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TTC Chairman William C. McBrien accurately predicted the state of our transit system -- in 1954

This gem was handed to me by a fellow member of the Guelph Historical Railway Association last night. It is the text of a speech by TTC Chairman William C. McBrien at the opening ceremony of the Toronto Subway on March 30th, 1954 at the Davisville station. As I reflect on Guelph's mind-numbingly stupid decision to reject the former LaFarge lands as a transit station in favour of continued inadequate transit policy, the words of this man ahead of his time ring loud and true.

Also worth noting over at GO K-W: Ipsos-Reid poll on GO service to Guelph says 98% of Guelph residents want GO trains. They can't come soon enough.

Here's the text of William C. McBrien's speech:

Honourable Sirs and Distinguished Guests, on behalf of the Toronto Transit Commission I welcome you here today and wish to thank each of you for coming and helping us make this, the official opening of Canada's First Subway, a success.

We would not be human if we did not admit that we are a very proud organisation today. This tremendous task is completed.

The dream of 1944 becomes a reality of 1954. This project was designed and built in the ten most chaotic years in the history of our country - war, shortage of steel and building supplies, shortage of skilled and unskilled labour and a general increase in labour and materials of nearly 100 per cent.

True, it cost more than our original estimate of ten years ago, but if started today, at present prices, it would cost at least 15 million dollars more or 30 percent above the actual cost.

We are more than satisfied with the design, construction, finish, and equipment, and today we publicly express our sincere thanks to the engineers, architects, contractors, suppliers, and workmen for a grand job.

In admitting that we are a proud organisation today we must also admit that we are also a humble one. For we know that the completion of this subway is not the final solution of Toronto's traffic problems. It is only the start of combatting this monster. Many other lines will have to be built in the future.

But the right-of-way and construction of all future rapid transit lines will have to be financed out of general taxation. If public transportation is to be the medium of relieving traffic congestion in our cities, and we believe it is, its success will depend upon getting more people to use it rather than on increasing fares to make it pay. We must not price ourselves out of our own field. We know that moving the masses, in the future, will be a tremendous task.

But if planners will give us the same consideration as the automobile in providing rights-of-way for new rapid transit lines; if government bodies, federal, provincial, and civic, will start making capital expenditures for the benefit of public transportation, we will accept the challenge.

Our major problem in Toronto is traffic congestion. If our small downtown business area supplies one third of our taxation we cannot allow it to be strangled to death by traffic congestion.

Surely we now realise that our patient medicine prescription of street widenings is not the cure. For it has only lured unmanageable numbers of automobiles into our downtown streets that were already overcrowded. We suggest:
1. Eliminate parking on all major streets in the downtown area.
2. Parking meters belong to the horse and buggy days and have no place in a large modern city.
3. Develop fringe parking lots to be serviced t o this subway and the downtown area by bus transportation.
4. Downtown business will have to establish a system of staggered hours for their employees. All of these improvements can be put into effect with little or no capital cost.
5. The proposed mile of Queen Street subway should be started at once, eliminating 80% of the street car operation in the downtown area, and freeing many streets for one-way traffic.

Do not sell public transportation short. We are not a dying industry, but one that can and will meet the competition of the automobile. For we know that the egotism is gone from driving a motor car and that, today, tens of thousands of automobile owners do not want to bring their cars into the downtown area.

We also know that what the great majority of our people want is good public transportation with more speed, greater comfort, and improved service at a reasonable fare. Our ambition is to give such service.

In conclusion, I wish to say that the Toronto Transit Commission does not want or expect any praise or glory for the completion of this gigantic task. It was our job and we did it. Our reward is in the fact that we, ourselves, know - it was a job well done. Thank you.

Posted at 07:14 on March 10, 2009

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

It's full-time work when you're looking for work | transit | Disrespect won't win you any points

sheila writes at Tue Mar 10 17:16:40 EDT 2009...

Fascinating to read how far-seeing Mr. McBrien was 55 years ago. It is too bad that we still make the same mistakes in our cities and towns when we should be able to shape the future by learning from the past. Thank you for posting this speech.

David Graham (cdlu.net) writes at Tue Mar 10 17:20:12 EDT 2009...

Indeed. It's a shame McBrien never lived to see his vision through. According to wikipedia, he died less than three months after delivering this speech, on June 18th, 1954.

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