In the past, I’ve been impatient to grill newly appointed provincial transport ministers — by asking when their government was going to begin properly funding transit. After a long decline that spanned Liberal, NDP and (especially) Conservative regimes, the current crowd of Liberals under Dalton McGuinty has finally reversed the trend.
So, although St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley was named to lead Ontario’s ministry of transportation almost seven months ago, I haven’t been in the same rush to question him.
Bradley’s predecessors helped create Metrolinx, the body now charged with redesigning the GTA transport network. How are things going between his ministry and the new, ambitious organization?
Bradley says, “I think that relationship is good. We have confidence in the people who are there,” noting some previously worked for the province. He says “they recognize how important it is a) to move extensively, and b) to move quickly to solve what is a major challenge in terms of public transit.”
Metrolinx is expected to deliver its proposed Regional Transportation Plan to Queen’s Park later this year — perhaps not soon enough for GTA commuters stuck in very crowded trains and buses.
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Despite expected fireworks among the municipal politicians who oversee Metrolinx, Bradley notes that, so far, all parties are working well together.
Acknowledging that rising gas prices will push more drivers to transit, and that “there’s a lot of catch up,” the minister vows, “We will move as quickly as humanly possible.” He points out Ontario has already agreed to preliminary requests from Metrolinx, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
However, Bradley concedes, “Even if you allocate the funds — and we’re certainly prepared to allocate those funds … physically getting everything done is a challenge.”
But can Ontario afford the billions promised for transit projects if the economy weakens? The transport minister replies, “We have planned well into the future. When you’re a government, you have to look at every eventuality that exists. You can’t always anticipate that your revenues are going to be what they may have been in the past, so you have to build in some capacity within that budgetary process to ensure that you have that funding — and this government has tried to build that capacity in.”
Is the province serious about building new transit lines, as opposed to its traditional preference for road construction? Bradley says this fiscal year Ontario will spend “about 2.1 billion (dollars) for highways and, all in, about two billion for transit — so that’s very close (to half and half).” He adds, “In the past we would have seen something in the neighbourhood of 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 being spent on highways (compared to transit).”
Are the Liberals doing enough to ease congestion and increase mobility? What would you tell the transport minister?