Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Three numbers Toronto’s sweaty transit riders should remember

Sweaty, hot and just plain gross. That's the way some subway trains have felt this summer as temperatures boil.
Sweaty, hot and just plain gross. That's the way some subway trains have felt this summer as temperatures boil.

As Toronto endures another heatwave this summer, I’ve got numbers on the brain.

That’s the temperature measured in a Line 2 subway car by the Toronto Star in July. I’d bet it was even hotter last week.

The reason? The TTC says about 20 to 25 per cent of the 370 subway cars that use the Bloor-Danforth route have non-functioning air conditioning units.

It’s an unacceptable state of affairs for a transit system in a major metropolis. If you’re not angry about this already, you should be.

Toronto is a wealthy city experiencing robust growth. And yet the more than 500,000 people who use this subway line every day have about a one-in-four chance of getting introduced to an unlikely and frankly pretty stupid transit innovation: the rolling underground sauna.

The official line from the TTC is that this is not specifically a funding issue. And while, sure, fixing the problem likely isn’t something that would benefit from a quick injection of cash – these things take time — it’s fair to wonder if a well-funded transit system would have let things get so bad in the first place.

But maybe speculating about this hypothetically well-funded TTC is a waste of time. Because here’s the second number you should remember: 2.6 per cent.

That’s Mayor John Tory’s budget reduction target for next year. All departments are being asked to trim that much — including the TTC.

If you’re asking how cutting transit funding will improve transit service, I’m right there with you.

It’s disappointing because Tory’s TTC budget demand ignores past experience. Repeated analyses – both internal and external — have all pointed to the same basic conclusion: cutting the transit budget generally means cutting service.

Which brings me to the last number you should remember, sweaty transit riders of Toronto.

It’s 89 cents.

That’s the government subsidy provided per rider on the TTC last year. It’s a figure that pales in comparison to the subsidies provided to every major North American transit system. In New York, riders get about $1.49. In Chicago, $1.86. Calgary gets $1.63. Vancouver gets $1.76.

If you’re looking for reasons why the TTC suffers in comparison to transit systems in other cities, 89 cents should be the figure at the top of the page.

It should not be ignored. While I expect we’ll see lots of talk of miracle efficiencies and technological advancement in the coming debate over Tory’s 2.6 per cent cut, there’s no getting around the fact that the TTC is woefully underfunded when stacked up against every comparable system.

Never forget that. These numbers, like the heat, ought to make your blood boil.

This post was originally published at on 2016-08-15T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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