Toronto, March 21, 2019 – In many North American cities, municipal leaders have developed ambitious long-term transportation plans, yet local officials often concede that existing revenues streams are inadequate to finance such plans. Municipalities may lack either the legal authority or the political will to create new revenue streams.
In response, some cities have turned to citizens directly and held referenda on temporary, earmarked sales tax increases to fund capital-intensive transit projects. A new paper from the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy looks at why some communities have been more receptive to this funding model than others, and draws lessons for cities looking to build and finance new transit infrastructure.
In Mind the Funding Gap: Transit Financing in Los Angeles County and Metro Vancouver, Dr. Matthew Lesch compares a successful 2008 ballot measure that raised money for transportation in Los Angeles County to a similar but unsuccessful 2015 public vote in Metro Vancouver. Through this comparison, the paper identifies some important lessons for municipalities looking to invest in their public transportation systems:

  • Shared perceptions of a problem, such as traffic congestion, can create “windows of opportunities” for bold transit policy proposals
  • Public trust, both in government and transit agencies, is essential to the success of transit measure campaigns. In particular, one of the lessons from Los Angeles County is the need to be explicit about how public funds will be managed and overseen.
  • The backing of a broad-based coalition of civil society actors is necessary but ultimately insufficient for winning over public support.
  • Successful transit measure campaigns require an emphasis on specific policy benefits and less emphasis on actors, such as politicians, who can often trigger concerns about trust.

Read the paper.

About the Author

Dr. Matthew Lesch was the 2017–2018 Postdoctoral Fellow at IMFG. He received his PhD from the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on how political factors influence the uptake, spread, and durability of evidence-based policy measures.

About the Institute on Municipal Finance

The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance is a research hub and think tank that focuses on the fiscal and governance challenges facing large cities and city-regions. It is located within the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

For more information, please contact:

Tomas Hachard | Manager, Programs and Research
Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance
Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
University of Toronto | 416-978-5117