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GTA-wide transit system moving ahead, minister says

‘Good network’ of buses needed to lure more riders

Negotiations have been going on for more than a year


Queen’s Park is moving “quickly” to create a Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, says Ontario’s transportation minister, who envisions creating a “public transit culture” in the province.

In a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto, Harinder Takhar outlined a “30-year transportation blueprint,” resurrecting talk of an authority that would unite transit systems from Oshawa to Hamilton.

“It is the body which will co-ordinate transit planning, it will co-ordinate investment and it will provide services so that we can make sure we are providing a seamless transportation system in the Greater Toronto Area,” he told the audience.

Takhar said the key to creating a transit culture is to provide better, more frequent and more reliable service throughout the region, meaning more buses for places like Oshawa, Mississauga and Oakville, and having it integrated with the Toronto Transit Commission routes and the coming single fare-card system.

“Our problem is outside the Toronto borders in GTA locations like Mississauga, Oakville and Oshawa and so on,” Takhar said. “If buses or trains are only available at certain times … people will resort to using cars.

“People won’t take public transit if there’s not a good network of bus service, so we need to do that first. Only then can you encourage people to take public transit.”

The single-fare card system begins as a pilot project in 2007 among GO Transit, the TTC and Mississauga Transit.

No time frame was released for the creation of the authority, a Liberal campaign promise that has taken far longer to implement than originally hoped.

One insider to the negotiations said the various transit authorities balked at the initial format proposed by Queen’s Park because the GTTA sounded like it would be another level of bureaucracy — one that didn’t have any power to approve projects but had a lot of power to block or bog down projects.

There are other problems, especially balancing the needs of the TTC, which carries 420 million rides a year, with those of smaller transit authorities, which carry as few as 1 or 2 million a year.

“It’s like attempting to mate an elephant to a fly. I suppose it can be done; it just has to be done very carefully,” TTC chairman Howard Moscoe said. “I agree with the concept we have to co-ordinate our efforts across the region. Transportation is too important to be piecemeal.”

The small transit systems have feared the TTC will take all of the money allotted to the authority, leaving nothing for them. The TTC has feared its needs will be ignored because of the political advantage of catering to 905 voters.

Negotiations have been going on for more than a year over who would run the GTTA, although it sounds now as if it will be run much like GO Transit’s board, with a combination of politicians and transit experts.

“To me, some sort of hybrid model would be good, with some elected officials on it and some from the private sector,” Takhar said in an interview. “GO will become an integral part of the GTTA in the long run.”

GO chairman Gordon Chong said he was pleased Takhar “has moved towards an empowered transportation authority.”

Michael Roschlau, executive director of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, said he was glad to hear renewed talk of a powerful GTTA to rejuvenate transit infrastructure. The need for the authority is tied in with another Liberal promise: the protection of green space from urban sprawl in its Places To Grow initiative, he said.

“There needs to be a co-ordinating body that prioritizes investment, not only in transportation but in terms of the whole growth of the GTA,” Roschlau said.

“You can talk a lot about putting Toronto-style transit in the 905, but the reality today is you don’t have Toronto-style demand or Toronto-style density. Which is the chicken or the egg? Somehow we have to move forward on both fronts.”