The Big Move: How do we fund transit infrastructure over the next 25 years?

The Big Move is a 25-year plan to tackle gridlock and improve transportation across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). The plan was developed in 2008 by Metrolinx, the agency responsible for transportation in the GTHA, and it will transform how people get around – by car, transit, and bicycle. In 2013, with the first wave of projects fully funded and well underway, Metrolinx was ready to embark on the second wave of Big Move projects. That's when they reached out to MASS LBP to help them engage with residents around how to raise the funds they needed to get these projects underway.

The GTHA is Canada's largest urban region, and the fifth largest in North America. It's home to half of all Ontarians. It's also home to Canada's busiest transportation and trade gateways: every day, over 300,000 people travel through Highway 401, Union Station, and Pearson International Airport alone. The region is growing quickly, but the GTHA's transportation system has not kept pace. The Big Move aims to improve access, integration, and efficiency of all types of transportation in the area.

The second wave of projects under the Big Move required $34 billion in public investment, half of which would come the government, and half, directly from residents, through fees, tolls, and taxes. Before putting any of these mechanisms in place, Metrolinx decided it needed to build public understanding around the benefits and costs of the Big Move, and it wanted to solicit inputabout what fees, tolls, and taxes would be best suited to the GTHA. They would use this input to develop an investment strategy, which they were due to submit to the provincial government for review in May 2013.

Metrolinx commissioned MASS to develop and implement a public engagement and communications strategy to educate residents and enable a constructive two-way conversation about transportation projects and funding. The strategy used a three-pronged approach, combining a Conversation Kit, a series of Public Roundtable Meetings, and an in-depth Residents’ Reference Panel with members selected by MASS LBP's own Civic Lottery process.

Over 1,000 Big Move Conversation Kits were distributed throughout the consultation process.

Over 1,000 Big Move Conversation Kits were distributed throughout the consultation process.

The Conversation Kit

MASS developed and produced a Conversation Kit with the goal of creating a foundation of knowledge around transit planning and funding. The kit was aimed at stakeholders and the general public, and it featured information on the first and second waves of Big Move transportation projects, potential funding tools, and successful transit systems around the world. The kits were distributed to local government offices, transit organizations, stakeholder groups, and citizen associations, and were used as the foundation for other engagement sessions led by MASS.

The kit included: a booklet that highlighted regional demographics and ridership broken down by community; a map highlighting first and second wave Big Move projects; profiles of major transportation systems from around the world, outlining the size of the system and sources of revenue; playing cards for each first and secondwave project; playing cards for each type of vehicle being considered, from car to rail; discussion cards; and in-depth questions about the projected benefits of The Big Move to the region, and possible tools to fund the projects.

Two participants at the Public Roundtable meetings discuss transit priorities

Two participants at the Public Roundtable meetings discuss transit priorities

12 Public Roundtable Meetings

Metrolinx and MASS organized 12 public roundtable meetings, two in each of the six major communities in the GTHA, so that residents could learn about the Big Move and provide feedback. Each meeting started with a presentation by Metrolinx about the Big Move and its projected impacts on the region, and then participants took part in small-group discussions around four themes: Understanding the Big Move; Benefits to Your Community and the Region; Your Transit Experience Today; and Funding Principles and Finances. An experienced facilitator moderated each of these roundtable discussions, and a final report summarized and analyzed the facilitators' notes.

To make sure that as many and as broad a range of people as possible attended, Metrolinx and MASS randomly mailed invitations to residents across the region. We also posted noticed in newspapers, municipal offices, transit hubs, and online forums. As a result, over 920 people came out to the 12 meetings.

 

The envelope of the Civic Lottery invitation package

The envelope of the Civic Lottery invitation package

10,000-Invitation Civic Lottery

To generate more specific and in-depth recommendations than are possible in a public meeting, Metrolinx asked MASS to organize a Residents' Reference Panel. MASS recruited the volunteers for this panel through our Civic Lottery process, which ensures that panelists are selected in a representative and transparent way. MASS mailed invitation packages to 10,000 randomly-selected households from across the GTHA, inviting one person from each household to volunteer to serve on the panel. We received over 500 positive responses, and from these, we chose 36 people at random, selected in such a way as to balance for age, gender, and geography, so that the group broadly represented GTHA residents.

The members of the Residents' Reference Panel on Regional Transportation Investment

The members of the Residents' Reference Panel on Regional Transportation Investment

Residents' Reference Panel on Regional Transportation Investment

The 36 panelists met over four Saturdays in February and March of 2013. They heard from more than a dozen transit experts, gaining a deep understanding of the GTHA's transportation challenges, the solutions proposed under the Big Move, and the cost of these projects. They also learned in detail about more than two dozen revenue tools - tolls, fees, and taxes - that could be used to pay for the Big Move.

After the learning process, a group of MASS facilitators guided panelists as they deliberated and developed recommendations. Ultimately, the Panel proposed three major and two minor funding scenarios, each of which would see residents, businesses, and transit users each pay a share of the Big Move's total cost. Their detailed recommendations were delivered to the Metrolinx Board in a comprehensive report, and they were then presented to the provincial government in May 2013.