Friday, November 25, 2011

Ford Declares War On Working Class

Actually, he did that a long time ago. That was pretty much one of his campaign promises, but veiled in other words. He vowed to end "The War On the Car." Why was it necessary to champion the car at all? Did they need a champion? Were they the most put upon commuters? Not even close! Commutes using public transportation are always longer than commutes by car! If travel by cars wasn't faster there wouldn't be so many people insisting on using them! Nor would there be much need for taxi cabs and look at how many of them we have! In any case, in the absence of a "War On The Car" Ford needed something to attack. His choice has been to wage "The War On the TTC."

Twenty-something years ago, the TTC was the pride of the city. It was considered among the best in North America, if not THE best, and was World-Class! Now, it stinks and council has voted to make it even worse. Service levels and capacity limits will be rolled back near to 2004 levels. Ridership has grown every year since then, so in fact the TTC will be more taxed/stressed than it has ever been!

Why? Because it is expensive. Actually, all things considered (including costs at all levels of government), it's not that expensive and it's cheaper than the alternatives. The only reason it is relatively more expensive than a city mobilized entirely by private cars is that the Province and City have completely failed to monetize the use of cars! Actually, the city had monetized the use of cars! It had a $60 user fee in place. True to form, and by that I mean to do the worst thing possible for the health and function of the city, the first thing that Ford did was eliminate this fee. We can't have private citizens paying for the privilege of using public roads! Free car use and ownership is a divine right! If the City or Province (or both) instituted the proper monetizing of roads and cars then public transportation would be completely paid for! If anything, a ubiquitous mass/public transportation system is the divine right!

I knew this was coming, but the sheer scope has caught me completely off guard. Exactly ONE line that I take has escaped the cuts: the 127 Davenport is not going to see wait times increase due to a reduction in service. It's already fairly scarce. Every other bus line that I have been known to take regularly has been cut. For me that means: 10-Van Horne (which has already seen a significant portion of its schedule merged with the 169-Huntingwood route), 24-Victoria Park, 25-Don Mills, 34-Eglinton East, 39-Finch East, 54-Lawrence East, 63-Ossington, 85-Sheppard East, 139-Finch Don Mills & 190-Scarborough Centre Rocket. These are just 10 of 62 routes that have been cut.

If you live in Scarborough (or the Eastern half of North York), you got some extra Ford-love -- all but one of the major East-West routes East of Yonge Street have been cut. That means all of the following are cut: 53-Steeles East, 39-Finch East (as well as the 139-Finch Don Mills & 199-Finch Rocket), 85-Sheppard East (and the 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket), 54-Lawrence East and 34-Eglinton East. The only one not to get cut? 95-York Mills (which also serves Scarborough along Ellesmere Ave.) I have no idea why it was spared. (I suppose the 42-Cummer bus has also been spared, but Cummer/McNicoll isn't a major thoroughfare.)

Don't think that you've escaped the Scarborough cuts if you travel North-South or travel entirely within Scarborough! Also cut are: 9-Bellamy, 16-McCowan, 17-Birchmount, 21A-Brimley, 24-Victoria Park, 57-Midland, 67-Pharmacy, 68-Warden, 69-Warden South, 102-Markham Road, 116-Morningside, 129-McCowan North, 131-Nugget, 133-Neilson & 134-Progress. Now that I think of it, all but 2 of the North-South thoroughfares East of Yonge Street have been cut! (North York's 11-Bayview & 25-Don Mills are also hit; spared are 51-Leslie (already terrible) and 43-Kennedy.) Many of these routes were already near capacity! Even citing all these routes only manages to mention 25 of the cuts. There's 150% as many that I haven't mentioned!

My best guess is that Scarborough, North York and to an extent Etobicoke residents will suffer most. York, East York and Toronto are affected relatively less. In other words, the shortest commutes, the ones within the heart of the city, get by relatively unscathed and the already longer, more arduous and time-consuming routes have been slammed. Another implementation of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

The only thing that doesn't seem to have been cut are the subways! Apparently, Mr. Ford and his council think that 100% of Torontonians live on a subway line or drive everywhere they go. This is so far from the truth that they need a serious reality check! The vast majority of people need to take some form of public transportation to reach a station! For example, I almost never travel to or through any stations.

I actually wish that everyone owned a car. That way, we could arrange a day when we ALL drive to work. Upward of 2 million cars on the road at once. That's likely the only way to show Mr. Ford that by ending the mythical "War On the Car" he has actually declared war on the car... and every other form of transportation! (Has anyone else noticed that Mr. Ford likes to cut anything and everything that he himself has no use for? NIMBY at it's absolute worst!)

Here's a piece of advice to Mr. Ford. Try using the things you so cavalierly mark for cuts or elimination. Understand them before you bring the ax down on them. In particular, take the TTC. That way you won't be breaking the law every single day when you speak on your cell phone while driving. Your contempt for the law is very disturbing.

Reductions in public transit mean three things.

1) People that have significant commutes will now have to leave that much earlier. TTC-users already had commutes much longer than people who take the car. (This is true both on average and at the extremes. People who use Provincial Highways to commute to Toronto from exurbs do not count for three reasons. First, they are using Provincial Highways, not City of Toronto roads. Second, at least a major portion of their commute happens outside the confines of the City of Toronto. Third, they don't pay Toronto property taxes!)

Getting up earlier means people will be getting less sleep and creates more stress. Less sleep and more stress mean more sick time which hurts commerce. Less sleep and more stress also mean more real health problems, so it hits the Province of Ontario's health care system hard. Ford doesn't care. That's not his budget. To him they are separate matters. If he can find a way to pass the buck, he will, even if it means destroying the fabric of society. Sorry, Mr. Ford, to citizens, everything is interconnected and nothing can be looked at in a vacuum. Nothing in the real world can be.

2) People will switch to cars. This hurts the TTC budget as ridership will drop along with the levels of service. That means it hurts the City of Toronto's budget as they will end up having to make up the amount lost in fares. Further, congestion will get considerably worse as 1 bus translates into dozens of cars, or even hundreds! Parking will get considerably more scarce, resulting in widespread parking violations, further congesting streets. Increases in congestion and parking issues increase stress levels. Remember what increased stress levels do...

3) People that cannot or will not enact the solutions cited in #1 & #2 above will consistently be late getting to wherever they are going. This hurts business. This causes people incredible stress. Which, again, means more sick time and health care costs. This will cost people their jobs, which further hurts the economy. But, why should Rob Ford care? The City budget is financed by property taxes, not income! Let them all lose their jobs! As long as taxes don't go up at any level of government!

Politicians were quick to point out that the service cuts on Eglinton and Sheppard Avenues will be serviced long term by Ford's "impossible dream", privately-funded Sheppard subway extension and the Provincially planned LRT on Eglinton. The reason that any mention of this is completely asinine (for politicians seeking shelter from the fallout of their own decisions) is that there is the mere matter of a MINIMUM EIGHT YEAR GAP before either of these things become reality! (And one of them probably won't happen at all for lack of private funding.) This helps exactly ZERO people deal with the cuts that are coming NOW, and are therefore completely irrelevant!

So, Mr. Ford, by shifting the municipal planning focus from mass transit to the car you have effectively doomed ALL commuters, whether in cars or other vehicles, to increases in stress, congestion, travel time and pollution. Good show! Four negatives in one fell swoop of policy! That's like the tailor in the Grimm fairy tale "Seven In One Blow". Everyone thought the tailor so brave for having killed 7 in one blow! Little did they know that the seven he killed were just flies! Like the tailor, Ford is seen as a champion by many, but all he has done is kill flies. That won't stop him from boasting. (FWIW, the tailor goes on to kill giants and wild beasts using only his wit, becoming the hero he believed himself to be. Ford lacks the wit on which to fall back, but nonetheless believes himself the very model of heroism. Zero is more like it.)

Here's the real problem with service cuts. The effects that they tell you about are theoretical and not particularly rooted in day-to-day reality. The increase in traffic resulting from this war on public transportation will all too often keep buses from keeping to their official schedules. Buses will be even busier and wait times longer than the TTC is telling us. All it takes is a little bit of congestion, a little inclement weather, a minor fender-bender, a sick or injured rider, an unruly-to-dangerous passenger or a disabled bus to cause the entire route to break down. This happens much more often than you'd believe! Oh, and expect more fender benders as traffic congestion increases!

There are two other problems with the service cuts. The increase in riders per vehicle will mean that additional buses will need to be summoned to handle unexpected fluctuations in ridership more often. Rider stress will be at an all time high. Similarly, the drivers will be tested to their absolute limits. You think that the recent happenings in Ottawa were unacceptable? Just wait until you get a hold of the new TTC! Eventually, the buses start skipping stops because they can't take on any new passengers. If no one is getting off, the bus isn't stopping. This serves two purposes. The faster that bus can get through it's route, the sooner it can come back for another pass. (This tends not to have any real effect at all. The buses end up just sitting at their terminals in an effort to keep to the all mighty schedule rather than work to reduce any backlog of riders.) Second, stopping just creates an opportunity for an angry public to take it out on drivers, endangering drivers and further slowing the bus. The drivers aren't responsible for the policy or the schedule, that makes them every bit the victims that the riders are. So, if you happen to be waiting for a bus that comes every 9 minutes, you may be treated to a full bus that cannot take on passengers... every 9 minutes! There's no telling when you'll actually be able to get on and commence your journey! This isn't extremely common, except for when the weather is foul, in which case it becomes incredibly common! All those car drivers, walkers and cyclists that don't want to brave the weather get added to the daily ridership creating an impossible situation. If you get on at a terminal, you're probably OK because the vehicle completely empties at your stop. If not, good luck. You'll need it!

Further, the buses that are summoned to handle the fluctuations have to come from somewhere. Typically, they come from the affected route itself. What they do is declare a bus headed in the direction opposite to the main flow of traffic as a "short turn" bus. In other words, it turns around ASAP to add its capacity to the stressed direction. That means the people that happen to travel in the direction opposite to the main flow are forced off the bus and made to wait for the next bus. Every single time this happens the displaced riders bitch and moan, get a transfer and brave the weather, forced to accept an extra leg of their journey where they get absolutely nowhere. If they are lucky, the next driver won't get uppity about the fact that you are trying to use an inappropriate transfer at a non-transfer point. Also if they are lucky, they have a cell phone and can call ahead to warn of their impending tardiness. If they aren't lucky enough to own/afford a cell phone, they are screwed. Good luck borrowing one from one of your fellow riders! Actually, unless you want to experience a threat of bodily harm, I don't recommend even trying! With service cuts, this will happen even more often than it does now! If you have hockey gear, wear it for your TTC trips, you might need the protection from your fellow disgruntled rider! Since we're talking about it, why do the people travelling with the crowds get priority over the people moving against traffic? Was their TTC token worth more? Did they pay two fares? Is their getting to work on time more important?

Second, at least once a day on some route somewhere (and usually more often), a driver takes an unauthorized break. I'm not talking about when the driver puts the bus into park and wanders into a Tim Horton's. If they need to use the bathroom to drive safely, then let them use a bathroom now. If they need to ingest massive amounts of coffee in order to be alert while driving then they'd best get some coffee! (Ideally, people with difficulty concentrating on driving aren't working as professional drivers!)

I'm talking about when a bus scheduled to arrive simply doesn't. It's not just late, it fails to appear entirely. It might be that it was forced to turn around to deal with crowds traveling in the other direction, but not necessarily and certainly not at the times it tends to happen. The next bus you see is the next scheduled bus, which can be an additional 15-20 minutes later. If you've already been waiting 10-20 minutes that's unacceptable. How do I know that drivers/buses are taking a 'time out'? I board a particular bus relatively close to its terminal point. I can see the 4-digit identification numbers of the buses that head towards that turn around. When a bus finally arrives from the terminal after one or even two have failed to appear, at least one bus has passed in the opposite direction. Sometimes, the ID of the bus that finally arrives doesn't match that of any of the buses that headed toward the terminal. That means it was just sitting at the terminal instead of operating on the schedule it was supposed to.

When you point out the fact that you have waited for 1 or more buses that failed to appear the driver never seems to know anything about an interruption on the route. Had there been a breakdown, or a "short-turn" situation, they would have known. So, either one of their co-workers went AWOL, or they themselves were AWOL and now their playing dumb. The fact that the bus (or buses) that were headed toward the terminal aren't smack dab on the heels of the bus that finally showed up likely means that those drivers are taking their turn at having unscheduled, paid breaks.

This only seems to happen later in the evening, or at worst near the end of the afternoon rush. That means you can't just pick up the phone and report the event to the TTC complaints department. You have to wait until morning to do it. The TTC and its employees are banking on the fact that you will cool off or forget and not report it. But don't expect anything to happen even when you do. The TTC won't acknowledge that this occurs, nor do they seem interested in disciplining drivers. (Since 'officially' no interruption in service happened there is no reason for anyone to be disciplined!) The only justification I can come up with is that the drivers are so stressed out that they need to take an unscheduled break rather than be exposed to the public where they may 'snap'. However, if this were the case it would happen relatively uniformly across the system, and it doesn't. Only certain routes seem to be plagued by this problem, and at times where the number of potential passengers won't completely overwhelm a bus if 1 or 2 happen to go missing. That tells me it has nothing to do with stress, and everything to do with laziness and entitlement.

As of today, under ideal conditions it already takes me an hour or more to get just about anywhere! The only exception is when my destination can be reached by taking a single vehicle/bus, i.e. no transfers. The more transfers you have, the more time you spend going nowhere while waiting for your ride. This accounts for less than 5% of the city. The other 95% of the city takes me at least an hour to reach. For example, it can take me 90-120 minutes for me to visit my sister! By going out of my way to use the subway I can usually keep that closer to the lower number. Again, these are under ideal conditions. No rain, no snow, no construction, no car accidents. Add any of those and the travel time balloons. With the new cuts, who knows how long it will take! I fully expect to wait longer for buses and fully expect that they will be too full to take on passengers far more often than they are now. With the number of people travelling with strollers and personal shopping carts the buses fill up pretty fast. That and the fact that riders are notoriously bad at moving back, deeper into the vehicle makes actual capacity far less than theoretical capacity.

It was Rob Ford who declared war on public transportation, but it will be the TTC employees and ridership that are left to fare for themselves on the front lines. There will be casualties. Ford probably won't notice any change at all...until it starts to affect the length of his commute. Knowing Ford, he'll probably blame the increase in congestion on cyclists.

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