Think big. That was the message being put forward by the Toronto Transit Alliance (TTA), their panel of guests and a room full of self-professed transit geeks. On the panel were Bruce McQuaig, President and Chief Executive Officer of Metrolinx, Richard Joy of the Toronto Board of Trade, Mitsy Hunter of Civic Action and Cherise Borda of the Pembina Institute. The Big Move is a transportation plan for the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) being put forward by the provincial government agency Metrolinx. At 25 years and $50 billion, the Big Move is the first plan of its kind. The potential is here to have a drastically positive impact on the GTHA. Everything from community connection to employment could be impacted. There is only one problem: How are we going to pay for it?
Sarah Thomson, Chair of the TTA and Publisher of Women’s Post, has been adamant about pushing for a 1% regional sales tax. Such a method would get those living and working in the region to share in the cost while raising more than $800 million per year toward municipal revenue. Is this the answer? Possibly.
There are a number of other tools that cannot be discounted. A recent report from Metrolinx advised the region look at a number of option revenue options; chief among them connecting expansion to property tax and tolling roads.
Whatever revenue tool the region chooses to utilize, this is an issue that needs to be resolved. As things stand currently, the region is losing $6 billion annually to gridlock. That number is only expecting to balloon to $15 billion by 2031. But Richard Joy made it clear that we have an opportunity if an early provincial election is called. He is calling on Ontarians to make this the ‘transportation election.’ Put transportation on the map during the coming election cycle. Transportation consistently ranks among health and education as the most important issues to Ontarians. It is time we responded to it as such by calling on the government to create a dedicated stream of funding specific to transportation.
One thing is certain: if governments and citizens do not address this now, the issue will get away from them. Transportation has already become a generational issue. If we act now we can make sure the next generation is not saying the same thing to us. So, as Thomson said to close the symposium, “Tell everyone you know about the need for revenue tools.”
For more information on the TTA’s proposals to ‘unlock gridlock,’ take a look at their website and follow them on Twitter at @TransitAlly and #UnlockGridlock.