Listening to the Public

The Star reports today that the GO Transit Board rejected a call for fare rebates in compensation for poor service. This is no surprise, but that’s not my topic.

What fascinated me in the article was this:

[Pat] Eales was initially given five minutes to make her case to the board but GO Transit chairman Peter Smith said he would allow her to talk as long as she wanted.

Her presentation, along with questions and answers, went on for more than half an hour.

Meanwhile, over at the TTC, deputations have taken on a surreal air thanks to the Draconian new rules of procedure. We get five minutes, as always, but questions are rare and motions to extend speaking time are non-existent. I was used to being cut off back in the Lastman era, but Admiral Adam runs a tight ship and I’d better finish my speech in 5 minutes.

This reached an absurb height at the last meeting when John Cartwright of the Labour Council wanted to present information about shortcomings in the Buy Canadian study done for the current streetcar tender. Because the request to speak came in late, Chair Giambrone had to ask for the Commission’s indulgence just to get Cartwright on the agenda.

When the time to hear the material came up, they got five minutes. Full stop.

Meanwhile, TTC management gets to drone on at excruciating length about whatever project they have dropped onto the agenda often with little advance notice to those who might want to comment on it.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Metrolinx has yet to discover deputations and favours instead a complex process of public feedback through their website. No opportunity for irate members of the public to call politicians or management to task for their incompetence. Just remember this as and when they take over GO or even the TTC.

You won’t be able to complain about the Queen car because nobody will want to hear you.

Somehow the golden age of transit is looking a lot like the bad old days when pensioners got cigars, the Commissioners drank from bone china cups, and the public knew their place.

The Torontoist’s Million Dollar View

David Topping at the Torontoist has a good post about the need for people to embrace the TTC and work for positive changes rather than using the current labour situation, including the “million dollar” campaign, as an excuse to bash both the TTC and its employees indiscriminately.

As I’ve said in a preceding post, I think that the million dollar campaign is weak on details, and many have commented on how it makes the union (and its members) look bad by inflating their worth. One huge gap in the analysis is that it omits the value of the billions invested in transit infrastructure without which the ATU members would not have jobs and all of the economic activity they claim for themselves would, theoretically, never have happened. I and all of my readers helped pay for those investments through taxes at all levels, and if we’re going to shut down the TTC, I want my money back.

For its part, the TTC continues to struggle with low-balling the complexity of fixing long-standing problems with service and maintenance, or even of admitting that these problems exist. Politicians, even those who are strong supporters of transit, don’t want to hear that there is so much more to be done with money that isn’t in anyone’s budget.

This may sound like a broken record, but much of what has been achieved in the past decade came from pressure on the TTC to tell us what it could do, not what it couldn’t. The ideas of actually improving service, rebalancing fares and stimulating ridership came because we concentrated on improving the system.

We need more advocacy from within the TTC and City Council, detailed information on the actual state of the system and on what can be done to improve it. Some changes — better service for one — are finally on the street, but there’s a lot more to do. Let’s concentrate on making the transit system much, much better.