Platform Primer: Transit and Infrastructure
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Platform Primer: Transit and Infrastructure

The outcome of the provincial election will have a major impact on the future state of Ontario's cities and how we get around in them. Here's what the parties say they'll do.

In the run-up to the provincial election on October 6, we’ll be comparing the major parties’ platforms on issues that matter to urban voters.

Infrastructure sounds like a boring subject until a bridge falls on you. In Toronto, where we have as much infrastructure as the rest of the province combined and the only subway, we’d be wise to vote in a government that’s willing to repay our loyalty by showering us with pirate gold, building projects, and shiny red rockets. So who should we love?

Once again, the Grits have the advantage, because as incumbents they have office towers full of minions who get paid to plan infrastructure projects. As a result, they’ve got a document called Building Together, which includes a lengthy list of present and future builds, from splashpads in Whitehaven to hospitals in Vaughan.

For today, however, we’ll focus on what the McGuinty government has been doing for Toronto and what they’re promising if we give them another four years.

Transit-wise, Toronto got shafted during the Mike Harris years, when the Eglinton West subway was scrapped even as shovels were in the ground. At the same time, the downloading (or if you’re a Harris fan, “services realignment”) of most transit operating costs made it tough for the TTC to maintain existing service levels, let alone expand.

The Grits have a mixed record when it comes to transit in Hogtown. When David Miller was mayor, the Liberals agreed to fund GTA transit projects (including the Transit City plan to build light rail across Toronto) to the tune of $9 billion, but later, pleading recession, deferred $4 billion of the money. Earlier this year, the Grits bought into Rob Ford’s ask to scrap the Transit City plan they had just approved and replace it with a single, all underground line on Eglinton. However, they subsequently declined his request for another $650 million in funding to complete the now-orphaned Sheppard subway extension.

The Liberals also instituted the arrangement that gives two cents of the provincial gas tax to municipalities for transit, the lion’s share of which comes to the GTA.

In future, they commit to “Improving and expanding transit with the ultimate goal of creating a truly regional transit system in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area,” although beyond projects already underway there’s no detail or dollar figures. Similarly, they’d “give commuters fast, affordable, and environmentally sound transit options,” which sounds good but could mean anything from wider highways to nuclear bullet trains.

The Liberals would expand GO Transit to provide full-day, two-way service on all corridors, along with a money-back guarantee if trains are more than 15 minutes late.

Beyond transit, McGuinty would “continue to find ways and means to work with other orders of government to build and renovate social and affordable housing,” which sounds like something Toronto could use, but no specifics are offered.

It’s also worth noting that if you do some zooming on the map of selected infrastructure projects on the Building Together site, there is literally nothing to be found in the city of Toronto. We do, however, get a single feature stimulus project, a capital investment at OCAD University.

Progressive Conservatives
The Conservative platform promises to spend $35 billion on new infrastructure in the first three years of a Tory government, “much of it in transit and transportation.”

What does this mean, practically speaking? Well, the plan is lacking detail, but we can glean some clues from the phrasing. Firstly, a lot of platform real estate is spent on complaining about traffic congestion, even referencing particular highways in Ottawa and Northern Ontario.

And while the phrase “our transportation policy needs to be a balance between public transportation and the cars we drive” sounds even-handed, when combined with the Fordish “We will stop the war on the car,” it’s clear that Tim Hudak thinks—inexplicably—that current policy favours public transit.

The PCs would continue to return some portion of the gas tax to municipalities. However, instead of limiting the largesse to 89 cities for allocation to public transit, he would distribute the money among 444 municipalities to build out roads or other infrastructure. Even with a promised bump of some $60 million to the money by the fourth year (roughly a 20 per cent increase over what was doled out this year), it’s hard to imagine that Toronto’s current share of the money wouldn’t be diluted.

Hudak has also taken toll roads off the table.

The NDP are taking the opposite tack, courting carless urban voters with promises of new support for public transit. Andrea Horwath recently committed to covering half the operating cost of transit for cities in return for a four-year freeze on fares.

She’s also said the NDP would create an ongoing arrangement with cities to allow guaranteed cash injection for infrastructure, which would make for better urban planning and would maybe eliminate the dispiriting spectacle of Toronto mayors panhandling at Queen’s Park for money to keep the city from physical collapse. Timing and dollar amount would be subject to negotiation.

That money would be in addition to a previous promise to allocate $70 million annually for road and bridge repairs across the province.

Further looking to restore an enviro-rep somewhat shredded by a proposal to cut gas taxes, the NDP have also promised $15 million for bicycle infrastructure.

Green Party
Green infrastructure proposals predictably centre around sustainability. The Greens would create a $200 million fund for “active transportation” and “complete streets initiatives” (if you’re not a transportation wonk, the former term means any human-powered form of transport, and the latter references urban streets that are friendly to all users—cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians). They’d also provide $400 million in tax credits over four years for benefits that support ride sharing and carpooling, as well as a refundable provincial tax credit for transit users.

One of the Green’s more interesting ideas is to build Combined Heat and Power systems (CHP), which take heat from existing buildings like factories, schools, and malls, and use it to generate electricity. Such systems are usually used locally and are relatively inexpensive to operate.

The Upshot
From a Toronto-centric point of view, there are a couple of things to consider. Premier McGuinty has been negotiating with Toronto mayors for eight years. On the one hand, he declined to pony up the last $650 million requested from our effervescent mayor, but on the other hand, over the years the Grits have come to the table with significant capital for transit. On the third hand, they pulled back $4 billion that had already been allocated to Transit City, and on the fourth, strangely mutated hand, they still haven’t jumped on the opportunity to pick up TTC operating costs.

While Dalton McGuinty is casting flirtatious glances in Toronto’s direction, Andrea Horwath really wants to take us to the prom. Operating funds? Sure! Fare freeze? Of course! Regular, no-strings-attached infusions of infrastructure cash? We could never say no to you, Toronto! But all this stuff costs real, tax-payer provided dollars, and in a troubled economy that could mean other, unpopular budget choices.

Tim Hudak knows you like driving places in your privately owned car to spend time with your family, and he aims to make that easier. The Tory platform woos the voter who doesn’t need or even like transit, not hardcore elitist urbanites sipping lattes on sushicycles. Decide where you fit in best.

The Greens, god bless ’em, want to make every street Sesame Street, and every building a green one.