Impressive European standards show Toronto transit off track

Rush hour is way too crowded, but the train finally arrives. Dirty and rusty, it sounds like fingernails scratching down a chalkboard. The doors open and it’s a competition to get in first. I push through but immediately regret it. We’re packed like sardines.

The doors close. I feel my lungs tighten and realize I’m not breathing normally. The guy standing next to me starts swearing.

I’m relieved as lots of people get off at the next stop, but then the loudspeaker comes on telling us the signal has been lost. We all have to get out again and wait 20 minutes for the next train to come in.

Sound familiar?

It’s sad that Canada’s biggest city has such outdated public transportation. The TTC is the most expensive yet least subsidized transit system in North America. This is not how transit in a city of 2.5 million should be run.

Embarrassingly enough, Toronto comes up ninth on the list of most expensive transit fares in the world, according to priceoftravel.com, which maintains databases on travel costs. Vienna is eighth with fares only a few cents more than Toronto’s.

Yet European cities, which fill the top spots, have such comprehensive transit systems that they make Toronto look primitive.

Munich is half the size of Toronto, yet it has 25 kilometres more in subway lines with only 400,000 riders daily compared to Toronto’s 1.5 million. During my time there, I was amazed at how all the subway stations and vehicles are kept immaculately clean. It is the most punctual system in the world, with monitors in vehicles displaying the stops and connections for its riders.

The fares in the U.S. are also reasonable. Chicago has more than 144 stations operating 24 hours a day. Fares cost $1.54. A monthly pass in Los Angeles costs $75.

A strong public transit system brings a wealth of opportunities to the areas it reaches. This would be especially useful for Scarborough, which seems to be isolated from the rest of the city.

It’s important for transit to be efficient for environmental reasons as well. More than half of people in New York City and up to 75 per cent in Manhattan rely entirely on transit. In Hong Kong, 90 per cent of travelling is done by mass transit.

This is what mass transit should be when countries need to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions as per the Kyoto protocol. Canada has the second highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per person among the G7, falling just 1.3 tonnes short of the U.S.

Officials need to get their act together for Transit City, which has been changed numerous times. The costs estimated for Transit City are unrealistically high and need to be rigorously scrutinized, transportation and energy consultant Richard Gilbert wrote in a Jan. 20 op-ed in the Toronto Star.

We are not asking for much. We don’t need to be as advanced as Munich; we just want to get to places quickly and comfortably.

The TTC needs to be further subsidized in order for the subway’s extension to be realized. The Harper government is willing to spend $16 billion on 65 fighter jets, which no one needs.

Yet, according to the TTC’s annual report from 2009, the federal government only provided $207 million in capital subsidies.

Clearly the government needs to get its priorities straight.