As I write this at 10:20 pm, it’s been a long day. I spent the afternoon at City Hall for the TTC meeting, had a quick dinner, went to a movie (Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes) and then came home to a mountain of accumulated comments on this blog.
The TTC voted today to defer service improvements planned for September including the opening of Mt. Dennis bus garage, to get a pile of additional information, and to launch a series of community meetings to discuss service proposals.
Updated July 21 at 8:30 am
Now that I’m awake, here is a rundown on the discussion and proposals at the July 20 emergency TTC meeting.
By way of introduction, you can listen to a podcast of my interview on Ontario Today that aired just before the meeting.
The TTC has been asked by the City Manager to trim $30-million from its operating deficit in 2007, and at least $100-million from 2008 to flatline the subsidy at the 2007 level. Various proposals were put forward (you can see the full list in the presentation), but most of these cannot kick in until 2008. On the table for 2007 were:
- Cut poorly performing routes ($1 million)
- Cancel service improvements planned for September through December ($2-3 million)
- Defer opening of Mt. Dennis Garage ($2 million)
- Miscellaneous cost containment (travel, etc.) (amount to be determined)
- A fare increase of 10-25 cents effective September 1 ($3-15 million)
Of these, the Commission approved items 2-4.
For 2008, the list is much longer:
- Cut poorly performing routes ($10 million)
- Cancel 2007 service improvements ($20 million)
- Cancel 2008 service improvements ($20 million)
- Roll back 2007 off-peak service improvements ($13 million)
- Close Sheppard Subway ($10 million, to be verified)
- Defer opening of Mt. Dennis Garage ($7 million)
- Miscellaneous cost containment (TBD)
- 2007 fare increase (full year effect) ($20-45 million)
Newly appointed Chief General Manager Gary Webster led off the meeting with an overview of the options. He presented them in a straightforward manner with no political rhetoric or scaremongering, and he was clearly unhappy with the idea that the TTC would make a 180-degree turn from its growth plans. He handled questions from the Commissioners, some of whom were trying to trick him into supporting their own political positions, quite well. I could not help thinking how different the exchange might have been with a TTC neophyte in the chair, or even worse, a syncophant whose opinions shifted to suit the mood of the times, had the CGM selection gone another way.
A vital contribution by Gary Webster was a sense of corporate memory that is often lacking in so many discussion at TTC meetings. He pointed out that after the debacle of the mid-1990s service cuts, the Commission adopted a policy that no such cuts would be made in future without public consultation. This not only saved us from immediate cuts to existing services, but led to a vote to conduct a round of community meetings where the public can tell Councillors what they feel about the various options. Some Council members who have not yet had the pleasure of being roasted alive by their constituents over transit service are about to discover how widespread a concern the TTC really is.
My presentation as a deputation addressed several points:
- I, as a transit rider, pay over 75% of the cost of the system through my fares, and nobody has bothered to ask me yet what I think about possible service cuts. How can a meeting be called on one day’s notice for such drastic actions without public consultation?
- When we talk about ridership loss, the 21 “poor performing routes” are a sideshow to the real issue — the riding lost through overcrowding and the perception that the TTC is only used by people who have no other choice. Losing the momentum of the Ridership Growth Strategy and Transit City will have a deep effect on the future role of transit and support for funding. Only one TTC meeting ago, Commissioners vied for precedence in Transit City construction. Now some would undercut the very system from which they seek kudos for delivering new transit service to their wards.
- Although I didn’t support construction of the Sheppard Subway, closing it would send totally the wrong message about the direction of transit. However, the high losses it brings should be a lesson to those whose transit solutions consist only of very expensive rapid transit projects.
- If fares increases are on the table, don’t stop at a 25-cent jump. Retaining service is vital to the health of the system, and every transit study shows that service is much more important than fare levels in determining ridership and the attractiveness of transit. If the City refuses to pay for TTC service, at least consider the option of a higher fare increase so that service can be preserved and improved.
- Council as a whole needs to take responsibility for this situation and resolve the funding problem as soon as possible. Waiting three months for yet another Queen’s Park bailout is irresponsible, putting it mildly. Some have asked for Council to forego its recent 9% pay hike, but I went much further. If they want to defer such a critical action for three months, maybe they should also defer their salaries for refusing to address this issue and creating an artificial crisis.
An intriguing exchange followed in which Commissioner De Baeremaeker wondered why I included him in my epithet “A plague on both your houses” [Shakespeare, spoken by the dying Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet]. It’s quite simple. The authors of the motion to defer tax increases brought about the budgetary crisis. Those who support the taxes have a responsibility to (a) raise public support for their position and (b) get the decision reversed as soon as possible rather than taking an axe to public services before making any attempt to solve the problem.
Another deputant, Sam Savona, spoke for the disabled community urging that Council not cut back funding for WheelTrans on which that community depends. It’s always an easy target because of the high cost per passenger of the service, and service availability, especially for discretionary trips, is still poor.
I’m not going to precis the debate that followed as much was predictable hand wringing about hard decisions and tub thumping about issues near and dear to various Councillors’ hearts.
Two standouts for the “thickest skull of the year award” deserve mention.
Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who assumed the mantle of Councillor for the York University Subway after his narrow defeat of former Councillor and Commissioner Peter Li Preti in the 2006 election, rambled on at great length about the economic importance of subway construction. His argument, separating the kernels of wheat from much chaff, is that construction creates jobs directly and indirectly. In effect, he would turn the TTC into a construction company digging holes hither and yon regardless of what we would do with them afterwards.
Councillor Peter Milczyn, who together with Councillor Suzan Hall would like to see a public sector wage rollback, wanted TTC management to explore cost savings through re-opening the collective agreement. He asked for a report on the savings if, in 2007, TTC staff were paid only their 2006 wages plus cost-of-living. This request was eventually defeated. [Note to commenters: I will not entertain diatribes about the evils of unionized labour and the socialist hordes.]
Milczyn’s huge blunder came in his description of the ATU’s recent court win requiring the TTC to cover the Ontario Health Premium — Milczyn said that the ATU may be legally right, but that they are immoral in expecting the public to pay for something everyone else must cover on their own. This led to an angry confrontation after the meeting between Milczyn and TTC Union head Bob Kinnear that fortunately was not picked up by the press already busy in the scrum outside the meeting room.
The last thing Toronto needs is a prolonged period of labour unrest especially in the transit system. If Councillors want the next contract (effective mid 2008) to peg wages to the cost of living index, that’s a valid bargaining position. For Councillors who created this “crisis” to ask for rollbacks is a recipe for labour disaster.
For reference, one percent of the TTC’s total budget is about $11-million, and of that about 70 percent is wages. The TTC will not fill a $100-million hole with a 1% wage cut.
In the end, the Commission approved the following motions:
- Service additions planned for fall 2007 are deferred indefinitely
- Opening of Mt. Dennis garage is deferred until January 2008 or later
- The planned August 29 meeting of the TTC is cancelled, to be replaced by one on September 12
- Staff are to report back on all fare increase options including those required to cover all reductions requested by the City Manager
- Staff in consultation with Chair Giambrone, Vice-Chair Mihevc and local Councillors are to conduct a round of community consultation regarding options for transit service and fares
- Staff are to report back on options for closing the Sheppard Subway
- Staff are to report back on a strategy to minimize layoffs through attrition, and the Commission should communicate to staff that this is the preferred option should it be required
- Staff are to advise the City Maager of the options identfied for savings and provide updates as information is available
- Using 1996 as a base year, staff are to report back on all new positions added (see comment below)
- Staff are to report on the environmental impact of service reductions and decrease in transit usage
- Staff are to report on the impact of postponing construction of the Spadina Subway extension
- All cost containment options described in the staff presentation are to be implemented
The report about new positions parallels requests made to some other City departments. During the past decade as the City rebuilt from the devestating cuts of the Harris years, there has been considerable growth in some agencies notably the TTC. The intent of this report is to demonstrate to critics that the increased staffing is directly linked to restoration of service and the quality of maintenance, not to empire building by the TTC.