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


Biking The Rossi Way

July 12, 2010

Last night I was thinking of Rocco Rossi.

Biking enthusiast, bike lane antagonist, earlier this year on the campaign hustings the mayoral candidate vowed to put an end to any further intrusions onto arterial roads by bike lanes. In fact, he suggested he might even tear up existing ones while he was at.

Now, don’t get Mr. Rossi wrong. It’s not that he hates bicycles or cyclists. He is an avid one himself, he assures us. They just shouldn’t be taking up space on our busy roads, making it difficult for the suburban drivers that Rossi’s desperately courting to zip into work in the morning and back home again at night. What he would take away with one hand, however, Rossi would give back with the other, vowing “to expedite building more bike lanes, but on quieter streets.”

Which is why he was on my mind in the early hours of this morning.

Hours after World Cup 2010 came to a merciful conclusion with a predictably dreary final game, I found myself zipping down an off road bike lane in a south south-east direction along the Bloor Go line, heading to Little Italy from Silverthorne. I’d only previously got a glimpse of the path a couple times when crossing over the tracks on Dundas Street West as it takes a northerly turn. Now I was on it, and loving it and thinking that, hey, if Rocco Rossi can build us a bunch of these, I will happily forgo street travel with all its inherent dangers and annoyances.

The bike lane is a particular slice of urban heaven. A smooth ride along an unpotholed path, it takes you past quiet little neighbourhood streets, converted factories, a couple derelict – or rather, transitional – sites, all wrapped up in wild, city appropriate landscaping (I know nothing of flora) and metal artwork placed throughout. It is well lit and as I rode, taking in the surroundings, I could just imagine doing this as the new electrified trains shoot past me on their way to destinations throughout the GTA. Oh wait, right. They’re not doing that.

That bummer thought aside, there’s little question that from a biking standpoint, this would be the way to get around town. I’m told the city’s ultimately going to take the lane along the tracks all the way down to Strachan Ave. not far from the lakefront trail. Again, you go, girl. I am right there with you. The more you can keep my interaction with cars to an absolute minimum, the more I’m on board.

This is exactly what I’m thinking as I pull up and off the trail and back onto the road for a left turn onto College Street. So how’s this all going to work under Rocco Rossi’s War on Arterial Bike Lanes®™© scheme? Clearly we can’t have off road bike lanes everywhere in the city. That would necessitate questions of expropriation and people apparently get a little touchy over that kind of talk. Does that mean if, for example, my quickest route home was along College Street, Mr. Rossi would have me detour off onto side streets and in all likelihood adding to the time it would take me to get home? If so, why me on a bicycle and not those in their cars? Because this is his biggest argument against bike lanes on arterial roads, isn’t it? The inconvenience it causes to those driving cars.

It certainly can’t be a safety issue as there would be no evidence to back such an argument up. In fact, while Rossi competes with Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson to see who can be the biggest urban planning Luddite, much of the rest of the civilized world is going in the completely opposite direction. Many places are experimenting with seriously mixed use roadways, de-curbed level surfaces devoid of much signage where motorized vehicles, bikes and pedestrians share streets equally. The onus is on the biggest, fastest, most lethal mode of transport to adjust its behaviour accordingly, operating under the premise of expecting the unexpected. From this, emerge more livable streetscapes.

Instead, candidate Rossi wants to relegate bikes to the periphery, making any necessary foray onto the main roads that much more dangerous. Drivers get used to not having to deal with bikes. Drivers become inattentive. Cyclists are in greater danger.

But the lack of Big Idea, forward thinking is simply a matter of fact during this election race. And the candidates wonder why they can’t light a fire under the electorate. Rather than attempt to bridge the car-bike (suburban-urban) divide, they endeavour to exploit it for political gain. So that we are offered only a fleeting look at how things could be (riding the briefest of stretches down a well designed bike lane) while having to make due with a steady diet of the grimmest, dullest, perfunctory realities.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat