When the budget dropped last week I began to wonder why the province hadn’t been very specific on which transit projects were going to be funded. Usually they are very specific and it made me wonder if something big was coming down the pipe…
Today the Province introduced The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area Transit Implementation Act, which makes very important changes to Metrolinx, GO Transit, and potentially transit across the region. This proposed law, which has passed first reading in the legislature, has (according to the press release), a few key elements:
- GO Transit and Metrolinx merge into a single transit agency to build more transit faster.
- A few weeks ago a friend asked me why GO’s fare increase was met with fairly little public opposition compared to previous years. After thinking about it for a while, I figured that it was because people can see GO improving services every day. While every transit agency is buying new buses and putting them on the road, you can see GO buying new locomotives and new rail-cars, and you can see construction at stations and along the line building new platforms and tracks. You can see where they are building grade separations and can even ride across some of the new ones. Compared to other transit agencies, people see GO as working hard to improve service – and there is a lot of truth to it. Metrolinx isn’t a builder or an operator, so to me it makes sense to have GO be the muscle and Metrolinx be the brains. I just hope that the very strong GO brand remains in some form.
- Ontario taxpayers, through Metrolinx, to own selected new regional transit infrastructure. Ontario would have greater control of valuable transit assets funded largely through the provincial government.
- My interpretation of this is that the province will own the lines that it, through Metrolinx, builds. In this industry, however, owning a piece of infrastructure doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be the one operating it.
- Up to 15 members on board of directors for new organization draw on professional and corporate experience to implement a regional transit network.
- One of the major changes to the governance model, this new board would be filled with industry experts instead of politicians. It’s currently unclear how these experts will be appointed, but this follows the recent changes to the board of TransLink in Metro Vancouver. On the one hand, an expert board gives formal recognition to the expertise that transportation planners, communication experts, civil engineers, public administration gurus and financiers have. On the other hand, these individuals are not politicians and are not directly responsible to the taxpayers. They might not be sensitive to the particular needs of a particular community, but they will be less likely to be biased towards or against certain communities. Ultimately, how one feels about this move will depend on how they feel about the current governance model. Was it too political? Was it biased for or against Scarborough (as an example, of course…)? Not in my view, but I concede that not many share my opinion.
- Transition advisor and Transition Advisory Board support merger and help bring two organizations together.
- Among this group is Rob MacIsaac, Peter Smith and Paul Bedford, all current board members, as well as industry experts. I get the sense that this is a glimpse into the future makeup of the Metrolinx board.
- Minister of Transportation issues transportation planning policy statements based on Regional Transportation Plan and municipalities to align transportation plans accordingly.
- This is the part that interests me the most, but ironically, I have very little to say about it. We know that certain transit agencies have been very keen to work with Metrolinx, GO and others on service and fare integration, while certain other agencies have not been enthusiastic. It will be interesting to see what direction the province will take with these policy statements. Will they mandate fare integration between the TTC and YRT? Will they order local transit to be introduced in areas where none currently exists (looking at you Caledon…)? Will they upload all transit services to GO? Should they? It’s clear to me that Queens Park wants to reserve the right to do so.
- Metrolinx consults with all municipalities in the GTHA on any changes to the plan.
- We have decided to organize ourself into a region of independent cities and towns, so it is critical to consider that layer when we need our plan to evolve to respond to changing times and conditions. But, we have to stop thinking of ourselves in this way. The GTHA is an interconnected region and the economy, environment and quality of life doesn’t drastically change when we reach a municipal boundary. It’s critical that the province consult with the municipalities – because they are going to be affected – but we have to keep our eyes on the prize of an interconnected regional transit network and work through any differences of opinion at the municipal level.
Time will tell if this betters the ability of Metrolinx and GO to deliver well planned, well built and well operated transit infrastructure to the residents and visitors of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, but I’m very optimistic. I see this act as the province recognizing the leadership role that Metrolinx should play in regional transportation planning and the effectiveness of GO Transit in delivering high quality services. Having served as a citizen advisor to Metrolinx on the Regional Transportation Plan, it’s no surprise that I have an interest in seeing the plan being implemented. Hopefully, this move is the first in many steps to get The Big Move moving.
Image source: Flickr user “itchycam”