Presto, Minions. We Said Presto!

July 26, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would never think of ourselves as experts in anything. There’s too much delving into the tiny details, combing through the minutiae. It taxes our tiny brains. Generalists we, rather than specifists; meta-analyzers.

So we wade very trepidatiously into the Presto/smart card versus open fare payment debate that flared up last week, once again pitting the province against the city over public transit planning. And certainly not to offer up any new insights into the pros and cons of either method as that’s something done much more thoroughly and knowledgably by someone like Steve Munro (whose blog we leaned heavily on for this post). No, we’re focusing on the politics behind the issue and how it’s playing out on the municipal campaign trail.

As anyone who’s traveled to any city that has a major transit system will tell you, Toronto is miles behind in how it collects fares. Tickets, tokens and transfers are a thing of the past in most metropolitan regions. It’s all about smart cards/open payments whether through a dedicated transit card or with personal credit and debit cards. Some systems even allow riders to swipe their cell phones as a method of payment. All of which help ensure a more streamlined and efficient operation, allowing for better opportunities to have the trains run on time.

But never fear, Torontonians, a decade into the 21st-century, ready or not, we are on the precipice of finally embracing the future. There is no choice as the new streetcars that are on their way will not be token or ticket friendly. We’ll have to swipe to ride. The only question now is, swiping what exactly?

The province has hitched its wagon to the Presto card which it has already implemented on GO lines and in a handful of subway stations in Toronto. For its part, the TTC is still deciding. While not ruling out Presto, it wants to make sure there is an open payment option which they feel is more conducive to further innovations down the road. PrestoPlus, let’s call it. An idea that even the brains behind Presto seem to be already exploring.

Lots of room for agreement and accommodation clearly, yet the provincial transportation minister, Kathleen Wynne, delivered an aggressively worded post onto the government website last week, stating emphatically that the TTC was to consider no other payment option but Presto. Presto Now. Presto Tomorrow. Presto Forever. Thinking otherwise was a wasteful exercise in misusing precious tax dollars. End of discussion.

Gas Tax funding was provided to GTA Municipalities, including the City of Toronto, with the requirement that they participate in the PRESTO fare card system, provincial funding towards the cost of the City of Toronto’s replacement streetcars is also conditional upon the City’s full participation in PRESTO and we’ve communicated to the City that the 182 light rail vehicles for the four Transit City projects in Toronto must be PRESTO ready.

Within this paragraph lies the nub of the patronizing approach the province has toward municipalities. When it stopped contributing to the annual operating budget of the TTC back in the late-90s, many assumed it was purely for the cost saving involved. But it seems obvious here that there was more to it, and the real reason that the McGuinty government has been slow to keep its election promise of reassuming the funding is not for money reasons but for the power they can wield in doling out funding on ongoing conditional bases.

With money comes power, and this Liberal government has become expert at withholding the first in order to use the hammer of the second.

Now, we encourage everyone to follow this fight on their own to decide the rights and wrongs of it. Only to say, that it does appear to these eyes that the province got into bed with Presto without consulting any of the affected municipalities and is now demanding that everyone fall into line behind them or else risk losing transit funding. Eat your peas or you won’t get any pudding!

What we find even more interesting is the response of a couple of our mayoral hopefuls to the imbroglio. Both Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman issued kneejerk statements, lambasting the TTC and chair Adam Giambrone for the decision not to whole-heartedly embrace Presto. Basing his response on the Board of Trade’s endorsement of Presto, Rossi used the opportunity to singularly castigate the TTC for not falling in line behind the province, using some questionable claims in the process. For his part, Smitherman’s view can be summed up with this: “Mr. Giambrone has been a barrier to the modernization of Toronto’s transit system and we should be glad he will soon be out of our hair.”

Two men, in their bid to become mayor of Toronto, categorically side with the province despite there being some very valid, non-partisan questions about the issue. What does this say about how they’ll lead if elected? Will the province always be right when it comes to resolving problems with the city? Rather than serve as mayor, will either of these two be nothing more than the Queen’s Park representative on city council, head of neo-Family Compact.

This is especially worrisome with George Smitherman. Once the highest ranking Toronto M.P.P. in the Liberal government, he delivered nothing by superficial air-kisses to this city. Is he now looking to be mayor to atone for that negligence or is he coming to town as nothing more than a deputy sheriff, intent on quashing the last of our independence and eliminating all voices of dissent against ham-fisted provincial rule? Every sign so far points to the latter.

worriedly submitted by Cityslikr


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