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TTC essential to Toronto: Editorial

The TTC turns a stunning 90 years old in 2011.

Over the first eight decades, the Red Rocket has grown to become an essential part of Toronto.

What used to be known as the Better Way has seen an explosion of ridership, even in the face of repeated fare hikes and crowded vehicles.

It now carries 1.5 million Torontonians a day, or 476 million rides a year, up from 405 million in 2003.

Without the TTC, Toronto is sunk.

Our downtown can’t function, our disastrous traffic situation goes off the rails, people in the city can’t get to work, to medical appointments, and businesses seize up. For many, the Better Way is the only way.

A legal strike lasting the better part of two days in 2008 froze the city for a weekend, with problems exacerbated by the transit union pulling the plug with no notice.

The province stepped in on the Sunday and ordered workers back to their streetcars, trains, buses and ticket booths. Letting the strike stretch into Monday was not a feasible option for the McGuinty Liberals or for this city.

In 2005, an illegal 12-hour wildcat strike by a small group of transit workers killed all service in the city.

Strikes cost the city about $50 million a day.

So, if the TTC is such an essential service, why hasn’t it officially been declared as such?

New Toronto Mayor Rob Ford campaigned on making the TTC essential. The issue is on the agenda for the first executive meeting this week at City Hall.

At the same time, a private member’s bill has passed second reading at Queen’s Park, put forward by Liberal David Caplan, to declare the TTC essential.

A 2008 vote to ask the province to declare the TTC essential failed by one vote — a loss pinned on now Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, who shocked many and voted against the motion.

The argument against essential service has often revolved around the designation not stopping illegal strikes, and around cost.

Historically, you pay a price to take away a union’s right to strike. A city report said the 2005 TTC contract would have cost taxpayers an extra $11.2 million if it went straight to arbitration.

Well, the math doesn’t work. Why let the union strike, and cost taxpayers $50 million a day, when we can wrap this up for a small premium?

But we shouldn’t stop there. It’s time to rethink more than essential service, customer service and Transit City at the TTC.

It’s time to look at how all the services are provided. Should some work be contracted out? Should Metrolinx play a bigger part, for example taking over the subway system?

Yes, this will ignite a new war with the Red Rocket’s union, but it’s time.

For the enormous role the TTC plays in Toronto, it’s not running effectively enough, it’s not funded properly, it’s not managed efficiently, it has a long way to go on customer service, and it’s still set to be an even bigger drain on taxpayers.

Ford and council should seek the essential service designation, but that alone won’t fix what ails the TTC.