Friday, November 25, 2011

This Is Not Okay

You know that feeling when you're in a public place and a young child is being an absolute nuisance? And your first impulse is to get upset at the child? Then you realize that the child is only partially to blame for its behaviour, and your frustration is best directed at the child's parents? Strange analogy, yes, but pretty accurate in this case: I'm angry with the TTC, but really, I'm mad at Toronto's Mayor, Rob Ford (the analogy fails because between Ford and the TTC, it's Ford who's the child).

So what did he do this time, he who is at war with everything but the car (after proclaiming that the war on cars is over)? As part of his misguided attempt to stop the gravy train at City Hall, he has asked the Toronto Transit Commission to cut their spending by 10%. This, when ridership is at an all-time high, overcrowding is standard on many routes, and more and more disgruntled drivers seek an alternative to their usual nightmare commute - the average is 80 minutes, longer than New York, Montreal, Berlin, L.A., and London. Shameful.

Back in September, the TTC came up with a solution that would help it meet its new budget: altering load standards. In other words, switch from more vehicles with fewer passengers to fewer vehicles with more passengers, which allows the TTC to avoid cutting out entire routes to save money. What it also provides is longer wait times and, tragically, more overcrowding. For those of us living in Toronto and using transit on a regular basis, it's hard to image how more people could be crammed onto buses and streetcars. Maybe TTC staff will stand on the loading platforms and push us in like they do in the Tokyo subway system?

When a document was leaked yesterday showing the planned service changes, my heart sank. There will be cuts to 56 bus routes and six streetcar lines as of January 8th. Several high traffic routes are affected, and while it may seem that lengthening the wait times along those routes by just one minute is no big deal, I challenge you to get on a bus or streetcar that is running a minute later than normal during the morning rush in this City.

All three bus routes and the streetcar line near my home will suffer. And while it's true that I'm upset with the TTC for further ruining their service rather than increasing our fares (though those are much too high for what we get - still, I'd rather pay more than face this), my anger is actually directed at Mayor Ford. It's not okay to impose budget cuts on a poorly-functioning transit system in a city as big as Toronto. Transit is not gravy. Gravy is the luxury leaf collection program in Ford's home neighbourhood of Etobicoke, which costs $500,000 per year and is, unsurprisingly, not on the chopping block, not even up for consideration. I'm so angry.

Photo of Fordzilla eating a streetcar used under Creative Commons from malstad (flickr).
Photo of crowded TTC streetcar used under Creative Commons from Tina Li (flickr).


  1. I think you're completely right to be angry. Ford is an idiot who's destroying our city by inches.

    Also, I feel obliged to point out that while Ford is certainly the overarching nemesis here, the TTC still fumbled the ball on how to deal with these cuts... there are plenty of ways to reduce the TTC budget by 10% without it directly impacting the ridership. Like, for example, NOT paying 6-figure salaries for sitting on your butt and looking at transit passes.

    Sure, when the economy is thriving and everyone has extra money and is earning a good living... fine, give those 6-figure salaries (teachers, I love you but I'm looking at you too). But if the economy is suffering, nobody has a spare cent... it's just not reasonable to expect that these people can continue to pull down these insultingly high paychecks. At least with teachers there's a (debatable) justification for the ridiculous amount of money they're being paid... TTC workers? Nuh-uh.

    So while I agree with hating Ford for what he's doing, the TTC really should have risen to the occasion to make some hard decisions. They failed, and we get to suffer as a result.

  2. Well said. Perhaps the better analogy is a parent who sets a bad example and their teenage child who makes a poor decision? :)

  3. I agree with you Andrea regarding the cuts that Ford is insisting on compared to the services that he thinks are essential.

    Marc, while I agree that teachers are not exempt from lower pay increases (there are collective agreements that were already in place when the financial crisis hit, so we have to work within those contracts) I have to disagree regarding teachers salaries being in the 6 figures. While there are some teachers that have broken $100 000 in their annual salaries (in 2+ years of supply teaching I have met only one), the teachers that have such high salaries have obtained the necessary qualifications to be in the top level and they have been teaching for more than 10 ten years, which is a long time in this profession. Many people leave teaching after only a couple of years in a contract due to burn out. In my board a starting level salary for a full time teacher in the bottom level (based on qualifications alone) is under $40 000. Most teachers do not have a full time position so are making less. Like most families, most teachers need to be in two income households to have a household income in the six figures.

    May I also remind you that teaching is a profession, as are engineering, law and medicine. Our professional judgement regarding how best to teach a student and how best to assess their learning and provide them with a grades can make the difference between a student getting into a university program or not. We are responsible for the education of the people that will be looking after us in our retirement and we take that seriously. I'm not saying teachers' salaries should be in the same league a those of lawyers in private law firms but they should reflect the education, experience and professional decisions that are required.

  4. Leaf collection? What is that about? Is it also true that in some neighbourhoods in Toronto the city will come and trim your trees for you? I had a friend who moved there from here she told me that... Seems like that kind of money could be way better spent on the TTC!

    Transit is so important, it is our future if we are to ever get off oil. We need to invest in transit instead of more roads, roads, roads for more cars, cars, cars.

  5. Susan - Teachers are responsible for educating the next generation, and for that they deserve a fair salary. Absolutely. Meanwhile... those of us who would like to clean up the planet can't find work, and when we do, we aren't paid fairly for our skills, knowledge, and effort. Makes me sad and angry.

  6. Sherry - Exactly. The planning is short-sighted or non-existent. We're covering our eyes, trying not to see the oil disappearing. How can the people who make these decisions sleep at night? What happens when they think of their children and grandchildren, those who will inherit this dirty planet?

  7. Just a quick note to Susan: The average elementary school teacher in Ontario earns over $90,000.

    And that's LESS than High School teachers (in fact, a point of contention between the two, apparently).

    You can see the numbers yourself here:
    (keep in mind the article is from 2008, and speaks about elementary teachers earning $80K a year and high school teachers earning $85K).

    So... sorry, maybe you're in a very low-paying section of the province? But teachers in Ontario ARE making 6-figure salaries... about half of them, in theory.

    Also: other professionals that earn that amount of money tend to be in school for at least 6 to 8 years (3-4 years undergrad, 3-4 years post-grad). There are higher and lower averages, obviously, but teachers weigh in at 4-5 years total (3-4 years undergrad, and a year of post-grad). Engineers are only 4 years, but then they don't earn as much as teachers on average (closer to 70-80K/year).

    Look, I'm not trying to say that teachers don't earn or deserve the money. They have a big responsibility. But they're paid a TONNE of money to do their jobs (despite what many of them seem to think), and have to remember that unlike many professionals (like lawyers), their money comes from the taxes of everyone else rather than from directly charge clients (which is good! I'd hate to see us move towards more private school systems!). When the economy is rough, the money to pay teachers has got to come from somewhere.

    We're getting off topic here, though.

    The moral of the story is that people always have justficiations for their salaries... nobody wants to hear that "they're earning too much", whether they're teachers, lawyers, or TTC employees. But when times are tough (and they are!), people have to realize that the money has got to come from somewhere... and if you don't want service to suffer, then maybe it's not unreasonable for the higher-paid end to take a hit to keep everyone working.

  8. While I'm glad that my blog encourages debates like these, the point I was trying to make with this post was that cutting the operating budget of a transit system in a big city is a bad idea, not only for those who use it but for drivers who will have to contend with more congestion when people stop taking the bus and return to their cars.