Wednesday, October 24, 2007

TTC suspects province is plotting a takeover - The Star

Yesterday, while heading down to Union station with a friend, transit came up. He usually rides his bike, but due to the rain, decided to take the subway. He had recently travelled to Oakville, and was surprised to find that he only had to pay 50-cents to ride Oakville Transit to the GO station. After some talk, we both agreed that amalgamation of at least the fare policies of the various transit system was a positive step in order to better deliver transit in the GTA. It's funny how foreshadowing works.

Despite the backlash from Toronto city council, I question if the public feels the same way. There is a significant number of people who feel that the city doesn't have its books in order and that wasteful spending is rampant. It's clear to anyone who cares to look that the vast majority of the deficit comes from services downloaded, combined with the reluctance to raise taxes, but even those who acknowledge this still demand that the books be opened for scrutiny. Toronto and GTA residents gave the provincial liberals an overwhelming thumbs up, which makes me wonder where public opinion will fall.

The article (and a concise version published in the Metro) mentions two points which come out of the blue, and in my opinion, are red herrings of the non sequitur variety. Firstly, the TTC chair speaks of privatisation - a suggestion which has no relevance to this question. No one is suggesting that transit become a privatised, for profit agency which will cut under performing routes. In my opinion, the province is much better suited to operate loss-leader routes than the city, which must use property taxes to fund the service. Even if the service is contracted to a private operator, the contractor must still drive buses and trains where the government says they must. Were YRT routes in Newmarket to be cut, the Regional Municipality of York, not Laidlaw, the operator, would be to blame. Secondly, the issue of zoned fares contradicts a point about 905 pandering. If, as the critics worry, the government will beef up 905 services in order to placate historically conservative voters, why would they enact a fare zone system which forces 905ers to pay more? It is clear the critics are adamantly opposed to the idea, but I think it can be done.

For this idea to work, the province would have to upload Toronto's and all connecting systems - from the Hamilton Street Railway to Durham Region Transit, and north to Barrie Transit. They would have to ensure that service is protected in more politically stable areas, and they would have to ensure that the planners responsible for the system are as open and transparent as the current TTC commission is - but the real question is what such a system could look like.

I would like to see a system where the Province, using the GTTA, take control of the rapid transit lines, and leave the local bus networks in the hands of the local municipalities. They would be free to run buses as they saw fit, but a high percentage of capital and operational costs would be covered provided they meet minimum service standards for frequency and service coverage and fares. This would ensure that local service is protected, and that residents will not have to compete region-wide for service requests. Of course, there would have to be a revenue sharing agreement for riders who transfer between rapid transit and local systems.

Brian Ashton of Toronto City Council says that "...the city has a long tradition and this would be like cutting the umbilical cord." There is no doubt that the TTC is Toronto's pride and joy, but like all children, there comes a time when we must cut the cord. In the next few years, my parents will become empty-nesters. While I hope my mother will miss my brother and I, I know that she'll realize that she and my father did the best job they could raising us, and I know that they will be proud to see us making our own way in the world. For the good of the city, and for the good of the region, it may be time for the city to share those feelings.

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