Transit tied to prosperity -- Report points to economic benefits

Government urged to learn from U.S

Jul. 24, 2003. THE TORONTO STAR KEVIN MCGRAN TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Underfunding of public transit undercuts productivity and private-sector profits, says a report that analyzed the economic impact of transit on Canadian cities.

The report, Transit Means Business, is published by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, a coalition of Canada's municipal transit associations.

"From congestion reduction to property impacts; increased labour mobility to personal productivity; and job creation to public health and safety benefits ... transit contributes in large measure to the economic vitality, prosperity and growth of Canada's cities," says the report.

"The discussion in the past around transit has been focused on mobility and social access and things like environmental issues," association president Michael Roschlau said in an interview.

"Here, we tried to put together all the intelligence we could find across Canada relating to the relationship between public transit investment and economic benefits for urban areas."

The report's writers scoured documents such as Transport Canada's Transport in Canada 2001 Annual Report, Statistics Canada's Where Canadians Work and How They Get There (2003), and the Ontario transportation ministry's Central Ontario Highway Transportation Perspective (2002) to find:

The average commute in the GTA could be 50 per cent longer by 2021 unless public transit gets more financial support.

For each dollar spent on Toronto's new Sheppard subway line, two dollars have been invested by the private sector in related new development.

Public transit consumes three times less energy per passenger-kilometre than the automobile.

Transit riders make productive use of their time while travelling, generating annual productivity benefits in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Roschlau said if Toronto considers American cities such as Boston and Chicago as competition when it comes to attracting private investment and convincing companies to move here, then it makes sense that Toronto's transit be funded to the same level as those cities.

"We totally pale by comparison," said Roschlau, pointing to billions in annual funds that the U.S. government has for urban transit infrastructure, on top of state investments and tools such as fuel taxes and hotel taxes available to American municipalities.

Ottawa has taken steps toward funding local transit, but so far only about $70 million of federal money has been spent in Toronto all of it in the TTC's 2002 budget.

Some cities have demanded a dedicated fuel tax to support public transit.

The transit association's survey of transit infrastructure needs released earlier this month suggested five-year investment requirements of $13.6 billion across the country.

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