January 30, 2002

Speech to the Canadian Urban Institute 
Bill Fisch, Chair,
Regional Municipality of York

Smart partnerships, Smart Transit: The York Region Approach

Thank you, and good morning everyone. It's a pleasure to be here today to share ideas on transit development.

I want to talk this morning, specifically, about building partnerships for smart transit.

My key message is that smart, inter-regional transit development depends on smart

partnerships between the Public and Private sector. Such partnerships have, we all know, been a critical part of Canada's history. In a country where great distances have meant great costs for the transportation of goods and people, co-operation between the private and the public sectors has been essential.

Former Prime Minister Diefenbaker put it this way: "At critical points in this nation's history, the private and public sectors have come together to take Canada to the next stage of its development." I believe that this timely convergence is exactly what is happening for York.

We are at a critical point in our development.

We are currently the fastest growing Region in the GTA and one of the fastest growing in Canada. We have a population of about 800,000 and we've been adding about 40,000 people a year for the last few years. We are creating jobs at an even faster rate and today count more than 380,000 people working in the Region.

That is a job for everyone living in the Region eligible to work. That number is expected to more than double by 2031, with much of the new growth occurring in the next ten years.

We are no longer a bedroom community. York Region is clearly a popular community in which to live, work and raise a family.

Our economic prospects are sound. We will continue to attract new residents and

businesses well into the 21st century. Our economic development slogan is York Region: Ontario's Rising Star for a reason.

While nothing succeeds like success, the picture is not universally rosy. Yonge Street and most of our major highway corridors are heavily congested during morning and evening rush hours. York residents place heavy reliance on private automobile use. Today, only eight per cent of all rush hour trips are made by public transit.

In this past year after we amalgamated our seven transit systems into one Regional system, we increased our transit use by almost 9%. A good start but as a result of congestion, the public has raised concerns about the Region's pace of growth.

In a 2001 environics study, twenty-two per cent identified transportation as the top issue in the Region. From the transportation issue follow concerns about deteriorating air quality, and about the negative relationship between where people live and where they work. "You can't get there from here" might be an appropriate traffic sign for commuters on the 400 and the 404!

We are addressing these concerns on several fronts: with our Transportation Master Plan, with our new official plan policies, with long-term growth management strategies, and by approaching transportation planning with a strong determination to encourage public transit use.

We are particularly excited about developing the full potential of transportation management associations that have been growing in the United States. I think TMA's should be a key part of our Transportation Master Plan.

TMA's are non-profit associations of employers and not governments. They co-ordinate transit sales, lobby for reduced fares, and generally promote reduced car and more transit use. We have been a main partner in supporting our first TMA called the Black Creek TMA in the north west part of Toronto and Vaughan in our region and we intend to support some others in Markham and Richmond Hill.The York Rapid Transit Strategy

Let me take a moment to give some details about our rapid transit strategy,

the heart of our Transportation Master Plan.

The master plan is a 30-year action plan that will be approved by Council this year. York's strategy is focused on an extensive rapid transit system, the most comprehensive in the GTA. It is carefully linked to the transit systems in Toronto, Peel and Durham.

Planning inter-regionally with our neighbours makes good sense. Robert Frost once said, "good fences make good neighbours." It is equally true that "good transit plans make good neighbours." Good transit plans between York and Toronto reflect the fact that for every 100 commuters heading into the City of Toronto from York, 80 other commuters are heading north to work in York

It's a two-way street, with traffic steady in both directions. That is why York's strategy is a "big picture" one that looks at all the key connections. That is why

it builds on the GTA-wide strategy proposed by the GTSB. Our strategy will help support and manage growth. It will reduce dependence on the automobile. It will help improve quality of life.

Much will happen in the next five years in four main corridors. These corridors highlight the inter-regional, GTA-wide nature of York's plans. They include the full Highway 7 corridor with links to services provided by Peel and Durham; the Yonge Street corridor from Highway 7 to Finch subway station; the Jane Street corridor from Highway 7 to York University, and the Downsview station; and the Warden Avenue corridor from the new Markham Town Centre to the new Sheppard subway line.

Improving Transit in these, the busiest corridors at the very centre of the GTA, is job one. Transit improvements here will relieve congestion in York, in Toronto

and across the Regional network. It is estimated that one million car trips from York Region and the GTA can be eliminated over the next two years through the York Transit Plan.

Of course, planning is useless without the right technology. There are several technologies being reviewed in our plans.

If bus rapid transit is preferred, road widening and reconfiguration will be necessary. Those measures would be needed to accommodate reserved bus lanes,

transit priority at traffic signals and intersection improvements.

Under a rail-based rapid transit system, new GO stations, transit gateways and feeder bus connections would be required. Bus-based transit offers an innovative, flexible and cost-effective approach for implementing rapid transit quickly.

But we think it's important not to lose sight of the advantages of upgrading to rail, either LRT or subway. Corridor constraints, community impacts and expected rapid growth in demand are all good reasons as to why we need to build in this flexibility.

Advance technology such as smart cards, automated vehicle location systems,

conventional and specialized transit scheduling software and transit priority traffic control systems are also planned in York's strategy. The cost of the full 30-year transit plan would be between $2 and $4 billion dollars, not to mention the road building plan of about $3 - $4 billion dollars.

As Senator Strom Thurmond once said, "a billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon you're talking real money."

It is real money and the Region alone cannot finance it.

The role of the PPP That leads me to the Public-Private Partnership York is seeking to develop its transit strategy. Europe has done it. The United States has done it. But York is the first Canadian municipality to engage the private sector in a large rapid transit project. Pioneers need to be careful. There can be surprises in the bush. We are exercising

extreme diligence in selecting and working with a private partner. Our joint effort

between York, Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill has several goals:

  1. We want to fast track the delivery of inter-regional rapid transit, thus saving costs.
  2. We want to bring stakeholders such as the TTC, GO, senior levels of government and other GTA municipalities together to support the concept of the project.
  3. We want, as I've indicated, to use advanced transit technologies.
  4. We want to obtain all the necessary approvals to move forward.
  5. We want to generate innovative funding solutions that leverage private sector investment.
  6. And we clearly want to select the best technical proposal with the best financial offer.

I'm starting to sound like my kids when they were teenagers. "I want, I want, I want". The difference I think is not only do we want these things, we need them.

We've set an ambitious schedule for finding the right partner. An RFQ was issued and submissions received recently, submissions that included such organizations as Bombardier, the Royal Bank, Hydro One, SNC/Lavalin. The list of companies on the consortia is an impressive one.

A request for proposals will be issued next month and the RFP will be due in March. A partner will be selected and negotiations completed by April 22.

Clearly, this is a unique approach to developing a rapid transit system

in Canada. And just as clearly, people have questions.

First: Why use a private/public partnership to develop a rapid transit system?

The answers, we believe, are clear:

Some will argue that fares will increase with private sector engagement.

One of the other key questions often asked of public-private partnerships is this:

"Given that taxpayer's money will constitute a large piece of transit funding, how can taxpayers be assured that their interests would be preserved in a PPP?"

First, the process of selecting a partner is very rigorous. At every stage, detailed technical, financial and legal evaluations of the submissions are being carried out. Furthermore, Regional Council, acting on behalf of taxpayers, will make all key decisions of the PPP process.

York Region is noted across North America for its good fiscal management. I think taxpayers are protected, both by the intensive scrutiny involved in the process and by the excellent people we have working for us.


Let me close with a few comments on guiding principles in both Public-Private Partnerships and transit development.

I believe that we need to consider transit development within three fundamental principles:

Those principles will, I feel, be brought to life by one overarching truth. It is this: Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. Smart transit to underpin smart growth in the GTA as an idea whose time has come.

The level of local, provincial and federal interest in transit right now could not be greater. We may quarrel with funding from senior levels of government, but the fact is there is broad consensus among the public and the politicians that now is the time to get transit right in ways we can all afford.

There's a new energy in transit planning. There's a sense that wonderful things are possible if only we can come together to engage in smart transit development.

The great English writer E.M. Forster once summed up the secret of a meaningful life when he wrote, "only connect."

Transit has always been about connections, connections that move you toward where you want to be. Today it is about increasing connections between Regions. It's about essential connections between governments. It's about vital connections between the private and the public sector, links that have helped forge this country since confederation.

York is connecting with its rapid transit strategy. It is connecting with the private sector for smart and fast transit development. It is connecting with its neighbours to ensure the big picture is kept in focus. It is connecting with its government partners at Queen's Park and Ottawa.

Most importantly, York Region is connecting with the pulse of a public that has said, clearly and unequivocally, "now is the time."

Thank you.

The Regional Municipality of York is committed to providing cost-effective, quality services that respond to the needs of our rapidly growing communities.  York Region is comprised of the following nine area municipalities:  Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Whitchurch-Stouffville.  For more information, visit our Web site at:  www.region.york.on.ca

Contact: Patrick Casey, Senior Media Relations Specialist, York Region

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