Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is it the TTC's job to fix GTA transit? - Toronto Star

Is it the TTC's job to fix GTA transit?
Expert says Toronto must lead the way, but chair believes city needs come first
January 04, 2007
David Bruser
Michele Henry

The TTC must be the catalyst for a revitalized transit network across Greater Toronto, says a long-time transit expert. But TTC chair Adam Giambrone says his agency must look after its own needs first.

"Toronto's aspirations for growth depend on what goes on out there in the hinterland," said expert Richard Soberman. "All this residential growth is happening out there. If they want more First Canadian Places, then we want a more integrated transit system because we've committed to no further expansion of the road network."

The need for a revitalized network was apparent this week. Cancelled GO trains and buses delayed thousands of commuters Tuesday and yesterday. A short shutdown of the TTC's Yonge subway line at rush hour Tuesday sent riders streaming onto downtown streets.

These are just the latest troubles for the agencies.

The TTC is struggling to keep up with increasing ridership while GO Transit trains must share track with CN and CP freight trains – and the freights have the right-of-way. GO also hires CN and CP staff to run the locomotives, sometimes leading to labour problems that are out of GO's control.

Yet with the GTA's roads becoming increasingly congested, public transit is seen as part of the solution for moving people. And Soberman says the Toronto Transit Commission is the key. "(The TTC is) supposed to work in the City of Toronto's interests, (which) will be maintained with good linkages and accessibility to and from the surrounding regions where all the residential growth is taking place."

However, "it's going to need some high-level change in philosophy and attitude," said Soberman – and that includes limiting the role of politicians on the TTC. Nine Toronto councillors make up its board.

"I think the TTC has lost that leading edge and it has lost it because of the political involvement," Soberman said.

The current makeup of the commission promotes short-term thinking that often does not get beyond doing what's popular for one neighbourhood. Meanwhile, what's good for the region gets lost.

"Appoint some people with qualifications to run this in a more business-like manner. Once upon a time, everybody came to Toronto to learn it right by the TTC. They don't come any more."

The TTC is by far the GTA's largest transit provider, carrying each day the vast majority of the region's passenger load. On a typical weekday, TTC buses, streetcars and subway trains carry more than 1 million passengers. GO trains and buses carry 190,000.

But Soberman's proposal for the TTC to take the lead was met with strong opposition from Giambrone, a city councillor who says there's a grave risk of bleeding the TTC to nourish suburban transit service.

He fears that improving transit in the 905 regions could simply become a raid on the TTC.

"We have a role to play in regional transit, but our first priority has to be the transit users of Toronto and the residents of Toronto," he said. "There's a real fear that if we pool resources then TTC resources will spread out more evenly across the GTA, which would increase service in the 905 area, but would lead to a dramatic reduction of service in Toronto."

Suburban transit systems simply aren't as dense as Toronto's, in large part because of the low-density pattern of development.

Giambrone said the solution is to fund and develop stronger transit systems in each region. For example, he said it might make sense to build a surface rail service or dedicated bus lanes up and down Hurontario St. in Mississauga, where there's already strong demand for transit. Similarly, Viva is developing strong routes in York Region.

Then it makes sense to link those systems to the TTC, with the help of the new Greater Toronto Transportation Authority, he said. The GTTA was set up by the province to develop the region's transportation needs. It's expected GO will fall under its purview.

Ed Levy, senior consultant with BA Consulting Group, notes that because GO must share track, scheduling GO commuter trains becomes nearly impossible.

"How long can we afford to have commuter trains in the GTA subservient to freight trains, especially during peak periods?" he asked.

To be fair, GO Transit is upgrading much of its facilities and adding new rail lines but with one-time government funding. The construction has meant disrupted service.

"While the debate goes on among the experts, long-suffering commuters were taking the latest service hiccups in stride.

Opposition politicians at Queen's Park called for better funding for transit.

"Until you put adequate money into the system people are going to be standing on platforms, they're going to be late for work and we're going to have gridlock," said New Democrat Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth).

with files from Rob Ferguson
and John Spears


The article exposes the fallacy in service delivery under the government system we have. Seldom are problems confined to one particular jurisdiction, but politicians are only responsible for the voters in their jurisdiction. Gridlock affects the surrounding municipalities as much as it does Toronto, but the TTC has no incentive to improve service in Markham or Mississauga. I'm sure the residents would be thankful, but they wouldn't be able to vote to re-elect the people who helped them out. Its clear that the TTC and Toronto City Council as a whole wants to help solve the gridlock outside of Toronto (because it indirectly affects Toronto), but they are politicians, and know that suburban residents can't reward them, and that Toronto residents would probably balk at them helping the suburbs.

So what can we do? Addressing the some of the specific issues raised in the article, there are a few things we can do.
  • In order to improve the labour problems at GO Transit, they need to strengthen the contract with whomever they select as the new train operator. There needs to be some sort of penalty if the contractor cannot provide crews to operate the trains. Not only will the service become more reliable, but it will save the agency money when runs have to be cancelled.
  • The government should enter into agreements with the freight railways to upgrade the lines to allow more capacity for passenger and commuter trains. Freight trains are the bane of the commuter's existence as much as commuter trains are the bane of the railways existence, so it's in the best interest of both the railways and the transit agencies to separate freight and passenger trains.

How can we promote inter regional transit in the GTA? Here are a few ideas on how to deal with this broader issue.

  • Give the GTTA regular funding and real teeth to plan, fund and implement inter regional transit projects in the GTA. This way, cities will be able to focus on moving people around the city, and the GTTA will focus on making travel between cities faster and more efficient. This will be a huge step forward over what we've had, and should be the GTTA's first objective. However, it should not be a stopping point, as it still promotes the belief that the GTA is made up of distinct cities with distinct issues. To fully integrate transit, we need to move away from this mentality.
  • Transform the GTTA into an agency which is similar to TransLink, where each transit agency is a subsidiary of a larger organization. The parent agency will have the control to set minimum service standards for the local agencies, while the rapid transit lines will be run by a separate subsidiary. This is a prospect that I will explore in a later post.

Does the TTC have the responsibility for fixing the transit problems in the GTA as a whole? They may not have the political responsibility, but I believe that they, being central to transit across the region, have the moral responsibility to do so, unless we give the GTTA the tools to take the lead.



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