Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Does the capital region need a regional transportation authority?

On Monday, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced construction of the express rail link between Union Station in downtown Toronto and Canada's busiest airport. The link will be completed in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Last year the estimated price tag for the 23.3-kilometer line was $300-million, but no recent numbers has been provided for the project.

Throughout all my years of living in Toronto the Ontario Government invested heavily in the provincial capital, especially when it came to transit infrastructure and attractions. Ontario Place, the ROM, and the Ontario Science Centre were amazing childhood attractions of which I have great memories of family outtings and school trips.

GO Transit is a service that many Torontonians may take for granted, but it continues to link Toronto with the whole region. In most circles of urban thinking people are trying to get motorists out of their cars and onto public transit. It's commonplace for people to drive their cars 5-10 minutes to their closest GO Transit station and take the train and bus into downtown. That's not possible in the National Capital Region.

The Government of Ontario is at it again with the Union Station-Pearson Aiport link.

Meanwhile in the National Capital Region a company called Mobility Ottawa Outaouais: Systems and Enterprises Inc., or MOOSE, is trying to get inter-provincial commuter rail going in our neck of the woods. Although they're not asking for money from municipalities they will seek provincial or federal money to help pay for maintenance costs. MOOSE has spoken to a number of mayors in the region but we haven't heard anything from the mayor of Ottawa. I would love to see the mayor of Ottawa, not necessarily Jim Watson but whoever the office holder is at the time, take some leadership in the region even if it's just initiating dialogue on key regional issues.

Although I love the fact that an entrepreneur is taking the initiative to provide this service, where's the vision from higher levels of government? There are some areas where I want governments to do less and there are others where I want governments to do more, and transit infrastructure is one of them. Perhaps this is a Thomas Ahearn situtation where an entrepreneur will spearhead the thing and eventually some level of government will come on board. Hopefully they won't poo poo on the whole thing like they did to Thomas Ahearn's baby.

I'm not necessarily expecting the Government of Ontario to provide leadership on these kinds of projects like they do in Toronto because we're not their provincial capital, we're the national capital so our main partners should be the Federal Government and its agencies.

Once upon a time every Prime Minister who was elected would have a legacy project; something that would transform the capital. Perhaps because of financial constraints we haven't seen that in a number of years. In the future I'd love to see these legacy projects return; hopefully something that's more about urbanism than just beautification.

Ottawa is Canada's fourth largest metropolitan area (along with Gatineau), the second largest city in Ontario, and the economic engine of Eastern Ontario. Perhaps we should scrap "National Capital Region" and call it the "Greater Ottawa Area" so we all can remember these facts. The City's White Paper on Development in the Greater Ottawa-Gatineau Area says, "With two-thirds of the total population and 76% of the jobs, Ottawa serves as the region’s economic engine and main generator of growth. However, Ottawa has no planning jurisdiction beyond its borders and there is currently no Official Plan (OP) policy that addresses growth at a metropolitan level."

As the NCC develops its Horizon 2067 plan perhaps such a framework can be developed that will guide growth at a metropolitan/regional level (a framework driven by municipalities and supported by the NCC).

As I've said before, I believe the mandate of the NCC is spread too thin. It's a waterfront development agency/pseudo-interprovincial transit agency/national festivals agency and none of those mandates end up getting dedicated, 24/7 attention.

As I read about the contribution MetroLinx makes to the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, I daydream about what a regional transportation authority, dedicating 100% of its time to growing regional transportation, could do for the capital region. Before we get proud and say we don't need to be like Toronto let's remember that OCRI's new business incubator and Invest Ottawa are both Toronto inspired. Perhaps this is another best practice we should borrow.
Kevin Bourne

PIC: Artist's rendering of Airport Rail Link train


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  6. Originally, when I proposed setting up MOOSE to Joseph Potvin, the concept was modeled on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The WMATA was established by Congress to overcome the public transportation challenges of a large metropolitan area covering more than one jurisdiction. In this case, it serves the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. In Ottawa-Gatineau, we have three jurisdictions that are responsible for public transportation, the two cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, and the federal government (the feds are responsible for inter-provincial crossings under the auspices of the Canadian Transportation Agency - as I discovered while working there on a contract to develop a history exhibit).

    This idea came to me during the Ottawa bus strike and I thought that if we could wrest control from the two cities' own transportation commissions and merge them into one, that would be better. However,if they were reluctant to do this, as they have demonstrated (most likely due to opposition from the unions), then why not force the issue by setting up a separate corporation that would take leadership and offer to supplant the two commissions? While the MOOSE consortium seems to be focused on using existing infrastructure to network the regions, I would like to see a day when it could act as a catalyst to unite STO and OCTranspo into one commission that would be networked with the outlying communities that MOOSE seems to be targeting in its initial stages.

    The MOOSE team seems to be doing a great job pushing ahead and kudos to them for showing the kind of leadership that often only comes from the private sector. If they get their way, those in our National Capital Region will have a similar system to what those in the U.S. National Capital Region have in their WMATA.

    As a last point, it is also a matter of public security to have a system that federal employees can rely upon to get to work in time of public crisis. When we had the bus strike in Ottawa, it was quite pathetic how staffers had to call in to either say they were staying home or going to be late. How can a national capital region accept this kind of transportation system is beyond me. Maybe it is time for the public sector to start working with MOOSE and come up with a better transportation vision in line with best practices around the world.

  7. Last point, the merging of the two public transit commissions was first proposed, that I am aware of by Roger Fleury, in his election campaigns. As his political policy advisor, he articulated my point of view on this matter. While he had little chance of winning, he succeeded in pushing forward some issues that his opponents had to respond to. In local politics, we influenced his opponents to move towards our views and in this we felt we had lost the battle, but won the war.

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