We hear it regularly from our mayor that, as CEO of the corporation of Toronto, one important aspect of his job is to be the city’s ‘chief salesman’. Pitch it. Sell it. Tell the world this is a great place to live, work, a prime location to set up a business in.
Thump the Toronto tub. Cheerlead. Boost civically.
Nothing wrong with that. In the urban age we live, it can’t hurt to have someone out there, trying to get a place noticed although I am more a proponent of actions speaking louder than words. Build a livable city and they will come which, of course, is much easier said than done.
But have at it. Go forth, Mr. Mayor, nationally, internationally, sell the product that is Toronto. Hey, world! We are open for business.
It’s tough, though, on his current trip to London, England, to figure out what aspect of this city Mayor Tory’s trying to sell. Most of his second day over there was spent comparing his barely embryonic SmartTrack transit plan to that city’s Crossrail project, well underway and under the streets of London. Maybe this isn’t a sales trip so much as a journey of discovery?
Or perhaps, and much more cynically, this official excursion is about selling SmartTrack to its critics back in Toronto. Photo ops with Mayor Tory swooning over transit maps and tunnels, citing Crossrail as the inspiration for his SmartTrack plan. “Talking to UK Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin about Crossrail & what we can learn as we build SmartTrack,” tweeted the mayor’s office. If Crossrail exists (and it does, we have pictures to prove it), so does SmartTrack.
The mayor is even receiving some uncharacteristically uncritical boosterism from the Toronto Star whose Jennifer Pagliaro is over there, covering the trip. “Touring the future 118-kilometre rail line in London, Mayor John Tory sees a future he’s been dreaming of for Toronto,” states the article’s sub-headline.
The tour Thursday appears to have renewed Tory’s resolve to make SmartTrack work no matter what. For too long, he said, there has been arguing without end in Toronto, which has struggled to secure the kind of funding it needs from other governments to build bigger and better transit. It’s what Tory calls the “Old Toronto way.”
“Crossrail went through a whole lot of stages where people were doubting it, people wondered if they had the money . . . the private sector participation wasn’t assured and so it had a lot of hiccups along the way but now they’re sitting here saying, ‘Thank god,’“ Tory said. “For me the lesson is also patience.”
Never mind that SmartTrack itself is contributing in a major way to Toronto’s transit argument ‘without end’, as the mayor puts it. An election campaign platform hastily grafted onto an already overdrawn transit wish list map, it has, once more, thrown concrete planning into disarray, nudging other, longer established priorities into limbo. As for patience? 22 stations in 7 years, we’re told. The clock is ticking. Tick tock, tick tock.
What inspiration SmartTrack drew from London’s Crossrail is also not immediately obvious to the naked eye. Both could be classified as using surface rail — although the mayor liked to refer to SmartTrack as surface subway until some people frowned on that usage. How about regional rail ‘urban service’? While we saw lots of pictures of Mayor Tory touring tunnels yesterday, as Steve Munro pointed out, at the beginning, there was no talk of SmartTrack tunneling. In fact, that was the exact up sell selling point about it. Using existing infrastructure to speed up the delivery and reduce the cost of a new transit service.
SmartTrack is nothing like Crossrail, and not just because the latter exists while the former doesn’t aside from the stubborn figment of one man’s election campaign promise. When Crossrail opens in 2018, it will be after a 40+ year, up and down, back and forth stretch of time that wound up incorporating both private and public funding, and will serve as a long sought after link in what is already a very extensive transit network. Compared to it, SmartTrack is an unwelcome interloper that will do little to alleviate Toronto’s transit backlog and bursting at the seams system.
If Mayor Tory was truly taking in the lessons of Crossrail on his trip to London, he’d come home convinced that his SmartTrack dream is not only wholly inadequate but equally as implausible. Good public transit planning is a tough slog. You can’t just summon it out of thin air during a night of election strategizing. It isn’t cheap and someone else isn’t going to pay for it. An overseas PR exercise won’t magically bring it into existence.
Like I said, I’ve got no problems with our mayor and other elected officials hitting the road to sell the Toronto brand. I’m less sanguine about a trip abroad used, at least in part, to convince those of us already living here about the viability of a clearly troubled transit plan. Say what you will about Rob Ford, but it’s hard to imagine him wasting hard-working taxpayers’ money to travel outside the 416 in order to try and persuade people back in Toronto that the People Want Subways. Subway! Subways! Subways!
— not buyingly submitted by Cityslikr