Friday, April 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Transit Companies: TTC vs. TransLink

TransLink is an entirely different beast from the TTC.

The TTC is run by a board of nine Toronto city councillors, while TransLink is a regional transportation authority of Metro Vancouver, encompassing several municipalities in the region (much like pre-amalgamated Toronto's regional governance structure). TransLink is constructed of a mayors council (made up of twenty-two mayors of communities around and including Vancouver), an appointed board of directors, and a regional transportation commissioner that is supposed to oversee the process.

Also, unlike the TTC, TransLink is responsible for much more than busses and SkyTrain, and has its hand in bikes and roads as well, meaning that it is well-suited for more comprehensive planning strategies that encompass different forms of travel.

While Toronto gets jerked around by politicians who enjoy sticking their finger in the transportation pot and stirring it around, Metro Vancouver's regional structure means there is less opportunity for a single mayor's whim to vastly derail plans. TransLink is far from perfect, however, and there is always concern about funding and delays in project timing (the Evergreen Line has been on the books for quite some time and still seems hazy), but the regional structure means that decisions are negotiated between many mayors. However, that same regional structure leaves some municipalities feeling as though they're not getting an equal piece of the transit pie, causing squabbles to break out about what transit lines should have priority and which municipalities they serve.

But it's not just the structure, scope and governance of the two transit companies that makes them so different, it's the approach to public consultation. My impression with the TTC and transit planning in Toronto, is that Torontonians are told what kind of transit they are getting instead of being involved in the conversation. David Miller says Toronto is getting a light-rail network, so Toronto is getting a light-rail network. Then Rob Ford says everything has to be underground, so everything has to be underground. Presto, change-o.

This week, TransLink released their UBC-Broadway corridor alternatives study, which is the second phase in a public consultation and planning process that seeks to find the best solution to rapid transit for the busy Broadway corridor. The website, which includes seven alternatives complete with easily understood graphics and comparisons, seeks public input on which one speaks to Vancouverite's needs the most. After the disastrous public relations fiasco that was the Canada Line, which saw law-suits as construction ripped up Cambie for far longer than TransLink originally said, it seems TransLink has learned that the way to a more successful project is to get people on board early and make them feel they have a say it the outcome.

It's a stark difference from the way transit planning takes place within the TTC, where public consultation seems to be more about disseminating information on already made decisions. Small concessions over station entrances/exits might be made, but all the major planning decisions have already been carved in stone--that is, until a new mayor says never mind.

It's been frustrating the last few weeks watching Rob Ford sweep away years of transit planning in Toronto with seemingly little official opposition, and then propose a privately-financed scheme that is shockingly fiscally irresponsible for a politician so focussed on fiscal responsibility. Transit planning and construction usually takes more than one political term in office, so if each successive mayor decided to rejig the transportation system to his or her personal preferences, Toronto would end up with an abundance of transit dreams and little else.

I like drawing transit lines on paper too, but eventually someone needs to actually build them.


  1. I would just add that the Province of BC seems to override every public consultation for rapid transit that TransLink (and BC Transit in the past) comes up with to SkyTrain...

  2. Hi Jake: this is an interesting comparison! I'll add it to my links roundup on TransLink's Buzzer blog next week :)

  3. Transit City is the outcome of a choice between subways and LRT as the most effective way to deal with sprawl and congestion. We focused on subways for the last 30 years - and nothing was built - so the people elected Miller on a platform of building a city-wide network of LRT and busways. His plan Transit City Light Rail Plan drew on years of studies notably:

    The City of Toronto Official Plan which proposed higher order transit corridors but did not lay out a specific plan.

    The Ridership Growth Strategy which identified the bus routes that were overcapacity but could no longer be served by buses.

    The TTC's own Building a Transit City which . . . well I think you can guess where it lead.

  4. i i dont really think the ttc to translink are comparable. ttc's purpose is to only serve toronto, maybe the metrolinx is a more suitable comparison since then, they are both regional transportation plans.
    good post nonetheless :)