Stuck in traffic in Transportation City

"Send in the clowns

Don't bother they are here."

Stephen Sondheim from the 1973 musical 'A Little Night Music'

As a transit rider and taxpayer in Toronto, I write of our right to moral outrage. The events since the October 25 municipal election have left me reeling -- from the Ringling Brothers pomp and circumstance of Don Cherry's inauguration of Rob Ford as mayor of our once progressive city, to the new regime's attempted transit fee hike and service cuts, and to the higher personal income tax garnered to subsidize corporate tax cuts, our political arena has become a three-ring circus.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Dalton McGuinty, Mayor Ford -- each have become ringleaders in their own right. Each promotes obstructionist duplicity, deflecting questions about who really holds the reins of our right to dissent without censure, discounting, or ridicule, while cutting tax revenues needed to support essential public services, including transit, which enable us to get to work efficiently.

Once service becomes intermittent, such as the recently proposed scaling back of the night-time schedule of 48 bus routes, riders will decide to no longer use these unpredictable routes. Who rides the later buses? Shift workers, recent immigrants, service sector employees, teenagers -- those who cannot afford cars and are the most vulnerable to being stranded within a system. With this plan, and the construction of 18 km of subway with 11 stops, rather than Transit City, Ford has announced his "Transportation City," thus his "War on the Transit Rider." Cars are machines; we cannot have a war on them.

Ford's reign was kicked off on December 7, when Don Cherry, the host of "Coach's Corner"' on the CBC, placed the chain-of-office around Ford's neck at City Hall, and said "Actually I'm wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything."

With that speech, the municipal gloves were off, and my bicycle helmet was on. The tone was set for the new City Hall to be run by an executive council queried, hand-selected, and confirmed by his staff that their allegiance to Ford was absolute. Adam Vaughan, the councillor that everyone wanted to run for mayor, turned his back on the proceedings.

Within days of his election, Ford was granted the ear of McGuinty, and convinced him to abandon seven years of Transit City planning. In those same few days, Spacing, the new urban magazine, designed bicycle-riding leftwing pinko buttons to fight this inaugural costume drama with humour, and a signifier of moral outrage. Ten thousand buttons were sold in the first two days by Spacing, with 10 per cent of the proceeds going to the Toronto Cyclists' Union.

For 25 years at the CBC, a pinko-kook institution, Mississauga resident Don Cherry has earned up to $700,000 a year for five minutes per game of Yogi Berra commentary on hockey, and now his "bite the hand that feeds him" malapropisms have been immortalized on a button, and banded together downtown Toronto pinko-kooks. I wear my button everywhere with amused and exasperated pride, and often point to it as a mutual badge of honour to fellow pinkos -- on the streets, in the subway, and in cafes -- to build solidarity.

Those who conjecture about why Transit City is being dismantled also believe the mayoral modus operandi of Ford is calculated. Ford wants to return the favour of his election to property developers who bankrolled his campaign, and by doing so, undermine the egalitarian, urban planning begun by ex-Mayor David Miller, which would integrate communities into the subway corridor by continuing to build 75 km of priority lines of Light Rail Transit. This project has already been whittled down 47 km by budget cuts by McGuinty; Miller original plan included 122 km of LRT.

In addition, they believe Ford wants to sell off valuable air rights for high rise development above subway stops to his developer friends. This plan is in direct contrast to Miller, who wanted his legacy to be Transit City. This LRT system includes multiple transit stops to encourage business and street level development within neighbourhoods, supports mom and pop businesses along its route, and enables those who are disabled and elderly access to surface level transit. The vision of Ford is elitist -- massive high rises will mark the spot of subway stations, which will take seven years to build, serve 122,000 people, and are difficult to access, whereas the plan of Transit City is to enable transit-oriented development to serve 400,000 people, revitalize entire communities, and can be built within three years to relieve the gridlock, and a portion of healthcare expenses, which cost Ontario $6 billion a year.

And the three-ring circus continues. McGuinty allowed Ford's fireside chat for significant reasons -- Ontario views the HST as a corporate tax grab, he is culpable for enacting 233/10, the five-meter fence rule, which permitted the suspension of civil liberties during the G20 summit in Toronto last summer, and he has made a series of exceptionally poor decisions in the last year, including outsourcing $6 billion of wind turbines to Samsung. Who is advising him?

Yet, even as McGuinty exclaims from the center of his ring "Ontarians understand the need for corporate tax cuts," provincial corporate tax rates are cut from 14 to 12 per cent so that $2.4 billion in public revenues will be lost for Transit City. No, I don't understand why I am paying much more for fewer services, any more than I understand why the new city council recently attempted to raise transit fees by 10 cents to $3.10 for each token when I buy a set of 10 to offset the $60 lost from the vehicle registration fee, and federally, why my taxes have increased between $144 (income $44,000) to $447 per annum (income $100,000) so that $14 billion in tax revenues are lost to the public purse, and why Canadian corporations will pay the lowest taxes in the industrialized world at 12.2 per cent, when American corporations pay 28.3 per cent.

As a Liberal premier, McGuinty has added to my tax burden given to me by the federal Conservatives, thereby supporting Harper's corporate agenda. I thought they were opposing parties. As a result, I am getting far fewer services for far higher transit fees, increased taxation from all sides, and a possible public sector wage freeze -- a triple whammy. And watch -- this federal tax loss in tax revenue will be used to justify even more downloading of transit infrastructure costs to the provinces by forcing them to finance overruns. Harper and McGuinty could have allocated some of these revenues to fund sustainable transportation infrastructure and upgrades, including electrifying the Air Rail Link, and the Georgetown corridor by Metrolinx, and easily included a 15 per cent contingency fund.

Along with $14 billion federally is $2.4 billion provincially, which adds up to $16.4 billion in lost tax revenues. This $16.4 billion can buy world-class, sustainable, electric transit infrastructure, education, research and innovation, and the capacity for forward-thinking design and self-governance; $16.4 billion in tax cuts widens the gap between the car-drivers and transit riders, and closes the door on municipal services, including legal clinics, home care, and public housing for those who need them most, yet were the target demographic for Ford's Gravy Train campaign.

It also complicates travel time in the GTA for citizens do not want to waste half their workday in gridlock, as drivers idle in single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) behind their buses. These diesel buses, as proposed by Ford, should be Light Rail Vehicles, which are twice as fast, with no emissions, and serve the entire GTA. "Transportation City" is not as efficient or clean as "Transit City," and depends on fossil fuels in a post carbon economy.

Cities, including the GTA, need to become the epicentre of all greening initiatives, as up to 70 per cent of the world will live in urban centres by 2050. It is clear that Ford will not be able to represent the City of Toronto on the world stage with his backward policies prioritizing cars, subways, and buses. GTA transit infrastructure is 25 years behind international standards already, and his version of fossil-fuel-based transit and expanding highway system will be considered archaic before it is built. Cuts from federal and provincial corporate tax revenues could have been used to build this transit infrastructure so that TTC riders can get to work, quickly and efficiently without congestion, to their lungs or their workday.

Just as Ford's inauguration did on YouTube, his self-serving version of Transit City, "Transportation City," will make us a laughing stock internationally. And as other countries build sustainable transit for resilient cities, we will be stuck in traffic, waiting for a change in transit policy and governance. As the economic engine of Canada, this funding is owed to the TTC transit rider more than the tax cuts are owed to the executive class, but it is not seen this way by this corporate glad-handing, three-ring circus.

We need to get to work on Transit City -- and right away -- so we can go to work.

Co-curator and contributing blogger for The Real G8/G20, Elizabeth Littlejohn blogs at Railroaded by Metrolinx. 

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