New transit authority to oversee
Golden Horseshoe

By JENNIFER LEWINGTON, Toronto Globe and Mail - Mar. 29, 2003

The province will set up a new agency to oversee spending on public transit across south-central Ontario, Finance Minister Janet Ecker said yesterday.

"There is more that can and should be done to improve transit service in the Greater Toronto Region and beyond," she said in announcing plans for a Central Ontario Transit Authority in her economic statement released in Brampton.

In addition, she said, the province will put in its one-third share of a new $1.2-billion program, unveiled earlier this week by the federal government, for the expansion of GO Transit rail service over the next five years. Local municipalities are on the hook for the final one-third of the cost.

In another transit-related initiative, she announced the government's backing for a new bus rapid-transit system, proposed by GO Transit, for commuters travelling across the top of Toronto from Halton to Durham regions.

Over the next two years, the province will put up $67-million of the $200-million earmarked for the new service, which will include bus-only lanes on sections of Highways 403 and 407, new buses and park-and-ride facilities for commuters.

The most controversial part of her announcement the Central Ontario Transit Authority could have far-reaching implications for commuters in the Golden Horseshoe region, from Waterloo to Peterborough and from Niagara to Barrie.

But City of Toronto officials say it could spell bad news for the Toronto Transit Commission, which accounts for about 85 per cent of riders in the Greater Toronto Area.

"It looks like the province has abandoned the TTC," chairman Howard Moscoe said yesterday, fearing the TTC could lose out if the proposed new agency gives priority to and allocates funding for big-ticket projects outside Toronto.

The TTC, for example, is already worried that its future capital expansion plans could be eroded by competing proposals in neighbouring York Region. As it is, the region just received the green light for $50-million each from the province and Ottawa for the first phase of its bus expansion program.

Yesterday, provincial officials emphasized that even with a new regional body, existing transit systems such as GO Transit and the TTC would continue to operate their own services.

They said the new agency could implement a so-called "seamless" fare system, with commuters using a single ticket to move from one transit system to another.

In addition, the agency could co-ordinate bus, streetcar, subway and train schedules across Central Ontario for riders who transfer from one local service to another.

The TTC has long resisted moves to high-tech "smart cards" and other forms of seamless fares, citing the high cost and the value of investing first in service improvements for riders.

Provincial officials said yesterday the proposed agency would also co-ordinate and integrate big-ticket transit projects that cross municipal boundaries. The precise mandate and membership of the new agency has yet to be worked out, though officials say they expect it would have a board with representatives from the public and private sectors.

The new agency will not be set up until next year at the earliest, pending municipal elections this Nov. 10 and a possible provincial vote.

Notably absent from Ms. Ecker's statement were two items that municipalities had lobbied for a share of the provincial gas tax (now worth $2.3-billion in 2003-4) and authority to levy a local hotel tax.

 

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