Watch video above: Rob Ford has two simple fixes for gridlock: more subways, no streetcars. Mark McAllister reports.
TORONTO – The world used to look at Toronto as a beacon of proper transit planning.
But that is no more, according to a transportation consultant integral in transforming London, England’s transportation network.
“Back in the 1970s, we all looked to Toronto as the place where things were really happening, you were expanding the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line, you were doing all this commercial residential development around the subway station and it was the place we all looked up to,” David Quarmby said.
He added, in a polite English accent, “now 40 years on, let me just say, I think there’s opportunity to move things forward here.”
Quarmby helped build Transport for London in the 1990s, a Metrolinx-style organization that oversaw the city’s public transit system, river network and roads.
Since the introduction of that body, he said, transit ridership has grown significantly and car ownership has gone down.
In effect, Transport for London was an integrated body responsible for the region’s transportation. It oversaw the roads, implementation of smartcards across the region, integrated fares and traffic congestion, among other things.
He’s in Toronto to give a talk on transit before the city’s Board of Trade Wednesday morning and suggests many of those things can be implemented in Toronto but notes the agency would need “political legitimacy.”
“You’ve got Toronto city, that kind of runs the TTC, you’ve got the municipal regions outside that have their own transit services, it’s all quite fragmented,” he said. “The lesson we’ve learned in London, in the last 15 years are, to have a single organization with political legitimacy.”
While Metrolinx was originally set up to oversee the growth of transit in the region, its plans have fallen victim to the whims of Toronto city council. Over the course of several months and many debates, councillors led by Mayor Rob Ford changed the plan for Scarborough from a fully-funded, provincial-run Light Rail Transit (LRT) for $1.8 billion, to a city-run subway for more than $3 billion split between the three levels of government.
Watch video: Karen Stintz suggests implementing a transit czar in Toronto.
Mayoral candidate and Scarborough subway supporter Karen Stintz has championed a similar idea for Toronto in her campaign, suggesting the city create a transit “czar” responsible for the operation of the city’s roads, transit, taxis and licensing.
“We’ve seen transit plans get ripped up, we’ve them get renegotiated, there’s now candidates running to undo the plans that have already been done. And really that’s creating more frustration for people every day,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
(Stintz did vote to change plans from the LRT to subway in Scarborough)
Mayor Rob Ford questioned a plan for one overriding authority on transit, suggesting all three levels of government pay for the transit, so all three should get a say on what’s built.
As for tackling gridlock, the mayor took a different approach than Stintz: just get rid of streetcars.
“The streetcars, that’s what causing congestion in this city,” he said. “Get rid of the streetcars, build subways.”
Other mayoral candidates have also weighed in on transit. Olivia Chow and David Soknacki want to change the plan for Scarborough back to an LRT, while John Tory wants to build the subway.
Quarmby also suggested other ways of improving transit in the region, specifically, taking advantage of the GO Transit network.
“The GO railway network is underexploited, there is the opportunity for electrification,” he said. “To have more frequent services and to integrate it more into the transportation systems, the linkages with the subway, to have an integrated fare system so when you use the subway or when you use the go network, or the when you use the streetcar, it’s the same ticket.”
The TTC is working to implement the Presto Card, which would allow users to use both the TTC and GO Transit network with the same fare card.