“The Better Way” – Anywhere but Toronto
During the recent mayoral debate, Rocco Rossi made the point that Toronto has a good 1970s transit system, but the problem is that we are living in 2010. He also made the point that the TTC has changed very little since the 1970s. As somebody who rode the TTC during the 1970s and attempts to use it today – I can say that Mr. Rossi is completely right. The Toronto subway system is inadequate. That can be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven is that there has been no improvement since the 1970s. I have traveled to many parts of the world. One of the things that I find most interesting about a city is the quality of its subway system. It gives me no pleasure to say that Toronto has the worst subway system of any city that is comparable in size.
Last month I visited both Shanghai and Beijing China. Each city has incredible subway systems that are
– smart card based
– cover large areas
– get the job done
This is the exact opposite of Toronto. It is also interesting that Beijing as part of the process of preparing for the Olympic games actually expanded its subway system (building a new line) right to the Olympic stadium. I grant you that China does not have the inevitable political delays and roadblocks associated with democracy, but it does demonstrate that it is possible to create subways quickly. Madrid which is hardly a Communist dictatorship has (according to the National Post) 282 Km of subway lines. Toronto has only 70 km of lines.
Ron Banerjee commented in the May 27, 2010 National Post that “The Better Way” is in New Delhi. He writes that:
“In 12 years, New Delhi has built a subway network that by October will hit 190 km. The state-of-the-art system uses smart cards and includes an airport express line which allows baggage check-in at three stations. The New York Times reported on May 14 that the Delhi subway “is a feat bordering on miraculous, and it offers new hope that India‘s perpetually decrepit urban infrastructure can be dragged into the 21st century.”
Despite this expansion, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has produced operational profits from the beginning. The efficiency has convinced institutional investors, such as the Japan Development Bank, to pitch in, further reducing the burden on taxpayers.”
Toronto obviously must commit to a massive expansion of the subway system. Where should these new lines go? Well, one obvious answer is:
Toronto needs a line that goes to Pearson Airport. After landing at the Shanghai Airport, I was faced with the problem of getting downtown. Shanghai Airport has a train going from the Airport to the subway line. This train is called the MagLev which stands for “Magnetic Levitation”. The train goes at a speed of (are you ready for this – 400 km per hour). It is built by a German company called Siemens. (Rob Ford has commented that Siemens offered to build new Toronto Subway cars for 200 million less than Bombardier. But of course, the contract was never tendered.) Speaking of Bombardier: Bombardier built the rail system that connects Beijing Airport with downtown Beijing. It is a fabulous system. Bombardier is a Canadian company. Perhaps since Bombardier was able to build this incredible rail system for Beijing, it might be able to do this for Toronto.
Why Is Toronto Transit In A 1970s Time Warp?
The short answer is because City Council has not been able to get it done. Why not? I suspect there are many reasons, which certainly include:
– an unwillingness to take responsibility for itself – always looking to somebody else to pay for it;
– an electoral process that keeps the same old faces in City Council. The combination of a low voter turnout and the built in advantages of “incumbency” make it difficult to make change;
– making the Chair of the TTC a political appointment. No matter what you think of the current chair of the TTC, he was appointed by David Miller and has no management experience. It would not be difficult to move outside the realm of “political appointments” and find an experienced and dynamic manager to move the TTC out of its 1970s time warp and into the 21st century;
– A TTC union that is hostile and not focused on Customer Service (the examples are legion)
But the most important reason why the TTC is caught in a 1970s time warp is because the residents of Toronto do not vote and those who do vote, vote the wrong people into Council. This is very irresponsible behavior. The time has come for Toronto residents to take responsibility and do two things:
Second, vote for people with sound judgment!
The TTC cannot be fixed quickly The fix will be costly. But, it can be done.
I once heard it said that:
“People overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in ten years!”
The time has come for Toronto to commit itself to the goal of having a 2020 TTC by the year 2010!