August 23, 2012
Omar Mosleh (with files from Karolyn Coorsh)
In its first report on the state of public transit in Toronto, transit-advocacy group TTCriders slammed the TTC for what the group sees as the commission’s failures.
Top of the list is that the TTC dedicates more of its fare to operating costs than any other city in North America, which the group says needs to be supplemented with more tax revenue from all levels of government.
“The challenge with income tax is some people will say is ‘I live in some rural area, so why should I pay for transit when I don’t receive any services,’ ” said group spokesperson and executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, Franz Hartmann. “We all contribute to infrastructure that we never use.… There are a lot of roads I will never ever travel on in my life, but I still think it’s important to maintain that infrastructure.”
However, Hartmann understands lack of funds isn’t the TTC’s fault.
“There’s only so much you can blame the TTC for,” he said. “If there was dedicated money for operating funds from the province or federal government, then the TTC would not have necessarily to make the cuts it did.”
The report was also suspicious of the public-private partnership process Metrolinx is using to build Toronto’s new LRT lines.
“It’s really based on the mounting evidence over the years that [public-private partnerships] don’t necessarily save any money,” Hartmann said. “More often than not, they create a whole new level of bureaucracy and complication, which leads to things being slowed down.”
Hartmann pointed to the London Underground and Canada Line in British Columbia as examples of public-private partnerships he believes didn’t serve the interests of taxpayers due to time and cost overruns.
He acknowledged the St. Clair Right of Way, a TTC project, also had cost and time overruns.
“The TTC doesn’t have workers that are going to go out and do the road work,” Hartman said. “They hire companies to do that, so you have by definition a private-public partnership right there.
“But when you hire a company to say ‘We are going to take control of design, of a whole bunch of things which have traditionally been done by the TTC’, then this could create a whole bunch of new problems,” he added.
The report also says it has concerns about Metrolinx’s community consultation approach, in spite of the ongoing public meetings the provincial body is holding regarding the Eglinton Crosstown LRT.
“It’s unclear how much community consultation will take place if all this goes under Infrastructure Ontario,” he said. “There’re a lot of question marks.”
The report was also critical of the levels of service provided to TTC users saying it needed to be increased. However, instead of looking at total ridership vs. the total capacity of the system, the report looks at service levels based on number of kilometers travelled compared to the pace of ridership growth.
“When doing something like this, if you go into too much detail you start losing people,” Hartmann said. “So what we wanted to do here was essentially show a trend, and the trend (for service levels) is going down.”
The report wasn’t entirely critical of the TTC, saying that after being derailed for 16 months due to council deliberation, transit system expansion is back on track.
TTC Chair Karen Stintz said the report had some valid concerns, but put too much blame on the TTC for issues such as not enough money for operating funds.
She also said the report didn’t acknowledge the gains the TTC has achieved.
“We got cleaner washrooms, cleaner trains, new subway trains, new streetcars, new washrooms and the Presto Card system. So it ignored all the things that we’ve done over the last 18 months to actually improve the customer experience, which I felt was unfortunate.”
Hartmann responded by saying he recognizes the TTC has made strides forward, but they did not fall within the criteria of the report card.
“Where do you put washrooms in this stuff? I don’t mean this in a flippant way, and I don’t want to belittle the fact that washrooms are in better shape, but that’s not a key principle.”
Originally published by My TownCrier.