January 31, 2020 marks the fourteenth birthday of this blog.
Back in those early days, I posted both transit commentary and film reviews, but the latter fell aside as online reviews by everyone crowded the field, and governments got into the bad habit of making major announcements just when I would otherwise have some time free to write about TIFF or HotDocs. It was a dastardly plot!
In the mid 2000s, urban affairs were brewing again, and a new generation of civic activists found their voices. Many of them now have moderately influential positions as writers both online and in print, a much endangered medium.
When I started out, my thoughts were to delve into issues at a level the daily press could not, and to provide a place where people could discuss whatever was going on in the transit world from a more detailed technical level. Little did I expect that this would evolve to the breadth of followers here and on social media, much less that I now have fans!
Two factors in the evolution of this blog have been most rewarding:
First is that new generation of activists fighting for a better city and a better transit system. We are not alone, and there are many thoughtful, well-informed voices in Toronto and the region beyond. If only more of us could be in government, I could be happier, but our time will come.
Second, I have evolved from a professional IT person who attends an inordinate number of cultural events and dabbles in transit issues on the side, to a writer, albeit of technical material, and moderator of a very long-running transit salon. This was never an ambition all those years ago when my transit advocacy began as part of the Streetcars for Toronto Committee.
There are now 2,300 posts on this site, and almost 53,000 published comments from you, dear readers. Well, most of you are dear, and the ones who are not tend to invite a click on “Delete” with accompanying laughter and scorn.
A special thank you to those who “lurk” – you know who you are – and the occasional private thank you lets me know the reach this blog has.
Where is transit going in Toronto?
The near future has the sense of a gloomy night with the first hints of a dawn to come. There is finally a recognition at Toronto Council that transit simply cannot get by on the crumbs that so-called inflationary spending increases produce. There is a huge backlog of spending required that, for many years, the City and TTC kept hidden from view lest the borrowing it would trigger frightened passing financial analysts.
But that is only half of the problem. Surface routes both inside Toronto itself and in the GTHA beyond have long been neglected as a vital part of the transit network. We cannot move everyone everywhere on a handful of commuter rail and subway lines.
The assumption that transit’s main goal is to get people to and from King & Bay has not been valid for decades, but that is where almost all planning and political capital was focused. Even calls for more suburban subways claimed that riders needed to get downtown where the good jobs are, and left those wanting to travel elsewhere to their own devices.
Speaking of capital, a bigger challenge than getting a new rapid transit line, regardless of the technology, is to get money for better service everywhere, not just on whatever new bauble we manage to open once a decade. Nobody holds photo ops and press conferences to announce better service on the Queen car or the Finch bus because the money required to make a real city-wide difference is substantial, and usually comes 100 per cent from local tax dollars.
Changing that outlook and increasing transit’s share of trips beyond the rail rapid transit network will be a hard slog. Travellers will not give up their car-oriented patterns both from convenience and from a long-standing distrust that transit will ever amount to more than an occasional, inconvenient bus intended to move a few seniors to and from the local mall.
Left to their own devices and revenues, local governments are not going to invest in better transit, and the provincial government shows no indication of moving into this arena either.
There is plenty to do. Politicians to elect and others to send to a well-earned and thumping defeat. But there is more than just elections, there is the vital need for new policies that will address a city-region where transit must take a much bigger role. The alternative is traffic strangulation, an environmental nightmare, and economic decline.
Lest this sound a too gloomy end in what should be a festive post, I will leave you with a swan gliding in the summer sun on the Avon in Stratford. For those who still have not figured out where the Twitter handle @swanboatsteve comes from, please read A Bold Initiative for Don Valley Transport.