As part of the City's new push to gather public input on the future of Toronto's transit network, some Scarberians had their say.
About two dozen Toronto residents went to the Scarborough Civic Centre Wednesday night to take part in “Feeling Congested?,” a City campaign to build consensus around transportation priorities.
In contrast to recent politically-driven conversations about the modes of transportation residents prefer, this campaign is being led by City staff. Information gathered from several public sessions and through the campaign website, FeelingCongested.ca, will be delivered to Metrolinx, Toronto’s regional transit authority.
After some introductory remarks by staff, attendees began to discuss how the City could go about improving the way it moves people and goods across the region. Norm Feder, a retired Scarborough resident who primarily uses a car, spoke up. “Improving the travel experience for commuters is my number one priority,” he said. He added that he’d like to see developments along public-transit corridors be planned in better consultation with existing residents. “The City and the province have to co-ordinate development instead of doing it unilaterally,” he said.
Others, like Guled Arale, a student and public transit advocate, argued in favour of density and an accompanying transit network as a way of addressing inequality. “People use cars not because they choose to drive,” Arale said of residents in Scarborough, “it’s because they need to drive. We need to think about building communities where people can live and work without going across or out of the city.” He favoured more walkable communities and transit connections within Scarborough.
The scale of new developments was a recurring theme throughout the evening, one that Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) addressed. “Look at how long it’s taken us to build what [former mayor] Mel [Lastman] promised us,” she said, referring to development along the Sheppard subway line. “It’s a huge challenge to develop with density because many people don’t want the buildings, but they also don’t want taxes for transportation.”
Carroll agreed with a comment from one of the City staff members at the consultation, who said that the cancellation of the vehicle registration tax has made Torontonians wary of future City levies for transportation. “The mayor doesn’t seem to accept that the streams of revenue need to match the projects we want to build,” Carroll said. She accused the mayor of “playing political football with revenue tools other municipalities are embracing.”
Rob Hatton, a corporate financing staffer with the City, noted that since Metrolinx is expected to release on a report on how to fund transit in the GTA, now would be a bad time for Toronto to begin its own conversation about taxes and fees for transportation. “We’re not going there,” Hatton said bluntly. He pointed out that one quarter of the approximately $2 billion Metrolinx plans to raise annually will come back to municipalities to fund their priorities.
John Taranu, a volunteer with Cycle Toronto told staff that “the first consideration of any transportation network should be safety.” Taranu noted that Toronto’s public transit network is generally safe, but walking and cycling is often very dangerous, especially at large intersections and near highway on- and off-ramps. “Sometimes it’s very hard for people, especially seniors, just to get across the street in one light,” Taranu said. Cycle Toronto is pushing Metrolinx and the City to include considerations for cycling in all its consultations.
One issue that seemed to garner consensus was the need for dedicated funding for transportation infrastructure improvements. When moderator Nicole Swerhun polled the audience on support for dedicated revenue tools, practically every hand in the room went up. But residents differed on which tools would be most appropriate for raising revenues.
Transportation advocate Jose Ramon Gutierrez cautioned against taxing drivers who commute long distances across the city. “I see that there’s a big bias against car drivers,” Gutierrez said. He said the City should convert unused hydro and transit corridors into new highways.
Others, like resident Ross Jamieson, favoured parking levies and highway tolls that would raise revenue and discourage driving to major city centres. “The people who use the most should pay the most,” he said. Revenues derived from vehicle use dominated the discussion, while few favoured options to tax income, sales, and payrolls.