Do Councillors Dream of Electrified Rail?

Typical morning on the TTC. Image via BlogTo.

Typical morning on the TTC. Image via BlogTo.

1. Each morning, I board the 24 Victoria Park bus, which I take to Victoria Park station. At the station, I’ll take the westbound train to Bloor/Yonge station and then transfer lines to take the train southbound to Union. Alternatively, I may take the 95 York Mills bus to York Mills station and go straight down to Union.

All in all, it can take an hour. In the peak of morning rush hour, it can take even longer. At times, this can be blamed on traffic. Many times, in fact more and more, it has to do with mechanical failures on the train itself or perhaps signal issues. Often, it’s because busses take ages to show up and when they do, they may be so overcrowded that I have no choice but to wait for the next one. The same applies when waiting for a train.

Once I board, the experience does not improve much. Spending an extended amount of time in a claustrophobic environment is not a good way to start one’s day. Nor is standing on a platform that due to delays in trains arriving becomes so dangerously overcrowded that it is actually life threatening. There are places on a train where you are forced to stand during rush hour where there is nothing you can hold on to for safety. This is a reality for countless residents; unnecessarily long and unpleasant commutes that require multiple transfers.

I manage to get by because I am an able-bodied man in his 20s. Were I disabled or a parent trying to get a stroller across the city in the morning or evening rush hour, I couldn’t imagine how I’d survive. Many stations remain inaccessible and wait times have consequences that cause ripples into all aspects of our lives.

We are easily approaching the point, or perhaps have passed it, when there is more that is wrong with our transit than is right. If Toronto’s working class, its disabled, its low-income citizens, its students, and so many more, can’t rely on our public transit, then it has surely failed in its mission. With each trip I take on the TTC, I fear we are approaching that point.


Transit has been talked about endlessly throughout this current election cycle. Every mayoral candidate has had their opportunity to share their vision, or lack thereof, for what transit in this city should look like. So too have most councillors. Much of the substance of the conversation, or again lack thereof, left me with a lingering question, namely, “WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME ANY OF THESE PEOPLE ACTUALLY TOOK PUBLIC TRANSIT IN THIS CITY?”

Seeing first-hand the experiences of the community that you claim to serve is vital to good policy. Those seeking office may boast about their connections to “folks” all they want, but unless you are regularly among those people, experiencing what they do and understanding the difficulties they face, you lack credibility. To address the complex needs of this city’s transit problems, from major questions of infrastructure to every day rider experience, policy makers need to take the perspective of the rider to understand the real facts of their experience. Bad facts, after all, make bad policy.

These frustrations motivated this project. I decided to email every incumbent Toronto city councillor and ask them about their personal experience using transit in this city. I didn’t ask about policy, though it was touched on. Five councillors responded and for that I thank them. Councillor Josh Matlow even spoke to me over the phone. Despite declaring the ward I voted in in the email, my own councillor did not respond. Below are the questions I asked followed by their responses. I have posted the responses as they were sent to me. In the case of Councillor Matlow, I pieced the response together based on our phone conversation.


My Questions

  1. As a councillor, do you commute to your job via public transit?
  2. If so, can you please briefly describe your route and average commute time?
  3. If you are re-elected, would you pledge to take public transit in commuting to your job?
  4. What is the best thing about Toronto’s public transit system in your personal experience?
  5. What is the worst?

Mike Layton, Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina)

1. I usually bike to work. However, when I leave my bike at home I ride the TTC to work.

2. I board the subway at Christie Station on the Bloor line. I transfer at St. George Station and ride down to St.Patrick Station.  Depending on the time of day this trip can take 15 minutes or 30 Minutes.

3. I take transit and I will continue to do so when I don’t bike.

4. The TTC allows me to get around the city without a car. I like this fact that for one fare I can travel from Etobicoke to Scarborough.

5. We had a world class system but we stopped paying to keep it operating at a high level and we stopped adequately funding transit expansion. The TTC needs to new investment to meet today’s ridership demands.

Josh Matlow, Ward 22 (St. Paul’s)

When taking the TTC, Councillor Matlow commutes by taking the Davisville bus to Davisville station and taking the train southbound. He says that on days where he is required to do multiple site visits, he may opt for taking a personal vehicle. The Councillor does feel that customer service has improved enough over time on the TTC and that the integration between surface and underground routes is a strong point, especially in allowing residents to travel from one end of the city to the next. The TTC was something to boast about in the 80s, he said, but that is no longer the case.

The TTC’s greatest weakness, according to Matlow, is that it has not evolved to meet the growing needs of the city due to lack of leadership and funding from all levels of government. The result is intense overcrowding and increased wait times for commuters, Matlow’s least favourite thing about the TTC. The councillor noted that a complex city needs a complex transit plan that incorporates multiple solutions, including a crosstown LRT, electrified GO rail, a downtown relief line, and increased bus services in key areas.


Chin Lee, Ward 41 (Scarborough-Rouge River)

Dear Ravi,
Unfortunately, the city councillor‘s position requires us to be at different locations during the day, so public transit is relatively slow if I have to go to different places.  I use public transit where possible – including going to the airport via TTC.  For about 10 months in 2013, I did manage to survive on 1 car in my family by juggling public transit and scheduling car-use with my family.  It got harder as the winter approached.  Subways and LRTs will only improve travel times marginally from North Scarborough or North Etobicoke and provides little for commuters to and from the 905 area, so the best public transit option will be to improve the GO system to run 2-way all day long to integrate with the local transit and use an integrated fare system for more seamless transit travel. The improved GO system will provide the drivers from 905 a good alternative to getting out of their cars, thus freeing up road space, reducing gridlock and improving our environment.

I supported the Scarborough Subway because it will be justified in 20 years time, and we voted to increase taxes to fund it.

Gord Perks, Ward 14 (Parkdale-High Park)

Ravi, I don’t currently hold a drivers’ licence, so nearly all of my travel is by TTC. I take the Dundas Streetcar to work. My trip time varies from 20 to 50 minutes. I will continue to take transit if re-elected. I love the TTC and have all my life. Because it is a fine-grained system a transit pass or a token is the keys to the whole City. I regret that it is not better funded and that service quality suffers.


Pam McConnell, Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) (note: a campaign aide wrote these responses on the councillor’s behalf)

1. Yes, she does.

2. The 505 Dundas car.  About 15 minutes.

3. This has long been her method of transport (barring the occasional need for a taxi for trips between meetings on a tight schedule) and there is no reason for this to change.

4. She has consistently praised the frontline workers.  When out together, going to meetings, etc., she will frequently take a moment to talk with them and thank them for their work.  She often says they are the TTC’s most valuable asset.

5. Pam has publicly stated that TTC needs to improve their communications and consultations, which is why she pushed for expanded public consultations on the relief line.  She is also concerned about accessibility at the subway stations – particularly at Sherbourne – and the need to accelerate the work to make all stations fully accessible.

Non Respondents: Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 – Etobicoke North); Mark Grimes (Ward 6 – Etobicoke-Lakeshore); Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 – York West); Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 – York West); Maria Augimeri (Ward 9 – York Centre); James Pasternak (Ward 10 – York Centre); Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 – York South-Weston); Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12 – York South-Weston); Sarah Doucette (Ward 13 – Parkdale-High Park); Josh Colle (Ward 15 – Eglinton-Lawrence); Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 – Davenport); Ana Bailao (Ward 18 – Davenport); Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 – St. Paul’s); John Filion (Ward 23 – Willowdale); David Shiner (Ward 24 – Willowdale); Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 – Don Valley West); John Parker (Ward 26 – Don Valley West); Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27 – Toronto Centre); Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 – Toronto-Danforth); Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 – Toronto-Danforth); Janet Davis (Beaches-East York); Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 – Beast-East York); Shelley Carroll (Ward 33 – Don Valley East); Denzil Minan-Wong (Ward 34 – Don Valley East); Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 – Scarborough Southwest); Gary Crawford (Ward 36 – Scarborough Southwest); Michael Thompson (Ward 37 – Scarborough Centre); Norm Kelly (Ward 40 – Scarborough-Agincourt); Raymond Cho (Ward 42 – Scarborough-Rouge River); Paul Ainslie (Ward 43 – Scarborough East); Ron Moeser (Ward 44 – Scarborough East)

by Ravi M. Singh on October 21, 2014  •  Permalink
Posted in Politics/Law
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