Seven

Today, January 30, 2013, is the seventh birthday of this site.  As I write this, we are in striking distance of 1,400 published articles and 28,000 comments.  You readers are a prolific lot, and I thank you for helping to keep the many discussions here alive and interesting.

We have been through The Big Move, my own “Grand Plan” (not to mention Swan Boats), Transit City, MoveOntario, and enough announcements and deferrals to eat through a forest of trees just for the press releases.  We have seen Mayors Miller and Ford, the latter still very much on the scene even though his influence may be on the wane.

Thanks to everyone for their kind words over the years.  There are transit fans (and I am proudly one), urban aficionados, politicians, transit professionals and the working press who read and enjoy this site (many as lurkers).  That diversity of audience is quite gratifying.

When I started the blog in 2006, I was still working as a Data Centre Manager and thought of myself as an “IT guy” who did transit on the side.  Now, if someone asks, I’m a transit advocate and a writer, retired from IT and a lot happier.

There is much more in transit’s future which, after many false starts, may finally get underway with proper funding.  We will have a Premier who actually knows the transportation portfolio.  Within a few years we should have a Mayor who can think about policy in more than three repeated words.  I will turn to the issues facing the new government in my next article.

The intricacies of TTC budgeting and operations will continue to be major topics here for the simple reason that Toronto’s is by far the largest transit network in the region, and its funding is so heavily supported by Toronto taxpayers and transit riders.  Toronto deserves better, to paraphrase TTC CEO Andy Byford, to be a city we can be proud of.  We must aim for what we can do with our transit system, what will make it a real gem, even if affording our aims might be difficult.  Great systems, great cities are not built with excuses.

I hope these articles and all of your comments will help make Toronto and its transit network shine!

Six Years

January 30, 2012 marks the sixth anniversary of this blog.  A year ago, I was despondent after the municipal election left a band in control of City Hall whose politics, to put it mildly, do not align with my own.

As that year evolved, embarrassment about the absolute stupidity, the crass insensitivity and the “we’re in charge so fuck you” attitude of the Ford administration made me wonder whether Toronto would ever recover.  But this is not a dictatorship, and Toronto voters seem remarkably able to recognize a fraud when they see one.  I had hoped for a great fall, but didn’t expect it would come so quickly.  Council took a year, but finally has its voice and knows that the real power lies in a working majority, not in the bullies clustered around the Mayor.

In these pages, we have talked about the merits of various transit plans, technologies, funding schemes and the fundamental question of what transit should do.  We don’t always agree, but there’s a robust discussion.  Among the public at large, there’s a better knowledge of transit issues, if only because they get so much press.  A debate can start from a moderately informed basis rather than going back to first principles and explaining the concept of a wheel.  That’s what it felt like at times, years ago when citizen activism was just finding its legs for transit and other aspects of city life.

As I write this, the transit file is in total upheaval.  Nobody is quite sure whether Transit City, Mayor Ford’s plan, or some hybrid scheme will win out.  At Queen’s Park, the real intentions of Metrolinx are never clear.  Whether they are dark lords piloting a death star toward the TTC, or brainy bumblers plotting to take over the world, is hard to say.

Over at the TTC, they’re just trying to keep the wheels on in the face of an administration that cries wolf over Toronto’s supposed poverty and strips funding without understanding the real cost of what they do.  Transit planning is a political poker game whose players are drunk with the vision of billions on the table, but who plead poor, unable to afford a taxi ride home.

This will pass, and Toronto may actually head off in a new direction that could even resemble what we were doing not so long ago.  At least now there is a debate.

My own output in these pages dropped off in 2011 thanks to the complete lack of anything to write about for weeks on end.  Transit policy consisted of little more than lectures on how the fat times were over and we would all have to sacrifice something for the common good.  That the common good might actually benefit from spending was an utterly foreign concept.

The article count went up from 1,152 to 1,277 (just under 11%), but you, the readers, kept up your end with the comment tally rising from 20,190 to 23,908 (18.4%).  This blog was not subject to an arbitrary 10% cut in service.

Where 2012 will take us is still a mystery.  At City Council, it’s early days for an alliance of members from diverse political viewpoints.  They know they can beat the Mayor on a vote where there’s enough common sense around the table to spur 23 voices, voices that listen to their constituents and to the mood of the city, not just to the sycophantic railings of the gutter press and populist radio hosts.  May that number grow, and may Council again be a place where citizens are not dismissed as special interests, layabouts and pinkos.

At Queen’s Park, the challenge is to find some backbone for the funding of transit.  The Metrolinx “investment strategy” process drags on and on.  The date for a report still lies over a year away, far enough that nothing beyond talk will happen before the next election.

Transit will cost a lot of money, but Queen’s Park refuses to accept responsibility for funding this portfolio at the local level.  A small dribble of gas tax is all that keeps transit systems alive, and that won’t pay for transit on the scale needed to make a real change in GTA travel habits.  Two trains a day to anywhere is not a transit revolution.

In Ottawa, the government pulls as far away from municipal issues as it can, and prepares to stiff the provinces in order to deal with its own problems.  This is not a new idea.  There is great irony that we had Paul Martin as Finance Minister turning the screws, while years later, as Prime Minister he had the beginnings of a sensitivity to cities (with the NDP’s encouragement).  Any transit funding strategy for the foreseeable future must not count on improved federal participation.  “Tripartite” schemes are a recipe for complete inaction, something Toronto has far too much of already.

Is Toronto — the city, the region and its provincial government — prepared to build what is needed to ensure transit actually plays an important role in the region’s future?  Will we tax ourselves, however the money might be collected, to built and operate the network of tomorrow, or will the mythology of the private sector and its supposed billions for transit investment win out?

2012 will be an interesting year.  I hope to have much more to write about, and to write about positively.  You, dear readers, will have your say too.  Quiet corners may be hard to find in this café.

Five Years

January 31, 2006, a new blog crawled out into the world with the prosaic name Steve Munro’s Web Site, now simply Steve Munro.

Over those five years, we have wrestled with budgets, debated the merits of LRT vs Subways (not to mention Swan Boats), talked about service quality and system management, and pondered the future of our local part of the universe, naturally the most important one.  We have even gone to the movies occasionally — apologies to readers in 2010 when I was remiss in getting out all my reviews for Hotdocs and TIFF.

There are now 1,152 articles and 20,190 comments.  We, or rather you, the readers, passed the 20k line about two weeks ago.  That’s a lot of writing and editing for me, and a lot of thought — some cogent, some funny, some, well, the less said the better — from you.

Thank you for making this site work.  Its reputation comes from being a forum where people, within reason, can talk about many aspects of transit’s future in the GTA.  I know that the comments are appreciated by a large audience of “lurkers” among the professionals and the pols out there on the Internet because of the variety of viewpoints available in one place unpolluted by comment trolls and spam.

There are days — right after the last election was one of them — when I despair that we will ever see the kind of transit system Toronto’s reputation should have brought us over past decades.  If you could build and operate service simply on reputation, Toronto would be a transit nirvana, and we might not endure unkind comparisons to so many other cities.  We can and must do better, although in an environment where saving money takes precedence over even common sense, this is a challenge.

After that despair came a renewed sense of what must be done, of the importance of keeping the discussions going, the fight for better transit alive.  Over the past months, I was heartened to read so many comments on other sites and in the media generally that reflect a stronger sense of what transit could be, of what the options are.  We won’t agree, but at least the debate is starting from a much better-informed level than it would have 10 or more years ago when a former mega-mayor claimed that “real cities don’t use streetcars”.

There’s a lot brewing in the next year, and you can read about it all (as much as I have time to write, at least) here, in these pages.

To Thread or Not To Thread (Updated)

Updated January 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm: By a landslide vote of 21 to 8, non-threaded comments wins.  I have a clear mandate to change things back to the era before those latte-sipping threaded comment advocates took control of this site, and I will implement the change as soon as possible.  Thanks for participating in the poll.

It is clear from the different way in which some of the mobile device interfaces work that there is an underlying ability to request comments in threaded or unthreaded format.  I will dig around in Word Press to see if this is something that can be made optional.

[Original post from January 11 below]

Continue reading

Comments RSS

A link has been added to the comments area allowing readers to pick up the feed for comments on a specific article.

This option had been lost in a previous upgrade, and finally I got around to putting it back.

Mobile Theme Updated

In response to a query from a reader, I have changed the default mobile theme for non-Apple devices from the “green” version to the “blue” version to improve legibility.  Please let me know what you think of this.

Regular Service Will Resume Shortly

For all of my regular readers who probably wonder why the flow of posts has dribbled to a trickle …

A combination of factors including a comparative dearth of news, the heat, a few short vacations and family issues have kept me from working as hard and regularly on this site as I prefer to.

In the pipeline are:

  • A review of plans for waterfront transit from the Don to the Western Waterfront.
  • A review (yes, finally) of Metrolinx’ Benefits Case Analsis methodology.  With the pending rework of “The Big Move” and the likelihood that many will seek justification for building or ignoring various transit proposals, any so-called methodology needs to be rigourous, defensible and well-understood.  The BCAs fail on at least two of these counts.
  • A review of the Customer Service Panel’s recommendations.
  • A recap of the TTC meeting scheduled for August 24.
  • A review of streetcar operations on Spadina for February, and for the full-length St. Clair route for July.  Both of these routes use reserved lanes, and the GPS-based data make detailed analysis much easier and revealing.
  • Later this fall, I will turn to the Carlton and Dundas routes, the only two for which I have not published operational reviews.

There is also, of course, the small matter of the coming election.