Friday, November 06, 2009

Greater Toronto Area’s Transit Troubles Continue

Canada’s largest metropolitan area has the worst public transit system in North America – if you go by value for money.

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) on average costs more to take, yet the service isn’t nearly as efficient, effective or widespread as other major metropolitan areas when compared to similar-sized North American cities – and certainly nowhere near many European ones.

In London, UK, you can ride the Underground throughout the entire city, north, south, east, west, north-west, south-west, north-east, south-east, south-south-east . . . In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, the subway only runs in the center of the city north and southbound, or east and westbound. And you have to hop on a connecting bus or streetcar to go most places not right in the center of the city.

Over the past two-decades, while many other major urban centers have expanded their transit systems several dozen times, Toronto remained fairly stagnate, with less-than a handful of noteworthy expansions.

There was the expansion of the Yonge/University line northbound by the creation of the Downsview subway station in the 1990’s, and then the opening of the Sheppard line in 2002

Sheppard Line thematic mapImage via Wikipedia

, which is really just a micro-subway line (it only has five stops, took eight-years to build, and cost just under $1 billion).

Incidentally, the Downsview subway station was built in anticipation of the Sheppard line being built – the two were supposed to connect originally, but because of bungled transit budgets, the Sheppard line was only built to Yonge Street in the west, and Don Mills in the east (it was originally going to stretch to Scarborough Town Centre, several more kilometers east).

Still, the biggest barrier to accessible, affordable, environmentally-friendly public transit in the GTA is ironically – the transit operators themselves.

In many parts of North America, one ticket will take you from your job in the downtown core, to your suburban home. Not in the GTA – thanks to the Amalgamated Transit Workers union, Toronto’s public transit system -- Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) -- will only take you in and around the city of Toronto.
Even if you live just five-minutes in any direction outside of Toronto, you STILL have to pay an extra fare – and often have to hop onto another bus.

Back in the early 1990’s, the provincial minister of transportation at t

TTC yard in Riverdale.Image via Wikipedia

he time, Al Paladini, boasted that one day, there would be a single fare which would take you from Pickering to the east of Toronto, all the way to Mississauga to the west of Toronto.

Paladini didn’t take into consideration the enormous mafia-thug-like behavior of the TTC’s union, threatening to walk out at just the mere mention of such a transit-friendly idea. The union has never been comfortable with such a concept, and continues to hold the city, the province, and most of all, the very people that ride their buses, streetcars and subways hostage over this.

That said, security for the driver has been increased on most TTC vehicles.
Security cameras and bullet-proof booths surround the driver as if they were hauling prisoners to and from a maximum security prison.

Wide platform at Don Mills TTC subway stationImage via Wikipedia

Though most newer TTC buses do have a fire suppression system, just in case one of the passengers spontaneously ignites. When was the last time you saw that happen?

I suppose the anti-theft system on many of the newer buses on Toronto’s TTC routes are in place in case someone can’t find a nice sports car to steal too?

It isn’t all bad from Canada’s largest transit system – the TTC recently increased the number of buses on most of their routes, cutting down wait times for passengers. Though the bus which runs up and down my street is almost always empty – maybe next time the TTC attempts to improve service, it should take a look at the routes which have the most use first?

Still, the two biggest problems facing the GTA’s public transit commuters are the very same problems which have plagued the system for the past 20-years – cost and efficiency.

GTA transit riders pay more than anywhere else in North America, and don’t enjoy the efficiency of the lower priced systems elsewhere.

For example, to go from a downtown Toronto home to work in Markham (a suburb just north-east of Toronto) one-way takes on average about an hour-and-a -half, and costs $6.00 ($2.75 TTC fare, and $3.25 York Region Zone One Fare).

A similar distanced ride in New York City takes just over an hour, and costs only $2.25 (one fare, using transfers freely provided with initial ride purchase).

Here in Canada’s largest city, it takes more time and money to go r

Toronto Transit CommissionImage via Wikipedia

oughly the same distance when compared to America’s largest city.

And soon, it will cost even more – this week the TTC began floating the idea of a fare hike of about a quarter, to raise an additional $45 million. Someone has to pay for those fire suppression systems.

I tell ya, I’m really glad they are investing in something practical. I’d hate to be next to someone that suddenly catches fire, and not have that fire suppression system in place.

Does your car have a fire alarm and sprinkler system? Probably not – vehicle fires account for less than one percent of traffic related fatalities. The most common causes of traffic-related fatalities are excessive speeding, alcohol and/or drug use, even falling asleep at the wheel – but fire is the lowest.

Politicians always talk about funding and promoting public transit, to reduce traffic commute times, and cut greenhouse gases. They often present over-sized cheques in front of hoards of reporters to transit authorities, claiming the funds will be used to better the system, take more cars off the roads, and green the planet.

The politicians are full of hot air.

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  1. Personally I think that is an incredibly unfair comparison. Of COURSE London is going to have better public transportation infrastructure than Toronto. It's an ancient, dense metropolis and the infrastructure has been built up over a hundred and fifty years. Why not compare the TTC to Tokyo or Seoul while you're at it? Or, if the TTC is supposedly the worst transit system in North America, why don't you tell us why North American systems are better? Last I checked, the United Kingdom was part of a completely different continent.

    I feel an appropriate comparison for the TTC is a city that's in the same league: Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles. Any opinions on those, there?

  2. Comparing the TTC to London may be a bit extreme, but we do compare it to New York.

    In researching this piece, the Toronto to New York comparison was similar when we compared distance and cost models to other North American cities, which included Vancouver, Montreal, Seatle, Chicago, Los Angels and San Francisco.