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Wanted: VIP to take wheel

Will a political visionary ever steer the GTA toward effective regionwide transit?

Ex-TTC boss Rick Ducharme isn’t holding his breath

Sep. 18, 2006. 01:00 AM

Wanted: One politician with a vision for a regionwide transit network, the ability to procure the funding to make it happen and the guts to back the plan when the going gets tough.

The job vacancy in the Greater Toronto Area has been around for years. Toronto Mayor David Miller and Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion have talked good games, but never quite filled the role.

Former TTC boss Rick Ducharme doubts the job will ever be filled.

“You’ve got to have a politician that really believes in transit and is going to put his whole heart into it,” says Ducharme, pointing to London Mayor Ken Livingstone and his controversial downtown congestion fee as an example.

“Basically, he put his job on the line with what was tried there. It was successful. That’s gutsy moves. I don’t see that here at any level.”

With the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority scheduled to be up and running by the end of the year, we can hope a politician can rise above the turf wars and infighting that kept the ill-fated Greater Toronto Services Board from becoming a political force.

Voters have some say. The politicians who will preside on the GTTA’s board of directors will come from the pool of politicians elected as mayors and elected or appointed as chairs of the various regions. If voters are worried about gridlock, they must press those glad-handing doorknockers for solutions to our transportation woes.

But Ducharme is far more cynical. Ducharme has had the summer to cool his heels after his war of words with TTC chairman Howard Moscoe led to his acrimonious ouster as chief general manager.

With 30 years in the transit business behind him and now beholden to no one, Ducharme sees the GTTA � as it is set up now � as a recipe for disaster. A planning body that will work with GO Transit and implement a smart card to ease transferring between transit systems across the region, the GTTA does not have the ability to independently fund the transportation projects it will recommend, a fatal flaw in Ducharme’s mind.

“You’ve got to give it authority, you’ve got to give it the power to raise funds,” says Ducharme. “No funding, and it can’t do anything.

“We can talk about plans, we can talk about co-ordination. You can talk about smart cards. All that to me is irrelevant. You need big investments. That stopped over 20 years ago. I don’t really see any political visionary that really would take on the fight to do it.”

Ducharme’s not campaigning for the job. But if he had his way, Toronto wouldn’t build another subway. To him, it’s a waste of money to spend $2 billion on a few kilometres with a handful of stops.

The better, cheaper, faster choice is to hand over lanes of roads to buses and streetcars. With $2 billion, the city and the region could be covered with fast-moving transit vehicles that won’t get caught in traffic and would have a predictable and reliable schedule.

“Ottawa proved it 25 years ago,” says Ducharme of that city’s Bus Rapid Transit line. “You give it the rights of way that you need, it works.

“Give me a dedicated rights-of-way, and it will work.”

The downside � the battle for St. Clair Ave. West multiplied on each and every road and avenue where dedicated bus and streetcar lanes are considered. Drivers worried about losing turning ability; merchants worried over lost storefront parking. Not-in-my-back-yard battles everywhere.

“You need a political visionary who’s got guts to say: `I’m doing it. I’m not going to listen to the complaints of car drivers. This is going to work.’”

Toronto, and the surrounding area, just doesn’t have that.