04.03.2013 09:09 AM

A pox on transit

I wrote a couple weeks ago that I was fed up, to the teeth, with the incessant nattering in Toronto about transit. “Two things that drive me nuts about Toronto, ” I wrote.  “One, the manic focus on transit issues, 24/7, to the total exclusion of all other issues, like poverty, health, crime, environment, etc.  Two, the fact that, despite the continual yammering about transit, nothing ever friggin’ gets done about transit.”

Some of you were surprised, however, when I suggested yesterday that the historically-huge Metrolinx/Big Move price tag was a career-ender for most politicians.  Some of you reacted with astonishment that Warren – A progressive! A liberal! – could have the gall to decline to swallow the Metrolinx stuff hook, line and sinker.  How dare he!  Such effrontery!

Well, too friggin’ bad.  My take on these things is pretty simple.  Here it is, in six digestible nuggets, none of which come with a multi-billion-dollar price tag, and on which no experts were consulted.

  •  When a city – any city – gets bigger, it becomes harder to get around.  If you want a two-minute commute, move to Bancroft.  Duh.
  • Polls show urban folks consider transportation issues to be numero uno, I know.  Polls also show they don’t want to pay for it.  Also, they favour unicorns.
  • The so-called experts don’t have a single, understandable solution.  They fight about everything.  And they couldn’t organize a two-house paper route, let alone intelligently design an entire transportation system for a big city.
  • Citizens might’ve gone along with paying more for a better commute – if they hadn’t seen successive governments, at all levels, for decades, promise transportation bliss and deliver yet more gridlock and empty treasuries.  Oh, and stuff like Ornge and the 407 sure don’t help, either.  Nope.
  • The political pay-off is too removed from the pay-up: that is, those of us paying now won’t see a meaningful improvement in our lifetimes.  We’ll be residents of the dirt farm, by then.  In politics, that’s called the Get Defeated Quick Scheme.
  • Again, I am SICK – as a progressive, as a liberal – of this goddamn issue eating up the entire political landscape, every single bloody day.  Can we not focus on some other issues, for once – say, a dramatically-aging population, and an increasingly-expensive health care system?  The fact that violent crimes are claiming the lives of too many young men? That our mayor is a certifiable lunatic?

Anyway, thus concludes my rant.  Any politician who wants to stake their political future on getting voters to pay yet more for what they feel their tax dollars should already be funding is hurtling towards ignominious defeat, full stop (cf. The Green Shift, RIP).  And I don’t care if they’re red, blue or orange.  They’re, ahem, roadkill if they think the Metrolinx price tag is comprehensible, let alone saleable.

So, after all that, I can see the transit Philistines angrily demanding that I, Warren, come up with a solution to our transit woes.

My answer?  There isn’t one.  And, again, if you don’t like how hard it is getting around where you live?

Move to the country.


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    Pipes says:

    Please, please refrain from mentioning Bancroft. Lets not destroy that place too. I think the population there is under 5,000. If 5 more expat Torontonians move there, they will push to make it a world class town and then a world class city and then casino’s, subways, and a Trump Motel.

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      Warren says:

      I can’t help it. It’s the only neighbourhood where I actually own something.

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        Sb says:

        All the more reason to keep it on the DL.

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    CM says:

    Warren please print this post off, wrap it around a brick (old cobblestone of course) and throw it through the window of that pompous ass-hat Christopher Hume.


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      Brammer says:

      Oh please YES…!

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    Peter says:

    I used to think there were two jobs everyone feels supremely qualified to do. The first is to run the country and the second is to run their child’s school. Thanks for pointing out there is a third–designing their city’s transportation system.

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    Cath says:

    Good post! Sharing with my friends today.
    Oh, and you’re right, and if you WERE in “the country” today, especially Huron County country, you’d be gridlocked by snow squalls.

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    patrick says:

    Read a couple of transit websites and they are all pretty much in agreement that Transit City is the most functional use of our money. Miller at least worked for the future without any long term hopes of it paying off for him. Ford the cretin who obviously doesn’t want to do ANYTHING, ABOUT ANYTHING, serves idiots, fortunately council has rendered him as irrelevant as possible.
    As for previous political failures, well should governments never attempt to do anything again because previous governments have failed – and the 4077 and Ornge and Coal Plants are major failures – but then what is the point of electing anyone if they don’t work for the present and future?
    As for the dramatically aging population of Boomers who all voted in the tax slashing governments of the last 30 years and are now worried that they are going to end up in a hospital bed in a crowded hallway with a soiled diaper overdosing on Tylenol 3’s to numb the pain – good riddance to the most privileged, indulged, self absorbed and selfish population glut in history, you’ve reaped what you have sown.
    Oh, and the problem isn’t getting around the city, I can walk, bus, bike and very occasionally drive as I see fit, the problem is getting people in and out of the city with some flow meaning Transit City and DRL.
    And finally what the hell is liberal or conservative about transit? How is a subway conservative and an LRT liberal? How is being for or against a particular transit play left or right. I don’t recall Adam Smith extolling the virtues of subways or Marx waxing poetically about LRT’s. (Sorry this just sticks and twists in my craw.)

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    bigcitylib says:

    So whats the solution? Skateboard or In-lines?

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    Cory says:

    Seems like Warren tried to make an argument against improved transit and ended up making an argument against democracy.

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    Darwin O'Connor says:

    I think most people objected to your claim that there is enough wasted money to pay for transit, not that it would be a difficult to convince people to pay more taxes for transit.

    I think they are making it harder on themselves by trying to link a tax increase to transit. Government raise and lower taxes all the time, but many people don’t keep track of who is doing what for which reason.

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    James Bow says:

    Public transportation is a poverty issue and it is a business issue. If the commutes get too long, people in poor neighbourhoods get cut off from jobs. Jobs go unfilled, and people become increasingly dependent on social services at the same time. You want to improve the quality of life in a city, making sure everybody has access to quality services, and that there are jobs going around, invest in public transit.

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    dale Kowcenuk says:

    Sick of people complaining about gridlock, then refuse to be part of the solution by accepting the reality of paying for it. Decades of inaction by all political parties have left the GTA in a big mess. No more excuses – 21st. century transit requires a bold funding model now.

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    Bluegreenblogger says:

    Hey, I for one cannot argue that espousing transit, or transportation policy can be the kiss of death. That doesn’t mean that transit is not important though. I think that what you are pointing out just highlights the fact that tough and expensive issues involve tough trade-offs that the electorate just is not ready and willing to face. That is a real pity, because transportation does define how we live and work, and play. The inability to address these issues impacts all of our lives intimately, and deserves better than to be swept under the carpet like it was toxic waste.

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    TimL says:

    “The political pay-off is too removed from the pay-up: that is, those of us paying now won’t see a meaningful improvement in our lifetimes.”

    Why democracy is the worst system (except for all the others).

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    Tdotdaver says:

    Warren, these ‘other issues’ that you speak of all tie back in to getting people around the city efficiently and at as low a cost to the citizen as possible. EG: Without proper transit it doesn’t matter how many jobs get created if the people can’t afford to get to those jobs (both in time and money).

    ‘Move to the country’ is an easy solution for those of means, not so easy for those fighting paycheck to paycheck to get their kids fed.

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    Derek Pearce says:

    Tell recent immigrants or single Moms to move to Bancroft, I’m sure they’d agree the jobs and social services needed are readily available there for them. Also, just because something won’t directly benefit a Baby Boomer it shouldn’t be done? Typical.

    Alright. Sorry, had to give some snark for snark there. As James mentioned above, good transit is indeed a poverty issue. If you want parents who are single Moms or recent immigrants to be able to spend quality time with there kids so they don’t end up stuck in drugs or gun violence, perhaps letting them get to their low-wage jobs in less than 3 hours total commute each day would help.

    Good transit is also a health issue. Encouraging people to use transit (by making it frequent and fast) instead of using cars will improve overall health through walking and less pollution. It will conserve farmland and natural areas from sprawling encroachment.

    To say “there’s no solution” is remarkably defeatist. There is one, and we have to pay for it. Canadians, apart from healthcare, are cheap and haven’t been spending as much on transit as we really should have been for at least 30 years. There was all that Baby Boomer education and then the education of their kids to pay for. Sometimes other, ignored bills come due.

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    steve says:

    Warren dissapointed to see you board the nihilisim train to nowhere. Other countries have solutions, are we not special?

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      Warren says:

      Are we not men? We are Devo.

      Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

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        james Smith says:

        Pinheads all!

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        steve says:

        I would trust Devo with the transit file before I would trust the Ford band of Brothers

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    Ted H says:

    Cutting taxes has been a political football for left, right and centre governments for the past 30 years and it has left us where we are now, without the funds to proceed with the appropriate technocratic policies necessary for living in the 21st century.

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      Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      Not cutting taxes, wasting taxes, that is where the problem has rested. Poorly designed cities over-reaching their mandates, provinces thinking massive jumps in programs and salaries are affordable, rather than sticking to their knitting.
      2005 = $7.5 Billion Operating Budget
      2013 = $9.5 Billion Operating Budget.

      That’s a 27% increase, or in other words, insanity. You want to build a subway, LRT, opera house and a heli-pad in every neighbourhood? Go ahead. You have the money, just not the will.

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    james Smith says:

    Bill Davis Kills Spadina Expressway
    Then Crushed Bob Nixon
    Last time anyone other than Dalton did anything for Transit

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    Mark N says:

    I don’t know, Warren. I don’t think it’s even about reducing the commute. It’s about keeping transit functional at this point. If we do nothing, gridlock will kill business in the city.

    And without politicians braving the “Get defeated quick” curse, we’d have no water systems, no public facilities and we’d have never built a subway in the first place.

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    Andrew says:

    Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is the solution that TO needs. It is flexible and does not require high cost infrastructure, i.e. rail lines, tunneling. Many cities with BRT have several sizes of buses to accommodate older, narrower streets (hence a wider more inclusive system) http://youtu.be/ZVvHCRe3prQ

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    campbell says:

    While I have some sympathy with Warren’s position, I agree with (what I think is) the majority here in saying that moving to the country isn’t the answer…


    1. Bigger cities are harder to get around, but we should be taking steps to slow the inevitable progress of the mobility problem – growth shouldn’t be stifled, but we should implement transit infrastructure that slows the growth of the problem. That said, I have considerably less sympathy for someone who lives in Brampton and spends 90 minutes each way on transit to get to their job in Toronto. Living far away from where you work pays off in many other ways (better house for cheaper), but it is ultimately a choice in the long term.
    2. I place my faith in voters on this one – I think that, frustrated after decades of inaction (like Warren is), the appetite to spend a little more to get a little more on transit might be politically palatable. Particularly if it was tried only within Toronto at first, so that Liberal seats in the “ring-around-Toronto” weren’t endangered.
    3. There is no simple solution. In Toronto, the “transit” problem is clearly multi-tiered, but often presented to the public as just one entity. There’s a problem internal to Toronto (neatly addressed by Transit City), and a regional transportation problem (getting people from the ring-around-Toronto downtown), – and problems located within the ring communities themselves. Provincial control of all public transit could increase the simplicity of the solution, as it would reduce the multi-jurisdictional atmosphere that slows down implementation in the region.
    4. Still placing faith in the voters – see 2.
    5. “The pay-off is too far removed from the pay-up” is effectively an argument against any mega-project that improves society… we should remember also that there are many transit expansion projects that have already been studied and approved, and are ready to go to detailed design/construction. If funded, the pay-off could come sooner than we anticipate.
    6. Finding and implementing a funding model for the required public transit efforts would be a good way to begin ending the discussion! Once the funding model is in place and we’re all over it, we’ll start seeing the improvements we need. The problem right now is not so much that we lack solutions to implement, but the money to do it.

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    Dog and Pony Show says:

    Perfect scenario – more bikes, shoes, roller blades, skateboards, etc. for the masses – fight that obesity crisis and retailers and manufactures get a little boost in sales.

    For the rest, there’s the Escalade to navigate through the dirty, teaming, crowds.

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    james Smith says:

    Gee, guess everybody is sick of transit talk….and would like to see some action.

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      james Smith says:

      Perhaps rather than the country folks should move to car heaven, LA.
      Oh wait, what are they doing there?
      2008 they passed a 1/2% sales tax
      Last fall the ballot measure missed a two thirds majority by 0.6%

      Curious what any politician would do with 66% support


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    Jamie says:

    Let me say something that may be somewhat controversial. The bigger and more complex the issue, the more democracy and the public get in the way. The worst thing you can do with a major transportation plan – or any major plan – is to engage in some never ending public consultation process with the goal of building consensus.

    The only politicians worth supporting are the ones who run to do something, not to be something. So get on with it and do it. If the public decides they hate what you’ve done, they’ll throw you out of office. Chances are, however, that they’ll respect the fact that you’re doing something and get on board. Leaders lead.

    Let me give a few examples from my own home province. South Fraser Perimeter Road routing port traffic around Vancouver. The new Port Mann bridge over the Fraser River (ten lanes – widest suspension bridge in the world), Millenium Line Skytrain from Airport to down town. Premier Gordon Campbell didn’t go cap in hand to the public begging for consensus and support. He just did shit. Sure, it caught up with him – after three consecutive majority governments. Who cares? The man leaves an actual legacy.

    I’ve become a genuine, dyed in the wool elitist and I’m damn proud of it. Most of the public couldn’t find their own ass with two hands and compass.

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      james Smith says:

      You may want to read the link to the LA Times story above; then shriek.

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    Cromwell says:

    Moving to the country isn’t the solution. Moving to where you work is. To reduce road congestion, increase urban density. But you have to make it too expensive to commute long distances to achieve it. Road pricing is the only answer.

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    Martin Gomez says:

    I agree with WK: there’s no new tax (or “tool” as they’re trying to call it) that will fill this void. Here’s my idea: hire a company from Quebec, like Bombardier to expand the transit system. Then, when it comes time to get started, you inform Bombardier that there is no money. Bombadier then goes to Ottawa, and Quebec City, and watch how fast the federal government will come up with the $$ to get the project going!

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    Steve T says:

    To the previous comment regarding Bus Rapid Transit, don’t assume too quickly that it is the solution. Here in Winnipeg, it was introduced (at great expense), instead of light rail. Sure, the buses go much faster within the BRT corridor, which is great for those who are riding. But the real question is – how many NEW riders did it attract? I suspect the answer is a very low number.

    This is the continual issue with transit plans. They do not necessarily do anything to attract new riders, which really should be the focus. Making the ride 5 minutes faster for existing riders isn’t a good use of taxpayer dollars.

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    Michael Reintjes says:

    Please stay in Toronto people….I moved to the country 12 years ago and the last thing we need here is more fucking Toronto zombies fucking up a perfect thing…Thank you…

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    Patrice Boivin says:

    You should hear the talk in Halifax… it’s a complete disaster, the politicians and the public are micro-managing city planning to the point where they recently had a “town hall” (whatever that is) about an interchange. It’s just incredible how fickle and unreasonable people are. I should be grateful, last year they wasted truckloads of money on an oval-shaped skating rink. But who cares? It’s all just other people’s money.

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    lukev says:

    Los Angeles voters, in a referendum, voted over 70% for a transit sales tax lasting 30 years.

    So much for your theory.

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