How To Spot a Liar: Look For The Promise of Subways

Sure, the headline is a rather broad statement, but it pretty much sums up most candidates in the municipal election, both mayoral and council. Now, I also understand the inflammatory nature of the word ‘Liar’, as I am taking some liberties in its use. I know of people who believe a lie to be any untruth, regardless of whether or not the person stating it is aware of its truthfulness or not. However, given that many of the candidates have either been involved in the operation of the city in one way or another for sometime, they should have a good idea of just how things work and don’t work, or at least they should.

Just stating things like, “we need subways, not streetcars,” is over simplifying things and shows extreme lack of understanding of what is needed and where it is needed. More importantly, it shows a complete lack of understanding about what it takes to make it happen. I am not just talking about finding and securing a source of funding, but also about the political fortitude needed to get it going. A significant project that will create a useful piece of the whole network, and not simply a stub addition to the system that helps no one except for those immediately near it, not only takes large amounts of cash, but also will take some time to complete. Often outliving the political lives of some of the politicans.

Few of the politicians have actually suggested where they would put all these subways they claim we need. Some say we should just be continually building, but have no idea just where that should be. Are they simply ignorant or just plain stupid in that they have no idea what will happen when they get down to try and draw those lines? Do they not realize that council will bicker over who will get the lines near their constituents? Do they not realize this will result in practically nothing getting done? Do they not realize that if anything gets done, it will be a kilometre here and a kilometre there at the ends of existing lines and this will prevent continuous building because the equipment will have to be packed up and moved somewhere else every couple of kilometres?

What are their plans for long term funding? Rocco Rossi’s plan to sell off assets like Toronto Hydro, use the proceeds to eliminate the city’s debt, and then take the debt servicing component of the budget and apply it to continuous subway construction sounds doable. It will provide almost $450 million per year, and that could in theory go on forever. In reality, that source of funding will be trimmed, if not completely redistributed by future councils.

Take a look at all the candidates who believe they can put a stop to Transit City, let alone use the ’secured’ funding to build subways. Newsflash: the ’secured’, though delayed, funding for four lines (Sheppard East, Finch West, Eglinton-Crosstown, and converted SRT) is for those lines, and unlike funding of the past, places ownership of the lines with the province under Metrolinx. News update: Metrolinx has just placed an order for 182 Light Rail Vehicles from Bombardier for these initial lines.

Promising subways is sleek and sexy and doesn’t require any further explanation to the general public. In the end, that is the promise that goes nowhere, while much if the transit using public trundles on with lousy service. As Steve Munro wrote yesterday, what really matters when it comes to improving transit for most, is what happens in the spaces between rapid transit lines. Issues like service reliability, frequency, and fare structures should receive far more focus.

I am waiting to hear of a candidate that promises to scrap the TTC’s outdated transfer system and replace it with time-based transfers. That is a promise that can be believed!

4 Responses to “How To Spot a Liar: Look For The Promise of Subways”

  1. zweisystem Says:

    There is an all too common theme by civic, provincial and federal politicians to promise building subways as the great investment in ‘rapid transit’. Sadly, when it comes to paying the billions of dollars for subway schemes, a great silence falls and the rhetoric of the billions of dollars flowing to Ottawa in the form of gas taxes needs to be redistributed to built subways.

    Vancouver is a perfect example:

    The initial SkyTrain line (light-metro) from Vancouver to New Westminster cost as much as the originally planned for LRT from Vancouver to Whally (across the Fraser River) in Surrey, Lougheed Mall in Coquitlam and to Richmond (again across the Fraser River).

    The bureaucrats were somewhat smarter planning for the second SkyTrain light-metro line and intentionally drove up the cost of LRT by needless over-design and gold plating until it was about 7% less than SkyTrain to build!

    The City of Vancouver, tired of elevated light metro, instead demanded subways for future ‘rapid transit’ in the city. The now Premier of BC and former mayor of Vancouver forced through a subway/metro line now known as the Canada Line. The present Canada Line costs about three times as much to build than a larger LRT network in Vancouver and Richmond.

    But that is not all of it. As the cost of the Canada Line spiraled upward, the scope of the subway project was cut back to such a point that the Canada Line subway has about 50% of LRT capacity and the cost to upgrade the subway/metro is between $1 billion to $2 billion! Added to this the $1 billion to $2 billion for the SkyTrain Lines midlife refurbishment and one can see that the metro in Vancouver is fast becoming a financial black-hole! Yet, no one in Vancouver will admit this and continue to believe that SkyTrain metro is the best thing like slice bread. Advocating a larger and cheaper LRT network makes one akin to a Luddite!

    All we get from politicos is more and more subway planning (Broadway SkyTrain subway), yet the very same chaps and chappets deny that closing schools and hospitals has anything to do with the huge cost for subways.

    Just recently TransLink re-announced with great hype and hoopla and subsequently amplified in the mainstream media, that the Canada Line carries about 94,000 riders a day, which translates to about 47,000 actual persons using the metro. Wow fantastic you say, but not mentioned by anyone is that the Canada Line is force fed about 40,000 persons a day from the former bus services it replaced, including all suburban ‘Vancouver’ Express buses which now force customers to transfer to the metro; the Richmond 98-B BRT; and the former ‘Airporter bus’, plus many others.

    When it is all said and done the new RAV/Canada Line has attracted about 7,000 new riders a day, including many older Asians shopping in Richmond’s Asian quarter, gamblers who now get direct service to River Rock Casino at Casino Junction (Bridgeport) and College and University students with the deep discounted U-Pass which give almost unlimited travel on the transit system for about $1 dollar a day!

    If this is success, please we can’t afford any more.

    So beware of politicians promising subways, because what they are promising are truncated transit Lines, higher taxes and a transit system that is easier and cheaper to just use the car.

  2. W. K. Lis Says:

    How much influence does City council with the TTC? While all the commissioners are city councilors, how many of them actually know the in’s and out’s of running the commission. I have seen only seen a couple, but even they have to defer questions and inquires to staff. The staff may recommend that the commissioners make a decision on something they presented, but does do the commissioners individually influence the staff.

    Cal’s comment: They could, but they don’t have the balls to do so. There has been a great reluctance to exhibit any opposition to anything staff recommends. Of course, commissioners could very well believe that our city could not have possibly ever hired staff that are not simply the best there is in the world, so why oppose anything they recommend?

    It takes the majority of the commissioners to make changes, so even if the new mayor gets on the commission, he or she will have only one vote on the TTC. That means they will need 5 commissioners to alter prior decisions, out of 9.

    The mayor is supposed to be a leader, and a good leader is supposed to lead (by bringing others around to a way of thinking, not by bullying them, hopefully).

  3. gricer1326 Says:

    Here’s how it goes: Candidate promises big subway construction, gets into office, and finds out there is no money. Big fat hairy deal. Have we ever had a mayor who has proposed LRT construction on their own volition?

    Cal’s comment: Let me fine tune that… Candidate promises big subway construction, gets into office, and finds out there is not enough money for the campaign promise plan. Plan gets cut way back to a kilometre here or there, but council bickers over who’s part of the city deserves that extra kilometre or two. Nothing gets built.

    I am not aware of any mayor ever proposing LRT on their own volition. I suspect that because Toronto kept its streetcars when other cities didn’t, LRT is jaded in the eyes of most as being basically the same. Cities like Pittsburgh did still have PCC streetcar operation well into their LRT era, but their system was more of an “interurban” system rather than a “streetcar” system. After the Overbrook line had been closed and rebuilt as a modern LRT line, public support to have the Beechview line (which had and still has a significant portion that can be called “streetcar”) upgraded was there. Hopefully, the SELRT will be the showcase line that will finally bring support for LRT to Toronto.

  4. gricer1326 Says:

    I now realize that Toronto is the only city which hasn’t upgraded its streetcar system to LRT standards. What a waste. Then again I guess i should be discussing this with Rob Ford.

    Actually, Philadelphia still runs mixed-traffic high-floor cars with trolley poles through the Market Subway. Just a clarification for those who were unaware.