GO Transit getting bigger, but suffers growing pains
GO Transit is expanding more rapidly than any other transit system in Ontario, but riders might not cheer just yet.
After years of neglect by the province, a major growth spurt is set to increase bus and train service throughout the Golden Horseshoe.
This month’s construction news includes a GO station underway on the Milton line, more parking spaces at Bradford and Aurora stations and — unbeknownst to many transit users — the first of several significant rail bridges carrying GO trains over railway bottlenecks has been opened.
But there are drawbacks to progress. Construction delays are plaguing many lines — trains on the Milton route suffered a 46 per cent on-time rating in October.
GO riders expecting punctual arrivals had better prepare for more signal problems and slowdowns. Managing director Gary McNeil recently warned, "It’s going to be a rough road for a while."
And yet, with all of GO’s impressive growth plans, there is no sign they will have the required impact on GTA traffic congestion. GO Transit can’t keep up with a huge latent demand for its services — yet according to the municipal governments that pay for about 40 per cent of the agency’s growth costs, GO has missed out on multi-millions of dollars over the last few years.
Regional politicians contend that substantial funds could have been raised from levies on new home sales — but the province would not allow it.
For two or three years, requests from the regions to permit higher fees were not addressed — then Ontario recently announced a full review of the way the two levels of government share revenues.
Alas, the analysis is another year and a half away from completion. In the meantime, most regions have declared they will not be able to provide their required share to fund GO.
This complicated political and financial dispute could have been resolved sooner. As long as it persists, GO falls further behind in providing the extra train and bus service that the GTA needs.
York Region alone says it will be short over half its share in 2007.
Add the expected shortfalls from other regions, and GO is faced with cutting back its growth plans as soon as next year.
Asked whether the province is facing an imminent showdown with GTA governments, Ontario transport minister Donna Cansfield says the wider cost-sharing relationship must be examined first. "I’m expecting them to work with us," she says. "We’re in the same situation ... we only have so much money" to help fund GO expansion.
NDP transport critic MPP Peter Tabuns says there must be "immediate reform" of the laws that allow transportation projects to be financed from new home sales.