Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Poor Public Transit Already Pulling Down Our Productivity

Christopher Hume, a Toronto Star columnist, who writes regularly on public transit, is considered enough of an authority on urban affairs to host an interesting look at Canada's cities on the Nature of Things. A few weeks ago, he interviewed a British architect Will Alsop -- the one who designed the new Ontario College of Art building -- as said architect was here to meet with the TTC on his designs for two of the Spadina stations. It's nice to see that the TTC has decided to continue the legacy of the Spadina line, of having each station designed by an artist or architect so that commuters can look at something interesting or beautiful when waiting for a train instead of the usual bathroom architecture. Hume was probably interested in Alsop's opinion on public transit and the TTC as UK excels in public transit and Alsop is now learning about ours.

Hume noted that it's all British architectural firms who won the design contracts for the new Spadina line stations. But then it's London, not Toronto, that is continually building new lines underground; they have more experience. London, with its narrow, twisty roads and high gas prices, has also heavily relied on public transit for a century or more. Toronto has, um, well built it in fits and starts, rolled it back, then built it up again, and in the last almost couple of decades has shown no leadership, no cajones to call for true mass transit, to say that if we want to be a green, efficient city where business wants to play, we need a comprehensive system of more subways, better bus service, and 100% accessible routes. I mean, while our politicians and media tout about the brand new service bumps that barely return us to the good old days, TTC supervisors blurt out that 44 Queen streetcars are now down to 31, and those 30-year-old Red Rockets "are failing so fast the TTC expects to be running buses on some routes by the end of the year..." making me think of those trolley buses that got too old and were permanently sidelined in favour of smelly diesel then capricious natural gas buses. (From Tess Kalinowski, The Toronto Star, 2 February 2009.) Does that mean the city's fabled Red Rockets will eventually be phased out against the wishes of Torontonians?

But that's not the only problem with the TTC -- aging stock -- Toronto Councillors also have this weird idea that subways are bad. Meanwhile, the province likes to talk but still hasn't taken back its traditional funding of capital expansion and 75% of operating costs; and the feds just plain hate us and don't want to do anything for us (unlike every other country in the world for their big cities) cause we won't vote for them. So there.

So what would it take?
"With gas prices here so low it feels like free motoring," Alsop admits. "I used to drive a Range Rover, but I got rid of it in 2004 and bought a Smart Car when I realized it was costing me $250 to fill it up." (Christopher Hume, The Toronto Star, 2 February 2009)
It would take long-sustained high gas prices to get Torontonians pissed off at the overcrowded buses the gas prices forced them onto and courgeous enough to yell for subway building in the city again; it would take sustained high gas prices across the land for Canadians of all stripes to insist that public transit be a federal priority and build that high-speed train too already; it would take real-high gas prices to get business leaders mewling to their paid-off politicians to fund public transit, including in the city of Toronto, as it's costing them too much in employee time lost to sitting on slow, inefficient buses stuck on crowded streets.

But we're already there, our politicians are too caught up in playing with each other to notice, and our business leaders are, well, who knows, maybe they have noticed the deleterious effect of poor transit on our productivity but are not insightful enough to understand why.
"Our sagging competitiveness results from the same outdated thinking that fails to recognize the importance of transit." (Christopher Hume, The Toronto Star, 2 February 2009)
I'm skeptical that our leaders will return Toronto to her glory days of livability, but with Canadians green over the emergence of real leadership in the US, maybe they'll stop settling for mediocre and start demanding excellence in all, even our TTC.

3 comments:

Richard Bellamy said...

It's distressing to read your blog and other reports about Toronto's transit mismanagement - in part because the city's system is a lot better than other cities.

Take Winnipeg's transit system (please, someone, take it), for example. While finally recognizing that it makes no sense for downtown to be the sole hub for transit spokes in our city, the city council, which traditionally has ensured we have neither the transit we need nor a decent system of freeways to compensate (Regina and Saskatoon both have better freeways, but our street planners' creativity breaks down at anything wider than two lanes in one direction), keeps increasing transit fares to the point it's a disincentive for anyone to ride "Transit Tom."

Of course, that means when it's again civic budget season, transit administrators are arguing for fare increases because - well, just because there aren't enough people riding buses to make it profitable.

Right.

All this in the city that is the North American capital of transit bus building. Transit buses that literally create billions of dollars of orders for New Flyer from places that really care about their transit.

So to bring my rant to its conclusion, if Toronto is going to end up letting its transit system go down the tubes (no subway pun intended), what hope is there for us in a city that has spent years starving its transit system?

Daly
Walking in Winnipeg

PS If Toronto lets street cars go, the responsible administrators and politicians should all be sacked.

Anonymous said...

what are the chances TTC ticket price will be 2 bucks for 1 way

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Daly, in a time when global warming is a bit topic, when buying local and improving our productivity are growing trends, you'd think governments everywhere, especially moreso in so-called socialist Canada than in capitalist US, would be funding and building high-capacity and the speediest kind of public transit. So much for leadership.

Anon, Unfortunately, fares are already over $2 each way. Cash for adults, it's $2.75, and as tokens, works out to $2.25. Big savings when buying in bulk, eh?