Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ranting Against Toronto Streetcars

This is no more or less than a rant, came upon a few days ago while following a streetcar, stopping at every corner on Queen St. in the middle of a dozen or two
of my fellow car people; seeing a ten minute spin turn into a 40 minute voyage. Getting behind not one or two, but six (count'em) streetcars in a row.
Not for the first time.
Streetcars are terrible forms of transportation. They even hold up other streetcars. They are inflexible, noisy, require huge maintenance costs, and, in this city, often go from nowhere (i.e. Maple Leaf Gardens soon to be a Loblaws) to nowhere (i.e. High Park, which is well served now by subway).
And, these Victorian-era dinosaurs trade diesel-fume smog for coal-fueled-turbine smog. No environmental benefit there, Dave (Miller or Suzuki).
Plus, they make cars spew whatever they spew for longer periods of time (although modern ones are quite environmentally friendly). But our city is in the middle of making an even greater commitment to these anachronisms.
But today my focus is not only on streetcars, not even on the whole darn family of public transportation vehicles, but rather, the system in which they exist.
Admirably there are about 500,000 people using our public system every day - assuming return trips. But this is out of 2.5 million Torontonians and includes a pile of folks from outside the city who use the system and the numbers represent a relatively insignificant number of users compared to the amount of personal transportation conducted.
I (and the other 3 or 4 million non-transit-users in the GTA ) would complain a lot less about public transportation in Toronto if it were anything resembling an efficient form of getting from somewhere to somewhere else.
Fifty years ago the Toronto subway was established to funnel nearby suburbanites from Rosedale to Union Station. Now, we have a system that tries to do the same thing for far away suburbanites, despite the fact that only a small share of the GTA labour pool works downtown; of the 2.5 million people who work in the GTA, only about 600,000 work in the old city of Toronto. Almost as many people from Scarborough work in Mississauga as there are that work downtown. And for that matter, lotsa downtown livers work out in the burbs. And a similar number of Mister and Mississaugans work in Markham or North York. Check out the 401 any day.
Short of creating a home exchange between families to get them to live closer to where they work, what about a solution for other 84% of us? We don't hate public transit, we just hate that it doesn't allow us to get anywhere we need to go. If it were any good we'd use it. Might even come to like it.
All we need to catch a ride to this transit utopia is commitment. Our transit idea people already have the solutions developed, they just lack the commitment of their political overlords to put their ideas in place. So what if it costs 10 or 15 billion dollars; we are either committed to a public transit solution or not.
We should reopen the challenge to public leaders to find the answer today: figure out the costs, get federal money (we are the only major city in North America that doesn't receive federal funding for our public transit), confirm funding from air rights and development charges, study privatization options, figure out the extra taxes generated, the savings from the Front Street Extension and other road developments, the economic development benefits, and just do it.
But our political leaders hate taking a real stand on anything, they just like to pretend they do or focus all their political energy on pissant projects that don't get anybody, anywhere (metaphorically speaking). Let's push them along, now.
The sooner we start, the sooner we'll get it done. Maybe by the time our baby boomers have to get out of their cars anyway.

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