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Budget slash means a long commute with no end in sight

Hopes for a Finch LRT fade for Justin Gardner and others

By Katie Daubs
Staff Reporter

Justin Gardner gives himself three hours to get downtown.

“That was a smooth ride today,” the 19-year-old says as he leaves the subway at Queen station, two hours after he left his apartment at Weston Rd. and Highway 401.

Since he left at 7 a.m., he has watched the sun rise through smudged bus windows on Finch Ave., rushed through the crowds at Finch station, and navigated the walkway beneath downtown, emerging in a glitzy office tower on Queen St. At 9 a.m., he still has to board a streetcar, but that’s the shortest part.

Gardner doesn’t have a steady job, but he’s hoping to find one. Every weekday, he travels to an employment centre on Queen St. E. for temporary landscaping or physical labour jobs. Sometimes there is work, sometimes there isn’t.

“If I don’t get accepted, I’ll be home by 2 p.m.,” he said.

This is Gardner’s daily commute. And it won’t be getting better any time soon.

Toronto Mayor David Miller had hoped it might. Miller responded furiously to the delay in transit funding announced in Dalton McGuinty’s budget.

“He’s saying to people in Scarborough, who stand and wait for two or three buses, and have to take two or three buses to get to work, that they’ll wait another decade for the rapid transit that he promised … and he’s saying the same thing to people in (northwest) Etobicoke.”

On Thursday, the province announced that $4 billion set aside for transit expansion, including a line on Finch Ave., would be deferred to help ease the deficit.

An emotional Miller immediately called the decision “thick” and “disgraceful.” On Friday, Premier Dalton McGuinty said none of the projects was being killed.

“What we’re saying is we’re going to take a bit more time to make these investments, given our financial circumstances,” he told reporters at Carleton University.

On the 36 Finch West bus Friday, commuter Robert Atkinson said the province can take all the time it wants. He didn’t think a streetcar operating in a dedicated lane would do any better.

“The goal is to get people to the destination faster, and you don’t see that at all with streetcars,” he said. “St. Clair is bloody ugly. We don’t need streetcars at all.”

Sitting at the back of the bus, Alicia Hem thinks a subway would be better than a streetcar. “But if it would improve service and get us there faster, that would be great,” she said of the proposed LRT.

Gardner doesn’t know the details of the proposed expansion, but he thinks it would have made a big difference to his commute.

“I just sit here and mind my own business,” he said as the bus trundled along at 7:30 a.m. “You gotta work with what you’re given.”

Gardner can’t afford a Metropass, so he uses tokens. He can’t relocate downtown because the rent is $500 more a month.

Waiting for a streetcar to take him to his final destination, he says he keeps making the commute because he wants a family one day, and needs extra money in the bank.

The best thing would be a career as a mechanic. He has to finish his high school diploma, and then, he’d need more schooling.

“Getting there, that’s always the hardest part,” he says.

With files from Robert Benzie