I wrote recently about the fight to save Transit City, a proposal to extend LRT lines throughout Toronto’s inner suburban neighbourhoods. A while back, I had written about transportation governance in Metro Vancouver and its effects on public transit provision, and noted that Toronto was heading the same way. Well, it has: since 2009, the Metrolinx board has been completely divorced from public process.

Members of the Metrolinx board are appointed by the Minster of Transportation; they are not public officials elected by their municipalities. The current board, like the TransLink board in Metro Vancouver, is made up of mostly private sector business people who may or may not have conflicts of interest in transportation matters (ie. businesses that are located on a street with a proposed LRT line). Knowledge of transportation planning or experience taking public transit are not prerequisites; but to be fair, they never were, even when the board was made up of public officials. The Board can decide whether to hold meetings in public and how often to meet. There is no opportunity for the public to speak at meetings, even if they are allowed to attend, so there’s really no accountability for Metrolinx’ actions. The only recourse the public has is to complain to their MPP. But even if an MPP belongs to the party in power, they likely have no influence over who the Premier appoints as Minister of Transportation and who the Minister appoints to the Metrolinx Board.

It is bizarre that in Canada’s two largest cities, very small appointed boards decide the future of public transportation (11 sit on the TransLink board, and 15 on the Metrolinx board). It’s also a bit of an anachronism; we live in the area of downloaded responsibilities. The federal government offloads responsibility for housing and health care to the provinces; provinces download housing to the municipalities. Why would the province want such a tight grip on public transit provision? What is to be gained? Granted, these two boards are very short-lived so it’s hard to tell what their influence will be (Vancouver’s Canada Line notwithstanding). But like most transit advocates, I remain cynical about the whole issue of private-sector appointed boards making decisions about public spending, even if by some miracle they were actually public transit specialists. We need better governance in place for cities, especially on crucial issues like transportation and housing. Otherwise transportation board decisions will continue to be made as one-offs and there will be a lack of continuity in infrastructure projects and funding.

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