Transit & politics a dysfunctional relationship.

I was reading a piece in Steve Munro’s blog this morning. Steve Munro- below the line. What struck me, is that some of the projects that fall below the line on the TTC budget, would bring more to transit than the highly visible massively expensive expansions that we discuss. While some seem questionable, others need to be looked at and funded.

There is a basic issue in my mind with regards to how transit and payment is approached in the city, and province. The issue between Queen’s Park and the city often come down to who will pay for what and how.

The large big ticket items that can be readily publicly identified, seem to be easier to fund. The less sexy more mundane ones seem much harder, even though they involve smaller dollars. We need only look at the debate in Toronto between subway and LRT to know the scoop here, as subways are more visible to the public. The severity of this issue does not appear as great beyond Toronto, as York region seems quite happy to go with BRTs to support some fairly significant areas, and Mississauga seems largely focused on BRT and LRT.

The issues get really severe when it comes to paying for the items that make up the real nuts and bolts of transit.

Capital analysis of city budget

The most important thing is to maintain capacity in areas where significant transit service is already offered, and here, I believe Toronto is failing. You can continue to add riders to a bus, streetcar or subway train up to a finite point. You can only run so many trains per hour, pack so many riders onto a bus or streetcar. If ridership is growing then the space available will be dropping unless there are more vehicles in service. The fact that Toronto has increased its ridership year after year without adding streetcars or buses for some time, now means that these vehicles are full and more service is required.

The other factor that needs to be considered is that for vehicles operating in traffic, their ability to move has also been reduced, meaning every trips takes longer, and to offer the same level of service more vehicles are required. This amounts to a double whammy, and it is quite possible that to get back to a level of crowding and available capacity that existed prior to the TTC cuts prior to the Ford administration, would require something on the order of a 20% increase in vehicle capacity, today and in 4 more years that would be 30+%. This kind of increase is not in the TTC budget as proposed. This might be ok, if there were some projects coming on stream shortly that would greatly reduce the demand for buses, say 3 or 4 LRT lines that would replace the city’s busiest routes, however, that is not currently the case.

If we are to prevent the city from grinding to a halt, the current traffic on the road cannot be allowed to notably increase. Since the population is increasing, as is employment, the number of trips is perforce increasing, so these must somehow be absorbed by transit. This begs the question why are we not providing support for this most basic type of transit. Could it be that it simply is not sexy enough to attract our votes, and hence money? Unfortunately state of good repair projects are clearly some that are simply invisible until it has gone too far from being in good repair. The subtle projects that could increase capacity seem to similarly fall victim. The fact that LRT has had such a hard time gaining traction one hesitates to even mention the notion of things like more buses, or BRT routes, even though the less visible and less expensive projects stand a much better chance of providing widespread improvement in transit.

If we at least maintain the level of basic bus service, how can we expect that transit will attract a higher percentage than existing trips, let alone virtually all of them?  A few subway extensions is unlikely to make a substantive difference to transit in a wide area of the city.  However, failure to maintain the existing infrastructure, and provide capacity to allow growth will certainly cause chaos.

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