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Transportation Minister Wins TTC Sardine Award

Why a transit advocacy group singled Glen Murray out for failing to fund transit, and who he thinks really deserves the blame.

On March 28, a group of advocates dressed as sardines literally laid the blame for Toronto’s transit dysfunction on the doorstep of Ontario’s transportation minister Glen Murray, awarding him the inaugural TTC Sardine Award for failing to “fix public transit.”

The prize was created by advocacy group TTCriders as part of its #ttcsardines campaign, which encouraged TTC riders to use social media to share pictures of overcrowding in order to highlight the funding and service challenges confronting the city’s transit system. The four photos that best represented the cramped conditions experienced by riders were turned into a poster “award,” and Friday, after a roving demonstration that included a streetcar ride, the costumed protesters placed it—along with a platter of sardines—in the entrance to Murray’s community office in Cabbagetown.

Murray, who was making an appearance in Waterloo that day and so not on hand to accept the offerings, was the recipient of this questionable honour because the group believes a higher provincial subsidy for the Toronto transit system’s operations is critical. TTCriders spokesperson Herman Rosenfeld said there’s not enough funding to pay for the operation of the system. “The TTC operations does not get regular funding from the province anymore,” said Rosenfeld. “It used to.”

Jennifer Huang, an organizer for the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, said riders are being asked to pay more for transit, while facing service cuts and longer wait times. “When that bus comes, it is so packed that we are like sardines,” said Huang. “We are not blaming this on TTC management or TTC workers,” she added. “The problem is the province does not fund it enough.”

PC Premier Mike Harris cut the provincial operating subsidy in 1998, after amalgamation, and successive governments have yet to restore it.

Rosenfeld said TTCriders is calling on the province to contribute $700 million a year. “This is not for expansion—this is simply to make it not so crowded. And that could help to pay for increasing capacity by about 20 per cent by putting more buses on, for signalling—it means some buying of capital equipment.”

This money, Rosenfeld said, would also go towards a 20-cent reduction in fares, which would especially benefit low-income people who depend on transit.

Transportation minister (and now TTC Sardine Award winner) Glen Murray, however, said the group’s blame is misplaced and that there’s confusion about where Toronto’s transit fix can really be found.

“The primary reason the system is overcrowded is not the operating budget; it’s the capital budget,” Murray said. “We have a $50-billion rapid transit infrastructure investment that we are almost $20 billion into, and we are paying for 90 per cent now of all of the capital investment.”

Capital investments pay for shiny new things: new subway lines, more buses, etc. Operation expenditures pay for the day-to-day things like a bus driver’s wages, or repairing the streetcar tracks.

Murray said the solution to overcrowding is new purchases—and he places the burden of responsibility for operational subsidies largely on the City’s shoulders.

“In 2006, the City of Toronto Act was passed, and the City of Toronto got more taxing authority to raise more new revenues for transit and other things they want than any other city in Canada.”

Murray said city council, under Mayor Rob Ford, eliminated some of these revenue streams—such as the vehicle registration tax—and reduced others, or used them for anything but transit. “We’ve given the taxing authority and they don’t use it,” Murray commented. “Use what you’ve got first, before you ask for more.”

Murray also levelled his sights at the federal government, which he said has a terrible record when it comes to transit investment, as well as his party’s provincial and federal NDP rivals.

“I don’t know the NDP is behind it, but the rhetoric that I’m hearing in front of my office sounds a lot like the New Democrats—which is also laughable” said Murray. “We’ve got a provincial NDP that loves to talk about transit,” he continued, “but squelches and squashes every initiative the Liberal government brings forward to get new revenue tools in.”

Asked what his acceptance speech would have been if he had be there in person to receive his TTC Sardine Award, Murray had this to say:

“In a city where Rob Ford has led this so-called end of the war on the car, which has almost created a war on everybody else, is a problem. I just think it’s ridiculous, and humorous, and I’ll take it with the sense of humour I have, but I’m hoping they’ll take that energy to the people who are actually not investing in transit. I think the intentions are good of the group. But I think their criticism is misplaced.”


  • andrew97

    I fail to see why Murray got this, and not Ford and Stintz for cutting the TTC budget. Or even City Council as a whole for voting in bizarre schemes such as the Scarborough subway, and voting down new revenue tools. The province isn’t the problem with Toronto’s transit.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      There’s plenty of blame to go around.

      • andrew97

        The province is going pretty far out of its way to let the city specify its transit priorities. When Ford was elected, and wanted to make Eglinton all-underground? Province said OK. When council reversed the decision and Transit City was back on the table? Province said OK. When the city cancelled the Scarborough part of Transit City and wanted subway? Province said OK, as long as the city paid the extra. When the city refused to pay the extra? Province said OK, here’s the subway we can afford.

        As far as I can see, the confusion is council’s fault. So I wonder what “TTCRiders” really wants here. Do they want Metrolinx to take over the TTC? Because that’s what it sounds like.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          Those are all new developments, not solutions to existing overcrowding. A number of those developments would probably make things worse on Yonge, feeding more riders to the line instead of being an alternative.

    • dsmithhfx

      Their clever publicity stunt was wasted. Plenty of blame for the province, the feds, Council, even taxpayers and voters: we’ve all done a big, big stupid.

      Picking an individual scapegoat is just compounding the problem, because it deflects from finding solutions. Firing Murray will not magically fix transit, stop the bickering, or alleviate congestion.

    • bobloblawbloblawblah

      Murray did play politics with transit last year, and while TTCriders is calling for more provincial subsidies and thus targeting Murray, I’d say Ford and Stintz deserve the villain award more.

    • wklis

      Ford requested that the TTC reduce its budget by 10%. So service was reduced in 2011. Part of his “Customer Service Excellence”… not!

      Slowly returning, but long way to go.

      • dsmithhfx

        Rob’s concept of “Customer Service Excellence” is limited to drug deliveries around the corner from his house.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          And convenient places to urinate in public.

          • dsmithhfx

            That’s an entitlement, not a service.

  • OgtheDim

    Just wait to see what happens if Hudak or the ONDP get in after the probable May election. The ONDP has been as anti-transit as the Tories.

    • dsmithhfx

      There’s a whiff of NDP mischief about this “award” that, if true, may come back to bite them in the ass.

  • wklis

    Canada, the federal government, is the only western democracy NOT to subsidize the OPERATING budget of transit agencies.

  • tomwest

    “The problem is the province does not fund it enough”
    No, the problem is that TTC does not get enough funding. Funding the TTC is primarily the responsibility of the City. I wish TTCriders would campaign for the City to increase funding.

    • bobloblawbloblawblah

      It used to be a provincial responsibility until Harris downloaded it onto the city.

      • tomwest

        “used to”. Past tense.
        Now it’s the City’s responsibility.

    • Steveinto

      The province takes a significant amount of money from the city and spreads it around the province. The city sees little of what leaves. Asking for some of it back to fund things such as transit is not a bad thing.

      • tomwest

        So only municipalites that are net contibutors to the Province should get transit funding from the Province? Or just Toronto?

        • Steveinto

          Your words not mine.

          • tomwest

            I know they were my words – I wrote them. There was a question to you in it. Could you kindly answer that question?

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          Toronto should be the province’s primary concern.

          • dsmithhfx

            Easier to gerrymander.

  • aplofar

    Though it’s bad from the standpoint of actual levels of service, I don’t see why it is somehow the province’s responsibility to subsidize transit in Toronto. First of all, how many Ontarians are getting access to that service in any way? It’s a localized benefit, but a general cost. Secondly, how is it possible to figure out what the correct level of subsidy is? Should the province go in 50/50 on the subsidy with a municipality – but then you’re rewarding municipalities with high subsidy rates, and punishing those with good farebox-recovery (like Toronto.) Should there be some formula based on a per-rider, or per-vehicle-mile subsidy – but then the province would have to step in to stop projects and services with high per-rider subsidies, lest it get roped into a continuing subsidy obligation, like the Sheppard Subway. Should Toronto get (let’s say) $0.50 in subsidy per rider, but Ottawa get $1.00 per rider? Why? How is there any reason for differential subsidies besides “we want more money!”

    And thirdly, the level of subsidy needed for transit is effectively a function of the land-use patterns of that city – and this is mainly controlled by the City. True, there’s the OMB and Places to Grow, but the municipalities of the GTA have planned a resolutely transit-hostile region for decades, and unless you want Queen’s Park to start writing zoning bylaws, it’s hypocritical to say “subsidize us more”, since that’s really saying, “make up for the mistakes that we knowingly made, and which we refuse to correct except when you force us to correct them.”