Canadian Federal Government Recognizes End of Sprawl
- Cities need fewer cars, minister says
Public transit to get $800 million
TTC will use share for maintenance
It was billed as an announcement on transit funding. It turned into an impassioned plea for smarter city planning * and living.
John Godfrey, the federal minister of infrastructure and communities, used a speech to a group of transit planners to warn that Canadian cities can't afford to grow like they have in the past.
"We know that they cannot grow indefinitely forever ... we cannot continue to build urban societies based on automobiles and suburbs," Godfrey told a meeting of the Canadian Urban Transit Association here yesterday morning.
"The only way that we can think coherently about our communities of the future is to think long-term," he said.
Godfrey got a standing ovation from the audience * as much for the ideas he espoused as the $800 million in new transit funding he promised to deliver. He touted the environmental benefits of transit in getting cars off the road and reducing greenhouse gases.
And he added another argument not often heard to promote good transit * the need to serve those who have no other way to get around, such as the elderly, the handicapped, the poor and young people.
"As you actually look at who needs transit, the people who have no alternatives in this world, you realize sometimes it's the most vulnerable," said Godfrey, who represents the Toronto riding of Don Valley West.
Public transit, he said, is key to making cities "clean, attractive, liveable and competitive."
But his comments reinforce Ottawa's firm intent to use its billions of dollars in urban investments * promised through the gas tax funding * to subtly influence how cities grow. That means ensuring that new funding favours transit over new roads, for example.
Transit officials welcomed Godfrey's pledge of $800 million in new federal funding and in the face of parliamentary wrangling that could scuttle the new cash, they're appealing to MPs to get the money flowing.
"We're concerned about that," said Michael Roschlau, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association.
"All members of Parliament need to recognize how important this is to their communities, to the environment, to mobility, to their economies," he said.
Under yesterday's announcement, Ontario transit systems will collect $310 million over the next two years, including an estimated $200 million for Toronto.
While the cash breakdowns for individuals systems have yet to be decided, GO Transit officials welcomed the funding as "fantastic" news.
"Every time we put a train on it fills up so we'll have no problem putting the money to good use," said Bill Jenkins, GO's director of customer service.
The TTC plans to use the money for maintenance, but the funds aren't enough to expand the system, says the chief general manager.
"The big wave is here," said Rick Ducharme. "It's all catch-up for buses and subway cars we haven't been purchasing. For the next four or five years, I need this money badly."
His budget for repair and maintenance rises from $385 million this year to $634 million next year, $705 million in 2007 and $606 million in 2008 before slipping back to $516 million in 2009.
In recent years, the TTC opted to rebuild its buses rather than purchase new ones, with the result that the system now has a large number of vehicles that have gone past their useful lives.
The transit funding is part of the Liberal-NDP budget pact that narrowly passed in the Commons and is now before the finance committee where it faces stiff opposition from Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs.
Yesterday, Conservative MP Monte Solberg warned transit systems not to spend the money yet as his party gears up to block approval of the NDP budget amendments, including the transit funding.