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Blueprint for the future of transit

Rob MacIssac

TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Rob MacIsaac heads provincial transit agency Metrolinx. He says there won’t be surprises in the release.

GRIDLOCK’S GROWTH CHOKING REGION

6 million
Approximate population of Toronto-Hamilton region

8.6 million
Expected population of region by 2031

40,000
Hours of delay for local drivers each morning

46%
Growth in car trips locally between 1986 and 2001

36%
Population growth during the same period

<1%
Travellers who arrive at Pearson airport by transit

Source: Metrolinx

Long-awaited regional transit plan debuts today, but likely without road tolls or other transit taxes

Sep 23, 2008 04:30 AM
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

Go bold or go home: That’s been the credo of the 11-member board of Metrolinx, the provincial agency that’s supposed to avert the region’s growing gridlock crisis by transforming the way people and goods move in and around Toronto.

Commuters will see whether the bold rhetoric has translated into a politically fearless and far-reaching blueprint when the agency releases its twice-delayed investment strategy and draft regional transportation plan today.

But with no radical revenue generators such as road tolls, a regional transit tax or congestion pricing expected, it remains unclear whether Metrolinx can do much more than spur on the improvements already set out in the province’s $11.5 billion MoveOntario2020 plan.

Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac has said there won’t be many surprises in today’s release. The philosophical transformation of a car-dependent culture to one that relies more heavily on transit, biking and walking has been forecast repeatedly in the agency’s documents.

The board’s heavy hitter, Toronto Mayor David Miller, wouldn’t say whether today’s report would recommend tolls but hinted that the discussion is being postponed.

“The provincial government has made a very important contribution of $11 billion to these projects, including Toronto’s Transit City. That money needs to be spent and those investments made - and that’s the first stage,” Miller said yesterday. “There’s certainly enough money to start now. I think the discussion about things like tolls and other sources of revenue are sort of a second stage, but we’ll see what the report says.”

A rumoured rift between Toronto’s four representatives and the rest of the Metrolinx board over lack of support for the Transit City plan has been repaired, say Star sources. That plan, which calls for seven light-rail lines extending to the city’s borders, has been restored to the Metrolinx vision after drafts leaked earlier this month showing truncated versions of some lines, including the one along Jane St.

Also expected to vanish: an ambiguous description of the Eglinton line as a “Metro.”

Metrolinx instead will probably recommend the 10-kilometre tunnel envisioned as underground light rail in the Transit City plan, from about Leslie St. to Black Creek Dr., be widened so it can be converted into a full-fledged subway line if ridership eventually warrants it.

The $800 million it would cost to make that tunnel wider is a far cry from the $8 billion to $10 billion that TTC officials had suggested an Eglinton subway line would cost.

Have politics and a floundering economy rained on what Metrolinx’s sole citizen appointee, former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford, called the region’s last, best hope for avoiding a future choked by cars and greenhouse gases?

We still won’t know today, says TTC chair Adam Giambrone, who also sits on the Metrolinx board. The real work of getting the public to buy into the plan, with consultations this fall, is just beginning.

“Now comes the critical process, where we actually talk to people about the plan. Now we have to have the dialogue about how we pay for it,” he said, adding Metrolinx has “to show action and accomplishment.”

With so many competing interests vying for space and funding, public agreement is far from certain.

But there’s a lot to like about the Metrolinx proposal, says Kris Barnier of the CAA, which advocates for motorists. Road tolls, the CAA says, are a bad traffic management strategy because they drive motorists off expressways and into residential traffic, leading to more idling and emissions. But mobility hubs that redevelop vast tracts of commuter parking into residential and commercial developments are right on track, according to Barnier.

Another big winner, in Barnier’s books, is allowing employees to work from home one or two days a week. “Productivity actually goes up when people work from home, because the time they would have spent commuting, they’ll typically spend it at their computers.”




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