May Column

It is becoming increasingly obvious that officials are not even capable of meeting our basic need for commuting within Toronto. With only three subway lines -- a surprisingly small number for a city the size of Toronto -- frequent service interruptions on the TTC remain the norm.

Emergency situations can throw any population into disarray. The Alberta flooding in 2013, for example, forced thousands from their homes and offices. The flooding cost the province more than $5 billion. Their plight was a sobering reminder that an unexpected catastrophe could happen at any moment. Although we may not be exposed to the same risk of a flood, is Toronto nevertheless prepared to manage a disaster with that kind of impact?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that officials are not even capable of meeting our basic need for commuting within Toronto. With only three subway lines -- a surprisingly small number for a city the size of Toronto -- frequent service interruptions on the TTC remain the norm.

Earlier this year, a leak of a mysterious liquid and smoke -- later determined to be a lubricant -- disrupted subway commuters during rush hour, delaying them for hours on two separate occasions. The recent photographs of people waiting for shuttle buses -- diverted from Spadina’s streetcar line, which is out of service until May 9 -- look like mass protests of TTC riders fed up with continual delays. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. One glance at the official TTC Twitter account gives us a jarring glimpse of the daily diversions, delays, and service interruptions for which officials are continually apologizing.

Unfortunately, the bad news extends to other forms of transit. With a seemingly endless amount of construction on some roads like Eglinton and Spadina, traffic congestion has become just another part of life for drivers and bus riders. It does not help that our aging traffic light system is not even synchronized, forcing multiple stops on drivers even at low-volume traffic times. Of course, repeated reports of chunks falling from the Gardiner Expressway have been keeping our politicians busy instead, wondering what they can do to save it and how cheaply it can be done. It is a shame that the growing number of problems forces us to prioritize and act only on infrastructure so neglected that it can no longer be ignored any longer.

Transportation is not the only part of our infrastructure that is being ignored. The decision not to invest in our electrical distribution system by upgrading to underground wiring is starting to reveal its own cost. On several occasions, thousands of Torontonians have been left without electricity from weather events for which we, as Canadians, should be prepared. While there is certainly a cost to converting to underground electrical wiring, the ice storm in December 2013 alone cost Toronto over $100 million. Granted, with electricity rates already skyrocketing, an upgrade to our electrical system might be a hard sell at this point. But can we really afford to ignore it?

It seems that whenever we are faced with problems within our infrastructure, we continue to focus on treating the symptom instead of the actual disease. In the short term, the treatment of the symptom is far cheaper and most people will soon forget about it because severe events are, thankfully, rare for us lucky Torontonians. The problem with our approach, though, is that we will be revisiting these temporary fixes every few years -- and the cost will not decrease. What will happen when a severe event renders our temporary fixes unfeasible? As with the Gardiner, inaction is the default until it is no longer possible -- just to save a few bucks in the short-term.

Ultimately, we can either choose to complain that somebody else did not solve the problem and face potentially catastrophic consequences, or we can commit to action today that will provide a more secure infrastructure tomorrow. We need to consider the high cost of our procrastination to the upcoming generations.