After that long post on the TTC’s capital budget woes, I promised that I would write a “what should we do now” post. Here it is.
There are some hard truths that everyone needs to accept about our present situation:
- We are in a very deep hole on funding day-to-day operations, let alone any system expansion or improvement.
- The expected tripartite funding scheme between Toronto, Queen’s Park and Ottawa does not exist and is unlikely to materialize soon. Even if it does, it will be subject to the whims of the government of the day.
- The planning and implementation lead times for almost anything are so long that they will, at best, produce real change near the end of the next term of the city and provincial governments.
- Current planning remains project-oriented rather than system-oriented with schemes advanced by separate agencies and governments that take little account of alternatives in other jurisdictions. Funding constraints compound this problem because people talk only about “their” problem, not the region as a whole.
- Current funding levels are inadequate at both the city and provincial levels. Both governments talk a good line about transit, but when it comes to paying for it, we’re lucky to keep just the money we have today. We cannot change the quality of transit service without major new spending and sustained programs to fund better transit.
Before writing this, I went back to my original “Grand Plan” document from March 2006 (click here). There are small changes I might make, but that would divert attention from the larger issue. Whether a line goes down street “X” or street “Y” is far less important than considering everything in a network context and looking at all available alternatives. This document deserves a thorough review and response by anyone who claims that they hope to “do something” about our transit problems.
Recently, the Star ran a long article about transit woes. I don’t agree with absolutely everything they said, but the bullet “No More Subways” really caught my eye. For the Star, long a booster of expensive rapid transit schemes, to publish such an article shows a huge change in attitudes about transit priorities.
Meanwhile, the TTC’s approach to alternatives analysis for subway schemes goes roughly like this. Shortly after the invention of the wheel, an environmental assessment was conducted and approved for a subway line to the middle of nowhere. Any suggestions that this might not be a valid proposal today are worthless and will be ignored.
This attitude makes the concept of “alternatives” meaningless.
We have just gone through the exercise of building a new Official Plan where development and transportation fundamentally differ from our old thinking. However, decades-old “approved” transit plans are still alive and will go ahead whether they make sense today or not. This is nonsensical, and the TTC’s reliance on old plans is counterproductive.
At the political level, subway plans are alive and well:
- The Spadina/York/VCC extension remains alive despite its $2-billion pricetag and the dubious status of federal funding.
- Scarborough Community Council reluctantly accepted an RT upgrade provided that they get (a) an extension north to Finch and (b) an extended Sheppard subway.
- Etobicoke Community Council is now rumbling about a westward extension of the Bloor subway.
What we do not see in any of this is planning based on the following assumptions:
- No new subways will be built, or they will be considered only as a last resort.
- Regional travel (outer 416 and 905) to the core should be handled by substantially improved GO rail service.
- Ridership justifications for lines such as the expanded SRT and the Spadina subway need to account for riding that can be shifted to the GO network.
- We need detailed plans for a network of LRT lines in Scarborough, Etobicoke/Mississauge and the York University area so that we can see what the alternative to subway/RT extensions really looks like.
If we persist in planning for tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s “solutions”, we won’t get anywhere.
If we talk transit but cut funding, we will slowly kill off what we now have and will fail the objectives of our Official Plan.
An investment in transit has benefits far exceeding the cost of business-as-usual. We need plans that address all of our transit needs, and we need to commit spending now to the future of our transit system.