Subways, folks. Subways, subways, subways. The last four years, Mayor Rob Ford has had a clear goal – the expansion of the TTC network by bringing subways to Scarborough and beyond. Many say it’s been a disaster.
“Why was it a disaster? Because we do not have sufficient operational autonomy on part of TTC. If they were autonomous to a greater degree and to a larger extent than they would act in the better interest and the interest of the public,” says Murtaza Haider, the associate dean of research and graduate programs at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. He counts transit as one of his research interests.
The Toronto Transit Commission works in conjunction with the city council but the TTC Board makes all final decisions concerning transit. The Scarborough subway/LRT debate fiasco cost the city almost $100 million in sunk costs at the hands of council.
“The TTC is a very considerate and risk averse organization they seldom try to go against the wishes of their political masters and I think that we need to see some courage the part of the TTC. The TTC should see itself as an agency serving the people not the political masters and that is the reality,” says Haider.
The head of the TTC Board is now Councilor Maria Augimeri, the rest of the board is comprised of other councilors and unelected citizen appointees. Haider says he thinks this is an issue, because councillors are more concerned about getting votes then making necessary improvements in the system that may not bring the same number of votes.
“The TTC makes recommendations,” says Susan Sperling manager of corporate communications for the TTC.
Metrolinx and TTC referred most questions to each other, stating that each would only answer those under their own jurisdiction. Presto is, however, a joint effort between the TTC and Metrolinx.
Behind five people she rummages through her bag to find a token. She pulls out tissues, pens, a note pad, and her wallet – but no change. She finally gives up and pulls out her single twenty-dollar bill. Waiting in line to buy tokens, she stuffs her Presto card into her pocket. It’s useless here. And she’s late.
“If I’m near the Queen St. side of the Eaton Center, and I don’t have a token or change or enough time to walk the path I miss my train. It’s stupid, I literally have to walk all the way across the mall to Dundas station where they accept presto,” says Laura Calabrese, a journalism student at Ryerson University.
Calabrese loves her Presto card, on her daily commute from Brampton to Toronto she can use it without having to buy tickets or carry change. The Presto card enables transit users to load money on to the card, and tap on and off of various transit systems including GO, Brampton transit and MiWay, among others. Until she hits the TTC.
Only some of the stations are equipped with Presto readers. Sure, at Queen Station she is physically closer to Union station – but in reality she is so much farther from her goal. Calabrese says she is frustrated that Presto still isn’t fully integrated with the TTC, and that she can’t use her debit or credit card either.
“It is an embarrassment that you still cannot use a credit card to buy services on the TTC,” says Haider.
Anne-Marie Aikins of Metrolinx says that they are working on integrating credit and debit purchases within the next year.
Now, five years later, Metrolinx and the TTC are finally expanding the Presto network to include 11 new stations. With the Pan Am games coming to Toronto, it’s clear that there is finally a political push for to get an integrated system get up and running. Karen Stintz, the former head of the TTC Board, made comments to numerous media outlets expressing her disappointment in delays. The reality is, since 2009 only 14 out of 69 subway stations have been outfitted with Presto. Only 11 new stations will be outfitted as part of the second phase, and the only alternative is exact change or tokens.
Construction on the expansion of the Spadina subway to York is well under way. This extension comes despite a report Metrolinx published in 2012 stating that total transit ridership in Toronto is expecting a 51 per cent increase by 2031.
Trips into the downtown core from the North and East will outstrip the current and planned capacity. This means that the rush hour on the TTC is going to get much worse. Even though implementing Presto would bring immediate and cost effective results, councillors are instead pushing for the city to spend hundreds of millions to billions of dollars on subways, LRTs and other expansions.
Haider says that streamlining the current system is a much more cost effective way to improve the existing network. Not to mention that the extra stops will invite more traffic, traffic that the Yonge line cannot handle with extensions. Andy Byford, TTC CEO, told the Star in May that a relief line is still necessary despite John Tory’s surface rail line proposal.
Haider says that alternatives to subways and expanding the system, such as the integration of paying fares across systems, would improve the quality and efficiency of the system. Operational efficiencies include eliminating lines, the need for use of tokens and tickets or cash to make the entire system run better.
The reality is, the TTC can make nothing more than recommendations. These recommendations are not binding, and plans can be finalized without taking TTC studies into consideration.
The current citizen appointees on the board are Alan Heisey, lawyer and former Toronto Police Services Board chair; Nick Di Donato, CEO of Liberty Entertainment; Maureen Adamson, CEO of Cystic Fibrosis Canada and Anju Kumar Virmani, CIO of Cargojet Income Fund Mississauga. They work in the unique confines of the TTC, in conjunction with the province, the city and Metrolinx. A majority of council, and even the board members do not use the system they are supposed to be fixing.
In the end, Calabrese is still trying waiting to buy tokens and trying in vain to catch her train, with her Presto card stuffed in her pocket.