THE SYTEM OVERFLOWS BUT STILL LOSES MONEY
The university lecturer was explaining long ago that for centuries there had been a great argument about how many angels could dance on the head of the pin.
That actually woke me up for a few minutes. I have never forgotten that metaphysical anecdote even if I never understood it. Yet I think of it regularly in terms of interminable baffling debate when the latest political fight is on an issue that I first covered 50 years ago.
I mainly think of it at City Hall when it comes to tolls, transit routes and parking. Gee, I actually recall when the elimination of tolls in Ontario was seen as a great accomplishment even though it deprived the party faithful of a lot of patronage jobs.
The other day, the stats prof asked me what I thought of the latest debate over a new subway line. Now I use him as a resource on the latest health theories, and he uses me as a seeing eye dog on politics so he doesn't overdose on his liberalism. But I told him that I didn't know what the latest arguments were and I really didn't care because these debates have been going on for so long there is a suspicion that Sir John A. may actually have talked about the best route to the Scarboro wilds at a Market rally.
Once upon a time, I was one of the experts of all things to do with the TTC.
It had started rather simply because my colleagues were lazy, and I was the rawest reporter in the Tely City Hall bureau, so naturally I was assigned to leave the comfortable surroundings there and trek to the TTC headquarters where a fresh deck of cigarettes always sat on the press table and the atmosphere was that of a club.
The gods smiled on me with that weekly assignment because it benefitted me on the great decision about where to buy a house. The decision about the western routing of a Bloor subway had not yet been made but it made sense to me - always a dangerous thing when it comes to transit - that the line would swing close to Royal York and Bloor.
That was already a prime hunting ground for me since three important Metro commissioners in works, planning and parks (Tommy Thompson was not yet just the name on a park) lived near the intersection. If the area was seen as the smart place to live by the top three municipal officials in Ontario, who was I to argue.
So I bought there half a century ago and my wife and I, my three sons and now my grandsons, used the subway regularly for hospital, university and downtown appointments because parking has been so screwed up by a council that considers one cyclist more important than the five drivers of delivery vans and commuters who have to manoeuvre around each one.
Planning subway lines has always been a dog's breakfast even before Mel Lastman stuck us with that silly stub in North York. It got so bad that several young municipal reporters floated their own idea in two newspapers which had been suggested at breakfast by their landlady who couldn't understand the planners going on and on when the best idea would be to build a giant X.
Connect northern Etobicoke and the top of Scarboro with the bottom of the two suburbs with an X which would cross at Bloor and Yonge. It certainly would help all those riders in the corners with a difficult commute to the centre of the downtown.
For much of a year, the X extensions were high in the polls and the landlady served better breakfasts. Then it was only porridge.
I recall the verbal brawling over the routing of the Spadina subway because of the ravines north of St. Clair. The Metro transportation committee had so many alternatives that they were given numbers and letters.
After the triumphant meeting that was touted as making the final decision, I wandered up to the clerk and the chairman, the weird Irv Paisley of North York, and said I was surprised at the winning choice because of some problems that I listed. Paisley objected, saying that wasn't what the committee approved. I showed him my notes, and then the clerk produced the official record which agreed with me. So Paisley cursed and muttered, the clerk ran around rounding up the committee members, and they passed a different route half an hour later.
I spent so much time writing about the TTC because the commissioners and councillors argued about everything. Killing streetcars became a big issue and I wrote about them so much that I am credited with popularizing their nickname of red rockets.
The TTC asked me to write its official history. Than it tried to hire me as the ad and PR boss. A lot more money, and the newspaper business was certainly crazy, but I figured not quite as strange as transit in T.O.
I suppose the high point was riding down Bay in the limousine assigned to the boss then, Mike Warren, when we were T-boned by a car. Warren never stopped talking. He opened the door, hopped out and hailed a cab without saying a word to his driver. When I questioned this, he said that if the staff didn't know how to handle a routine accident, there was nothing he could do about it.
And the low points have been all the times in recent years when I have limped on to a subway car at 10.30 p.m. after the symphony or the opera or the play and find not only all the seats taken with smug people even in the disabled seating, I had to compete for handholds.
And so I grumbled profanely to any poor sap stuck riding with me about how can the TTC lose money carrying more than half a billion people yearly when there are still crowds riding when many are in bed.
Of course major problems are the union agreements which stick us with more staff than is needed in between the extended rush hours.
But let's not forget that at our political centres where they set taxes and routes and fares and impose awkward bylaws that too often our decision making is a mix of the principles of Peters and Parkinson. The theory that managers rise to their level of incompetence is combined with the rule that work expands to fill the available time. So does political debate!
The mayor and a gaggle of councillors, the premier and a giggle of ministers, and the transit CEO and a stall of managers, would rather talk grandly and commission reports and threaten tolls and demand more money from the government just above them - which means the taxpayer just pays out of another pocket - than actually do something on time.
The Better Way would be if they talked less and did more, and stop stupid decisions like shutting down part of the system on important holidays like Labour Day when traditionally there was to be increased service because of the CNE.
The most dangerous word I hear about the TTC come from my friends and neighbours who have been riders their entire life. They talk about the "decline" of service. Unfortunately, they can't recall when the peak was. We all must have missed it in the fog of words.