Toronto Transit Trauma

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I teach a class in Pastoral Counselling at the seminary down at the campus of the University of Toronto. As a good Franciscan I started off by taking public transit. One day when I had lots of books to take with me I drove down. The usual commute by transit from Leslie & Lawrence down to St. Mike’s was reduced from 50 minutes to 20 minutes by car! 30 minutes less, no crowds and I’m not sharing the little bit of air that’s between me and the commuter who’s 3 inches away from my face. It was a no-brainer. I started driving to school every Friday.

This year I thought I would give transit another try. I got back on the bus and was surprised to find that there were no steps on the bus. It actually came down to street level. That was cool. I paid the fare and then discovered that there were also no seats. No, no.. not that there was no room. There were literally just a few seats in the front of the bus in order to make room for persons with wheelchairs. The seating for able-bodied persons was at the back of the bus and up some rather steep steps. I found my way there and sat down. I began to look around.

It came to me as I surveyed the interior of the bus that it, like most of Toronto, suffers from a common ailment: Committee decision making.  The bus was really ugly. It had no style, no beauty, no warmth. Somebody thought we needed more space for wheelchairs… so seats were ripped out. Oh, some people can’t hear well, so we slap a bunch of speakers in the ceiling. There ‘s no effort to try and make it look good. It’s all about attending to “interest groups”. I also noted 4 cameras on the bus. I understand that safety is an issue but really, is 4 not a little much?

I thought I should distract myself from being too critical and found a flyer to read. It was announcing the new Rack & Ride program for cyclists. Yes folks, the TTC is now going to cater to another interest group. Picture it… it’s rush hour, the bus is running late and is full of passengers. A cyclists wants to “rack” his/her bike. The driver has to stop and the cyclist attaches the bike to the front of the bus and secures it in place. Once this is done they cyclist comes on board and the bus moves on.  Somehow I don’t think it’s going to be that smooth!

I started getting a headache. But finally, we were at the Eglinton Station and could zoom down on the Rocket!  We got off to a great start… but then slowed down to a crawl between each station. What? Is there traffic ahead? I mean, it only goes in one direction. What’s the problem? When we weren’t going slowly we were stopped. This was becoming traumatic.

We have a transit system that is underfunded, goes nowhere, has outdated technology and is slow. How do people stand it everyday? When we have such a system that is barely making it on “life-support” the TTC should focus on essential services. Get the majority of people down to the core of the city as fast as possible and home again. 

That seems to be the challenge of Toronto. We are burdened by the desire to be all things for all people. We can’t. The city should focus on essentials: streets, snow, transit, fire, police etc. Do that well, and maybe we can talk about the rest.

I really believe that the problem is two-fold. We need leadership with a vision and a determination to get things done at City Hall.  Mel Lastman, despite his shortcomings (no pun intended) had that kind of determination. Committees are great, but they rarely produce vision or truly dramatic movement forward. We need leaders! Who among us is going to rise to the occasion and fix this city?  Are there no strong, dedicated, creative Catholics willing to make a difference?

Certainly nothing will be possible without a change of heart at the Provincial and Federal levels. The downloading from the Province to the City needs to be reversed. The Federal government has to be serious about the needs of our urban centres. Yes, paying back the debt is important but so are our cities. Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal are not the only places in Canada that matter. BUT… let’s face it folks… a lot of people live here. Actually most of us live in these cities. We’ve got to invest in our transit, in our cities… in our people.

Politics is not a dirty word. It’s the reality of human interaction. We need parishioners to take up the challenge and get involved and run for public office. Will it be you?

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