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Whatever the solution - hands off the TTC!

Feb 27, 2008 04:30 AM
Royson James

It’s such an irresistible prize - taking over the TTC - that it’s become fashionable to recommend moving control of our transit system as far away as possible from the people it serves.

But such an approach will not work - not for TTC users, the customers who pay the freight.

Editorialists scratch their tall foreheads and pronounce that maybe Queen’s Park or its surrogate, Metrolinx, should run the TTC. Premier Dalton McGuinty, who’s become an irritating meddler lately, floats trial balloons about the takeover.

And Mayor David Miller’s “independent fiscal review panel” came close to recommending it before concluding: “From our assessment, an uploading of the TTC to the province is neither necessary nor practical at this time.”

Phewww. Close. But next time? Get ready for Big Transit.

With ridership approaching all-time high records, TTC users deserve to know how such an “upload” will get them a bus more quickly, or the Queen St. street car to show up and not kick everyone off as it short turns - and they’ll vote for the transfer of operations.

Proponents offer several arguments:

One, it will quicken our evolution toward an integrated transit system across the GTA and beyond. Y’know, passengers will be able to swipe a card and travel unimpeded.

For one, you don’t need to create a massive, unavoidably unresponsive bureaucracy just to ensure a passenger can travel from Oshawa to Mississauga on transit without paying several fares and battling several fare mediums.

Just put in the computer chip and get to it — which is what diligent minds are studying now. Speed it up, yes, but keep your hands off the decisions around how frequently my bus shows up. It’s bad enough to manage a system from the Rouge to Etobicoke Creek; let’s not pretend that the same people in charge of the one bus in Lake Simcoe can respond effectively to the buses along the Viva routes. Two, it will open up the system to wider competition and private sector involvement. And, imagine the savings!

Would such an outcome be more likely with Metrolinx, the GTA transit body that co-ordinates service across the region and runs GO, than the TTC? Yes, marginally. But don’t expect it.

Three, and most beguiling, is the expectation that such an upload would push more than $200 million a year, no, make that, $400 million, in tax costs onto the province, leaving that money for the city to spend on its projects.

Is that a reasonable expectation? Toronto dumps its transit costs, gets the province to contribute even more money to enhance service and fund its Transit City streetcar plan, and we are free to use the savings to provide free recreation and skating and swimming classes? Nice dream.

Regional transit integration should be pursued vigorously - but not at the expense of TTC riders who pay a good sum for crammed, too-often unreliable service.

Users of the Queen streetcar often complain that the TTC currently constricts service on that money-making line so that it can provide a reasonable service level on suburban routes in North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke. Imagine stretching the net out to Scugog and Caledon?

Some suggest sending the subway operations to Metrolinx and leaving the rest of the system to the TTC. That’s asking the TTC to send their top money-maker to Metrolinx. How, then, to pay for the routes that take home hotel workers and off-peak users?

Integrate service across the GTA, yes. But hands off the TTC.