Queen's Park Watch: Why Toronto Transit Riders Are Getting Screwed
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Queen’s Park Watch: Why Toronto Transit Riders Are Getting Screwed

Short answer: because of our three levels of government, precisely zero have made it a priority.

It’s been an interesting year for the Red Rocket and its riders. In the spring, Mayor Rob Ford announced that he would fulfill his campaign promise to kill David Miller’s Transit City for city-wide light rail and replace it with an underground Eglinton line and a couple of imaginary subways (late-breaking news: the change in plan could cost Toronto taxpayers an estimated $65 million in contract cancellation penalties). Torontonians digested this move over the summer, but the war on public transit was just beginning.

With the Ford administration demanding budget cuts in all departments, in late November the TTC announced that service would be reduced on fifty-plus routes in 2012, meaning fewer and more crowded vehicles to service the GTA’s burgeoning population (a subsequent hunt through the budget and streetcar seat cushions found enough cash to keep things grinding along until the end of January, but what will happen after that is anyone’s guess). In return for this lesson in deodorant awareness, as of New Year’s Day TTC “customers” will pay an extra dime for their token or five bucks for a regular grown-up metropass.

In the distant past, the province would pony up half of TTC operating costs every year. This arrangement was kiboshed by Mike Harris back in the ’90s, and replaced with service cuts, fare increases, and the occasional random influx of cash at the whim of Queen’s Park. Last week newbie NDP MPP Jonah Schein (Davenport) penned a heartfelt letter to TTC chair Karen Stintz, requesting that she meet with the mayor and the province to talk about a return to those salad days when Torontonians got some of their tax money back to buy buses for Toronto instead of gazebos in Huntsville.

Schein quickly learned they play hardball up on the hill; his rookie optimism was dampened by Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne, who told MPPs that the province had no intention of donating to the cause right now, so good luck and hey isn’t it time for our holidays now?

All this jolly news notwithstanding, Torontonians failed to leap to the barricades to fight for their right to cost-effective transit, maintaining only the usual low-level whine as they muse about stocking up on tokens (although we like to think that the holiday revellers who expressed their love physically at Spadina station last Sunday were also mounting a protest against the recent cuts). Why do we put up with it?

Well, maybe people aren’t pulling out the megaphones and marching to City Hall/Queen’s Park/Davisville Station because they know no-one is listening. Let’s break it down: The City wants to pay for less service, not more. The province is pleading poverty, and with big-bucks portfolios healthcare and education off the table when it comes to targets for planned provincial cuts, you can bet that getting El Toronions from A to B isn’t going to be a budget priority anytime soon. The feds would rather figure out ways to lock potheads in superprisons than buy buses. And Mayor Ford’s private sector cavalry have yet to ride over the ridge carrying bags of subway cash.

So we’re pooched, to put it politely. We voted in a set of politicians at all levels whose priorities are elsewhere than the TTC, and we’re going to be living with it for a few years. In the meantime, the burden of all this new-found thriftiness will be core transit users—students, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the environmentally aware. Sucks to be us.