Six Years

January 30, 2012 marks the sixth anniversary of this blog.  A year ago, I was despondent after the municipal election left a band in control of City Hall whose politics, to put it mildly, do not align with my own.

As that year evolved, embarrassment about the absolute stupidity, the crass insensitivity and the “we’re in charge so fuck you” attitude of the Ford administration made me wonder whether Toronto would ever recover.  But this is not a dictatorship, and Toronto voters seem remarkably able to recognize a fraud when they see one.  I had hoped for a great fall, but didn’t expect it would come so quickly.  Council took a year, but finally has its voice and knows that the real power lies in a working majority, not in the bullies clustered around the Mayor.

In these pages, we have talked about the merits of various transit plans, technologies, funding schemes and the fundamental question of what transit should do.  We don’t always agree, but there’s a robust discussion.  Among the public at large, there’s a better knowledge of transit issues, if only because they get so much press.  A debate can start from a moderately informed basis rather than going back to first principles and explaining the concept of a wheel.  That’s what it felt like at times, years ago when citizen activism was just finding its legs for transit and other aspects of city life.

As I write this, the transit file is in total upheaval.  Nobody is quite sure whether Transit City, Mayor Ford’s plan, or some hybrid scheme will win out.  At Queen’s Park, the real intentions of Metrolinx are never clear.  Whether they are dark lords piloting a death star toward the TTC, or brainy bumblers plotting to take over the world, is hard to say.

Over at the TTC, they’re just trying to keep the wheels on in the face of an administration that cries wolf over Toronto’s supposed poverty and strips funding without understanding the real cost of what they do.  Transit planning is a political poker game whose players are drunk with the vision of billions on the table, but who plead poor, unable to afford a taxi ride home.

This will pass, and Toronto may actually head off in a new direction that could even resemble what we were doing not so long ago.  At least now there is a debate.

My own output in these pages dropped off in 2011 thanks to the complete lack of anything to write about for weeks on end.  Transit policy consisted of little more than lectures on how the fat times were over and we would all have to sacrifice something for the common good.  That the common good might actually benefit from spending was an utterly foreign concept.

The article count went up from 1,152 to 1,277 (just under 11%), but you, the readers, kept up your end with the comment tally rising from 20,190 to 23,908 (18.4%).  This blog was not subject to an arbitrary 10% cut in service.

Where 2012 will take us is still a mystery.  At City Council, it’s early days for an alliance of members from diverse political viewpoints.  They know they can beat the Mayor on a vote where there’s enough common sense around the table to spur 23 voices, voices that listen to their constituents and to the mood of the city, not just to the sycophantic railings of the gutter press and populist radio hosts.  May that number grow, and may Council again be a place where citizens are not dismissed as special interests, layabouts and pinkos.

At Queen’s Park, the challenge is to find some backbone for the funding of transit.  The Metrolinx “investment strategy” process drags on and on.  The date for a report still lies over a year away, far enough that nothing beyond talk will happen before the next election.

Transit will cost a lot of money, but Queen’s Park refuses to accept responsibility for funding this portfolio at the local level.  A small dribble of gas tax is all that keeps transit systems alive, and that won’t pay for transit on the scale needed to make a real change in GTA travel habits.  Two trains a day to anywhere is not a transit revolution.

In Ottawa, the government pulls as far away from municipal issues as it can, and prepares to stiff the provinces in order to deal with its own problems.  This is not a new idea.  There is great irony that we had Paul Martin as Finance Minister turning the screws, while years later, as Prime Minister he had the beginnings of a sensitivity to cities (with the NDP’s encouragement).  Any transit funding strategy for the foreseeable future must not count on improved federal participation.  “Tripartite” schemes are a recipe for complete inaction, something Toronto has far too much of already.

Is Toronto — the city, the region and its provincial government — prepared to build what is needed to ensure transit actually plays an important role in the region’s future?  Will we tax ourselves, however the money might be collected, to built and operate the network of tomorrow, or will the mythology of the private sector and its supposed billions for transit investment win out?

2012 will be an interesting year.  I hope to have much more to write about, and to write about positively.  You, dear readers, will have your say too.  Quiet corners may be hard to find in this café.

26 thoughts on “Six Years

  1. “This blog was not subject to an arbitrary 10% cut in service.”

    Although at times, it certainly felt that your response times dragged on for ages. Just kidding.

    Steve: It’s just traffic congestion. Really! The catch-all excuse for every delay!

    Somehow, I still don’t sense a widespread anti-Ford sentiment in the general public, no matter what and how much the media reports on. Online comments or polls are not accurate representations either. People continue to confuse his constituency-level service as admirable traits in a citywide policy leader.


  2. Yes, i just saw the front page of Rob Ford’s favourite newspaper about the Monday release of the independent legal opinion. Since myself, you and thousands of others will be looking a fresh ways to solve the Toronto transit problems, this website and all other will be perused by everyone.

    This means teens and kids. My point is, to make enemies now is poor judgement. Do nothing to muddy the waters. Be polite but with all the honest facts at hand. One way to cause a problem is to resort to the profanity that some city councilors mutter in council chambers….as you have done in this blog. Before 10,000 kids read this, can you please edit out the swear word above, please?

    I cannot promote any website that lowers itself to the level of street thug. Let’s get things done properly with this fresh start. A gondola system is the only thing that Toronto can afford right now. It is the only system that can be completed before the Pan-Am games in Toronto in 2015. It would cost only 15 to 20 percent of the cost of subway tunnels. Rob Ford is a guy trying to do the right thing except he and anyone else is dreaming if they think we can afford a new subway system.

    Rob will properly manage the money as he has appointed an certified accountant to the treasury. After one year, we know what the true numbers are, more or less.

    Gondolas for the Don Valley Parkway and use the air space above the Hwy 401 as a higher speed above ground light rail train system all the way from Pickering to Oakville. There could be 4 lanes above the highway for public transit and taxi cabs to operate without any rush hour problems. Those 4 lanes beside the higher speed lite rail could also be used by firetrucks, ambulances and police to zip across the city without any delay.

    Since there would be only a very minimal environmental assessment for a new lite rail above the busy, noisy Hwy 401, work could start within one year on the track portion of the project. The land is free and you could travel to the Pearson airport from Pickering in about 30 minutes.

    Huge parking lots at each station would cover the highway, preventing snow ans major rain storms from affecting traffic below. It would save millions on snow plowing salting and reduce the accidents during excessive rain or any snow falls.

    It is safer. cheaper and cost BILLIONS less than a subway tunnel system. Noise from the lite rail trains could be funneled up instead of going sideways. What a fantastic view for any tourist or just regular commuters.

    Coffee shops, newstands and rest areas for train travellers would make the Hwy 401 Lite Rail system attractive to just meet and hang out. We could equip the back of each train with a big hook so the skate board kids could hook on for the ride of death. LOL

    Ok, so that will never happen…but a subway will never happen if this fighting keeps up. Let’s work together. Rob Ford is not your enemy. Work with him and his brother Doug. Forget what we cannot afford and go with the intelligent choice as i have proposed above. Duplicate the same system along the QEW from Hwy 427 all the way across the bottom of the city as well. Do the same only with Gondola’s south from the Allen Expressway at Eglinton all the way downtown. Park all the cars about the Allen in a 10 level parking lots running north over the Allen Ex, all the way to the Hwy 401. It really is simple but then so am i. Who am i? I am Mark the ex cabdriver and i know about traffic in Toronto and NY city, Chicago, Boston etc when i drove cross border truck from Toronto starting in 2003. Been there, done that. Later dudes.

    Steve: I put that word in specifically because of the complete contempt shown for the public through many rounds of public hearings and Council debates. The presence of a bully at the top of an organization empowers followers to treat people the same way. If you read the article, you will note it is the administration as a whole, not the Mayor, that I target with that phrase.

    It’s almost quaint to think that I should protect children from a word they can hear and read in common use.

    As for gondolas and your other plans, I will choose to believe that you are engaging in your own transit fantasies. Every time there is a transit funding crisis, somebody comes along with a new technology scheme to divert attention from the basic needs of the system. There is a reason that the world is full of subways, LRT, buses and railways — these technologies work and have been proven by over a century of use in wildly different environments. Each has its place, and the debate now is which should be used where in Toronto.

    Oddly enough, we rarely see someone pushing a complete replacement for the automobile as we now know it. Possibly because billions in government gravy are not available to people who just want a vehicle to move themselves around the city, there is a limited market for this sort of thing.


  3. Congratulations on six years of blogging, Steve! This blog remains one of my regular haunts, because of the depth of your experience and the strength of your advocacy, and the strong community of commentators that speak up after your posts. It’s really an interesting and positive place to be, and I thank you for it.

    My own blog is approaching its tenth anniversary, and I have found that my own output has trended down. Part of it is because my life has gotten busier, but it’s also a bit of frustration over the political world around me. One can only beat one’s head against the wall for so long. But you’ve kept going, and I think the commentators here have helped in that regard. You’ve been having a conversation, and there’s still a sense we can change the world, here. That’s a lot of positive energy, and I thank the commentators for it too.


  4. Happy 6th Anniversary Steve!

    Thanks for 6 years of unvarnished, tell it like it is TTC transit advocacy, never pulling punches whilst always maintaining an objective, common sense analytical approach to the discussions at hand, writing eloquently to not only inform the public but educate newbie Commissioners and keep TTC Staff on the straight & narrow (transit) path—with & without rails!

    I’ll have a special 6th birthday present for you at tomorrow’s Commission meeting; in the meantime you can prepare for your reinvigorated 2012 Chinese New Year of the Dragon advocacy by perusing my TTC 2010 Factsheet, comparing the last 4 Mayoral terms and RGS (Fares & Service) for support to stoke the transit fires of our newly fire-breathing Council!


    p.s. When is the 40th Anniversary (since 1972’s Save our Streetcars)

    Steve: That anniversary will come in the fall and maybe by then we will have some new prototypes to go along with the celebration.


  5. “This blog was not subject to an arbitrary 10% cut in service.”
    Steve: It’s just traffic congestion.

    It could also be Bell doing some ‘traffic shaping….’ Bell says it will not do that any more. Bell says lots of things….

    Meanwhile, congratulations on another year. 🙂


  6. Wow, six years! Time does fly when you’re having fun!

    Thanks for keeping watch over the transit file for both the City and the GTAH, I really don’t know how you keep your sanity!


  7. Really? Someone is worried that a child might hear a particular word in a transit blog?

    I assume that Mark Smyth doesn’t take transit regularly. You don’t go a day on the TTC with kids travelling to school without hearing that word. If perchance one or two of them are bright enough to find themselves here, I’m quite sure they are familiar with the word. Perhaps seeing it used in an appropriate context for once would better them.

    It’s been a good six years Steve. Hope you have many, many, more!


  8. Jacob Louy said:

    “Somehow, I still don’t sense a widespread anti-Ford sentiment in the general public…”

    I really think it depends on the issue raised. In my retail job customers often ask about whether they still get a city rebate on their toilet purchase. When I explain that Toronto killed the program, while all other major toilet rebate programs elsewhere are still active, they give me the same understanding look or unleash some Ford-directed profanity. I stay clear of politics while on the job except in this situation where we are in full agreement and I end by saying, “On ideology alone, Ford killed the only city program that saved more money then it paid out. Remember that in the next election.” Note that I am not the one who first identifies Ford – each of these customers has already figured it out on their own.

    Ford is generating a lot more hatred amongst the true average citizenry than he realises. That everyone who turns against him is automatically viewed as a “special interest” will be his undoing.


  9. Steve, Congratulations for number 6!!! I come in the door after work every day and I go to your blog soon afterward. What’s great is all sides of every transit issue are welcome and wanted, be they right or left.

    What’s really good to see on council is that there is a middle. Most of us in real life exist there. There are times we agree with one side, sometimes the other, and sometimes neither. Why? Because we are the middle. Long live the middle!


  10. Congrats on your 6th bloggiversary, Steve. Your site, knowledge and writing regularly inspire me to work harder at the things I care about. Looking forward to


  11. Yes, thanks for the blog and the deputations and expertise, and also to the broader group of people who more often than not fill us in with good details. We can’t expect too many people to avoid car use until transit is better; and that’s why we really need to get us all going with these first phases of Transit City, because we need to.

    While a lot of the opprobium is correctly directed at Mayor F*, the Liberals at Queen’s Park and the Metrolinx types are not getting quite enough scrutiny and bad press for going along with such stupidities. This includes the revenue generation eg. tolls – cars are subsidized big time – and what are the odds that McGuinty and Duncan will choose to avoid alienating the votorists and keep the suburban subsidies to the votorists in full force? It’s not only Caronto the Carrupt, but Ontcario too… as useful as they can be in getting to more remote places at times.

    Maybe the only hope we have of adequate speed and sense is if the gas price goes up to say $2 a litre, as the lack of a winter means we’d rather transform the climate than our transport habits. Oh, isn’t there a possible crisis near Iran? Maybe it’ll hit in 2012.

    And I just had a flashback to the 1979 Energy Future report that had a quote in it from some sheik somewhere about the West having had lots of time to adjust…. I was unable to find the exact words/reference in a timely way, but wouldn’t it be fun to think of Mayor F* responding to $2 a litre gas by enacting Curitiba-style busways, done at 1% of the cost of a subway with the same capacity, and also announcing a full city-wide network of on-street bike lanes, starting with Bloor/Danforth, to enable the riders that wished to bike to escape the overcrowded trains for self-powered travel.

    Steve: Every time someone mentions Curitiba, I shudder because they usually don’t look at how much space that system actually chews up. It’s a bus line on steroids.


  12. Congratulations on a great achivement, Steve. Your blog was one of the things that pushed me toward publishing my own writing. You’ve created a tremendous resource.

    Now, for 2012: could we see a Steve Munro Twitter account?


  13. Congradulations Steve, for sticking to it this long. Happy Anniversary.

    I like you, wish to make “Transit Great”, better is not good enough in my books. We both have the same focus, passion and vision. Your blog has been a big help for me to put all the pieces together. You are to be honoured for your dedication in serving mankind in creating this forum, such that we all can share the same bond, a longing in making transit much, much better. Hats off fellow transit advocate.


  14. Agreed with Matt Elliot. A Steve Munro Twitter account would be amazing.

    Happy 6th blog anniversary Steve! Your blog got me involved in Urban planning, and now I’m going to University for the subject. Many happy writings.


  15. Thanks, Steve, for the half-dozen years of dedicated service to transit issues. Most of us know that your transit interest really covers decades of activism. Do not be entirely dismayed by the turmoil that prevails now in the era of Ford Nation.

    In fact, the longer that time is spent in juggling the ball in the air on transit plans, the closer is the time for new elections and the arrival of a new Mayor and group of councillors. It seems to me that it is better to stall than to embark on outlandish projects with costly price tags offering little real value to transit solutions. The Ford gang is already challenged sufficiently on repairing light bulbs and cleaning the fleet of the rolling stock. The transit file is simply beyond their comprehension.


  16. Yes, it has been a frustrating year. And I actually stopped visiting this blog regularly because I knew there would be little, if any good news.

    Let’s hope things take a turn for the better this year.

    I appreciate every year you have given me, Steve, and I hope that there will be many more!

    Well done.


  17. @Kristian

    “they give me the same understanding look or unleash some Ford-directed profanity.”

    Thanks for mentioning this. That is good to know.

    Oh and by the way Steve, I forgot to write congratulations in my previous comment. So congrats!


  18. Congratulations, Steve, on 6 wonderful & informative years.

    And thank you to Steve’s blog patrons & commentators, who have helped make the past 6 years so wonderful & informative.

    Regards, Moaz


  19. Steve, thanks for the great advocacy work.

    The good news is that there is quite a bit to look forward to; the Queen’s Quay project, new streetcars, the subway extension to Vaughan, an LRT on Eglinton, Presto, expanded GO service, the Union Station renovations, the airport rail link, and another municipal election.

    Hope you are there for all of them.


  20. Thank you for your diligence and your tenacity. This blog is the best source for me, here in Philadelphia, to know what is going on in one of the great cities in North America. When I first went to Toronto in 1963, the TTC was the premiere transit operation on the continent. It is with disbelief that I watch Ford et al be so openly disdainful of public transit, especially light rail and steetcars. What does Ford know that the rest of North America, Europe and incredibly, the Gulf Arab Emirates are so mistaken about when they build modern light rail systems?


  21. Thanks for the past 6 years! This blog has helped educate the public (including myself) on transit issues and alternatives. Such education is really important so that we can encourage politicians and policy makers to make sound decisions. It has become even more important in the past years as some people try to un-educate the public by equating LRT with a streetcar. Sometimes I wonder whether Ford is actually trying to mislead people, or if he really knows the difference.


  22. Hi Steve

    Congratulation on six years! Thanks for keeping a forum alive where transit sanity lives on. I find it heartening to think that some council members read your post and that more and more people are informed about transit. The more people getting interested and reading means more people can pressure council and Queen’s Park to make informed transit choices and get something done right.


  23. Congratulations are definitely in order here. 2010 was a bad year for advocates of transit and rail passenger transportation not just in toronto but also in sevaeral US States. These modes seemed to be enjoying a political honeymoon or whatever and then voters got snookered into voting small-minded people into office and it was all over. Here’s hoping that future elections all over North America result in these small minds being voted the Hell out.


  24. Congratulations on six years! I hope there is many more ahead for you and that your advocacy will be effective in bringing better transit and transportation options for Toronto.

    As someone who lives on the West Coast I have found your blog and the commentators on it to provide a valuable insight into transit policy in Canada’s largest city. The debate in Toronto can and hopefully will be informative and instructive to the country’s other major cities as we also grapple with our own transportation futures.


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