Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Perils of Bulldozing Through

The Toronto Transit Commission is, without question, the Butt Monkey of Toronto. It seems like nothing ever goes right for the TTC, and it's always taking heat from irate commuters or antediluvian talking-heads who think it would be so much better if it all just went away. Recently it's been taking some heat over a recent plan to expropriate and demolish some houses in East York in order to build second exits at Donlands station and Greenwood station - since they've only got one exit each at the moment, they're not necessarily the best places to be during an emergency. After an outpouring of discontent, the TTC has come up with an alternative that wouldn't result in any homes coming down, and it has admitted that there should have been a public consultation on it from the start.

I'll admit that time after time, the only conclusion I can draw from the evidence at hand is that the TTC is still learning just how to operate a metropolitan mass transit system. That's the only reason I can think of that explains why I can find two 512 St. Clair streetcars back-to-back on the new right-of-way, why it hasn't picked up articulated buses for high-traffic routes like 29 Dufferin, why it can't make accurate station-area maps, and the generally erratic nature of surface transit schedules in general.

Though, on the other hand, these problems may well have existed since the dawn of streetcar service in this city. It's easy to conceal what would be erratic service when you're running more than seven hundred streetcars. So I'll reserve judgement for the moment.

But really, give the TTC a break. It could be worse - like what happened recently in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, where the residents of twenty-six houses discovered from the media that their homes would be expropriated and demolished in order to build the proposed Regional Rail Link. Not only was there no consultation with the government, they weren't given any prior warning because... well, apparently because Victoria Premier John Brumby thought it would be totally awesome to synchronize the notifications with an announcement of the project at a business lunch.


According to The Age of Melbourne, the government totally planned to inform the residents that their houses were going to be reduced to rubble - but the bringers of bad news "fled when they saw television camera crews in the area... and had made the judgment that it would be better not to have such a 'personal and private conversation' with residents in front of TV cameras."

Let me state right now that I'm not blaming the messengers here. This was obviously a totally awkward situation. The point is that they shouldn't have been put in it! Say what you will about the TTC, at least it 1) announced its plans, 2) was receptive to public response, and 3) altered its plans based on public response. That is how a government agency should work! I'm really not sure how much room there was for public consultation in this at all - while the routing was apparently unveiled in June 2009, until the announcement it seems to have been cloaked in secrecy, with no one but the government knowing what the deal is. Beyond that, the fact that the affected people did not know if their homes would be demolished until they learned as much from the media suggests to me that, no, the government didn't exactly do a sterling job on entertaining public opinion for the route.

What makes it even more delectable is that Premier Brumby is refusing to apologize for the way the situation's been handled. "Every effort was made to contact those people," Brumby is quoted as saying, but The Age does not specify whether he's referring to actual efforts or just efforts in Government Land, where idly entertaining the possibility of performing an action while staying as motionless as possible is functionally equivalent to carrying that action out.

So say what you will about the TTC. At least it recognizes, when it counts, who it really reports to. The actions of the Government of Victoria here follow all the cherished traditions of government, in which it is to be obeyed and it is above the manners of mortal men.

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