What better way to kick off a column on Toronto than to babble on about the Better Way? (the Toronto Transit Commission’s [TTC] slogan. “Ride the Rocket” was once in greater circulation, but no one thought of rockets while idling on an ancient streetcar and the sexual innuendo could not be avoided when Roger “Rocket” Clemens briefly pitched for the Blue Jays).
Let me first say, lest anyone think this will devolve into a diatribe against public transit, that I love the TTC. I love that I can get from my house to downtown in about 10 minutes. I love that I don’t have to waste time sitting in downtown traffic when I could be on a subway, getting to where I need to be while reading a book.
The TTC is a massive public transit network. It is the third largest public transit system in North America behind the New York City Transit Authority and Mexico City Metro. It carts around 1.5 million bodies every day – that’s just shy of the populations of Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador combined.
With so many people dependent on the TTC, many expect it work, get them to where they’re going on time and have broad coverage. It’s this last point that has garnered the greatest attention over the past few years.
While there are three subway lines (Yonge-University-Spadina running north/south; Bloor-Danforth running east-west; the mystifying, doesn’t-really-go-anywhere Sheppard line), a Rapid Transit Line linking Scarberia to the rest of Toronto, a whole mess of bus routes and 11 streetcar routes, getting some places can involve multiple transfers and lots of time.
For example, I live in the east end of Toronto. I work near Pearson airport. Sometimes I drive, but I like reading, I enjoy not wanting to punch lousy drivers in the face and I like that it costs me $4.50 (when I buy tokens rather than pay cash fare) for a round-trip. I don’t like that it takes me about 1 hour and 15 minutes door-to-door, one way. I realize that there are commuters who spend longer than that on the road. And I don’t have any sympathy for you. That’s just stupid. At least I get to read, rarely lose my temper and am not spewing enough greenhouse gas emissions to flood Calcutta.
But I should be able to get to the airport in less time than it takes me to fly from Toronto to Ottawa. You can take the A Train in New York City from JFK Airport into Manhattan via Brooklyn. Mexico City Metro’s Line 5 takes you to and from the airport. But if you want to catch public transit from Pearson to downtown, you’re on a bus. No rapid transit. A bus in one of the most congested cities in Canada.
We rely too heavily on cars to get us around, but given the massive growth of Toronto over the past few decades, our public transit system has failed to keep pace. But a new plan is in the works. Imaginatively titled, Transit City “is an exciting initiative that will revolutionize transit and transportation across Toronto” by adding “seven new Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines.” Cheaper than blasting tunnels underground, the LRTs will connect the ‘burbs to the city and finally Pearson to…a subway station far away from downtown…
With a $6 billion price tag, Transit City is kinda, sorta ready to go. But the funding hasn’t flowed yet from the province or the feds. As it stands, and assuming Toronto can get the loot, the whole plan won’t be complete until 2021. Think about that: in 13 years, a plan hatched in 2007 will finally come to fruition (assuming everything runs smoothly and there’s little precedent indicating that will happen). But in the next decade, Toronto may experience a new raft of transportation problems. It’s one thing to wean people off their cars, but I don’t know anything that takes over a decade to wean.
There are those who criticize Mayor David Miller for not doing enough, but in this case, McGuinty’s Liberals and the climate-change denying, urban-hating federal Tories must get off their lazy asses and starting funding Transit City now.