Rolling Stock or Bike Paths?
At this year’s Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference, members were polled on a variety of infrastructure issues—the first step in a long consultative process as part of FCM’s Target 2014 campaign to secure long-term funding for infrastructure when the federal Building Canada plan expires. Voting electronically, members were first asked which region they represent. Immediate results showed that more than half of the people in the room were from prairie communities. They were then asked to rank the importance of each class of infrastructure. When the results showed that only 13 per cent of the 400 or so people ranked transit (including rolling stock) as a high priority, there were gasps of disbelief. On a scale of one to five, five being the lowest, 51 per cent voted five. The audible response promoted outgoing FCM president Berry Vrbanovic to address the result. “I think that reflects the high number of people from rural municipalities in the room, and from the prairies, where transit isn’t really a high priority,” he said.
This elicited a few online responses, including one from @Mike_Cluett, who wrote: “make no mistake, transit is important to many prairie communities. Careful making assumptions please.”
While FCM staff have been careful to point out that this informal vote is far from an accurate read on municipal priorities, it does provide a snapshot of what some city councillors and staff are thinking.
Michael Roschlau, CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), says the result also shows that we need to redefine “transit” in Canada. The inclusion of the phrase “rolling stock” in the poll would have immediately made voters think of subways and LRT. But public transit is more than just massive fleets.
“Small communities may not need transit in the traditional sense,” says Roschlau.
Some voters may have placed a higher priority on the community amenities category because it included assets like bike paths, which could take the place of transit for some smaller towns.
“The issue isn’t public transit, “says incoming FCM president, Karen Leibovici. “It’s how to move people through communities. For some, that will mean roads; for others, bike paths.”
For the majority of prairies towns, it will mean roads—that’s according to one city councillor ReNew Canada met with on the last day of the conference.
How will those municipalities feel if the federal government includes a targeted funding program for transit in its next long-term infrastructure plan (LTIP)? Roschlau says that, from what he has heard, most would support such a program.
“There’s been much debate, leading up to the federal roundtable consultations on the new LTIP, about open versus closed and flexible versus targeted funding,” says Roschlau. But, as far as CUTA and FCM are concerned, it needs to be a high priority at the national level. “As far as transit goes, we’re on the same page: transit and community mobility need to be a fundamental pillar of the LTIP.”