BRT: Who Do You Trust?

By Jay Ménard,

In the original Batman movie (no, not the Adam West, Batusi-infused one, but the 1980s reboot with the awesome Prince soundtrack), Jack Nicholson’s Joker asks, “And now folks, it’s time for who do you trust?

Now, sure the Joker was just trying to lull the citizens of Gotham into a false sense of security so he could kill them; and you could argue that Batman is a winged vigilante operating on the fringes of the law for the common good — with the tacit support of a police chief dealing with a corrupt crew. Both representing the classic ends-justifying-the-means behaviour. And that attitude certainly looks familiar in London.

When it comes to trust, the devil is in the details. And both sides of the BRT debate have been acting in less than scrupulous — and completely untrustworthy — ways.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

On the one side, you’ll have the group that points to today’s publication of a Mainstreet Research poll commissioned by the London Free Press that shows that 46 per cent of Londoners want rapid transit.

Again, the devil is in the details: If you asked me, “In your opinion, does London need a rapid transit system or not?” I’d answer “Yes.” If you asked me a better question, “Do you support the rapid transit system proposal, as it currently stands?” You’d get a hard no.

Same person, same topic — very different result.

Maybe it’s the Quebecer in me, but I tend to be concerned about wording of questions — especially when they deal with dreams and visions. That’s why Separatism in Quebec remains popular amongst a certain group: it’s easy to get behind ideals like independence, cultural sovereignty, and self-definition. It’s when you start looking at the details — the costs, the loss of a passport, the assumption of debt — that the reality is less appealing.

That’s the problem with arguing a vision — you obscure the finer details. When they come into focus, things shift (pun fully intended.)

I’m actually surprised that under 50 per cent of respondents said they were in favour of a vision — because this question didn’t even ask about the specifics or get into the pain points. This was just a general, open-ended “Do you want rapid transit,” question that didn’t even get into the potentially worrisome details.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

On the other side, you have DownShift London putting out a poll that its spokesperson himself admitted is biased, asking questions that are clearly intended to frame the argument in a negative way. And one that excludes students, others who don’t live in the city full-time, or who didn’t vote in the last election (which I don’t get — after all, we all pay taxes. We get a say, whether we vote or not.)

Tearing up streets, eliminating all parking, asking leading questions — I was surprised there was no mention of puppy kicking.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

On one side you have a councillor firing up a Tweetstorm railing against misinformation, assumptions, and statements made in DownShift’s survey, and a mayor who dismisses the survey outright.

But they both do so from a very shaky pulpit — one built on a foundation established on misinformation, inflation of numbers, and multiplication of individual influence. I’d love to see the numbers of how many UNIQUE engagements there were during the Shift consultation process — but I know those numbers don’t exist.

As bad as the surveys were, at least they represented one person, one opinion. The engagements encouraged disproportionate representation and multiple counting of individuals — again, those favouring who were privileged enough to be able to attend downtown. During work hours  — as engagements.

So a kind person would suggest it would be hard to see how you could criticism one side for questionable numbers, when you’re using clearly deceptive statistics gained by an exclusionary and privileged engagement strategy to prop up your argument. One less kind might use the term hypocritical.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

One one side you have a group threatening current councillors that continued support of BRT will lead to their expulsion in the next election. On the other, you have supporters clinging to the results last election as evidence of clear and wide-spread support for the project.

Both sides conveniently ignore the fact that elections are run on a multitude of issues and to use election as justification for just one item is disingenuous at best — and outright intentionally deceptive, at worst. (Also, the last election was more about who candidates weren’t, as opposed to who they were. Let’s not forget that.)

Oh, and considering only 43.197 per cent of voters actually voted in the 2014 election we may want to pump the brakes on the widespread mandate talk. Especially in this post first-by-the-post world where election results are seen as less than savoury if the winner only receives a plurality of votes.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

On one side you have a DownShift spokesperson who has done more to make a campaign unappealing through his demeanour and condescension than any pro-BRT supporter could have. And it’s obscuring the needs and motivations of the actual mom-and-pop stores who are the foundation of DownShift.

On the other side, you have a organization coalescing around a puerile, dismissive name that reflects the dismissive and condescending way they’ve addressed oppositional concerns. From engaging in ageism to (despite a history of paying lip service to “supporting” engagement) complaining that citizens, business interests, and community associations have not engaged in a timely enough fashion (remember: again in privileged engagement sessions), to trying to frame this as a class war, it’s hard to understand how they can claim any sort of moral high ground.

And let’s not forget a City Hall spokesperson who, on camera, cuts off an interview mid question, or a mayor who is set as the moderator on an issue to which he’s unwaveringly hitched his political wagon — but this council has shown it’s never been one to understand the importance of optics.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

Both sides are selective in the numbers they choose. Both sides are dismissive of the other. And both sides are letting their vision obscure the reality — that pretty much everyone in this city wants better transit. The challenge is that a flawed (and selective and exclusionary and privileged) engagement process to date has prevented that from happening.

Anger, distrust, and suspicion have filled the vacuum caused by a woeful engagement process. And here we are.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust?

And this is the crux of the issue. We all want better transit. Those who are against the BRT as it’s proposed have argued that it does nothing to help those who actually ride the bus. This plan does nothing for those who are subjected to para transit, those who work night shifts, or those who work outside the current boundaries.

The response? It’s in the next steps. We’re going to address those issues once this part’s approved…

Trust us.

I can’t. I can’t drink the Kool-Aid (or ingest the gas, as you will) and ignore the very real challenges that the BRT system has and merely hope it gets better. I can’t support the existing plan and validate an engagement process that has proven to be ineffective and selective.

The devil truly is in the details and if Londoners are going to have to support the biggest capital investment in our city’s history (as we’ve been told over and over), then they deserve to not only have their voices heard, but to be properly informed. Not a “sign here and we’ll fill in the blanks later” type of informed, but a foundational and comprehensive analysis and costing-type of informed.

I’ve already argued for the clean slate and removal of the current polarized advocacy groups from the conversation. We need a proper engagement process. One that doesn’t expect people to come to it, but rather goes where they are. One that asks the tough questions and is willing to do the tough leg work.

We need advocates who argue for better transit for all — not zealots who religiously adhere to a system built — or not built — in their own image. We need to establish a discussion that’s focused on transparency, honesty, clear answers to questions, and inclusion.

Who do I trust? Right now, no one. Both sides have proven to be selective in their arguments, disrespectful of their opponents, and dismissive of those constituents who disagree with them. So, naturally, I view any and all statements from them with a jaundiced eye. That’s not conducive to open, honest debate.

We need to figure out what we have now and how to maximize our resources FIRST. Not somewhere down the road, after the shovels are in the ground. We need to build upon a solid foundation — not create a shiny facade that will crumble under the weight of reality. At this point, if either side “wins” it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do you trust? Unfortunately, when it comes to BRT, this is no joking matter.

2 thoughts on “BRT: Who Do You Trust?

  1. Brent Sterner

    “We need to figure out what we have now and how to maximize our resources FIRST.” EXACTLY!! Show us what you can do by fixing existing traffic delays caused by traffic signals, construction and BRST (Bus Really Slow Transit). This is a low cost project. Earn some trust with us and THEN show us (with numbers) what else ought to be done.

  2. Pingback: A Letter to Council: Great Cities Have Great Transit; But Not Necessarily this BRT | The M-Dash by Jason Menard

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