Toronto is growing but transit isn’t. Progressives need to fix it. No one else will.

July 17, 2019 — Go stand on the Bloor-Yonge platform at 8:30am. Or drive through 404 and 401. Take the King streetcar. Or the McCowan North bus.

This city doesn’t work right.

Former Mayor Rob Ford takes most the blame. But every Mayor and Premier since Transit City has contributed to the mess.

The city is growing. But TTC ridership is falling. That is a big threat to Toronto’s future. Progressives at city hall and Andrea Horwath’s NDP opposition at Queen’s Park need to work together like never before to fix this. Because no one else seems to care.

After his 2006 re-election, Mayor David Miller won city council and Provincial support for Transit City – a plan to boost bus service and run new LRT lines across the city.

And in the 2009 Ontario Budget, the Queen’s Park Liberals confirmed $7.2 billion for three LRT lines: Finch West, Eglinton Crosstown, and a replaced and extended Scarborough RT. A fourth line, Sheppard East, received $613 million in provincial and $317 million in federal funding. The projects were to be completed between 2013 and 2020.

But less than a year later Dalton McGuinty pulled the rug out, cutting Transit City by $4 billion and putting it on what Mayor Miller then called “the never, never plan.”

Then came Rob Ford. Bus service was cut. TTC was told to not implement new lines. In early 2012, Council fought back, reinstating some LRT plans. An Ontario-Toronto master agreement covering four lines – now with much longer timelines and lacking full funding – was set in November 2012.

Next it was Kathleen Wynne’s turn to make things worse.

Despite the Ontario-Toronto deal inked only months before, in late June 2013 the chair of Metrolinx, in a letter approved by Wynne’s office, asked city council to reconfirm whether it preferred an LRT or subway.

But Wynne knew her preference. She launched “subway champion” Mitzi Hunter as her candidate in a Scarborough by-election. She sent Transportation Minister Glen Murray to tell Mayor Rob Ford that, despite the master agreement, he could switch Scarborough LRT funds to a subway.

And in mid-July 2013, Ford and Wynne’s city council allies voted together. The cynicism astounds.

Now it’s John Tory’s turn. The mirage of his 22 stop SmartTrack “surface subway,” now that we’ve gotten closer, appears to be just six additional GO train stations. But watching that mirage shrink delayed other plans, including the downtown relief line. And though he’s reversed some of Ford’s cuts to bus service, it’s not enough to keep up with a growing population.

Ever since Transit City was announced, each Mayor and Premier has undermined Toronto with shifting plans based on political calculations, written on napkins, sold as empty brands, funded by nothing, and dissolving into expensive disaster.

A decade has been lost to politicians who keep announcing that incredible transit is just around the corner. Then the next corner. Then the next corner. And the bus still doesn’t come.

The result is TTC ridership has stopped growing – though the city certainly hasn’t. If transit use continues to goes backward, the city will go with it.

In the last Ontario election, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pledged to reinstate operating support and help expand ridership – exactly what Toronto urgently needs. Meanwhile, PC Leader Doug Ford’s latest napkin-based planning cycle produced a pledge to take over the subway – presumably to hand it to Metrolinx, an agency that has failed to protect transit planning from meddling politicians. Now he is Premier.

With rationality abandoned for craven cynicism everywhere else, Toronto’s future now depends on Toronto’s 11 New Democrat MPPs and the progressives at city hall fighting hand-in-glove, tooth and nail to expand and improve TTC service. It’s clear no one else will.

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