On Tuesday January 28, Dr. Anne Golden, former head of the Conference Board of Canada and Chair of the Greater Toronto Transit Investment Strategy and Investment Panel, gave a talk to a rapt audience of roughly 300 at Simon Fraser University's downtown campus. The topic was 'Breaking Political Gridlock to Address Transportation Challenges: Lessons Learned from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area'.
Dr. Golden headed up a panel of 13 experts and provided a report to the government of Ontario which proposed the following:
- Find a revenue stream from taxation to leverage any borrowings that the provincial government would make, without having a negative effect on the province's credit rating.
- The revenue stream chosen was a staggered increase in the gas tax, coupled with a small increase in the corporate income tax, and a diversion of some portion of the GST - all of which would provide seed money to fund the billions in transit improvements needed.
- Look at transit options which are appropriate to the specific need, rather than providing the most expensive options (ie, subways) throughout the region.
Her panel's recommendations are now being reviewed by the Ontario premier, and signs are that they will be adopted in the upcoming provincial budget in February 2014. Prior to the striking of the panel, the citizens of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area were very united in their desire for improved transit investments throughout the region; where they were not united was the issue of how to pay for these improvements.
I hate to say it, but think that the Greater Vancouver area can learn from Toronto's experience. Rather than going to an expensive and highly politicized plebiscite to determine the best sources of funding for transit needs, the Province of Ontario put together a blue ribbon committee and asked for solutions within 90 days. This was coupled with public consultation, so that the panel could hear straight from riders and drivers what their pressing issues were.
I am not necessarily advocating the solutions the panel came up with, which, incidentally, have been met with a high degree of support from the citizens of Ontario, but I believe the mechanism that was used in Ontario has much to recommend it.
I believe the Government of BC should really look at this model; the model combines public and expert input, and is likely far less expensive than the planned referendum. I am not sure that using referenda is the right course of action to determine the outcome for complex policy decisions. We need a process that, while subject to political discretion, is not driven solely by politics.
This opinion in this blog is mine alone, not that of NAIOP Vancouver. I am a citizen of the Lower Mainland; I am tired of gridlock and congestion, which has a high cost in terms of health and time, and passionate about having better transit options in the Metro Vancouver area. And, of course, I am eager to find the source of funds to pay for them. I would be interested in hearing the views of others on this issue.
By Darlene K. Hyde