On the TTC Riders' Strike this Friday

Museum Station

I’ve been in the news twice this week. Yesterday, the Sun’s Jenny Yuen contacted myself and Steve Munro, asking for our comments on the TTC’s decision to hike fares by as much as 16% come the new year. Steve’s comments didn’t make it, but mine did (see here, along with a fair amount of column space devoted to a grassroots effort to organize a strike by TTC riders to protest the coming fare hike.

The article led directly to a phone call by a representative of CFRB 1010’s Bill Carroll Radio Show, which was also discussing the fare increase and the coming strike. I agreed to give my opinions, and was told to hold the line. While I listened to the two radio personalities discuss their issues with rude drivers on the TTC, and their (understandable) frustration with the fare hike, one of the presenters announced that they would be talking to “one of the organizers” of the TTC Riders strike; namely, me.

Well, I hastily corrected them on that score. Though I think the TTC Riders’ strike is an interesting idea, I’ve not had anything to do with it. Indeed, the remarkable thing about this strike (details here; official web site here) is how spontaneous it has been. It appears that one woman just set up a Facebook page, and the whole thing snowballed, thanks to blogs and Twitter.

I apologize to the producers of the Bill Carroll Radio Show for the confusion. I answered their questions as best they could, and I hope we had an interesting and positive discussion, but I also hope that they eventually managed to get the actual strike organizer on the line.

So, how do I feel about all of this? Well, I didn’t organize it, and I won’t be participating in it (given that I now live in Kitchener, the point is rather moot), but I wish the organizers all success, because I understand their frustration. I don’t agree with their focus on the TTC as “the enemy”, so to speak, but I hope that their action will also send a message to the municipal and provincial politicians which control the TTC’s subsidy.

The TTC has little choice but to raise fares at this point. The TTC is one of the two least-subsidized public transit agencies in North America. Even New York City receives more government subsidy per rider than the TTC. If our provincial and municipal governments don’t step up to increase the TTC’s funding, and if we believe (as many do) that the TTC’s service has been cut enough, then simple math dictates that the remaining funds can only come through fare increases. The TTC’s Riders pay for three-quarters of the operation of the system. Back in 1988, when the TTC carried the same number of riders with 300 additional buses and streetcars — a time many would say the TTC was a much better service than now — TTC Riders paid for only two-thirds of the operation of the system. It’s not rocket science to see the main source of the problem, here. The striking riders should be talking not only to the TTC, but to City Hall and Queen’s Park telling our governments that fare hikes and service cutbacks are not the answer. We need our governments to spend more to ensure that our streets flow more freely, and our economy moves more smoothly.

I have been an advocate for public transportation for decades. I have been assisting with the Transit Toronto web site for over twelve years. During this time, I’ve seen public transportation change from an afterthought to something which politicians are starting to pay more attention to. However, it can be easy for a politician’s attention to waver. The proposed TTC Riders’ strike shows that the citizens of Toronto have become a lot more engaged and enraged about the quality of public transportation in their city. They know that it’s important, and they know that they deserve better, and they’re starting to make noise.

And that’s a good thing to see.

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