Deputants pack a City Hall committee room, at yesterday’s meeting of the TTC. Photo by Steve Kupferman/Torontoist.
The TTC’s masters met Wednesday to decide what to do about those forty-eight bus routes that were supposed to have their hours cut, and then reallocated to busier routes in the fall. The Commission ultimately decided to go ahead with cutbacks on forty-one of those routes. But first, there were over seven hours of deputations.
And yes, that’s a lot.
A deputation is essentially a speech, delivered by a member of the public to a committee of city council. There are very few rules governing who can make them: all one has to do is sign up. Each deputant is allotted five minutes to speak, unless the committee decides otherwise.
The TTC didn’t decide otherwise yesterday, and so a packed gallery used the whole of its allotted time to speak from shortly after the meeting’s start, at 1 p.m., to just after 8:30 p.m., when the last deputant wrapped up. Citizen deputations ranged from pleas for specific routes, to long, rambling airings of grievances that sometimes had little to do with what was actually under discussion. This was, in some sense, the opportunity that some felt had been denied them at last month’s public consultations, where a loose and unstructured format made it impossible to address the entire room.
The councillors on the Commission sat patiently for the entire day, with occasional breaks, and were tolerant of everyone who spoke.
And then they made exactly the decisions they were expected to from the very beginning.
The bus route cutback recommendations were modified by staff after last month’s public consultations. Seven routes were saved, and many others had their cutbacks softened, somewhat. The 101 Parc Downsview Park bus, which had been a subject of contention because of the much-publicized fact that Toronto Roller Derby players relied on it to get to their facility, was one route that got the softening treatment—instead of being cancelled outright from September to May, as originally proposed, it will now run from September to May, but only on weekends and holidays.
The other major issue on the agenda was the construction of a new streetcar maintenance and storage facility at Ashbridges Bay, which some residents opposed, fearing noise and traffic congestion. Several deputants also spoke in favour of the facility. In the end, it, like the bus cutbacks, was approved.
After the public deputations, the first to speak on the cutbacks were members of council who aren’t on the TTC. Most of them had come to advocate for specific routes in their wards. Some of them, like newbie councillor Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) disputed TTC staff’s assertion that the affected routes carried less than fifteen riders per hour. He’d personally ridden one of the routes, and had grainy Blackberry photos (which he splashed up on projector screens for the whole room to see) to prove that there were people on the bus.
TTC staff later explained that they have a squadron of twenty-eight employees who do nothing but ride around on the system and take headcounts on various routes. And so they’re pretty confident of their numbers. (Though, one has to wonder how they’re managing to pay all those guys. Isn’t the system in perpetual budgetary crisis mode?)
The staff explanation for the cutbacks can be paraphrased like so:
Ridership is growing. This costs the TTC money, because fares pay only a portion of the cost of each trip. Since the City won’t be increasing the TTC’s subsidy this year (the City is, for obvious reasons, not in the mood), the only way to keep up with growing demands on busy bus routes is to reduce service on routes that are underperforming, and then spend the money saved—about four million dollars, in this case—elsewhere. About 90% of the affected routes received expanded service in 2008, as part of the TTC’s Ridership Growth Strategy, and so the cuts would effectively return most of them to the way they were, before.
Many members of the public don’t accept that rationale, but the councillors on the Commission do, and that’s why the cuts were approved last night. Before the vote, at 9 p.m., commission member Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), who’d sat respectfully throughout the proceedings, got in his parting shot:
“For those people here today who think they’re pro-transit…on a global level, you’re not helping the system. You’re actually hurting the system.”
“It was all for nothing,” said one deputant after the vote, in a disgusted tone of voice. “It fell on deaf ears.”
Perhaps she was under the impression that participating in democracy means you win.
Whatever one’s feelings on the outcome, it has to be said that the TTC listened to all sides. They listened to the point of actual, physical pain.
A full list of the cuts approved at Wednesday’s meeting is available here: [PDF]. Cuts are effective May 8.