Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Trudeau's Liberals prove transit funding can just be about math

If you haven’t read the federal government’s 2016 budget yet, I recommend it. Fun read. Not a lot of twists and turns, but it kept me engaged. My favourite part is on page 92.

Now, sure, it doesn’t look like much. It’s just a rather nondescript transit funding table — all text and numbers.

There’s no colour. No stock photos of smiling children or very serious businesspeople.

It’s simply got a list of provinces and territories with their share of national transit ridership, with that share then used to calculate how much of the government’s planned $3.4 billion in transit funding (over three years) each province will get.

That may sound like an unremarkable thing — like, duh, of course transit funding should be divvied up using a metric like ridership — but for those of us who have followed the issue of government transit funding for a long time, this is a revolutionary shift.

Here’s why. Traditionally, federal and provincial funding for transit has been doled out on a piecemeal, arbitrary basis. Government budgets would either commit to funding a few specific projects — usually with only the barest of justifications — or they would promise only to spend a certain amount of transit money, with the details TBD.

This led to an environment where transit funding announcements became absurdly politicized. With no mechanism for determining how to allocate cash, the last few decades are rife with examples of governments funding projects not based on ridership or business case, but because there was some political upside.

I could go on, but you get the point. If nothing else, page 92 is an indication that one level of government plans to get out of the business of picking transit winners and losers and instead simply provide a steady stream of funding for transit based on an objective measure like ridership.

That’s an important shift — one that I hope Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government follows through on.

Because the truth about building transit is that it doesn’t need to be such a divisive, complex issue. It doesn’t need to be about flashy campaign promises, or winning over key vote demographics, or colourful but entirely unrealistic maps.

Instead, as page 92 demonstrates, it can just be about math.

This post was originally published at on 2016-03-28T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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