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Addressing the Critics on Transit

March 26, 2014 - Posted in Uncategorized Posted by:

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There are a number of reasons why we support a last call extension. Beyond the obvious economic benefits, we also view it as an issue of individual responsibility and respect for the decision-making of adult Torontonians. It’s a common sense position, and that’s why it’s generated such support across the city.
However, there are those with reservations about such an extension. That’s perfectly understandable; the right thing to do before making any decision is to recognize the facts of the situation and make a judgment call based on those facts. To that end, I’d like to address one of the biggest objections brought up by opponents of our campaign – transit.

Transit? Yes, that’s right. The perennial problem child of Toronto politics once again rears its head. Those who oppose a last call extension often cite transit as their reasoning. That objection may be best summarized by mayoral candidate and former TTC Chair Karen Stintz, who said:

“Right now the subway closes at 2 a.m., and even though we have a Blue Night service, I don’t believe it’s sufficient to accommodate what would happen if we had last call at 4 a.m. I would advocate not extending last call in Toronto until we have sufficient transit capabilities to get people home safely.”

This is really two objections in one. Ms. Stintz is suggesting that a 4 AM last call will both increase incidence of impaired driving, and overburden our already strained transit system. But will it? Ms. Stintz is welcome to her beliefs, but we believe that it’s worth looking at hard data before making a decision.

To that end, let’s look at some numbers. Public safety is a paramount concern, and the preservation of public safety is one of the most commonly cited reasons for passing laws restricting individual action (and justly so). But does an early last call really protect the city from drunk drivers? According to Stats Canada, in 2011 Toronto faced 5,094 drunk driving arrests, for an annual rate of 102 arrests per 100,000 citizens.

By contrast, New York City (with its 4 AM last call) saw about 8,500 arrests in 2011. New York doesn’t do the math for you the way Stats Canada does, but with a population of 8.337 million residents, that works out to… just over 102 arrests per 100,000 citizens.

So what about transit? New York’s 24 hour subway and transit system is drastically larger than ours, so of course they can handle a larger ridership after hours. So let’s take a look at Buffalo, another 4 AM city.

Buffalo and Niagara Falls are both served by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which primarily operates busses (along with one light rail line in downtown Buffalo). The system sees roughly 21 million revenue passengers per year for a population that totals just over 300,000 people in metro Buffalo and Niagara Falls. That’s a ridership rate of 68 rides per person per year for the two metro centres, and much less if you include the whole region (Amherst, Cheektowaga, and all the outlying suburbs).

Toronto, on the other hand, sees about 1.6 million revenue fares daily on the average weekday – 500 million rides annually. That’s 199 rides per person per year in the downtown core, or 84 rides per person if you include the entire GTA.

In other words, the TTC is already providing a much higher level of service than Buffalo does, and yet Buffalo manages to survive with a 4 AM last call.

In fact, anyone who is a regular TTC rider knows that capacity is truly stretched to the breaking point during rush hour, yet nobody is proposing that we limit the hours in which people can work. There’s no doubt that this city has failed to invest appropriately in transit – a fact that a former TTC Chair must be all too familiar with – and this lack of investment certainly does impact every element of city life. However, if the problem is lack of investment in transit, it seems to us that the solution is a forward-thinking transit policy – not curtailing citizen behaviour in pursuit of exceptionally modest reductions in ridership. By that logic, you might as well reduce last call to 11 PM to get even more reductions in usage. It is our position that attempting to solve Toronto’s transit woes by getting people to stay home and stop travelling is irrational and ill informed.

In fact, it is the purpose of the TTC to provide Toronto citizens with access to transit to suit their transportation needs and desires. If the citizens of Toronto desire a later last call, it would be incumbent on the TTC to grow to meet that demand just as the TTC must grow to accommodate increased population growth and increased travel or commerce of any kind. This is the precise opposite of Ms. Stintz claim, which effectively states that the citizens of Toronto should reduce our movements to better accommodate the TTC’s failure to invest in infrastructure or deliver adequate service.

Given this analysis, we reject the position represented by Ms. Stintz and other opponents of a last call extension as failing to measure up to either evidence or logic. It is our hope that those who have latched on to the TTC’s failings as an excuse to curtail Torontonian action will let go of their instinctive prejudices and beliefs, and apply a similarly thoughtful analysis of the evidence as presented here. Should they do so, we are confident we’ll soon find ourselves in agreement on all sides that the time is right to lift this restriction on Torontonians.

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Thanks for the write up Tim, awesome job!

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