To the TTC: Being Nice Isn't Working to Reinstate Fair Share. Be Outrageous!

I unwittingly began a conversation with the TTC. On 9 December 2011, I tweeted:

"Why is @TTCchair & @TOMayorFord not calling for Ontario to restore pre-1997 funding too? Not doing so fails riders."

That same day, TTC Chair Karen Stintz replied in a series of four tweets:

1. "We have, repeatedly," she tweeted back and linked to the city's most recent motion:
"City Council call on all three Ontario Political Parties to make public commitments to reinstate the "fair share" funding arrangement for the Toronto Transit Commission." (from Toronto City Council Item MM10.3)
2. "In 2010 Miller made 2011budget promises based on ASSUMPTION Prov would finally do FairShare. Didn't happen" (see status update)
"Anyone who tells you that they can freeze or cut your taxes and provide the vital services we all rely on, including ... Public transit ... is simply not telling you the whole story.
We face structural financial challenges - such as the need for a return to shared funding for the operation of the TTC - that need to be addressed for the City's long term financial stability. And I am pleased at the Premiers agreement to begin those discussions, ones that we at the City would like to resolve by December of this year." (from Remarks my [sic] David Miller on the City's 2010 and 2011 Budget)
3. "14 years of #Toronto asking for #TTC Fair Share,during Ont's good fiscal years,hasn't worked. Fiscal times aren't better now."

4. "#TTC isn't only transit system in Ontario. If they fund us more they must fund others more. We need $$ but must work together."

I shall now rebut. But first I'd like to say thank you to TTC Chair Stintz for talking with me on Twitter about the TTC, and to Twitter for making such a conversation possible. And I'd like to start with a little video I began shooting while spending a relatively unaggravating ride on the Bathurst streetcar, which just means that being late was not a problem as I wasn't on my way to a medical appointment or coffee with a friend. Reliability seems to be a thing of the past for this streetcar route. Sigh. All the clips and most of the photos are outside of rush hour or on a weekend.

1. I remember the motion and how Mayor Rob Ford and the city made an effort to get the party leaders to commit to helping Toronto. As I recall, it was a fairly typical Toronto effort: the Mayor met with each of the three leaders, a polite scrum came after, everyone went back to the usual business of ignoring the TTC. Totally ineffective.

2. Former Mayor David Miller is right about public transit and how the province must step up to the plate not only to get Toronto's fiscal house stable again, but also to move all the people of Toronto from home to work to doctors to games to plays and back home again. Too bad Premier Dalton McGuinty reneged. An unsurprising failure of leadership. It's been going on for thirty years.

3. The TTC is in a crisis. Toronto is in a commuting crisis. Ridership is rising in spite of the inadequacy of the system because people are flocking to live and work here. Over a hundred condos are being built, and more people will clog our roads and subways. The piper is coming home, and the fiscal situation no longer matters. When the roof falls down, you have to fix it whether or not there is money in the bank.

4. Why? This is not the first time the province of Ontario has singled out Toronto for shafting. Premier Mike Harris swept into power, partly on the presumption that Toronto was a fat pig that snorted up everyone else's taxes while lazing on overstuffed couches. He cancelled a subway plan that would've met today's needs, but no one squealed if you do it to Toronto, you must do it to us. How come it doesn't work the other way? How is it the 905 area was relieved of funding social services but Toronto was not? Toronto has transit needs that no other municipality has in Ontario. We're the biggest city in Canada. We are competing with New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong. They have robust transit systems and continue to build on to them. We do not and are not. We are falling behind, so far behind that Mom!-he-has-the-bigger-slice-of-cake fight is jealousy unfit for a mature people and serves us and the Ontario economy not at all.

Apathy plagues Toronto. I remember learning in school that Toronto's leaders in the mid-20th century pledged to build two miles of subway track every year. Back in the 1980s, former Mayor Art Eggleton, seemingly comfy after the opening of the Spadina subway, didn't see any need to push the province or the city to continue honouring that sensible pledge. That was the beginning of the slide.

Between Toronto the apathetic and polite and Ontario the taking-Toronto's-engine-for-granted (and how's that working for you Ontario with your 21st century have-not status that arose at the same time Toronto declined because of governmental neglect?), we have one east-west subway -- yes one; I don't count the Sheppard runt -- and two north-south lines. And the east-west subway comes to a screeching halt at the Scarborough border. The huge eastern section of Toronto has zero subway service. Apparently, cosy downtowners and Toronto leaders think it's perfectly okay Scarberians must hustle and jostle to transfer from dinky RT to subway, slowing down their commute further on probably their second transfer of their trip to work. The rest of the city squishes onto streetcars and god-awful badly-designed buses that seem to have no acquaintance with the schedules posted at timed stops -- except for those that exit from subway stations -- when not stamping feet to warm up in winter or seeking shade from the sauna heat in summer while waiting for (infrequent) transit.

As the person said in my video, quoting one of our esteemed leaders who ordered the cuts, "We did this [made cuts], but we didn't realise how it would affect people."

Excuse me a moment while I pick up my jaw from the floor.

How can the people running our public transit system who make the decisions that affect every TTC's user's life, not know how it moves people?

No wonder they're so friggin' polite when they ask the province, "please sir, may we have our funding back?"

Subways cost billions. Toronto cannot do it alone, and whether or not we partner with the private sector, we still need the province to restore its pre-Harris funding and to partner with us because the subway and service deficit is now ginormous, gargantuan, gaggling-huge. For that reason, we need the Federal government too. All three levels of government must co-operate, for investing in Toronto's public transit will restore maximum productivity in a dominant chunk of Canada's workforce. The Feds should like that. Sitting in traffic or on the streetcar is not exactly productive time and not only doesn't generate taxes but combusts them too -- you would think our politicians could make that simple connection.

As TTC Chair Stintz pointed out, the city has gone to the province many a time to ask nicely for our money back.

However, being nice is getting us diddley squat.

We need to persist not quit -- and certainly not cancel badly needed buses and cut service on command. And that calls for a different approach.

We need to be outrageous.

We need to be so outrageous, early Mel Lastman outrageous, that the decision makers finally understand that funding the TTC properly is an economic and social necessity.

I don't think Toronto leaders get how much of a crisis the TTC is in. If they did, they wouldn't be making cuts, and they would join the Torontonians who are screaming from the station rooftops.

The Mayor made a huge mistake in declaring the TTC an essential service, for he gave up a negotiating ploy by doing so. York Regional Transit has been on strike for almost two months. Apparently, people have barely noticed -- except the poor folk who have no alternatives. The TTC goes on strike for one day, and the entire city grinds to a halt. If Mayor Ford had not declared it an essential service, then the inevitable strike would've happened and the drivers would've walked off the job. At that point, instead of Ford going to the province to demand back-to-work legislation, he could've demanded funding restoration else the strike continues.

OMG, I can hear you say, you can't do that! Provincial politicians wouldn't get to their Pink Palace offices! People would be in big trouble! How would anyone get around?! I have news for you, people are struggling to get to work already. I'm having to find alternative routes in the middle of the day to get to my medical appointments on time. Toronto has the worst commute times in the country. We're already in big trouble. We are in crisis, people! The problem is the purse-string holders aren't noticing. A totally clogged city might bring it to their attention though.

But we don't have that. So what other outrageous thing could our Toronto politicians do?

We can start with signage. Education campaigns on the TTC seem to be as fleeting as snow on a tar roof; we need something with the oomph of permanence. How about a years-long campaign of signs on every streetcar, bus, and subway train that states

  • This slow service brought to you by McGuinty
  • This garbage-strewn car brought to you by your fellow passengers (whoops, I'm supposed to be talking funding)
  • This un-air-conditioned, inaccessible streetcar brought to you by Harper
  • Sorry, no transfer here to the Downtown Relief Line (DRL) courtesy of Harris, Eves, and McGuinty
  • Prepare for the Pan Am TTC Crush!
You get the picture. At the bottom of every sign, provide email, address, and phone number of the purse-string holders. Make it easier and provide prepared ready-to-sign letters TTC users can mail off to their MPPs and MPs (Torontonians grumble but lack initiation).

Get a petition going, with Councillors emailing all their constituents on their lists to sign.

Tie Ontario's economic slide into have-not status with slashing subway building, the resultant rise of commute times, and the drop in productivity. Yell from the rooftops how many billions Toronto citizens send to Ontario and Canada -- billions we need but go into other coffers -- so it's now time we get our Fair Share.

Make TTC users your partners; entice car drivers to join with the vision of clearer roads as more subways are built. The customer service intiative is a good start, as is talking to people like me on Twitter. Go whole hog and inspire and use the collective political power of the people. Inspire the TTC and people with this map:

Since many say fare hikes are no biggie and Toronto should be able to support the TTC through the fare box and the private sector, I suggest we go all the way.

Triple the fares.

I can't afford the fare now, so ten cents, three dollars, all the same to me: unaffordable. However, to offset the disastrous effect of such a fare hike on the poor and disabled, the city can provide low-income constituents with Metropasses, similar to what Calgary provides. Meanwhile, those who feel smug and like to pay taxes and exorbitant fares for 30-years-behind-the-times service can really show how committed they are to that ideal.

But I bet the screeching will be heard all the way to the Pink Palace. In that case, to make things all better for Premier McGuinty, Toronto will agree to dial back fare hikes to zero if -- and only if -- the province restores funding immediately to full pre-Harris levels and agrees to build the DRL. And for good measure extend the Bloor-Danforth line into Scarborough, starting now.

That's just a couple of ideas off the top of my head after a long week of too-many medical appointments. I hope this will at least get the TTC Chair and TTC management to stop thinking in motions and meetings and start thinking creatively and flamboyantly about how to resolve this crisis.

City politicians need to learn to play hardball against the big guys. It's easy to play it against people with no power, but the true measure of a leader is when they can do it against those who seem to hold all the cards and win.