There is a long interview with Adam Giambrone on the Torontoist website that contains a few signs that, finally, somebody at City Hall is starting to think beyond the current artificial budget crisis to what the TTC should become once we deal with the tax and revenue issues.
You can read the full text for yourself, but two items caught my eye:
On TTC priorities:
The priorities within the TTC are things like building Transit City, adding service—we don’t have enough service out there today, we know that. The fact that we didn’t get the [land transfer tax and the vehicle registration tax] in yet, and that’s very important, hopefully we’ll get them in in October, has meant that we push off—not eliminate, but push off—the improvements to January. If we get the taxes in, we’re able to move forward [with things like] better customer service, we’re buying new streetcars, there’s renovations to our stations that are starting. There’s a lot going on about the renewal of the system and the expansion of the system at TTC.
On possible budget cuts:
The TTC has been asked to provide $130 million of contingent cuts. We’ve been asked to make some cuts in the short run, and we are waiting to see what will happen with the taxes. We’ve said we have to begin work on [the cuts], because, for example, you can’t shut a subway down in a week, it would take months. We’re beginning that work. TTC staff are actively engaged on the action plan for how you would shut the Sheppard subway down, how you would reallocate buses. I hope we don’t get to that. And if the new taxes come in that won’t be necessary, but I’ll tell you: if the city has to trim $600 million worth of spending, it’s going to be really ugly. So we have to be prepared, but we’re also going to be out there starting in a couple weeks to talk directly to riders to build the case to protect the TTC.
For once, we’re hearing that the priority is still on improving the TTC, and that the funding issue is temporary, assuming Council comes to its sense in the fall. As I have said before, the great fear was a setback to the mid-90s mentality where each cut sets a new base from which programs must be justified. Program review is worthwhile to avoid unnecessary spending, but cancelling services and then forcing a review from square is a formula that would doom any agency.
The plan to talk to riders and build a case for the TTC is vital. When tax and service cuts are discussed at Council, we always hear from those who don’t want to pay, but rarely from those who are affected. Even when TTC riders do make a case, their position is marginalized because the real estate industry, for example, is far better connected politically than TTC users. The world will end if we tax land transfers, but nobody talks about the economic impact of poor transit service and stunted system growth.
Let’s hope those public consultations don’t descend into rounds of complaints and focus instead on what is needed to make the system an attractive and vital part of Toronto.
Very refreshing to read. Adam has been one of the most energetic councillors and is at least looking forward to when this very-much artificial crisis will pass. I am looking toward the community consultations coming up in early September, and I hope that this message, not the doom-and-gloom nonsense said by others, will be delivered there.
I don’t know. If the guy really had guts, he would have said, no, we’re not cutting anything, we’ll just raise fares to make up the difference — thank you, end of discussion.
And I don’t agree with the TTC wasting millions of dollars on renovating BD and U stations with fake stone wall panels when all they need is a good tile cleaning with acid to pull off 40 years of caked on dirt. The BD line started looking shabby in the 70s — call it weird but I actually remember that. It looks worse now, but not by that much.
I’m curious as to why Steve is against privatizing any part of the TTC. The TTC doesn’t even outsource their payroll for pete’s sake — everybody does that now. Come on.
Steve: Taking your points one by one:
It is not up to Adam Giambrone to set TTC policy on his own. There will be a report at the September 12th meeting on options for fare increases, This was requested by the Commission at its emergency July meeting.
I tend to agree with you about the renovation of BD stations if it’s only a cosmetic change. However, the work planned for sveral stations includes accessibility updates and secondary exits to bring stations up to building codes. Taking down all of the tile is, I agree, an excessive response to a problem with age and water damage that only affects a minority of the stations. However, the cost of that is small compared to the overall project cost. The TTC has long been condemned for its boring station designs, and now that they are trying to react (even if in a ham-handed TTC way), the complaint is that we shouldn’t spend the money. Some balance is needed here.
Finally, my argument against privatization is that the TTC is a huge organization, and handing any significant chunk of it (ie: something big enough that we would save serious amounts of money) would require a large external organization to duplicate what the TTC is already doing. Experiences on that scale have not been particularly happy, and if we tried going down that road, we would divert a lot of resources into the exercise rather than getting on with improving the system as a whole.
As for payroll, some organizations have very complex payroll systems that cannot be handled by “off the shelf” payroll providers, and I have little doubt that the TTC is one of them. In any event, this is a small part of the overall operation, and you are not going to make a huge dent in the TTC’s deficit with that sort of thing.
The scary thing about the current situation is the possibility that reduced services may become an accomplished fact in the minds of the population, resulting in an exodus from the city of middle class people. Other cities have gone that way and it can take a generation to recover.
Fortunately there are people like Adam that can plan towards a healthy future for both TTC and Toronto. Also hopefully the concept of Transit Toronto funding has been made independent of the city budget, and therefore should have minimal effect from the current situation.
Steve: Actually the Transit City funding is tied up both with the City’s future spending plans and with the inevitable wait for Ottawa to come onboard. The whole Sheppard Subway fiasco has raised questions about building new lines we cannot “afford” to operate. Politicians are waking up to the fact that expanding the transit system doesn’t just cost capital dollars, it triggers future operating expenses. Any fool knows that, but it takes a very special type of fool to be a Councillor, at least in some wards.
The Transit City lines are to be built, in theory, with 2/3 Ontario money under MoveOntario and 1/3 Ottawa money. I will believe that when I see it.