03/04/2013 09:00 EST | Updated 05/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Our Economy Needs Public Transit To Tackle Gridlock

Ontario has followed the same basic transportation strategy for decades. We build more roads, traffic congestion increases. The result? Longer commutes. Less farmland. Frustrating traffic jams. Soaring asthma rates.

Clearly, the status quo isn't working. Ontario needs change. Gridlock costs $6 billion per year in the GTHA alone. If we continue with the status quo, congestion will cost $15 billion per year by 2031. There are clear economic costs when we can't move goods and people efficiently. There's also a cost to our families and communities when we spend more time in the car than at home.

We need a strategy that will take Ontario's economy out of gridlock and into the fast lane.

History shows that getting people out of cars and onto public transit is the best way to tackle gridlock. A healthy transit system benefits all sectors of the economy and everyone living in it. Whether you take the bus, ride a bike or drive a car, an efficient transportation system will mean fewer accidents, fewer missed appointments and more time with friends and family.

High-speed train links between our communities and better transit in our cities will improve air quality and save money. Cleaner air means fewer asthma incidents and shorter waits at the emergency room, helping reduce the pressure on our health care system.

Paying for road repairs, public transit, expanded GO service and safer streets will require new, dedicated sources of revenue. If we are going to make it happen, we need to have an honest conversation: Ontario can't afford to let gridlock continue and we can't afford to invest in solutions without dedicated revenue.

Relying on property taxes or the cash strapped province won't get the job done. Even if Ontario could get back the money Liberals have wasted on ORNGE, EHealth and the gas plant fiasco, it wouldn't be enough to close the infrastructure funding gap. We need new, dedicated sources of revenue.

The silence at Queen's Park on road pricing must end. Even though the NDP and Conservatives oppose any talk of road pricing to fund transit, Premier Wynne has indicated she is open to a conversation on it. She can turn this talk into action later this month when the government presents its budget.

Ontarians are a well-travelled people. Many of us have been to Europe or Japan and enjoyed modern high-speed electric trains which run on time and are easy on the pocket book. We shouldn't have to fly to Tokyo or Berlin to enjoy the benefits of a world-class transit system. It's high time Ontario started building the kind of transit system we deserve.