Worries about funding transit projects

Item date: 
March 9, 2014
Item context: 

This short article quotes University of Toronto professor Eric Miller on his most recent assessment of Metrolinx revenue tools,  politics and the potential need to "change the people" at Metrolinx.  Metrolinx VP Leslie Woo doesn't appear as worried...

BY: SHAWN JEFFORDS

Could the Big Move funding debate end in disaster?

Eric Miller, director of the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute, worries that is a possibility.

The civil engineering professor says even though the need to combat congestion appears self-evident, the outcome of the debate around funding is far from certain.

Miller says revenue tools introduced to fund the Big Move, everything from a gas tax increase to road tolls and development charges, must be addressed soon by the province. Without funding, the Big Move stalls, Miller adds.

“At the end of the day, funding is that 800-pound gorilla here,” he insists. “Everybody wants better transit ... none of that is going to happen unless we fund it. We’re long past the point where it’s responsible to simply say ‘no.’”

Miller says part of the problem Metrolinx faces is the politics surrounding transit growth. While they haven’t gotten everything right, there is time to make changes to the Big Move. But those changes should be based on data, not political interference, he argues.

And when Metrolinx makes a mistake, it has to own up without fear of retribution, he says.

“Let’s not throw out the organization or the process,” he adds. “Maybe we have to change the people. We should be critical. We should look at what’s working and what’s not.”

Some critics say Metrolinx lost face when it went along with a City of Toronto plan to build a Scarborough subway instead of the light rail it had originally proposed. But Leslie Woo, the agency’s vice-president of policy and planning, says Metrolinx planners must be flexible and have the ability to meet the desires of elected officials. How to do that effectively is the “multi-billion dollar question,” she adds.

“I always try to take the bigger picture view,” she says. “There are so many details to deliver on this plan, it’s going to be an on-going challenge to understand the implementation, did we take a left turn instead of a right turn, but did we end up at the same place?”