In today’s Globe and Mail, Jeff Gray brings us farewell musings by the former City Budget Chief, ex-Councillor David Soknacki. It starts off with comments about the TTC’s unwillingness to market itself, but goes on to meatier issues of property development, splitting up the TTC and private sector involvement.
First off, a few comments about marketing. Many have written about the TTC’s lacklustre graphics and the fact that such hits as the subway station buttons and the Warm Soupy Butt subway map were not exactly a TTC invention. But pace my friends over at spacing, we are not going to solve the TTC’s problems with a trinkets for the tourists.
What the buttons and the TTC’s heavyhanded response to the anagram map show us is an organization that has no sense of humour, and certainly little pride in the system. Paranoia about copyright infringement takes priority over a celebration of a hilarious adaptation of the subway map. We see a hypersensitive organization that knows the days of sparkling clean stations and vehicles, of good service marvelled at by other cities, are decades in the past.
So what would our former Budget Chief do about this?
First, he would take apart the TTC into separate agencies to run different parts of the system as happened in London, England. We could have a separate subway, bus and streetcar company, for example.
Sorry, David, but that way lies disaster as many in London have found. The separate agencies get in each other’s way, and some of the screwups with subway operations can be traced to competing priorities between the company operating the trains and the company maintaining the tracks.
Indeed, in London, the stiff penalties for non-performance in the public-private partnership contracts actually worked against the provision of good, reliable service. Try telling someone waiting in the cold for the Queen car that the contractor who runs it will be penalized for poor service. That penalty will only yield further cutbacks, not better service, and that’s exactly what has happened with public sector funding constraints.
The TTC has long been an integrated operation and splitting it up would, if anything, trigger greater complexity in the bureaucracy as each branch duplicated formerly shared services. Soknacki thinks that a regional body could encourage innovation among a bunch of smaller operating companies.
This is highly amusing considering that the entire thrust of provincial policy has been to amalgamate services across large regions. A large co-ordinating agency will, if anything, decrease innovation by forcing everyone into a common, suburban-dominated model of what good transit and transportation planning should be.
Soknacki, like others including, recently, Chairman Adam Giambrone, talks about how the TTC could raise capital by undertaking joint developments at subway stations. Please, Mr. Soknacki, do not insult our intelligence. Property at subway stations is controlled by the City, not by the TTC, and has been ever since the former Metro Council took control of the Commission away from “citizen” Commissioners so that development schemes would be open to public scrutiny and review.
Moreover, planning has been underway for years for developments at Kipling, Islington, Victoria Park, Warden, Eglinton and Sheppard stations. There may be organizational foot-dragging between both the TTC and the City, but the work has advanced to the point where there is a development proposal for the Islington Station lands. If anything, that scheme may fall apart because it depends on relocating GO and Mississauga Transit operations to Kipling into a new terminal to be paid for by someone other than the TTC.
Meanwhile, up on Sheppard, the idea was that development charges on new buildings would help to pay for the line. Unfortunately, Mel Lastman arranged for his developer friends’ projects to be grandfathered so that they were not subject to that charge. At Bayview Station, there was a huge flap with the neighbourhood and former Commissioner David Shiner accused TTC management of colluding with a developer to make provision for a new high-rise in the station structure.
People talk about developments as if they will magically pay for rapid transit construction, but this is a fallacy. Even the Islington development will not pay the full cost of restructuring the station, let alone building it from scratch. The real purpose of the Kipling/Islington scheme is to make the entire area more attractive as a development site and turn the Six Points back into a neighbourhood from a highway interchange. That’s what public investment is all about — spend public funds to attract private investment and more tax revenue.
Again, looking at Sheppard, there are strong reasons why development cannot go block-by-block along the line. One big one is the station spacing, and another is the existing low-rise communities that don’t feel like being redeveloped.
Developments on public land can pay part of the cost of transit construction, but they will never pay the whole shot let alone provide enough riders to justify a new subway line.
A few days ago, I published a table showing the level of service on the streetcar system from 1954 to 2006. The Bloor-Danforth streetcar operated 84 cars per hour past Yonge Street in two-car trains, a design capacity of 6,300 passengers per hour each way. Crush loads would push this over 8,000. Meanwhile, parallel services on the Harbord and Carlton routes added another 4,000+ per hour, while streetcars on Dundas, Bathurst and King carried many riders into downtown from areas that now feed the subway.
That’s what we mean when we talk about building rapid transit where there is a demand. No amount of tinkering with development proposals or financing schemes will change the fact that most demand patterns in the suburbs cannot sustain subway capital and operating costs.
I have a backlog of comments from readers about how the TTC stacks up financially, and will continue this thread in another post later this week.