i accidentally read a book that
describes in tedious detail the workings of Toronto council and its relation to transit between 1880 and 1890.
Council was a morass of corruption, with votes bought and sold by developers and businessmen. Unrest due to a series of unsatisfactory private operators of the town's horse-drawn streetcars finally led the city fathers to take over the running of the public transit company. But they held firm on the issue of Sunday service.
There would be none in The City Of Churches. Toronto was so well known for its suicidally sanctimonious Sundays that visitors fled to Guelph (!) for the day. The ruling Protestants used the drawn-out battle for Sunday streetcars to vent their ire at Catholics, who had no qualms about defiling the Lord by taking a ride on His day. Jews were simply ignored.
Of course, there was no restriction placed on the owners of private carriages, who were free, by virtue of their superior wealth, to go wherever they pleased.
This place hasn't changed much.
Toronto can brag about its world-classiness all it wants. The truth is in the TTC. Unlike other transit systems in cities in North America and most of the "civilized" world, the TTC receives absolutely no financial support from any senior level of government. In BC, 8 cents from every litre of gas goes toward public transit. There are similar programs in Quebec and Alberta. American cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta even receive federal funding, state grants and revenues from development levies.
Eighty per cent of the operating costs of the TTC are recovered from the fare box -- a figure unequalled anywhere else except maybe Hong Kong.
The only other money the TTC gets comes from city property taxes. And now the proposed minimum $174 million the TTC has asked from the city to help cover operating costs has been hacked back by $26.5 million. TTC commissioners will be forced to raise fares and cut service.
Transportation consultant and civil engineer (a polite train driver?) Richard Soberman has written a proposal called Reducing Car Dependence, Transportation Options For The City Of Toronto. He presented the plan in person at a public meeting at the YWCA on Woodlawn.
* * *
Introducing Soberman, city councillor Michael Walker remarks that New York and London, England, have good transit systems. Really? I could have sworn that the decrepit London tube is falling to pieces.
But then, just as in Toronto, it takes years for the obvious to replace the accepted notion. He seems encouraged that the feds may fund a Union-Station-to-airport rail link. Great for people jetting away. What about the rest of us?
Soberman calls his talk Is There A Federal Role In Urban Transit? He says in every other G7 country there is. He shows a slide of a GO train passing over the traffic-clogged DVP and asks, "What's wrong with this picture? Why are so many people still in cars? Because the train is not going where they want."
A graph shows private vehicle registration in the GTA doubling, and this data is a few years old. Pre-1990 figures indicate that roughly a third of all peak-hours trips in the GTA were on public transit, three times the number of transit trips in the sprawling SUV havens of York, Durham, Halton and Peel. If these areas were better served by transit, might these drivers leave their vehicles at home?
The goal of limiting the influx of a million new people to "only" a quarter of a million cars is depressing to me, but by gluttonous two-or-more-car-household standards, it's considered optimistic. Soberman's proposal for urban design that leads to fewer and shorter vehicle trips sounds feasible, but I've watched my downtown neighbourhood fill up with thousands of live-in consumers who drive to shop.
A car is private property and represents power. I live in an area that's well served by the TTC, but the personal selfishness of busy, important drivers beats out any delusion of common environmental concern. And the more so-and-sos who drive, the worse everything gets. "Build transit and they will come -- by car" is no joke.
Railways are federally regulated, and Soberman recommends the acquisition of disused lines for local trains. Accessibility for the disabled is also a federal responsibility, and funds should be available to upgrade wheelchair access and expand Wheeltrans.
GO, TTC and existing transit systems need to be integrated instead of operating on non-connecting schedules.
Soberman shows how knocking five minutes off a streetcar run can increase the capacity from 1,200 to 1,440 people in an hour. The Queen and King cars combined carry as many people as all of GO -- 100,000 a day. Giving streetcars exclusive rights to the tracks would dramatically improve travelling time. As it is, one car driver can delay 80 streetcar passengers (1880's luxury principle).
Closing King Street to private cars during peak hours is suggested by Soberman because, even if the law forbids cars to drive on the tracks, police (whose funding was increased, natch) do not enforce existing laws meant to protect cyclists or transit passengers -- who are really just pedestrians and potential members of OCAP.
Soberman calls himself a "fingerpainter," offering ideas to those with the power to act on them. The TTC is in dire straits.
The subway is almost 50 years old and in need of capital investment to replace worn-out electrical and mechanical equipment.
But Toronto is being beggared by the absent feds, a provincial government whose idea of public transit is Highway 407 and a local bunch who are making us pay for their subservience to a premier who has so far illegally spent $407,000 of Ontarians' money to beat the family of murdered Stoney Point native Dudley George.
Prepare the impeachment papers! It's our only hope.