What happens when the distinguished scientist and much-admired broadcaster known as Canada’s foremost environmental conscience gets together for an idea-sharing session with that nation’s transit leaders?
Everybody wins — for generations.
That’s the driving thought behind the action plans arising from the CEO Roundtable on Transit and the Environment, hosted by the Giffels Associates Limited division of the Ingenium Group in Toronto on June 4th.
Dr. David Suzuki, chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, energetically led a frank and stimulating dinner discussion covering topics from political agendas to bureaucratic lethargy to funding formulae and the need for integrated planning initiatives.
The discussion included senior transit executives for GO Transit (Province of Ontario), Toronto Transit Commission, WestCoast Express/SkyTrain (Vancouver), Agence Métropolitaine de Montreal and OC Transpo (Ottawa). They were joined by the president of Toronto Hydro Energy Services Inc. and the CEO for Sustainable Development Technology Canada, as well as Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Transport. The Ingenium Group hosts were Victor Smith, CEO; Fouad Moustafa, VP Business Development; and Greg Percy, VP Operations.
Canada’s most prominent and popular spokesperson for science and the environment for more than three decades, Dr. Suzuki heads a non-profit, science-based organization dedicated to finding innovative solutions to achieve sustainability within a generation.
The day of the CEO Roundtable, Dr. Suzuki had already received a standing ovation for his rousing luncheon address at the 2007 Rail Conference of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). There, he had promoted the use of public transit as a key initiative in preserving the earth for future generations. Strengthened support for public transit is one of his Foundation’s recommended strategies for reducing transportation emissions, as are carpool programs, cycling infrastructure and other sustainable transport options.
Later, Dr. Suzuki led off the discussion at Ingenium’s private dinner with a passionate discourse about our narrowing window of opportunity to protect natural diversity, the balance and sensitivity of nature, the social and economic impacts of climate change, and how the average Canadian has made the environment the highest political priority today. He pointed out that sustainability involves everyone, and that while many individuals already recycle, drive less and use environmentally friendly products; we also expect our governments to set policies that give us choices to build a better future.
Public feedback from his spring 2007 cross-Canada tour had already discovered that Canadians’ No. 1 priority to fight climate change, if they were Prime Minister, would be building an affordable, sustainable public transit system.
“I think you have such a massive opportunity right now, in that the public is overwhelmingly concerned and want action. They want to know what they can do. So I think one of the biggest things that transit must do is to reach out to the environmental community and form an alliance,” said Suzuki. “And the advertising message should be that transit is hip, it’s healthier and it’s no hassle.”
He added, “There must be a massive commitment to this. It’s just not fair to ask public transit to compete with the private game. Private vehicles have been subsidized for so long that it’s totally unfair. Canada is the only industrialized country that doesn’t massively subsidize transit from the federal level.”
Gary McNeil of GO Transit raised the issue of development practice. “It all starts with the municipality in the planning stage, so just like pipelines and sewers and gas lines, transit should be a key piece. They should be saying, ‘Come in and service us.’ And for those projects … I think we in government agencies have got to learn to get products to market quicker. We are not good at it, now.”