36 residents from across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) convened to understand the transportation needs and priorities in the region. They made recommendations to inform Metrolinx's strategy for raising funds to make long-term, sustainable investments in GTHA's transit.
Problems and Purpose
The Big Move (2008) is the 25 year Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (Ontario, Canada), published by the regional transit Authority, Metrolinx. Metrolinx, an agency of the Government of Ontario under the Metrolinx Act, 2006, was created to improve the coordination and integration of all modes of transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
As part of The Big Move, between January and February 2013, Metrolinx hosted 12 Public Roundtable meetings across the region that were attended by nearly 1000 local residents; the purpose of these meetings was to provide public input on how to fund regional transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton (and surrounding) Areas. Metrolinx was responsible for presenting an investment strategy to the provincial and municipal governments at the beginning of June and these initiatives were one way Metrolinx was gathering public input for that report.
Among these initiatives, the Residents' Reference Panel on Regional Transportation Investment is a centrepiece project intended to push deeper than top-of-mind opinion and to give a representative cohort of residents the opportunity to develop their own proposals for transportation investment.
This innovative initiative brought together thirty-six randomly selected residents to represent the region. Their task was to review The Big Move and over the course of four Saturdays to propose their own investment scenarios for the future of transit funding in the region. These scenarios were made with the best long-term interest of the region’s residents in mind.
Background History and Context
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Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
The 36 members of the Residents' Reference Panel on Regional Transportation were selected by civic lottery. Ten thousand invitations were sent to randomly selected residences across the region in early January 2013. The invitations were transferable to anyone over the age of 18 who lived in that region. Each part of the GTHA received a number of invitations roughly proportionate to its population. The letter invited residents to volunteer four full Saturdays of their time to learn about transportation funding in the GTHA, to share their perspectives and experiences as commuters and residents of the region, and to work with others to represent the 6.6 million residents of the GTHA by developing recommendations on how to fund investment in our transportation system.
Employees of Metrolinx and other public transit and transportation agencies, as well as currently elected municipal, provincial and federal representatives were ineligible to apply. More than 400 people responded to the invitation, either volunteering to be part of the panel or regretting their inability to participate but requesting to be kept informed about the process. From the pool of 184 eligible volunteers, 36 panelists were randomly selected in a blind draw that balanced for three criteria. The selection guaranteed gender parity, matched the age profile of the GTHA, and broadly reflected the geographic distribution of the region’s population, based on Canadian census data from 2011.
Special selection was not made for ethnicity, income, educational attainment or other attributes. These supplemental characteristics have been found to emerge proportionately within the pool of lottery respondents and are carried forward to the membership of the panel. In short, the panel was composed in such a way as to deliver good demographic diversity and to ensure that it was broadly representative of the residents of the GTHA.
Methods and Tools Used
The citizens' reference panel methodology is similar to a citizens jury in its procedure: moving from a learning phase, to a deliberation, and then to a consensus-oriented finalization of recommendation. The learning phase is designed to ensure that each panelist had the opportunity to become better informed about the issue at hand, typically involving experts and officials in presentations and question-and-answer periods. The deliberation phase can take various forms and depending on the participatory technique used by organizers. During the Metrolinx reference panel, the deliberation phase asked panelists to form an evaluation framework or matrix with which to guide the development of the Investment Strategy and to evaluate and combine the different revenue-generating tools into viable funding scenarios. The deliberation phase of reference panels allows participants to engage with the opinions and positions of others as they enter the final recommendations phase which requires collaboration to explain and justify the group's conclusions.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Over the course of four Saturdays, the panel worked through three distinct phases. A learning phase was designed to ensure that each panelist had the opportunity to become better informed about the transportation system, about The Big Move, and about the taxes, fees, and tolls that could be used to generate revenue for transportation investment in the GTHA. Fifteen distinguished experts agreed to participate as guests and offered panelists a wealth of insight into the issues facing the transportation system, the transit projects that have been identified as priorities, the considerations that should be kept top of mind when exploring funding options, and the approaches used to raising funds for transportation investment in other city regions around the world.
A deliberation phase asked panelists to identify funding principles they felt should guide the development of the Investment Strategy, to evaluate the different revenue-generating tools available, and to combine tools into funding scenarios that raise adequate revenues. In the deliberation phase, panelists are asked not only to come up with a personal position, but to develop a rationale for their positions and to engage with the rationales of others as they work towards common proposals that address the needs of the region as a whole. A final recommendations phase required panelists to work together to explain and justify in detail their agreed-to recommendations.
Day 1: Learning Phase
The panel met for the first time at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute in downtown Toronto. As panelists arrived, they were welcomed by the facilitation team and given a binder with background readings from experts and journalists on transit and transportation in the GTHA. Each panelist brought a signed Public Service Pledge, a one-page document that affirms his or her commitment to work diligently on behalf of all residents of the region throughout the panel process.
Once everyone had arrived, Peter MacLeod, principal of MASS LBP and the panel’s moderator, welcomed the group and thanked them for coming in from across the region to take part in the panel. He introduced the members of the facilitators team, who would be working closely with panelists throughout the four weekends to help guide the discussions and capture the panel’s perspectives. Then he introduced the President and CEO of Metrolinx, who then welcomed the panelists, thanking them for their generosity and dedication, and reiterated the importance of the work the panel was undertaking.
Next, the Metrolinx CEO introduced the Panel to Metrolinx and The Big Move. He explained that Metrolinx was responsible for presenting an investment strategy to the provincial and municipal governments at the beginning of June and that this panel was one way Metrolinx was gathering public input for that report.
Panelists were then asked to spread out across the lobby as if they were a map of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and stand in the approximate location of their home. Not surprisingly, panelists came from every corner of the region. The panelists then introduced themselves and explained their motivations for volunteering for the Panel.
Feeling better acquainted, the panelists sat down to an intensive learning session on the region’s transportation and transit system. The first presenters were Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ontario Growth Secretariat, and Vice President, Policy & Government Relations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. The Assistant Deputy Minister provided a comprehensive overview of Places to Grow, the growth plan for GTHA. The Vice President, Policy & Government Relations from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce focused on the economic impact of transit and transportation sharing that ‘we do not have a fully functional transit system and it’s one of the biggest drags on our economy.’
After the presentations, the floor was opened to questions. The panelists showed their interest immediately and engaged the two speakers on several issues. Among a wide variety of questions, panelists asked for details on the implementation of a growth plan and how the plan was predicted to change densities. They also discussed revenues tools, asking which tools businesses had shown the greatest support for, and why certain tools have or have not been successful in other regions.
Afterwards, panelists were instructed to write down their ‘Vision for Transportation in the GHTA” — what they would like to see in an ideal transportation system in the region. Working in small groups with facilitators, panelists then discussed their hopes for the system. The facilitation team took careful notes through the discussion, for use later in the panel process.
After lunch, the Metrolinx Vice President, Investment Strategy and Project Evaluation, joined the panel. They gave a detailed presentation about how the system currently operates and how the multiple providers in the region work together. He discussed where funding currently comes from, delving into issues around government involvement, fare box recovery, and the difference between funding capital costs and operational ones. Panelists then engaged in an in-depth question and answer period with him, discussing everything from Metrolinx’s accountability to the public to the role of governments and the private sector in funding transportation.
Afterwards panelists had the chance to learn about the regional transit systems through a moderated conversation with a representatives from VIVA/ York Region Transit, the Toronto Transit Commission, GO Transit and the City of Mississauga. Each guest briefly spoke about the specific transit agency that they represented and its current growth challenges. They then engaged in a lively discussion with each other and the panelists as they answered questions about fare integration, maintaining ridership, funding breakdowns, private-public sector partnerships, and potential revenue tools for transportation investment.
The final presentation of the day was from the Vice President of Policy, Planning and Innovation at Metrolinx, who gave a detailed presentation about The Big Move’s Current Projects and the multi-billion transportation investment already paid for and underway. She explained the difference between ‘Current Projects’- those with funding secured and shovels in the ground- and ‘Next Wave Projects’- those which Metrolinx has planned for the future. After the presentation, panelists asked about how to catch up from 20 years of underfunding, how to create an equitable funding plan, whether they could make the system self-sustaining and how Metrolinx was ensuring they were getting the best value for its money.
After a very full first day, the Reference Panel ended at 5 pm. On their way out panelists were given a copy of Metrolinx’s Conversation Kit, and asked to review it over the week.
Day 2: Learning Continued and the Start of Deliberations
Over coffee and breakfast, the panelists greeted each other warmly and shared reflections from their week apart and hopes for the day ahead. The moderator and facilitation team welcomed back the panel and started the day by checking in with panelists about any insights or questions that had occurred to them over the past week. It quickly became apparent the panel had taken to heart their responsibility to ‘think on behalf of others’ and had made an effort to consult with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. A common theme in many of the panelists’ anecdotes was the lack of awareness of The Big Move in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
After sharing their stories from the week, the panel welcomed back the President and CEO of Metrolinx who gave the panel a detailed presentation on The Big Move’s Next Wave — the currently unfunded projects planned to be completed before 2031. He explained the evaluation process Metrolinx went through for each new project; ‘For every project, we do a benefit case analysis. We look at social, economic and environmental benefits and then we tweak routes to see if benefits go up or down and compare. This lets us decide what plans are best for the region.’ Panelists were introduced to the Next Wave projects, highlighting the expected benefits from each project. After this presentation, panelists took the opportunity to ask for detailed information on a number of aspects of Next Wave Projects.
Once all their questions were answered, the panel moved into the first activity of the day. The moderator asked panelists to take out their Vision Cards from last Saturday. ‘Now that you’ve heard about The Big Move in detail, we want you to assess whether you think your visions will be achieved,’ he told panelists. Working in small groups, panelists shared their visions for the GTHA transporation system. Facilitators then led the groups in a discussion about which of these visions The Big Move would, would somewhat or would not achieve. Throughout the discussion, facilitators took detailed notes for future use.
After engaging in their first substantive small group discussion, the panel welcomed the Vice President, Investment Strategy and Project Evaluation at Metrolinx, who returned to give panelists a presentation on how Metrolinx was developing its Investment Strategy. He explained that Metrolinx has built a list of 26 potential revenue tools for the investment strategy by looking at best practices from other jurisdictions around the world. These revenue tools were different taxes, fees, and tolls that could be used to raise money for transit expansion. He went on to explain that Metrolinx’s study of best practices had also led the organization to outline four principles they felt should guide the selection of revenue tools for the Investment Strategy. These principles are Fairness, Regional Equality, Transparency, and Dedication of Revenues. Following this presentation, panelists engaged the presenter in an in-depth discussion around the impacts of the different funding tools. After a lengthy exchange, panelists took a break for lunch.
After lunch, the panel welcomed representatives from the Toronto Region Board of Trade, T the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) South Central Ontario, the Share the Road Cycling Coalition, and the Southern Ontario Gateway Council. Each guest was invited to share the perspective of a specific constituency; business, automobile drivers, cyclists and the goods movement industry. They each gave a brief presentation discussing funding strategies and/ or revenue tools that had received support in their community. Afterwards, the panel asked the speakers about how to select publically supportable tools and about the potential for innovative new tools that have not been used in other jurisdictions.
An Assistant Professor of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto, was the last presenter of the day. He began his presentation stating that: ‘There is no silver bullet, there is some pain in each of these revenue tools. We need to ask ourselves how can we create a fair revenue generating system that will minimize and share the burden so we can have a strong transportation system.’ He presented a set of criteria to use when evaluating revenue tools and engaged in a thorough discussion with the panel about the ramifications, both positive and negative, of the different methods to generate revenue for The Big Move.
After spending the better part of the day hearing from experts and stakeholders about transit and transportation, potential revenue tools and various funding considerations, the panel started their own discussions in earnest. This was the panel’s first major opportunity to process what they had heard and begin to debate the principles that would guide their deliberations going forward. In groups of six or seven, panel members worked with a facilitator to brainstorm the principles they believed were important for Metrolinx to consider when selecting revenue tools.
Once the panelists had finished brainstorming, they were asked to decide which funding principle interested them the most. At each of the six tables in the room, a member of the facilitation team would help guide a discussion on one specific principle. Four of the tables would focus on the funding principles introduced earlier in the day- Fairness, Regional Equality, Transparency, and Dedication of Revenues. The two other tables would take the ideas the panelists had come up with in the brainstorm and determine which should be carried forward for their report. Working together, panelists wrote up a definition of each principle and explained why they believed it was important for Metrolinx to consider when selecting revenue tools.
In the day’s final wrap up, the moderator asked the panelists to find time throughout their two week break to carefully review a booklet of the 26 revenue tools used in other jurisdictions. Panelists left feeling tired, but well equipped to start developing their recommendations and motivated to delve further into the funding tools.
Day 3: Deliberating 'The Big Move' and Drafting Funding Scenarios
Day three began with panelists sharing conversations they had had during the week with family and friends about The Big Move. Panelists then broke out into their working groups from Day 2, where each group had chosen different funding principles. Groups re-drafted short statements explaining why their group's principle was an important one for The Big Move. These statements were then shared back with the entire room.
The panel then turned its attention to the 26 funding tools identified by Metrolinx as possible revenue generators for The Big Move. Panelists broke out into groups of two, and each group volunteered to work on one tool. Each two person team identified the most important benefits and drawbacks of their tool. One member was responsible for the pros of the funding tool, the other the cons, and through one-minute presentations panelists presented the most persuasive arguments for and against each tool to the rest of the group, in order to inform the day’s discussions.
There was a lot of energy and laughter in the room as panelists added humour and flair to their presentations. Over lunch, panelists took in their last guest presentation, this time from the Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and an adjunct professor with the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs. The Professor's presentation covered how to give strong policy recommendations, and she shared insights from her work before a longer question and answer period. Panelist questions ranged from how revenues from the gas tax are allocated to municipalities, to the mechanics of dedicated revenue generation.
Afterwards, the moderator introduced an activity where panelists would construct their first draft of a funding scenario for The Big Move. Each panelist was given a sheet with an empty “thermometer”, with increments marked between zero and $2 billion. They were also given an envelope with cutouts of each of the revenue tools, sized according to how much revenue each would generate each year for the region. The revenue tool cutouts were also colour-coded according to who bears the cost of the tool — the user, the beneficiary, or everyone. Participants were asked to create their own preferred funding scenario by taping their chosen revenue tools onto the template until they reached the $2 billion target.
After a quick coffee break, panelists were asked to organize themselves into groups based on the similarities and differences in their individual funding scenarios. Some panelists, after hearing why others had chosen particular tools over others, were persuaded to change their own funding scenarios. The panel ended up divided into five working groups. Panelist questions ranged from how revenues from the gas tax are allocated to municipalities, to the mechanics of dedicated revenue generation.
The final task for the day was for each group to come up with one funding scenario that integrated the funding scenarios of each individual in the group. Each group landed on a group funding scenario that reflected a consensus or compromise, and a quick check-in gave each group the opportunity to briefly present their scenario to the room, and hear a bit about the scenarios of other groups. At the end of the day participants left feeling optimistic about the ground that had been covered over the course of the three days, and ready to roll up their sleeves to do the work of finalizing their recommendations in the fourth session.
Day 4: Deliberating and Finalizing Recommendations
After Day Three, panelists received a typed up version of the work they had done thus far developing and describing their seven funding principles and draft funding scenarios. The panelists were instructed to carefully review both the principles and funding scenarios in preparation for Day Four. Having diligently completed their homework, members of the panel arrived for Day Four full of ideas, suggestions and questions to share with the other panelists.
Day Four’s focus was on filling in a series of large paper templates in order to explain the panel’s recommendations and create an outline of their report. Returning to their funding scenario working groups, panelists, with help from the facilitators, dove into their work. Working groups were asked to complete a series of tasks: to give their funding scenario a name, list the selected revenue tools, explain why they had chosen each specific funding tool, write a precise rationale for why they had chosen their mix of tools and note how key funding principles applied to their scenario.
Once an hour had passed, the panel gathered together to hear what each working group had accomplished and to provide each other with feedback. Each working group presented what they had written so far, and the other members shared their reactions, questions and suggestions for improvements. Following the plenary session, each scenario working group spent time carefully refining and elaborating on their work while also addressing and incorporating what they had heard from the rest of the panel.
Some panelists moved from one group to another having realized that their personal viewpoints were more closely aligned with a different funding scenario. A small group of volunteers broke off from their scenario working groups to write up sections of the report that described the panel’s vision for the GTHA’s transportation system, how the panel viewed The Big Move, and the panel’s funding principles. This volunteer group was provided with summaries of work completed by the panel during the first three days to help them accomplish their task. Many panelists chose to work right through lunch, as they added details to their recommendations and worked to explain as clearly as possible why Metrolinx and the resident’s of the region should support their combination of tools.
The panel reconvened for one more feedback session, with each working group presenting their revised and expanded funding scenarios. Once again, the rest of the panel had the opportunity to share their reactions, offer constructive criticisms, and make suggestions to other working groups. They also had the opportunity to hear from and provide guidance to the volunteer group that was working on the introductory sections.
As the afternoon progressed, panelists rushed to articulate as clearly as possible all aspects of their funding scenario, conscious that their work would form the backbone of the report that would be presented to Metrolinx. Before long, time was up. The tables worked up until the last moment to put finishing touches on their recommendations. Then the facilitators collected the template sheets and bound them together to create an oversized book entitled the ‘Draft Report from the Residents' Reference Panel on Regional Transportation Investment’. With the President and CEO of Metrolinx and other senior staff present, a representative from each working group took the podium and read their section out loud. A warm round of applause from Metrolinx staff and the rest of the panel followed each section.
Once the draft had been presented, Metrolinx CEO thanked the panel for their impressive work and assured panelists that their recommendations were extremely important and would be read carefully by Metrolinx staff and the Board of Directors. On behalf of Metrolinx, each member of the panel was presented with a ‘Certificate of Public Service’ and thanked for their dedication.
The moderator, in his closing remarks, reminded panelists that their work would be edited by the facilitation team and sent out to them for final commentary and approval before being released. Any panelist who had comments that they felt were not reflected in the report were invited to submit a 'supporting opinion' to be included in the final report. And then the panel was complete. The panelists said their goodbyes and headed for their homes across the region, feeling exhausted but proud of what they had accomplished together
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Members of the Residents' Reference Panel largely agree about how Metrolinx should raise $2 billion dollars annually for the Big Move.
- Two thirds of panelists support a one-percentage point increase to the Harmonized Sales Tax that raises $1.4 billion annually, or two-thirds of the annual cost of The Big Move. They believe everyone benefits from transportation investments, and that a sales tax is a fair, straightforward and understandable way to gather contributions from all. They recommend the tax be implemented province-wide, with proceeds from outside the GTHA used for infrastructure priorities in those other communities. They also recommend measures similar to HST tax credits to protect low-income residents.
- The panelists unanimously endorse the role of the federal government in providing the region with stable transportation funding.
- Four-fifths recommend a small increase to the corporate income tax that would raise between $100-480 million annually. They favor this tax over an employee payroll tax because they believe a corporate income tax is less likely to impede job creation in the GTHA.
- Panel members gave near unanimous support to relatively modest added fees aimed at drivers to mitigate congestion. They suggest either a vehicle registration fee, a small increase to the fuel tax, or a modest parking levy, hoping that with time these fees would influence either car use or land use. Panelists were clearly sensitive to charges on drivers when they lack adequate transportation alternatives: proposals, including road tolls, that were perceived to place a heavy burden on drivers found little support amongst the panelists.
Three alternate scenarios were also developed by members of the panel, but failed to attract significant support. One group proposed a regional income tax instead of a sales tax. Another group focused on finding further government efficiencies and using private-public partnerships to generate funds. And a third group focused squarely on user fees that reduce congestion and improve land use.
Communicating the Big Move: Suggestions for Metrolinx
Panelists have three suggestions that they believe will help garner public support for new transportation investment.
1. Metrolinx should take additional steps to explain The Big Move to residents of the region. Few panelists had heard of the Big Move before receiving the letter inviting them to participate in the panel. Members of the panel are concerned that the public does not know enough about The Big Move, about why new transportation investments are essential, or how Big Move projects will improve their quality of life. They believe more needs to be done—by Metrolinx and by public leaders— to explain what these new taxes, fees and tolls will build and what the benefits will be.
2. Metrolinx should show the public they are making every effort to spend current funds efficiently before requesting new revenue sources. Panel members want to pressure governments to find efficiencies and reduce costs in transportation, as well as in other government activities. High profile cases of misspending have reduced their trust that government is taking its financial responsibilities seriously, and believe information about what has been done so far to curb costs will lead to greater public support for new revenue tools.
3. Metrolinx should go above and beyond normal government standards for transparency and accountability. Panel members worry the Big Move might not be completed on time and on budget. New revenue tools will gain greater acceptance if Metrolinx commits to actively communicating real-time evidence that shows whether they are meeting their cost targets and timelines. This should be communicated in a format that is comprehensive, accessible and understandable for the average resident of the GTHA.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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