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Commuter ferry another dumb idea but some have actually worked

City Hall
July 13, 2007 1:44 PM

It’s awfully tempting to metaphorically keel-haul TTC Chair Adam Giambrone over his out-of-the-blue idea to get the Toronto Transit Commission into the ferry boat business. It is a spectacularly dumb idea, after all: running a ferry along the extended waterfront of Toronto, from Bluffer’s Park in the east to Harbourfront downtown, to some quiet cove in south Etobicoke to carry commuters back and forth. Never mind that the city is really still bobbing on the edge of a fiscal vortex; or that the Toronto Transit Commission is already getting ready to embark on the most ambitious light rail expansion the city has ever seen. The fact is that even the councillors whose constituents would likely benefit from the plan don’t seem to want it: all they can think of are nautical metaphors. Brian Ashton, in whose ward the Scarborough leg of the journey would begin, called the plan “an anchor around Miller’s already stretched fiscal net.”

Peter Milczyn, whose Ward 5 (Etobicoke South) constituents might take the ferry from the hypothetical Humber port, quipped: “The TTC’s sinking in debt but we’re going to launch a ferry service which will sink us even further into debt.”

So yes, it would be the easiest thing in the world to take Giambrone to task for his big, dumb idea that will probably go nowhere.

But I’m not going to do that. Because the fact is that Toronto was built on big, dumb ideas - and the ones that don’t work often don’t get built.

Torontonians of a certain age, for instance, will remember the Technodome - the Reichmann family-funded plan to build a massive domed sports-entertainment complex that looked like nothing so much as Westworld by way of the NBA. It is possible that only Mel Lastman and the Reichmanns thought this was a good idea for Parc Downsview Park - but money public and private was spent looking at the deal to see if it might work.

And just because Mel Lastman’s big dumb Technodome idea didn’t pay off didn’t mean that all his big dumb ideas didn’t bear fruit. Torontonians of another certain age might recall the invasion of the plastic painted moose. For a couple of years back at the turn of the millennium, Toronto forgot its troubles amid herds of brightly painted full-scale plastic moose in intersections, outside corporate offices and all over Nathan Phillips Square. As big dumb ideas go, the moose were much bigger, and far, far dumber, than the notion that Giambrone, ahem, floated, about the ferry business.

And the fact is that Giambrone himself has not a bad track record on big ideas. It was he, for instance, who pushed the TTC last term into installing bicycle racks on a few TTC buses. The idea was that people who might want to bike five kilometres or so to work might want to take the bus for most of, say, a 25-kilometre trip to the office. So despite a few raised eyebrows at this big dumb idea, the TTC went ahead with it. This meeting, the commission approved gradually installing the racks on all the TTC’s buses. It’s turned out to be a good way to integrate cycling and transit.

Will the ferry idea turn out to be a good way to integrate boating and transit? Oh, it’s doubtful. But there are worse things in the world than a bad idea quickly abandoned.