Talk about funding transit with one voice

While I partially agree with this tweet by “urbanist” Adam Chaleff (a term I absolutely detest by the way), it set me off. The article Chaleff referred to was about finding innovative ways to fund the Waterfront East LRT according to Mark Romoff.  Romoff included a land value capture model that is being used to revitalize Mimico GO Station and leveraging the use of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.  The latter is an idea that I fully supported, and so did Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.  Critics have stated infrastructure banks similar to ones in Chicago and Los Angeles, have gotten off to slow starts.  One of the reasons is that we tend to work in silos.

We are not putting together the initiatives, institutions, programs, transactional structures and groupings of projects that could make smaller-scale P3s work for our communities. Michael Likosky, Governing Magazine, September 14, 2015.

While there are various factions like CodeRedTO and the TTC Riders Union, there hasn’t been a unified voice in support of funding transit infrastructure for a few fortnights. The problem with these groups, which include self-proclaimed urbanists, is that they continue to work in silos shouting from the rooftops.

There hasn’t been a campaign from any political leader since David Miller’s 1-cent share of the GST in 2007 and Your32 from Civic Action Alliance in 2013. Guess who was the Chair of Civic Action at the time of the campaign?  Yup, John Tory.

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The former Civic Action Chair John Tory and the “Subway Champion” MPP Mitzie Hunter. Image courtesy of CivicAction Alliance

The Your32 campaign was almost a carbon copy to MoveLA, headed by former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane.  Prior to its current name, the advocacy group was called the Los Angeles Transportation Funding Collaborative. In fact, a blog post from 2008 summarized the event.

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Can you see me? Photo from Curt Gibbs

This event convened big labour, politicians like Gloria Molina and then LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and several other interest groups to vouch for their support to build and improve transportation in the Los Angeles County.

The momentum from this event, and the Southern California Association of Governments Regional Transit Summit, which I spearheaded several months later, were the impetus for the ballot initiative Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation in Los Angeles County. While MoveLA continues to advocate for improved transportation, Your32 died a slow death after the 2014 Toronto municipal election and no sustained collaborative effort has happened since.

I have a couple of ideas.

First, an increased advocacy campaign with one collective voice engaging politicians with various organizations such as the Amalgamated Transit Union, CodeRed TO, and the United Way, for example.  It must not be a one-off plan like Your32 was but rather this plan must be maintained.  There is a federal election campaign with a flawed climate change action plan hanging in the balance that would not fund major infrastructure projects like that for transit. There are fresh mandates for the Progressive Conservatives and for Mayor Tory.  There is no better opportunity to start this campaign than now.

My second idea is to follow the footsteps of the recently announced “10-Point Plan to Transform and Fund the MTA” by New York State (NYS) Governor Mario Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio?  The plan includes:

  1. A reorganization plan that would look to consolidate and streamline common functions such as human resources, engineering, and construction management.  I similarly called for this in a recent blog post.
  2. A transportation plan to include a congestion pricing model
  3. Major construction projects will be pursued as design-build.

Sure, the efforts of the Toronto Region Board of Trade Superlinx idea has caught the attention of the media and the Provincial Conservatives of late, but a true action plan from policymakers is necessary.  The Province and the City of Toronto must rip up the Memorandum of Understanding to explore uploading the subway, ignore the TRBOT playbook, and replicate this MTA-NYS plan.

We don’t need these urbanists to talk just about funding.  This requires a proven campaign with strategic and communication plans that have teeth. The time for action is now.