The general interpretation of strategy in the minds of most of those concerned with region-wide travel demand, sustainable development, and reduced automobile dependence usually boils down to the matter of funding, particularly the need for transit financial assistance from both senior levels of government. In this regard, two points should be considered.
The first concerns "funding for what." Although governments at the municipal level are unified on the need for external funding, it is by no means clear how such funding would be used and whether, in fact, it would be incremental to or a substitute for current municipal spending on transit. In some cases, municipalities, either directly or through joint submissions by such organizations as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Urban Transit Association, are requesting financial aid without having established priorities for transit improvements. Moreover, there are several examples of "no-strings-attached" funding having been used for major capital projects of questionable value.
Second, for this reason, where funding strategies are indicated in Table 6.1, reference is made to performance-based, rather than cost-based funding contributions. This view is predicated on the assumption that new transit funding of any sort (capital or operating) is intended to increase transit ridership or maintain ridership that might be lost through deterioration in levels of service and reliability.
For example, in attempting to reduce car dependence, it is important to emphasize the need to retain the transit habit for those who already use public transportation. In other words, requirements to serve existing transit users should take precedence over investment in expansion of infrastructure that might divert automobile users to transit. Although it is difficult to generate analytical estimates, given the large numbers of individuals who now use the transit system, it is likely that potential losses in ridership attributable to poor or unreliable service exceeds the number of new riders who can be convinced to take transit rather than drive.
Retaining existing passengers essentially means dealing with sources of delay, overcrowding, and congestion on heavily used routes, and reducing waiting times elsewhere in the system. The implication is that spending priorities (regardless of the source of funding) should be dictated by the need for:
- repair, rehabilitation, and modification of existing infrastructure to ensure safety and reliability of service;
- timely replacement of the existing fleet of transit vehicles;
- ensuring that planned expansion does not exacerbate existing problems of capacity and congestion.