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MAYORAL DEBATE: Public Transit a hot topic

The first mayoral debate of the 2006 municipal election took place last night at U of T痴 Innis College, and public transit issues weighed heavily on the agenda. Jane Pitfield and Mayor David Miller went toe to toe over grand plans for the TTC and the city, the Bombardier subway car purchase, fare hikes, the wildcat strike, subways vs Light Rapid Transit (LRT), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and the airport rail link and Go Transit.

Pitfield opened her address with public transit, stating that transit has not been built ahead of density in Toronto and that no serious plan for expanding the TTC in place. She said that if elected mayor, she would work on creating a 澱alanced transportation system.� In Miller痴 opening address, he explained that he was working with other mayor痴 from across the nation on a national transit strategy to secure stable funding from the Federal Government. He went on to say that during his term in office, all of the TTC痴 diesel buses now run on bio-diesel and that Toronto has the most hybrid buses of any city in Canada. Miller also pointed out that the TTC has a plan for Toronto痴 public transit system called 典ransit City� which he supports and has been working on. Transit City calls for, among other things, the need to give greater priority on our roads to buses and streetcars.

The debate over the Bombardier subway car purchase brought out the night痴 first injection of passion, as the panel asked the Mayor if the process of awarding a $710 million contract without open tendering was appropriate. Miller ardently responded that he was proud to support Canadian and Ontario jobs, accompanied by a tremendous applause from the crowd. In addition, he said that Toronto should be good neighbours to Northern Ontario and that if the TTC had gone with a competitors bid and created jobs in China, the prospect of securing future funds from the Provincial and Federal governments would become extremely difficult. Pitfield fired back that the Bombardier subway car purchase fiasco was a perfect example that the TTC needs a 田omplete overhaul.� Towards the end of her rebuttal, Pitfield said that the citizens of Toronto shouldn稚 care what happens in Thunder Bay.

The issue of commuting was brought up by the panel, and Pitfield took this opportunity to attack the Mayor over fare hikes, the TTC wildcat strike and other transit related items. She said that Premier McGuinty gave the City extra TTC funding with the instructions not to raise fares. The TTC has raised fares twice since 2005. She went on to blame the Mayor and Howard Moscoe (Chairman of the TTC) for the wildcat strike and pledged to make the TTC an essential service. Miller retorted that she was contradicting herself: when the wildcat strike started she wanted the mayor to intervene � when it came out he had tried to intervene, she spoke out against political meddling. Pitfield also complained that the TTC was awash in administrative red tape and that it was effecting employee morale, that the buses were dirty and unreliable and that the TTC had become too expensive. She stressed that 田ustomer service� should be the most important agenda for the TTC. While discussing TTC expansion, she acknowledged that subways are expensive, but that it was the best form of public transit over the long term. She also put forth an interesting idea to include taxi痴 as a component of the TTC fleet. Miller responded by saying 的 don稚 like raising fares either� and that the solution was increased and stable funding from the Provincial and Federal government for public transit.

The debate then turned towards LRT痴 and BRT痴. Pitfield explained that she was against LRT/BRT rights of way (streetcars and buses in their own lanes). She went on to that she didn稚 support the St. Clair right of way project, saying that the money could have been used more effectively by the TTC. She continued her discourse on LRT/BRT lines by stating that Kingston Road (which is undergoing an Environmental Assessment to determine the feasibility of a LRT line) should not have an LRT because its not wide enough. Miller got into a discussion about the 典ransit City� report and the potential of an LRT/BRT network throughout the city, articulating that it was less expensive and that single LRT/BRT lines could be implemented in 4 years.

Next on the transit heavy agenda was a debate regarding Blue 22, the rapid transit line linking the airport with Union Station. While Miller said that a rapid transit link between the city and the airport makes sense for a city the size of Toronto, he was sensitive to the needs of the Weston neighbourhood residents, who would have seen Blue 22 cut directly through their neighbourhood. Pitfield replied that she supported a fast rail link but did not support Blue 22. After Miller stated that he would push GO Transit to service the airport if the Blue 22 project died, Pitfield pronounced that she had been at the last two meetings for GO Transit痴 Board of Directors and that the Mayor, who sits on the board was not present. Pitfield offered no real plans for better Go Transit service in Toronto.

During the Q&A session with the audience, Pitfield was challenged to give a clear answer as to what she meant by a 澱alanced transportation system�. The gentleman who asked the question said that the last time he heard that line was during the battle against the Spadina Expressway. Pitfield explained that roads need to be better maintained for the benefit of everyone; cars, buses, trucks, streetcars and cyclists. She went on to explain that there is a anti-car sentiment coming from downtown residents and that some people in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York can only get around by car.

In regards to public transit, it did not seem as though Jane Pitfield had any real ideas for improvement, other than constantly vague references to 登verhauling� the TTC. What does 登verhauling� entail exactly? Her lack of a concrete platform regarding the TTC, her championing of subways and opposition to LRT/BRT lines (which is slightly bizarre and contradictory because she continously touts her role in emergence of the 泥on Valley Transportation Master Plan�, which lists a BRT line along Don Mills as one of the positive measures to improve transit in that area) worries me. How does she propose to pay for new subway lines and build 5000 new Toronto Community Housing units a year while simultaneously cutting spending at City Hall?

Mayor Miller has done a fair job on public transit during his tenure. New hybrids buses and implementing some of the Ridership Growth Strategy痴 recommendations (100 new buses, a transferable Metropass, a weekly pass) have all contributed to an increase in ridership. However, the Mayor repeatedly calls for the Provincial and Federal government to restore public transit funding to levels before the Harris regime and to secure stable, annual funding arrangements. So far the Province and the Feds have done relatively little in regards those items.

Its obvious that public transit is not a pressing priority for the Province or the Feds, so this begs the question: When is the City of Toronto going to examine and propose bold new measures to raise local funds for public transit investments? Unfortunately, neither candidate proposed any new ideas on this topic.

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