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.