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New board will try to untangle regional traffic knot

Agency gets idea of enormity of task at its first meeting


The province’s new regional transportation agency met for the first time yesterday to begin drafting a multibillion-dollar plan to fight traffic congestion, providing a glimpse of the tensions between Toronto and its suburbs.

The Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, an 11-member body made up mostly of municipal politicians from the region, including Toronto Mayor David Miller, is expected to come up with an action plan on public-transit expansion by early next year.

The new board, on which Toronto has four seats, got a sense of the enormity of their task by looking at a consultant’s study yesterday.

The projections from the IBI Group suggest that with $17-billion in investments in light rail, buses and subways, the proportion of GTA commuters riding public transit would rise from the current 18 per cent to 23 per cent. Many felt these numbers were too low.

Future controversies will no doubt centre on one of the GTTA’s powers, as outlined in a briefing by ministry staff yesterday: The agency will be able to charge fees for “revenue generation.”

GTTA chairman Rob MacIsaac, a former mayor of Burlington, favours considering road tolls, or even a London-style “congestion charge.” Mr. Miller has said he would consider budging from his reluctance to impose tolls only if they were part of a region-wide scheme that did not single out downtown Toronto.

The tolling issue did not come up in yesterday’s mostly jovial first meeting. But the underlying urban-suburban culture clash was evident in the discussion of the province’s regional “smart card” initiative, in which the Toronto Transit Commission — much larger than all of the rest of the GTA’s transit agencies put together — has only reluctantly taken part, even as the rest of the region begins to adopt it.

Mr. Miller and TTC chairman Adam Giambrone contested an assertion from a Ministry of Transportation official that the card would save money.

The TTC insists the card would add $20-million a year in operating costs alone for Toronto. The TTC is so far participating at only a handful of its subway stations.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Giambrone also shifted in their seats as Roger Anderson, chairman of Durham Region, suggested the fare card be paid for by selling its naming rights.

“There’s an opportunity here for somebody to pay for this, other than us,” Mr. Anderson said, suggesting the card could be labelled with “Computers R Us, or whatever.” Mr. Giambrone said afterward that some sort of “TTC branding” of the card is “extremely significant.” Other major cities with “smart cards” have given them catchy names, such as London’s “Oyster” card, rather than sell naming rights.

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, whose transit agency is participating, said she also had questions about the card’s $250-million setup cost.

“I don’t feel as mayor of Mississauga that I know enough about it,” she said.

Mr. Anderson, who oversees Durham Transit’s fleet of 147 buses — the TTC has more than 1,500 — also complained that his transit system doesn’t get as much money as the TTC does, earning a quick correction from Mr. Miller.

“We don’t get anywhere near the provincial subsidy you guys get, for some reason,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Miller interjected: “You get much more than us per rider.”

Measured per rider, the TTC may be the least subsidized transit system in North America, covering more than 75 per cent of its costs with fares.