By Kevin Werner, News Staff
All sorts of options have been floated to pay for Metrolinx’s proposed $34 billion worth of projects – including hamilton’s $1-billion light rail transit plan –over the next 15 years.
During a Feb 15 roundtable discussion at the Dundas town hall on funding new Metrolinx transit projects, area residents suggested adding one per cent onto the province’s sales tax, increasing payroll taxes and even establishing road and congestion tolls to raise the needed financing.
Flamborough resident Cathy McMaster suggested using some of the casino revenues to pay for the projects.
She said the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is looking to create new gaming facilities in 29 zones across the province, including in Hamilton/Burlington.
“That is an excellent potential new area we can look at,” said Paul Finnerty, vice-president of operations for GO Transit. “(The Big Move) has to be paid for somehow.”
About 60 people, the majority skewing slightly older but who are more favourable to using public transit, turned out for two hours on a cold Saturday afternoon to discuss, propose and debate the merits of expanding the province’s public transit system and, most importantly, how to pay for it.
Over the next 20 years the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas will see an explosion in population, with some three million people expected to move to the area. Already, gridlock is costing the province about $6 billion annually. Metrolinx has spent about $16 billion on new transportation projects, and it will cost about $34 billion more to construct 10 other projects, including Hamilton’s rail transit system from McMaster University to Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek.
Hamilton’s LRT – now called RT – is grouped along with the other transit projects being looked at over the next 15 years. There is no ranking of the projects – to the consternation of Toronto and Hamilton politicians. The project list includes expanding GO train service across the network, installing bus rapid transit along Dundas Street in Burlington and Oakville, an LRT in Mississauga and a subway extension in Toronto.
Hamilton will see its own GO service expand when the James Street station is opened for train service in 2015, in time for the Pan Am Games.
But how to pay for it has become a controversial topic, since the provincial government has indicated its financial resources are limited, with an $11.8 billion deficit this year it has to wrestle down. Other municipalities and countries, said Finnerty, have already implemented some form of tax to pay for public transit. In Los Angeles, its sales tax was increased; in London, England, a congestion tax was established and in Paris, France, a payroll tax was added.
Mayor Bob Bratina has talked about adding one per cent to the local sales tax and using that money for infrastructure projects in the city.
Metrolix Chief Executive Officer Bruce McCuaig last week suggested that GO Transit users should pay for parking at its parking lots.
Finnerty said the idea is one of a number under consideration; GO already has some parking spots that people pay to reserve.
Most people at theDundas get-together opposed a boost in payroll, income tax, sales tax or parking tax hike but indicated a congestion tax or increasing licensing fees could also be acceptable. Using some of the casino revenues was easily digestible for some people, especially as the province faces severe financial problems.
“We need transparency,” said McMaster. “We need to know where the money is going, and what it is being paid.”
Larry Patchett of Hamilton said the projects should be paid out of general revenues; he also showed frustration at the process. “I’ve been coming to these things for five, six years and all it is all plan, plan, plan,” he said. “I want some do.”
He said inEurope, municipalities build the light-rail transit system, providing an alternative transportation option for people to use, then pay for it. Here, for the last six years the government talks about it, finds a way to pay for it, then build it.
“But there is no alternative to go to,” he said.
Dundas resident David Smith, an avid user of the city’s transit system, says the rapid transit system should be paid for through general revenues, rather than a specific tax.
“I’m in favour of progress. I’m a big fan of getting the government involved,” he said. “The federal government should be more involved. Things have to change.”
Some people endorsed creating a toll, or some form of user pay system, while at least one person was decidedly against the city’s rapid transit project, saying it was too much for the city.
The Dundas event was the 11th of 12 roundtable public sessions Metrolinx has been holding to gauge the public’s interest in its mammoth Big Move program, and how to pay for future projects. Metrolinx is scheduled to present its strategy, with the input from residents, to the province by June 1.