Posts Tagged: gordon chong

Mar 12

The week that was: Ford loses major transit vote as Sheppard gets LRT

Council Scorecard: Transit Votes

While I was out: Rob Ford experienced yet another spectacular defeat on the floor of council. True to form, the mayor refused to endorse any workable revenue plan for building his beloved Sheppard subway – even the one that came from his council allies. Instead, Ford stuck with what the political strategy that has sustained him since he was first elected councillor over a decade ago: yelling and losing.

Here’s how it happened.


March 18, 2012

Rob Ford devotes much of the time on his crazy boring radio show toward the transit discussion. As recapped by OpenFile Toronto’s David Hains, the mayor and his co-host Councillor Paul Ainslie hit all the same notes you’d expect: people want subways; St. Clair’s a disaster; all glory to the private sector; and the power of repeating the word subways endlessly.

Notably, Ford and stalwart Ainslie agree that the Sheppard Subway should be funded with “creative financing because people don’t like taxes.” This attitude would continue throughout the week, and sink any remaining chance Ford had of winning the council vote.


March 19, 2012

With the special council meeting just two days away, subway advisor and noted dentist Gordon Chong again makes public his opinion that the mayor must support new tolls and taxes if he wants to see a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. Ford continues to ignore the advice of the man he picked to make the case for subways in Toronto.

Meanwhile, many of the swing vote councillors begin to make their opinions known. Councillor Josh Colle tells reporters he’s just looking for some kind of indication of where the mayor will get the money to build subways. “A pie graph would be nice, just something that would show where the source of funding would come from.”

But the mayor’s “plan,” even presented as a pie chart, would prove unconvincing. It’d end up looking a lot like this:

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)


March 20, 2012

More mighty middle voices tip their hat toward the LRT plan. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon tells the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat that she’ll be supporting light rail because “Nothing has been concretely brought forward and I don’t see a [subway] plan.” Councillor Ana Bailão also hints that she’ll be a light rail vote.

In a bit of a surprise, Councillor Ron Moeser joins the group of councillors supporting the expert panel’s recommendation for LRT. Moeser has been battling an illness for several months that has caused him to miss virtually all council votes relating to transit. His support for the mayor had been widely assumed, but the mayor may have pushed things too far with the Scarborough councillor.

At this point, a majority of councillors have firmly pledged their support for light rail on Sheppard.


March 21, 2012

Council begins its session by endorsing the use of Skype as a means for Professor Eric Miller to take questions from councillors. Miller was the lead on the expert panel that ultimately recommended the light rail plan. After much debate, Skype finds strong bipartisan support, though the mayor objects.

Soon after, battle lines are drawn. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker moves the motion that will support the panel’s recommendations. As a counter, budget chief and Scarborough Councillor Mike Del Grande proposes what we’ve all been waiting for: new revenue tools to fund transit.

Del Grande’s motion includes a levy on non-residential parking spaces, and seeks to raise $100 million per year for transit funding. The proposal is rightly criticized for being light on detail and short on scope. Those kinds of revenues would only fund about 300 metres of subway construction every year.

But, still, the motion is welcome news, acknowledging that even the most thrifty of suburban councillors have recognized the need to build public transit with public money. Del Grande finds support from most of council’s right-wing, but is stymied when the mayor — stubbornly, foolishly, inexplicably — refuses to lend his support to the plan.

Del Grande would end up attempting to withdraw the motion the next day. Without Rob Ford’s support, he knew it was doomed.

In another bit of procedural pettiness, Ford’s allies end the day with a good old-fashioned filibuster. The plan, which nobody expects to work, is to run out the clock and force a continuation to Thursday, with the hope that they can use the time to convince some councillors to support them.


March 22, 2012

Having exhausted all his remaining options, Ford pulls out a would-be trump card: a loud and rambling speech in which he uses the word “subways” repeatedly. The point, buried in amongst the repetition, was to convince council to delay any decision until after the release of the federal and provincial budgets. The mayor appears to actually believe that those governments – both of whom are in full-on austerity mode – may announce billions of dollars in transit funding for Toronto.

As has become their custom, council mostly ignores the mayor.

The vote happens shortly after lunch, with the results breaking down mostly as expected. With 24 votes in favour, council supports the recommendations of the expert panel for light rail on Sheppard. Nineteen councillors stand opposed. Notably, Giorgio Mammoliti, who had promised on Wednesday that he would fight against the light rail plan on behalf of his constituents, ends up missing the vote on Thursday.


March 23, 2012

The fallout from the vote comes quick and looks obvious. The mayor declares, yet again, that his election campaign begins today. The plan is to foster so much support for subways that he gets yet another strong mandate from voters in 2014. By Sunday – on his still-boring radio show – the mayor will even go as far as floating the idea of running a slate of Ford-supporting candidates in wards across the city, in the hopes of ridding council of those who oppose him.

This brings to mind two immediate questions:

  1. Would any legitimate candidate actually want to be part of a slate backed by a mayor with a terrible approval rating and a record of refusing to work with his allies to accomplish anything?
  2. If Ford’s going to be in full-on campaign mode for the next two years, then who the hell is running the city?

Ford’s stubbornness on this issue has made for even more alienation. Councillors like Jaye Robinson, Peter Milczyn and David Shiner went as far as to publicly question the mayor’s leadership on the transit file. Their comments were tinged with the kind of frustration that comes about when a mayor refuses to support a revenue tool that he recently championed in an editorial. It’s the same frustration that comes when someone ignores advice from everyone, even in the face of overwhelming reason and common sense.

It’s the kind of frustration that comes when the guy you’re trying to help ends up spitting in your face.

Despite protests from the mayor and his brother, this chapter of the Rob Ford mayoralty appears to be over. There’s little chance the province will re-open the subways debate and even less chance that more money materializes for subway construction. As was originally endorsed by Mayor David Miller and council, Toronto will see light rail transit built on Sheppard, Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT corridor. Transit City lives again.

Mar 12

Forget building transit, let’s just talk endlessly and yell at each other

All Fired Up In the Big Smoke’s Daren Foster, who attended a transit town hall put on by the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition  in Scarborough last night:

Nearly two and a half hours later, we were pretty much right back where we started. People wanted subways. People were owed subways. World class cities have subways. Scarborough demanded their piece of that transit dream.

But there was no one there to tell them how that could happen. It was all vague notions, untested theories and a whole lot pie in the sky projections. I’d be plenty pissed too. I just think the crowd turned their ire on the wrong target.

Which wasn’t their fault in the least. The real target wasn’t in the room. He’d skipped the meeting, encouraging the anger while sidestepping any responsibility for it.

via Seething In Scarborough « All Fired Up In The Big Smoke.

For OpenFile Toronto, David Hains covers more of the details. The short version: unrealistic promises and mostly fact-free rhetoric has whipped up some Scarborough residents into a frenzy. The prospect of light rail transit is the hated villain, while Rob Ford’s subway dream stands as the hero.

After the meeting, Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy — adding credibility to the proceedings by serving as a panelist — summed up the mood with a tweet: “Scarborough residents would prefer NOTHING, NADA, over light rail transit.”

There seems to be an unconscious desire from some in this debate to return to the transit planning status quo that existed prior to 2007 and the announcement of Transit City and MoveOntario 2020. During that time, the TTC continuously drew and redrew subway lines on various maps. They bounced through Network 2011 and RTES and other plans that promised a whole lot of subway construction. Sometimes politicians would make election-time promises that they would build pieces of whatever plan was on the books at the time.

But even though the city stuck with this subways-to-the-suburbs strategy for decades, very little happened.

It was only through Mel Lastman’s relentless enthusiasm for North York that we got a 5.5 kilometre subway line on Sheppard Ave, and that’s proven to have had a net negative impact on TTC operations. The city will be subsidizing it for decades.

The city did come close to getting an Eglinton subway, but Premier Mike Harris infamously filled in the already-dug hole, scuttling the line as a budget-saving measure. And while that was undoubtedly a mistake, it’s worth noting that, by the time Eglinton got canned, the only part of the plan funded was a stubby five-station line running from Eglinton West station to York Civic Centre.

Had Harris not stopped construction, the mourned Eglinton subway could have made for a similar story as what we’ve seen on Sheppard: a too-short, under-utilized line requiring huge annual subsidy. With no money to pay for an extension.

The city had to shift its focus away from subways and toward LRTs not because of some ill-defined ideology but because the subways-first strategy was a complete and utter failure. It was all talk and no action.

And now, in Scarborough and other parts of the city, we’re seeing what looks like angry demands to return to that. Despite the raucous demand for subways coming out of last night’s meeting, the prospect of new taxes or revenue tools were roundly shot down. For subways, there’s talking – and yelling! – but no plan. No action. No money.

Save our Gordon Chongs

Speaking of things for which there is no plan and no money, it turns out the mayor isn’t going to pay Dr. Gordon Chong and the other consultants who worked on his Sheppard Subway report.

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

First, they didn’t take Gordon Chong’s advice on how to pay for the Sheppard Subway. Now they won’t pay him.

And consultants the ex-city councillor hired to make the case for Mayor Rob Ford’s subway dreams are owed $80,000 they may never collect.

That’s the bankrupt state of the TTC subsidiary Mayor Ford created to promote his subway plan.

via TTC subway study ran out of money, Gordon Chong and consultants still owed more than $100,000 | Toronto Star.

Sometimes analogies are too obvious.

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.

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.

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.

Jul 11

Ford looks to fire GM, kill streetcars in push toward ‘joke’ of transit plan

There’s more high drama and intrigue at the TTC these days as Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug seem bound and determined to stick to an election promise to fund and build an extension of the Sheppard Subway, even if it means firing General Manager Gary Webster and dismantling the City’s streetcar system. I can offer no explanation as to why they feel so strongly about keeping this promise while simultaneously breaking other, more important promises.

Nevertheless, The Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski has the story:

Gary Webster, the TTC’s top executive, is caught in the crosshairs of Mayor Rob Ford’s administration, prompting fears that Toronto transit could be headed on a disastrous course if he’s fired.

A 30-year TTC veteran, the 60-year-old chief general manager has drawn the ire of the Fords over his refusal to support the Sheppard subway extension the mayor wants to build, say Toronto Star sources.

Most transit experts, including former TTC boss David Gunn, consider the subway plan a joke.

via Ford plotting to oust TTC chief over subway extension | Toronto Star.

A joke! That’s great.

Kalinowski also confirms something I’ve heard in a few places: that TTC Chair Karen Stintz and the mayor are at odds over Webster’s future, with Stintz sticking up for her GM. That the Fords have apparently floated Case Ootes and Gordon Chong — are these their only allies? — as potential replacements can’t establish much confidence. No offence meant to either man, but careers as an oil company executive and a dentist, respectively, don’t exactly lend themselves to running the day-to-day operations of one of North America’s largest transit systems.

There’a also this, from the same article:

The plan to get rid of Webster “is in play now,” said former TTC vice-chair Joe Mihevc.

“(The Fords) are so committed to Sheppard they are actively contemplating getting rid of the entire streetcar system in Toronto,” he said, adding that the cost of the new streetcars could be applied to the subway.

“If Doug Ford bullies his way through on this, it truly will be the victory of extreme authoritarian ideology over good public transit policy and good business management,” Mihevc said.

Councillor Mihevc could be working off second-hand information, so it’s probably unfair to jump to immediate conclusions, but let’s go with this line of thinking as an exercise. Toronto’s streetcar system — including the right-of-way routes on St. Clair & Spadina — carries almost 275,000 riders per day. The Sheppard Subway, at its current abbreviated length, carries just under 50,000. (These are 2008 figures.) If this streetcars-for-Sheppard scheme is an attempt to win populist approval, it’s entirely backwards.

Transit advocate Steve Munro has the last word on this story:

In ten years, we would have a much reduced quality of transit service in the central city, we would choke streets with clouds of buses and limit the growth of major areas served by the present and proposed streetcar system.  In return, Sheppard Avenue would have its subway, and what started as Lastman’s folly and a Liberal campaign promise by former Premier David Peterson would become a full-blown monument to the stupidity of transit planning and politics in Toronto.

via Will Nobody Stop Fords’ Folly? |

A full-blown monument to the stupidity of transit planning and politics in Toronto. Nicely said.

Jun 11

Sheppard Subway plan a “big black hole of wasteful spending”

The cost of the Mayor’s much-bragged-about Sheppard Subway extension has risen by $500-million. The 11% jump comes before the project has reached even the planning stages, as Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd. (TTIL), led by Gordon Chong, continues to develop a strategy for moving forward with a feasability study that, if successful, would lead to an exploration of potential private sector partners who would help deliver the project.

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney:

Pegged at $4.2 billion initially, the estimated cost has risen by $500 million, according to the head of the company created to make the business case for a publicly and privately funded subway extension.

“The Sheppard project is projected to be around $4.7 billion,” Gordon Chong, president and chief executive officer of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd. (TTIL), said Friday.

A TTIL working group needs 12 to 18 months to come up with a more detailed look at the scope, design and cost of the Sheppard subway extensions the mayor wants to build, to determine if it’s feasible.

Chong estimated it could cost $250 million to $300 million to complete the work needed to determine if the project is feasible.

via Sheppard subway cost soars –

The real concern at this point should be finishing this thing before teleportation technology becomes commercially viable and transit systems are no longer necessary.

TTIL’s report is an interesting read. Steve Munro points out that several of the potential revenue sources Chong identifies are, in fact, just taxes. They include things like a “special city-wide transit development charge” and “Left-over Metrolinx funds from the Eglinton project.”

Meanwhile, Metrolinx continues to indicate they want absolutely nothing to do with Ford’s subway project. The report excerpts a letter from Metrolinx on page five, stating that “any work that you undertake on this [Sheppard Subway Project] City project [sic] needs to be allocated to a separate account and funded by the City. Any invoices to Metrolinx should not include these costs.”

The report also includes a point, underlined for emphasis, indicating that “pre-feasability and/or full business case cannot be completed without more detailed design and data.” It also concludes with a nice budgetary note: “The existing budget is woefully inadequate to complete the tasks of the Working Group.”

In other words: despite campaign promises that said we’d have a subway by 2015, we’re a long way from actually building this thing.

Councillor Doug Ford was steadfast, of course, telling the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat “As sure as I’m standing here, we’re getting subways … I can’t be any clearer, there is going to be a subway on Sheppard.”

It was Councillor Janet Davis who summed things up best, however, in the same article:

“You’re now contemplating taking up to 18 months to complete not just the preliminary financial analysis but the feasibility study,” she said. “It’s a plan for a plan for a project that will take us into 2013 before we see anything that presents evidence one way or another about whether the Sheppard subway can be funded.”

“It feels like this is a big black hole of wasteful spending,” she said.

via Councillor Ford guarantees Sheppard Subway | Toronto Sun.

Government change, at any level, is the biggest threat to this plan. The reason Metrolinx exists in the first place is to allow long-term transportation planning that won’t fall to the whim of every newly-elected major, premier or prime minister. The Sheppard subway, falling far outside the purview of Metrolinx, is offered no such protection. Neither was Transit City.

Worth noting, as always, that the Sheppard Subway extension is now set to cost nearly five times more than the original plan for LRT on Sheppard. The Sheppard East LRT, as the first Transit City line, would have opened before the end of this council term in 2014.

Jun 11

For whom the road tolls

So only days after Gordon Chong got caught by Royson James musing about the necessity for road tolls to fund Ford’s much-ballyhooed Sheppard subway, the mayor shut down the idea. “It’s nonsense,” he said. “I don’t support road tolls.”

(Later, Ontario’s Environment Commissioner would champion the idea of road pricing in a report. “We need to reduce the number of single-passenger vehicle trips in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area,” he said.)

Ford’s unwillingness to consider road pricing isn’t surprising. At the very least, however, Chong’s suggestion of tolls seemed to trigger a bit of reflection from other councillors about the reality of the transit funding situation. Even the Ford-allied Peter Milczyn, who chairs the Planning & Growth committee, told the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale and Paul Moloney that “development charges are not going to pay for a subway.”

The transit debate continued at City Hall on Monday, as the Planning committee debated two motions relating to transit on Sheppard and Finch.

Over at his blog, Steve Munro does a hell of a job with a blow-by-blow recap of the meeting:

Councillor Joe Mihevc (former TTC Vice-Chair) argued that avoiding discussion now would lead to a finished product being presented for an up-or-down decision with no time for debate or public input.  He argued that people affected by the cancellation of Transit City want input into alternative plans now.  Stintz replied that Metrolinx is running a series of meetings regarding the Eglinton line, but what these have to do with service on Sheppard and Finch is hard to fathom.

As the debate continued, it was clear that Stintz was being too clever for her own good by trying to treat work-to-date as not part of “Transit City”.  This is an example of the gyrations through which Mayor Ford’s team will go to warp history to fit their agenda.

via Think About Transit on Finch and Sheppard, But Not Yet | Steve Munro.

Munro’s summary suggests that Stintz, even as TTC chair, still isn’t playing a significant role in defining the future of transit expansion in the city. It’s not overly surprising that she wouldn’t be able to provide concrete answers on the future of “Transportation City” given that, a couple of months ago, the mayor surprised her by floating the idea of a new subway line on Finch.

So what next? Nobody really knows. Chong has since backpedaled on his earlier comments, telling the CBC that “tolls would be one of the last things that would be considered” to fund subway expansion. He says he’ll have a business case for the privately-funded Sheppard project in a few months. They’ll get some P3 money from the feds, most likely, but that will amount to less than a quarter of the needed funds.

As for Finch? Buses. Fancy buses, maybe. I’d suggest painting a racing stripe on the side to make them look faster.

May 11

When will council get to vote on transit plans?

As part of the last council meeting, Councillor Janet Davis brought forward an administrative inquiry, asking several pointed questions about the supposed ‘death’ of Transit City, the new transit plan cooked up by the province and the mayor’s office, and the TTIL organization headed by Gordon Chong.

City Manager Joe Pennachetti penned a response to Davis’ inquiries and, though its rather light on detail, the document does contain confirmation of something that’s been an open question since this whole transit mess began: council does indeed get a vote on this. Ford cannot act unilaterally.

Pennachetti outlines several areas where a council vote will be required. First, council must officially adopt the memorandum of understanding signed by the mayor and the province:

The TTC is not a signatory to the Memorandum. The Memorandum is a non-binding framework for the negotiation of agreements to be approved by Council. Therefore the Mayor signed the Memorandum as indicating his desire that the parties give consideration to the new Transportation Plan. Any agreements to implement the Memorandum will require Council approval.

Council will also get to debate and vote on any financial penalties that arise from the cancellation of contracts relating to Transit City:

Any liabilities associated with the agreements necessary to implement the provisions contained in the Memorandum will be set out in the report or reports seeking Council approval.

Lastly, council will also have to approve any funding arrangement drawn from the Federal Government’s P3 fund:

It is anticipated that any federal P3 funding agreement will be conditional on Council approval.

So council must vote. The question still lingering is when will council vote? At the very least, why hasn’t the memo outlining the new agreement between the city and the province/Metrolinx — which was released in March — come before council for approval? What’s the delay?

May 11

Ford will have to institute road tolls to pay for promised subway

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

It will likely take new road tolls and congestion charges and other revenue tools to help deliver “the biggest transit deal in North America, or perhaps the world,” says the man hired to pave the path toward the $4 billion Sheppard Subway.

As such, claims that the private sector will step in and build the line on their own are not realistic, says Gordon Chong, ex-city councillor, ex-chair of GO Transit, ex-TTC commissioner and now chair of the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd., the dormant investment arm of the transit company.

via James: Ford’s subways will require tolls and grants –

In other words: this subway will never happen. Not with this mayor.

The sad part of all of this is that road pricing is a good and necessary thing. It’s an inevitable part of every major urban centre in this country finally getting their financial shit together.

But road pricing to fund a subway extension on Sheppard is a terrible idea. It’s the kind of thing that dooms tolls and congestion charges to the same dustbin of political third rails that currently houses photo radar, religious school funding and the Ontario NDP.

Here’s why: there is no report anywhere that shows projected subway-level ridership on Sheppard. Not now and not decades from now. Not enough people want to ride this train. It’s a black hole, dooming the TTC to spiralling operating costs for little network benefit.

The worst part is that this isn’t a case where Ford traded one far-off, conceptual transit plan for another. The Sheppard East LRT — an alternative that would have provided rapid, high-capacity transit for a quarter of the cost of the proposed subway, and covered more kilometres — was under construction. It would have opened before the next municipal election.

We traded real, shovels-in-the-ground transit for magic, private-sector beans. And now this administration must reap the results.