Posts Tagged: eglinton lrt


5
Mar 12

After Ford rejects compromise, Karen Stintz moves to dissolve TTC board

The Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant, on the issue that’s going to keep this week’s council meeting from being boring:

The embattled Toronto Transit Commission is about to undergo a major shakeup with chair Karen Stintz and her allies moving to dissolve the Ford-friendly board and replace it with councillors who support light-rail transit and private citizens.

Ms. Stintz will be putting her own job on the line Monday when she moves a motion to fire all nine current commissioners.

via Stintz readies motion to fire Ford-friendly transit commission | Globe & Mail.

This is shaping up to be yet another significant loss for Rob Ford. By a combination of law and custom, he’s supposed to be the one who sets the composition of boards and committees. Should council have the votes to do this – and every indication is that they do – the mayor of Toronto will have lost influence over the city’s biggest budget item. Major transit decisions will go forward without input from his office.

Some will attempt to spin this as the actions of a bitter and spiteful council that seeks to undermine the mandate of a democratically elected mayor. But that’s crap. What we’ll see this week is no less than Karen Stintz’s last resort after attempts at compromise were roundly rejected or undermined by the mayor and his friends.

There have been at least two major compromise attempts between Stintz and the mayor’s office since this whole transit battle took hold back in January. Both could have seen an outcome where Ford walked away looking like the winner. Instead, he rejected everything.

The First Compromise

The first major compromise is the more obvious one, since it played out in public. With this olive branch, Ford could have agreed to bring the eastern section of the Eglinton LRT above ground, build a two-stop extension of his beloved Sheppard Subway and deliver improved transit to Finch with a new busway project.

Ford probably could have played hardball with this deal, asking for further guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. During talks with the province after he took office, Ford was given an offer that would have seen Eglinton widened to ensure traffic flow wasn’t impeded.

This would have been an easy thing to spin as a victory. Ford gets his subway, along with a trumped up guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. And Finch gets some fancy buses. Everybody wins. Mostly.

The mayor could then spend the next several months talking up Gordon Chong’s report as the magic key that will allow for further construction on Sheppard.

But that’s not what happened, despite Stintz getting an initial assurance from Doug Ford that the mayor was open to the deal. Instead, the mayor flatly rejected the offer, sat through an awkward council meeting where he was overruled – he called it irrelevant – and then proceeded to call his hand-picked TTC chair a back-stabber.

The Second Compromise

This one is murkier, with most of it happening outside of the media.

Shortly after the TTC board fired Gary Webster, the impression I was given by several people is that council would quickly move to remove Ford-allied councillors from the TTC and replace them with people more amenable to council’s approved direction on transit. Also: there was a desire to ensure that the TTC board wouldn’t continue to fire long-time employees for spiteful and/or vindictive reasons.

But things soon changed. As of the middle of last week, stories started to emerge that Stintz and Ford had reached a compromise on the composition of the board. Having already agreed to allow for citizen representation, the two agreed that they would support a board of six councillors and five citizens, with the chair being chosen from the councillors. More importantly, the deal seemed to imply that the current TTC board would stay in place until June.

That was the deal on Wednesday. And still on Thursday. But on Friday, things changed: Stintz announced that she would be making a motion at this week’s council meeting that would call for an immediate change to the make-up of the board, removing all existing members and seeking replacements. Seven councillors will join the board immediately, with four citizens to join later on this summer following an appointment process.

What happened between Wednesday and Friday is anyone’s guess, but a late night Twitter posting by Stintz sheds some light on the situation: “My attempts at compromise with the Mayor were again undermined by Doug Ford & Nick Kouvalis,” she wrote. “The situation became untenable.”

The details of the announcement also point to this being a snap decision following some sort of renewed strife between the mayor and Stintz. Initially, Councillor Josh Matlow told the Globe that there would be a predetermined slate of councillors chosen to replace Ford’s allies on the TTC board. But Stintz quickly backed away from that story, and said it would be an open nomination process. (In the confusion, Matlow was unfairly criticized for what looked like a premature leak – it seems clear now that things were just happening really fast.)

The obvious speculation is that Stintz was hoping to find common ground with the mayor that would have seen him cease his efforts to invalidate council’s February decision on LRT. A compromise may have even included broad support for a Sheppard Subway extension, contingent on the mayor actually presenting a viable plan to pay for it.

Coincidentally, late on Thursday, Doug Ford took part in an extended media scrum in which he rejected the idea of all taxes and tolls as a way to pay for new transit. He called them evil. He also accused Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli of being biased toward LRT and made further claims that the Eglinton LRT plan was similar to the right-of-way project on St. Clair Ave.

What no compromise means

There’s lots to worry about going into this week’s meeting. Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan cautions against a worst-case scenario in which half of council puts their name forward for a seat on the new TTC board, leading to a procedural circus and dozens of votes. I’m hopeful that there’s more organization in the works and that there is a chosen bloc of councillors with broad support ready to step in as commissioners.

But even if not, this is the only play Stintz has left. With every compromise rejected, a recomposition of the TTC board is imperative. Without it, the city goes forward with a situation where the guys controlling the majority votes on the TTC are actively against the council-approved plans for transit expansion. Given the sheer number of items related to these plans that are set to become before the commission, it’d be way too easy for the mayor to use his influence to alter or delay progress, creating procedural snags that would continually require council’s intervention.

That’s no way to build a railroad.


28
Feb 12

Tunnel Vision: four reasons we can’t have the subways Rob Ford wants

At this point it’s become a relentless drumbeat: Rob Ford wants subways. He wants them so much he’s prepared to spend the next two years campaigning for reelection on the promise of subways for Scarborough — and, if there’s time, maybe for Etobicoke too. Underground trains have become a live-or-die priority for his administration.

Why this is a foolish political play is well-established: Ford is promising something he has no workable strategy to deliver. He’s writing a multi-billion dollar cheque he can’t even begin to cash.

But beyond that, there are more reasons why Ford’s tunnel vision is bad for Toronto. A recently unearthed “secret” report, first publicized by the Toronto Star’s Royson James and then released by Steve Munro, raises a number of objections to the suburban subways at the centre of Ford’s demands.

Here are four of the bigger reasons why Ford’s subways won’t work.

1. Scarborough & North York haven’t become the bustling downtowns planners thought they would be

Rob Ford's Reasons Why Not Subways: 1 - Jobs

If you’re looking for proof that now-former TTC General Manager Gary Webster was loyal, look no further than this leaked report. Written in March of 2011, it basically lays out all that is wrong with Ford’s subways-only approach to transit building in the suburbs.

And yet the report — so devastating to the arguments Ford’s been using to support his transit plan — didn’t leak until recently, almost a year after it was originally written and then buried by the mayor’s office. And even then, indicators say that the leak didn’t come from Webster’s office.

The smoking gun part of the report goes like this: Toronto planned its transit expansion back in the 1980s under the assumption that they could limit growth in the downtown core and turn the city centres in Scarborough and North York into bustling job-rich urban spaces. Metro Council and the TTC expected huge job growth in the inner suburbs — projecting a 218% increase in the number of jobs in North York Centre, and a whopping 351% increase in Scarborough Centre.

Those projections turned out to be spectacularly wrong. More than 25 years later, neither North York or Scarborough has seen anywhere near that kind of job growth. The city as a whole has only added about 70,000 net new jobs since 1986. North York Centre added 800 employment positions, while Scarborough Centre actually saw a net loss of employment positions, shedding 700 jobs.

Employment areas and transit ridership are very closely linked. Toronto’s existing subways are so successful because they connect homes with all the big buildings downtown where people work. Most of the new residents in the city’s suburbs, unfortunately, don’t work in areas near where Ford’s subways would go — a lot of them find employment in the 905.

Which means that Ford’s 2012 transit plan is based on planning concepts and ideas from the 1980s. Concepts and ideas that turned out to be wholly and devastatingly incorrect.

2. In the wake of low job growth, ridership projections are much lower

Rob Ford's Reasons Why Not Subways: 1 - Ridership

Because these subways likely aren’t going to be of much regular use to the person who lives in Agincourt but works in Markham, the TTC has dramatically reduced its projections for rapid transit routes on Eglinton & Sheppard. The latter was expected to carry 15,400 people in its peak hour. In its abbreviated form, it carries less than a third of that figure. Expectations for ridership on Eglinton have been scaled down by a similar amount.

As of 2011, the TTC estimates ridership of 5,400 people in the peak hour per direction on Eglinton, and 6,000 to 10,000 on a fully built-out Sheppard line from Downsview to Scarborough Centre. About 15,000 riders per hour are needed to justify the costs of a full-scale subway.

3. The subway system costs us a ton of money to maintain — and Rob Ford’s subways would lose money

Rob Ford's Reasons Why Not Subways: 3 - Cost

An interesting statistic via the leaked report: the TTC spends $230 million in operating costs and $275 million in capital costs just to maintain the existing subway system. Assuming those figures take into account the costs of maintaining the Scarborough RT, that works out to per-kilometre maintenance costs of $3.2 million operating and $3.9 million capital. In other words: every kilometre of subway costs $7 million a year. Just to keep the trains running.

So much for all this talk of subways being an asset that last 100 years with minimal operating costs.

You can have a lot of fun with these numbers, though it’s important to remember that they represent long-term costs of maintaining infrastructure. Things will be much cheaper to run when the infrastructure is shiny and new.

Still, take the full 18 kilometre Sheppard Subway route the mayor wants to build. Not only will the new track and tunnel cost about $300 million per-kilometre, we can also expect to pay $59 million per year in operating costs and $79 million in capital. Working from the TTC’s assumption that each rider is worth about $2 in revenue, Sheppard would need in excess of 175,000 riders per day to even approach break-even operation.

Because we haven’t seen the job growth predicted in the 1980s, ridership projections don’t approach that break-even point. The city would need to subsidize Rob Ford’s subways for decades to come

4. Given current priorities, Rob Ford’s subways are the wrong subways for Toronto

We run the risk with this subways-and-LRT debate to oversimplify things down to some sort of pseudo-ideological battle. But this really isn’t a matter of choosing sides: you aren’t either for LRTs or for subways. It’s about choosing the right mode for the right route at the right cost.

Let’s make it clear: no one is saying that we should focus only on surface light rail transit. Toronto’s transit future includes new subways. It has to.

There are two pressing issues facing Toronto’s transit system.

First, there’s a lack of higher-order transit connecting the inner suburbs. Mobility sucks across much of the 416 and that limits our ability to successfully address a host of social and fiscal issues.

Second, the backbone of our transit system — the Yonge subway line — is overcapacity and trending worse. (Current capacity estimates for Toronto’s subway routes and extension were compiled based on data provided by former staffer Karl Junkin on Steve Munro’s blog. Big thanks to him.)

The city’s current transit planning mostly tries to address the first point. With a network of suburban light rail lines, the TTC can provide service that’s way more effective than the current buses without breaking the bank. Light rail is flexible enough and cheap enough to provide for frequent expansion that isn’t always reliant on provincial funding gifts.

As for the second point: we’ve got nothing. The Yonge subway line operates at more than 100% of its capacity during rush hour, and often even outside of rush hour. Up until now, the TTC has proposed a bevy of short-term fixes like automatic train operation and adding extra cars to the subway trains, but these are expensive band-aids that aren’t going to permanently resolve chronic overcrowding.

No, the only real solution to fixing Toronto’s crowded subway problem is to build another subway.

The Downtown Relief Line, kicked around as an idea since the 1970s, could extend down Don Mills from Eglinton, connect with the Bloor-Danforth line at Pape and then continue on a route through the eastern part of the old city before connecting with the Yonge & University subways downtown. A second phase could take the line on a similar route in the west.

Unlike Eglinton & Sheppard, the TTC’s ridership projections for this route have actually increased since they were first made in 1986. With 13,000 riders per hour in the peak direction, the DRL would open with ridership very close to subway minimums and, more importantly, would serve as a relief valve for the overburdened Yonge line, solving one of the most pressing issues facing Toronto’s transit system. The line would provide new service to dense neighbourhoods while simultaneously having a positive network impact.

If Rob Ford really wants to champion subways, this is the one he should support. It’s achievable, justifiable and ultimately affordable, thanks to some of the revenue tools put on the table by Gordon Chong.

There is a subway vision that actually makes sense for Toronto — it’s just not the one the mayor is fighting for.


15
Feb 12

Rob Ford’s Sheppard Subway plan: days late, a billion dollars short

Rob Ford's Sheppard Subway Plan: a  billion dollars short

After a year of waiting, we finally have our hands on former councillor Gordon Chong’s Sheppard Subway report. This is the document that was supposed to open the door to cheap and extensive subway building. This is the document that was supposed to propel the mayor toward making good on his campaign promise to extend the Sheppard Subway.

That was the theory, anyway. In reality, Chong’s report doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, it suggests that the city make a series of irresponsible financial decisions that will screw with Toronto’s operating budget for decades to come. And it still leaves a billion dollar gap.

To illustrate, here’s how our friends at KPMG — brought in to help with Chong’s financial analysis — suggest we might build an eastward extension of the Sheppard line, from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre, at a total cost of $2.7 billion over seven years. This is just one of the scenarios studied. It’s a simple five-step process.

1) Finance $221 million based on an expected rise in property values along Sheppard and Eglinton. They call this Tax Increment Financing. Yes, this means that future property tax revenues generated by Eglinton development will be tied up with construction on Sheppard instead of used to pay for infrastructure and services that might be needed on the Eglinton corridor. But disregard that — we’re building subways here!

2) Finance an additional $446 million based on expected revenue from development charges. And don’t just limit yourself to development charge revenues in the Sheppard & Eglinton corridor — take the cash from developments all across the city. Yeah, this might screw with the city’s credit rating and any increases to non-residential development charges could chase business into the 905, but, again, try to ignore the details. Focus on the subways. They go fast.

We should pause here to note that to drive the revenues we need from the first two steps, we’ll need to drastically increase density along the Eglinton and Sheppard corridors. This means building high-rise condo blocs in the 800-metre zone along both streets. Good thing residents hardly ever oppose tall building projects.

3) Sell 18 city-owned properties along Eglinton & Sheppard for an additional $221 million. We don’t really know which properties, but let’s just assume that we probably don’t need them.

4) Hope against hope that the Eglinton LRT project comes in under budget — which it surely won’t if it’s built underground like the mayor wants — so that the province can transfer $650 million in funding to the Sheppard project. If this doesn’t happen, the whole plan falls to pieces. (The federal government’s $333 million contribution might be contingent on secured provincial funding.)

5) Raise a billion extra dollars somehow. Maybe with tolls and new taxes. Maybe with magic. Who knows? Think of this step like a mystery we’ll all get to solve together. Even if we find a private sector partner willing to pitch in on a P3 for this corridor, KPMG says there will be a similar funding gap — about $730 million — that the city will be on the hook for over the life of the project.

In the end, even granting the sizeable assumptions that there will be provincial funding available for Sheppard and that there’s a politically-viable way to raise a billion dollars that the mayor won’t call a ‘tax grab’, we’ll still face decades of city budgets where some revenue from property tax and development charges won’t be available because they’ll be tied up in bond payments from this subway financing deal. This will handcuff council’s ability to even consider funding any further transit or infrastructure projects until 2050 or so.

All this for eight kilometres of subway.

The Bright Side

Revenue tools presented as options for transit financing in Gordon Chong's report

Revenue tools presented as options for transit financing in Gordon Chong's report

But let’s look on the bright side: at the very least, the $150,000 the mayor spent commissioning this report has provided us with a preliminary analysis of potential revenue tools. Rob Ford is never going to consider tolls and taxes — and using them to fund subway construction in the Sheppard corridor is a tough sell —  but they’re important because inevitably Toronto will have to look to these kinds of revenue-drivers if it wants to continue to grow and improve its infrastructure.

Toronto’s transit expansion can’t stop here. The city needs to push forward with a Downtown Relief Line, an extension of the Eglinton LRT to the airport, a transit connection to Malvern and plans for right-of-way streetcars along the waterfront. Absent committed support for transit from the federal and provincial governments, new tolls and taxes represent the responsible way forward. The alternative is to continue drawing hopeful lines on maps and waiting for other governments to swoop in with funding promises at election time.

Council can throw out most of Chong’s report — it’s irrelevant in the wake of council’s decision last week — but they should give careful consideration to this section. Toronto’s transit future depends on it.


10
Feb 12

Notes on a Transit Plan

An April 2010 photo shows David Miller distributing "Save Transit City" buttons at Eglinton station. That woman on the left sure looks familiar. (Photo by Brad Pritchard / InsideToronto)

An April 2010 photo shows David Miller distributing "Save Transit City" flyers at Eglinton station. The woman pictured at far left sure looks familiar. (Photo by Brad Pritchard / InsideToronto)

1. We probably should have seen this coming

In April 2010, Karen Stintz spent a morning at Eglinton station with then-mayor David Miller. In the wake of provincial cuts to funding, the two of them distributed “Save Transit City” flyers to commuters. “I fully support Mayor Miller and his initiative and I’m proud to stand here beside him and get the message out,” she told the National Post.

That was a big statement. Stintz and Miller rarely saw eye-to-eye. It’s probably fair to describe her as a perpetual thorn in his side. She once dismissed his agenda as “bags, bottles and bicycles.” But when it came to funded and realistic transit planning, she was willing to work with the guy in the mayor’s chair. She was willing to be an advocate.

So what did we really learn about Karen Stintz this week? That she’s willing to stand up for achievable and realistic transit planning? That she’s open to working with people across the political spectrum to ensure those plans move forward? That she believes in Light Rail Transit?

We already knew these things about Karen Stintz.

2. Unavoidable truth: Transit City’s back

The light rail plan endorsed by council on Wednesday has got all sorts of names. Some called it the “Stintz plan.” Others called it the “Council plan.” The mayor, as is his way, called it “streetcar city.”

But whatever. Ignoring the politics of it — and maybe it’s not wise to point this out — it’s impossible to ignore that this plan is, essentially, a direct continuation of Transit City. It’s pretty well the same plan we would have seen go forward had David Miller remained in office for another term.

No bones about it: David Miller’s legacy got a shot in the arm on Wednesday.

3. Will the mayor get his Sheppard Subway anyway?

An interesting twist at this week’s meeting came from a Stintz motion that called for an “expert panel” brought together over the next month to discuss what to do with transit on Sheppard Avenue. The light rail plan — currently on the books as part of Transit City — has faced opposition because it’ll force an inconvenient transfer at Don Mills station on the Sheppard Subway line.

My first thought was that this panel was just an attempt to throw a bone toward Scarborough councillors, and that they’d ultimately conclude that light rail was the way to go. But during an appearance on NewsTalk 1010 Thursday morning, Councillor Adam Vaughan gave the impression that he expected the experts to support a one- or two-stop subway extension to Victoria Park.

A small subway extension would be an interesting outcome, serving two purposes: first, it shoves the question of what to do on Sheppard in the long-term off to the far-flung future. Another council and another mayor can figure it out. Second, it gives the mayor — even after all of his bitching and hyperbole and dirty tricks — a chance to deliver on a campaign promise.

4. Dirty Tricks & Pettiness

I mentioned dirty tricks: it’s worth noting how desperate and petty Ford and his allies got as yesterday’s council meeting rolled forward. Coming back from the lunch break, rumour was that the Ford allies were going to attempt the procedural equivalent of  taking the ball and going home. The talk was that the mayor would try to force a halt to the meeting by intentionally breaking quorum in the council chamber.

After a tense delay, Ford and a handful of allies did return to the chamber so the meeting could resume. There weren’t enough of them to break quorum.

They followed that up with further petty procedural meddling. When it came time to excuse councillors who were absent from the meeting, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong insisted on separating the vote into two parts. He wanted to vote against excusing Gloria Lindsay Luby, who had booked a vacation before talk of this special council meeting got started.

In a show of macho pride made completely bizarre because all it does is further alienate a councillor who is ideologically aligned with Rob Ford on most issues, Minnan-Wong voted against excusing her. So did Paul Ainslie, Mike Del Grande, Frank Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, Frances Nunziata and the mayor.

This is not how you win friends and influence people.

5. What happens next? 

As expected, the province was quick to lend legitimacy to council’s decision. In fact, we learned today that Dalton McGuinty told Rob Ford days before the meeting that he would not support the mayor’s subway plan without council’s endorsement.

The remaining piece of the puzzle is Sheppard. Council will come back for another special meeting on March 21, at which time we’ll know whether we’re looking at subway or light rail in that corridor. That should be another fun meeting for the mayor to sit through.

Meanwhile, Rob Ford’s doing his best to make himself relevant to this debate. He’s spent damn near every hour since the vote attempting to spark public outcry over council’s decision, but there’s no real indication that he’s going to get anywhere with this plan. Yeah, the average person on the street will tell you that subways are awesome and we should have more of them, but that same person might also tell you that we should have libraries that are open 24 hours a day, free recreation programs, no property taxes and a fully-developed waterfront built by 2015.

Politics is about balancing what people want with fiscal reality — you can’t give people services you can’t pay for. You have to accept trade-offs to ensure public money is spent to maximum public benefit. You’ve got to be efficient and realistic. It’s weird that Rob Ford doesn’t understand this.


9
Feb 12

LRT for Toronto: Rob Ford loses bid to control Toronto’s transit future

Rob Ford’s unilateral transit planning came to an end today when council voted 25-18 to re-endorse plans for light rail transit on Eglinton, Finch & the SRT route. Back before Rob Ford was elected, we would have called this “Transit City.” Mostly.

There were no major surprises coming out of today’s vote. TTC Chair Karen Stintz did broker a small compromise when she ended up punting on the idea of light rail on Sheppard. As it stands, an “expert panel” will review various options for that corridor — including the mayor’s favoured subway scheme. In addition, Jaye Robinson, who will always be a wildcard and was a major unknown going in to today’s vote, ended up voting in favour of the proposal championed by Stintz. Her vote was important as it gave council the strong majority it needed to convince the province this was a serious  — and unwavering — decision.

It seemed like it worked. Every indication is that the province will accept council’s plan and move forward under this new framework.

Rob Ford is obviously not happy. Over the course of the meeting, his administration tried everything from a deferral motion to spiteful procedural delay in an effort to stave off the inevitable vote. In the end, nothing worked. The mayor went down, losing a major vote on transit.

Afterwards, Ford attempted to save face by declaring today’s meeting irrelevant. On his Facebook page, he promised that the fight for transit is not over. But given the province’s reaction and the nature of today’s vote, it’s hard to see his statements as anything more than a lame duck mayor grasping for relevance in the face of total defeat.


6
Feb 12

Why are some councillors set to vote against transit in their wards?

Councillors Against Transit: How are councillors voting on projects set to pass through their wards?

Councillors Against Transit? Some councillors are set to vote against transit projects that would run through their wards. (The Sheppard East LRT will also skirt the wards of Councillors Del Grande & Moeser.)

Updated Feb 7 2012: The voting chart at the bottom of this post has been updated based on new information. Councillors Moeser and Lindsay Luby are both likely to miss the meeting. Frances Nunziata confirmed which was she was leaning when she called Karen Stintz a ‘traitor’ at council yesterday. And Mark Grimes is Mark Grimes. Jaye Robinson remains the only undecided, and I could see her going either way.

It’s official. As reported by Inside Toronto’s David Nickle:

Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz and 22 other city councillors have demanded a special Toronto City Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, to consider whether to bury the Scarborough-Eglinton Crosstown LRT through Scarborough.

Stintz, who represents Eglinton-Lawrence on council, presented the petition to the city clerk prior to the start of the city’s regular council meeting Monday, Feb. 6.

via TTC chair Stintz calls for special council meeting on Transit City | InsideToronto.com.

Twenty-four councillors signed Stintz’s petition, with James Pasternak and Gloria Lindsay Luby standing as the difference-makers. I expected to see John Parker’s name on the list — he’s been vocal throughout this debate — but he seems to have opted to play it safe. Still, there’s a good chance he’ll vote in favour of the agenda item on Wednesday.

With the majority in place, our attention now turns to the motley crew of councillors who have decided to stick with the Fords even in the face of almost-certain defeat. For some, the motive is easy to understand. Scarborough councillors like Michael Thompson and Michelle Berardinetti have nothing to lose by supporting gold-plated underground transit through Scarborough, even if that support means that other projects lose out. And councillors like Peter Milczyn and Cesar Palacio are so far removed from the projects on the table that they might as well protect their political position and side with the mayor.

But for other councillors, motive is harder to pin down.

Take the councillors in the table above. All of them represent wards that lost out on transit when Rob Ford made his unilateral decision to cancel the Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects. And yet, even knowing what’s at stake, three of them seem likely to double down on their support for the mayor and vote against bringing improved transit to their constituents on Wednesday.

You can almost excuse Norman Kelly and Giorgio Mammoliti. They’re council veterans unlikely to face electoral consequence no matter what they do. Kelly also has the spectre of a Sheppard Subway to point at. And no one expects Mammoliti make rational decisions.

But for Councillor Vincent Crisanti — still a quiet council newbie with a near-perfect record of Ford support — his vote on Wednesday could easily be seen as a slight against the neighbourhoods he represents in Ward 1. He’s got to know that any talk of underground transit into northwest Etobicoke is pure fantasy. Even the biggest optimist would be hard-pressed to include a Finch subway project in a fifty-year timeframe. He also knows well that the Finch bus route is one of the most crowded and uncomfortable in the city. And he knows that Humber College — a major driver of economic activity in his area — has long advocated for improved transit connections to their campus, something the LRT was set to provide.

Last February, the President of Humber College expressed regret over the mayor’s decision to kill the Finch West LRT project, telling the campus newspaper, “We had a plan in terms of the previous government. Now we don’t have a plan, and we have yet to see one.”

Crisanti has a chance to play a role in bringing that plan to Humber College this week. He’s got a chance to improve transit for the community that elected him. It’s a shame he’s going to pass on it.

Continue reading →


6
Feb 12

Council revives Transit City as opponents run out of fresh arguments

Transit City Opponent Bingo

Transit City’s back.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz has announced that a majority of councillors will submit a petition to the City Clerk this morning asking for a special council meeting. At that meeting — which should happen Wednesday — at least 24 councillors will overrule the mayor’s self-proclaimed “mandate” and request that Metrolinx move forward with an agreement for “LRTs on Eglinton, Sheppard East and Finch West.”

This is far more significant than originally thought. Instead of embracing a transit compromise, council will willfully overturn Rob Ford’s day-one directive that unilaterally killed Transit City. Where the Port Lands compromise and Josh Colle’s budget amendment at least allowed the mayor to claim some control over the narrative, this will be a total and complete rebuke of the mayor’s agenda.

This kind of thing is unprecedented in several different ways and it should serve to emphasize the question people have been asking since the budget vote: what do you call a mayor who can’t control council?

How we got to the LRT

Momentum has been building for weeks on the transit file. Things came to a crescendo yesterday when urban experts like Paul Bedford and Ken Greenberg released an open letter demanding council back away from Ford’s all-underground dream. Even Nick Kouvalis, the mayor’s former chief of staff, acknowledged that Rob Ford would lose a vote on transit.

At the same time, arguments against changing the current plan for the Eglinton LRT have been soundly beaten to death. Writing for The Grid, David Hains put together an all-star takedown of Councillor Norm Kelly’s circulated talking points. Ed Keenan and the Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski have also contributed great fact-check pieces.

The tired chorus of anti-LRT rhetoric is so predictable and cliché — also, apparently, impotent — that we might as well have fun with it. Feel free to take the BINGO card at the top of this post and use it whenever certain Ford-friendly councillors or pundits are discussing transit — if they use enough of the listed arguments to cover a line of spaces, yell “BINGO!” And then refuse to explain yourself.

The Next Station

Council will send a strong message with their vote this week, but uncertainty and doubt will linger. The city will have a transit position that the sitting mayor opposes. That kind of situation just isn’t very stable.

As much as it would be fantastic if Metrolinx and the TTC could just get to work with the shovelling and the building — free from political meddling — I fear we’ve still got some hand-wringing ahead of us. We can’t even be confident that Metrolinx and the province will want to move forward with a plan endorsed only by a slim majority of councillors. And if Ford decides to seek reelection in 2014, he very well could seek a renewed mandate for all-underground transit. That’ll only open the door for other politicians, who could attempt to put their own stamp on “Transit City”, again throwing things off track.

So, yeah, we’re probably not done with this conversation yet. But at least the debate isn’t being buried.


3
Feb 12

No Sheppard Subway without road tolls, new taxes

Late Wednesday, Rob Ford stood at the corner of Eglinton & Victoria Park and spoke about Scarborough’s “congested and jammed up” streets. That traffic — which, oddly, looked to be moving pretty well on the street behind him — was cited as the reason the Eglinton LRT must be buried through its eastern end.

He was supported in his comments by seven of the ten members of Scarborough Community Council, all of whom apparently find sense in the idea of spending $2 billion to put the Eglinton LRT underground, even though the decision means there won’t be any capital money for transit improvements on other busy routes across the city.

(A few of those seven Scarborough councillors were listed as ‘undecided’ on the scorecard I posted earlier this week. I’ve since updated it. Of the six remaining undecided votes, Jaye Robinson, Gloria Lindsay Luby and James Pasternak are the most likely to support the vision pushed by Karen Stintz.)

Ford’s office has opted to defend their position on transit on two fronts.

First, they’ve attempted to paint those who would alter the mayor’s Eglinton plan as anti-Scarborough. The argument goes something like this: supporters of a broad plan that builds higher order transit on multiple corridors are obviously just looking to stick Scarborough with crappy streetcars for years to come.

In this vein, Inside Toronto’s Mike Adler quotes presumably-yelling Scarborough Councillor Norm Kelly: “Wake up Toronto! Scarborough’s sick and tired of being ignored.” And then: “we’ve just begun to fight.”

Kelly voted in favour of Transit City repeatedly while a member of David Miller’s Executive Committee. He also approved the Transit City projects as part of Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation plan when he sat on that agency’s board of directors.

But, in fairness, that was like three years ago.

At least he’s not as flip-floppy as Councillor Michael Thompson, who went from telling Inside Toronto’s David Nickle on January 23 that it “makes sense to consider putting the [Eglinton LRT] above ground” to a signed letter of support for Rob Ford’s plan on February 1. A lot can happen in a week.

On their second defensive front, Ford and his allies are trying to refocus attention away from the Eglinton project and onto the Sheppard Subway. This whole brouhaha seems to have inspired the mayor to release Gordon Chong’s long-awaited report, which the Toronto Star’s David Rider notes is 188-pages long. It’ll go to Executive Committee on February 13, after which it should head to council.

The report is being spun as a victory for Ford — proof that the transit file isn’t a total mess — but even the Toronto Sun spin machine can’t hide the fact that this is a report that essentially says we can’t have any subway extension without new user fees, tolls and taxes.

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Chong recommended pursing the project in two stages, starting with the extension of the line to the Scarborough Town Centre.

He added that project could be completed for $2.7 billion. However, bids to construct that portion of the line could possibly come 20% to 30% under that price tag, said Chong.

The Sheppard should then be extended west from Yonge St. to Downsview at a cost of $1 billion, according to Chong.

He suggested there are a variety of revenue tools, including road tolls and parking levies, that could be used to raise enough money to fill a projected $1 billion funding gap for the project.

via Thumbs up for Sheppard subway extension: Report | Toronto Sun.

The Toronto Star’s Michael Woods has a full list of the revenue-generating proposals in the report. Woods notes that almost all of them are “contradictory to Mayor Rob Ford’s low-tax, car-friendly philosophy.” That’s actually an optimistic take: when rumours circulated that Chong’s report would recommend tolls this past summer, Ford called the idea “nonsense.”

Also of note: it was just a couple of months ago that Chong seemed rather blasé about the privately-fueled Sheppard Subway proposal. He estimated then that the private sector would pay only 10-30% of the total project cost, and to get that the city would need to fund further studies priced at $10 million or more. The project seemed a bit stalled, as he told the Star’s David Rider: “The question is how long I stay [working on this project] if we didn’t make any progress.”

Now, two months later, after a contentious budget battle that the mayor mostly lost and amidst whispers that councillors are preparing to call a special council meeting to force a vote on transit, we get word of this: a new, positive report claiming the private sector will fund 60% of the cost of the subway, which could come in $1 billion less than expected.

Seems pretty convenient.


1
Feb 12

“Beyond comprehension”: Why is Rob Ford fighting a transit battle he can’t possibly win?

Council Scorecard: Likely Votes on Eglinton Overground (Updated)

While there's no consensus view on overall transit planning amongst councillors, a strong majority are likely to vote in favour of bringing part of the Eglinton LRT back to the surface. Council could then work with Metrolinx and the TTC to develop and debate a plan to put the $1.5 to $2 billion in savings toward other projects like the Finch West LRT or the Sheppard Subway. The Transit City vote percentage is an indicator on how councillors voted on seven Transit City-related items.

Updated Feb 2 2012: Chart has been updated to reflect recent statements by Scarborough councillors.

So Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard wrote a letter today:

We will soon have to choose between these competing proposals — namely at or below grade, east of Laird Drive to Kennedy Road. In order to continue with this important project we require the support, and clarity from, the City of Toronto. s such, we are concerned that the [Memorandum of Understanding] has not yet been confirmed by Toronto City Council. Our concern has been sharply elevated in recent days by widely reported public statements from TTC Chair Karen Stintz and other members of Council suggesting Council will reject the terms of the MoU and seek a different transit plan with Metrolinx.

Absent Council’s endorsement of the MoU, the City is not bound by the plan and it is increasingly difficult for Metrolinx to implement it. We believe that both you and Council must soon confirm the direction the City wishes to take.

via Robert Prichard’s Letter to Rob Ford and Karen Stintz.

Ontario Minister of Transportation & Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli followed this up with a comment on his Twitter account: “We’ve got to move forward with transit in Toronto. City needs to land on a single position.”

With these comments in mind, and knowing full well the money and infrastructure hanging in the balance, six councillors, all of them stalwart Ford allies, used their power as TTC commissioners yesterday to sideline TTC Chair Karen Stintz and destroy a staff recommendation that would have seen transit staff produce a report detailing “analysis of the [Eglinton LRT] scope, alignment and vehicle technology.”

That report almost surely would have raised a number of questions about the planned underground alignment for Eglinton east of the Don Valley Parkway. It very well could have triggered the debate at council we’ve been waiting for: the one where councillors will overrule the mayor and change his transit plan.

Rather than set those wheels in motion and have the debate that everyone agrees council needs to have, these councillors — Denzil Minnan-Wong, Norm Kelly, Frank Di Giorgio, Cesar Palacio, Vince Crisanti & TTC Vice Chair Peter Milczyn — opted to engage in weasely tactics designed to delay the process, even though delays could wind up costing the city significant amounts of money. Councillor John Parker called the decision “beyond comprehension.”

Stintz was fairly blunt in her reaction to this move, as reported by NOW’s Ben Spurr:

“There are so many fundamental issues that need to be addressed, not just for this commission but for the next fifty years of this city,” Stintz said. “The commission had a decision to get that information and debate it and consider it, or they could not get it. They chose not to receive it.”

via Far more support for Stintz’s transit plan than Rob Ford’s | NOW Toronto.

Rob Ford knows he can’t win this vote, so his allies are trying to avoid the vote altogether.

Council Scorecard: How A Transit Vote Might Go

It’s important that any council debate on this subject remain limited in scope. The last thing we need is for 44 councillors to propose 44 different “transit visions” based on their own pet projects. Keep it simple: an up-and-down vote on whether we should acquiesce to Rob Ford and bury all of Eglinton or stick with the previously-approved Transit City alignment.

Once that decision is made, construction can move forward on Eglinton. Council can then work with Metrolinx and the TTC to set priorities and determine where to spend the remaining funds. (My preference would be for the Finch LRT to take priority, but the existence of federal money for Sheppard Avenue transit may complicate things.)

Provided council’s debate remains focused, I count 23 votes in favour of bringing Eglinton back to the surface. (The Toronto Star’s David Rider & Daniel Dale did most of the legwork on this one.) Those 23 votes are all council needs to pull off this off, though the vote will probably be more lopsided once the  nine undecided votes sort themselves out. I could see up to five of those fence-sitters going against the mayor.

While the result of the vote seems clear, the process for getting the item in front of council is still murky. Ford proved today that he’s got enough allies on the TTC commission to control the agenda there. To actually put this to vote, Council is going to have to get creative and find a way to bypass the committee/board process.

Unstoppable Force Meets The Immovable Mayor

Ford’s behaviour on this item isn’t surprising — his stubbornness was actually an asset on the campaign trail, even if it’s a terrible quality for a guy at City Hall — but it remains deeply irrational. In no way should this be a hill for the mayor to die on.

Stintz was sincere in her efforts to engineer this compromise as a way for Ford to save face and deliver some kind of Sheppard Subway extension. And there is no indication anywhere that the mayor’s popular support — which is only at 40% anyway — hinges on keeping the Eglinton LRT underground.

The smart move would be accepting a compromise and passing a unanimous motion at council affirming support for rapid transit on Eglinton Avenue. But Rob Ford doesn’t want to make the smart move. He doesn’t want to move at all.


30
Jan 12

Council Scorecard: Did council ever vote on Transit City? Yes, at least seven times

Retro Council Scorecard: Transit City

A retro City Council Scorecard: occasions where the 2006-2010 council voted on Transit City. Click for bigger.

On Twitter Sunday night, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong charmingly asked if it’s “a good time to mention that Transit City was never brought before Council for approval?”

He posed his smug question, I guess, because of this news story, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski:

A report by a respected Toronto law firm says Mayor Rob Ford exceeded his legal authority when he cancelled Transit City without city council approval.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, who solicited the legal opinion, will release it publicly on Monday.

It says the mayor had no business entering into a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the province that authorized a new transit plan, including a Sheppard subway and a longer tunnel on the Eglinton light rail line. It says he further overstepped his powers when he told TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to stop work on Transit City.

via Mayor Rob Ford had no authority to cancel Transit City, lawyers say | Toronto Star.

The sad thing is that a legal opinion really wasn’t needed. Anyone with the ability to read sentences would come to the same conclusion that the lawyers did. The Memorandum of Understanding that set the new direction for transit in Toronto, as signed by the mayor and Metrolinx last March, was explicitly a non-binding agreement designed to “provide a framework for the negotiation of agreements to be approved by [the mayor and Metrolinx's] governing bodies.” In the mayor’s case, that governing body is council.

Further, the City Manager wrote, in a response to an Administrative Inquiry by Councillor Janet Davis, that “any agreements to implement the Memorandum will require Council approval.”

So Ford clearly violated the limits of his power when he went and started implementing his transit plans. And don’t forget: his decision to kill Transit City cost the city more than $200 million in cancellation fees and wasted work by staff and consultants.

That $200 million stands as a bigger example of government waste than anything Ford has identified as ‘gravy’ at City Hall thus far. It’s a figure that exceeds the entire budget of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project.

But council was at least somewhat complicit in letting him get away with it. On his radio show yesterday, Councillor Josh Matlow asked Mihevc why he only commissioned this legal opinion now and not, say, a year ago — when most everybody knew Ford had overstepped his bounds. Mihevc was polite in his answer, but his real reasoning seems obvious: it didn’t make sense to make any noise about the mayor’s transit plan at the time because, had a vote on the subject actually come to council, guys like Matlow — and the other middle-aligned councillors — might have supported the mayor.

Things are different now.

But back to Minnan-Wong. He’s not just wrong in his claim that council never voted on Transit City. He is wrong in at least seven different ways.

How council endorsed Transit City at least seven times

I guess the implication when Minnan-Wong and others claim Transit City was never put to a vote is that never did David Miller bring an item to council asking for endorsement on the “Transit City” brand. And it’s true: council never approved the bundling of a number of suburban light rail projects together under that name, nor did they specifically endorse, in advance, Miller and Adam Giambrone’s decision to work with the province to get Transit City included as part of Dalton McGuinty’s MoveOntario 2020 funding announcement.

But council did approve — often overwhelmingly — every element of the Transit City plan that moved beyond early planning stages. Beginning in 2007, they unanimously approved the direction of Transit City as part of a Climate Change action plan. In 2009, as projects really started moving, Council approved capital expenditures of more than $134 million to work on Transit City. That same year, they approved  Environment Assessments for the Sheppard East LRT (no recorded vote), the Eglinton LRT — which at that point was running on the surface at both ends — and the Finch West LRT. They also okayed the acquisition of land from private owners to support various parts of Transit City. In 2010, council opted to make the Scarborough RT rebuild part of Transit City, converting it from a proprietary technology to the same light rail planned for Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard East. (Council also endorsed Transit City as part of a debate on an extension of the Yonge subway into Richmond Hill.)

Lastly, council gave authority to actually begin work on the light rail project on Sheppard East. Only three councillors opposed, including the mayor. This grade separation work was underway at Agincourt when Rob Ford cancelled the project.

No one denies that Ford has the ability to set priorities and direction on the transit file. He’s the mayor. But he is not allowed to move forward with decisions that impact the finances of this city without council’s endorsement.

Council had numerous opportunities to alter or stop forward movement on Transit City. They’ve have had no such opportunity with Rob Ford’s so-called “Transportation City.” It’s moved forward like a runaway train.