GTTA chair and minister offer up details on transit
I had a chance last week to sit down with Ontario Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield and the chair of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority Rob MacIsaac to find out who’s now responsible for building a comprehensive transit network in the country’s largest metropolis.
The main criticism that has dogged the GTTA, which is made up of municipal leaders from Hamilton to Durham Region, is it hasn’t had the money or legal power to implement a plan.
Then, in June, four months before the upcoming provincial election, the Liberal government announced the $11.5-billion MoveOntario 2020 proposal to build a whole slate of transit projects.
Cansfield insists this is a “vision” — it’s up to the GTTA to decide what gets built.
The regional agency, she says, “has funding, it has legislative ability. It has authority to develop the plan, so we’ve given them a time line in 2008 — I haven’t heard that that’s not reasonable. And public transit is a priority of this government. I think those are the most important words you’re going to hear. So we’re going to do everything we can to help, facilitate, remove barriers, and do whatever is necessary to work with the GTTA to make public transit happen because it has been such a deficit in this province.”
The agency largely relies on provincial staff who temporarily report to the GTTA, and their work will soon be augmented by transport consulting firms who will do a lot of the “heavy lifting,” says MacIsaac.
So, who’s really in charge of crafting a region-wide network, especially considering that politics have long defined what gets built?
Says the provincial minister, “(MacIsaac is) going to make the decisions along with his board — that’s the first thing. That’s their job. And they’ll put the rigour and the testing to the process … to be able to defend their priorities.”
The GTTA chair replies, “I think the minister is exactly right. But the only thing I might add is, you can’t wholly take the politics out of transportation. I don’t think that’s what we’re going to do.”
He says, “You’ll need to judge us by the plan that we come out with, rather than the various debates that we go through in order to get to the plan. Sometimes public policy isn’t all that pleasant to watch being made, but I think … we’ll still come out with good policy.”
MacIsaac continues, “I fully expect that people on my board will be fighting for things within their jurisdictions — that’s going to happen. But I also think that, at the end of the day, they will all rally around a regional transportation plan that works and makes sense and has integrity.”