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To get back on story, why was our Mayor, whose manner of discourse is usually 90% circumspect, why was he flimflamming so avidly to keep up the Gardiner, a prize guaranteed to be a blot on the cityscape for generations hence?
He said it was a difficult choice, but if so he didn’t show it. He pushed the Hybrid case far more forcefully than it merited. Tory declared his allegiance early in May, sooner than necessary, oafishly upstaging the PWIC which was to hear deputations from the public on the subject the next day. He continued with single-minded fervor for the next month on a crusade of pro-Hybrid speeches and media appearances. He sent his staffers tromping round City Hall twisting arms. He ignored pleas from civic figures urging, begging him to reconsider — to name a few, former mayor David Crombie, Ryerson president Sheldon Levy, a brace of federal Liberal MPs, a brace of developers including Tridel and Daniels Corp., and former chief planner Paul Bedford. The latter put it about that Toronto would be an international laughingstock if it chose the Hybrid. Tory also defied the pro-boulevard stance of both the Globe and the Star. He did, however, bask in the support of the Sun, a knuckle-walking right-wing rag, which he proudly quoted in council.
A major embarrassment was the Hybrid’s extra cost. Certainly in the October 2014 election many of the Hybros, including Mayor Tory, had campaigned against congestion. But they had also promised fiscal responsibility. Tory’s solution to this dilemma was to contend that spending an extra half billion on the Hybrid was a bargain because the “congestion cost” associated with the Boulevard was $37 million per year, so “you can see how that adds up in a few years.”
So the city would be saving by spending — just like Rogers Cable tells its customers to do! Since the Hybrid was costed over a 100-year span in the planning documents, what scruple prevented the Mayor from going all the way and saying that our savings would be $37 million x 100 = $3.7 trillion?
Let’s examine that $37 million. The figure popped up an EA supplement the day after the mayor used it. The argument went like this: the longer travel times under the Boulevard Option would result in an extra 7,112 hours of driver time in peak hours daily, which amounted to 1.85 million hours per year. If you value a person’s time at $20 per hour, the “congestion cost” works out to $36,980,000 per year. It was that simple.
What Tory was doing was outrageous, comparing real money that would have to be spent (a half billion dollars) to a figment (congestion cost) that can be any size you want. No bank will lend you money using your congestion cost savings as collateral. Yet the Hybros cited that $37 million repeatedly, making it sound more like real money each time. Mayor Tory described it as “a cost to the economy,” while Gary Crawford (Scarboro Southwest) called it “$37 million in lost productivity.”
Personally I have trouble equating the time individuals sit in traffic with lost production, as if they would otherwise be spending those 10 or 15 minutes working their heads off for some corporation.
But wait, no need to go there! Even accepting that there is a socio-economic cost to congestion, it is not axiomatic that we should squander our half billion supporting private, mostly single-occupancy, cars on the Gardiner. The same expenditure on public transit, a more efficient means of moving people, might generate even greater “savings.”
According to its website, the TTC hauls 1.6 million passengers on a typical weekday. If by expanding transit we can save those poor sods an average of just one minute per day each, at $20 per hour that works out to $13.9 trillion over 100 years. We can’t afford not to do it.