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Transit could grab green funds to aid clean-air efforts: minister

Toronto Bureau Chief
Monday, June 5, 2000

London, Ont. — Urban transit could be in line for one-quarter of the federal government’s $2.6-billion “green” infrastructure fund, federal Environment Minister David Anderson estimated yesterday.

But even more must be spent on transit to improve air quality, he said during an address to delegates attending the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in London.

“It’s the critical factor,” he said of the role that subways, buses and other transit options play in reducing smog and other air-quality problems.

While municipal politicians praise the federal fund, to be spent over five years, it is a far cry from what they say is actually needed at the local level.

The Toronto region alone needs to spend $800-million a year more than what is now allocated for roads and public transit, according to one estimate by transit consultants for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton-Wentworth regions.

This is partly because of growing population trends that will worsen existing congestion problems, say municipalities and consultants.

Mr. Anderson, the only federal minister so far to take questions from delegates over the past three days, was asked by Toronto Transit Commission chairman Howard Moscoe when Ottawa will agree to share a portion of its federal gas taxes to support urban transit.

“We need support from the federal government,” the Toronto councillor said, noting that Canada is the only industrial nation that does not substantially support urban transit. In Ontario, the province handed responsibility for transit to local and regional governments.

To date, neither the federal nor Ontario governments have shown any interest in sharing their gas-tax revenues, though the British Columbia and Alberta governments have set aside part gas-tax and car-licencing fees to local municipalities for transit.

Mr. Anderson told delegates that the infrastructure fund, announced in the budget earlier this year, will spend $600-million in total for provincial roads and highways. Another $1-billion, he said, will go to water, waste water and landfill projects during the next five years.

“Of the remaining $1-billion, I would hope and expect that at least half is rapid transit,” Mr. Anderson said.

He conceded “half a billion isn’t enough for urban transit and we are going to have to put in more than that … as we get into the climate change and air quality agenda.”

But Mr. Moscoe was among those dubious that urban transit would get the level of infrastructure funding envisioned by the minister.

“My understanding is that every municipality is going to have to fight it out on their own and it’s done on a per capita basis,” Mr. Moscoe said in an interview.