More evidence today that when it comes to public transit, the Conservatives have the wrong approach that puts getting electoral credit above good, sound public policy that will get people out of their cars and into an efficient, well-run transit system:
The TTC is looking to end a major incentive for Metropass holders, charging them up to $6 a day to park in its jammed commuter lots.
A staff recommendation to be voted on at tomorrow's Toronto Transit Commission meeting calls for eliminating free parking for Metropass holders, who make up 80 per cent of the drivers using the lots.
The move, which could be implemented in about six months, would hit more than 10,000 drivers who use the TTC's 16 parking lots. They'd have to pay the same daily rates other drivers do – from $6 at the huge Finch Ave. subway station lot, to $2 at the Lawrence Ave. E. RT station.
There's not one single silver bullet when it comes to building an effective transit system, and encouraging people to make the move from car to transit. It takes a lot of different elements, and free parking for Metropass holders is definitely one of them. It makes a lot of sense. Rather than drive downtown clogging the roads and then pay to park, park for free at the end of the subway line and take the subway in. Start charging to park, and many will decide to just drive instead. They may have been on the edge about transit already; this will flip many back onto the car commuter side.
What does this have to do with the Conservatives? A lot, actually. The TTC is considering this move because they're starved for operating funds. They want to divert the money they're spending subsidizing parking to improving, and really just maintaining, service levels. If they had more operating funds they wouldn't have to consider this move.
Rather than pump new, long-term, stable operating funds into public transit across the country, Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty made a conscious decision to give a tax cut on monthly transit passes, like the TTC Metropass. It made sense politically. Every year when you do your taxes, you remember that Conservative tax cut. It's not good policy though, if it's not coupled with more operating funding, and indeed its counterproductive to the goal of getting people on transit.
How so? Well, sure, a tax cut on transit passes will get more people to give transit a chance. But when they get on board, what do they find?
They find a system that is straining to meet the demands of increased ridership without increased operating funding. More crowded buses and trains, longer waits as full ones pass by. The system becomes strained and begins to buckle and the new riders don't like what they see, so they go back to their cars. And you wind up with the TTC considering cutting parking to ease that operating strain, but that just makes it an even easier decision for people to ditch transit.
Politicians like capital spending too: they love to cut ribbons. But again, without operating funding, we end up with the scenario where the TTC nearly shuttered the Shepard line to make ends meet.
Operating funds aren't sexy for politicians. There's no ribbon to cut. People aren't reminded of it when they file their taxes. But if the goal is a greener Canada, if the goal is less cars on the road, if the goal is really an effective, efficient public transit system, then we absolutely must increase, in cooperation with the provinces, direct operating funding assistance to transit systems across Canada.
Too bad the Conservatives are more concerned about political credit and building unneeded lines through Conservative-friendly ridings than actually making transit work. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers