Whether it’s in the 416 or the 905, transit expansion is building a groundswell of support as congestion grows to “crisis” levels in the GTHA, says a spokesperson for the Greater Toronto CivcAction Alliance.
John Tory, from CivicAction, an advocacy group calling for better regional transit connections, said Monday morning transportation has become the top local issue for residents concerned with gridlock and daily commute times that are among the highest in North America.
“You really get a feel when you travel to the farther reaches of the 416 and even more so into the 905 and see the seven day-a-week paralysis that so deeply affects families and businesses,” said Tory, the group’s chair, during a press conference held by CivicAction at city hall. “Transportation is at an all-time high as a concern for local residents.”
Tory, who is also a popular radio host, presented an update along with CivicAction CEO Mitzie Hunter of the group’s three-month-old Your32 publicity campaign for better transit. He said an “evolution” was taking place in the minds of residents regarding the toll congestion takes on their personal lives.
“Individuals are coming to realize congestion caused by a grossly inadequate transportation system is negatively affecting their jobs and their families,” said Tory.
“They have come to the conclusion major action is necessary to improve the quality of their own lives.”
That action, according to the CivicAction, is investing billions of dollars for a meaningful transformation of the existing transportation network to come directly from both governments and residents.
“I think the public have given the signal they want the leaders to get on with building transit and find fair and balanced ways to pay for it,” he said.
Hunter said over the course of its Your32 campaign the group asked residents to weigh in on what they would do with 32 extra minutes of time per day. That’s the amount of time the transit planning agency Metrolinx says will be lost if the $50 billion Big Move regional transportation plan is not completed within the next 25 years and commute times rise even further from 77 to 109 minutes as a result.
“We asked people to tell us how traffic congestion is affecting them,” said Hunter. “They have showed us the true cost of the region’s antiquated and inadequate system.”
Hunter said thousands of residents took part in the exercise, including 15,000 visitors to campaign website www.your32.com, as well as through social media.
CivicAction took the feedback from residents and created a word cloud info-graph of the most popular responses.
According to the word cloud, which was unveiled at the press conference, the most popular responses include spending more time with family, catching up on sleep and enjoying a better work experience.
The human cost of congestion is something that has been missing during the debate for better transit, said Tory.
“It’s really the humanity of the responses,” said Tory following the press conference. “People are talking about time being taken way from their family.”
He said he was happy to see the prominence of the transit funding issue in the Ontario Liberal leadership race to replace Dalton McGuinty, but declined to endorse a specific candidate.
Tory, who was once the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives also said CivicAction had plans to consult further with the main Ontario political parties, including Tim Hudak’s Tories, and had also held a group event for municipal leaders, which was also attended by Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
In addition to updating the progress of its Your32 media campaign, Hunter also announced the addition of three more members to CivicAction’s council of regional “champions”, private and public sector individuals who advocate for better transit throughout the GTHA.
The list of 44 appointees also includes former chief city planner Paul Bedford, who was in attendance at the event.
Bedford, who has traveled the GTHA speaking about improving transit said residents, when informed about the costs of congestion are willing to pay more to improve transit.
“You go through the whole education process and get them to understand the choices and consequences and they’re more willing to pay. Because they can connect the big picture choices with their daily life,” said Bedford.
TTC chair Karen Stintz was present briefly as an observer but didn’t speak with reporters. Her press aide JP Boutros said Stintz decided to attend the media conference primarily in support of her friend Tory, though she supported the idea of dedicated transit funding.
“We’ve been calling for a dedicated fund for transit since OneCity,” said Boutros referring to the citywide transit network first proposed last July.