Ontairo premier puts transit planning back on federal radar

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

Ontario’s new premier is vowing to put transit planning back on the federal radar, a call to arms that could succeed where others have failed.

The Globe and Mail reports that freshly-crowned Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week and spoke about the need for a national strategy to fund transit projects in Canada.

“Infrastructure is one of the issues that I’ve said very clearly that I’m going to be raising with the federal government – particularly infrastructure and transit funding. I think that it’s extremely important that those two go hand in hand,” Wynne told the Globe.

Wynne’s focus would certainly be Ontario systems, specifically the overburdened and aging Toronto transit grid, but it is a message that could help across the country.

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The last formal bid to start a national public transit strategy came in 2011, when NDP MP Olivia Chow introduced Bill C-305, intent on tackling the fragmented transit planning approach.

The National Public Transit Strategy Act aimed to build a game plan to ensure fast, accessible transit across Canada.

The keys were to reduce commute times, alleviate congestion and establish a permanent funding system, rather than one-off funding promises issued piecemeal. It was officially rejected in 2012, as the Conservative government elected to maintain the status quo.

Canada is also the only G8 nation without a national transit strategy. This says something about how serious other nations are taking the issue, or perhaps how much we are not.

The University of Toronto's School of Public Policy and Governance considered the proper role of the federal government in a transit strategy, and suggested the current funding arrangements lacked transparency and actually "has a negative impact on public transit."

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It recommended a dedicated, long-term commitment that funds regions and projects based on a clear allocation formula.

So how would a national transit strategy actually work?

In the United States, 0.067 per cent of the GDP goes toward transit through the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA).

SAFETEA was signed into law in 2005, guaranteeing $244.1 billion in funding for highways and public transportation systems. The one-stop shop for transit funding streamlines construction and safety improvements, allows states to react quickly to issues causing congestion and ensures each state receives an equitable share of funding.

So, you know, something like that would be a start.

Whatever the end result, it is progress that the issue is being discussed. The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) wrapped up a two-day conference today, focused on the economic benefits of investing in transit.

"It is important to put transit at the centre of communities across Canada and to keep transit at the forefront of urban development and growth" CUTA President Michael Roschlau said. "These meetings are an opportunity to reinforce that message with government and industry stakeholders."

Yes. More talking, please. Maybe something will be said that spurs action.