Metrolinx – Big Move or Big Sham?

Metrolinx releases its short list for “Reveune Tools”…and its not a pretty sight.

As you have read here on my blog and in the newspapers for the last few months, Metrolinx has been traveling around the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area (GTHA) or as I like to call it the Greater MILTON Area (GMA) asking people for their opinions on transit, what needs to be done and more importantly how to pay for it.

I was skeptical of this process from the beginning and my initial impressions have proven to be correct.  When this all started I said that the “revenue generating tools” list had already been predetermined and that the exercise of the BIG MOVE was a justification tour, paid for by taxpayers as Metrolinx is a provincially funded organization, and was set up to pave the way for tax increases and levies of all kinds.

Transit funding is what’s known as a slippery slope when it comes to government funding.  It never seems to be enough and the demands are always going to be higher than whats provided.  Once you start funding transit, there is no political will to take it away or make cuts.  Its exactly the opposite.  The political pressure is intense to keep funding and that’s something I have dealt with here locally over the last few years.  Do I think that transit is important?  Yes I do.

Provincial governments, both current and in the past, have kicked the can down the road when it comes to funding transit or looking at expanding it in the past.  That’s what put us in this position we are now faced with.  Its very easy to say these problems should have been addressed and these projects should have been started years ago.  The province needs to take some responsibility for the problems we are facing because there are so many examples, too many to list here, of waste.  Billions wasted in EHealth, power plant re-locations, OLG scandals and ORNGE over the last several years could have been used to fund these projects and we would be much further ahead than we are now.

That’s the past as I’m aware and now we have to deal with the future.

Getting back to the “process”, my suggestion to the BIG MOVE meetings was simple.  Lets look at these tools as options, but as a last resort.  The provincial government needs to come to the table to assist in funding these multiple transit projects.  The problem is that option isn’t on the table.

The estimations from the BIG MOVE has been that it will cost $2 billion per year for 25 years in order to fund these “much needed” transit projects but nowhere has there been an offer from the provincial government or a suggestion by the provincially run Metrolinx to suggest that the provincial government find savings within their current budget.

Here is the list of options Metrolinx released:

So outside the very vague headlines of “integrate transportation planning” and “maximize value of public infrastructure investment” there isn’t much else on the table except taxes.

Notice the list includes a number of taxation and levy options for the residents of Ontario.  Tax, tax, levy, tax, tax, fee…etc.

Of course they would include the obvious funding tool which is fare increases but the other options leave much to be desired.  For instance the fuel tax would essentially add on to the cost of travel for businesses and inevitably will be passed on to who? The consumer ie ME AND YOU!  What happens when the price of goods and services goes up? Inflation.

Another example is the sales tax.  The slippery slope for this is when it comes to budget time, its the easiest thing to raise.  But that doesn’t scare me as much as the property tax “suggestion” does.

In essence the provincial government can mandate municipalities to give a portion of their property taxes to go towards these projects.  This could mean a portion of Milton or the Region of Halton taxes will go to pay for transit in downtown Toronto.  Seeing how we are on the 25 year plus Metrolinx plan, is that really a good investment for us locally?  I have a huge problem with the fact that the province might mandate us as a municipality to raise property taxes.  THAT decision is made around the local council table, NOT at Queens Park.

As I mentioned earlier, Metrolinx had originally put Milton’s needs in the first stage of the multi year plan (up to 25 years)  but for some unknown reason and without much notice or fanfare, Milton was moved to the 25 year + plan.  The fastest growing municipality in Canada has been pretty much ignored in this first stage of this long term plan.  So in return for these wonderful ideas like property taxes, sales tax, fuel tax and payroll tax, Milton would see NO infrastructure changes in the BIG MOVE.

At one of the first sessions Metrolinx offered in Oakville, Regional Councillor Colin Best and I were in attendance and we happened to speak with one of Metrolinx’s executive to ask about land that’s available for a GO station to be located at Trafalgar Road which would help Milton in working towards all day GO service and providing more options for commuters.  Both of us were shocked when they had no clue about this location.  They were totally focused on “show” aspect of this meeting…getting justification from “user groups” to increase taxes and levies.

This process was more of a marketing exercise than a real discussion about transit and how we fund.  It seems to be following the growing trend of governments taxing first and asking questions later.  Taxes of any kind should be a last resort to fund these projects and not a first course of action.

The next thing for Metrolinx is to prepare this report to present to the provincial government in June but as Premier Wynne has already stated, she is in favour of these types of solutions which means there wont be any resistance to these proposals.

I agree that there are some hard decisions to be made when it comes to funding these transit needs and initiatives, but the BIG MOVE has lost me and many others when it comes to their suggestions.  That list was discussed at the first meeting and didn’t change very much over the course of their cross GTHA tour.  Which tells me “the fix was in.”

Metrolinx Statistics Milton GO Station

Found this report online today and it had some very interesting statistics they’ve collected on who uses the GO Station in Milton, how many drive, bike, walk etc.  As you might have heard Metrolinx has started up what they call the BIG MOVE.  Its a plan for the next 25 years to look at options and create a transit system that can be integrated together to help promote increased use.  There are $56 BILLION projects planned and of course it takes money.  Part of this BIG MOVE is to find out the HOW we pay for it.

One of the issues I have with this whole process is that the provincial government (who runs Metrolinx) is essentially only discussing options for “dedicated revenue sources” which in government speak means TAXES.  Everything is on the table from dedicated gas tax increases, sales tax increases, congestion taxes, parking levies for businesses and the list goes on.

This blog post wont get into my disdain for the “tax first” mentality but to go over some statistics they’ve collected from Milton GO transit riders and review them to see what we can do first locally before jumping into the “dedicated revenue sources” discussion.

Here are some of the statistics that I found interesting:

***

1,910 people end their trip at Milton GO Station (ie from out of town – mostly Cambridge/Guelph western riders)

2,720 people start their trip at Milton GO Station.

Of the 2,720 people starting their trip here, 86% use car, 7% walk, 4% bike/other and 3% use transit.

***

GO Station access

76% of people drive and park
12% of people who drive get dropped off
7% of trips are made by local transit (not including GO Bus)
5% of trips to GO Station are made by walking

***

Majority of GO customers 74% live within 5KM of the GO station.

With all the discussion going on about the Big Move www.bigmove.ca and coming up with ideas to fund this massive investment in transit, what kind of funding sources can be used here?  Parking fees?

My beef with the Big Move is that the provincial government agency Metrolinx have set up these meetings to discuss what needs to be done.  Forget for a second that they’ve moved plans for Milton expansion from their 15 year plan to 16-25 year plan, one could say that a case is being made for charging for GO parking.  Now given our current service level, I don’t think charging for parking is appropriate seeing how we have limited number of trains for this location but if there was increased service/flexibility would it be an idea you’d consider?

This goes out to those who take the GO in the morning and drive/park to the station.  What is stopping you from using Milton Transit?