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Take the high road on public transit

Jun. 10, 2001. 02:00 AM

As you sit in traffic this week or stand on a crowded GO train, give some thought to the politicians at Queen’s Park and Ottawa whose stubborn attitudes have brought about this transportation mess.

Investing in local transit would seem to be a no-brainer. More transit gets cars off the road, is good for the environment and results in easier, faster commutes which improves the quality of life for many.

But as transit agencies struggle to carry more riders on systems starved of the money needed for expansion and rehabilitation, neither government is rushing to the rescue.

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette and provincial Municipal Affairs Minister Chris Hodgson point fingers and say “you first.”

Hodgson says the province wants to see a firm commitment from Ottawa before it offers up any cash.

Collenette says there’ll be no federal dollars for the TTC, GO Transit or other local agencies until Queen’s Park restores the transit funding it took away four years ago.

“The problems facing transportation in Toronto have been caused by provincial downloading,” the minister said last week.

Transit has always been a provincial responsibility until it was abandoned by the Mike Harris Tories, at considerable cost to this region.

In this light, Collenette’s reluctance to act is understandable. The federal government can’t be expected to repair the damage that’s been wreaked by provincial funding cuts. If it did, it would be facing the same pressure to spend money on hospitals, schools and decrepit municipal water systems, just to name a few.

But this governmental deadlock is unacceptable. It’s like two lifeguards standing on the shore arguing who’ll be first in the water while the hapless swimmer goes under for the third time. Does the swimmer really care who pulls him to the beach? Of course not. Likewise, the transit agencies desperate for cash to expand don’t care who writes the cheque. Neither do the riders.

Ideally, the senior governments would sit down with the city and the Greater Toronto Services Board, draw up a list of transit priorities and hammer out an agreement to fund them.

But in the absence of that happening, Collenette should take the initiative.

His government has already chipped in cash to help with the renovation of Union Station and is working on plans to get a rail link built to Pearson International Airport.

Ottawa should take the high road, recognize transit funding for the smart investment that it is and spend some cash to improve local transit.

Toronto-area commuters will thank the government which acts first. They will remember the one that doesn’t at election time.