Twelve

Today, January 31, 2018, marks the twelfth anniversary of this site.

Sitting down to write my annual celebration, I have mixed feeling this year. Two elections are staring at Toronto and its transit systems, with only middling prospects for improvement in the years ahead.

Depending on the outcome, the damage that was started by Rob Ford’s crew and continued by John Tory, not to mention the meddling from Queen’s Park, might continue us on a downward path, or our transit fortunes could turn around.

Downward path? With so much happening on transit?

What I see is a love of spending big dollars on capital projects, and the price per photo op is well into the millions. Tell people you are building what they want and deserve. Buy those votes.

Actually providing better transit is quite another matter. Toronto’s obsession with lower property taxes hogties transit growth both for physical infrastructure, basics like buses and garages to house them, and service on the street. Queen’s Park doles out new subsidies rarely, and promptly claws back part of their generosity with requirements that municipalities help to underwrite Metrolinx projects. Ottawa occasionally finds spare change in its pockets for infrastructure “stimulus”, but imposes timelines on projects that leave needed work unfunded simply because it does not fit their political calendar.

Through all of this, there are glimmering spots in a cloudy sky.

The Relief (Don Mills) subway line is now recognized as a necessity, and not just as a little shuttle between Danforth and downtown, but as a true parallel route to the Yonge line. Whether the money for this will ever appear is a mystery, but at least detailed engineering work is underway to figure out where and how the line might be built. Commitment to actual construction will be a few years closer than forever sitting in “we need a study” mode.

Parts of Transit City might actually be completed in my lifetime. With them (and other LRT lines to open in Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga and Hamilton) lies my great hope that Ontario will finally be past its vain idea that a “missing link” in transit technology needs to be invented. Ontario forced Toronto to buy what we now know as the SRT rather than simply getting off the shelf LRT technology common around the world then, as now. A network Toronto could have begun in the 1970s (with a TTC plan from the 60s) might start to take shape half a century later.

Even Metrolinx shows signs of thinking beyond the classic downtown commuter market, although their electrified “RER” (Regional Express Rail) network is many years and at least one more election cycle in the future. However, the supposedly “regional” agency still leaves the finely-grained local service to local municipalities, and focuses on parking lots as the solution to the “last mile” problem facing transit in the dispersed suburbs.

We hear a lot about how the GTHA is one network, but that’s code for “let’s take over the TTC”, not for a truly region-wide push to make transit competitive beyond central Toronto. Local service is a big issue in Toronto especially with the concentration of new residents and jobs in the “old” city, but also in the outer 416 and beyond where many, many riders rely on the bus network for most or all of their journeys.

You, gentle readers, are a big reason this blog exists. Without an audience, even a critical one, there is no point to spending my time like an actor on a stage in an empty theatre. We are close to 2,100 posts over those 12 years, but also in striking distance of 50,000 published comments!

If only we could get the politicians to address transit needs that don’t involve a subway station in their ward or a GO station in their riding.

Fools and cretins with paper-thin dedication to transit remain, but theirs is not the only voice. The quality of transit debates I hear in many quarters – media, academics, a growing generation of young [well, some of you] urbanists, professionals and [gasp!] even politicians – rises year by year. That theatre has a buzz in the house, and many new players on the stage.

Toronto and the GTHA can rise to have “the best transit system” not because someone gives us an award, but because transit is truly valued, even loved, as an integral part of the city region by the people who live here.

For my part, I will keep writing – sometimes on policy, sometimes on arcane technical matters, and very occasionally on Swan Boats.

Happy reading!

34 thoughts on “Twelve

  1. And thank you for your tireless work. Your work has increased awareness of our transit issues and encouraged advocacy. Toronto is lucky to have you. Cheers to many more years of great writing

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve,

    Thank you for all of your efforts over the past 12 years. If we truly are improving the quality of transit debate in many quarters, your voice is one of the major causes of that improvement.

    And you are absolutely right about the funding. Grown-up, sensible, mature adults realize that if we want good things we have to pay for them. Yes folks, that means taxes. Which means politicians have to have the courage to advocate for taxes. A politician’s advocacy of transit or any other public good is meaningless hypocrisy if he does not have a way to pay for it.

    Which was why I was very impressed when the Liberal minority government in 2012-2013 put 11 revenue tools on the table and started an adult conversation about taxes. Even the Ontario Chamber of Commerce endorsed two of them as “high potential.”

    In particular, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce endorsed Highway Tolls at 10 cents per km and an increase in Fuel Tax of 10 cents per litre. These are sensible proposals that would raise the revenue needed to finance Ontario’s future.

    The NDP under Andrea Horwath held the balance of power in the minority legislature. They could have ensured these revenue tools were put in place. But no. Andrea Horwath and the NDP then proceeded to veto every one of these 11 revenue tools. It is profoundly disturbing when the NDP is more right-wing than the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. It is profoundly disturbing when the NDP betrays its own principles as well as the people of Ontario.

    Today, six years later, those revenue tools could have been in place and building a better future for Ontario right now. But they are not.

    In my opinion, the key issue in the upcoming Ontario and municipal elections is taxes. How are we going to pay to build Ontario’s future? Or are we going to fail to make Ontario a better place for all its people.

    Steve, thank you once again for your mature, sensible, adult voice in a conversation that desperately needs such voices.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “If only we could get the politicians to address transit needs that don’t involve a subway station in their ward”

    Surely you couldn’t [be] suggesting that the TYSSE was built because Ontario’s Finance Minister just happened to be MPP for Vaughan when the project was authorized, and now just happens to be the chancellor at York University, which also just happens to be his alma mater.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s to the next 12 years! Thanks for making Toronto transit (existing, planned and historic) more ‘understandable’ and for doing so it such an interesting, patient and (usually!) good tempered way!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have never understood the love of subway. The eastern portion of the BRT in Ottawa when I lived there and I though it was awesome, and frankly I had moved there from close to Yonge and Bloor when I was using, it, and had been riding the subway essentially daily. There were huge issues with the BRT in Ottawa in some areas, where it was not actually segregated, and they eventually ran into capacity issues, but that last was because it worked.

    Why when we are constantly expanding within the region do we not make allowances for transit as we grow. I noted 27 years ago that Mississauga had built a 6 lane bridge for a roadway north of the 401 east of Mississauga road, that ran close to a golf course, that literally ran across a valley from one farmers field to the next. It was years before the houses and road appeared in those fields, but clearly the planning was done. Well why not with regards to transit? Also, why the inflexible constant demand for 2+ parking spots per residence? 1 parking spot per use? Are we so certain we cannot do transit, that we must zone in the assumption? Imagine high streets and shopping malls with little parking – out the back, and a bus every 3 minutes to the front door? If you could walk onto that bus route?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Happy bloggiversary Steve. How about doing an open thread once in a while — for readers to ask questions about transit and get your take? Such as “why is the seat layout on the Flexity streetcars so awkward?”

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  7. Thank you Steve, for being our guide and inspiring lead critic for twelve years … and here’s to many more.

    Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on this site for these past twelve years, for taking the time to discuss transit and making transit better.

    Cheers, Moaz

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your always informed and well detailed, reasoned posts stand tall amidst a sea of confusion. Keep up the good work!

    As regards low property taxes take a clue from a wise person who recently left Silly Hall. If you want to get something done you have to call it a pilot. She was right. Let’s propose a “Fair property tax Pilot” A modest 1% ABOVE inflation (rounded up) to directly fund much needed projects.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congrats on another year; and, as ever, my thanks for your hard work, and your willingness to share your in-depth knowledge!

    May there be many more great years to come!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Given your ever increasing age have you considered relinquishing this blog to properly retire? Not that you need to but I am curious.

    Steve: Retire??? Moi???

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Steve said: Retire??? Moi???

    Well.. if the blog goes dark for weeks on end I will assume the worst and plan a Viking funeral using a CLRV with full honour guard.

    All joking aside congrats on 12 long years Steve and here’s to hoping for 12 more.

    Steve: There will have to be swans.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Congratulations on the 12th anniversary of your blog! And thanks for a very informative and interesting blog. I’ve been a reader for only a few years, but I feel I’ve learned so much about transit issues, especially operational details. I hope to keep reading your blog for many more years! Thanks!!

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  13. Thank-you Steve for your work, a great demonstration of citizenship. I appreciate the time you take to read those arcane transit reports and translate them to us. Government, the producer of those reports, ignores that they are to serve the citizen. Not only do you translate their message but note major omissions, how they missed the big picture and spend millions without saying very much.

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  14. Steve – I love the blog, and it has great value. I would also suggest, that it must also bring purpose, as it is clearly something you care deeply about, and one where it has a huge effet on the lives of many. A life lived with purpose, is a life well lived. I would not consider real retirement if I were you, as long as this brings you purpose, and stirs your soul. Of course, if that has passed… However, Steve I think you are having an effect. The notion of sense, proportion and logic are slowly infecting the debate. I would suggest, that transit in Toronto, has become like identity politics, where locally replaces race and gender, and is used to obstruct sense and solution – and this reality is slowly becoming clear. Your thoughtful comments, and constant pointing to the notion of best service for all, is a big part of the reason.

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  15. You have brought to me and countless others a far more comprehensive awareness of the underlying political and technical issues regarding transit. Maybe some of that rubbed off on a politician or two or, at least, on future “leaders” (god help us all).

    Thank you.

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  16. Steve:

    We live in tumultuous times. I pick up my pathetic excuse for a newspaper – The Globe and Mail – each morning on my doorstep. The layoff off journalists has resulted in a product that is much reduced. I have given up entirely on The Star.

    Most Blogs and social media (I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, but a depressing number of people rely on these sources) spread disinformation or are largely based on poorly researched reports.

    However, we in Toronto, are very privileged to have the output of your very hard work and knowledgeable reporting. I really appreciate your efforts and congratulations on 12 hugely successful years. Your opinions and analysis are valued by me and have influenced my thinking and understanding of transit issues. You have a point of view – which I share – but the arguments are based on facts. Too often in today’s world we have commentators who contravene Daniel Patrick Moynahan’s famous edict – “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts”.

    It is possible for some to disagree with your point of view – but impossible to assert that it is not based on facts, research, analysis and caring. Congratulations.

    Thank you

    Michael

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  17. Happy anniversary Steve. Keep up the great writing and analysis. I’m reading, and I want to take your approach to council when I run for mayor in the upcoming election. I firmly believe we can’t wait for the dubious rescue of mega projects that are years (and billions of dollars) down the line. The guidance of transit experts should shape our policy, not the desire for grand legacy projects. Keep writing, and I’ll keep reading!

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  18. Congratulations, Steve!
    The detail and energy and perceptiveness that you apply…. It seems to me we need someone like that to run the TTC….

    cheers, Ted

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  19. Happy birthday to your site. You have advocated a lot for the city. So far politicians are not scared of you yet. Perhaps in the future.

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  20. Hi Steve

    I can’t thank you enough for the work that you put into your website. It is both accurate and timely. It also stands out as a beacon in these times when leaders are more often than not either playing fast and loose with the truth or outright lie. I am sure that it will be put to good use with a provincial and municipal election coming up that will involve a certain Ford who wouldn’t know a fact if it ran up and hit him.

    Here’s to many, many more years!

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  21. Sorry Steve, but I can’t resist doing this comment and I didn’t want to include it in a serious post.

    “Surely you couldn’t [be] suggesting that the TYSSE was built because Ontario’s Finance Minister just happened to be MPP for Vaughan when the project was authorized, and now just happens to be the chancellor at York University, which also just happens to be his alma mater.”

    Why yes I am, and don’t call me Shirley………..

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  22. wklis: Steve for TTC vice-chair!!

    Why not chair instead of only vice-chair? Jobs such as vice-chair, vice-president, deputy prime minister and so on are very high profile and highly paid jobs and most people would love to have those but nobody grows up wanting to become a vice-president or deputy prime minister. Are you saying that Steve is not qualified enough to be chair? I see no reason why Steve should not be the next TTC CEO now that Andy Byford has been fired.

    Steve: To be Chair, I must be a member of Council, and that’s a job I don’t want to go anywhere near. As for CEO, no my managerial skills are not at that exalted level. It’s just nice to be listened to now and then.

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  23. I really wish you could be infinitely more effective in getting Toronto to the swan boat service that it truly deserves. lmao Seriously though, I am curious as to how you came up with that joke anyway.

    Steve: The idea started with a conversation after a Tafelmusik concert on a 2005 spring evening on Bloor Street outside Greg’s Ice Cream between me and my friend Sarah (co-conspirator in the Swan Boat plot), and two friends one of whom was, at the time, a TTC planner (now retired). The topic was the lunacy of David Shiner’s scheme to increase the capacity of the DVP and the “corridor study” that was underway to examine this.

    In the midst of this, I thought “what about the river”, and I’m not sure whether it was Sarah or I who chimed up “Swan Boats!”. This set off a flurry of fantastical ideas and the whole thing was more or less finished by about 2:30 in the morning. “Swans on the Don” appeared very shortly after my blog’s launch in 2006, and the handle @swanboatsteve was an obvious choice when I went onto Twitter.

    One thing you can’t deny is how great it is to see new rail transit opening in Ontario outside of Toronto. There should be so much more not only inside and outside of Toronto but also inside and outside of Ontario and Canada as well. I’ve been wondering about good old Buffalo lately because there’s been a proposal in the present Governor’s administration in New York has done some talk of FINALLY extending the light rail line there. I tend not to believe anything when I see it anymore.

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  24. Well, you can’t deny how fun the swan boat thing is. Now if we could just get the Swan Boat Rapid Transit project off the drawing board! 🙂

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