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Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise in the house today to tell you that my ministry is hosting its first-ever sustainable transportation conference –TransForum to help create a cleaner environment.
Mr. Speaker, this has never been done before in the Province of Ontario.
TransForum began yesterday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It is being attended by leading thinkers in the field from across North America and Europe.
Mr. Speaker, we’re showcasing the latest research and the latest technology that will help us build a world-class transportation system. We’re drawing out the best thinkers … and seeking innovative ideas that we can implement right here in Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to building a more sustainable transportation system that supports the needs of today while protecting our environment for future generations.
Mr. Speaker, we are working to reduce traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gas emissions and TransForum is a key step.
As we all know, our roads and highways are busy and often gridlocked, which costs our economy billions of dollars every year.
There are health costs associated with pollution generated by idling cars and trucks on our highways. And let’s not forget the social costs. Mr. Speaker, this government does not want people spending hours in their cars because that is time they will never get to spend with their children, or their spouses, or their friends.
Around the world, standards of living are partly measured by the degree to which citizens can get around.
We must think to the future.
Over the next 25 years here in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe, we are expecting another 3.8 million people. This means we must act today for a better tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker, this government believes that a sustainable transportation system must balance all transportation modes including air, rail, road, marine and public transit. We need to make the connection to fuse modes of transportation – we can’t build a system in isolation.
In the interests of sustainability, we are also shifting the focus from creating more highways to using our highways better -- High Occupancy Vehicle, or HOV, lanes are a big part of that.
We invested over $127 million to build the first provincial HOV lanes on Highway 403 and Highway 404 southbound to reduce emissions by encouraging carpooling and transit use….
And, last Thursday, I announced our province’s ambitious plan to create a connected HOV lane network. We’re adding over 450 km of new HOV lanes on the 400-series highways in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
Mr. Speaker, I’m proud to say we also looked in our own backyard. My ministry is working to make its operations more sustainable by …
Converting all MTO traffic signals to high efficiency LED lamps and saving enough energy to continuously light almost 12,000, 100-watt light bulbs for a year…
Making 100 per cent of reclaimed pavement available to ministry contractors who repair and build roads across Ontario…
And, we converted the Fort Erie Truck Inspection Station building to solar power to help reduce energy consumption.
But more than anything, Mr. Speaker, public transit is the cornerstone of a sustainable transportation system.
GO Transit has become the backbone of interregional transit in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton serving more than 48 million riders in 2006-07. And, I was honoured to be a part of GO’s 40th anniversary celebrations last week.
Since 2003, we have invested almost $1.8 billion in GO Transit, including $457 million this year, making GO a better service for commuters.
Mr. Speaker, these investments have made more frequent, comfortable and reliable service, provided by cleaner-burning buses and locomotives, a reality.
We’re also making transit more convenient by partnering with nine municipal transit agencies in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton to deliver a single fare collection system.
We’ve delivered on our commitment to pump a share of the provincial gas tax into public transit across the province.
This year we are giving municipalities $313 million in gas tax funding. That means expanded service and many new, more comfortable and accessible buses across Ontario!
We’re encouraging commuters to choose transit by providing $1.6 billion in gas tax funding by 2010 to municipalities for public transit…
And I’m pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that our investments are paying off.
Since 2003, municipal transit ridership in Ontario has increased by over 65 million passenger trips, removing 54 million car trips from our roadways.
GO Transit ridership has increased by about 10 per cent over the last few years, or 4.4 million more passenger trips. Total GO Transit ridership this year is expected to be around 51 million.
Getting more people out of their cars and onto public transit means we’re all breathing cleaner air… burning less fuel… and reducing gridlock.
In short, Mr. Speaker, TransForum will help us change the way we think about transportation to create a better future…
… it’s about innovation…
… and it’s about managing transportation challenges strategically.
Mr. Speaker, I’m very excited about this groundbreaking conference and look forward to taking what we learn and making transportation in Ontario better for future generations to come!
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.