John Tory's Magical Thinking Can't Repair Broken Subway Air Conditioning
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John Tory’s Magical Thinking Can’t Repair Broken Subway Air Conditioning

Why the City needs to cut through the hot air and look at the underlying issues.

Another day, another conundrum caused by John Tory’s magical thinking.

The mayor was recently challenged by arts administrator Bianca Spence to ride Line 2 in a so-called “hot car,” one of the 20 to 25 per cent of 370 subway cars on the Bloor Line that do not have working air conditioning.

Subway riders have felt the lack of air conditioning this sweltering summer—the Star measured hot car temperature at 32.5 C, and the mayor has belatedly taken up this grievance with the TTC.

In a press conference in Scarborough, Tory said the following:

“I will say, I’m not happy with the status quo that’s had us take as long as has been taken to get all the cars fixed in terms of their air conditioning.”

No one is happy with the status quo. Riding in hot, crowded subway cars is a frustrating experience, and if the TTC wants to provide a more attractive option for riders, it needs to maintain higher standards.

The TTC Board, which spent about one minute on the issue at its July meeting, should be more attuned to the rider experience.

But empathy alone does not solve these problems. The status quo isn’t good enough, but what’s the underlying cause of those problems?

Tory’s response was to urge TTC staff to accelerate repairs. He says he’s been in touch with them, and he’s holding meetings. That’s better than ignoring the problem, but his answer is convenient and insubstantial because it deflects responsibility to staff without addressing the root causes.

Fixing subway air conditioning units is not like installing a window unit in your apartment. Depending on the problem, fixing the A/C unit can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days—the most intensive repairs take up to eight days. While the TTC hoped to resolve the issues earlier this summer, they say it will be taken care of for next. That’s not much comfort to riders today, but the transit agency is already on it.

At the same time, the mayor is demanding a 2.6 per cent gross budget cut that, when considering the additional services and pressures the TTC must address, is more like a 12.4 per cent reduction—and he asks them to do this without reducing service. This asks the TTC, the most efficient (or underfunded, depending on how you look it) transit service in North America as judged by the fare box recovery ratio, to do more with less, faster.

It’s this magical thinking that represents the status quo Tory criticizes; that hot, thick air on subway cars doesn’t represent managerial incompetence—although the rotation of cars could arguably be better. Instead, it represents the shortcomings in the long-term political approach to Toronto transit that has failed to prioritize state of good repair until fixes are necessary, raises fares in the short-term in order to keep property taxes low, and quickly assigns blame to TTC staff when something goes wrong.

And yes, that status quo, whether it’s seen in a hot car or in political rhetoric, isn’t good enough.