Monthly Archives: September 2011

Why Crowding The TTC Further Is Cruel And Targets The Disabled

In winter of 2007, I suffered a severe ankle sprain that left me on crutches for several weeks.  If you haven’t had the joy of being a non-driver with no local family hobbling on crutches in the winter, it’s a true delight.  I loved hobbling through improperly cleared sidewalks, tripping in slushy residential roads that the city took its time to clear and balancing my body and a backpack on two wooden sticks.

The absolute highlight of my miserable experience, however, was trying to take the TTC to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments.

First, the bus stops:  seldom adequately cleared for me to navigate safely from sidewalk to bus door.  Once on board, many people refused to offer me a seat when I blatantly needed one, and few TTC drivers cared to demand one on my behalf.  The elevators at Broadview frequently broke down.  Most stations were anything but disabled-friendly.  As a young twenty-something woman, I admittedly had not noticed until this experience just how poorly the TTC treats those of us with mobility issues.  Even escalators were frequently down, or only operated upwards on all units, leaving me to hobble down stairs, certain I was about to fall face-first.

Years later now, I am permanently disabled.  I have early stage arthritis in one knee, and said sprained ankle never fully recovered.  I regularly struggle to walk for long periods, and cannot stand for very long.  In my future, I know I will need services like Wheel Trans.  This is why I am so against worsening the crowded state of the TTC and cutting Wheel Trans under the deluded notion that the disabled somehow use the main system.

I commute daily during the rush hours of morning to school downtown.  I come from the east end.  Despite living a five-minute walk from a subway station, I take instead a bus to a streetcar, and my physical travel time increases ten to fifteen minutes each way.  I do this because I can get a seat on a streetcar this way, but on that subway, just a few stops from the end of the line, it’s debateable if I will get a seat to Bloor-Yonge, where I will wait up to ten minutes to squeeze into standing room to go southbound.  I cannot stand for half an hour, forty minutes each way physically, and due to crowding and apathy, no one will relinquish their seat for me.  I walk without aids, so my disability is not obvious; my age suggests health.

Having taken the TTC at all times of day, being a shift worker, I have experienced how ludicrous it is to suggest that disabled users reliant on an already shoddy Wheel Trans fold onto the main system.  There’s no room for a wheelchair, let alone people willing to give up seats.  Many stations do not have elevators, and many of those we have break down regularly.  We already cannot accommodate those who actually do take the main system, like myself.

Further, in all of these discussions, no one has remotely stopped to consider the impact on those with mental disabilities, such as social anxiety, claustrophobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I have claustrophobia and frequently feel sick and anxious on the TTC at peak times, and my case is minor.  To increase crowding would be to effectively bar my usage of the system.  I shouldn’t have to take cabs or walk because public transit doesn’t give a damn about those in the public with disabilities.

Our population is aging, and mental illness rates are higher than most understand.  We should be working towards alleviating crowding, not worsening it.  We should be reducing wait time, not increasing them.  We should not be cancelling new trains and LRTs that would aid with crowding and be more accessible.  Ontario is currently pushing for more accessibility in voting; perhaps the city should be pushing for them to fund the TTC adequately instead.

I can only speak for myself, but I know that should crowding worsen, my ability to work and live in this city will be dramatically impaired.  I have the right to be treated equally.  Stop targeting me.

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Toronto Budget Cut Blitz 2011

Please imagine a lot of all caps rage here; I’m sparing your eyes in the name of communication.

What did I tell you, Toronto?  Hmm? I warned you, didn’t I?  I told you Mayor Rob Ford’s figures were total bullshit, that he was only interested in things that served him and the wealthy.  What did a large percentage of you do?  You voted him in anyway, believing his nonsensical “stop the gravy train” line and assurances of “I will not cut any services. Guaranteed.”

Which is why today the Executive Committee is hearing deputation after deputation on proposed cuts, after Ford took us from a surplus to a deficit in one budget.  A deficit that is not as large as he claims, nor is it large enough to require a 35% property tax increase, as his cronies have been scaremongering you.

I smell Ford Nation sniffing around the blog, claiming that “Pinko me” is going to just complain about why we shouldn’t cut anything without providing any solutions.  Guess what:  plenty of us opposed to all that Ford is doing to our city have solutions; we just aren’t being asked.  Further, those who’ve shown up to give deputations are being ignored, anyway, by a mayor staring at the countdown clock and his pet bulldog Mammoliti asking irrelevant questions that show his failure at basic statistical math, which in turn makes me feel that being a city councillor should require passing a test on Finite Mathematics before running.

Without further ado, here are a few of my personal criticisms and suggestions on the big ol’ fabricated/constructed budget crisis of 2011:

Ford, why not start with the few things in your platform I could get behind? Or the one thing left, rather: cut councillor perks.

Ford ran on a platform full of hot air, it’s true, and while he got the math and the facts completely wrong about councillor perks (and many other points on the platform), he does have a point.  Why are city councillors, who make about $100K/year, getting free parking, free TTC passes, free access to the zoo, etc.?

Now, do not be fooled by Ford’s claims that the city pays for these things:  they’re not bought by the city, but they are lost revenue.  That said, even though my calculations put the losses at about $425K per year, that’s still almost half a million dollars that could potentially be spent and end up in city coffers.  You can’t ask seniors to pay more property taxes or cut daycare while Ford gets to park his SUV for free.  And yet, discussion of this disappeared right after he was elected.  Why?

Stop wasting money on consultations and pet projects that serve only the rich, on our taxpayer dime

We have budget committees for a reason.  Why did the city spend $300K for KPMG to tell us almost everything was essential and barely funded at acceptable levels?  Why did we hire a firm that has been the source of multiple shady accounting scandals, anyway?  Why did we pay Case Ootes an obnoxious wage on top of his city pension – a pension from, among other things, working on the Toronto Community Housing board as its many financial missteps were made! – to tell us to sell housing?

Why are we paying for new consultations to look at a Sheppard subway when we already spent money approving the LRT that is CHEAPER and better suited to the traffic on that street?  Why are we spending $400K during a purported budget crisis on removing existing bike lanes?  Are these not ‘gravy’ when we can’t even afford to fund daycare and are proposing to close libraries?  Is throwing away $120M to cancel Transit City not foolish right now?  Did Ford not look at the previous costly assessments and see why LRT was chosen?

Don’t even get me started on the Waterfront nonsense.  Not only is the Doug Ford vision ludicrous, but it will cost us more money for consultations, planning asssessments being redone, let alone defaulting on Waterfront Toronto’s vision that is already underway.

If we have such a terrible spending problem, then why are the Fords initiating more spending?

Cutting jobs and leaving people on social assistance will worsen matters – so why do it?

Ford campaigned on reducing staffing costs strictly via attrition.  That is, when people retired, they simply wouldn’t rehire anyone for the positions, meaning lowered wage costs.  It makes sense, I suppose, and is the least painful way to cut jobs.

After being elected, Ford’s done an about face.  Now that his costly asssessment has not found his mythical gravy, he’s claiming city staff are the gravy, and throwing out package deals under the threat of pink slips coming anyway.  Lovely.

Hey, Ford Nation, guess what Mike Harris downloaded onto the city budget?  Welfare.  EI runs out eventually, and when that Federal cash is gone, guess where unemployed city staffers who cannot find a new job (due to the recession that is worsening here no matter what Harper claims) go?  The municipal coffers, for Ontario Works assistance.

In short:  what little we’d save chopping city staff will come back to bite us in the ass later, as social assistance costs rise.  Cut wisely, and sustainably.

Do an actual assessment of library traffic at all branches, and trim hours at slow/underused branches – or hey, trim executive staff who make a lot for doing very little

I’m not against any cuts in the library system.  I just don’t believe in making senseless cuts.  I don’t believe that five or six blocks further is “just fine” for someone to travel to a library.  For seniors, children, and differently-abled or unemployed individuals, libraries are a crucial resource and should be accessible.

That said, each branch should be able to produce an in-house picture of traffic to assess overall usage, peak times of day, etc.  Do that.  Trim hours.  Close on Mondays like in the old days at small branches.  Closing branches entirely is ludicrous.

Chop an exec or two, instead.  What precisely do they get all that money for, if it takes Margaret Atwood and the public to defend our library system?

Improve services to assist homeless and other impoverished individuals who qualify onto ODSP

This is a proposal that came forward a while back from the evil lefties, and it actually makes great fiscal sense for the city.  Many of our city’s homeless or those on Ontario Works suffer from a mental disability and should, by rights, be supported by Ontario Disability Support Plan.  ODSP is funded provincially; OW is funded with a large chunk of municipal dollars.  By transitioning people onto ODSP where they belong, we reduce city spending, help people get into homes (thereby paying property taxes via rent – what, homeowners? You think we’re exempt from taxes? We proportionately pay MORE than our share!), and most importantly, show some basic fucking humanity.  We also reduce the loads on our social programs serving this population.

Compassion and good economics.  Wow, Ford!  They’re not mutually exclusive.  Read the breakdown on how the city could invest $12M to save $100M annually here.

Increase Property Taxes

I’m going to direct you to another blog, which breaks down with figures and diagrams just why our city is financially screwed up to begin with, but here are the two key talking points:  1) 40% of our city revenue is derived from property taxes; in comparable US cities, they derive 18% of their revenue in that fashion, and 2) our property tax rates, in actual dollars and cents, are lower than all surrounding cities.

Services cost money.  You want police to show up when you need them?  You want better transit service?  You want to wait less time for help at a municipal office?  You pay for it.  If we brought our taxes in line, dollar for dollar, with Brampton (leaving us still lower than many cities around us), we’d have a lot more to work with.

If you’re ticked that we have to raise taxes, then blame the Feds, who refuse to give a damn about this city.  Oh, wait:  Ford voters also voted Conservatives into a majority in spite of their continued flipping off of Toronto.  Well, you reap what you sow…

As for one of today’s deputants (Matthew McGuire) who claimed that us impoverished renters can’t afford a property tax increase – I’m unemployed and I can afford it.  A property tax increase does not override laws on legal rent increases; further, the city has recently reduced the rates for renters, as Councillor Perks pointed out.  My rent went up $9 this year.  Oh my.  It’s not going to break me; a lack of social services to help those impoverished WILL hurt a lot more.

Cut everything by 5%, instead of castrating a few services that Ford and his rich pals don’t care about

Makes sense, don’t it?  When I’m making a household budget and the month is tighter than usual, I trim wherever I can.  Obviously, my rent doesn’t change on a whim, but I can call my cell phone provider and drop a perky add-on.  I can reduce my internet speed if I have to save cash for a while.  I can spend a little less on groceries, walk a little more to save TTC tokens…

In short, I can still have almost everything I want – just less of it.

Why has this not been an option discussed, given the vehement public opposition to the targeted programs and areas being cut?  Why wasn’t this costed out?  I’d like to see what could be done in this manner.

Selling money-makers is stupid and short-sighted.  Stop it.

City-owned theatres, zoos and parking lots bring IN revenue streams.  Why are we considering selling them?  Are you kidding me?  Great, we balance the budget for one year.  It’s going to make the problem worse next year and unfortunately, Ford will still be mayor, so the problem will still be his.

I actually support selling Riverdale’s zoo, the one in High Park as well.  They’re nice to have, but not crucial.  Selling the Green P lots and Toronto Zoo are foolish moves.

If a revenue stream isn’t living up to its full potential, then standard business management says to examine what’s not working and make it a more profitable venture if possible.  If the Sony Centre doesn’t make enough money to support its operating budget costs, why not look to Mirvish or Dancap, and say, “How can we make this thing a boon?”  Work with the devil that is LiveNation to fill these theatres more often.  Ford keeps claiming to be running our city like a business, yet even I can see how foolish these proposals are.

Spend more on the TTC, not less, to improve service and bring more riders in; kill/alter the weekday Day Pass; institute road tolls on the Gardiner and DVP

Enough with the claims of a ‘war on cars’; Ford started the only war:  the war on the poor.  Not all of us can drive.  Many rely on the TTC.  Cutting services or making it more expensive are both stupid moves that will only hurt the economic functioning of the city.

All of these moves go together, hence the lumped heading.  Crowding during rush hour is already intolerable and unacceptable at these levels; worsening the crowding standards will drive more people to return to using cars or the GO system, reducing revenues and crowding the streets further.  Many people would return to the TTC system or start using it if service improved further, and riders mean money.  Hell, screw the Sheppard line; the Downtown Relief Line is the only subway we should be thinking of right now.

Cancel the Day Pass during the week; for a single rider, it’s not really useful unless you’re doing a lot of travel in a day, and for the few who do use it, they can pay more.  Keep the weekend Family-friendly version, OR make those rules apply on Weekdays (or some version eg one adult, two kids max).  There’s a potential to bait in new users and/or increase revenue.

Last:  road tolls.  A quarter each way.  We have a lot of people who work in Toronto, drive in and use our services, but pay taxes to Mississauga and other cities.  Make them pay for the privilege.  Hell, give Toronto residents a partial tax rebate for the first 3 years on their spending on the tolls as a transition aid.  The money is needed.  Transit users are endlessly paying more fares on top of more property taxes; why are car drivers getting their vehicle registration taxes cancelled at a time like this?  It leveled the playing field.

Last and Key:  Do NOT make any set in stone moves until after the provincial election!

The NDP has expressed strong interest in helping the cities out.  If Ford were wise, he’d pimp the NDP, sit back, and hope for them to win and bail him out.  They’ve proposed matching municipal funding for TTC in exchange for a 4-year fare freeze on the TTC, as well.

Anyone who understands the finances of all three government levels is well aware that a large part of this budget problem stems from costs being downloaded onto cities that should be a provincial and/or federal responsibility, in the same of our usual Good Ol’ Boy Politicians (Libs and Cons) balancing their own budgets.  It’s time they take some of it back.

Before we punish ourselves, why not wait and see who’s got the reins on October 6th?

These are just a few ideas to bandy around…  Why are they not being considered at all?
Oh wait, because to do so goes against Ford’s mission to make life better for the rich suburbanites… not the city itself.

Coming up:  a further rant on TTC Crowding and its impact on the disabled, like myself.

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