Friday, February 4, 2011

Getting to Work on Transit City

This is the deputation I gave in City Hall on February 2nd regarding bus service cuts. Meeting Room #2 was overflowing -- 160 constituents, 30 above fire code -- waited their turn for over 5 hours for 5 minutes of time to speak to Toronto Transit Commissioners, and City Councillors. Run by Councillor Stintz, the new TTC Chair, the deputations were tightly constrained to five minutes. To her credit, she was unfailingly polite to the deputants, although she showed visible irritation when Transit City was defended.

The diverse face of Toronto was out in full force. York University students asked for late buses so they could attend basketball practice and night classes, the Roller Derby chicks pleaded for safe access to their arena to practice their moves, and a 90 year-old man spoke eloquently about his need to have access to a pharmacy for his medication, and visit his wife in a chronic care facility. His neighbourhood would have bus service cut in half, and isolate even him further. The TV reporters fled with his heartfelt testimony, but I have yet to find it on CTV news.

With no further ado, here is my deputation.

TTC Deputation: Proposed Transit Cuts on Bus Schedules for the Davenport Riding in relation to Lower Income Residents and Support for Transit City

Dear TTC, Mayor Ford and Toronto City Councillors,

I am a constituent of Ward 18, part of the Davenport Riding. I am also a member of the Clean Train Coalition, and have spent the last two years advocating for all-encompassing, sustainable transit policy in Ontario.

I am here today to speak of the correlation between low-income wage earners, transit, and the right of citizens to public transit – transit which should be egalitarian, surface level, consistent and frequent. This right for accessible transit should be a democratic right, not a privilege, which can be revoked or suspended by City Council, to implicitly prioritize cars over public transit. By cutting bus frequency, and routes, the City Council will force people back into cars, or in the case of the Davenport Riding, to take taxis, which they can ill afford.

Cutting bus service in the Davenport Riding flies against equitable treatment of those who provide services upon which we are dependent- the invisible glue of our society. These constituents are night shift workers- nurses, office cleaners, factory employees, minimum wage earners – all of the most vulnerable members of society to transit cuts. And who are these workers? Single mothers, new immigrants, those just entering the workforce, night school students, and the elderly- all of whom need off rush hour transit to go to work, school and church safely.

It is well-known in transit system planning that once bus service is cut back, or becomes intermittent, passenger numbers drop throughout the route, so cutting back on bus frequency at any point in the schedule will reduce passenger numbers on that route. Eventually, the route will be avoided altogether if service frequency is cut back to the bone. In addition, low income constituents also have the least access to ‘just in time’ information for online information regarding schedule changes due to the high cost of Internet service, and are affected most by erratic schedules because they cannot access transit updates.

The residents of Davenport are particularly dependent on transit, as many cannot afford cars. As new immigrants, and service sector employees, they often have the least control over the hours of their employment, thus are the most vulnerable to service cuts during the evening and weekends. Traffic cannot shift into rush hour schedules; these constituents cannot determine the time and need for bus service. Those who work minimum wage jobs cannot afford to take taxis, and often require transit to ensure that they get home safely at night in at risk neighbourhoods. Minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 an hour, and the cost of a cab from downtown Toronto to west-end Toronto can cost up to $40, more than half the daily rate of a minimum wage employee. Is this fair?

Davenport Riding has twice the number of racial minorities in Canada at 33%, a higher percentage of single people at 41% (as opposed to 33%), and 43% who are completely dependent upon public transit, a statistic much higher than the national average of 10%. Will cutting back services mean that riders will not be able to afford to go to work because of the cost of transit, if they are forced to take taxis at night?

In addition, many immigrants - Portuguese, Italian and Asian - have communities which centre around church. Cutting back Sunday service will restrict their access to their place of worship and right to congregation- cornerstones of society building- and which benefit the multinational city I am proud to call home.

The same principles of consistency and access to transit service apply to the proposed expansion of light rail transit for Transit City. This expansion of service level transit will revitalize and benefit entire neighbourhoods along its 75 km route, enable over three times this same demographic of rider to access and support businesses in their community, and build businesses within a far greater area than the area directly above subway stations. The air rights directly above the few subway stations proposed by Mayor Ford’s ‘Transportation City’ are not his unilateral right to sell to highrise developers. Transit City’s LRT is being implemented in dozens of cities internationally, and is proven to improve the quality of life within neighbourhoods, and provide interconnections to subway stations. Why wait seven years for a few subway stations, when Transit City can be built in three to serve almost four times as many riders, and provide facelifts and multiple transit stops for entire districts?

In summary, by cutting back bus service to Davenport Riding, one of the poorest in Canada, the Toronto City Council will make this community poorer, and may force riders to choose between being able to go to work, or not, based upon transit costs. Those who can afford cars are fortunate, and expect society to pay the cost of road maintenance, traffic control, and highway expansion, why are any cuts even considered in public transit, and car drivers prioritized over citizens’ rights to go to work on public transit? Taxpayers subsidize cars, and I have not heard of any cuts to any services required to maintain the highway system proposed by the current Mayor or City Council.

We need to support current bus routes, and get to work on building Transit City immediately, so that Torontonians in the GTA can go to work- safely, equitably and quickly.

Photo Credit Warren McPherson: Image of Transit Guru Steve Munro, and others, crowded into Meeting Room #2, waiting to deputize with great patience.