A Transit Platform For Toronto

Two months from now, on June 26, Toronto will elect a new Mayor thanks to John Tory’s unexpected departure. There will be at least fifty candidates on the ballot, although most of them will garner only a handful of votes.

I am not one of them, and have no ambitions to high office. That said, I certainly have hopes that our new Mayor will have a strong pro-transit agenda and will actually care about the City rather than brown-nosing their way to small favours from Queen’s Park.

For those who are interested, here is the campaign-sized version of my advice and platform were I running:

  • Service is key. Run as much as possible, everywhere, and run it well.
  • Build budgets based on what you want to see, not on what you think you can afford. Just getting by is not a recipe for recovery and growth. If the money doesn’t come, then look to “Plan B” but aim for “Plan A”.
  • Fares are a central part of our transit system, but the question is who should pay and how much. Strive for simplicity. Give discounts where they are truly needed. Make the transit system worth riding so that small, regular increases are acceptable.
  • Focus on ease of use among transit systems in the GTA, but do not equate “integration” with amalgamated governance.
  • Transit property: parking or housing?
  • Foster a culture of advocacy in management and on the TTC Board.
  • Beware of lines on maps. A “my map vs your map” debate focuses all effort on a handful of corridors while the rest of the network rots.
  • Plan for achievements in your current term and make sure they actually happen. Longer term is important, but the transit ship is sinking. You are running for office in 2023. Vague promises for the 2030s are cold comfort to voters who have heard it all before.

That’s more than will fit comfortably on a leaflet, but, hey, I am the blogger who writes long form articles about transit. As a commentator, my biggest worry lies with those who say “TL,DR”. In the following sections I will expand on the bullets above. Thanks for reading.

How much would all this cost? In many cases the answer depends on the scale and speed of implementation. Although I have a sense of at least order of magnitude costs, I am not going to be foolish enough to put specific dollar figures here. For too long, City policy has started with a budget rather than a philosophy, an aspiration to be great, and settled for just good enough. We almost certainly cannot afford everything today, but we need to know what tomorrow we strive for.

If the 2003 Ridership Growth Strategy taught us anything, it was that we should first talk about aspirations, about what the transit system might be, rather than precluding debate with the classic “we can’t afford it” response. It’s amazing what monies can be found once information is out in the open. We commit tens of billions to construction, but are terrified, at least politically, by far lower costs to improve transit for everybody today.

I have deliberately omitted a discussion of security and related social services here. These are not just transit issues, but part of a city-wide, society-wide problem that will not be solved with a simple show of force. Recent trends both in public opinion and official responses at the City and TTC show an emphasis on providing support for those who need it: the homeless and the mentally unwell. This should continue and expand.

An inevitable question is who will I endorse? That will come later in the campaign as candidates flesh out their programs. Some make their beds with the provincial Tories. As enemies of the city, collaborators, they deserve only contempt. For others, we are in promising early days.

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