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TTC to the Feds: Congestion Is a Problem You Need to Care About

What TTC chief general manager Gary Webster will be telling the House of Commons today

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sniderscion/5097813223/"}sniderscion{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Does Canada need a national transit strategy?

That is the question the House of Commons’ Standing Committee of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities—prompted by a private members’ bill introduced by Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina)—is considering. They are currently conducting hearings into the idea, and speaking today at 3:30 p.m. is TTC chief general manager Gary Webster.

Because the National Public Transit Strategy Act is a private members’ bill, it cannot include any appropriations requests—that is, it can’t ask the government to spend money. (Only the government—the prime minister or cabinet members—can introduce bills that are directly attached to funding.) But what it can do, what it does in this case, is highlight an issue and try to install it more centrally as a policy concern. Chow’s proposal, in essence, is that the government “establish a national strategy to provide public transit that is fast, affordable and accessible.”

In Toronto, we’re experts at least in the depth of the need for such transit.

While we don’t know yet what direction the committee’s questions of Webster might take, here for starters is the text of his prepared remarks. He begins with a description of the TTC—number of riders, size of its budget, and other key facts and figures—and then moves on to substantive policy questions. Below is the full text of his address from that point forward.

Comments regarding the Proposal for a National Transit Strategy to the Parliament of Canada, Standing Committee on Transportation

Laying new streetcar and subway rail isn’t as exciting as cutting the ribbon for the first trip of a new Toronto Rocket subway train, but if this fundamental need for funding of basic infrastructure—what we call State of Good Repair—isn’t met, then the system will no longer be able to operate those much needed new trains.

Maintaining an infrastructure with an asset value of $11 billion is critical to a modern transit system in a city like Toronto—on that, I think we can all agree.

Continued and sustained capital investment in the TTC infrastructure ensures that we can meet the enormous demand for transit service in the Toronto region.

Through fares our customers contribute over 70% of the TTC’s operating budget with the other 30% subsidized by property taxes levied on home owners and businesses in the City of Toronto only. Our customers and the Toronto taxpayers are doing their part. This cost recovery is one of the highest for any transit operation—making the TTC one of the most efficient transit systems in the western world. But we, like other large transit operators, need the tools in the form of long term, sustainable and predictable funding to continue to meet customer demands for modernization and improved service.

Public transit is just that: public – supported and sustained through public investment.

The federal government has been a key partner in funding the subway extension north into York Region, as well as providing the much needed capital funding of projects like the new high capacity Toronto Rocket subway trains. These investments help make the TTC more efficient.

We appreciate the investment the federal government has made in transit and particularly in the TTC. The size and age of our system along with the demand for more capacity due to the growth we are facing means we need even more support.

You’re all familiar with the congestion story in the GTHA; it will not improve until transit systems like the TTC can focus on transit and the demands of our customers – your constituents.

We spend too much time wondering how the system will be funded each budget cycle, rather than planning improved service so our customers can get to work and school on time—key to the success of the Toronto region’s economy.

The Federal Gas Tax, CSIF, Building Canada Fund—all are examples of federal government investment in transit. We thank you; you have demonstrated a recognition of the value of transit investment.

This investment needs to continue.

Long-term sustainable funding ensures reinvestment to ensure infrastructure is modernized and expanded to address the annual growth in ridership of 3%.

As set out in the TTC’s approved Capital Program, we have a $7.8 billion capital need over the next 10 years, but we only have $5.5 billion in funding commitments from the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto. These needs will only increase as the system ages and as the demand for service grows. So, we have needs for more long term sustainable investment in TTC, but we also have real immediate needs. One of our most pressing needs is the modernization of Toronto’s streetcar fleet as well as the need for a MSF. This streetcar network carries 300,000 people every day to employment and education opportunities. A federal contribution to new, modern and much larger streetcars will improve TTC performance and significantly increase the ridership that could be carried on this network.

Our message is that a new, permanent relationship needs to be forged with all governments and all transit operators—one that recognizes basic infrastructure needs, as well as the increasing demand from the public that transit be efficient; that transit be reliable; that transit be a viable alternative to the private automobile; and, finally, that the story not be about annual hand-wringing over how the TTC will meet its budget targets each year, but rather how sustained, predictable federal funding for transit will contribute to the TTC continuing to improve service and meet its growing demands.

We support the principles set out by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus and the Canadian Urban Transit Association in their presentations to the Government of Canada to establish a National Transit Strategy.

In Toronto, we are asking our customers to pay more for transit through their fares. We are asking the City and the Province of Ontario to put a funding strategy in place, so the Toronto taxpayers know how they are expected to contribute to transit. We are asking the province and Metrolinx for more capital investment for our transit needs. For the Government of Canada, we are asking you to respond to the request for a National Transit Strategy in a way that meets the unique and growing needs of the TTC. We ask that your response to a National Transit Strategy reflect the significant infrastructure requirements of the TTC, its age and the growth required to meet the capacity demands of growing ridership. We also ask that any funding allocations be based on transit ridership. As noted in this presentation we have some very real and immediate needs in which we need your help. We also need more sustainable capital investment in TTC.

A healthy, properly funded transit system is no longer a luxury for good economic times—it is a “must-do” to ensure the economy remains healthy and to ensure people can get to work.

Thank you, again, for allowing me to share the perspective of Canada’s largest transit system and the growing challenges we face. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

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