TTC Chair Karen Stintz speaks to members of Toronto Roller Derby. Photo by Steve Kupferman/Torontoist.
A TTC public consultation last night at Metro Hall, meant to facilitate communication between the public and TTC brass over proposed service cuts on forty-eight bus routes, was civil but chaotic.
For the civility, credit the citizen attendees, many of whom had come in order to convince the senior bureaucrats and City politicians in attendance to maintain some or all of the routes at their current service levels.
For the chaos, blame the format, which was not a town-hall style sit-down meeting, as many had apparently expected, but rather a poster session, with TTC staff and City councillors circulating freely through a crowd whose composition was perhaps half civilian and half media. Only small-scale conversations were possible; there was no way to address the entire room. Large display boards on easels showed maps of the affected routes and nearby alternatives.
David Rapaport, an attendee, confronted TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) to express his displeasure. Within moments, he and Stintz were surrounded by microphones.
“This is a real serious problem,” Rapaport told Stintz and the half-dozen reporters that were conspicuously eavesdropping on the conversation. “When we used to have transit meetings…they’d put the boards out and then we’d have a public discussion. And to me, this is a step back for democracy in Toronto, and I’m not happy about it. There are things I need to say. Not only is the TTC not expanding, but now I’m being told that it’s contracting, and that really upsets me.”
Stintz tactfully led Rapaport away to the rear of the conference room, where TTC staff could address some of his concerns, and where there were fewer recording devices.
The confusion over the format of the consultation had partly to do with a vague press release, which billed the event as “an opportunity to see details of which routes are proposed to be reallocated, alternate routes that customers can use, and an understanding of why the TTC is proposing these changes.” Three more consultations are planned over the next three days, in different parts of the city.
Most of the bus routes in question will lose late-night hours, but some of them face more severe cutbacks. The TTC, under pressure from the City to control its budget, has said that the service reductions would free up as much as seven million dollars this year (but likely less, now that a decision on the routes has been deferred until February), with resources to be reallocated to busier routes in the fall. The full list of affected routes is available on the TTC’s website.
Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) was at the Metro Hall consultation. “The mayor has gone on record,” he said. “He’s declared the TTC an essential service.”
(City council voted to recommend designating the TTC an essential service at its meeting last month. The designation would ban TTC workers from striking, and would, according to City staff, also drive up labour costs. The province needs to approve the move, and they’ve recently shown willingness to do so.)
Vaughan continued: “As long as it’s not okay for the union to pull buses off the street, why’s it okay for him? This is an essential service. It’s an essential service for people who have to get around the city after 10:00 at night.”
Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), another member of council’s left, was similarly concerned. “It’s a safety issue, these night routes,” she said. “I heard from some middle-aged women who said they will choose not to go out. I heard from shift workers who said they will struggle to be able to pay for alternative transportation, like taxis. It’s going to have real impact, on real people.”
“I think what this is demonstrating once again is that services don’t come for free. There’s no magic solution. They cost money. You either pay with user fees, or you pay with taxes, or you suffer.”
In the back of the conference room, by the posters explaining the different route changes, members of Toronto Roller Derby spoke with Stintz. The Derby has become the public face of bus-cut victimhood because of its members’ dependence upon the endangered 101 Parc Downsview Park bus to reach the group’s skating gym. They lobbied at last week’s public budget consultations, and were out in force, and in uniform, at Metro Hall.
Afterward, Stintz spoke to reporters about the TTC’s deliberations over the 101 Parc Downsview Park.
“Once we got some feedback, we went back to look at it a little more in depth,” she said of the proposed cuts to the route, “and we realized that we might have to make some adjustments.” This bodes well for the Roller Derby lobby. Stintz stressed that the criterion for selecting routes to cut was a total ridership of less than fifteen people per hour. But those ridership numbers are weighted averages, meaning they wouldn’t necessarily reflect infrequent spikes in usage, Derby-related or not.
The purpose of the consultation, she said, was to “review our numbers against the feedback that we’ve heard and bring that back to the Commission,” at its next meeting, which takes place on February 2.
“Really what we’re trying to do is put more services where they’re needed,” she continued, referring to the TTC’s pledge to reallocate resources to busier routes in the fall.