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Transit to nowhere: Blizzard

The squabbling and politicizing of our streetcars, subways and buses
has left Toronto riders out in the cold

by Christina Blizzard

Ever since Rob Ford was elected mayor, it’s become the Toronto equivalent of boxers or briefs.

Streetcars or buses?

Should Toronto push ahead with its Transit City vision of streetcars or rip it up and build subways?

I’ve always thought the notion we’d trash existing streetcar lines and replace them with buses to be ludicrous. Apparently, we have to do away with them because drivers don’t like them.

What about the thousands of commuters who use them every day? If you don’t know how to drive around a streetcar, you shouldn’t be driving in T.O.

Premier Dalton McGuinty and Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne have been dutifully conciliatory about how they’re listening and are open for discussion with Ford.

That’s good, because part of what ails transportation in this city — and the GTA — is no one seems to be listening to anyone else.

Toronto has gone its own sweet way.

Subway lines are planned not on need but on political expediency.

The result is transit stagnation.

Subways, clearly, are the better way. Anyone who relies on the Scarborugh LRT knows all too well what happens to above ground light rail lines in snow.

That said, subways will cost more, so we can build fewer lines.

And they don’t build themselves. This dithering has to stop.

Once Ford takes the reins, job one should be to sit down with McGuinty and hammer out once and for all what the plan is. And then build it.

The other issue they need to nail down is which type of card payment system they’ll use. The provincial government is sticking to its plan for the Presto card — which Wynne says can evolve to use credit and debit cards, as well as cellphones.

“What will happen is Presto will be able to accept different types of payments, such as contactless credit cards, debit cards and cellphones,” Wynne told the Legislature recently.

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone — and yes, he’s still in charge — says that system is outdated and favours open payment.

In a voice-mail message, he told me they are pushing ahead.

“We have an RFP and everything is on track,” he said.

One of the requirements for open payment is they provide the system at no capital cost and operating costs be the same or lower than is currently being paid to collect revenues.

“This is a big difference from Presto, which is $300 million and increased operating costs of $10-$15 million,” Giambrone said.

So we have yet another battle on our hands — with taxpayers and commuters caught in the middle.

Fourteen thousand riders have signed on to the Presto card since it came out. Over the summer it was rolled out on the Lakeshore West GO line, Oakville Transit, Burlington Transit and at nine TTC stations.

This fall it’s going live on the Milton and Georgetown GO lines. By March 2011, it will be rolled out on all seven GO Transit lines, including buses, and eight municipal transit systems in the GTA.

Bottom line? Politics and transit don’t mix.

“The line is my Sheppard,” was former mayor Mel Lastman’s boast about building that subway line to nowhere.

Now we’re getting a line that will service all those wealthy SUV drivers in Vaughan — thanks to former finance minister Greg Sorbara.

What we need to do is take transit out of the hands of politicians.

Subways should be built where there is the greatest ridership, not the greatest political advantage.

The line between Toronto and the rest of the GTA is an imaginary one. If you live in Pickering or Mississauga or Newmarket and you work downtown, you don’t want to have to cope with a patchwork of payment systems.

Draw a map, draw in the transit lines — then build them.

Pick a card, any card, then get it up and running — and let’s see the contracts so we know which is the better deal.

And stop the squabbling — now.