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How to fix transit in Toronto

Last month, Drew Fagan and Matti Siemiatycki — both of the University of Toronto — published an interesting op-ed in the Globe and Mail on how to fix Toronto’s dysfunctional approach to building transit. They argue that two things need to change: (1) the unclear and competing web of different levels of government and (2) the seemingly divisive relationship between technical evidence and politics.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The focus should not be on one-off political deals. What is needed is co-ordination and integration. Why not consider all aspects of a regional approach that enables the creation of a long-term strategic investment plan with the legitimacy to be implemented? The GTA’s transit problems can’t be solved through backroom negotiations between Queen’s Park and the City of Toronto alone.

They also get into some of the nuances around point number two:

It is often said that we need to remove the politics to improve transit planning. This is wrong. Politics is the instrument of our democratic system and is an essential and legitimate part of decision-making for projects costing billions of dollars. The key is to ensure that politics is isolated to the correct stages in the decision-making process, and that decisions are made in a transparent way.

The civil service produces the independent studies assessing the merits of proposed projects. The politicians debate and approve the projects that best meet strategic objectives, informed by the technical evidence. When politicians go against the evidence in choosing projects, as is their prerogative, the intervention should be reported publicly along with the rationale for the decision made.

These arguments are from a paper that they published for the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto. If you’d like to read the full report, you can do that here. But here’s what I take from it. At the end of the day, what the authors are talking about is an effective process for making transit decisions in this city region.

What comes to my mind as I read all of this is the following: Any decision — including a wrong decision — is better than no decision. I subscribe to this philosophy. Maybe some of you do too. And so what is most frustrating about the way we pretend to plan transit is that we’re constantly re-trading previous decisions, which means decisions aren’t really being made and investment dollars don’t know where to go.

I have my own views on how transit should be planned and built in this city, as I am sure many of you do as well. (Being a transportation planner is easy, right?) But more than seeing my vision of the world come to fruition, I would like to see a vision of the world come to fruition. Matti and Drew put it this way in their report: “[The GTA needs to] act decisively with more focus and discipline, and yet also with greater inclusiveness.”

Photo by Jorge Vasconez on Unsplash

Filed under: mobility

About the Author

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I'm an architect-trained and tech-obsessed real estate developer based in Toronto.

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