Toronto’s election campaign has produced two real stinkers in the Mayoralty race. Rob Ford wants a few subway extensions, elimination of streetcars and everyone else left to buses. Rocco Rossi would sell Toronto Hydro, use the supposed proceeds to build subways, and last but not least, extend the Spadina Expressway via a tunnel to downtown.
I will not waste space on critiques of these plans. The proposition that subways will solve every problem has been discussed at length here and doesn’t need yet another round. The idea of an expressway tunnel is so outlandish, so contrary to four decades of city planning, so much an attack on the City of Toronto, so unworthy of one who would be Mayor, that it deserves only contempt.
However, these ideas come from somewhere. “Out there” the pollsters must say there is a gold mine of resentment by those who drive, and by those who would drive given half a chance. That translates to support for anyone who wants all transit plans to take a back seat to right-thinking, road-oriented policies. How, in a city that considers itself a progressive, pro-transit 21st century metropolis, is this possible?
The origins lie decades ago, even before the Spadina Expressway was stopped by then Premier Davis.
In 1966, the TTC network was much smaller, the east-west Bloor-Danforth subway had just opened from Keele to Woodbine and extensions to Islington and Warden would follow in 1968. The TTC contemplated suburban transit and proposed a ring line using streetcars (what we now call LRT) northeast into Scarborough, then across the Finch hydro corridor, and finally south and west to meet the western subway terminal. The line included a branch to the airport.
Meanwhile, Queen’s Park, enamoured of high-tech transit, fell into an oft-seen trap of Canadian politics — policy exists to serve industrial development, and plans are gerrymandered to serve industrial/manufacturing aims before the actual needs of the province or city. This always starts out with the best of intentions, but can do great damage when the product falls short if its hype.
Such was the case with the original scheme for magnetic levitation urban transit and a variation on “personal rapid transit”, probably the most expensive taxi system imaginable.
Leaving aside the debates on maglev, GO Urban and what eventually became the RT technology, there was one basic problem. The momentum to build into the still-empty suburbs was lost, and the perceived cost of new transit skyrocketed.
By 1990, frustration with the inactivity on transit expansion culminated in an announcement by then Premier Peterson of suburban subway extensions plus the Waterfront West LRT. The Sheppard subway was added to the mix at the last minute to bump the total spending numbers, a vital part of a pre-election campaign.
Peterson lost to Bob Rae, and the NDP government inherited this plan. Facing a recession in the construction industry, the last thing the NDP wanted was talk of scaling back expensive transit construction or replacing it with a less-costly alternative. All we actually built was a tiny chunk of tunnel on Eglinton and the beginning of the Sheppard Subway.
The Rae government begat the Harris regime and an almost complete withdrawal of Queen’s Park from transit funding from which Toronto has never recovered. The TTC slashed service across the board, and particularly hard-hit was the streetcar system. It gained two new lines (Spadina and Harbourfront), but not, on a permanent basis, the extra cars needed to operate them. For a time, system riding was down, and a smaller fleet was all the TTC needed. However, this compromised the TTC’s ability to add service in peak periods. Streetcar lines that once boasted frequent service all day turned into nightmares of overcrowding and unreliability.
The scheduled AM peak service shows a nearly 20% the decline in service on the streetcar route network. The numbers below are for the routes that existed in 1981 (all current routes except Harbourfront and Spadina).
- February 1981: 239 standard-sized cars
- November 1990: 217 cars of which 34 were ALRVs (75-foot cars) for an equivalent capacity of 234 “standard” cars
- September 2010: 169 cars of which 38 are ALRVs for an equivalent capacity of 188 “standard” cars. If the 504 were running to Dundas West Station, this number would rise to about 194.
Streetcars became synonymous with bad transit service just as the city began to reverse the trend to suburban living. The many new downtown and near-downtown condos show there’s a market for in-town living, but the new residents must put up with poor transit service, not the greatest advertisement for life without a car.
TTC compounds the problem with poor line management, indifference to service quality and the attitude that “TTC culture” prevents any improvement.
Bus riders in the suburbs encounter similar problems on busy routes, but at least in recent years a fleet refresh plus improved loading standards make some difference although many would argue that the TTC is still only barely keeping up to demand.
Plans and promises for new transit lines are on the back burner in Malvern and Northern Etobicoke, two remote outer parts of the City.
Car drivers see no improvements. Overwhelmingly they drive outside the core, indeed outside the 416. No subway will help them, and transit in the suburbs is a distant second choice.
Even for commuters to downtown, GO has been starved for expansion, and service is very core-oriented. Bus service in the 905 generally supports peak direction, peak period travel, and the idea of a “transit lifestyle” is unheard of. The first line proposed for frequent all day GO service is an airport shuttle at a premium fare serving almost none of the potential demand in its corridor.
There are many plans including the most recent consolidation, Metrolinx’ Big Move, but little action. Planning aims to reduce congestion and pollution, but even the best case only keep pace as population and travel growth outstrip capacity benefits.
Funding stretches out to the dim future, and politicians’ will to engage in debates of tolls or taxes is held hostage by the “no new tax brigade”. Even business groups like the Board of Trade recognize the need to invest in transit, but this is very slow to appear. We won’t see major improvements for years. The glass is more than half empty. After $50-billion in transit spending, congestion won’t be much better than it is today, although more people will be riding transit.
Can we blame motorists for thinking nobody takes them seriously, that nothing will ever be done? Politicians talk about transit, but until quite recently did little to actually improve it. Half measures are the norm, and real transit improvement throughout the GTA is always something for tomorrow when fiscal and political pressure might relax enough for a tiny bit of new spending and revenue generation.
How can regional governments justify big spending on transit when they see little hope of Provincial support and Metrolinx treats local service as something others will pay for?
Motorists are left steaming in their traffic jams. We have built a region on car travel, but at a density the road network cannot support. No subway line will cure problems on the 401.
Our challenge is to build and run enough transit to handle the demands transit can reasonably address. We will never solve all of the road problems> On some roads, life will become worse for motorists as more and more capacity is devoted to transit, cycling and pedestrians.
Trying to “solve” congestion by turning the clock back 50 years on highway plans, by gutting the surface transit system, will do nothing but make even worse the long-standing need for better transit. A “war on transit” solves nothing.
Every politician, every agency at the city and provincial level needs to speak with one voice on transit improvements. The TTC above all agencies must show how it can run better service to improve the lot of transit users today. The City and Province must lead on transit planning, construction and service, and engage voters on the issues of new revenues for capital and operating spending.
Politicians with facile “solutions” who appeal to a motorists’ nirvana that cannot be attained, should be dispatched to the electoral dustbins they so richly deserve.
According to what I gather from spacingtoronto.ca’s article, it seems that 28% of the cars (mostly single-occupant from what I have seen) that come into downtown Toronto are the main cause of traffic congestion, which degrades the commute for us all. If all those 28% switched to public transit, or biked, or walked, the commute would be better for all of us. Not possible, but I can dream.
Maybe if I dressed like a slob maybe I’d get more respect from TTC drivers.
I don’t dress like a slob. I wear the same kinds of clothing brands you do and most TTC drivers are perfectly civil to me. You ran into one nasty individual. Don’t generalize.
While thinking about short changing I was wondering, again, about Ford and the streetcars. I have a nasty feeling that his idea of replacing them with buses will be on a one for one basis. Ford is about a transit friendly as National City Lines.
“You ran into one nasty individual. Don’t generalize.”
No, this has been ongoing. As I have said before, almost every trip on the TTC was met with one angry TTC employee who literally gets in my face and hurls insults at me for no reason whatsoever.
I wouldn’t be generalizing if this was a one-off experience.
All right, then. But by hypothesizing that you get picked on because you don’t look like a slob, you’re implying that the rest of us who don’t have those experiences are slobs. I don’t appreciate that.
Perhaps then it is the way that you carry yourself? Do you walk with a chip on your shoulder and express yourself in a similar tone as you do here? I say this because I am a “minority” too and I make three or four round trips a week by TTC and I haven’t run into such operators in two years. My only beef the past couple of years has been operators skipping stops.
I’m generally a nice guy and carry on as much as anyone else. I give my seat up for the elderly, disabled, pregnant women, etc. If you were to meet me in person, you’d find me one of the nicer people around. I don’t publicly talk about politics with random people, though I do have frequent debates with my close friends. I don’t carry about like someone who has a chip on their shoulder. I do not greet TTC employees the moment I enter TTC service, I’m just a guy who is trying to get from point A to point B.
As for the reasons why I did not report this incident to TTC customer service, I have no trust in them to follow up on my complaint. Time and time again, my complaints always seem to be dismissed as unfounded and the offending employee is still on the system. The Broadview collector who gave me a horrid experience a few years back over another day pass issue (because it was mispunched by another TTC employee) is still there. How does one expect to have faith in the system if the system does not listen to its customers?
As for my comment about being a slob, it was sarcasm after my friend’s rather sarcastic comment about me being so well dressed compared to other people we know in our circle of friends.
Wogster’s comment about fixing the TTC is spot on, it needs to be an attractive option, not the “only option” direction that we are being steered into. Being forced into this direction has erupted into rider revolt that has been brewing for several years now. People are tired of it. People are tired about the way this city is being run. That’s why Ford is so popular.
Steve, I did not listen to last night’s debate but I was wondering if you can pose a few questions to the candidates yourself in the final debate scheduled in a few weeks time. As a right-winger, I have full confidence in your ability to dissect this issue and at least give some clarification to everyone’s plans for transit. If all of you have concerns about Ford’s transit plan (even I have some concerns, but they take a backseat to Ford’s other priorities), they need to be asked in the form of pointed questions in a televised debate.
Mr Cheung says: “No, this has been ongoing. As I have said before, almost every trip on the TTC was met with one angry TTC employee who literally gets in my face and hurls insults at me for no reason whatsoever.”
I have lived in Toronto for a decade and take the TTC fairly often; I have come across FAR more pleasant and helpful TTC employees than the kind Mr Cheung appears to see on every trip. In fact I can only think of one or two incidents where I have witnessed staff rudeness, though some employees are certainly not always cheerful. I have definitely never seen the a TTC employee “hurling insults’ at a customer – though I have seen customers doing that to an operator. Yes, the TTC can be improved, by both its complacent management and by its unionised staff, but making blanket statements that are extremely hard to believe is not the way to make a point.
Stephen Cheung wrote, “I have no trust in them to follow up on my complaint.”
Stephen is not alone in this. When the ‘sleeping collector’ and the ‘7 minute break’ stories broke in the news, I heard one commentator on the radio going on about how the ‘proper channels’ should be followed and that this tactic should only be a last resort. What he failed to realize, is that for years anyone who went through ‘proper channels’ have been left feeling like they are pissing into the wind. It would see, we only have a ‘last resort’ available to us.
I too have no confidence that the TTC has the will or capability to address problems. The last time I wrote with a problem was in 1996. I felt there was a safety issue (an inattentive driver was off in another world missing stops), but only got a “we’re looking into it” response with no follow-up about what actions were taken. I don’t need to know personal details about the driver himself, but they couldn’t even come up with something that looked like they were taking it seriously. Contrast this to the occasional problem I have had with YRT, where there is an immediate “we’re looking into it” response followed by a more serious follow-up message as soon as appropriate. In one case, I received a personal telephone call from an inspector and the complaint was about how someone ELSE was treated by an operator.
I have to commend Stephen Cheung for his restraint in the matter. Given the events as described, I wouldn’t be letting the vehicle move until a higher authority had arrived. Unfortunately, that causes an inconvenience to other passengers. What really incensed me was the part about the operator confiscating the pass. I don’t know how it was done, but I suspect that would be interpreted by myself or anyone I would be travelling with as an assault and would invoke a call to 911 or a press of the emergency button on the driver’s terminal.
As a final note, I would like to encourage anyone who finds a TTC employee who goes out of the way to be helpful, or is cheerful in a way that raises the spirits people around them, to send in a compliment to the TTC. Positive feedback is as important as negative feedback (even if negative feedback is only possible through a last resort method like sending a photo or video to the media).
Reading through this post/topic and the related comments brings several of my own comments to mind.
First of all, I must say that Steve has provided an excellent background analysis to the topic. I will comment that the original Yonge subway was proposed in the 1930’s and was finally approved in the late 1940’s. The Toronto TRANSPORTATION Commission self-financed its construction through the fares that the TTC had collected during the wartime period (when auto travel was severely curtailed due to rationing (fuel, tires, etc.)) – more revenue than expenditure! In 1954 the Province created Metropolitan Toronto and the new Toronto TRANSIT Commission was given the mandate to provide transit service to the entire municipality with the province providing operating subsidies to the TTC for the low cost recovery routes that would be established and operated in the former Boroughs of Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. At this point in time, the TTC ceased to be self-sustaining and came to rely on the Province and the Metro level to provide operating subsidies.
My second comment/analysis will be directed toward Stephen Cheung: you have made several comments here about “boorish TTC employees”. Several of your comments raise questions in my mind:
“This is the umpteenth time I have gone to the TTC and gotten this kind of treatment. Is there something about weekend drivers being absolutely miserable?”
“Saves me a lot of the stress I have to go through with the TTC being jerks as they are.”
“When Rob Ford is elected (and I know he will), I hope he handles the issue of all boorish TTC employees first and foremost. All of them need to be canned. Now. The TTC needs major housecleaning if they want my business again. Accountability and Customer Service, two words I enjoy hearing but are absolutely missing from the TTC vocabulary.”
“…Ford has pushed for better transit service AND gone to bat for some riders victimized by these boorish TTC employees. He’s just as frustrated that these guys are still in the service. He blames union protectionism. So do I.”
“No, this has been ongoing. As I have said before, almost every trip on the TTC was met with one angry TTC employee who literally gets in my face and hurls insults at me for no reason whatsoever.”
My first question is was this particular streetcar operator rude and “boorish” to every embarking passenger? Or just the visible minorities? Or just you? You state that every one of your experiences with TTC are confrontational or are dealt with in a “boorish” manner by the employee. I will make my comment based on what you have stated here (and in previous “rants”). I am not apologizing for ANY rude behaviour by any TTC employee. I have a strong background in customer service (24 years working in the private sector) prior to joining the TTC as a Bus Operator. My experience as a TTC Operator is to stay calm, speak in a non-confrontational manner and explain to the customer what the problem is. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of the customers then become angry and escalate the issue. I don’t personally know you, so I am speculating here, but when you state that every TTC experience is handled by “boorish” employees, I am led to observe that you must very quickly become angry and fuel the behaviour of the employee. Your statements about union members and your far right conservative ideology (that I am sure detests unions) may also play a factor in your dealings with the TTC and its employees. If I am wrong in my comments and observations, I apologize to you.
Finally, Steve, I apologize to you for the length of my post, as I look back on it and realize that this is extremely long.
Gord said, “In 1954 the Province created Metropolitan Toronto and the new Toronto TRANSIT Commission was given the mandate to provide transit service to the entire municipality with the province providing operating subsidies to the TTC for the low cost recovery routes that would be established and operated in the former Boroughs of Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. At this point in time, the TTC ceased to be self-sustaining and came to rely on the Province and the Metro level to provide operating subsidies.”
A couple of corrections… Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke were townships prior to and after the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954. They did not become boroughs until 1967 when an amalgamation took place to reduce Metro from 13 municipalities to six.
The other point is about when the TTC ceased to be self-sustaining for operational costs. From a number of sources I read, the TTC did not become dependent on government subsidies for operations until January 1, 1973 when two zones within Metro ceased to exist.
Steve: Yes, it was the elimination of zone fares, part of the “deal” to win support at Metro Council from suburban members, plus the rapid growth of population in areas requiring longer trips, on average, than on the older part of the system. More resources/trip, but no more revenue.
The other point is about when the TTC ceased to be self-sustaining for operational costs. From a number of sources I read, the TTC did not become dependent on government subsidies for operations until January 1, 1973 when two zones within Metro ceased to exist.
Starting in 1954 TTC had operating losses in 1954, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1968 and then every year since 1971. However, before 1971 the operating losses were covered by investment returns from earler profits. In 1971 the TTC started receiving operating subsidies.
“My first question is was this particular streetcar operator rude and “boorish” to every embarking passenger? Or just the visible minorities? Or just you?”
I do not converse with the TTC employees. I am not a troublemaker. I simply get on, pay my fare, and get off. If a driver raises a legitimate concern on the way I do my business, I have no issues with that. But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Most of their comments towards me have left me shocked and dumbfounded. And very angry in the end.
If you want to accuse me of being Mr. Angry and cause my own problems, go right ahead. But let it be known that with each issue that I have with the TTC, my resentment grows. Anyone who has been through what I have been through would think the same way. Yet until last week, I took the TTC judiciously because it was the right thing to do.
I love taking public transportation. I’ve been to many public transit facilities in several parts of the world. With each experience I have with them worldwide brings me a lot of positive feelings about them. Consider my trip to Lisbon. First day on the Lisbon Metro started off with confusion. But it also brought a Lisbon Metro employee, who, despite not speaking english, was able to understand my concerns without little problem. I have not heard this kind of courtesy on the TTC ever. The union says that they have to worry about a lot of things, such as driving a large heavy vehicle, ensuring that everyone gets to their destination at the prescribed time, worrying about safety issues, enforcing fares, etc. This is the worst possible excuse one could make for the TTC. I’ve seen employees worldwide treat customers with the utmost respect. I rarely see it here. And myself in particular have been in the crosshairs of these guys for a long time. There used to be a time when the TTC was very friendly and courteous. Those days are long gone and it will be a long time before I take another TTC vehicle again.
As to the answer to your question, I have no idea. I wasn’t even on the car for longer than a minute when my wife and I got turfed.
Steve: Something I have to chime in on here is the issue of “corporate culture”. The TTC has long been a place where finding blame or finding an excuse takes precedence over everything. They are, after all, a perfect organization studied by visitors from other galaxies. This attitude long ago percolated down to the front line where many staff do an excellent job in spite of rather than because of the organization. Only in such a context could a “Customer Service Advisory Panel” have its recommendations highjacked with a section instructing customers on how to behave. This was disgraceful, but nobody at the TTC including the Commissioners seems the slightest bit bothered by it.
The very idea that there could be 26, count them, 26 things customers should do better gives license to the yahoos working at the TTC, and absolves management of the need to do a good job because the customer is always wrong, somehow. Meanwhile, good employees hear the horror stories, and have to put up with the ill will the whole organization reaps from the actions of others.
@Mike Vainchtein: Those years you cite losses for coincide with the opening of new parts of the subway network, except for 1962. I see nothing unusual about incurring losses in those years given that it takes a bit for travel pattern adjustments to settle and that there will always be some variance in projections that need to be adjusted afterwards. The system needs to be ready for anything but will only know where best to allocate resources with certainty after the new operations have been in effect for at least a month.
Given Rob Ford’s dedication to the business model for government functions, I’m surprised he hasn’t been a stronger advocate for competition in public transit. The TTC troubles are well known and it wouldn’t take much for the idea of competing urban bus companies from gaining a foothold in the public imagination. Let the TTC keep the subway or better yet be taken over by Metrolinx, but it may be time to reconsider their monopoly in bus transportation within the city of Toronto. A jitney or van based competitor would be one way of shifting people who now take their cars into a more space-efficient mode of transportation. This is done is many cities around the world — especially in Asia — and is a useful complement to standard bus service.
One of the main reasons why people do not opt for the bus or the subway is because the rider experience is so negative. Imagine a bus that guaranteed a seat for you with no standees, and lots of leg room.
Stephen Cheung’s comment’s don’t add up. He tells us
I have been yelled and cussed at by TTC employees at least once every time I try to take the TTC
and also tells us that
I do not converse with the TTC employees. I am not a troublemaker. I simply get on, pay my fare, and get off and I took the TTC judiciously because it was the right thing to do.
There is absolutly no way in the world that a regular transit user gets yelled and cussed at by TTC employees at least once every time they try to take the TTC. Stephen is either not being entirely truthful here, or there is a lot more to the story. Or he’s simply trolling.
Off hand I can only recall 2 incidents I’ve been involved with (both with collectors) over the last 5 years I’ve been regularly taking transit. Oh, and perhaps an unnecessary sarcastic comment from a streetcar operator … but it wasn’t yelling or cussing, just cutting (and I politely cut him right back and kept on going …). And to be honest … I can be a bit confrontational sometimes.
To suggest that these things happen every time one takes transit is stretching credulity well past the breaking point.
I’d suggest not posting any further comments (perhaps including this one …)
Steve: This will be the end of this particular exchange. The lesson here is to avoid tarring the entire organization rather than individuals. Some candidates may be complete idiots, blowhards who couldn’t add two and two at the best of times. This doesn’t make all politicians worthy of our scorn.
The obvious connundrum to what Chris refers to is that that path runs head-on into the volatile debate over fares. A clear, if not vast, majority of trips would probably see their fares rise substantially. I have lived in a society that has a model along a similar principle and it is a lot more expensive to travel in such systems.
In response to Chris, I can only say this: it’s a fallacy to assume that public transit in our cities has no competition. It has a major competitor, and that’s the private automobile. The car has been kicking public transit’s ass up and down the continent since the Second World War. As long as we continue to provide heavy subsidies for the benefit of automobile drivers, it’s unlikely that the allure of profitable public transit will be sufficient to generate enough private interest to provide the level of service we’ve deemed necessary in our cities.
Steve: We have a form of privately operated transportation in Toronto called taxis. You may have noticed how hard it is to find one if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those are market forces at work, and the same would apply to any variation on a jitney service.
Actually, James, the automobile has been kicking transit’s ass up and down the continent since well before World War II. Undoubtedly not as much so before as after but you might say that the asskicking got much worse after the war.
I would agree the private automobile is the primary competition to public transit, as James rightly points out. In most places, public transit has been losing this competition. Indirect car subsidies are part of the story to be sure, but I think many public transit advocates do not give sufficient consideration to the difference in transportation experiences. The private car is a preferable experience for most people while the bus or subway is something to do avoided, if possible. So even if private car ownership is made more expensive through additional taxes and tolls, I’m uncertain how much of an effect it will have in shifting habitual drivers into public transit riders. Obviously, some will make the change. Money talks. But many drivers are likely willing to put up with higher taxes and traffic jams because they prefer the experience. For most drivers, riding public transit is not a compelling option. (Full disclosure: I’m saying this as a cyclist. I don’t own a car.)
I guess I’m saying the economics of it are important — very important — but there are other less tangible factors in the equation as sociologists like Veblen and Bourdieu have noted. A jitney or microbus service would be one way to improve the public transit experience for people who are willing to pay more. Carpooling also lies further along this spectrum of good vs bad experiences in terms of comfort, getting work done, etc. I have to think an innovative company armed with the latest technology could arrange an efficient neighbourhood-based home pick-up as well. Just thinking out loud here.
I wonder if the car has been triumphant because it is the embodiment of the values of freedom and independence that is at the core of our liberal democratic political culture.
Steve: I suppose that’s why all those thriving transit-oriented Europeans have such repressive governments and lifestyles. A lot depends on what you call “freedom” — if it means being able to go through life without owning a car, without having to pay for all its little problems, find it a parking space, fill it with gas, drive through unbelievable traffic, well that pretty much sums up why public transit is a good thing.
The car won out in NA because transit gave up the battle, and the industrial machine wanted people to drive, not ride. Neither private transit companies nor municipalities (often in very fragmented cities) could afford the investment needed to reach out to suburbia.
I agree the differences between Europe and NA reveal many salient points in the transit equation. I love going to Europe and experiencing their denser, more pedestrian-friendly cities. Paris, Stockholm, London — these are iconic cityscapes I have visited. How could anyone not be impressed with the way public transit and cars have been integrated in places like that?
But as we know, the respective urban histories followed different trajectories. Most major European cities predate the automobile, and indeed most forms of mechanized transportation. As a result, cars were the johnny-come-lately there and had a tougher time competing with well-established built environments and growth patterns. Plus the political and social culture arguably places less of an emphasis on personal freedom. (I agree, Steve, that it is very much a loaded and ideological concept and deserves every scare quote foisted upon it) Theirs is a more communitarian society based on ethnic and usually linguistic homogeneity. It’s easier to sit next to someone on the tram who is part of the national “family”. With the rise of significant levels of immigration in the post war era, some of this communitarian feeling may be eroding. In the future, this may become an obstacle for public projects such as transit. We will have to see.
In NA, by contrast, history dealt us a very different hand. Once the native people were forced off the land, settlers realized the joys of wide open spaces. Older cities like Boston and New York had densities like Europe and not surprisingly have decent public transit systems. But newer cities like Toronto, the low urban density precludes public transit efficiencies. Culture is also quite different with the “we-ness” being largely absent as NA society is less like a family a more like a small town or something even looser. This is another cultural obstacle to large public project funding.
Over time, Canada could become more like Europe. Higher urban densities is part of the plan and that’s a good thing. Culturally, I’m less optimistic about the engendering of communal spirit that should underwrite major public works projects. We’re growing less alike and have less and less in common with our neighbours and our fellow citizens. Technology may be accelerating this social differentiation.
Economically, we may have no choice but to follow a more European model as there are limits to road building to accommodate new cars. So that is another factor that is pushing things towards more public transit investments.
But public transit needs to be sold to the public. That requires politicians with vision who have the public trust. Miller had this in the beginning but lost it through various missteps. If Smitherman wins, I’m not sure he will have the trust to do something. He’s getting more political traction from promising spending cuts, so that will likely act as a brake on transit spending. And as long as the Toronto and Ontario governments are running big deficits, I’m not optimistic that a compelling case can be made for major transit spending. That’s why it may make sense to encourage new types of transit options, either under the auspices of the TTC or through some private ventures. Government is maxed out right now, and unless and until the economy recovers, big spending is going to be a tough sell.
Sorry for rambling here.
I don’t really understand the contention that the car is the embodiment of freedom and independence. Cars and driving are costly and heavily regulated, and drivers rely on outside suppliers of fossil fuel and a network of government roads. If I wanted to be fully independent, I’d walk or bike everywhere — otherwise I’m just choosing the form of my dependency.
Still Waiting For The 501 , “I don’t really understand the contention that the car is the embodiment of freedom and independence.”
Ah, but you are trying to apply pure logic to human nature. The feeling that the car is the embodiment of freedom and independence sits alongside the concept that getting an income tax refund is a good thing. Pure logic says that our personal finances would be better off if we each ended up paying a small amount (under $1000) at tax time instead of getting a refund, but who can find someone that would enthusiastically agree?
Certainly, the automobile is dependent on cheap fuel and subsidized roads. However, the car=freedom equation is based on the travel experience itself.
In a car, I am free from the sound of other people’s iPods, inane cellphone conversations, smelly food, obnoxious teenagers and all the other joys of communal travel.
It goes without saying that walking and cycling also partake in these freedoms. That’s one reason I am an avid cyclist.
Fair enough. I think that notion of “freedom” is very much historically determined, though, and is not necessarily what philosophers of centuries past had in mind when they wrote about freedom. Up until very recently, owning a private enclosed vehicle was a privilege reserved for the very rich, and people used to live and work in much closer quarters than they generally do in the contemporary West. The “freedom” not to interact with other people is not synonymous with democratic freedom.
Agreed that freedom is defined by history and culture. And while freedom from other people is not synonymous with democratic freedom, it is something that people have found desirable over the past 100 years. As Sartre said in a somewhat different context, “hell is other people”. People have voted with their feet to leave public transit wherever economically feasible.
I think transit advocates need to do a better job of acknowledging that the public transit experience is pretty negative. It’s a big reason why more people don’t leave their cars. To get people to make the switch, you can punish the car drivers through taxes, toll, traffic jams, or try to lure them with rewards by making transit more pleasant. Not easy I know, but it’s something to ponder. Even though transit is a fraction of the cost of driving a car, most people still choose to forgo the savings and take the car.
People will put up with bad experiences on airplanes because there really aren’t many choices when travelling 2000 miles. In a city, people do have travel choices and will avoid the cattle car crush of rush hour whenever possible.
ITA that transit needs to be as pleasant as it possibly can be, and a huge portion of this blog and its comments are on just that subject. In fact I think it’s part of an anti-transit agenda to assume that transit riders should just put up with discomfort and inconvenience.
But you did say private auto travel is “the embodiment of the values of freedom and independence that is at the core of our liberal democratic political culture”, and this other stuff about convenience and comfort strikes me as moving the goalposts.
Steve: Although I wan’t the one to make the statement quoted here, what I will say is that “convenience” and “comfort” should be expected to some degree from a transit system. It will never be the same as having your own car — including the cost of buying, insuring, maintaining and operating it, not to mention endless time spent in traffic jams or looking for parking spaces — but this does not excuse any attitude that we “can’t afford” better transit.
“I think transit advocates need to do a better job of acknowledging that the public transit experience is pretty negative. It’s a big reason why more people don’t leave their cars. To get people to make the switch, you can punish the car drivers through taxes, toll, traffic jams, or try to lure them with rewards by making transit more pleasant. Not easy I know, but it’s something to ponder. Even though transit is a fraction of the cost of driving a car, most people still choose to forgo the savings and take the car. ”
It’s good to know that someone is thinking the exact thing I am. Except for some people I know (including my wife), it actually is cheaper to take the car rather than public transit. Some people do try to take Transit as it is the right thing to do, but we aren’t doing anything to further encourage that behaviour.
The carrot needs to come before the stick, not the other way around, which is the approach that the TTC has been trying to take as of late.
Stephen Cheung said “The carrot needs to come before the stick, not the other way around, which is the approach that the TTC has been trying to take as of late.”
Carrot money would be great! Now all we need is carrot money.
Stephen Cheung, are you including insurance and deprecation in that cost analysis? I’m pretty sure you’re not going to spend $18,000 on MetroPasses in your life. Forgetting that insurance agencies give coverage for a fixed number of kilometers for payment rendered, and growth accelerating with distance.
I have to drive a private vehicle for work purposes as I go outside the 416 and off-times to GO Transit. I would love Metrolinx to take over all the local transit bodies with half funding coming local and from higher government. Metrolinx is already doing the capital planning, integration, and expansion of the GTA, why not do the operational planning, integration, and expansion as well?
Steve: Actually, I spend over $1k on Metropasses every year at current prices, and over the 30 years the pass has existed have probably spent over $20k on them. Mind you, a car is unlikely to last 30 years, but I don’t have to insure my Metropass.
“The carrot needs to come before the stick, not the other way around, which is the approach that the TTC has been trying to take as of late.”
Sure, there’s some waste and inefficiency at the TTC, just as there is at every large organization, but is there enough to make radical improvements to service without any more revenue? I just don’t see it. I’m not a fan of TTC management, but I haven’t seen any evidence that they’re misusing funds to that extent.