Metrolinx challenges industry stakeholders to help identify gridlock solutions in GTHA

by Canadian Shipper

BRAMPTON, ON–Representatives from Metrolinx, an agency of the Ontario government, presented highlights of their ” Big Move” plan Monday night to CITT’s Toronto Area Council meeting at Maritime-Ontario’s Brampton, Ontario head office.

 Metrolinx is an agency of the Government of Ontario, created under the Metrolinx Act, 2006, to improve the coordination and integration of all modes of transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

 The “Big Move” is a key component of the public transit strategy designed to alleviate congestion between Toronto and its neighbouring communities.

 The strategy, adopted in 2008 by the Metrolinx Board, was developed through intensive public consultation and collaboration with key stakeholders, municipal leaders and professionals throughout the region.

John Howe, Metrolinx Vice President of Investment Strategy and Project Evaluation, called The Big Move a “bold and visionary plan that outlines a common vision for transportation for one of the largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America.” 

Within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, on a daily basis, there are some one million truck movements to and from the area, 6000 intermodal units handled, and some 31.7 billion of goods processed annually. 

“Effective transit and transportation solutions can bolster our global competitiveness, protect our environment, and improve our quality of life. Expanding transportation can help create thousands of new green and well-paid jobs, and save billions of dollars in time, energy and other efficiencies,” Howe said. 

The Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Transportation have committed $11.5 billion to begin the implementation of The Big Moveand to get shovels in the ground on key transit projects. 

Metrolinx is now working collaboratively across the region to deliver The Big Move. But the issue is how to pay for congestion in a climate of continuous urban growth.

 “The goods movement sector is a guiding light for us. The GTHA has a ‘special place’ within the trade corridor. If we fall short of achieving our full potential so does the nation,” said Howe.

He said the dollar figure on the cost of congestion in the region is a lost $ 6 billion in travel costs and productivity, with jobs going uncreated or unfilled because of congestion.

Aside from the goal of increasing the number of people living near rapid transit, i.e. higher order transit that moves in its own right of way, the challenge to industry stakeholders is to help Metrolinx “identify the solutions that will help them perform better,” said Howe.

Already there are $16 billion dollars of “shovels in the ground”, and progress has been made in terms of getting three levels of government onside.

“But as growth is relentless we have to get dedicated new revenues to build continuously as the region continues to grow. With Ontario’s debt situation some tough choices will have to be made,” said Howe.

The next wave of projects is pegged at $34 billion dollars with allocation of funds towards local transit as well.

The process for choosing the funding tool is the major issue at this point. Looking at models elsewhere in the world, Metrolinx determined that all large urban jurisdictions rely on direct government grants but also have access to their own dedicated revenue tools.

 Metrolinx, said Howe, determined that the funding mechanisms should honour the following principles: revenues should be dedicated, there should be fairness in cost and benefits, equity across the region, and transparency and accountability.

The agency’s recommended investment tools emerged as part of its investment strategy released at the end of May, and which, Howe noted, Metrolinx “has no power to implement” at this point. 

The tools include raising the harmonized sales tax (HST) by one percentage point, implementing a business parking levy of 25 cents per day, a 5 cent fuel and gas tax, and a proposed 15 percent development charge.

“All of these tools would require legislative change and municipal cooperation, and would generate two billion annually,” said Howe.

He said the agency gave serious thought to highway tolls as a tool “but after looking at it very closely we felt there were not the transit alternatives in place to switch to,” said Howe.

He added that evidence also showed that increasing the property tax burden would not be a good tool as this option was “maxed out”.

The revenue tools will be key to getting the next ball rolling on the Big Move plan, and Howe said it “would take political courage to act on any of these recommendations.”

“It’s now shaping up that the GTHA today is the single biggest bottleneck on the way to the border, and that should be a wakeup call to the federal government,” said Howe, who added that Canada is unique in the group of G8 nations because the percentage is federal funding dedicated to infrastructure is well under what is available to the other G8 nations.

Following the release of Metrolinx’s investment strategy in May, Glen Murray, Minister of Transportation and Minister of Infrastructure, for Ontario, said “the new Ontario government is taking action to expand the GTHA transportation system by building roads, expanding the region’s public transit network and integrating active transportation systems. Our government will continue to expand the transportation and transit system, beginning with building the next wave of projects identified in the Metrolinx Big Move plan.”

“The provincial government has committed to identify and implement a dedicated revenue stream to pay for this historic transit investment. The recommendations in the Metrolinx investment strategy will be a valuable factor in our government’s decision-making process. The Ministry of Transportation will evaluate the revenue tools proposed by Metrolinx by conducting a detailed analysis and study additional funding options for transit expansion.

Additionally, our government will establish an advisory panel to help guide our next steps. The panel will help lead an engagement process with the people of Ontario, municipal governments, st
akeholders and communities on the recommendations outlined in the Metrolinx investment strategy, including our commitment to the conversion of select High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in the GTHA to High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes as identified in Ontario’s 2013 Budget,” he said.

As already reported by Transportation Media, industry associations like the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) have objected to the proposal from Metrolinx for a special 5-cent a litre tax on diesel fuel to help pay for the regional transportation agency’s $20 billion transit plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“The trucking industry believes in paying its fair share for the infrastructure it uses. However, Metrolinx is a transit plan; it does not address the equally compelling need to maintain and upgrade the region’s or the province’s network of roads, highways and bridges,” said OTA’s president and CEO, David Bradley in June.

The OTA’s position is that tax revenues generated from commercial diesel fuel taxes and heavy truck registration fees should be allocated to a dedicated provincial trust fund specifically for roads, highways and bridges.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) also stated in a release that its members had expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, stating that a CFIB survey found that 84% of respondents want to see existing taxes and fees better used to fund these initiatives.

“Taxpayers aren’t buying the argument that hiking taxes is the only solution to reducing gridlock on our roads and highways,” said CFIB’s president, Dan Kelly. “While some on Bay Street might be perfectly fine with paying more, the majority of Ontarians who rely on Main Street for their livelihood want the Wynne government to send Metrolinx back to the drawing board.”

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