Mar 4, 2007

Public transit still best bet to ease gridlock

Enhancements and extensions to subway lines and train corridors, new light-rail routes, and a region-wide pass are all part of the road ahead for public transportation in and around the Greater Toronto Area, a public forum heard Wednesday night.Organized by the St. Lawrence Centre Forum as part of a regular series, Gridlock in the GTA, brought together some of the region’s key public transit players.

Rob McIsaac, chair of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, said transportation is inevitably tied to land use and planning issues. The creation of the GTTA, coupled with recent provincial Greenbelt and Places to Grow legislation, represents a re-entry into the planning field by the Ontario government.

“The province is recognizing this economic region and the need to plan and deliver services on the basis of the region rather than in a fragmented way,” McIsaac said.

“The holy grail of smart growth is the marriage of land-use planning and transportation planning, so that’s what we have to do.”

The GTTA encompasses Durham, York, Halton and Peel Regions, as well as Hamilton and Toronto. McIsaac, a former Burlington mayor, said a system-wide fare card will be introduced this year to facilitate travel across multiple transit systems.

The GTTA is also looking to have transportation and funding plans in place by early next year.

Gary McNeil, managing director and CEO of GO Transit, said many changes are in the works, including extension to the Bradford and Richmond Hill rail corridors, and the addition of track for the Georgetown corridor.

“We are literally constructing new track and new infrastructure on every single corridor we own,” McNeil said.

“We are moving forward on an infrastructure expansion program which is intended to bring us up to about the 1990s level, because we have been so under funded for so long.”

McNeil said past experience shows that when new services are offered, the public responds.

“A couple of years back, we put an express train out where we flipped the train back from Union Station out to Clarkson Station.

“In one month, that train was filled — we were carrying over 1,200 people on that train.”

Toronto councillor and Toronto Transit Commission chair Adam Giambrone said that, with 60 per cent of riders using buses and streetcars, which are often delayed by congestion on city roads, improvements are needed to create speedier modes of public transit.

Giambrone said the TTC plans to spend $1.5 billion on new light-rail vehicles later this year.

“This will allow us to expand light-rail across the entire city, to Scarborough, to Etobicoke, to North York, to give Torontonians across the city an actual, real alternative to the car.”

The TTC has secured municipal and provincial funding commitments for a subway extension to York University, but Giambrone said the project is still waiting for federal dollars.

“We have the engineers standing by, the project teams have done a lot of work already, and right now, we’re sort of holding, waiting for that last $650 million.”

Giambrone added that the TTC is getting set to implement a multi-million-dollar automated train control project, to allow it to increase the volume of trains that can be run.

Initial stages could be completed as early as 2012, he said.

The above has been republished from the Daily Commercial News

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