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Transit cash falls short, urban planners say


With a report from Canadian Press

The federal government is expected to announce today $1-billion in transit funding for the Greater Toronto Area, a day after the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called for twice that amount annually.

The new money will be added to provincial and municipal funds and dedicated to extending the Toronto subway north to Vaughan and improving transit in the suburbs.

“This is great news but ultimately we require a sustained funding program … it really represents only an increment of what we ultimately need,” said Robert MacIsaac, chair of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, which manages regional transit and transportation planning.

Transit has long been strapped for money, said Mr. MacIsaac, who added, citing research by the TD Bank group, that this has cost the economy $2-billion annually.

“We need to be spending something on the order of half a billion dollars or a billion dollars more annually than we currently do,” he said.

“We have to make up for the chronic underfunding that we’ve seen for literally decades and we need to expand to meet growing need.”

His argument echoed the federation’s call yesterday for a national transit strategy.

According to the group, such a strategy would improve competitiveness and quality of life, while also reducing pollution.

“Getting people out of their cars and onto public transit is the only way to reduce automobile emissions and end gridlock, but our transit systems need $2-billion a year just to stay in good repair and expand to serve new riders,” Mayor David Miller said in a statement.

Adding to the chorus was the Canadian Urban Transit Association. Citing self-commissioned research, the group said that nearly three-quarters of Canadians believe Ottawa should do more to support public transit infrastructure.

Today’s new funding from Ottawa will match provincial money set aside last year but which has been held in trust awaiting a federal contribution.

“I encouraged the Prime Minister to consider addressing outstanding inequities that have been outstanding for a long, long time,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said after meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“The Prime Minister listened … and I think there is a real sincerity on his part to address some of those issues.”