Transit continues to be most pressing issue

A Town Crier Community Column

I have been focusing on transit and transportation a lot in my column. It’s not to say there are not many pressing issues facing midtown, but decisions are being made now so we all need to be aware of what our elected decision-makers are doing with our trust. These decisions have a direct impact on our day-to-day lives.

In early February, Toronto city council changed the direction of our transit future yet again. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT will no longer be fully underground putting us back on the streetcar path, rather than the subway path, and is attempting to revive half of the defunct Transit City plan. It was a major issue in our last city election and continues to be. Do we build a proper backbone of our transit system based on underground transit (subways) or on streetcar lines that go down the middle of our streets? I am not anti-streetcar — streetcars can be strategically placed to work within our transit strategy — but I am against wasting public dollars on a system that will need to be upgraded soon after it is built.

The funding of transit expansion is ever present in our minds. Subways are too expensive, they say. Streetcars are cheaper and can be built in half the time, they say. Well, you get what you pay for. Further, I believe, where there is a will, there is a way — we just haven’t found the way to partner with the private sector, commercial landowners, and federal and provincial governments. Yes, funding is scarce in these times of economic recession/depression. Every dollar invested in subways pays dividends that streetcars can only dream of. I would venture to say subways need to be the way of the future because they’ve served us so well in the past. Vastly different than streetcars, subways are faster, have greater capacity, are protected from the weather, can grow with population growth and are a regional solution to our regional transportation problem.

Another sour issue within the transit file is the way we pay our fares. It should be easier and faster to pay the fare, especially if you don’t have correct change. Currently, the provincial government/Metrolinx is forcing the Presto payment card system on the City of Toronto (now Ottawa too). Most of the cities in the Golden Horseshoe have been forced into it. As an addition to using cash at the farebox, this system requires the transit rider to fill-up the Presto card (like depositing cash into your Tim Hortons’ or Starbuck’s card) so one may swipe it to ride until the money deposited runs out. Under Presto, the rider can only use cash or Presto, so it’s limited. And further, the Presto card technology was not found by a competitive search (we don’t know how the Premier found out about it).

Meanwhile, there is a better way: an open payment system. Years ago, the TTC held an international competitive search for new technologies for fare payment that would be suitable for TTC riders. The TTC’s search found a company (ACS/Xerox) that offered an open payment system so riders could use their debit card, credit card, their smartphone in the future, as well as the Presto card. Chicago and Philadelphia just adopted this open payment technology for their transit riders. Oh, and the ACS/Xerox technology would save Toronto $300 million in upfront capital costs and would save $16 million each year for 10 years — we taxpayers could save $460 million if we don’t go with the Presto scheme. Why is Metrolinx pushing Presto?

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By: Chris Sellors
Posted: Mar 7 2012 4:10 pm
Filed in: VIEWS