Eleven

On January 31, 2017, this blog celebrates its eleventh birthday. Collectively, we are up to 1,965 posts and 47,462 comments. Two big landmarks are coming up!

This is a very difficult time politically on many fronts for transit and for informed political dialogue in general with two critical problems running through all debates:

  • Nobody wants to pay for anything, even if it might benefit them, but instead there is an endless search for “efficiency” that will deliver more for less.
  • “Facts” are whatever someone claims they are, and those who dispute an opinion are at best simple-minded fools, and at worst enemies of the public good.

Regular readers have probably noticed that some of my writing, both here and on social media, has become less tolerant, less willing to accept the premise that the politicians who serve us are simply misguided and open to reasonable argument. That’s total bullshit, and the pols are as self-serving as ever, facts be damned. “Playing nice” only invites the assumption that one can be ignored.

The most recent news, that Premier Wynne has decided that investing in transit should not cost people anything, is only the most ridiculous in a long line of crazy plans for municipal transportation and financing. As reported in The Star:

“I know that people are having a hard time keeping up with the rising cost of living. I hear it from people everywhere I go,” Wynne told reporters Friday at a Richmond Hill bus yard.

“We need to make sure that investing in transit isn’t costing you more money,” the premier said, noting gas taxes will not rise as a result of the change.

Provincial transportation policy for the last decade has focused on voters in the 905, some of whom might actually use transit. Long ago, when “The Big Move” master plan was still a new idea, it was clear, and acknowledged by Metrolinx, that this plan would at best keep congestion from getting any worse than today by diverting most growth onto new transit lines. The Big Problem, however, was the plan’s concentration of capacity on trips bound for Toronto’s core while largely ignoring trips between the outer 416 and within the 905 region and beyond.

Local transit was somebody else’s problem, and only recently has Metrolinx acknowledged that their fully built-out network cannot work without a robust set of local services to ferry people to and from the GO stations. And if you don’t live on a rail corridor? So sad. We might run a bus now and then.

Metrolinx itself is a huge problem. It is a secretive organization meeting only occasionally in public, and then with carefully choreographed sessions in which there is far too little critical discussion of policy options. The organization, especially under the current Minister, seems to exist primarily as a provider of photo ops. The operational side, GO Transit, muddles along providing service within a constained budget, while follies such as the Union Pearson Express and Presto burn through millions with little accountability.

A few years ago, Torontonians might have thought “thank goodness, we survived Rob Ford”, but his political strategies and mindset live on. Promise everything, but expect someone else to pay. Concentrate on keeping property taxes low. Set the suburbs against the old city, the rich against the poor. Play on the politics of “we deserve”.

But John Tory came into office and things did not change much beyond leaving the Press Gallery without their favourite source of civic scandal. Tory governs with Ford’s ghost lurking just over his shoulder, and leaves the civic bureaucracy to find creative ways to stretch artificially constrained revenues.

Tory’s big election promise was “SmartTrack”, an ill-considered scheme to replace every transit improvement in the known universe with one line that would, somehow, solve every transit problem. That’s how it was pitched, along with a transparently unworkable financing scheme that would give con artists a bad name. Bit by bit, SmartTrack dwindled to a set of six new GO stations to be funded by Toronto, and there is no guarantee that these will actually be built.

After he took office, Tory discovered that Ford had cut transit service, and set about repairing the damage. However, the funding to sustain this did not all materialize, and at the current rate of budgetary constraint, the TTC will be back to pre-Tory days in short order.

At the TTC, circumstances have improved somewhat under Andy Byford, but there is still a penchant for only telling “good news” stories, a holdover from the Ford-Stintz era. Despite the cleanup of major projects like the Spadina subway extension and the Yonge-University-Spadina resignalling, major issues remain in the customer service area notably the adequacy and reliability of service, the raison d’être of any transit system. Byford wants to run the “best system in North America” by the end of 2017, but how is that even defined, let alone measured? Will he simply declare victory with riders still waiting in the cold for their buses to arrive?

The TTC, unwilling to rock the boat with calls for added funding, finds ways to trim its budget and give the impression that there is always more to save. They are comparatively silent on how the system might be improved. By implication, what we have is good enough, and any strategy to encourage riders is neither affordable nor even required. Recent political focus is on riders who might not be paying enough, not on services that could benefit everyone.

What is needed?

Above all, Toronto has to separate fact from fiction in its plans for transit and other services. What can the city do, what can it not do, and what choices does it simply avoid? Can we even have a debate about priorities when the cupboard is bare, and too many expensive promises have been made? This will require the “Civic Action” version of John Tory (presuming that was ever anything beyond a convenient shell) – the ability to speak honestly, to avoid the us-against-them rhetoric and to put hard choices about the city’s future before the public.

In the short term, the best we can hope for at Queen’s Park is that there will be no further retrenchment in transit commitments. How this will fare, especially if the Liberals are defeated in 2018, is difficult to say. The Tory caucus is not exactly an urban one dedicated to support of municipal services. The NDP talks a good line, but is often captive to its own fascination with “the middle class” and tax relief. Their platform’s importance lies more in what they might demand or support in a minority government, not as policy for a government-in-waiting.

Does Toronto really want a good transit system? Do we even know what a “good system” would look like? With so many other issues swirling around us, including basic questions of democracy and the future of society, transit advocacy can easily be drowned out among many voices.

From time to time, I am asked “why do you do this”, and my response, especially lately, is prefaced with a sigh and much rolling of the eyes. But a good city is worth fighting for, worth calling for better services from which all citizens will benefit, and worth calling out the charlatans who thwart that goal for their own political benefit. The debates, both here and in other venues, can be bracing, but the result is that everyone gets to hear a variety of opinions even if we don’t all agree.

Thank you all for reading and writing, even those of you who lurk out of sight, and may 2017 see more progress than posturing.

30 thoughts on “Eleven

  1. I think that if the province is going to keep cutting Toronto’s plans, or delaying them because we don’t have the money, but then not allowing us to raise the funds….Tory should raise the debt ceiling from 15% or whatever it is to 20%, but mandate that the 5% extra must only be used for capital for transit…this would allow the city to get around the limit, start building the transit we need, and likely at some point in the future it would force the province to allow us to raise funds in other ways (potentially after it starts to hurt the city, but that’s up to them)…

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  2. Steve, from someone who’s usually a lurker, thanks for all you do and will continue doing. Keep pushing for change and asking the tough questions and eventually it will all happen. Always a fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In this day and age nothing will ever be done regarding funding. If someone helps Toronto they upset everyone else, if they do not help Toronto they lose a large chunk of votes. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    What is needed is for Toronto to secede from Ontario and become it’s own province. That unto itself is a pipe dream but it is the only way for Toronto to survive in the future. If Toronto became it’s own province things would be easier for everyone and perhaps funding would not be such a large issue.

    If I am not mistaken, Hazel McCallion suggested something like this when you were a teenager Steve.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Keep up the great work. Never give up hope.

    A good city IS worth fighting for.

    Every day is a chance to reach others so that they may learn this truth.

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  5. As a lurker, I can say your work is the main reason why I took an interest and became somewhat informed about transit planning, when I stumbled on this blog a few years ago. It’s the most comprehensive resource on Toronto transit available and there really isn’t any comparison either. Thank you.

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  6. I arrived in the country and city just over six years ago, and a few weeks before the election to the mayoralty of Rob Ford. When the result was declared, I couldn’t believe what the electorate had done. And then came the gas plant debacle, and I couldn’t believe a Government would do that. But in amongst all of this there’s been any number of other ridiculous decisions that can only be characterised as being squarely aimed at currying favour at the ballot box. I have never lived anywhere where politicians are so shameless, and public transit such a political plaything. I continue to find developments here both astonishing and disgraceful by turns.

    How anybody can keep going in the face of this with a blog about public transit, the support of which involves many hours of sitting through what must be interminable meetings and briefings, knowing that much of what they hear is nothing more than political posturing, astonishes me.

    Please keep going for as long as you can summon the fortitude!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As usual, I would like to thank you for all your contributions over the years. Although there are a few other intelligent transit writers in Toronto, no one combines your knowledge of history, politics, finance, construction and many different forms of technology. That diverse set is almost unheard of in our era.

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  8. Bravo Steve. This was a truly great post. As usual, your perspective is tempered by actual facts that are true and can be verified. It is astonishing that as the methods of communication have broadened and become available to more of us, the populace does not have a greater access to truthful facts. Instead it increasingly believes in falsehoods – spread in many cases by people who know they are spreading falsehoods and do so deliberately.

    The obsession with “efficiencies” is a falsehood that dates all the way back to the KPMG examination of the City’s Finances. Much anticipated by Ford and The Sun, they did not concede defeat when KPMG reported that there was not actually any substantial waste. The mythology of “efficiencies” lives on to this day and under the careful and perpetual distribution of repeated lies – it has been accepted as a truth – passionately in many cases – by a large proportion of the voters.

    You have debunked the “St. Clair ROW Disaster” on this blog with great clarity – supported by actual facts from actual documents and yet it lives on as a reason why we should never, ever, ever built an LRT anywhere. (Not to mention the distinctions you have raised between legacy streetcars in an ROW and an LRT).

    This morning Wynne lost her last chance that I will follow the old Canadian ritual of “Hold Your Nose and Vote Liberal”. Not only does she do nothing to ameliorate the resentment of Toronto within the GTA and of the GTA within the province, she stokes it for her own crass political ends. Her announcement was nothing less than adding gasoline to the fire that drives those feelings. In essence she said, I will disallow a small fee that will be partly paid by 905 residents and replace it with a [supposedly] “fairer” redistribution of the gas tax that will benefit all of Ontario.

    However, while promising that the gas tax will not go up, she does not acknowledge that the portion of the gas tax that has been redirected will have to be covered by taxes raised elsewhere. Guess which regions in the province will “over contribute” through other taxes – Toronto, the GTA and Ottawa. Some fairness.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You’re performing a great civic duty, wonderful act of citizenship.
    It’s amazing how you can make sense of budgets, bureaucratic reports and procedural steps.
    It’s a shame we don’t have politicians worthy of your analysis.

    I’m still looking for your readers to shoot down my fantasy.

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  10. Deep thanks to you Steve, and also to your commenters who also have your spirit (usually) of trying to get to the better situation. It has been heartening to have you increasingly scathing in factual denunciations of messes, of which there are far too many, including the caronic denial of how well automobility is subsidized, especially compared to transit. See vtpi.org and a figure I like using from Vancouver from 20 years ago is $2700 per car per vehicle. And as we have a host of smart people perhaps reading this, what is the annual cost of vehicle crashes to our health care system in Ontcario? (This isn’t the same as the social cost).

    With Ms. Wynne’s backing away from tolls, I wasn’t too surprised as the majority of Clowncil is firmly rooted in denying inflation in housing of perhaps 10% annually, and refuses to do a tiny step of vehicular user pay with a Vehicle Registration Tax, and also just voted to ignore facts in infrastructure decisions, preferring alternative facts I guess. But the province has also had a lot of chances to do more for improved transit,(and to be fair, they are doing a lot) and both the Don Valley and the Gardiner have GO train services alongside, or near enough, so there are options, often well-used, right there. With the DVP though, I wonder why that GO line is not subject to more usage as it does run closer to Yonge St. and could be surface relief for it as well as the DVP. Perhaps it has something to do with the wealthy areas near the Don?? And who represents them?

    Thank you so much for what you’ve given, and keep giving.

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  11. Thank you. Your advocacy and sense are inspiring, not just for Toronto, but for people who care about transit and democratic decision making everywhere.

    On this note, you’ve gotten an honorable mention in a recently commissioned report on media and democracy (p 28).

    Steve: The point I made in the quote was to compare the limited reach of blogs like mine with the traditional media. The effect, I hope, is amplification through reaching people who reach more people, plus the general “street cred” that comes from doing something like this for a long time and with a (generally) appreciative audience. Thanks to all!

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  12. Even though we don’t see eye to eye on the finer details of how to connect our neglected suburbs I respect your passion and agree with the concerns over lack of funding and frustration with Politicians, agencies etc.

    I do believe once the SSE is and hopefully the Eglinton Crosstown extension (and current projects) are built you will see greater City unity on transit and more voices fighting for also needed operational dollars. I think the internal war of the Scarborough subway is a blessing for Politicians as it has allowed them to kick many cans further out while the Scarborough horse takes its repetitive overdone beating.

    Their are many “facts” that can be used depending on what narrative you want to write. The only fact that can stand on its own is transit planning in this City has and always will be Political. The next generation just will never know or care.

    The City has many, many overdue needs and we all “deserve” better.

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  13. Congratulations Steve, and though you may at times certainly feel like a modern day Sisyphus, I’m convinced that this city is a better place – and that the transit in it is better – because of the work you do (and have done). You are truly doing “God’s work” here, and wherever you take your transit advocacy. Live long, and prosper. 🙂

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  14. Thank you Steve for your hard work! More than ever in these trying times we need you.

    Toronto and Ontario benefit greatly from your work.

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  15. I’d just like to add my voice to the well-deserved chorus of thank yous for a job, and blog, well done! I’ve only been reading your blog for a few years, but I feel that I’ve learned a great deal. I really appreciate your work. Thanks!!

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  16. Thanks for doing what you do, Steve. Your work is absolutely essential to understanding Toronto transit, not just from a political analysis perspective, but on the ground!

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  17. Congratulations on your eleven fabulous years.

    Steve: Tory governs with Ford’s ghost lurking just over his shoulder.

    In all due fairness, the same can be said about Wynne and McGuinty i.e. Wynne governs with McGuinty’s ghost lurking over her shoulder/s.

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  18. First, allow me to express my appreciation for the incredible work Steve has done to assist people in understanding the facts around transit. Well done!

    Second, allow me to express my understanding for the frustration in dealing with politicians. I understand how slowly decisions are made, and how decisions are based on a variety of issues, of which facts are not relevant.

    I have political opinions, which I will keep to myself. Observations I will share:

    1) Politicians get paid to get re-elected. They will say whatever they think will be popular with voters. Their time horizon is their next re-election, on average the next 2 years. Transit planning takes about a decade from concept to completion. This is problem #1.

    2) Voters are increasingly misled by our current brainwashing on marketing. One never sees actual prices any more – just “70% discount”, “buy now and save ???”, “you are richer than you think”, and everyone deserves special discounts. Most voters do not know how to evaluate costs anymore, and their attention span is about 15 seconds in length, focussing on headlines.

    I think these concepts explain why silly decisions are made, plans are reversed, and political opponents play the game only to win votes.

    Conclusions:

    1) Steve has been extremely good at getting facts out to people who care about facts.
    2) Politicians are like underwear – they need to be constantly changed

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  19. (1). The Premier of Ontario (Wynne) has ‘belittled’ Toronto with the decision of ‘NOT’ allowing Toronto to ‘Toll’ its roads. Someone wrote, anyone can drive on Toronto’s roads, park on the road, get a parking ticket, get towed, but Toronto can ‘Not’ ‘Toll’ its roads.

    (2). Going forward, the question is ‘when’ can Toronto ‘Toll’ its roads, and does Toronto have the final say in ‘how much’ it can toll, and make increases each year? Are we forever and ever at the mercy of the Ontario government to make these decisions for Toronto?

    (3). The $170 Million from the province, what is this money specifically going to be used for ?

    (4). The budget for Toronto is in two weeks (Feb 15) …..what will happen? What will happen for the TTC and transit?

    (5). What ‘IS’ the future then for Toronto transit?

    (6). Politics over economics, happened last Friday (Jan. 27th).

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  20. When I discovered your site, I was a new dad, home with an infant. Like the blog, my little project is now eleven. I’ve watched both grow, thrive, make friends, make enemies, navigate bullies, and throw the odd tantrum. Both have been an absolute pleasure from which I’ve learned immeasurably. Thank you for all that you do.

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  21. Belated congratulations, Steve on your fascinating and constantly growing compendium of facts, figures, Film Festival film reviews, frivolities, frustrations and faithful feedback! Thank you, too, for helping to moderate discussions between mostly “non-professionals” (armchair transit drivers?) on topics that affect everyone in their daily lives and about which constant engagement is and will remain necessary to help affect transit policy in the city (also known as “Speaking Truth to Power”). Sharing your extensive knowledge and also your analysis – for free! – of past and ongoing transit issues is education in the public good and, in some (many?) cases, a breath of fresh air in comparison to the craziness that comes out of City Hall, where a number of those elected representatives who are supposed to work “in the public interest” (and that means *all* of the public, not only for the ward fiefdoms that exist) seem not to understand what is going on in the transit world.

    Thank you again, Steve, for all the work you have been doing over these past 11 years.

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  22. Another great year in transit discussions, thanks to Steve.

    I continue to follow the discussions and post on occasion, but this past year has me now working for a company with close ties to the transit industry. Every so often, I have to hold back from posting in a public forum if the topic is too close for comfort.

    That said, things came full circle a month or so back when my manager sent an email with some links of interest, and there was one to a discussion on this site from a few years ago.

    Well done, Steve!

    Like

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