Homeowners living near the city’s Bloor subway line have been complaining about steadily increasing noise and vibration in their homes for years, reported the Toronto Star on Thursday. After being initially ignored by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), a study was eventually conducted that confirmed that, yes, the subway line is a lot noisier than it used to be. By 400%, in some cases. The TTC blames aging infrastructure, and agrees that something must be done.
Which they'll get around to eventually.
The logic behind public transit, as opposed to the privately owned and managed services that preceded the TTC, is that a key piece of infrastructure would be managed with the public's interests at heart. No major decisions being made by dollar chasers willing to cut corners to fatten their own profits. Nine decades of working under this collectivist assumption has gotten us exactly the problem that public ownership was intended to solve.
While the top hatted monopolists have been dispensed with, their modern descendants in spirit over at the union hall continue the work of extracting economic rents from transit riders and taxpayers. The old private streetcar operators had government backed monopolies over certain routes. Now the governed owned operator has a total monopoly over the whole city and the unions have a monopoly over the supply of labour. Instead of shareholders extracting economic rents, it's the unionized employees and their leadership.
When public transit was still in private hands, decisions on hiring, investment and operation were made essentially on an economic basis. It would have been economically foolish to run streetcar or bus lines, to say nothing of a subway line, into sparsely populated neighbourhoods. Yet once the TTC was under municipal control, which rhetoric aside means political control, that is exactly what happened. The Bloor-Danforth line, the subject of the above complaints, was built in the 1960s into parts of the city where the population density was insufficient to support such a massive piece of infrastructure.
The construction of lines into economically nonviable parts of the city was a bad business decision, but a good political move. The suburban councillors, even in areas where the subway line did not run, supported the expansion because it made it easier to increase service in their areas. A compound effect soon took hold. If Etobicoke could get a subway, why couldn't Scarborough get a Rapid Transit line (i.e. glorified monorail)? Then calls came for the abolition of fare zones.
From the inception of Metro Toronto in 1953 until 1973 the TTC operated using a fare zone, charging more for suburban commuters. With the abolition of the fare zone system the TTC became chronically dependent on funding from the city and province. The driving force behind abolishing the fare zones were suburban politicians attempting to curry votes. While there were practical problems with administering the zone system, and it is arguable whether it could be reimplemented today, their abolition was another sign of politics triumphing over sound business decisions.
The initial financial impact of abolishing the fare zone was limited. The city had already been providing a modest subsidy for about a decade and the province, in those lush Bill Davis days, began kicking in addition funding. The TTC remained well financed, well maintained and its routes continued to expand into the 1980s. When decades of over spending caused a massive retrenchment of the provincial budget under Mike Harris, the TTC saw its provincial funding eliminated. From then on it has been living from hand to mouth.
Caught between between a public angry at diminishing service, a political class that no longer sees transit as a big voter winner and aging infrastructure, the TTC is in a game it can't win. About 70% of the operating costs of the system are paid for through the fare box, the rest coming from city and sundry revenues such as advertising and rent. This excludes any major capital projects such as new subway lines or significant repairs to existing infrastructure. To put the TTC back in the operational black would require a combination of steep fare increases, reductions in service and wage rollbacks.
None of these things are politically feasible, though each are what a private business would have done decades ago, assuming that a private enterprise would have made so many lousy business decisions in the first place. What needs to end is not the rumbling along certain sections of the Bloor-Danforth line, that is merely a symptom of a deeper problem: The politicization of public transit.