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Gas crunch could fuel transit crisis

<p>Is anyone worried about gasoline reaching$1.50 per litre by this summer? The possibility was raised a few weeks ago in the media — and quickly faded away. Either the general public does not believe such heights will be achieved so soon, or there’s a prevailing sense that costlier fill-ups won’t really change anything.</p>




Is anyone worried about gasoline reaching$1.50 per litre by this summer? The possibility was raised a few weeks ago in the media — and quickly faded away. Either the general public does not believe such heights will be achieved so soon, or there’s a prevailing sense that costlier fill-ups won’t really change anything.





It’s possible drivers would still drive — mostly because many have little choice — and demand for transit wouldn’t spike, since our buses and trains are already overcrowded during rush periods.





Likewise, our society does not appear overly concerned about the prospect of world oil production starting to fall in a few years. The discussion around “peak oil” has centred on when supply will no longer follow growing demand — and the price of fuel suddenly increases faster than our economies can handle. There is ongoing debate of when oil production will peak although many believe the timeline is within four years. Some argue the peak is happening now while others insist such estimates are far too early, or that technology and economic adaptability will make the question irrelevant.





Judging which opinion is “winning” reminds me of the much wider debate on climate change, where some experts and media dispute there is even a problem. Although fewer people are talking about oil supplies, in both cases the big question is whether we start planning in anticipation of major crises, or lean toward a “wait-and-see” approach.





If gas prices ever rose enough to start pushing significant numbers of motorists from their cars, transit service would be overwhelmed. Capacity is already tight — just look at transit station parking lots or all the buses, streetcars or trains that are overcrowded now. In a real crisis, governments might designate some traffic lanes as transit-only, but for the most part a lead time of several years is needed to build new lines or enlarge existing ones. How quickly must we expand the transit network?





If you want to learn more or join this discussion, there is a meeting tonight and another Saturday about fuel and transport. Tonight, Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac is scheduled to meet with members of Post Carbon Toronto and discuss the GTA’s upcoming Regional Transportation Plan. For details and to RSVP, visit postcarbontoronto.org.





On Saturday, the advocacy group Transport 2000 Ontario will hold a general meeting and public forum at Metro Hall. Author and former Toronto municipal councillor Richard Gilbert will speak on“Preparing Transport for Oil Depletion.” Go to transport2000.ca and click on “Ontario” for times and location.




transit@eddrass.com





Ed Drass has been covering transportation issues in Toronto since 1998. He has a degree in urban studies from York University and regularly rides transit in the GTA and elsewhere.

 
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