Ten

Dear Readers:

It’s been a long time you and I have been chatting with each other, ten years today, January 31. This blog started out with an archive of Film Festival reviews and a certain now-legendary piece about Swan Boats.

As I write this, there are 1,812 live posts (this will make 1,813), and 43,881 comments some of which are substantial epistles in their own right. Many ideas, many vibrant discussions even if we don’t always agree.

Ten years is a lot of transit and personal history.

Back in 2006, David Miller was Mayor of Toronto, and Transit City was just beginning to creep from the back of napkins to a real plan, although it wouldn’t surface until March 2007. There was a brief chance that we might have seen suburban expansion in more than one corridor at a time, but that met its fate with the financial crash of 2008, cold feet at Queen’s Park and the dark years of Rob Ford, about whom the less said the better. John Tory appeared as the Ford-slayer, but with his own transit plan warped by consultants who were keen to promote a scheme without understanding exactly how it would work. Getting Tory elected was the important part, and only now, over a year later is there some hope of sanity returning to transit planning in Toronto’s mayoral offices.

Toronto has seen many false starts on transit projects. There was always an economic crisis, or a change in government, or a simple lack of will to sabotage just about any transit plan that came along. The city planned only one line (at best) at a time because councillors must first settle on which of their wards is most deserving of political “relief”, and funding can turn into an exercise of begging for pennies on Queen Street. Metrolinx has a “Big Move”, but actual progress depends on political fortunes day-to-day, election-to-election. Transit is very expensive, and the political will is usually to lowball costs in the early years with the inevitable effect that costs “run over” and the planning map becomes more and more tattered.

Even worse, from the 1990s onward, in part thanks to the combined effect of that decade’s recession and the Harris Tories at Queen’s Park, a new motto seeped into politics at all levels in Canada: “no new taxes”. When times were good, we would hear bold announcements of new “investments”, but somehow the money to pay for them would fall short. Operate better service on what we already had? What kind of flaming radical are you? Don’t you know that turning the screws, weeding out inefficiency, counting the paperclips, that is the way forward, and we will cut the service anyhow.

Writing about transit can be frustrating especially over the long haul, but it is also rewarding to hear more and more people talk about transit from an informed point of view (whether it’s my point of view doesn’t matter, although I won’t object). Transit is coming back into vogue as a city building tool, as an environmental benefit, and as a vital way to allow people to travel around town for work, school, shopping, entertainment – many, many reasons beyond the basic 9-to-5 commute to work. Whether we actual build such a network, let alone pay to operate it, remains to be seen, and an upheaval could still push transit improvements back years if not decades. A more optimistic view would see substantial advances to the point that real improvement has momentum and is the last, not the first, item on any chopping block. A truly core service in Toronto, not something we can afford to short-change.

The writing is fun (well, maybe not always when vetting some of the comments) because there is a community of people interested in transit “out there”. You are not just on my site, but many others covering a wide variety of urban issues, not to mention the big social media sites. Following City Hall would be almost impossible without Twitter, and I remember the little cheer that went up when @SwanBoatSteve made his first appearance.

“Chatting” might not be the right word for some of the more vociferous would-be contributors to the comment threads, but the worst of them are banished to the outer darkness of the blog-o-sphere with the delicious thrill of the “Trash” button, or even better, “Spam”. There should really be sound effects and fireworks.

One part of the blogging evolution has been particularly gratifying – the emergence of a respected group of writers who are outside of the traditional press corps, but who have become part of the City Hall family. Some of us have moved up (or maybe “over”) to mainstream media, and that says something about our Internet world as a breeding ground for a new generation of writers and editors.

I may have the luxury of writing long, detailed articles about whatever attracts me, but I tip my hat to the working press. They don’t have the option of just rolling over in bed and writing some other day and then only on their favourite topic. There is a lot of work behind the articles that show up in print and online, and traditional media are under threat with the changing landscape of how people get “news”. Fewer voices, less time for research, more concern for advertising lineage (itself an anachronistic term in the age of clicks and pop-ups) than solid journalism. Not a happy situation, and the blogs cannot possibly make up the slack.

My life isn’t only about this blog, although some may think I have a limited life outside of writing about transit. They would be wrong. Many know me not as a transit geek, but as an avid audience member and supporter of the performing arts. It is amusing when someone who sees me only in one context “discovers” another side they didn’t know about for years (although these days, my transit persona is rather better known than a decade ago, and it’s harder to hide). Music, theatre, dance, design, urban planning, architecture, cities – this is a continuum, not two separate worlds.

In my professional life, I worked first as a software programmer back in the days of punched cards and “mainframes” of 32k. That evolved over time, and I retired as an IT Ops Manager seven years ago. Never looked back. Transit and politics are more fun, and I would rather write than code (or even worse, manage) although I have “kept my hand in” with those detailed analyses of TTC operations.

When this blog started, WordPress was only a few years old, and had just reached version 2.0. Even then, it attracted me as a platform because, for the most part, I didn’t have to wrangle code, but could concentrate on writing. Now this site sits on wordpress.com which hosts an impressive number of blogs, not to mention major commercial sites.

Toronto has a long way to go, a lot of catching up to do in transit and other files if it hopes to regain that mythic “world class” status we once so easily bragged about. This will happen because many people care about the city and collectively hope to see a better Toronto. Some will be bloggers and media, some will be behind the scenes advisors, some will be professionals in many fields, some may even be politicians.

But it is the readers who are most important. Only if the message about how our city can grow, what it can be, finds an audience and through them sustained political support, will all of the advocacy in so many fields bear fruit.

To my fellow writers and advocates: write more.

To my comment contributors: thanks for adding to the discussions. It makes me (and my colleagues elsewhere) think about what we claim as “the best way” ahead.

To my readers: a big thank you even if you only lurk in the Internet’s shadows. You give your time and attention, and that’s the best gift a writer can ask for.

44 thoughts on “Ten

  1. The other day, I was explaining to my SO how many of the discussions on here are structurally analogous to debates in my quite-unrelated work life. You have a wider influence than just transit. Moreover, you’re just a damned-good writer.

    Thank you for your time and dedication.

    Steve: You’re very welcome!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve, one thing is you’ve started it and kept it going. To that we all must say thanks. To everyone else, a big thanks because there is always great discussion going on here. This is usually the first site I check daily!!!

    TO MANY, MANY MORE…….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Steve

    A big thank you for writing your blog and sharing with your readers your considerable knowledge of all things Toronto Transit.

    Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on reaching another significant block of time — and the related pool of information. I well remember our personal “telephone blogs” starting half a century ago and long before the computer / internet age. As always, your writing skills remain exceptionally strong.

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  5. Thank you Steve:

    I moved to Toronto about 14 years ago and stumbled onto your blog not too long after you started it. Thanks for the education, the humour and for (generally) tolerating the flights of fancy (or mania?) of some of us, your faithful audience.

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  6. Steve,

    Congratulations on a remarkable first decade. Here’s looking forward to learning from you for another. Your public service is of the first rank. When the history of Toronto’s resurgence as a global leader in public transit is written, you will have a prominent place recognizing your exceptional leadership of the public debates and civic engagement.

    Best, Rob

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  7. Congratulations, Steve!

    Clearly, little acorns grow into great trees when the soil is as fertile as your commitment to bettering the city. That this growth be the result of strictly volunteer efforts is all the more impressive, and watching your writing and reputation gain the respect they’ve always deserved has been truly awe-inspiring.

    It’s time to mention that one of the ways that communities reward citizens for significant contributions is to name important projects after important contributors (rather than, as the old adage has it, ‘the uninvolved’). Perhaps it’s time that our fair City saw fit to name something transit-related after one of, if not the, most important advocate for a balanced transit system in Toronto.

    I look forward to reading the next ten years of your thoroughly considered writings.

    Trevor.

    Steve: A fleet of Swan Boats would be nice.

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  8. What would we do without you. In your way you have preserved a Toronto that is more important than many people realize for its survival.

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  9. Steve — thanks for sharing your knowledge and inviting people to the transit conversation. Whenever I see you as the go-to guy in the media, I know we’ll hear about transit ideas and concerns without political strings. Thanks!

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  10. I see that your and Sarah Hinchcliffe`s April 15, 2005 paper `Swans on the Don` was as prophetic and far sighted as much of your later work. I note, in particular, your very prescient concluding paragraph now that there is once again talk of a World’s Fair in our City. I hope that the officials from the Bureau International des Expositions were fully briefed on this exciting opportunity when they were here last week.

    The success of swan boats opens many opportunities for the City of Toronto. Waterfront transit will link the many river-based routes providing an alternative to expressway travel. The city will have a signature image – a flock of white swan boats – to draw tourists by the thousands.

    Toronto, the site of a world-class transportation system, is ready for a crowning glory – a World’s Fair presenting swan transportation in all its forms on land, sea and in the air. Fairground visitors will travel between sites on special, dedicated swan boats. Ardent historians will visit the spot on Centre Island where, so many years ago, the future of swan boat technology was revealed. A glorious cultural festival will culminate in a massed Swandolier Chorus with voices from around the world.

    Steve: And I still have the same jaundiced view of a World’s Fair. A chance for lots of consultants and well-connected folk in the business community to push projects that wouldn’t get a second look but for their link with a fair. Can we please just build the city we need?

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  11. Congratulations on your ten years Steve! I have been started reading your blog since late 2008. Keep up the good work!

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  12. Your commentary and insight into TTC operations is always welcomed, as well as your analysis on Metrolinx (and the Ontario governments) follies in public transit. You have come a long way, from a simple blogger to guest columnist at the Toronto Sun (talk about strange bedfellows). It looks like between this blog, the Torontoist, and now the Sun, you will always have a platform to promote those swan boats down the Don.

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  13. Thank you very much Steve for all your hard work in transit and for this blog.

    Being initially trained as a musician I am very happy that you are also an avid supporter of the arts and each time you wrote about the film festival we had a glimpse.

    Your influence is indeed larger than just Toronto as it helps me and am sure many others to look at their own city’s transit system and helpfully contribute in their own city.

    Thanks for everything and hope you continue for many many years !

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  14. A huge thank you for your advocacy and desire to give Toronto the truth about transit in this city. Imagine if Toronto scrapped the streetcar network?

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  15. Steve,

    Before I stumbled onto your site I never used to care much about the transit issues in this city. Since reading your many posts I have developed an appreciation (obsession?) for people coming up with various ideas on how to improve our great city. Thank you for your great work and please never stop writing!

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  16. Happy Bloggiversary, Steve, and many happy returns. I enjoy your writing and realistic perspective on transit-related issues. I only with I had the time to delve more deeply into some of your longer and / or more quantitative posts.

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  17. Thanks Steve… this place has been a godsend for my day to day transit knowledge, and especially for being able to catch up on things that happened well before I moved to Toronto in 2013.

    Thanks to all of the informed people who provide their comments and opinions as well. Steve’s work is phenomenal, but the comments and questions (and Steve’s replies) add so much to the discussion.

    This city is lucky to have a group as passionate about transit issues as Steve and the rest of you folks.

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  18. Congratulations on the milestone Steve!

    10 years ago I was arguing intensely with someone about how much better buses were than street cars – and now my pulse raises at the mere sight of a diesel monstrosity. While your blog isn’t solely responsible, it has definitely played the lead role – and I suspect that’s true for many others across the city and beyond. I often wonder how many other cities are so lucky to have a “champion” of public transit so influential and continually dedicated to the cause.

    As you may be able to tell from my comments, I’m still learning – so here’s to another great 10, and thank you again for all that you’ve done!

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  19. This is a truly amazing milestone. It can’t be easy doing what you do. Your service to Toronto stands out a lot more than some of our elected officials today and one day I hope you get recognized for that. Congrats!

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  20. Steve, thanks for everything that you do, and congratulations on ten years of blogging from a longtime anonymous reader in the biz’! Although things sometimes seem to move in circles, I have no doubt at all that your dedication and thoughtfulness have helped to improve transit planning in this city by a great deal. May you continue to write, and may we all continue to listen and engage with your ideas and observations, for many more years.

    All the best,
    Anonymous

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  21. Swan boats also demonstrate Steve’s passion for Wagnerian opera … ok, maybe not …

    Steve: There are also mysterious black swan boats …

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  22. Hi Steve

    I, too, would like to thank you for ten years of maintaining a voice of sanity in the transit debate. I am especially thankful that you chose to maintain your older posts as, during the dark days of the Ford administration, they provided a useful supply of facts to refute the claims of Ford nation.

    Here’s to many, many more years!

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  23. Steve, I have enjoyed reading your blog ever since Transit City was announced. As a lurker (and very occasional poster), I appreciate reading the informed points of view of you and some of your posters. Even through the Ford years, when my emotional state was adversely affected by the lack of intelligent transit proposals, I was able to hang on by reading your words of wisdom. The value to Toronto of having a discussion forum moderated by an expert cannot be understated.

    Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m happy to join the crowds in thanking Steve for his depth of knowledge, files, and scathing posts of officialdumb, no matter where, and whether elected or staff. Some of us commenters also get trimmed, and thanks, though I will still disagree about the merits of busways as an option for Scarborough, and some relief into the core, if we had political will and used some of the savings from the SSE. Bikeway relief is also useful, if only 3%, that’s still lots/good.

    Of course, effective transit isn’t necessarily what the point is: at a party, first name Norman, suggested having a canal built for the mobility needs in Scarborough, and yes, as it fits the usage for concrete and cost, why not have something monumental for swanboats there?

    Also a sincere tip of hat to the many commenters and their perspectives and knowledge. I’m pretty rutted in parts of Caronto/Moronto, and haven’t travelled too far in many ways. So the info and ideas shared by many is helpful, thanks.

    Might I suggest though that we start setting up the knowledge base of how thoroughly and deeply cars are subsidized, and yet costs aren’t such an obvious line item like TTC? One older figure from Vancouver was $2700 per car each year of avoided cost; the vtpi.org is a useful site for exploring this further. A Vehicle Registration Tax of $60 here would bring in $60M a year, not inconsequential.

    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Congratulations on ten years, and a huge thank you for all the work and dedication.

    I too have a jaundiced view of a world’s fair. It becomes an excuse for politicians to break the rules and spend public money on pet projects instead of what we need, and they tell us it is to make TO famous. Famous enough! Transit first. TCHC first.

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  26. Congratulations on ten years. Thank you for all the incredible work you put into this blog, from the deep dives into the minutiae of TTC budget reports, route analysis, to the whimsy of swanboats. You’ve made me and others appreciate the many moving moving parts that make up the system that is the TTC and the need to go beyond simple solutions. Beyond your own writing & research, your work curating the comments has made this one the few areas where one must read the comments!

    Thanks Steve, for all of the work and here’s to a brighter transit future for Toronto!

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  27. A belated Happy 10th Anniversary (Blog Day? Swan Day?) Steve! Although I came late to your transit++ discussion forum, your own posts and your constant encouragement of informed and intelligent comments and conversation from contributors got me caught up quickly with transit and other issues in Toronto and the GTA. I would suppose that some city councillors and others in positions of influence read this blog but even with all your free analysis (what *would* it cost if this work were invoiced to the City by consultants?!?), when it comes to moving transit issues forward at the City and Regional/Provincial levels, it’s as if decisions made were based on back-of-the-napkin computations…. Fortunately, you have a large supply of tablecloths and don’t mind if other people, through this blog, doodle on them with their own writing implements!

    I am glad that, for the most part, you have maintained your sense of humour(!) in the face of what can only be described as blind foolishness or ignorance of public servants/elected officials. Mind you, some of your more scathing op-ed commentaries on this site have been fire-and-brimstone but more than justified, IMHO. As they say, it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness – especially if it helps to highlight problems in a subway tunnel!

    Swan Boats for Steve: yes; swan song for Steve: hopefully not for a long, long time.

    Thank you again for all your work, keeping us informed and engaged and speaking truth to power. dcg

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  28. I am also wishing you a belated happy 10th for this blog. Also thanks for posting the link to your cygnet-ure piece on the role of Swan Boats. It was interesting to re-read it after all these years and see that in some ways not much has changed. I guess now the OSBDC would another subsidiary of Metrolinx?

    Steve: No, No, No! GO Transit would be a subsidiary of MetroSwan!

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  29. Dean Girard said:

    What *would* it cost if this work were invoiced to the City by consultants?!?

    My charge-out rate is $125/hr, but I only have 135 comments over the last 136 days (including this one).

    If you assume 10 minutes per comment and 1 hour per post, $125 for posters and $225 for Steve, that’s a consultation bill of $1,322,112.50.

    Good work, Steve! While 98% of my day-to-day work involves Metrolinx, I have used this blog as a source of ‘real world information’ when working with the TTC. Regardless of the company, it’s my primary source of keeping up with all the changes in transit in the GTA.

    Steve: It is quite clear that I need to get involved with some dubious new technology. Swan Boats are far too established, but Gondolas would be a good choice if others were not already trolling in those waters.

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