Archive | October, 2012

You think the TTC sucks? Maybe YOU’RE the problem.

15 Oct

You’re on your way to work, a job interview — you need to get to class on time to write your exam. You get in to the subway station, and right after you’ve dropped your token into the fare box, you hear the dreaded automated announcement echo across the over-crowded station: “Attention passengers on the Yonge/University/Spadina line…”, or whatever line you might be on.  “We are currently experiencing a delay…”. You get so pissed off; you know you’re probably not going to make it on time. To make matters worse, you have no cell-phone signal. You have to face the following dilemma: do I stay and take the train, regardless of how much I will get delayed? OR, do you burn that token you just used, go back to the surface and find an alternate way of getting to your destination? That is, if you even have an alternative (not everyone can afford a $70 cab fare).

Such is the state of transit in our city, and the target of most of our rage is the TTC. While far from perfect (I’d say very far), there’s a lot more to the problem than just the TTC, and the way it’s run. There are issues such as lack of funding. It’s surprising that many Torontonians still don’t know that the TTC is one of the least subsidized transit systems in the world. There are issues such as politics, in that when someone finally decides to cough up some cash for an expansion of the system, they want to have a say in how that expansion happens. In fact, it goes beyond that, they want to even draw the maps themselves with out any expertise whatsoever on how to build/expand transit. But lets forget all of these issues for a second; let’s talk about ourselves. Let’s talk about what we’ve done to make things better as average Torontonians.

There’s an overwhelming majority of us who live in the suburbs of Toronto, and surrounding municipalities, which for the sake of argument we can consider suburbs of Toronto as well. We are occasional transit users. We’d rather drive. Everywhere. We take transit out of convenience, mainly because we don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking somewhere. We drive into the downtown core often, and we cringe at the idea of road tolls. We have some of cheapest on-street parking rates in the modern world, yet we complain to no end. I don’t think we would ever be OK with the idea of a congestion zone in the downtown core. That means paying to get into the core during certain hours/days. A mere increase in the annual vehicle registration tax became a decisive factor in the last mayoral election. And I use the term ‘mere’ rightfully so, as compared to all the costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle annually, that increase in the vehicle registration tax was most certainly mere.  If you couldn’t afford that, I don’t know how you could afford a car to begin with. Yet with this mentality, we have the absurd expectation that we should have a world class transit system that expands left, right, and center 24/7.

Now, why is all of what I mentioned a problem? You’re probably thinking the government already wastes tremendous amounts of your hard-earned tax dollars anyway. Why not use the money that’s otherwise being wasted, and expand transit? It’s more complicated than that (again)! Build transit for who? What is the projected ridership for proposed lines going to be in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years? How will our car culture affect that projected ridership? We use transit out of convenience, and whenever it craps out on us (which is almost always), we say stuff like “Germany this!”, “Europe that!”, or “Even Eastern European/Southeast Asian countries put our transit system to shame!”… But do we ever stop and ask, why Germany for instance, has such exemplary transit systems? What did they do different? Probably not.

There’s a lot of studies, articles, journals, and etc. out there that could enlighten you on why the Germans got it right. But I would like to point out one example of how they did things right, which we could take as a great lesson (although we’d still be decades behind). The  Germans discouraged the use of personal automobiles as much as possible. Anything from parking, to gas sky-high gas taxes, to you name it. And they are reaping the benefits of such policies. You do not need a car to get by in Germany. Unfortunately, we aren’t OK with our government discouraging us from driving. I don’t even think our government is entirely OK with that either, considering our mayor’s policies. In my honest opinion, that means we see as far as our noses.

We have to get our priorities straight. Do we want a future (perhaps distant) with a world class transit system? Or do we want to continue our car culture. The choice is ours. It’s not just the man in charge who makes the decision. We need to grow the courage to make that choice as a society. If we want to embrace a car culture, we have to live with the consequences. Studies have made it pretty clear that building more roads, highways, and an infrastructure that caters to cars is only a short-term solution. More highways will only become as congested — if not more — over time. This isn’t something we can even argue. Unless there is a plan to stop population growth completely in the GTA, but I’m not even going to consider something that will not happen.

The choice is ours people. Are we going to accept that we have to pay for this (whether through our pockets, or sacrificing our convenience), or are we going to continue living this dream which will collapse on itself  eventually? Bare in mind, the more we delay our choice, the more of a mess we’ll have to clean up later.

The choice is mine. It’s yours. It’s ours.