Put Cars First Cars Come First

July 3, 2013

As Paris burns with plans to build new transit lines, Toronto smoulders.

smoulder

TTC, Metrolinx to debate disputed subway costs, fizzles a CBC news headline.

Oh, good god. Can we just stop with the back-and-forth and get on with it already? It’s almost as if we’re jawing about transit as a method of premastication in the hopes of coughing up a better network.

Granted, places like France seem to understand the need for a top-tiered transit system as a way of keeping their cities vibrant and competitive. pennyanteIt’s not just a local matter. National governments get involved with municipal transportation funding and enabling. National government not located in Ottawa that is. And no, Denis Lebel, some $300 million a year to the GTA is not getting involved so much as it is pandering.

So largely orphaned to figure out how to bring the region’s transit system up to 21st-century speed, the province and its municipalities bicker over the crumbs on the table. Piecing them together in order to construct a loaf of something substantial seems far beyond anyone’s reach. If I’m going to stretch this analogy even thinner, getting a consensus on the exact ingredients of that loaf is no… a-hem, a-hem… cake walk either.

We can only look on with envy as even one-time public transportation laggard Los Angeles convinced enough people to fund the undertaking of a massive overhaul of the way they get around. 3010First it was a projected timeline of 30 years but then last term mayor Antonio Villaraigosa went to Washington to secure a loan in order to speed things up to a 10 year time frame. 30/10. And we can only look to our Metrolinx’s Big Move and weep.

It’s one thing to be forever in awe of transit policies of more established, less car-centric places like Paris. Hey. The city wasn’t designed for cars. People were riding subways long before they were cars. There’s more of an affinity for the concept of public transit there than there is here.

But Los Angeles? Los Angeles?! L.A.? I Can’t Drive 55, L.A.? How are they beating us to the punch?

It doesn’t help to see commentaries like this filling up space in one of our national newspapers.

Public transit is better, but cars are faster.

cantdrive55

What’s it take to get piece of commentary action on the pages of the Globe and Mail? An entire lack of understanding about a topic?

Even assuming Murtaza Haider, associate dean of research and graduate programs at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, is being upfront with the numbers he’s using from the National Household Survey, he seems to think travel times on various modes of transit operate in some a priori existence, undetermined by outside factors such as ease of access or urban plans partial to one type of transit.

Read this beauty and behold the logic at work:

The commute to work data challenges the notion that building more public transit will save travel time by shifting commuters from cars to public transit. How is it possible that transferring commuters from a faster mode of travel to a slower one will shorten travel times? Simple arithmetic and common sense suggests that system-wide travel times will instead be longer when more people commute by the slower mode, i.e., public transit.

You see, travelling by car is faster than public transit not because most of our cities have been designed for that to be possible but because… well, freewayjust because. Accept the conventional wisdom of the status quo and carry on as you were. Or as Mr. Haider recommends, “… building more roads and introducing congestion pricing on highways will make commutes even shorter by car.” As if the entire purpose of any reasonable and common sense approach to transportation planning is to shorten the length of car commutes rather than providing equal quality of choice across all methods of travel.

I know that’s not the point of the article. Haider is arguing that we need a different line of reasoning to convince the public to dig into their pockets to fund new public transit builds. But he dismisses the commute time one based on faulty thinking.

Commute times by car may be shorter even in more public transit friendly cities like Toronto and Montreal because that’s what city planners have been designing for decades now. It didn’t just happen that way. It’s not the natural order of things.

So, if you make it easier to get from point A to point B by car than it is by public transit, given a choice, sharetheroadpeople will take the car. Outside of the older downtown core of the city, that’s been the case for the past 70 years or so. Problem is, there’s now too many cars and no more space to build for them without adversely affecting the well-being of the city and region. The days of prioritizing car travel above every other way to get around are numbered.

Murtaza Haider doesn’t quite get that. But he’s not alone. We’ve all been slow to come to that realization. You’ll recognize the places that haven’t. They’re currently building public transit at a feverish pace, not counting the cost but calculating the return they’ll be getting on their investment.

putting-the-car-before-the-hoarsely submitted by Cityslikr


Those Friday Afternoon Transit Blues

September 21, 2012

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate This Week In Transit News at about a 4. The grade’s only that high because I’m trying to put my best foot forward. Smile on the outside when I’m really crying on the inside as I sift through and evaluate all the pertinent information.

It started with our federal government voting down a national transit strategy put forward in the House of Commons by the NDP. National Transit Strategy? Strategy? National? Sounds a little interventionist. The outcome was hardly a surprise.

That element was saved for a day or so later when Queen’s Park announced through their agency, Metrolinx, that the design, construction, building and operation of the Eglinton LRT was going to be outsourced as part of a public-private partnership. Take that, TTC! Who’s yer momma? Huh? Who’s yer momma, TTC? Say it. Say it! Metrolinx, baby! Metrolinx.

Now, I’ve been battling hard for the past couple days to suppress my gut reaction to the news. I don’t want to disappoint my friend Matt Elliott and be one of those on the left giving over to immediate, unthinking nayism. Maybe a viable case can be made for the move. Perhaps it is the first step toward a fully integrated regional transit system and, hopefully, that would be a good thing. Metrolinx’s track record to date in dealing with local concerns gives me pause however.

But for now, I’ll attempt to see the upside. The general consensus seems to be success or failure of the Eglinton LRT P3 will come down to the details of the agreement, how the ‘i’s are dotted and ‘t’s crossed. If the private sector can actually deliver the necessary transit at a lower cost, and if that’s the only element we’re looking for, I’ll hop aboard and go along for the ride.

I’d probably have more confidence in the whole thing if the McGuinty Liberals had any robust credibility on transit. I have long since concluded that Mayor Rob Ford has been nothing but manna from heaven for them, providing cover for a rather lacklustre, wishy-washy approach since they came to power in 2003. Announce big, deliver significantly less. What is now $8.4 billion for 4 LRT lines was once supposed to be 7 lines with an additional $4 billion in funding. Delay has followed delay and we’re now talking decades hence not years.

And remember that initial election promise of restoring provincial funding for half the TTC’s annual operating budget? Nine years on. Tick tock, tick tock.

As if to add insult to injury, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli seems to be suggesting that once the Eglinton LRT is up and going and the TTC no longer runs buses along the street, the money it saves should be handed over to the private company running the LRT. Yeah, really. Of course, our mayor is otherwise occupied and hasn’t weighed in on the matter to defend the city’s interests, leaving that – along with almost all matters dealing with transit — up to the TTC Chair, Karen Stintz.

Defenders of the province will, with much justification certainly, point to our electing of Rob Ford as mayor and the subsequent subway-versus-LRT battle as a prime example of the city not being a serious player in this transit debate. They wouldn’t be wrong. Toronto took a big step backward on many fronts when Rob Ford became mayor.

But I’d argue, at least on the transit file, the city righted itself. The TTC chair took control, sidelined the mayor and his most ardent supporters and got everything back on track. (Yeah. I just wrote that). All of it done without any assistance from the province who, when it mattered most, indulged Mayor Ford’s subways, subways, subways fantasy and further exploited the situation by delaying the start of the Sheppard LRT construction yet again, making it vulnerable to any changes in power at either City Hall or Queen’s Park.

It’s all part of a familiar pattern for the McGuinty Liberals of appearing to be just slightly less worse than the other guy. Think they’re bad on public transit? Look at Toronto and Mayor Ford. We may be outsourcing control of the Eglinton LRT but remember Mike Harris buried the subway there.

I am trying to keep an open mind but the province inspires little confidence. Rather than see the move to a P3 as a cost containment measure, it just smacks of outsourcing responsibility and governance. I’m willing, though, to be convinced otherwise.

forced smiledly submitted by Cityslikr


TTC: The Bitter Way

August 25, 2010

Customer service has not been a top priority of the TTC in recent years

Followed by a chorus of “No shit, Sherlock.”

I come not to the praise the TTC but to bury it… under pages and pages of Customer Service Advisory Panel report.

Obviously an organization of the TTC’s size and importance in the functioning of the city should undergo occasional institutional scrutiny in both official and, let’s call it, PR capacities. The latter if for no other reason than to give the appearance of listening to the transit using public, those who feel that they are footing the bill. That this particular review was forced forth due to a series of embarrassing front line employee missteps, let’s call them, earlier this year makes me doubt its ultimate importance.

Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if every time we stepped up onto a bus or streetcar or dropped a token into the box before pushing through the turnstiles, we were greeted with a big smile and a hearty ‘Hey, how are ya!’? (Gestures, I’m sure, all us passengers make toward those taking our fares.) Setting such a tone would help make the TTC experience a more pleasant one.

But as has been noted extensively throughout the interwebs, it’s not the GAP we’re talking about here. Our interaction with public transit comes largely out of necessity as we go about our daily business, getting from point A to point B as needed. For most of us, time spent on public transit is that interminable period between where we’ve been and where we need to get to. Bubbly engagement and enthusiasm shouldn’t be what we’re demanding from TTC employees. Just get us where we’re going as quickly and efficiently as possible. Charm is entirely optional.

It’s that ‘quickly and efficiently’ expectation that is key here. Unless the TTC’s front liners are impeding that, everything else is mere window dressing. Immediately you’ll set upon me, pointing out that the bus driver who took an unauthorized break or the one driving while impaired both clearly impeded quick and efficient travel. Sure. Let’s factor that in. But is miscreant employee conduct the major reason that our transit system has fallen so far behind our needs? I defy you not only to answer that question with a ‘yes’ but to prove it with credible data.

I might argue, in fact, that such flare-ups of poor performance are symptomatic of a system under duress. We are placing great demands on the TTC without adequately giving it the tools to meet them. Of course, I’m talking financially. For more than a decade now, the TTC has had to exist without the traditional funding for its operational budget from the province. Do more with less. That fact is so obvious and often talked about that it barely receives notice anymore.

At least as significant as that, the TTC also suffers mightily from overlapping jurisdictions and perpetual shifting sands of competing visions and ideologies. The grand plan of bringing accessible transit to more people and neighbourhoods in Toronto, Transit City, is now under threat from our slew of front running candidates who, sensing the political winds blowing around them, are declaring that subways are now the way to go. With varying degrees of believable detail, they would replace much of the current plan with more crowd pleasing subways. So, once more, we’re back to the drawing board of transit planning.

Of course, the real knife in the back for Transit City was the province reneging on a big chunk of its commitments earlier this year. Just like the province killed the plan to build an Eglinton subway back in the `90s by pulling funding after they’d already agreed to it. Until Queen’s Park ceases drawing more money from this city than it puts back in, transit planning here will always be subject to their whims and changes of mind.

Moreover, until our federal level of government gets involved in the issue of public transit, we’ll all be simply spinning our wheels. Hiding behind the smoke screen of municipal transit being within the provincial domain, the feds have sat on their hands as this country’s transportation infrastructure has fallen further and further behind the rest of the world. Unless we have some big event that shines an international light upon us (like, say, the Olympics), our representatives in Ottawa have been non-players in the public transit portfolio.

Embarrassingly, we are the only so-called developed nation not to have, and never have had, an official national transit strategy. You don’t think that matters? Go and take transit around other cities that do. Paris. Tokyo. Madrid. New York City. A national focus on transit is integral to having a fully functioning, viable system.

Until we have that (and I’m not holding my breath, waiting for it to happen), we can conduct all the customer satisfaction surveys and Advisory Panel reports we want. Nothing much is going to change. We will continue to fuss and fret, bitch and moan, and point accusatory fingers at all the wrong people.

dismayedly submitted by Cityslikr