the population of Canada because fewer families afford&want having kids.

Yes, we also need better bike safety too.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-10 13:28:43

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 13, 2015 at 22:36:13 in reply to Comment 112726

Are you seriously suggesting that parents would decide not to have children because of the cost of bike licensing? Give your head a shake!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 14, 2015 at 12:59:26 in reply to Comment 112758

No, he's suggesting that a less kid-friendly world will discourage parents from having kids.

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By Sliver (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 14:09:38 in reply to Comment 112694

Ugh, just stop.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2015 at 15:07:36

I have to rain on the parade. Bike share investments are specifically NOT included in this particular funding pool.

From: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/...

Q22 : Which projects are not eligible?

Ineligible projects include, but are not limited to, those that:

Cannot be completed by March 31, 2018;
Involve land acquisition only;
Are already completed;
Have a full funding commitment from another party;
Are deficient in creating a safe cycling environment;
Provide parking for cars (e.g., at a scenic lookout where a cycling trail begins/ends) ;
Provide end-of-trip facilities other than bike racks or bike storage;
Provide sidewalks only;
***Are bike-sharing infrastructure or related programs;***
Involve only:
    The promotion of cycling (e.g., information campaigns); or
    Research related to cycling; or
    The development of a cycling plan; or
Are deemed as ineligible at the ministry's sole discretion.

This money is for building new bike lanes, trails, bike parking etc. It should still be applied for by the City, but it has to be something people ride their bikes on or park at, not more bike share bikes.

That said, the money that went into expanding Toronto's services were not from any specific pot of money other than generally investing in more and better transportation options - so there's no reason Hamilton shouldn't expect a similar boost in investment, especially given how incredibly successful the system has been. With the expansion of GO services all over the City and with the investment in LRT, there's a damn good case for investing in more SoBi bikes to expand first and last mile options for residents.

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By Balls (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 17:44:14 in reply to Comment 112699

Screw SoBi.... I'm getting my own foldable bike that I can take on the train at rush hour. So I won't loose my bike to theft, only at gun point.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2015 at 13:25:45 in reply to Comment 112709

Foldable bike is good.

But SoBi is bike-and-forget, no worry about theft either.

Both Hamilton GO and West Harbor GO have official SoBi racks.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-10 13:26:27

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By bike owner (anonymous) | Posted July 10, 2015 at 17:37:38 in reply to Comment 112725

I've had my bike for 20 years dumping an average of $20 a year in repair. A Sobi pass is $90 so I'm saving $70 per year times 20 years and counting for a savings of $1400. I paid $350 so I'm good. Renting anything is bad economics

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2015 at 22:45:44 in reply to Comment 112731

Many bike share users also own bikes - different tools for different tasks.

Amortized over 20 years, a well maintained bike may work out to be cheaper but it can't find its way home all by itself if you need to take a one way trip ;-)

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By z jones (registered) | Posted July 10, 2015 at 17:39:46 in reply to Comment 112731

Hmmm, is anyone else's Allan Tay-dar pinging right now?

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By Muggins (registered) | Posted July 09, 2015 at 15:26:10

This is great news for the bike share programs. However, until there are cycle lanes that make it safer to cycle in this city I will not cycle on Hamilton streets. The bike share could be free and I will not use it. Too many drivers in Hamilton still think roads are for cars only.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2015 at 13:15:48

A very fair assertion, it is a personal safety choice.

But you have control over safety: Hamilton isn't dangerous to bikes if you avoid 1-way non-residential streets. In order to get from Locke Street safely to Gage Park, take Bold Street, connect to Young Street, Stinson street, Delaware avenue, and Maplewood Avenue, and you've arrived.

100% residential streets that completely avoids scary Main/King expressways, if you prefer another route than Cannon.

Carowner here, but biking feels pretty safe in Hamilton if you go on routes that you don't normally drive. You CAN make it from Locke to Gage without ever feeling scared on a bike. Granted, that requires you to get into unfamiliarity, but that's what smartphones are for (the same thing you use to look up the nearest SoBi bike on a map).

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-10 13:21:38

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted July 13, 2015 at 11:17:06 in reply to Comment 112723

Have you actually cycled Bold / Young / Stinson / Delaware / Maplewood, or are you just imagining it to be less scary? There are four crossings along that route where you have to traverse a major north-south Mountain access at non-signalled crossings (Queen, James, Victoria, Wentworth). It's a crazy unsafe route.

This of course leads us to the discussion on why the mountain access routes, through residential neighbourhoods, are so scary to cross. Hamilton sacrificed a lot of safety when they rebuilt the lower-city roads in service of the suburban lifestyle. The status quo needs to change (back).

Comment edited by brendansimons on 2015-07-13 11:23:02

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2015 at 13:18:41 in reply to Comment 112745

In addition, I can attest to many (carefully chosen) Hamilton Lower City roads being safer for bikes than Toronto. I have a close one who broke his hip having an accident with the streetcar rails on Broadview Avenue - bike wheel slipped into streetcar rail groove.

Being a pedestrian in Hamilton is kinda dangerous too, especially if you frequently cross the middle of 1-way streets due to large distances between stoplights. At least with a bike, you have the option to reach more sedate residential roads further away, rather than being forced to walk through a district of 1-way streets. A shocking number of pedestrians are killed in Hamilton. In a short period (I think 2013?), 8 pedestrians got killed -- far more than Hamilton bike deaths.

Just don't blindly bike Hamilton Lower City willy nilly without knowing your options. I don't even need to worry about Victoria (I go underpass). I don't even need to worry about Claremont (I go underpass). Wentworth is pretty safe (because I cross at a pretty non-threatening location with predictable traffic, no hidden turns for sudden car apperance & excellent visibility for cars-to-me & me-to-cars). Ditto, ditto for other locations. Be bike smart!

Agree that the 1-way grid is insane for non-car-users.

Be bike smart. Keep your head on a swivel. Stay visible.

P.S. Thank goodness they converted James to 2-way. We need more of this to happen: http://www2.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/E67...

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-14 13:29:48

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2015 at 12:45:46 in reply to Comment 112745

Yes, I've ridden various residential roads between Locke and Gage Park. These crossings are definitely risky, but are less scarier than biking through some parts of downtown Toronto. The cars zoom by in surges with large gaps in between, so it is easy to find a moment in crossing. Crossing Main-King is no fun (when I want to get to Cannon) but at least the cars go by in surges due to the traffic lights -- and I'm crossing the road to reach a safe road -- not biking along it. When you're biking in the early morning (for a 6:45am GOtrain), the traffic is also much lower, or biking home in the evening (e.g. after a 6:30pm or 7:00pm GO train), it's not bad either. And weekends aren't too bad especially when staying away from 1-way streets.

If you stay on some roads further south, you end up biking under some of the worst parts -- the mountain roads become overpasses -- instead of actually crossing ALL mountain access roads. Stinson road is an UNDERPASS for the scary Claremont Access -- so you DO NOT need to worry about Claremont.

Likewise, riding west, where Delaware meets Wentorth, there is often 30 seconds of silence on Wentorth thanks to the synchronized traffic lights at Main-King, as Wentworth at this location is a one-way street heading south, and at this specific corner of this specific intersection, there's no hidden turns for speeding cars to suddenly appear, as you see clear all cars that won't hit you until you've long safely crossed Wentworth. At this point, simply cross to Delaware on west side of Wentworth (don't ride north/south on Wentworth), and head one block west then one block south to Stinson.

Conversely, riding east, turn left (onto Grant) one block before Wentworth, go north 1 block on a child-friendly residential road, then turn right onto Delaware which crosses Wentworth. You'll observe Delaware east/west of Wentworth is a little offset, but you work with it (walk bike 25 meters if you wish), near that Hamilton Continuing Care that's at that location.

Beyond this, only have about three other scary crossings to worry about, which aren't scary if you're bike-smart and pay attention. You're only crossing these -- not riding on these.

We need to see more protected bike lanes -- including south of Main/King -- for east/west bike movements, and also better connections to the Cannon bike lanes.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-14 12:59:46

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 10, 2015 at 22:52:48 in reply to Comment 112723

unfortunately thousands of Hamiltonians live on streets that are 100% residential, yet are multi-lane, one-way expressways. Streets that could function fine like Cumberland or Rousseaux in Ancaster are instead dangerous expressways.

Queen, Wellington, Victoria, Sanford, Wilson, Sherman, Wentworth, Charlton, Herkimer etc.....

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted July 13, 2015 at 23:08:49

The Ontario Government sure is generous with money they (we) don't have. Great shot of Teddy using the Provincial AMEX.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted July 14, 2015 at 10:10:35 in reply to Comment 112760

85 per cent of Ontario expenditure is health care, education, interest and welfare. If you take welfare and interest out of the equation that leaves 55%. Fully 90% of those expenditures are wages, benefits and pensions. The vast majority of what we spend is on anything but infrastructure. We could have bike lanes up the wazoo, and subways and who knows what else if we could get wage and interest (debt) costs under control. As we know, even though 16% of the budget is for social programs, those programs are arguably under-funded.

We are near or at a tax wall, the point where increased taxes actually reduces revenue. The government move recently to tax higher income earners at a greater per percentage actually reduced the gross revenue from that cohort. No one likes to talk about it, but until public employees take a hit, we are stuck with an inability to properly fund infrastructure.

At least when we fund infrastructure, we get some palpable lasting result.

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