Saturday, September 14, 2013
Politicians worsen GTA gridlock
I arrived at Heathrow, pulled out an old Oyster fare card and took the Tube directly to central London from the airport.
No muss, no fuss. No $60 cab fare. It cost less than $10.
When I returned to Toronto a few days later, I arrived at Pearson Airport and took the airport bus downtown. It cost more than $20 and there was a Jays game that night, so we sat in gridlocked traffic. What kind of masochists are we that we turn out in droves to watch the home team get massacred night after night — and sit choking on carbon monoxide to do so?
When I returned to Queen’s Park the following day, I found the cause of our transit woes.
Our politicians are once more paralyzed by political indecision.
Instead of implementing a rational plan for transit based on ridership, we have politicians drawing and redrawing transit lines according to their fanciful whims and where they believe they can pick up votes.
We’ve had subway lines started and stopped. We’ve had money promised — then taken away.
Mike Harris filled in the subway lines proposed by Bob Rae. Dalton McGuinty pledged $8 billion in subway funding — then promptly slashed that in half.
We’ve had bad decisions based on personal power trips. The Sheppard subway line was a $1-billion folly pushed by former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman. It’s the subway to nowhere. Or, more specifically, it’s the subway to Ikea. Just try getting your sofa through the turnstile.
As it is, the Sheppard line serves a handful of well-heeled folk in a posh part of town, who drive fancy SUVs.
The first priority if we’re building subways to Scarborough should be to connect the Sheppard line to Scarborough Town Centre.
Then there’s the 8.6-kilometre extension of the Spadina subway line to Vaughan. It cost an estimated $2.6 billion — and came out of nowhere. It wasn’t planned and was on no one’s radar when it was first announced by then-finance minister Greg Sorbara. Conveniently, though, it went to the heart of his constituency.
Then there’s electronic ticketing.
London has had the Oyster card system of payment since 2003. Before that, they had a multitude of cut-rate travel cards to pay for transit.
The TTC? It has an antiquated token system and one flat fare across the system.
Originally budgeted for $250 million, our fare card, Presto, turned into yet another boondoggle and was the subject of a scathing report last December by auditor general Jim McCarter, who said it had cost $700 million up to that point.
He said when all the costs are factored in, Presto could be among the highest-cost fare cards in the world.
That’s particularly upsetting to Ottawa residents, who look across the river to Gatineau, where they’ve had an electronic fare card up and running for some time.
To add insult to injury, last winter Presto users found the machines didn’t work in very cold weather.
Now the politicians are bickering over where the subway to Scarborough should go.
The one-fare-for-all system is unfair and doesn’t work.
You want to create another revenue stream for transit?
Charge the people who travel the farthest more. One fare may have made sense when Toronto was a small town. Now it doesn’t.
The Liberals have now locked horns with the TTC over where the new Scarborough subway should go.
The Libs want to replace the old LRT. TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Council want to extend the subway from Kennedy to Sheppard.
Look, replacing the LRT is a good idea. It’s old, decrepit and doesn’t run well in bad weather.
But Scarborough’s transit needs are immense and connecting Kennedy with the Sheppard line would make a lot of sense.
London built its first Underground line 150 years ago. And they kept on building. Sure, they’ve had their problems as the system aged. But at least they kept going.
Toronto got it right at the start. The Yonge subway opened in 1954 with 12 stations. Now we’ve stalled. And we’ve created a traffic nightmare as a result.
We’ll finally get a direct rail link to the airport by 2015.
I guarantee you it will cost more than $10.
Why? Because we’ve wasted millions on stop-and-start projects, Presto card boondoggles — and fuelling the ambitions of too many politicians.
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