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The Politics of Transit
17/04/2006

In the previous blog post, I complained that the infrastructure decisions made for the TTC (by big government investors) don't really line up with where the need is greatest.

The other way to put this is that politics is what drives these decisions, and, when it comes to transit, any alignment that politics has with smart planning, with transit efficiency, or with human need is purely coincidental.

This is particularly true in today's GTA where gridlock has become such a prominent issue. In the sprawling regions of the 905, traffic has become important enough that promised solutions are sufficient to swing votes. And 905 is where the swing votes can swing elections.

Therefore, we're extending the subway into the vacant heart of "The City Above Toronto". Vaughn City Centre will someday be a site with potential for development... just like many other sites waiting for development along the Spadina and Sheppard subway lines.

The result is that we are continuing to build a TTC that's overdeveloped in some places with relatively low demand, and underdeveloped in other places with high demand. It would even seem that if we're building a TTC to where there is potential for future demand, we're actually missing the more promising areas.

This is obviously a problem of political involement, as I have no doubt that the TTC's staff would rather focus on where the people are than on building and operating nearly-empty facilities.

If the problem is the politics of central planning, there are many who would leap to recommendations of privatization and competition. However, without a government-subsidized transit monopoly, we would surely be worse off.

So, how can we avoid the problem of politically-driven transit decisions? That's difficult. I can imagine technical solutions, such as providing funding (including capital funding for maintenance and expansion) to the TTC and others solely on the basis of ridership. But such a plan can only come into place and continue so long as it has political support, and this leads us back to where we started. What politician would want to give up the shovel turning and ribbon cutting?


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