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The trouble with transit

A grassroots campaign hopes to get the McGuinty Liberals to reverse their $4-billion funding flip-flop

By Adam McDowell

Steve Munro says he has waited for more than a generation for Toronto to build a transit system worthy of its size, only to see his hopes dashed. The man credited with saving Toronto streetcars in the 1970s when the TTC wanted to junk them is girding to fight for streetcars again.

“I’m extremely — angry isn’t the right word. Frustrated. More than a little annoyed,” said the veteran of many battles over transit policy.

The McGuinty government’s budget last month included a directive to Metrolinx, the regional transit planning body, to find $4-billion of savings over the next five years. With all planned Transit City light rail lines apparently jeopardized except Sheppard East (which is already under construction), critics — most vocally the Mayor — accuse the province of essentially shelving Toronto’s plan to whisk transit riders of the next decade and beyond around the inner suburbs in state-of-the-art streetcars instead of lumbering buses. The province insists the projects are merely delayed, not cancelled. Metrolinx will reveal its rejigged plans at a meeting next month.

Meanwhile, Mayor David Miller commandeered the TTC’s public address system this week to scold Premier Dalton McGuinty. The Mayor has also sported a “Save Transit City” button on his lapel, paid for by his office, and TTC chairman Adam Giambrone has handed them out at public meetings.

Independently of the official outrage, transit activists and ordinary riders, tired of being packed like sardines into transit vehicles, have begun to organize a Spadina Expressway-style grassroots push to save Transit City.

On Wednesday, a loose collection of community organizations calling itself the Public Transit Coalition plans to launch its own Save Transit City campaign by “packing the room” with a public meeting at City Hall. City and provincial politicians will be invited to sign a pledge to work toward building Transit City on the original timeline.

Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, one of the participating groups, said pressuring the Liberals’ 19 Toronto-area MPPs is a priority. Another of the affiliated groups,,provides instructions for “sharing frustrations” with the politicians via mail, email or phone.

“We’ve been told for quite a long time to get out of our cars and onto transit, and it seems that particularly our provincial government wants to make that as difficult a thing to do as possible for us. Enough’s enough. If this delay continues to be the [Liberal] party line, we want to make sure that there’s a political cost to that,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said.

In keeping with a left-leaning membership that includes organized labour and Toronto ACORN, the Public Transit Coalition’s other key plank is resisting calls to privatize the TTC or its operations.

Sean Meagher said he and his fellow community workers have heard a lot of anger from transit riders in poorly serviced parts of the city since the provincial budget last month — especially the “inner suburbs” of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, which could benefit most from the planned light rail lines.