Perspectives Papers | 2019

Transit in the Greater Toronto Area: How to Get Back on the Rails

Toronto is an emerging global city. Yet the failure to build rapid transit in step with the explosive growth of the past 40 years is one of the city-region’s biggest impediments to inclusive development and prosperity.

The GTA needs fit-for-purpose processes to make transit decisions. It needs political leadership that respects evidence of what works. It needs to learn from others, while recognizing that every city-region has distinctive characteristics. It needs to act decisively with more focus and discipline, and yet also with greater inclusiveness. More specifically, there is a need to:

  • Think regionally in terms of structures, possibly using an empowered Metrolinx as the central focus, and think locally less, especially when it comes to narrow self-interest; structures need to be put in place that drive coordination without losing local impact and input and with sufficient opportunity for meaningful public involvement;
  • Reduce the influence of politics on decision-making and increase the importance of evidence, drawing examples from like-minded countries and cities, while taking into account the limits of evidence-gathering; publicly released cost-benefit analyses should be required and political “workarounds” should be viewed as incompatible with an effective transit system;
  • Improve service coordination among transit agencies for all modes of transportation, not just subways and other rapid transit, but also bus routes that cross regional boundaries, car-sharing schemes, and bicycle rights-of-way; Integrate transportation and land-use planning more effectively by encouraging mixed-use, transit-oriented development near rapid transit stations;
  • Optimize public engagement and transparency while guarding against process stasis; public consultation should focus on regionally important projects with a realistic chance of funding; mechanisms should be improved for politicians and planners to work together publicly on long-term approvals;
  • Ensure that the GTA enjoys stable, coordinated, predictable long-term transit funding from the federal and provincial governments and through other funding mechanisms, for both new construction and ongoing maintenance.

Most immediately, the subway “upload” initiative launched by the Government of Ontario should become the basis for a regional discussion and negotiation about how to improve transit across the board, not just the TTC subway system.


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