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Opinion: Provincial transportation bill comes up short, says rail consultant

May 29, 2019 news

By Greg Gormick

Opportunities lost.  That’s what the Getting Ontario Moving Act, coupled with the 2019 Ontario budget and a Toronto subway-building mania, mean to Northern Ontario’s transportation system.

To call this disappointing is an understatement.  Many of us in the industry had high hopes for this government when it was elected in 2018.  In Opposition, members such as Nipissing MPP, now Finance Minister, Vic Fedeli said all the right things and seemed sincere when they talked about the urgent need to improve Ontario’s strained and straining transportation system.  I didn’t doubt their sincerity.

But what has emerged is not just underwhelming, it’s dangerous.  If left unaltered, the moves being made – or not being made – will drive our increasingly dysfunctional transportation network to the point of no return.  This system is sick and in need of attention.

Northern comments have been swift and justified:  What’s in this for us?  That’s particularly the case after all the pre-election promises about improvements such as the return of the Toronto-Cochrane Northlander train, which was cut by the previous government in 2012.

Northerners shouldn’t feel they have been especially slighted.  The reaction from other regions has been similar, including the communities that ring the City of Toronto.  Calls for improved GO Transit regional rail and bus service have resulted in the same far-off promises and self-congratulatory photo-ops that characterized the previous government.

As for Torontonians, they haven’t come out so well, either.  They are being force-fed a fantasy plan wrapped around questionable mini-subway technology that is a hobby horse of Metrolinx advisor Michael Schabas.  It’s bizarre that this Conservative hireling was previously the Liberal advisor who concocted the derailed southwestern Ontario high-speed rail dream scheme.

Backing him is Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster, who left two high-profile UK jobs amid clouds of controversy before being hired by the Wynne government.  Verster told Ontario Northland execs last summer that a revived Northlander couldn’t use “his” Toronto Union Station.

While all this palace intrigue transpires, nothing practical is being done to improve Ontarians’ travel options.  One of the three theories I employ in all my transportation work is access + mobility = destiny.  I, therefore, question the impact of this on our destiny.

While Ontario’s regional mobility and access stagnate, other regions beyond Ontario’s borders are making solid progress by dispensing with the political posturing, game playing and axe-grinding, and getting on with practical, real-world plans.  A prime example is California.

That booming region is fast-tracking a train yard full of light, commuter and high-performance intercity rail projects at a reasonable cost using proven technologies to make the Golden State economically, socially and environmentally competitive.  That Los Angeles decimated its system in the post-Second World War era and is now aggressively restoring it provides a cautionary tale.  This is but one of many increasingly mobile regions with which Ontario must compete.

Using the working California example, there is no reason why Queen’s Park can’t stop the clock on what it is now attempting to unleash with its misnamed Getting Ontario Moving Act, which is currently being railroaded through the legislature at high speed.

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