Free Transit Touted Elsewhere, but Not in Toronto, not for the TTC

A Hamilton City Councillor is pushing for free public transit, a “no-brainer” move some Torontonians would like to see happen here, at the very least on smog days. It’s a no-brainer because as the Councillor points out, free equals more riders, and on smoggy days, when apparently 50% of Toronto’s smog comes from cars, that’s a good thing.

But “while cities like San Francisco and Montreal can offer free rides on
smog days,” Adam Giambrone, Chair of the TTC, says that “the concept doesn’t work with the TTC’s 1.5 million daily riders.” (Nick Kyonka, The Toronto Star, 8 July 2008)

He’s right. Free equals more riders which requires sufficient capacity. I don’t know much about public transit in San Francisco, but I do know that MontrĂ©al has more subway lines than Toronto, servicing a much smaller population than we have.* In other words, they can accommodate an influx of riders, the kind of influx that requires large-capacity carrying transit for the kind of riders who won’t tolerate packed, overheated buses and streetcars but will take the subway in lieu of their preferred cars. Toronto cannot.

Not on our buses, not on our streetcars, not on our subways. This is what the Art Eggleton-school-of-apathy established in 1980, the Ontario-Canada-school-of-hate-Toronto, and the learned-helplessness-of-Torontonians have begotten us. The one thing that may save us is the green movement, whereby even the most apathetic and most-Toronto-hating politician may find it beneficial to start building subways again, especially downtown where it would pay for itself. (I don’t know what’s happened to the subway to York U, but it seems to have transferred itself onto the slow track.)


* How much smaller is MontrĂ©al to Toronto: read this tourist post. For a person like me who remembers when the two cities were neck and neck in population, this is very funny. I’m glad she had a good time here! That’s what we like, happy tourists!!! Even if we natives have to put up with an inadequate TTC.

3 Comments so far

  1. swoononeone (tor_trevor) on July 9th, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

    Free rides come from somewhere (um, tax dollars anyone). If people want free transit they would still have to PAY for it. The fee structure on Toronto’s Transit system is almost entirely user pay. Unless government funding increases where are the free rides going to come from?

    TTC bargains can still be had. Day pass prices have increased but they are still an awesome value for a family on weekend (2 adults and 4 kids for $9 all day!). I hardly think that "not-in-my-backyard" Torontoians will budge and allow for costly subways to be built. Light Rapid Rail is far more cost effective to build and run and look at the opposition to that option.

    The city of Montreal is smaller these days but at planning has always been central to its success. Developers still rule Toronto (and Ontario in general). Build first and figure out how to get from A to B later. If new development required more planning and transit Infrastructure to be built alongside it we would be so much further along.

  2. talk talk talk (tor_pario) on July 9th, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

    Very true, and as I’ve noted elsewhere — and the Star article did too — Toronto is the least subsidized system in North America. The fares are just about beyond my ability to pay, and only in Toronto would $9 be considered a bargain. However, there is another problem with Toronto and that’s capacity. Even IF higher levels of government were to chip in, the system couldn’t handle free rides on smog days.

    I do think Torontonians would support subway building. Unlike the St. Clair right of way, it won’t disrupt traffic, fire engines, and parking once it’s built. There will be screams about the temporary disruption when they build it, but when they started building the Eglinton line (before Harris shut it down and wasted almost $100 million) there wasn’t as big a hue and cry as for St. Clair. In fact, there was a huge uproar when Harris cancelled it.

    We used to have good planning. It’s why people from all over the continent came to admire the TTC and the way our city ran. We were lauded for the best public transit system in North America and for the cleanest city. But it’s been almost 30 years of apathetic leadership since those days, leadership content to rest on laurels and do photo ops to appease the masses, leadership that has ruined our system, our city, and our reputation. It’s been so long that newbies and young ‘uns don’t even know we were once a city that was looked to for transit planning.

    You are dead on right when you say that "If new development required more planning and transit Infrastructure to be built alongside it we would be so much further along."

  3. wklis on July 10th, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

    Montreal is also an island.

    Unless a great wall is built along Steeles and the western and eastern frontiers, it is hard to keep the barbarians crossing over to use the "free" or currently city-subsidized transit within the borders of Toronto. Even now they use their chariots on roads paid for by the citizens of Toronto.

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