The effectiveness of the “carrot” of improved transit can be multiplied if it is linked with a “stick.” Metrolinx proposes to introduce parking levies and raise gas taxes to help to fund transit investment and deter car use. These are “win-win” fundraising tools; they encourage use of transit and help fund it at the same time. And those who remain on the roads will suffer less severe congestion. However, to be effective in reducing road congestion, the proposed levies and taxes need to be raised to levels several times higher than those Metrolinx is currently contemplating. London, England, is one of the few megacities that have actually reduced traffic congestion while sustaining economic growth and prosperity. While the central London charge attracts most media attention, it affects only a tiny proportion of journeys. Gas taxes and parking restrictions, combined with integrated fares and improved inter-regional transit, have reduced traffic through out Greater London. The GTHA could achieve similar results with similar policies.
Raising taxes is never popular. It will require skill and commitment from policymakers to persuade voters that the proposed taxes are fair and necessary. Before asking for a regional sales tax, Metrolinx should make all transit operators demonstrate that they are as efficient as possible, consistent with international best practice. Currently they are not. Notably, TTC’s practice of two-person train crews on subway trains and GO’s practice of three-person train crews represent a considerable expense to the system and a deterrent to service improvement. Competitive tendering of bus and rail services, now standard practice across much of Western Europe, should be used to improve value for money. The government should be supporting improved transit services, not propping up inefficient operating practices.
Metrolinx should also look at fares as a tool to manage demand and attract off-peak and contra-peak riders. “Smart pricing,” making full use of the capabilities of the PRESTO Smartcard system, could pay a significant share of the costs of schemes, while generating new ridership and raising revenues. GO should charge market rates for parking at stations, and raise peak-hour single-trip fares, but offer more discounts for journeys combining bus and rail. Simply using PRESTO as an electronic “purse” to charge discrete fixed fares does not make use of its full potential.
Benefit Case Analyses need to take account of operating costs and revenues and the potential for operating efficiencies. Metrolinx should set out key figures, such as the number of new daily riders each scheme is expected to attract, the average time savings for existing and new passengers using it, and whether incremental fare revenues will pay all incremental operating costs. Currently these figures are not disclosed or are unclear. For example, they quote only peak-hour ridership figures or only annual ridership figures. Commuting is a daily phenomenon, and ridership figures should be presented by the day, not the year.
Finally, transit and land use should be planned together. Regional decision-makers need to insist that new traffic-generating development is built where commuters can use higher-order transit. It is not enough to increase the zoning at designated development nodes. Major development should be permitted only within walking distance of a rail station or where the developer can show that a high proportion of trips will be made by transit. Parking provision should be strictly controlled, because each new parking space usually means another car will be on the roads. The Province needs to guide development in ways that are consistent with the broader regional agenda, and a sustainable transport strategy is a key element of it.