TTC Funding: The Sky Has Not Fallen, Yet

Today (July 30) on CBC’s Metro Morning, Richard Soberman and David Gunn were interviewed about the proposal to close the Sheppard Subway.  In the same broadcast, on the news, we heard a real estate developer whose dreams of selling new condos on Sheppard were threatened by the loss of a significant marketing tool, the subway.

Soberman and Gunn practically fell over each other talking about how crazy the idea is, but sadly, the conversation never went beyond the Sheppard line to the wider issue of TTC service quality.  Even though that subway proposal only represents 10% of the total “savings” to be found in the TTC budget, it gets all of the air time, all of the ink.  Where is the coverage about all the service cuts on bus and streetcar routes?  About the new services that will never see the light of day?

What pains me most is the total absence of anyone “official” from Council talking about how these cuts (a) are a terrible idea and (b) don’t have to happen.  I’m a Miller supporter, but the Mayor has been conspicuously absent along with TTC Chair Adam Giambrone.  This leaves the media field open to doom-and-gloom coverage.

If this goes on very long, the TTC cuts become real, if only in people’s minds, because that’s all we will be hearing.  The great promises of better transit will just be a memory, if that.  Transit City and MoveOntario will just be two more grand announcements of better days for transit that went absolutely nowhere because this city hasn’t got the guts to pay its way.

Next winter, while you wait for a bus that is late and packed, remember all those speeches about “living within our means” and “government waste”.

This is not a question of “if the money can be found” — not finding the money to expand and improve the TTC is really not an option as anyone reading recent studies of the GTA’s transit needs will know.  Building our future transit network needs long-term dedication to funding. 

Often we hear about how Queen’s Park or Ottawa won’t create a dedicated funding stream for transit (or various other municipal services), but Toronto is just as bad.  One year Council will agree to a certain funding level, but the moment some uppity constituent demands lower taxes, the TTC is one of the first to lose its funding.

Being pro-transit isn’t something you do on alternate Thursdays, it’s a full time requirement and needs predictable, long-term revenue to sustain the vision some Councillors profess for transit.

So where is the Mayor?  Where is Adam Giambrone?

We need them to restore a positive view of transit and of what our city can be, and we need them now.

Postscript:  No sooner do I post this in frustration, but the Mayor pops up to tell the Police Board and TTC “make those cuts now, don’t wait until the fall”.  Nothing like confidence to start off my morning.  (July 31)

Lost Signs: Hula Hoop Man

One of my favourite street signs has disappeared.

Northbound on Spadina Crescent at Russell Street, there is a pedestrian crossing into the grounds of 1 Spadina Crescent, originally Knox College.  There was also the standard “walking man” crossing sign in plain view especially to riders of the Spadina Streetcar as it rounded the circle.

Over a year ago, someone added a hula hoop giving the impression that, just maybe, 1 Spadina Crescent was home to an international competition — maybe the Hula Hoop Man was the only one still, er, standing after all these years.

Then, probably after the publicity it got, someone cleaned off the hoop, but the sharp-eyed could see a ghostly ring.  Who knows what Hula Hoop Man got up to in the dead of night, a spin or two by the moonlight.

Now, alas, there is a traffic light about to be activated and Hula Hoop Man is gone.

Let’s hope that his replacement doesn’t spend too much time holding up the Spadina streetcars.

Will We Get It Right This Time?

In a previous post, I mentioned two background reports written by IBI Group for the Ministry of Transportation.  These can be found on the GTTA’s What’s New page.

If you’re pressed for time, read the Stratgic Transit Directions report as its companion, Needs and Opportunities, duplicates a lot of the material.  At the risk of seeming to cherry-pick sections that support positions I have advocated here, I will give a few excerpts and observations.

Travel demand in the GTAH (Greater Toronto plus Hamilton) is projected to increase substantially over the period 2001-2031 (2001 is the base year because the transportation survey data for 2006 was not available when these studies were written).  Even with massive investment in transit, the overall modal split for transit will stay much lower than needed to avoid massive traffic congestion, especially in the 905.  This is not to say that transit is a bad investment, but the problem is so great that the aggressive proposals included here won’t keep up with growth in travel demand. Continue reading

Ten Years of Spadina Streetcars

Today, July 27, 2007, marks the tenth anniversary of the Spadina streetcar/LRT.  Despite the transit crises of past weeks, we celebrate an important birthday for the Spadina line and for our transit system.

I started writing this piece for the Jane’s Walk series back in late April, but there was just too much else going on, and it didn’t get finished in time.

Without Jane Jacobs and the many who fought beside her, there would be no Spadina streetcar, the heart of the Annex would be an expressway, and the renaissance of Spadina south from College would not have happened.  Indeed, had the road designers had their way, Dundas would be widened out to six lanes through downtown to the DVP, and much of Chinatown would be arterial roads bereft of late 19th century architecture.

The many condos whose populations fill the King-Spadina-Front area would not be there because western downtown would be like so many other expressway cities, a sterile land of interchanges and new office blocks, but no people. Continue reading

Everybody’s Got a Plan

The agenda for the July 27 GTTA Board meeting includes overviews of the transit plans from all of the GTA regions plus an GO Transit’s schemes.  This material has been updated to reflect the MoveOntario2020 announcement, but not the current budget crisis at the TTC.  In the timescale that these plans operate, that crisis will only be a memory long before any of this is actually built.

Queen’s Park is looking for “quick success” stories, projects that can show some concrete return in very short order.  They actually hoped, at one time, to be able to have photo ops before the election, but that’s not very likely.

Having all of these plans in one place is useful both for people who are not familiar with what each region has been thinking, and to show just how far the entire GTA has to move to make any serious dent in the rising car traffic.  Some regions don’t plan to be above 10% transit share by 2031 and, given their development and travel patterns, how that can be improved is a mystery.  We can extend the reach of GO Transit, but travel within and between regions travel is quite another matter. Continue reading

GO Ottawa? (Updated)

On July 27, David Cavlovic passed on another Ottawa Sun article in this thread.  He comments:

Well, NOW it’s getting really ridiculous.

That’s all we need. It’s not enough that resources are stretched in the GTA, let’s stretch it in other cities as well.

Toronto Transit CORPORATION. Oh dear. Harbinger of the future?

[The article’s author is not in touch with Toronto’s transit system as we saw yesterday.]

 Fortunately, there is a bit of good sense on Council:

River Coun. Maria McRae, who is also the chair of the city’s transportation committee, said there is no reason why GO Transit and OC Transpo can’t work together.

“We can do both,” said McRae. “We should pursue that GO model for outside the city, but not lose focus on Ottawa’s transit issues.”

[Original post follows] 

David Cavlovic passed on the following item of interest from the Ottawa Sun.

Ottawa could be moving from the O-Train to the GO Train.

With Mayor Larry O’Brien mapping out an ambitious inter-regional commuter transit plan for Eastern Ontario, the province’s biggest regional commuter carrier, GO Transit, is expressing interest in helping the city with its plan.

“It’s definitely something we would look at,” said Jamie Rilett, communications director for Ontario Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield, whose department operates the Government of Ontario (GO) network in the Greater Toronto Area.

“When it was first brought up to us and we discussed it with various mayors and members from the Ottawa area, it was made clear to them we would look at any proposal they had and if they were interested in having GO participate in whatever way then it’s definitely something we would consider,” said Rilett.

[The full article goes on to talk about how wonderful GO is, and manages to get some of the facts wrong.]

Amusingly, this is yet another situation where a comment comes not from the GTTA but from the Minister’s office.  At tomorrow’s GTTA meeting, maybe they can discuss a small eastward expansion of their territory.

More to the point, Ottawa has to decide whether it wants a commuter rail network providing relatively infrequent service oriented to peak demand, or a transit network.  These are two completely different things.

St. Clair & Dufferin: Cars 1, Pedestrians 0

City Council, in its infinite wisdom, overturned the recommendations of their staff and of the Community Consultative process set up to review the design of the St. Clair LRT project.

Although the original design for Dufferin and St. Clair did not include an east-to-north left turn lane, this feature has been added by Council direction.  See the Decision Document at item EY7.38 for details.

The staff report on the subject includes drawings of both configurations, and you can see clearly the degree of curb cuts that this decision will entail at an already-crowded intersection.

Two follow-on actions were included in the Council decision:

  • Future studies for the redevelopment of this area should include setbacks from the new curb lane to provide wider sidewalks.
  • The proposed U-turn two blocks east of Dufferin at Northcliffe (part of the 2008 phase of the LRT project) should be reviewed.

This decision bows to those who drive on St. Clair by providing a left turn at the expense of pedestrian space.  Once the construction is finished, we can expect to hear howls of outrage about this change.

Clarification: Why We Have Budget Cuts in 2007

I have received a note from the Mayor’s office explaining why various agencies like the TTC have been asked to make cuts in 2007 in the wake of Council’s deferral of the Land Transfer Tax and Vehicle Registration Fee.

If these had been passed, they would have taken effect in 2008.  I was under the impression (no doubt from a garbled media report) that the new revenues would have started to flow in 2007, but this is not correct.

Even if Council does vote to implement these measures in October, they won’t be up and running for January, and there will be a shortfall from the anticipated revenue for 2008.  If Council rejects the measures again, well, then I don’t want to even think about the implications.

Either way, the intent of cuts to the 2007 spending is to free up whatever money is available to carry over into early 2008.  The big TTC cuts cannot be reasonably implemented until the new year, but if they are, they will permit a flat-lining of the subsidy from 2007 to 2008.

None of this is at all pretty, and the important political task is to marshall support for the new taxes going into the October Council meeting.  Unfortunately, the TTC will likely be pressured to approve the 2008 cuts in September before they actually know what revenues will be available in 2008.

My preference would be that if they must make a decision, pass a fare increase in September (we are overdue for one anyhow), and hold off on the service cuts until after the October meeting clarifies the budget situation for 2008.

Update [July 23, 6:40 pm]

After I wrote this post, I received this comment from Councillor Gord Perks in another thread, and I have moved it here:

Steve,

In response to a post from M. Huigens you suggested that the land transfer and vehicle registration taxes would have gone into effect immediately, and the need for freezing some spending and reviewing the 2007 operating budget stems from that loss of immediate revenue.

I just wanted to give a small correction. The taxes were scheduled for a Jan. 1st implementation. The deferral created two problems. If the taxes pass council in late October, we are unlikely to make that Jan 1st implementation date. It may be March before they are in place. This will leave a shortfall of several tens of millions.

The second, and more serious, problem is the possibility that we don’t approve them in October. In that event our 2008 budget is bleak indeed.

In both cases we need to control expenditures that will have a big operating impact in 2008. An example of this was the decision to delay extra TTC service which had been scheduled for this fall. If the taxes don’t pass we will also need to generate a surplus this year to give us some flexibility in 2008. Thus every department has been asked to find immediate operating savings. We will better understand what those will be in about two weeks.

In any event the main issue remains. As the Oct. 22nd vote approaches Torontonians need to discuss the kind of city we want. Do we believe in a bare bones paving and policing style of government, or do we want to build Toronto with a broader mix or public programs: Ridership Growth, Transit City, climate change measures, investments in underserviced neighborhoods, culture, libraries, housing, and recreation.

I know your website will be an important place for this crucial conversation.

Sincerely,

Gord Perks

The Mythology of “Poor Performing Routes” (Updated)

[This article has been linked from torontoist.com where there is another thread of comments.] 

Whenever there is a budget crisis, the TTC trots out its annual report in which they claim to show the costs and revenues associated with each route in the system.  By implication, the routes at the bottom of the barrel are “poor performers” and candidates for service cuts if not outright extinction.  The calculations in this table can be charitably described as creative writing.

Why?

In a flat fare system, it is impossible to allocate fare revenue in any way that makes sense and produces meaningful comparisons between routes.  Continue reading