Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto needs new transit, not new conversations on how to fund it

By: Metro Published on Wed Sep 18 2013

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation Minister Glen Murray announced this morning that, following last spring's lengthy consultations and abundance of conversations about transit funding, the provincial government is ready to take their next step: even more consultations and conversations about transit funding.

Once again, we're getting a little more transit conversation and a lot less transit action.

Wynne and Murray announced they're convening an investment strategy review advisory panel made up of the usual gaggle of prominent people who tend to sit on panels like this. I've got nothing against any of them, but the whole idea strikes me more as a stall tactic than an actual attempt to make progress on the transit file.

Because let's be honest. There's no great mystery about how to fund new transit. The answer is boring, politically unpopular and the same as it ever was. Namely, new transit costs money and governments raise money with taxes.

There's no alternative solution on the horizon. It's unlikely this advisory panel will stumble across a mystical incantation or a wish-granting subway genie. Sure, there are strategies that governments can use to offset some of the cost of building transit — public-private partnerships, land value capture and whatever else — but the sheer scale of what the GTA needs is such that the conversation will always turn back to tried-and-true taxes.

There's several ways to collect that tax revenue, of course. But the Metrolinx-led investment strategy process earlier this year already did a pretty good job of narrowing the options down to things like a sales tax, a gas tax, parking fees and road tolls. While I'd still like to see politicians look at revenue-raising potential with the income tax, what we really need now is not more reports and recommendations but politicians who are willing to stand up and clearly endorse taxes to pay for transit.

That's a tall order, apparently. Especially with a fragile minority government at Queen's Park seemingly embracing a permanent election mode while putting forward a transportation minister who can charitably be described as “erratic.” They're not helped by opposition parties that offer only vague ideas on transit or swear up and down they can somehow build all the transit we need using current government revenues — without ever offering any details.

But maybe I'm just pessimistic. Who could blame me? After years of flip-flopping, political indecision, funding announcements, funding reversals and blatant pandering, it doesn't feel like there's much reason to feel hopeful about this announcement or the future of transportation in the GTA.

We need transit. We're getting an advisory panel. It's really hard to ride to work on an advisory panel.

This post was originally published at on 2013-09-18T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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