Are We There Yet? Report Talks Transit Investment in the GTHA

As anyone who’s crammed into a subway car or tried to drive the Gardiner during rush hour will know, when it comes to transit in the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area, we’re all in this together. Yet the debates around public transit funding often split people into opposing camps — transit users against those who drive, for example, or municipality against neighbouring municipality.

Are We There Yet? is a new progress report on the state of transit investment in the GTHA. Prepared by transit advocacy coalition Move The GTHA with support from the Metcalf Foundation, it builds the case for a more unified and aligned approach to transit funding, one that stresses our commonalities over our differences and is supported by all levels of government.

The deadlines for making this change are fast approaching. While the province of Ontario and Metrolinx’s 25-year regional transportation plan is slated for completion in 2033, Are We There Yet? identifies a $28.8 billion funding gap in constructing the new network. It also notes that billions have yet to be designated for the system’s ongoing operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation.

Days after Move the GTHA released their report, the federal government shared a detailed breakdown of its Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, of which $474 million is directed towards transit in the Toronto area. New subway cars, accessibility improvements to existing infrastructure, and LRT planning initiatives are just a few of the funded projects. The announcement also represented a win for linking cycling and transit in the city: as the Pembina Institute noted in a recent blog post, around eight per cent of the funding is designated for cycling expansion, including increased bicycle parking at over 40 TTC stations.

This funding, supported by the municipal, provincial, and federal governments, signals a strong step forward for integrated transit development in the GTHA. However, several gaps identified in Move the GTHA’s report have yet to be addressed. Upkeep and rehabilitation costs for new projects remain unaccounted for, and the region’s rapidly increasing population will soon necessitate public transit expansion beyond the current 25-year plan.

Municipalities and public transit riders have traditionally shouldered these costs, despite the fact that the strength of a region’s transit systems affects the wellbeing of all of its residents regardless of their transportation choices. The transportation sector is Ontario’s largest, and fastest growing, source of greenhouse gas emissions, and commute times in the Toronto area are now among the worst on the continent (averaging 82 minutes). The C.D. Howe Institute estimated this congestion could be costing the GTHA as much as $11 billion annually. A more robust public transit network offers the potential to lessen commute times for all travellers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and offer a strong financial return on investment — 12.5 per cent, according to a study by HDR Decision Economics.

Are We There Yet? concludes with a call to action asking our governments and transit agencies to present their investment plan on how they’ll build the rest of the planned rapid transit network. It also asks the public to support the new sustainable revenue tools and funding mechanisms required to make this investment.

Unless we work together, argues the report, we won’t be arriving anytime soon.

Metcalf Foundation activities are continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about our response here.