Seoul, South Korea – op-ed: Asia builds subways; lesson for Canada ??
VANCOUVER, Toronto and Montreal still haven’t settled their subway dreams but an op-ed commentary in The Globe and Mail says Asia, instead of voting on subways, actually builds them:
“Asia doesn’t vote for subways, it builds themJEFFREY SIMPSON\SEOUL — The Globe and MailPublished Saturday, May. 02 2015
Citizens of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, unite! You have nothing to lose but your gridlock! Hemmed between the ocean and the mountains, the Lower Mainland is choking now. The traffic contributes to Greater Vancouverites being Canada’s least happy people, according to a recent survey by Statistics Canada.
Imagine what the region will be like in two decades if voters reject the small sales tax increase proposed in a plebiscite to bring new public transit improvements to the region.
We live in a changed country now where doing things collectively is out-of-favour, replaced by a mixture of contempt for government and “I’m all right, Jack.” So the plebiscite might lose, and transit will fall further behind.
In Greater Toronto, Montreal and a few other Canadian cities, urban transit has to catch up to local needs and international realities. Canadians are now largely an urban people, but we have not adequately financed public transit. The result: urban areas that do not function as they should, and not as they need to against world competition.
We stop, we go. Governments do this project, then wait, then do another some years later. There is little systematic, ongoing, year-over-year capital investment.
In the recent federal budget, for example, the Conservatives pledged $750-million (USD $616.7 million) spread over two years beginning in 2017-2018, with $1-billion-a-year (USD $822.3 milliion) thereafter. This sounds like an eye-popping number, until you think about it, which the Conservatives obviously hope people will not.
A billion-a-year divided among, say, the country’s top six or seven cities – and they will all be hungering and lobbying for their share of the pittance – might build another station or two in this city or that. But compared to the need, and to what competing nations are doing, it’s close to a joke.
The Lower Mainland, even more than the rest of Canada, competes with Asia, especially North Asia. There, subway lines are ubiquitous and cheap, as are urban surface rail lines.
In Seoul, for example, with a population a little more than twice Greater Toronto’s, there are nine subway lines. Nine. The GTA will launch on June 6 an airport link to Pearson; in Seoul, there have been for a long time subway links to the two international airports, Gimpo and Incheon. The same goes for Tokyo: direct train links from the two international airports, Narita and Haneda.
Beijing and Shanghai have magnetic levitation trains whisking people from airports at speeds of up to 420 kilometres an hour (260.9 MPH). Toronto, in other words, is playing catch up. Vancouver, happily, has the Canada Line from the airport to downtown. Montreal has nothing.
The cost in Toronto from Pearson to downtown will be $27.50 (USD $22.62). The cost in Seoul from Gimpo, the airport closest to downtown is $6 (USD $4.93), and from Incheon, further away, $17 (USD $13.98). The cost of subway tickets in central Seoul and Tokyo: $1.20-$2.40 (USD $0.99 to $1.97) for systems that offer far more timely, modern and efficient service than anything in Toronto, or Montreal for that matter.
The key in North Asia is the assumption that urban transit is a public good that must be given priority in funding and planning. These countries don’t engage in the fits and starts of Canadian cities; they plan to improve every year. It happens in authoritarian China, but also in democratic Japan and South Korea.
To wit: there are four extensions under way of existing subways in Seoul. Here, they don’t do it like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne: Making grandiose promises to improve transit in a surge; or the kind of financially fake promise of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with numbers that sound more muscular than they will be in fact.
You might reply: Yes, but these North Asian cities are gigantic. And indeed they are. Tokyo’s population is about 34 million, Seoul’s about 10 million. But Nagoya, Japan, with a population about the size of Vancouver, has 93 kilometres (57.7 miles) of subway; Nagasaki (population 1.3 million) has five subway lines; Osaka (population 2.6 million) has eight lines across 130 km (80.7 miles). The large cities all have buses everywhere and, in some cases, commuter rail.
Governments here don’t put matters to a plebiscite. They do what governments are supposed to do: they decide. The Chinese don’t care much about Not in My Backyard. Democratic countries have to pay more attention to public opinion. Judging by the public transit in North Asia, people understand that without large and efficient systems, their cities will be less manageable and competitive.
We can only hope the people of Greater Vancouver get the message from North Asia.