Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stuck in Traffic in Transportation City

"Send in the clowns
Don’t bother they are here."
- Stephen Sondheim from the 1973 musical 'A Little Night Music'
As a transit rider and taxpayer, I write of our right to moral outrage. The events since the October 25th municipal election have left me reeling- from the Ringling Brothers pomp and circumstance of Don Cherry’s inauguration of Rob Ford as mayor of our once progressive city, to the new regime’s attempted transit fee hike and service cuts, and to the higher personal income tax garnered to subsidize corporate tax cuts, our political arena has become a three-ring circus.

PM Harper, Premier McGuinty, Mayor Ford -- each have become ringleaders in their own right. Each promotes obstructionist duplicity, deflecting questions about who really holds the reins on our right to dissent without censure, discounting, or ridicule, while cutting tax revenues needed to support essential public services, such as transit, which enable us to get to work efficiently. Once service becomes intermittent, such as the recently proposed scaling back of the nighttime schedule of 48 bus routes, riders will no longer use these unpredictable routes. Who rides the later buses? Shift workers, recent immigrants, service sector employees, teenagers – those who cannot afford cars, and are the most vulnerable to being stranded within a system. With this plan, and the construction of 18 km of subway with 11 stops, rather than Transit City, Mayor Ford has announced his ‘Transportation City’, thus his ‘War on the Transit Rider’. Cars are machines; we cannot have a war on them.

Mayor Ford’s reign was kicked off on December 7th, when Don Cherry, the host of ‘Coach’s Corner’ on the CBC, placed the chain of office around Mayor Ford’s neck at City Hall, and said “Actually I'm wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.”

With that speech, the municipal gloves were off, and my bicycle helmet was on. The tone was set for the new City Hall, which was to be run by an executive council queried, hand-selected, and confirmed by his staff that their allegiance to Mayor Ford was absolute. Adam Vaughan, the councilor that everyone wanted to run for mayor, turned his back on the proceedings.

Within days of his election, Mayor Ford was granted the ear of Premier McGuinty, and convinced him to abandon seven years of Transit City planning. In those same few days, Spacing, the new urban magazine, designed bicycle-riding leftwing pinko buttons to fight this inaugural costume drama with humour, and a signifier of moral outrage. 10,000 buttons were sold in the first two days by Spacing, with 10 per cent of the proceeds going to the Toronto Cyclists’ Union.

For 25 years at the CBC, a pinko-kook institution, Mississauga resident Don Cherry has earned up to $700,000 a year for 5 minutes per game of Yogi Berra commentary on hockey, and now his ‘bite the hand that feeds him’ malapropisms have been immortalized on a button, and banded together downtown Toronto pinko-kooks. I wear my button everywhere with amused and exasperated pride, and often point to it as a mutual badge of honour to fellow pinkos-- on the streets, in the subway, and in cafes -- to build solidarity.

Those who conjecture about why Transit City is being dismantled also believe the mayoral modus operandi of Mayor Ford is calculated. Ford wants to return the favour of his election to property developers who bankrolled his campaign, and by doing so, undermine the egalitarian, urban planning begun by ex-Mayor Miller, which would integrate communities into the subway corridor by continuing to build 75 km of priority lines of Light Rail Transit. This project has already been whittled down 47 km by budget cuts by Premier McGuinty; ex-Mayor Miller's original plan included 122 km of LRT.

In addition, they believe Mayor Ford wants to sell off valuable air rights for high rise development above subway stops to his developer friends. This plan is in direct contrast to ex-Mayor Miller, who wanted his legacy to be Transit City. This LRT system includes multiple transit stops to encourage business and street level development within neighbourhoods, supports mom and pop businesses along its route, and enables those who are disabled and elderly access to surface level transit. The vision of Mayor Ford is elitist-- massive high rises will mark the spot of subway stations, which will take 7 years to build, serve 122,000 people, and are difficult to access, whereas the plan of Transit City is to enable transit-oriented development to serve 400,000 people, revitalize entire communities, and can be built within three years to relieve the gridlock, and a portion of healthcare expenses, which cost Ontario $6 billion a year.

And the three-ring circus continues. Premier McGuinty allowed Mayor Ford’s fireside chat for significant reasons-- Ontario views the HST as a corporate tax grab, he is culpable for enacting 233/10, the 5-meter fence rule, which permitted the suspension of civil liberties during the G20, and he has made a series of exceptionally poor decisions in the last year, including outsourcing $6 billion of wind turbines to Samsung. Who is advising him?

Yet even as Premier McGuinty exclaims from the center of his ring “Ontarians understand the need for corporate tax cuts”, provincial corporate tax rates are cut from 14 to 12 per cent so that $2.4 billion in public revenues will be lost for Transit City. No, I don’t understand why I am paying much more for fewer services, any more than I understand why the new City Council recently attempted to raise transit fees by 10 cents to $3.10 for each token when I buy a set of ten to offset the $60 lost from the vehicle registration fee, and federally, why my taxes have increased between $144 (income $44,000) to $447 per annum (income $100,000) so that $14 billion in tax revenues are lost to the public purse, and why Canadian corporations will pay the lowest taxes in the industrialized world at 12.2 per cent, when American corporations pay 28.3 per cent.

As a Liberal premier, Premier McGuinty has added to my tax burden given to me by the federal Conservatives, thereby supporting PM Harper’s corporate agenda. I thought they were opposing parties. As a result, I am getting far fewer services for far higher transit fees, increased taxation from all sides, and a possible public sector wage freeze — a triple whammy. And watch — this federal tax loss in tax revenue will be used to justify even more downloading of transit infrastructure costs to the provinces by forcing them to finance overruns. PM Harper and Premier McGuinty could have allocated some of these revenues to fund sustainable transportation infrastructure and upgrades, including electrifying the Air Rail Link, and the Georgetown corridor by Metrolinx, and easily included a 15% contingency fund.

$14 billion federally, and $2.4 billion provincially is $16.4 billion in lost tax revenues. $16.4 billion can buy world class, sustainable, electric transit infrastructure, education, research and innovation, and the capacity for forward thinking design and self-governance; $16.4 billion in tax cuts widens the gap between the car-drivers and transit riders, and closes the door on municipal services, including legal clinics, home care, and public housing for those who need them most, yet were the target demographic for Mayor Ford’s Gravy Train campaign. It also complicates travel time in the GTA for citizens do not want to waste half their workday in gridlock, as drivers idle in single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) behind their buses. These diesel buses, as proposed by Mayor Ford, should be Light Rail Vehicles, which are twice as fast, with no emissions, and serve the entire GTA. ‘Transportation City’ is not as efficient or clean as ‘Transit City’, and depends on fossil fuels in a post carbon economy.

Cities, including the GTA, need to become the epicenter of all greening initiatives, as up to 70% of the world will live in urban centers by 2050. It is clear that Mayor Ford will not be able to represent the City of Toronto on the world stage with his backward policies prioritizing cars, subways, and buses. GTA transit infrastructure is 25 years behind international standards already, and his version of fossil-fuel based transit, and expanding highway system, will be considered archaic before it is built. Cuts from federal and provincial corporate tax revenues could have been used to build this transit infrastructure so that TTC riders can get to work, quickly and efficiently without congestion, to their lungs or their workday.

Just as Mayor Ford’s inauguration did on youtube, his self-serving version of Transit City, ‘Transportation City’, will make us a laughing stock internationally. And as other countries build sustainable transit for resilient cities, we will be stuck in traffic, waiting for a change in transit policy and governance. As the economic engine of Canada, this funding is owed to the TTC transit rider more than the tax cuts are owed to the executive class, but it is not seen this way by this corporate glad-handing, three-ring circus.

We need to get to work on Transit City- and right away - so we can go to work.

DON CHERRY and ROB FORD "...for all the PINKOs out there, that ride bicycles...", posted on, December 7, 2010 at
Left-wing pinko buttons store at
Pembina Report, “Making Tracks Torontonians”, January 5, 2011, at
John Cartwright, The Toronto Star, July 11, 2010
'Opinion: Cancel corporate tax cuts to deal with deficit'at
Sean Marshall, TTC holds off on fare increase, service cuts, January 12, 2011 at