Toronto Board of Trade steps up campaign to upload local transit systems to province

Almost a year after releasing a proposal for the province to take over local transit agencies, the Toronto Region Board of Trade is working to gain more support for the idea.

Superlinx would amalgamate local transit systems in the Greater Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo areas

The Superlinx proposal calls for all local transit in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor to be uploaded to the province. (John Rieti/CBC)

Almost a year after released a proposal for the province to take over local transit agencies, the Toronto Region Board of Trade is working to gain more support for the idea.

The plan, called Superlinx, would amalgamate local transit systems in the Greater Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo areas under one provincial body, similar to the transit agency Metrolinx. 

This week, the Board of Trade released the results of a survey it conducted, showing support for the idea. 

The provincial government under Premier Doug Ford is onside for at least part of the proposal, with the Progressive Conservatives saying they plan to take over Toronto's subway system.

"We want to make sure that the province starts talking about these issues beyond just the subway upload," said Brian Kelcey, vice-president of public affairs at the Board of Trade. 

The Ontario government does want to take over the TTC subway system, but hasn't commented about the proposal to upload other local transit systems. (Katherine Holland /CBC)

In a written statement, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation did not directly respond to questions from CBC Toronto about whether it has any plans to take over local transit beyond the subway.

"An upload of the subway would help the province to improve public transit more efficiently, reduce costs and build transit faster. It could also allow the province to fund and deliver additional transit projects sooner," the statement reads.

Kelsey said the board's idea makes sense, especially with some commuters using more than one transit system to get to and from work.

"The idea here is to get a win for everybody, not just to cut cities out of the discussion."

Not everybody convinced

But some people aren't convinced Superlinx is a super idea.

Vincent Puhakka, of the group TTCRiders, said he spends almost an hour in transit each way, going from Toronto to Mississauga. 

"I get where they're coming from, it makes sense," he said of the proposal.  "But the problem that they're bringing up isn't going to be solved by this giant super agency that's not responsive."

TTCRiders opposes the plan and Puhakka says the concept doesn't work in American cities he's visited.

"They result in really bad service in the city centre or less service than the city centre deserves and it's not good," he said.

TTCRiders also worries a provincial agency would be non-elected people running the system.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen with the group TTCRiders worries a Superlinx agency would result in higher fares and worse bus service. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC News)

"What we don't want to see is a two-tier system where people are paying more for fast transit and buses and local transit is left underfunded," said Shelagh Pizey-Allen, a spokesperson for the group.

An academic who studies transit systems says improving service is no easy fix.

"Having a regional body could be advantageous," said Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto.

'By no means a panacea'

But at the same time, he said "it's by no means a panacea" taking issues from a local scale to a regional one.

"It doesn't resolve the idea that we have limited resources and many priorities."

Meantime, The Toronto Region Board of Trade appears ready to make another push of its proposal.

Kelsey said the board will put out an update in the coming weeks tied to the one-year mark of the proposal's release.

It will including some "tweaks" and look at what the board has learned over the past year, he says. 

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