The public transit system in Toronto is a vital public service.
The public transit system is a money pit.
Both statements are true, but which one you identify with more will give an indication of which side you lean to regarding the proposed cuts to Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) bus route service.
In a perfect world, the TTC would be a ‘Cadillac’ service that would be the pride of the city. Actually, in the past it came very close to being that. It was once held up as a model for urban public transportation.
No longer though. Thanks to chronic dithering and the beggaring of the system by the Conservative Mike Harris government in the mid 1990s the TTC has been reeling along, kneecapped by the loss of rational funding. The system is now almost entirely reliant on user fees, the fares passengers pay which, by the way, are higher than in both New York and Montreal.
When the TTC executive decide to cut routes such as the number 33 Forest Hill and the Downsview 101 in their attempt to save $7-million they look at ridership; how many people use the bus at any given time. The 33, for instance, runs through a wealthy neighbourhood and one might imagine that such a neighbourhood would not have many people requiring a bus, but there are people who work in those wealthy homes who do not have cars. The route also runs past a number of low-rise apartment buildings.
It is easy to understand why, when they are seeking a place to live, people consider accessibility to public transportation a priority. But what happens when that deciding factor is no longer available?
Some people will finally take the step of purchasing a car. Yet, not everyone wants or can afford a car. If we are operating on the premise that we are working to create an equitable society then we have to make a priority list that frames that goal. But in the current political climate, the noble goal of an equitable society is off the table.
What we have instead is how to give service to money interests. If bending to the dictates of the ‘almighty’ dollar is our goal then we are right on track. As a society, we continue to slide in the direction of rewarding those who look after money and give short shrift to those who care for people. So bank, insurance and investment executives are prized, while personal care and child workers make subsistence wages.
In the case of public transportation in Toronto which is used daily by some 1.5 million people, a good portion of those riders cannot afford a car and the route cuts will affect 250,000 by the TTC’s own estimate. Not only that, but any loss of service – not these cuts in particular – would have a significant impact on their ability to have access to employment.
Which brings up an important point: This back and forth in which TTC riders are pulled both emotionally and financially every time the TTC shifts is certainly an incentive to seek housing within walking distance of one’s workplace.
The problem with too many cars on the roads, the challenge to low-income workers whose neighbourhoods are disadvantaged by being poorly serviced by a system which is supposed to be fair to all the people means that we need to start looking at new ways to manage our lives as a society.
Of course, not everyone will be able to secure employment within walking distance of his or her home, but the more people who make that shift the better our relationship with the management of public transit will be. The recent experiment with rental bikes is also an alternative that bears encouragement.
We have to find creative ways to stop being held hostage to the bottom line especially regarding services on which we have become extremely reliant. We need to consider that the car or the TTC are not our only alternatives.
A note on African History Month events…
If you are near the North York Centre this week consider making some time to visit the African culture fair that has been taking place. Lots of beautiful craft and a great chance to chat with some very interesting artists and others who make up the local Black community.