Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Conservatives wrong on transit

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.

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penlan said...

Looks like you can thank Flaherty for this new line that the GO doesn't want to touch as there isn't enough ridership. It's his way of garnering votes, as you make clear, to keep those areas Conservative.

But do you think there will be a backlash from the greater TO because of it? Or are they all safe ridings for the Libs?

Cutting the free parking is abominable & I agree with you on every point. Does this also affect people in the 905 area? Areas like Oakville, Burlington, etc.? I live way out in the Perth-Wellington area, near Stratford, so am not sure how this affects the outlying areas of TO.

Jeff said...


I think the unneeded Peterborough line could spur a backlash, namely in other suburban 905 ridings in which the Conservatives have or hope to gain seats. These are all ridings where many commute into Toronto for work. They needed improved transit and Go service for that commute and their projects were much higher priority. Instead of funding these needed projects, Flaherty and Harper diverted that funding to their political pet project. That would piss me off.

On the parking, I'm not sure if the ripple would stretch out super-far into the 905, I suspect they're more likely to take Go to connect to the TTC, and park at the Go. Still, it is systematic of the Conservatives' wrong approach to transit, and the same basic issues spurring the TTC decision on parking, being starved for operating funds, are facing transit systems across Canada.

penlan said...

Thanks for the response Jeff. I used to live in Burlington & left there 7 yrs. ago. Even at that time there were problems with the GO train service, delays, etc. which have only increased, as well as parking space issues that have now become a major problem since then. Not enough spaces. Funding is needed to build larger parking lots, increase the sizes of the ones already there.

Plus the cost of transit keeps increasing without improvements made to the system. And most commuters also need to use the TTC in its 2 forms to get to their workplaces. I've heard of many people who are now driving to work again as it has become such a hassle.

This won't garner any more votes for the Cons but Burlington is a highly Conservative city as is Oakville, I believe. Hope the Cons have cut their throats on this one.

Barcs said...

So the federal government is at fault for the city not wanting to increase funding?

Its not all the other programs municipally and provincially that are sucking up cash that the TTC could use... its the evil conservatives federally?

I think you are right... And I am some pissed off that the tories cut funding (read: never heard of) the local taxi guy in a town of 2000 because he hasn't been given a bus and free fuel to take me the 15 miles out to the farm every day.

Sure the federal government should help out with infrastructure when necessary, and even kick in some program funding for things that benefit Canadians.

But if a city the size of Toronto doesn't have the wherewithal to do it without the requirement that the federal government and people from all over Canada fund it.... Then it is time to look at the benefit of the program.

(maybe we will find out that the tories actually increased funding by almost 20% like they did to arts programs and the liberals are just whining that it is one of their programs in the industry that isn't being funded... IF you want liberal programs funded, then you need to stand up and be counted in parliament. Sending a handful of mp's to sit on their hands doesn't do anything)

The Rat said...

And another reason not to vote Liberal. The very idea that the Federal government should be taxing ALL Canadians to fund the OPERATING budget of the Toronto trains (TTC) is shocking. That you put forward that as a failing of the Conservatives shows exactly what we should expect from a Liberal government. Yeesh.

One of the things I am most happy with is the Conservatives clearly defining areas of responsibility between the three levels of government. It seems big cities forget that they are creatures of the province and it is to the province they should turn to. And who runs the province of Ontario? Why, that would be the Liberals of Dalton McGuinty.

Jeff said...

barcs, if the Conservatives didn't see a federal role here they wouldn't have implemented the transit tax credit now would they? They see a federal role, they just want one that give them maximum political credit. Not only does that make for bad policy, its inefficient and ineffective use of taxpayer dollars.

As for standing-up in parliament, I'm sure the Libs would be happy to do so the week after next, when the HoC is scheduled to return...

rat, your SHOCK is SHOCKING. Who do you think is paying for the transit pass tax credit? And don't go on about defining the responsibilities of different levels of government. The Conservatives ARE involved in transit, ie. the transit pass tax credit. They agree they have a role to play. The issue is how the Cons have decided to allocate the federal resources on the file.

And oh, pretty sure they have transit in Calagry and Vancouver too.

The Rat said...

"The Conservatives ARE involved in transit, ie. the transit pass tax credit. They agree they have a role to play. The issue is how the Cons have decided to allocate the federal resources on the file."

You're interpretation is self-serving. Here's my self-serving interpretation: It's not about transit it's about environment, and THAT is a Federal responsibility. Rather than piece mealing out to each transit authority regardless of ridership or quality of the product the Cons give money to people to encourage them to use transit, any transit. It directly encourages ridership, something giving local bureaucrats cash doesn't do. Funding the TTC cold just mean higher salaries for employees or wasteful spending on luxury cars. Again, fund the user, not the bureaucracy.

Jeff said...

rat, I'll put aside the issue of choosing projects for maximum political exposure for a second and agree that it's about the environment, encouraging people to take transit. A laudable goal.

But here's the thing. Say it works (and I don't see why it wouldn't) and you get more people to try transit thanks to the cheaper pass. If you add thousands of people to a system already at capacity without correspondingly increasing capacity, what will happen? They will experience full, delayed or late trains and buses and a system cutting the other things that convinced them to give transit a shot (like parking) to try to shore up basic service.

The result? They say "transit sucks" and they go back to their cars. And the money you spend subsidizing the passes is wasted.

The Rat said...

"The result? They say "transit sucks" and they go back to their cars. And the money you spend subsidizing the passes is wasted."

Yes, but transit is a municipal/provincial responsibility. Demanding the feds cough up money for buses in Toronto makes no sense, some would even call it "micromanagement". Unless what you suggest is the fed just open up the wallet and then walk away with no say in how the cash is spent?

Would you be happy if Quebec decided to flex its Nation status and started its own army? I bet you'd be saying that is an exclusive fed responsibility. If we start blurring the lines (a la healthcare) we will end up much sorrier that we are now.

Jeff said...

Yes, but transit is a municipal/provincial responsibility.

If you're saying the feds should invest no money at all into transit, fine. That's a position. But it's not the position of this Conservative government. They are putting money in. I'm just questioning how they're spending it.