If there are some silver linings among the clouds hanging over the TTC right now, they include the twin opportunities to focus on what makes a transit system really work and how to pay for it.
We may have a chance to soberly discuss the city’s budget crisis, after the TTC stepped back from last week’s dire announcements about closing the underused Sheppard subway line, as well certain bus routes.
There are some real impacts on riders in the short-term, however. Long-overdue crowding relief (in the form of extra buses) was supposed to begin after Labour Day. That’s been postponed. Cutbacks to existing service are definitely possible within six months, as is a fare hike, but maybe we can squeeze in some reasonable debate despite the current political brinkmanship.
After Mayor David Miller and council allies, including TTC chair Adam Giambrone, narrowly lost a vote to levy new fees last week, they announced a rash of service cuts that had long been on contingency lists, but weren’t a specific part of the pre-vote debate.
Perhaps the mayor was overconfident the taxes would be approved, or just didn’t feel the need to bring out threats of drastic measures beforehand. Now, a great many people are upset and some are proposing their own solutions for budget cutting. A lot of the ideas proposed, unfortunately, sound good only on the surface, but without the TTC having a way to convince the majority it can prioritize expenditures wisely, genuine cost savings may get lost in the fuss.
The TTC promises local meetings about possible bus cuts in the weeks before the transit commission next convenes in mid-September. Are people going to use these as opportunities to yell a lot, or will citizens and councillors both talk, as well as listen?
During this unexpected consultation period, the campaign to control Queen’s Park ought to be heating up nicely — the provincial election takes place Oct. 10. Various competing forces will try to position Toronto’s tangled finances in a way that deflects blame to others.
It will be interesting to see how the major parties dance around the complexities of raising local taxes versus unpopular service cuts versus finding efficiencies in large organizations like the TTC.
The Liberals and Conservatives want to win Toronto ridings, but dare not appear to non-416 voters as pandering to the big city. The TTC funding crunch developed under governments of all three major parties and, after years of wearying crises, it has inflamed passions all over again.
If such a thing is within our power, let’s try to make a few good long-term solutions amidst all the blame throwing and frustration.