The election of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives will likely change the advocacy terrain for Transport Action Ontario (TAO). The PCs made numerous transportation-related promises in their “Plan for the People” platform, although details were often lacking. The five key promises (in bold italics), along with TAO’s preliminary analysis, are given below.
1. Deliver 2-way all-day GO service, GO expansions and regional transit projects in Ottawa, Hamilton, Mississauga/Brampton, Kitchener-Waterloo and London. This appears to be good news, indicating the current slate of funded projects will be delivered, including GO Regional Express Rail and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Bus Rapid Transit projects.
2. Upload responsibility for existing and new subway lines from the City of Toronto ($160M/yr for existing), while guaranteeing the City keeps all revenue. . Although this promise does put more money in Toronto’s pocket, the yearly major capital maintenance costs of the existing subway network greatly exceed $160M/yr.
3. Add $5B in new subway funding to the $9B already available to build Sheppard Loop, Scarborough Extension, Relief Line and Yonge Extension, while building future Crosstown extensions underground. While the extra $5B is welcome, this appears to assume that the $9B recently committed by the feds and province is entirely directed at subways. Three of these subway ideas (Sheppard, Scarborough, Crosstown Extension) are very dubious and would not be supported by evidence. Furthermore the quantum of money is insufficient to build these projects. This promise displays the very unhealthy “subways, subways, subways” mentality that has caused so much damage in the past. There are many important LRT projects in Toronto, including Waterfront and Eglinton East that need funding.
4. Actively explore high speed rail (HSR) and study highway projects (various highway projects mentioned, including completing the environmental assessment (EA) for the GTA-W corridor). This appears to continue the Liberal plan to conduct an EA on HSR. Our biggest concern is that the planned EA had narrow scope and would not look at an HPR alternative. A clarification was received from Ernie Hardeman, MPP Oxford on the day before the election that the EA will explore all alternatives. While welcome, we need to ensure this really happens.
5. Bring back passenger rail service to the North ($45M per year). This is good news as it likely relates to restoring the Northlander service. We need to ensure this really happens and is only Step 1 of a northern rail passenger service!
There are other important issues that the PC platform was silent on, including provincial contribution to transit fare integration in Greater Toronto, and whether Metrolinx should receive broader authority and scope.
Of course, the biggest question is where the money will come from. The PCs are proposing a whole array of tax cuts, including middle class income tax cut, business tax cut, gas tax cut and eliminating the carbon tax. The latter two cuts have a double whammy – some of the funds are currently earmarked for transit, and secondly, higher gas and carbon taxes nudge human behaviour towards sustainable transportation modes, such as rail, which is good for the planet.