Friday, August 19, 2011

Lying On A Bed of Rails

"This subway plan is realistic, it's affordable, and it will deliver real benefits for people living and working in Toronto in time for the 2015 Pan-Am Games."
- Rob Ford, from the Rob Ford for Mayor Transportation Plan, September 7, 2010

These are strange times to be a transit supporter in Toronto - which is just as well for me, seeing as how I'm not in Toronto anymore. Despite that, as a member of the Torontonian diaspora I can't help but watch and listen as the city groans a little bit louder with each passing day. I think it may come from the gradual realization of certain truths - such as the way in which Toronto's transportation infrastructure is continuing to lag behind, the way in which Hizzoner da Mayor's ideological emphasis on subways - specifically, the Sheppard subway, a wholly suburban line connecting a mall in North York to another mall in North York - and staunch opposition to surface-running light rail is making sure that Toronto will continue to operate a 1970s public transit system well into the twenty-first century.

Many of the important truths in life are simple. So simple, in fact, it's easy to go past them without noticing, leaving them lying neglected on the pavement. One such truth is one of the key points of argument - correlation does not imply causation. Said another way, just because two things happened at the same time, it does not mean that one caused the other. This would be a good thing for politicians to know about, or at the very least not ignore quite so much. That's more than I can expect for Hizzoner, though.

Recently, Ford claimed that he "campaigned on the Sheppard subway and people supported my platform." Well, I'll give him this - both of those statements are true. He did campaign on building the stubway to nowhere out to Scarborough Centre, and enough people did support his platform to propel him to the Mayor's Office. The assumption here is that people supported him because of his subway plans. Myself, I don't buy that - but I don't imagine that matters. People voted for Rob Ford, so in Rob Ford's mind, every single person who marked his name on their ballot wanted the whole package. To be fair to him, too, he's not doing anything that he didn't warn us about in his pre-election transportation plan - which is one of the reasons I was so opposed to him.

Mostly because his transportation platform rested on discarding a plotted-out system with plenty of dedicated funding that had been in the offing for three years, in favor of back-of-the-napkin "plans" with no money to pay for them. Now, that proud brashness may finally be biting at Ford; Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appears singularly uninterested, and rightly so, in giving Ford $650 million to pursue his dream of a completed Sheppard Line three years from now. Dollars which, by the way, come from the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction - because the Ford camp is "already certain" that one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in Toronto's history will come in under budget.

Pull the other one.

A subway train departs from, or possibly arrives at, Sheppard-Yonge Station. Since they use the same tail track it's hard to tell sometimes.

There's ideology, and then there's just stupidity. Sure, I like subways; they're fast and smooth and have a lot more room for people to move around inside - unlike the SkyTrain here in Vancouver, where just because someone's standing next to the door it doesn't mean they're getting off at the next station. I feel that the Ford administration has already breezed past ideology and moved to stupidity in its monomaniacal pursuit of a subway underneath Sheppard Avenue East. If only Ford was pursuing his promise to not cut services with the same sort of mania.

On Wednesday, Randy McDonald at A Bit More Detail asked whether it was worth it for McGuinty to throw sand in Ford's eyes, for Toronto's sake - "is it worth taking down Ford if Toronto's left with no major transit expansion plans?" Personally, I say yes. Despite what we may be inclined to believe, there are circumstances where it's better to have nothing than to have something that's not appropriate for the situation. A completed Sheppard Line would be a money pit for years; the TTC is struggling to afford its current operations, and that doesn't even take into account the additional fiscal pressures that will kick in once the extension to Vaughan opens in 2014.

It was the suburbs who voted overwhelmingly for Rob Ford, drowning out the old city of Toronto's support for Smitherman. It was the responsibility of the suburban voters to know what they were in for when they marked Ford on their ballot. It's the suburbs who will suffer because they decided to listen to the subway crusader, without stopping to consider that the choice wasn't between LRT and subways - it was between LRT and nothing. This isn't the same category as people voting for Ford on his gravy-drinking bona fides, only to find him preparing to close libraries left and right - this was his plan for the start, regardless of whether the money was there.

The money isn't there. So there won't be much of a start after all.


  1. Thank you so much for all of your posts on T.O. situation, it so nice to see support from all corners of Canada in our struggle to fight the Fords!

  2. Hey, no problem - if anything at least maybe I'm good for some moral support. Besides, Toronto was the fulcrum of my life for twenty-seven years; that sort of thing doesn't just disappear.