Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A 10-point transit blueprint

While browsing the Star, I came across a 10-point plan for improving public transit in the GTA.
  1. Transit Over Cars - I believe that if given a level playing field (where pollution, cost and convenience are equal), people will always choose cars over transit. In order to get people out of their cars, we need to give them an incentive. Currently, this is done mainly by using the cost. However, we need to do more. Not only do we need to design and build transit-friendly cities, but we need to build cities which are deliberately unfriendly to private automobiles. Removing parking lots from the downtown core is one way of accomplishing this end, as it causes a huge inconvenience to people who wish to drive downtown. These drivers then look to transit, as it's the only other way.
  2. Take transit away from city council and create regional transit authorities - City governments are elected to serve their residents, and nothing more. There is no political incentive for the TTC to, by itself, build a transit line to Vaughan. While I believe the local bus routes should remain in the control of each municipality, we need a regional body to coordinate rapid transit expansion, set minimum service standards, and develop a transit plan that will help reduce congestion across the golden horseshoe. That body is the GTTA, if allowed to live up to it's full potential.
  3. Emphasizing the long term - If left to their own devices, politicians would only enact policies which see short term results. They want something that they can use to help their re-election campaign four years later. We the people, through the creation of our political system, have caused this pandering. But, we the people can change this by selecting candidates with long term vision, and rejecting the ones who propose quick fixes. Transit problems are never a quick fix.
  4. Make funding long term - We want to live within our means, but we cannot do so unless we understand what our means are. Upper levels of government need to come to the table with long term funding agreements, so we can see how much money we can afford to spend on any given project. If it's unclear, I can almost guarantee nothing will get done.
  5. Earmark funding - by putting aside money for a specific purpose, we prevent it from being used for something else. This goes hand in hand with point 4.
  6. Forget about subways - I believe that in most cases, existing subway lines should be extended. But, once that is finished, there are no places left in the GTA with the density to support subways. Light Rail Transit and Bus Rapid Transit should be considered. While subways do inspire grand images, VIVA proved that bus rapid transit can attract many more riders to the system.
  7. Give buses and streetcars their own right-of-way. This goes back to point 1, about making cities as car-unfriendly as possible. Taking up a lane for transit squeezes traffic into fewer lanes, causing more gridlock. As those drivers sit in traffic, they will watch how the bus or tram speeds by them, unaffected by the jam. Eventually, they will realize that there is a better way.
  8. Encourage cycling - When a bus cannot drop people at the front door of their destination, cycling is a great way to complete the journey. Buses should have bike racks, and rail stations should have places to tie up bikes for the day. The city should construct bike lanes and routes to ensure the safety of cyclists. Every bike on the road is another automobile trip eliminated.
  9. Smart cards - On ticket, one fare system, one set of transfer rules. Knowing exactly what you will pay, how you will pay it, and making it fast and easy for people to do all of the above will turn around those who find transit confusing. It also gives the opportunity to reward people for using transit, offering a further incentive.
  10. Exploiting the brand - The TTC gift shop at Union Station was a start, but we need to think bigger. We need to find a way to make transit cool. London does it by licensing the tube logo, but Toronto is militant about the use of the TTC logo even by transit fans. The Toronto International Film Festival should give all the celebrities transit passes, and anything that can be done should be done to make public transit in Toronto, whatever we decide to call it, a household name. To quote the article:
"Imagine the day, in other words, when you're sitting on a streetcar reading one of those Hollywood tabloids and there it will be: a picture of some movie star wearing a baseball cap that says "Ride the Rocket." And you will smile."

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