Photo by concep007.
With all of the recent hand-wringing by the townspeople about every conceivable issue facing the Toronto Transit Commission, it’s easy to forget that, to some other major metropolitan areas, the TTC is considered to be a shining example of a well-operated mass-transit system. Yes, we actually wrote that. Recently, a group of distinguished visitors from “The City That Loves You Back” (Philadelphia, yo), including representatives from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and the University of Pennsylvania Design School among others, paid a visit to our fair city for a couple of days in order to study how a super-dope, ass-kicking transit system works. (Yes, we’re still talking about the TTC.)
Many of you might be thinking, “They came to Toronto? Don’t they know that practically everyone here hates the TTC?” Possibly, but they still think we’re on to something up here. Besides, Torontonians don’t have a monopoly on antipathy towards their local transit providers.
It’s useful to know why Philadelphia chose Toronto to study. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, there are enough similarities between the two cities’ transit systems to make a reasonable comparison between them.
The Toronto commission is, in some ways, comparable to SEPTA, with about the same size workforce (roughly 10,000) and operating budget (about $1 billion). But it carries 50 percent more passengers: 460 million, compared with SEPTA’s 301 million a year.
So, after their grand, two-day tour of our city’s transit facilities (not limited only to the TTC and including trains, subways, buses, and streetcars), what elements impressed them the most? The answers will likely surprise some critics. The Inquirer article is absolutely chock-full of praise for the TTC and well worth the read, but here are some of the highlights:
The three top attributes of the Toronto system are “service, service, service,” noted Edward D’Alba, president of Urban Engineers, another in the group.
One thing “that really impacted me was the sheer size of development within a quarter to half a mile of the Toronto subway stations,” said Andrew Levecchia, senior planner for the Camden County Improvement Authority.
“Thirty thousand to 40,000 people at a transit node. This is what we need. . . . They seem to be more willing to intensify density” than suburban Philadelphia residents, he said.
“SEPTA matches up fairly well against Toronto’s transit system,” McCaney said. “In my opinion, the real dramatic difference is not between the transit systems themselves, but rather how Toronto and the greater Toronto region seems to have much more effectively exploited its transit system as an economic development asset.”
There certainly seems to be an element of the “grass is greener on the other side” phenomenon on display here by the Phillies, whose system has had its own share of problems. Still, the visitors did manage to point out some of the inconsistencies and head-scratchers that have been vexing Toronto’s ridership for some time: “They also saw some familiar problems, like the struggle to develop an automatic fare card…No train from the airport?…Eleven different transit agencies?” Ummm…yep.
Of course one group’s almost overwhelmingly positive review of our system obviously doesn’t negate the many glaring problems still facing the TTC. Sometimes, however, a little outside perspective (and praise from Americans, yippee!) is just what we need to help Torontonians realize that, for all its faults, the TTC is…you know. C’mon, don’t make us say it.
Second photo by nndosi.