Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Democratic Mass Transit

The current policy-revamp by Metrolinx regarding the future of Transit City post- David Miller begs a few questions. Does a Mayor have the power to unilaterally declare the end of a transit plan when billions of dollars have already been committed by provincial and federal governments and millions already spent on Environmental Assessments and planning?

What I think is lost in this story is how dangerous it is to entrust long-term planning decisions to Municipal governments. I appreciate arguments that this is damaging to democratic decision making, but transit planning is inherinetly a technocratic exercise, where planning, construction and completion takes place over several governments with different ideological stripes. And I am not certain how democratic back-room meetings with Rob Ford's Chief of Staff and the Premier's Office is.

Which is why a centralized decision-making body like Metrolinx is a great idea because it takes decisions away from politicians and in the hands of provincial bureaucrats and business people who are less susceptible to short term political objectives. This is necessary if we are to see the building of any new transit lines over the next few years.

Also necessary is to reform the manner in which transit is funded. The Transit City battle demonstrates that direct government subsidization of transit should be kept to a minimum. Of course, there needs to be massive public funding, but this must be seperate from general government revenue and sustainable over long periods of time. The Toronto Board of Trade raises some very positive suggestions about long-term financing methods for TTC and Metrolinx to consider.

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