Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Running for mayor? You should support the TTC’s service improvement plans

By: Metro Canada Published on Tue Aug 19 2014

Last Friday, the TTC released a pretty groundbreaking report, laying the groundwork for a series of service improvements and changes that would result in better transit across the city.

The nine recommendations — items like two-hour timed transfers, new express bus routes and more frequent service across the city — are all things that can be implemented in the next few years, which can’t be said for any of the subway or LRT plans we’ve been yelling about forever.

On the proposals themselves, there’s really not a whole lot to say. Implement all of them. Do it now, without delay. Do whatever it takes.

The TTC has been crying out for this sort of improvement and investment. Since 1992, according to TTC budget documents, ridership has grown by 32 per cent while service-kilometres have grown by just 26 per cent.

Meanwhile, the TTC’s operating subsidy continues to lag behind every other North American transit system. If Queen’s Park and city hall funded the TTC like governments fund transit in New York City, our transit agency would get about an extra $133 million per year in operating subsidy. If they funded the TTC like they do transit in Boston, it’d be another $600 million or so, each and every year.

But instead of receiving that kind of funding — which would be enough to fund the TTC’s proposals several times over — the TTC has, especially over the last few years, been forced to adopt a strategy that’s all about growing ridership without growing service.

It’s all about cramming more people in.

Anyone seeking to occupy the mayor’s office should understand why these recommendations are important, but the reaction to the proposals from leading mayoral candidates has been mixed. David Soknacki said he’d implement them even if it meant raising revenues, which is the most sensible position. Karen Stintz also offered her support. Olivia Chow came out in favour, but then indicated she wouldn’t support the implementation of timed transfers, citing the cost.

Mayor Rob Ford took time between raccoon battles to say he supported some of them. However, along with Stintz, he was responsible for many of the service rollbacks that put TTC in this position. Ford also voted against giving the TTC an extra $3 million for service improvements as part of the 2014 budget.

Then there was John Tory.

Tory’s response to the TTC report was pretty weird. Hoping, I guess, to look like a tough-talking fiscal conservative, unimpressed with the bureaucracy at city hall, Tory trashed the report for not including a plan on how to pay for the improvements. It's an odd criticism because it’s hard to know exactly what he was looking for.

The TTC doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to raising revenue. Either they raise fares or they request additional operating or capital funding from government. They can’t hold bake sales or charity bowl-a-thons. It’s simply not their job to suggest ways the city might cover the subsidy increase.

Tory’s response was doubly disappointing because he also talked about the recommendations coming with a “big price tag.” That’s an unfortunate way to characterize a set of improvements that amount to an estimated $65.3 million in annual operating funding, plus $288.4 million in one-time capital spending.

Those are big numbers, sure, but in the context of our usual debates about improving transportation, where billion-dollar figures are thrown around like dodge balls, the TTC's numbers are practically pocket change.

As a point of comparison, the city is projected to have wasted almost a third of that $288.4-million capital figure on cancellation costs related to the Scarborough LRT alone. And it's worth mentioning that few blinked at the $662.7-million capital cost of repairing the Gardiner Expressway.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for Tory to be championing an investment of $8 billion into GO train service integration and electrification while simultaneously balking at the notion of spending less than five per cent of that amount on improvements that will make for better transit almost immediately.

But I guess his position shouldn’t be a surprise. The transit debate over the last four years has been dominated by a mayor and many members of council who will champion spending billions to build transit but won’t spend the millions needed to operate it effectively.

Based on his comments this week, there’s reason to wonder if a Mayor John Tory won't just mean more of the same.

This post was originally published at on 2014-08-19T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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