Transit cuts wrongheaded

Picture this: A business executive lands at Pearson Airport with a six-hour stopover on his way to another city. Even though it is rush hour, he considers taking in a bit of the city, so he takes the express train from Pearson to Union Station and spends a couple of hours checking out the landmarks and enjoying the diversity of our city before comfortably travelling back to the airport. He likes what he sees of Toronto so much that he decides to bring his family here on their next vacation, a visit that could mean a significant financial benefit to the city.

Now, examine that scenario with the understanding that Pearson is the busiest airport in Canada and one of the busiest in the world with more than 30 million travelers annually.

Having easy access on public transit to the downtown core could see some of those 30 million people similarly spending some time enjoying our city and building our economy.

That could be some of the benefits of a completed Metrolinx transit system based on the plans that the Liberals just seem to have given up on – a world class transit system for a world class city.

When Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced that the latest Liberal budget is seeking to cut $4 billion from Metrolinx’s $9.3 billion allocation for the GTA, which is already not enough money, the badly needed upgrades to the area’s transportation network just went up in smoke. Fortunately, the GTA won the right to host the PanAm Games in 2015 so some of the transit improvements needed for them will be made. Were it not for the games, the whole plan might have been scrapped.

What a shame!

Those living in the more disadvantaged areas of the city, already poorly served by public transit, will bear the burden of this decision even more as, once again, the ‘politics of now’ under the rubric of political expediency has trumped ‘vision’ in the McGuinty government. But the consequences are even more far-reaching as the GTA population is expected to increase by more than one million over the next 10 years.

Disappointingly, the politics of now look a lot like the politics of back then. Is it any wonder McGuinty’s principles of management have been referred to as “Harris-lite’? For it was some 15 years ago that the Conservative Mike Harris government stopped transit construction to save money. If, for example, Harris had gone ahead with the Eglinton West subway line it would have been built by now, and Toronto would be keeping jobs because of the flow of in-transit travelers, not to mention easing traffic congestion along the Eglinton corridor – an environmental bonus – and at much less than it would cost if it is to ever be built in the future.

We all understand that the worldwide economic meltdown needed strong and decisive action, and that with tens of thousands of jobs at stake, especially in Ontario’s manufacturing and auto sectors, something had to be done to stop the hemorrhaging. The result is that the government now faces a $21.3 billion deficit that the McGuinty Liberals estimate will take eight years to rein in. But to do the same thing as Harris did by holding back funding for improving the public transit infrastructure is shortsighted at best. Many speak of not mortgaging our grandchildren’s future, of not piling up debt that they will have to pay. Who do you think will have to pay to build the necessary transit lines, roads and other infrastructure in the future? And at what cost?

The government’s decision to cut spending on Metrolinx, no doubt with an eye to the 2011 provincial elections, may be its way of playing to voters beyond the 416 and 905 areas. But it is wrong.

As a solution to growing gridlock, pollution reduction and job creation, the Metrolinx transit plan – together with other needed infrastructural improvements – would not only have helped to place this city at par with the great cities of the world, but would have actually presented our grandchildren with a substantive asset for which they surely would have thanked us.

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