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Aug 24

SWOTA letter on Environmental Assessment for High Speed Rail in Southwestern Ontario

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Transport Action Ontario is a core member of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA).  This group has just sent a letter to Ontario Minister of Transportation John Yakabuski regarding the Environmental Assessment (EA) for High Speed Rail.  SWOTA is encouraging the Minister to remove the restriction placed upon the EA by the previous government and give equal consideration to the High Performance Rail (HPR) alternative.  HPR involves enhancing services over the existing rail corridors.

The SWOTA letter can be viewed here: SWOTA-Yakabuski – August 2018

Aug 14

Changeover in Carbon Pricing in Ontario – Complex and Vitally Important

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Urban Transit

Two of Premier Ford`s signature campaign promises were to end the Ontario cap & trade system and to reduce gasoline taxes by 10 cents per liter (cpl). The gas tax cut has now been clarified to involve a 4.3 cpl reduction from ending cap & trade, and 5.7cpl from an outright gas tax reduction. Interestingly, the party also has promised to retain gas tax transfers to municipalities for public transit – currently at 2 cpl ramping up to 4 cpl by 2021.

Several Transport Action Ontario (TAO) members attended a Gas Tax Forum on July 25, 2018 http://www.transportfutures.ca/gastax, put on by our friend Martin Collier of Transport Futures. The forum discussed the economic, social and environmental aspects of gasoline pricing and the gas tax. The most interesting topic concerned the challenge Ontario will face in cancelling cap & trade, and the likely federal backstop that will come into place in 2019.

The Ontario cap & trade program started in early 2017, in conjunction with existing programs in Quebec and California. Each quarter, emission allowances were provided by government – either free or sold at government auctions. Allowances could also be bought and sold between emitters (the “trade”). Cap refers to the limited total number of allowances the government releases into the market annually. The regulated industries were large industrial emitters, large institutions as well as fuel distributors.

Over the past year, the system has worked well with stable prices and good industry acceptance. Apparently 272 Ontario companies have purchased $2.9B of allowances at an average price of about $18 per tonne CO2 or 4.3 cpl (fuel distributors)

Many of these allowances will have been for current operations, with companies presumably passing costs of allowances onto customers where possible. Future allowances have also been purchased in some cases, but now cannot be sold, as trading for Ontario companies was cut off by regulation in early July. Speakers at the Forum speculated that the sunk costs of future allowances could be as high as $2B. Presumably these owners will request compensation from the government.

On July 23, the Ontario government introduced Bill 4 – an Act winding up/repealing the cap and trade program. In interviews, the Minister of the Environment has stated that compensation costs will not exceed $5 Million, as the new legislation is designed to inoculate the government against litigation. Time will tell if Ontario has another major contracting scandal on its hands!

There is also litigation concerning the government`s process to end cap & trade. On July 18, the Canadian Environmental Law Association applied under the Environmental Bill of Rights for a review of the government process to dismantle cap & trade without consulting the people, as required by the Bill of Rights.

The Forum also discussed the Federal Carbon Pricing Backstop. This kicks into effect in January, 2019 for any province that does not have a suitable carbon pricing regime in place by September, 2018. (Ontario Bill 4 requires the government to prepare a climate change plan, but no details or timing is given.) The backstop consists of a carbon levy for fossil fuels and an output-based emission intensity price system for large industrial facilities (with up to 90% free allocation for competitively challenged industries, as announced in late July). The 2019 rate will be $20/tonne, rising annually by $10/tonne. Funds collected in each province are returned to the provincial government or directly to “persons”(individuals or companies).

TAO is a strong supporter of carbon pricing. Data shows that higher gasoline prices do reduce gasoline demand, especially in cities with good public transit. This is good for traffic congestion, air quality and climate change mitigation. Furthermore, the revenue from Ontario cap & trade was partially earmarked for new public transit projects. How can the province keep its promise relating to support of public transit, especially in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) where costly rapid transit extensions have been needed for many years? Economic and physical growth shows little sign of slowing across the GTHA, and for this we should be thankful. However, the intensification is only making the need for medium-to-high capacity public transit even more urgent. If considerable amounts of tax revenue are to be essentially relinquished, how are such costly facilities to be funded within a reasonable period of time?

We can only hope that, after the dust settles, Ontario will have an effective carbon pricing regime. TAO will continue to track this important item closely.

Peter Miasek
President, Transport Action Ontario

Jul 18

Greyhound Canada Downsizing – Urgent Need for Integrated Multi-modal Transportation Strategy

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Press Releases and Open Letters

On July 9, 2018, Greyhound Canada announced it was downsizing its bus operations and would be abandoning all but one of its bus routes west of Sudbury, effective October 31, 2018.  In Ontario, this will affect over 50 communities in Northern Ontario. In Western Canada, about 20 routes affecting hundreds of communities all across the region will be affected.

Our “parent” organization, Transport Action Canada, has written an urgent letter to Federal Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau, requesting federal leadership in developing and implementing an integrated multi-modal transportation strategy that serves all Canadians.

The letter to Minister Garneau can be viewed here:  TAC Greyhound Call-to-Action

Jul 03

Open Letter to Premier Ford and Minister Yakabuski

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Press Releases and Open Letters , Urban Transit

Transport Action Ontario would like to congratulation Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Transportation John Yakabuski and the rest of the Ontario PC team on their recent election victory. We were pleased to see the strong emphasis on public transportation in the “Plan for the People”. We have sent an open letter to the Premier and Minister with comments on the public transportation aspects of the platform.

The letter can be viewed here:  TAO-LettertoFord 2018-07-03

Jun 13

Analysis of Ontario PC Party Transportation Platform

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Urban Transit

The election of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives will likely change the advocacy terrain for Transport Action Ontario (TAO). The PCs made numerous transportation-related promises in their “Plan for the People” platform, although details were often lacking. The five key promises (in bold italics), along with TAO’s preliminary analysis, are given below.

1. Deliver 2-way all-day GO service, GO expansions and regional transit projects in Ottawa, Hamilton, Mississauga/Brampton, Kitchener-Waterloo and London. This appears to be good news, indicating the current slate of funded projects will be delivered, including GO Regional Express Rail and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Bus Rapid Transit projects.

2. Upload responsibility for existing and new subway lines from the City of Toronto ($160M/yr for existing), while guaranteeing the City keeps all revenue. . Although this promise does put more money in Toronto’s pocket, the yearly major capital maintenance costs of the existing subway network greatly exceed $160M/yr.

3. Add $5B in new subway funding to the $9B already available to build Sheppard Loop, Scarborough Extension, Relief Line and Yonge Extension, while building future Crosstown extensions underground.   While the extra $5B is welcome, this appears to assume that the $9B recently committed by the feds and province is entirely directed at subways. Three of these subway ideas (Sheppard, Scarborough, Crosstown Extension) are very dubious and would not be supported by evidence. Furthermore the quantum of money is insufficient to build these projects. This promise displays the very unhealthy “subways, subways, subways” mentality that has caused so much damage in the past. There are many important LRT projects in Toronto, including Waterfront and Eglinton East that need funding.

4. Actively explore high speed rail (HSR) and study highway projects (various highway projects mentioned, including completing the environmental assessment (EA) for the GTA-W corridor).  This appears to continue the Liberal plan to conduct an EA on HSR. Our biggest concern is that the planned EA had narrow scope and would not look at an HPR alternative. A clarification was received from Ernie Hardeman, MPP Oxford on the day before the election that the EA will explore all alternatives. While welcome, we need to ensure this really happens.

5. Bring back passenger rail service to the North ($45M per year). This is good news as it likely relates to restoring the Northlander service. We need to ensure this really happens and is only Step 1 of a northern rail passenger service!

There are other important issues that the PC platform was silent on, including provincial contribution to transit fare integration in Greater Toronto, and whether Metrolinx should receive broader authority and scope.

Of course, the biggest question is where the money will come from. The PCs are proposing a whole array of tax cuts, including middle class income tax cut, business tax cut, gas tax cut and eliminating the carbon tax. The latter two cuts have a double whammy – some of the funds are currently earmarked for transit, and secondly, higher gas and carbon taxes nudge human behaviour towards sustainable transportation modes, such as rail, which is good for the planet.

 

In conclusion, there is plenty to keep TAO  busy in upcoming years!  We will continue to closely monitor developments in these and other transportation areas of interest.

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