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ANALYSIS: Transit users left behind by political interference

Click to play video: 'New Metrolinx CEO says political interference is simply part of building transit' New Metrolinx CEO says political interference is simply part of building transit
Phil Verster, new CEO & President of Metrolinx talks to Global's Alan Carter on Focus Ontario – Nov 10, 2017

If you build it, they will meddle.

Planning transit in Ontario is no field of dreams.

Not when vote-chasing politicians reverse and then re-reverse projects, endlessly chasing short-term victory at the expense of long-term sanity.

Phil Verster knows it and accepts it will not change.

The newly appointed head of Ontario’s transit planning agency Metrolinx takes over as more questions about political interference in transit projects emerge. In Vaughan and Scarborough, two proposed GO stations are being reassessed amidst suggestions the Liberal government pressured Metrolinx to place them where they didn’t make the most sense.

In Toronto, the endless hair pulling over going underground has once again come to the surface. Fuelled by study papers from Metrolinx indicating the LRT plan makes much better financial sense, councillors are asking again pointed questions about why we must dig.

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On Focus Ontario, the 54-year-old Verster, who was born in South Africa and most recently worked with several British rail firms, said there are other considerations to building public transit beyond a solid business plan.

“Politics are always a part of transit decisions, our role as transit specialists are to make sure we give good fact-based advice to politicians. In the end, the politicians must make the decisions, they are accountable for taxpayers money,” said Verster.

It’s this intersection between planning and politics where Ontario transit users have been repeatedly left on the side of the road.

Ontario’s requirement for 25 per cent Canadian content in public transit vehicles gives Canadian company Bombardier an enormous advantage in bidding for projects over international corporations, and the result has been a supplier unable to keep its promises.

Verster can rail about how Bombardier is unreliable. He can wish the entire affair wasn’t embroiled in the courts. He can regret that Metrolinx appears shackled to a supplier more interested in litigation than production.

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None of it will get transit cars on rails any faster, and the clock is ticking.

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With a provincial election next year, there is the possibility a change in government once again will change priorities and plans at Metrolinx.

This is a province after all where a partially built subway tunnel in Toronto was filled in after an election.

If you build it, they will meddle. Every time.

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