An Imperfect Toronto Transit Analogy

Imagine you’ve just built your dream house, but now you have a limited budget to find furniture to fill your new home.  So, you bring in two interior decorators to help.

The first one tells you that she will take the money you’ve budgeted and head to IKEA.  At IKEA, on your budget, she’ll be able to find furniture for every room in the house, and pretty much completely furnish each room.  The furniture won’t be ideal mind you; the faux steel railing décor won’t really match some rooms of the house, the size and layout of some of the pieces won’t really fit well with some other rooms, there’ll be some wasted space or in some rooms it might get cramped.  Oh, and don’t try and move the furniture too much after you’ve set it up, it’s not the sturdiest stuff.  And don’t have any kids and let them jump on the bed, or slam the drawers or anything rough.  But hey – you’ll have furniture in every room of the house, and you’ll be all set.

Along comes the second decorator.  He tells you that he’ll take your budget, but that he also wants another 35% on top of that, and he’ll go to some Mennonite carpenters, and he’ll have them build you wonderful, custom made, tailor fitted pieces of furniture, but only one piece per room.  So, for a while, you’ll have a fantastic leather sofa in the living room, but have to put your TV on milk crates until you can afford to have a custom made TV cabinet.  You’ll have to keep your clothes in laundry baskets, while you sleep on a wonderful king-size bed dreaming of the day you can afford a custom made dresser and vanity mirror.  And so on.  But in the meantime, in the years between this purchase and the time when you’ll be able to afford the next set of pieces, you’ll be in possession of beautiful hand crafted, sturdy, quality furniture that will last you a lifetime and will have been built to perfectly fit your new home.

What would you do?  In all honesty they’re both pretty lousy options; on the one hand you get a lot of sub-par stuff that you in all likelihood won’t be too keen on a few years down the line, but at least you’ll have everything you need.  On the other hand you’re going to be asked to spend more money than you have, for a few really good pieces of furniture, while other needs will be left begging for an indeterminate time.

This is the dilemma essentially being faced in the transit plan wars being waged in Toronto.

If you aren’t able to follow Toronto municipal politics, that’s unfortunate; it is wonderful theatre, much more entertaining at the moment than federal or provincial politics.  The names of Hitler and Stalin are invoked regularly, you’ve got the left vs. the right, downtown vs. the suburbs, unionists vs. pro-business, and now you’ve got Transit City proponents vs. Rob Ford’s Subway proponents.

Transit City was the old mayor’s plan to put Light Rail Transit (LRT) tracks across the city.  Rob Ford campaigned for mayor saying that Torontonians didn’t want “streetcars” they wanted subways.  So, instead of network of LRTs, he essentially proposed a more expensive single subway line connecting Scarborough to the existing system, that he didn’t actually have money for, while the other cheaper LRT plan has gotten funding commitment.  And now you have the mayor’s plan being turfed by dissidents on council, the head of the TTC being fired, the TTC turning around and clearing out all the Ford supporters from the board and on and on.

And to make it more interesting, yesterday Tim Hudak came out and said that the Ontario Conservatives were in favour of subways.  We’re not sure how wise it is to get involved in Toronto’s municipal wars, but polling must have told him that’s what the majority of Torontonians want to hear.  And, oh Tim, we’re expecting you then to make the trip to Waterloo next election (in say… four months or so?) and announce that you are going to cancel the funding for the LRT project here, if you’re so in favour of subways.

For the record, we think subways are the way to go also.  And this is probably one of the few types of projects that we think government should find the money for; infrastructure is an investment in the economy and provides value for money over 40, 50 years or longer if done properly. 

But we do find it a curious sociological study, that has nothing really to do with ideology, what a person’s preferences are when confronted with the two transit plans in Toronto or our analogy that we began the post with; there are those who want instant or short term satisfaction, and there are those wanting to measure twice, cut once and do it right the first time, even if that means doing less.  Is that a right or left thing, conservative or socialist thing?  It might be.

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One thought on “An Imperfect Toronto Transit Analogy

  1. kent says:

    Actually a nice analysis there. But I’ll make it more accurate:

    That one expensive chair which you really like, it’s really big. Way too big to fit nicely in any of your rooms, and to even fit it through the door will require removing one of your exterior walls.

    The giant chair seats 20 people, but your house only has 3 residents. Maybe once a year or so, you have 20 people in the house for a party, but the other 364 days, chair is pretty much empty.

    I should also point out: LRT doesn’t have a short shelf life like you claim. Boston’s Green Line LRT has been operating since 1897 (no that’s not a typo), and it still carries more than 4x more passengers every day than does the Sheppard Subway.


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