TTC at 90

September 1, 2011 sees the TTC celebrate its 90th birthday, although “celebrate” may be an overstatement.

Politically, Toronto is so ashamed of public services, of which the TTC is the single largest example, and so afraid to appear to waste “taxpayer dollars” on frivolity, that we’re going to have a birthday, but no cake.  September’s Metropass marks the occasion with a less-than-inspired design, but that’s about it.

I checked with the TTC’s Communications Director, Brad Ross, about this so-low-key-it’s-inaudible celebration, and he confirmed that cost was a concern.  Apparently, the TTC can run posters telling us about the new, but almost invisible, Toronto Rocket trains, but cannot celebrate a milestone in Toronto’s history.

It’s worth remembering that the TTC came to exist because the privately owned Toronto Railway Company refused to invest in system expansion, and let their plant run down for years in advance of a municipal takeover assured by their games.  The depression and WW2 halted municipal expansion plans, but as the suburbs of Toronto exploded, it was the public sector that financed service expansion.  Sadly, this didn’t keep pace, and all those brave words about “transit oriented development” in the 60s gave way to a city where the car is the primary, and often the only choice for travel.

Will the TTC will reach 100 as a reborn, reinvigorated transit system, or as a doddering elder starved and stripped of its best assets?  Will Toronto Council fight to preserve and improve the TTC, or cede control to those who care only for private sector subways and a monorail to the waterfront?  Will Queen’s Park take a real interest in local transit as an essential part of the GTA, or concentrate funding on marquee projects, or simply walk away from transit?

Happy Birthday, TTC, and may you see better days.


30 thoughts on “TTC at 90

  1. 1) It is my birthday, so Steve, I am more likely to buy you a beer than the TTC

    2) Who would own the monorail, just out of curiosity

    3) Think of the monorail on the simpsons, that song.

    Transit will get built when politicians (left, centrist and right) stop picking transit projects just to benefit their poliltical careers and pick what is best for the city as a whole, enough of the downtown vs. suburbs bullshit. Pardon the language.

    Steve: The downtown vs suburbs bs is an invention of the pols and the media who need to create an artificial fight so that one group can feel that another is ripping them off, rather than talking about what the city needs as a whole. I don’t see the Fords planning to redevelop Etobicoke, but parts of it could probably use a mall or two, and maybe even a Ferris wheel, provided that it didn’t interfere with flight paths.


  2. I never saw the point of advertising the Toronto rocket trains. As you said we never see them anyway. The fact is the TTC should celebrate its birthday but if I recall correctly even on the subway’s 50th birthday they only had cake and music in Union Station’s Great Hall. Let’s face it, Steve, the TTC is so backward it would not celebrate something if it was given money to do so.


  3. A new Ride Guide was also issued last month, also featuring the uninspired “90” design — and also, unusually, featuring a subway/RT diagram with a white background. I am assuming this is a one-off and not an official change? (Or maybe the TTC is reducing its printing costs by minimizing the use of black ink…)

    Steve: A black on white map is more legible. There is an online version.


  4. A slightly depressing view! The TTC seems in better shape than it did at age 75… however, I agree that the TTC seems to have a choice ahead of it: either get busy improving, or get busy dieing.

    Steve: To listen to reports that the Mayor can meet with would-be Premiers of Ontario, and his only ask is for extra funding for his “private sector subway”, not for general operations, shows how desperately support for transit has fallen at City Hall. Until Council has the balls to change the City’s agenda, the TTC will bumble along unloved.


  5. Steve:

    You are right that the last several decades have not featured “transit oriented development”. However, we are lucky enough to have a substantial legacy from the glory days of the TTC that has survived. In areas that still retain sufficient public transit to provide practical transportation, we still have middle class riders with alternatives who take transit by choice. To some extent that legacy is eroding as service deteriorates and the infrastructure is not maintained. (If the TTC does not respect its riders enough to keep the system clean, it looks more and more like a subsistence transportation alternative rather than a mainstream favorite.)

    Coupled with that we have a still (fairly) healthy inner city. (I still remain very troubled about the growth of jobs in transit inaccessible areas such as the 905 and the dearth of new jobs in the city. Condos and fancy restaurants do not a city make. Toronto will not thrive in the long run as the playground of the 905 and a home for only young people and empty nesters.)

    Many American Cities have been showered with big transit initiatives – transit that nobody uses. While time is running out we still have time for building meaningful improvements that people will actually use – and not just people that have to use them, but also people that want to use them. The Sheppard Subway – even if magically funded and built would not be such a meaningful improvement. BRT and LRT could be if well planned.


  6. It is difficult to think that any real improvement will come while the Ford Brothers are in power. The best we can hope for at present is to keep out Hudak (who is suggesting that he would finance Ford’s Shepherd obsession) and his Conservatives and for the next few years to dodge as many bullets as we can.


  7. The TTC didn’t do much from what I remember of the 75th anniversary but the 80th back in 2001 was memorable because of the parade of old streetcars and other festivities going on at Nathan Phillips Square. Apart from the marketing function, I got the impression at the time that the TTC was forced to learn how to throw a party to try and keep their profile high with the general public, City Hall, and the Harris government to compete for funding. Funding is still a big problem ten years later but this time around and the TTC can’t even put on an event to keep their profile up and remind everybody involved of their importance in the day to day functioning of Toronto. I don’t know what or how, but I think the TTC needed to do something a little more notice-getting than the notice on the September Metropass because by voluntarily staying low-profile they’re only helping the people that argue that they’re an unimportant, unnecessary frill that doesn’t need to be treated seriously make their case.


  8. So that is what that 90 on the metropasses means. We are in the dark as well about this. To the best of my knowledge, nothing was posted in our divisions about it either. Oh well Happy Birthday TTC


  9. HAPPY 90th TTC.

    Instead of being all doom and gloom, how about we actually celebrate how great the TTC is for once.

    Regardless of the politics or service issues (which really in the world sphere are not as bad as we complain all the time), the TTC has had a proud and great history.

    And I am going to disagree with your post for a minute. Toronto has not become a city where the car is king and you only have a choice to get around by car in areas of the city. If it was then the over 30% of residents who use transit to commute to work everyday, and the thousands of others who use it for other trips would not be using it, and Toronto would not have ridership that approaches European levels.

    Instead thanks to the TTC’s 90 year history, Toronto has become a world model of integrated transit modes, suburban transit expansion, equitable transit planning, and host of other transit improvements.

    So on the 90 mark lets for one day stop complaining about the TTC or worrying about doom, and instead let’s celebrate all the great things about the TTC.

    We TTC riders and Toronto residents do not enjoy and celebrate enough. We complain enough, but we don’t actually ever see how great we actually have it.

    Steve: When I spoke of the car being the primary mode of transport, my reference was to the suburbs where the modal split is nowhere near 30%. Once you get beyond the 416, it’s under 10%.


  10. I don’t think I’m the first to say it, and I hope I’m not the last, but many of us here talk and talk and talk about how much we want better transit, yet we’re never really up to the challenge of going out on the street and fighting for it. What Toronto and the rest of the GTA need is a transit revolution and we need it NOW!

    We have to stand together and fight for the social good of the city, and not act on our own personal agendas.

    My apologies Steve, but I love this city to no end and really want a transit revolution of some sort to happen here before I die. (For the record, I’m 32, but I feel like we won’t see real attitude changes before I’m gone)


  11. Did TTC’s 90th anniversary even warrant a “Google doodle”?

    Or a maybe a “Spacing tracing” (assuming that’s what they would call it … if they did it)?

    Regards, Moaz

    Steve: Google tends to look at much more broadly-recognized events, and Spacing doesn’t do anything.


  12. The Toronto Transportation Commission (aka Toronto Transit Commission) was created officially in 1921. It was a commission that had some experience with public transit as it grew out of a city department, the Toronto Civic Railways. The 1920’s decade was also a transition decade for public transportation. If the TTC was created by 1929, it might have used buses instead of streetcars as it main transportation vehicle, and Toronto might have been like other North American cities with worse ridership than at present. As it was created in 1921, the streetcar helped Toronto in becoming a leader in public transportation, despite what some non-experts might think.


  13. On the topic of monorail in T.O., perhaps this is pure coincidence?:

    Bombardier to build new test track ( news 06/30/11)

    “Kingston, Canada. Bombardier is modernizing their Kingston plant and part of the upgrade is a new 1.7-kilometer monorail test track. The $13.8 million project is under way in anticipation of the hardware development of Bombardier’s new Innovia Monorail 300 train. The Innovia Monorail 300 will feature walk-through trains and bogies independent of the train framework, which is an improvement over their M-VI monorails (Las Vegas).”

    To make things even more interesting:

    “In the latest provincial government handout through the Eastern Ontario Development Fund, Bombardier Transportation in Loyalist Township is getting $750,000 toward a $13.8 million project to modernize its plant and build a new test track for the next generation of rapid transit monorail trains.”

    And just in case you’d like to read about it on the actual Ontario Government site:

    “The company is also developing technology to capture and reuse energy generated when a transit vehicle activates its brakes.”

    I’m not sure how I missed this news before. Thanks to Doug Ford for inadvertently digging it up for me. Surprising how Bombardier is only now working on regenerative braking for their monorails. They’re also finally catching up to Hitachi on under-floor bogies and walk-through trains.

    I personally wouldn’t automatically reject monorail as a viable technology and capacity choice. One only has to look at the largest Hitachi-sourced systems in Japan to see what monorail is truly capable of as a mass-transit system, especially where corridor space is at a premium. What I do reject is adding an orphan technology to a city with a mature streetcar/LRT system that could easily be expanded to maximize the existing investment and allow simple day-to-day re-allocation of vehicle resources to handle event-based and seasonal demand. Plus, we don’t need anymore visual pollution in the sky, what with the bloat of towers already sprouting up and the likelyhood of the elevated Gardiner staying put. I doubt there was any plan for how this monorail was going to get over or under the Gardiner near the Don River anyway. (Napkin planning at its finest.)

    For all the Ford supporters upset about the mocking and Simpsons references, all I can say is Doug should have known better than to mention monorail if he wanted to be taken seriously. However unfairly, monorail technology will never be taken seriously in Toronto. It was too easy a joke to make. Please note however that I didn’t even have to get into the debate of whether or not Doug Ford’s development vision was appropriate in order to shoot down just the monorail element. (Would tourists even go there in winter??)

    I have given far too much to this ridiculous story so I will apologize and cut off now. Had I not found the Bombardier/Government references I wouldn’t have brought this up at all.


  14. Kristian said:

    “On the topic of monorail in T.O., perhaps this is pure coincidence?”

    The problem is, with word coming out that the new waterfront “plan” has been in the works for months, I can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s not.


  15. Actually the transit modal share in suburban Toronto(416) is the success story of the TTC. Transit usage in the 416 suburbs only drops 10% compared to that of the inner city. Toronto proved to North America, that providing quality transit services in the suburbs would attract ridership.

    This is why Toronto became one of the only North American cities (along with Ottawa) to reverse the per capita ridership decline, that almost every North American city and other major cities in the world were facing in the 1950’s and 60’s.

    I think that is an amazing feat to celebrate at 90.

    And while not part of the TTC, I think there is much to celebrate in the 905. Every 905 suburb has a plan to improve transit and improve modal shares. York region has a target of 30% of trips by transit, which would bring them in line with Scar, North York, and Etobicoke. Our 905 suburbs are improving transit, and trying out things that even Toronto will not do, like special branding, etc.

    Regardless of the politics, Toronto is still the transit mecca of North America. Despite the funding issues, our region as a whole is still more committed to transit, is working to actually bring more transit in, and has built a transit culture that is almost unheard of on a metropolitan wide basis, anywhere else in North America, save for Montreal.

    Steve: My disheartened state arises from the crew now in power at City Hall who are focused on a handful of expensive pet projects of dubious value, not on the role of transit overall. To be seeking special funding for what was to be a “private sector” subway while cutting back on the operating budget at the TTC is profoundly disturbing. As for the waterfront “monorail”, it’s the sort of thing that goes in election brochures, not in well-considered plans.

    The challenge for the 905 is that the scope of operations (and subsidies) must rise quite considerably to reach that 30% modal split. Meanwhile, the majority of travel will remain by auto, and the political pressure will mostly be for road capacity.


  16. In the grand scheme of GTA travel, even Miller’s plan was of dubious value — a drop in the transit bucket. Would Sheppard E. and Finch W. LRTs magically transform travel in the outer 416? … don’t think so.

    I’m old enough to remember the initial Sheppard subway proposal back in the 1980s, and I distinctly remember the TTC was in favor of it back then based on the number of branches of the Sheppard E. bus and the frequency of each. Sheppard came about because of the stupidity of the six-borough system, where each borough wanted to develop as an “independent” city. North York started that crap in ’79 because Mel said he couldn’t attract business to the “Borough of North York”. Hmm … I guess Brooklyn should call itself the City of Brooklyn?

    Transit is, and always has been, too politicized in this city. The routing of the Spadina subway, the wye, Sheppard, the RT, and now this “bastardized” Eglinton subway, all come to mind as examples of political interference. Now, a monorail. So, what’s happening these days with Ford is nothing new — we’ve just had different flavors of it over the years. The last transit project in this city that was not designed and routed by a politician was Bloor-Danforth-University, and that was over 50 years ago.


  17. Hi Steve:-

    1933, while entering the depths of a disturbing, crippling depression and the TTC builds what? Two replica 1893 streetcars and publishes a book proclaiming their 12 years of achievement in bringing the private companies into a quality, no crowd pusher service for their cherished riders in aid of celebrating a Municipal milestone. While 90 years of a single city entity is not the 100 year celebration of a whole burg, it was indicative of a TTC that deserved its former accolades. That TTC proudly maintained well manicured, clean, serviceable loop and barn properties, the envy of the transit industry and a model for other civic sites.

    Is our economic state so eroded from even the worst of times in the developed world that our transit system has to sink to close to its lowest ebb? And let us hope that it is an ebb, that the tide is not still going out.

    Wait, there is a light on the horizon. The Fords will build a ‘Swan Boat’ network and woo us with ice cream shops, malls, hotels and carnival rides. A new sleek and zoomy monorail and a ferris wheel, oh my! My hamster would be impressed.

    And thanx Richard for the Simpson’s link.


    Steve: By the way, those who don’t go to the film festival may not know this, but Metrolinx/GO is a sponsor. I’m not quite sure what the rationale might be, but they obviously have some spare change for self-promotion.


  18. I thought you’d get a good laugh at this … the Bloor-Danforth monorail. I never knew all of this happened back then …

    Steve: In the list of “oldest professions in the world”, I am not sure whether hucksters are politicians come second. It might be a tie, assuming you can actually tell them apart.


  19. I guess the question I have to ask you Steve is which is more important: spending money on operating buses, streetcars, and subways or spending the money on a party? For many people who need the TTC for transportation, I would guess that the bus they catch is more important than a party.

    Yes a party would have been nice, but I would rather have the money spend on improving service.

    Steve: This is a political era when it’s important to talk about what the TTC does well, and how long it has done it. I am quite sure the Mayor and many of his buddies on Council have no sense of the real importance of transit to riders because they don’t use the system. Their only concern is to get a few high profile projects off the ground and, in the process, trigger some development that can be used — presto! chango! — to reduce property taxes. It’s a little more complicated than that.

    Why can we have subway cars full of ads for the Toronto Rockets, but not for the anniversary?


  20. I think one of the saddest things about the current thinking at City Hall is the complete lack of perspective. They do not have any comprehension at all about the difference between a few thousand and a billion dollars. Small expenditures are judged to be “waste” and then held up as “everything that is wrong with this City”. While I disagree with the initial judgements about what is “waste”, the fact is that most of the samples that are brought up amount to no more than rounding errors in the budget of the spending party.

    The TTC should definitely have marked its 90th anniversary. It would have contributed to a feel good atmosphere for the population at large and specifically for the TTC riders. If a party had been held, the feel good aspect would not only apply to those in attendance, but also to people watching it on the news at night. (The ones who would rant about the cost wouldn’t be TTC supporters anyway). The total cost of commemorative advertising and a public reception would be in the thousands of dollars – a fraction of a cent for each daily rider – and not enough to matter.

    This also ties into what it means to have a successful City. It is not a place with “low taxes”, but rather a place where people want to live. Public enjoyment, pride and a sense of belonging are vital components and neglecting these in search of (non-existent) savings causes harm to our City.

    The current administration still talks of the millions of dollars “wasted” in the Miller years. However, even with the help of KPMG they cannot actually identify any real examples. A TTC commemoration of its 90th would be a good and, in the true scheme of things, inexpensive expenditure.


  21. Something might have been nice, and yes if there is advertisement for the new subways, something could have been done about the anniversary. But the new subways are the future of the TTC’s subway system.

    However, we could have had something in order to respect the history of our system.


  22. Something that I do like to draw attention to (because nobody else does) is that this year is also the 150th anniversary of in-street rails in Toronto – horse-drawn carriages on rails since 1861.

    Steve: And the start of that whole English Carriage Gauge business!


  23. “Something that I do like to draw attention to (because nobody else does) is that this year is also the 150th anniversary of in-street rails in Toronto – horse-drawn carriages on rails since 1861.”

    The Toronto Transportation Society has an H4 charter on September 11th, which is to celebrate the 150th anniversary of rail (as well as ride the soon-to-be-retired H4s, including on the Sheppard line).


  24. I really would have liked to go on that charter but there doesn’t seem to be any way to join last-minute. Found out too late.


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