The Millennium and the GTA's Next Transportation Push

By James Bow.

(Originally published December 15, 1999)

'Nobody likes a math geek, Scully.'
-- Fox Mulder.

I'm talking about two subjects today. The first is almost irrelevant to rail and transit, as it discusses a pet peeve of mine. Few things make me want to pull my hair out in frustration, but one of those things is the hype surrounding the upcoming New Year. Everywhere I go, I'm inundated with statements such as "the last sale of the Millennium!" or "Your Millennium Keepsake" or "Millennium Quarters" (actually, these are kind of cool). It's impossible to escape. I'm writing about this here because this same hype has started to invade railfan circles.

Recently, Jack Doyle stated that his December 5th charter was "his last charter of the Millennium". This past Monday, Ray Nielsen welcomed us to "the last TTS meeting of the century." All of this hype is frustrating enough. What makes it all the more infuriating is (and allow me to vent my frustrations by hitting these people with a virtual foam-rubber bat) IT {thump!} IS {thump!} NOT {thump!} THE {thump!} END {thump!} OF {thump!} THE {thump!} FRIGGIN' {thump!} MILLENNIUM!!!!! {thump! thump! thump! thump! thump!}

There. That felt better.

The facts back me up. According to our Christian calendar, there is no Year 0. The first ten years of anno domini, which comprise the first decade, ran from 1 to 10. The first century runs from 1 to 100. The first millennium from 1 to 1000. The second millennium, therefore, started on January 1, 1001 and ends on December 31, 2000.

So, when Jack Doyle says it's his last charter of the Millennium, or when Ray Nielsen says it's the last TTS meeting of the century, they're inadvertently saying that there's to be no charters or meetings for the year 2000. When hockey commentators this past October commented on "the Maple Leafs' last first-goal-of-the-season", they're inadvertantly predicting a hell of a bad season next year. Millennium hype is one thing. Mathematically incorrect Millennial hype is a higher level of pain. If the people of the 19th century could correctly celebrate the turn of their century on December 31, 1900, why can't we do the right thing for our time?

Then again, I should be careful of what I wish for, as I just might get it. This could mean yet more Millennial Angst leading up to the true end of the 20th Century: December 31, 2000. And, frankly, I passed my Millennial tolerance just over a year ago.

Just make it stop. Please make it stop.

=+=+=

I wouldn't have thought this possible a year ago, but we may be just a year away for some firm commitments on transportation expansion. Various agencies are pushing proposals that will expand our road and transit systems. A week ago, Alan Tonks and the Greater Toronto Services Board released a report proposing that high-speed streetcars replace GO Train lines into the suburbs. There are signs that the TTC may be interested in testing limited stop express bus services along the 401. And recently reports have surfaced stating that traffic congestion is costing our economy $5 billion per year but (and here's the important 'but') merely expanding our road network isn't sufficient to deal with this.

The process hasn't gotten to the point where money will be committed and shovels put in the ground anytime soon, but pressure is building. A year ago, former premier Bob Rae lamented that "no government ever got defeated on its transit policy" when predicting no action to expand our overstressed infrastructure in the near future. Now, however, pressure is building, both from within Toronto, and from the rest of the GTA, and from the rest of southern Ontario. More importantly, the car dependent suburbs are favouring road construction less and public transit improvements more. There is a sense that momentum is building on this issue.

The reason for this is because the booming economy has made it clear that our infrastructure has not kept up with our population growth. In the years since the last major expansion to GO Transit, over a million people have moved into the Greater Toronto Area. Over three million people have moved into the GTA since the last major expansion of the subway network. In the next twenty years, it is expected that another two million people will join the ranks, and there are no plans at present for any major investments in roads, rail or subways. Free Trade is making the situation worse by overloading the 401 with trucks. Our inadequate infrastructure is starting to become a serious impediment to economic growth.

Fixing the problem will cost taxpayers money: billions over the next ten years, assuming we get started right away. However, you have to balance this with the fact that we are already paying $5 billion per year in lost workhours and increased delivery costs due to the present system. Even if the total cost of all the projects is as high as $10 billion (and thus far, the proposals haven't come close to that amount), our economy will make this cost back within two years of completion.

Also, we can keep the costs of expansion low if we pick the right projects to spend money on. GO Transit has saved Ontario taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the past thirty years by diverting thousands of commuters and their cars off of parallel highways each day, particularly the QEW. Already, the Milton GO Train pulls off hundreds of cars from the 401; extending the Milton train to Cambridge will pull off hundreds more, as will extending full service to Hamilton and Oshawa. A busway instead of a subway to the airport, and high-speed streetcars to Richmond Hill would provide similar benefits for less money than a full-fledged subway.

Tax money will still have to be spent, however, and this runs against the mindset of the current Conservative government in Queens Park. But as pressure mounts, the Conservatives may be forced to act. Support for improvements to public transit as well as roads is increasing rapidly in the suburbs of Toronto -- where support for the Conservatives is the strongest. As the pressure builds, the Conservatives will ignore this groundswell at their peril.

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