Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Steve Munro Misses the (Swan?) Boat

Some Toronto-specific stuff now. There are days when I wonder whether Steve Munro is this city's most overrated blogger, today for example: here he is arguing that the Toronto Board of Trade was full of it by saying Toronto’s commute times are the worst in the world.

Go read Munro's post and see if you can piece together his rambling argument. The best I could do: the Board of Trade study is wrong because it used a metric, namely average commute time, which under-emphasized proper urban development. But development is important, and development goes hand in hand with transit, so the government should invest in transit.

It's important to bear in mind that the report was hugely in favor of transit investment, stating unequivocally:

... congestion threatens Toronto’s viability over the long-term and serves as an argument for increased investment in public transit and policies that encourage Torontonians to leave their cars behind.

So Munro is spectacularly missing the point on two fronts. The first is the current political context: the provincial government just postponed (and maybe killed) Transit City, of which Munro is a staunch promoter. The Board of Trade report, coming on the heels of this announcement, is an obvious political win for Transit City advocates. Other commentators are picking up on the obvious ways to shame the province, and keep the issue in the public eye. Not Munro, though - he’d rather quibble about metrics, and take a far more convoluted route to argue about transit funding.

The second is that Munro completely misunderstands the report, by failing to see the value of time. The economic impact of commuting is most acutely felt in the time spent commuting, not in the distance or speed, since a long commute is both time and effort diverted from other (potentially money-making) tasks. If you’re going to argue that the province should invest in transit, surely the return on the investment should be largely economic, especially since an economic boost will return to the province’s coffers in the form of tax revenues.

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