Tuesday, July 03, 2012

OneCity Needs OneCouncil to Build Toronto’s TTC

When leaders abdicate their responsibilities, others move in. In the last week of June, TTC Chair Karen Stintz (not the Mayor) unveiled a new TTC transit expansion plan called “OneCity” and proposed a way to fund it. Predictably the leader we elected to get the TTC expanding again who failed spectacularly at it then retreated to sulk for two years till the next election, nixed the funding part.

The taxpayers cannot afford it. That’s the bottom line… I can guarantee I will not support it,” [Mayor Rob] Ford told reporters Wednesday.

You can’t always go to the taxpayers for everything, and that’s what it seems this plan looks for. There is a private sector that can get involved.” [Never mind the private sector said no to funding Sheppard subway line but not consulted on Downtown Relief Life] (Robyn Doolittle, The Toronto  Star, 27 June 2011)

And then Ontario’s Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli added his minus two cents to the idea of replacing the Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) with a subway extension instead of a Light Rail Transit (LRT):

That train has left the station.” (Lasia Kretzel, The National Post, 29 June 2012)

Meanwhile the business community through the Toronto Board of Trade and CivicAction welcomes OneCity. Why?

There is a real sense of urgency to get on with making a decision about how we’re going to finance (a regional transit plan) and get on with the building,” [CEO and president of the Toronto Board of Trade Carol Wilding] said.

And

We’re really pleased to see a plan connecting planning with funding, and we need to have an adult discussion around that [my emphasis],” said Mitzie Hunter, CEO of CivicAction. (Alyshah Hasham, The Toronto Star, 28 June 2012)

When Ford showed what an incredibly bad strategizer he is early this past winter and lost the momentum to expand the Sheppard line as a subway instead of an LRT (aka glorified streetcar), I felt that given the emergency-urgent-GET-IT-DONE-NOW-AND-PROPERLY state of the TTC, we didn’t have two years to wait until the next election, as Ford wants to do, probably only to repeat the catastrophe of the last election when the one candidate – Sarah Thomson – who had any sensible ideas about the TTC was shoved out of the election. We’ll be in worse TTC arrears than now. And so we needed a Councillor or several to take over the leadership from the Mayor, hear the citizens, and propose and act on a catch-up plan to expand the subway.

The TTC Chair did just that.

The TTC Chair outmanoeuvred the Mayor on the Sheppard line and the TTC Commission board makeup. And so it’s not surprising that she spearheaded the coming together of OneCity.

What I like:

  • She listened! The SRT was a political boondoggle that increased commuting times, decreased worker productivity as commuters sat around waiting at their umpteenth transit point from/into Scarborough and home. Replacing it with an LRT perpetuated that drain on the economy and the inequity Scarborough has had with the rest of the city in not having any subway line within its borders. It’s a huge area of the city too to be missing a subway line. Extending the Bloor-Danforth line into Scarborough and nixing the LRT is the right decision. It’s too bad our politicians have been so stupid and slow up to now, making the wrong decision, turning their noses up at the right one for decades. It’s now up to the TTC Chair and Council to fight tooth and nail to stick to their guns on this line and right their wrong to Scarborough – and all  citizens who want to travel there.
  • It covers the entire city. It does look like a real transit map. If they were all subway lines, it could even be like the London Underground or New York’s subway map. But in spite of lacking in the subway department, it’s much, much better than what we have now.
  • It finally makes a push on expanding the subway where it’s needed instead of fuelling political fantasies. Instead of hearing the same old deadening mantra of we have no money, you have to suck up exhaust and sit in your commute half the day because we won’t build to capacity -- we see the TTC Chair both propose subway lines within the city where they’re needed and a way to fund them. It’s about friggin time.
  • It includes the DRL (Downtown Relief Life) renamed so as to appeal to suburban voters, who if they were honest would admit they could use a faster way to get in to see the ball game or shop or get to or from work.
  • It finally proposes a way to fund TTC building; it finally shakes off the learned helplessness mode which former Mayor David Miller and his left-wing minions trumpeted to the city as a way to justify their less-than-what’s-needed timid expansion plans minus the badly needed subway lines.

What I don’t like:

  • Funding is a big part of the equation. Mayor Ford unleashed the desire for citizens to participate in city affairs and showed them how last year. The funding part of this proposal went back to the Miller days of we tell you, you suck it up. Councillor Josh Matlow had the right idea of consulting, getting citizen engagement. I understand about OneCity’s stated window of opportunity in that their proposal can only happen now. But that speaks to the need to speed things up at City Hall instead of taking years and decades of yakking. There’s no reason why with social media, several city halls still available to our government for citizen meetings, survey technology, and computers to tabulate results in an instant that they could not speed up the consultation process. They ought to have said this is our funding proposal but we will spend the summer soliciting citizens for their ideas and we will also consult with business as to how to get them involved – because the private sector have been involved successfully in other parts of the world. In that way, they’d have all the most popular funding options on the table for Council to vote on at the same time that the staff report is due: October. A deadline is a great way to focus the collective mind.
  • The DRL as proposed is half of what is needed. Do they really think commuters are going to be happy to transfer at the Yonge line and maybe transfer again just to continue their journey west? And do any of these people ever ride the Queen streetcar? Seriously? Sigh.
  • They still don’t recognize how dangerous the platforms are at Yonge/Bloor and Union stations and how overcrowded the Yonge line is. Is a death going to be what wakes them up? The Scarborough subway extension must be built now, but so does the DRL and so does upgrading the Yonge station platform. The will must be found to do all three at the same time.
  • Of course with the nonsense at the beginning of the year, they’ve lost the opportunity (for about thirty years) to build the Sheppard line as a subway along its entire length and to make it a real part of the subway backbone Toronto needs. Obviously, a stump line is never going to do well. Who wants to transfer and transfer and transfer just to get downtown? Commuters will take surface routes if it means one less transfer point. Making it one subway line from Scarborough Town Centre to the Spadina Line would result in statistically increasing the likelihood of people using that subway line.
  • We’re still going to be in a transit deficit for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Overall though, this boldness, this discussion of tying funding to capital expansion, is exactly what we’ve needed and haven’t had since former Premier Mike Harris in his dumbness cancelled the building of four subway lines, wasting tens of millions, draining the economy, raising the temperature of the populace as they negotiate the longest commute times on the continent. Not doing anything, not proposing new forms of funding, is to perpetuate the disastrous Harris legacy. The Province of Ontario not hearing the people, stubbornly refusing to look at changing the dreadful decision of replacing the SRT with an LRT, to make it a subway instead, also perpetuates the Harris legacy.

We need to ditch that Harris-instigated mindset of Toronto can’t have subways unless they go outside the city’s borders, and we need to ditch the Ford idea that we can’t ask the people to cough up money to expand the TTC.

OneCity has done that.

Finally.

Now I hope given how this plan came together in secret with a select group of Councillors that the TTC Chair can show equally powerful persuasive abilities and make Council OneCouncil (with the obvious exception of Mayor Ford as he’s often odd one out on tax- or spending-related votes) so as to build the new TTC fit for Torontonians.

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