Canada's, Toronto's, Public Transit Deficit Drains Dollars

I hear some gung-ho group wants to apply for another Games to come to Toronto. I hear the Canadian government, that is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, wants to increase Canadian worker productivity.

They both have their heads in the construction cement.

Because neither is facing public transit reality.

Toronto is hosting the Pan Am Games in 2015. One of the key things about any large athletic games is public transit, getting athletes and visitors to and from the athlete village and/or the venues.

It's why cities usually build subways or swift transit lines in time for large Games.

But apparently we here in Toronto are special, we don't need capital expansion of the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) by 2015. We're all about missing the boat, like building the international ferry terminal in time for the Rochester ferry to leave the dock, the entire region actually (I laughed and laughed at the scene in Rookie Blue that took place at Toronto's so-called fast ferry terminal, the one that exists only for TV shoots now because former Mayor David Miller couldn't see the advantage of transit by water, of offering an alternative to sitting on the packed highways, but I digress).

But also we're about not acknowledging that Toronto has the highest commuting time on the continent because our TTC is so undercapitalized, lacks a proper subway backbone, and cannot provide the base populace comprehensive and swift transport.

I swear with the usual tourist season explosion this month, the subways and buses and streetcars are suddenly even fuller, slower. (I was sitting in the usual Queen Street gridlock and fantasizing as usual about how much faster riding on a subway would be, how much smoother car travel would be if such a subway existed, but I digress.)

Yet apparently putting on a few special buses for the athletes will be enough for the Pan Am Games in three years time. I suppose they'll levitate them over our gridlock. Seriously though, I think they'll put in special lanes. But that'll only get the athletes to the venues, not the visitors. After 2015, they'll sort of increase TTC service down near the lake. On top of that, politicians think something like 140 condos going up in the downtown area don't need added TTC service either. Well, like the athletes village, long after hundreds, nay, thousands of people move in, that is.

Meanwhile Harper may be being urged to talk about productivity, about how our low productivity is harming our economy, but if he did that he'd have to do something about Canada's public transit infrastructure deficit. I hear cities like Calgary and Vancouver are building solid public transit. Still, if he was to face up to the enormous deficit in Toronto alone, Harper's dollar deficit reduction plans would be kiboshed.

Yet I wonder. If productivity is such a drain on our economy, then having people sit in their cars for over an hour each day is contributing to reduced tax revenues. Reduced tax revenues equals higher deficits. Gridlock is draining dollars from our economy and government coffers.

The federal government with its EI reforms is lecturing provinces about the need to grow their economies. But it's a bit tough to grow an economy from the seat of a car stuck in a permanent traffic jam and with the federal government refusing to pony up their part of the solution.

If new consortiums want another Games in Toronto, if Harper wants to increase productivity, then everyone --- municipal, provincial, and federal -- need to truly understand what previous governments did -- that you need to have short-term loss to effect long-term gain, that you need to spend the required dollars, not the politically okay number, that stalling for decades means the bill is going to be extremely high, and that robust public transit is necessary in cities and between towns to reduce health care costs (eg, exercise, pollution) and to grow the economy and tax revenues.



Laura Wilson said…
Underfunded public transit is a problem that affects municipalities across Canada because there is no stable funding mechanism in place. Presently, Canada is the only G8 and OECD country without a federal mandate to support public transit. Learn more about the push to establish a National Transit Strategy here: