Posts Tagged: john parker


22
Feb 12

Without Just Cause: Gary Webster gets fired

As expected, the TTC board formally released General Manager Gary Webster from his contract yesterday after a 5-4 vote. This is widely regarded as a dumb move.

The Globe & Mail’s Marcus Gee:

Mr. Webster is being fired just days after a public meeting in which he spoke his mind, in the most calm and respectful manner, about his views on the best way to expand Toronto’s transit network. Those views differ sharply from the mayor’s.

Firing him now reeks of spite. It confirms what many people already feel about the mayor’s blunderbuss, my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing the city. It conflicts with the mayor’s pledge to cut waste. Firing Mr. Webster only a year and a bit before the end of his contract could cost the city $500,000 and more.

Worse, it sets a dangerous precedent that could intimidate the other leading public servants who advise the mayor and city council on public policy.

via Shameful firing further alienates Mayor Ford | The Globe and Mail.

In addition to the cost and the dangerous precedent this sets, this move is ridiculously hasty and ill-timed. Even Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has acknowledged that it doesn’t make sense to fire the most important civil servant at the TTC when you have no workable strategy for replacing him. The commission will likely spend a year (or more) trying to find a permanent replacement, through which time management will undoubtedly suffer due to a lack of leadership.

Webster was going to retire in a year anyway. Instead of just waiting that out, the city gets to dole out $500,000 in severance payments, deal with a difficult period of managerial change and — oh yeah — live with the consequences of being a crappy employer with a reputation for firing people without just cause.

There’s no way to sugar-coat that last part. The motion passed at the meeting was clear: Webster was fired without just cause. For no reason.

The timing of this also sucks for Ford’s policy ambitions — assuming he has any left. Had the mayor waited and made a move against Webster later this year, this would have felt a lot less petty and vindictive. He would have been able to retain more support from allies, especially as council as a whole would have moved on from the contentious LRT/subway debate and onto other issues. As it is, Ford’s move to oust Webster has only hardened the conviction of previously “mushy middle” councillors who have spoken out against his agenda in recent months. Worse, it’s also put significant strain on the loyalties of at least three councillors who had been, up until recently, critical and vocal supporters of the mayor’s agenda.

There’s no political calculus that says firing Gary Webster was worth potentially alienating Karen Stintz, John Parker & Peter Milczyn. Without those bedrock supporters in the chamber, Ford can’t even dream of getting to 23 votes on any significant agenda item. Without strategy and without allies, Rob Ford continues to cast himself into irrelevance.

“This mayor is not one that unites people”

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney & Mike Spears, quoting the current budget chief:

“The message is not good,” said Councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt). “This mayor is not one that unites people. He has thin skin. Those that don’t agree with him aren’t going to last very long.”

via Soknacki retiring from politics | Toronto Star.

Sure, Del Grande was speaking about another mayor in another time (in 2006), but stripped of context his point will always be a good one: mayors should unite people. A mayor who fails to unite people is not very good at his job.

Criticize David Miller all you want — despite protests from some, he never saw a civil servant fired like this, without just cause and with such vindictiveness — but he was a hundred times better at uniting councillors in favour of a common agenda than Rob Ford has proven to be.

On the Defensive

In a parallel universe, the same group of citizens who gathered at City Hall yesterday to defend the career of Gary Webster could have easily spent a day criticizing his performance as TTC chair and demanding improvements. They could have made a list of a hundred things that Webster and the TTC should be doing better.

That’s not an indication of hypocrisy or political bias. It’s just one of those weird truths that come about when you’ve got a mayor who takes a damn-the-torpedoes approach to governance. By attempting to tear down and destroy, Ford puts his opponents into a perpetual defensive position. Nuanced viewpoints give way to a simple desire to preserve. Opposing Rob Ford these days generally means working to prevent programs, services and people from being tossed into the trash.

It is a shame, because nuance is important. Transit City isn’t a perfect plan. Gary Webster wasn’t a perfect manager. There’s room for improvement and innovation across every city department. But council hasn’t been able to work on the things that lead to improvement and innovation because they live in a constant state of defensive readiness. The entire political discourse in this city is dominated by strategy designed to preempt and contain the damage coming out of the mayor’s office.

Council wasn’t able to contain the damage yesterday. Webster’s career is over. But this story continues.


20
Feb 12

Down with Webster: Ford to spend half-million dollars because transit GM disagrees with him

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Rob Ford either doesn’t understand the basic principles of good governance, or he doesn’t care to be guided by them. Neither do Norm Kelly, Cesar Palacio, Frank Di Giorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, or Vincent Crisanti—the councillors (and TTC commissioners) who signed a petition yesterday calling for a special meeting to oust TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

via In Service to the Public Good, Not Mere Power | Torontoist.

At a special meeting of the TTC on Tuesday, those five councillors — in service to the mayor — will likely endorse spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to release Webster from his contract. The TTC will then presumably spend untold amounts of money and time conducting a search for a replacement.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars — respect-hungry taxpayer dollars! — flushed down the toilet all because Webster refuses to bend facts and figures to placate Rob Ford’s imaginary subway plan.

Webster’s great sin is providing evidence in support of a transit plan adopted by a strong majority of councillors earlier this month.

I’d never argue that Webster has been exemplary in his role as transit manager — the TTC is not without its problems — but he has presided over record ridership growth, new vehicle roll-outs, a vast expansion of new technologies like stop announcements and NextBus and design plans for the largest expansion of rail transit Toronto has seen in several decades. There’s a lot to be proud of.

Former GM David Gunn told the Toronto Star this weekend that Webster will be a hard person to replace:

At some transit agencies, Gunn said, senior management has been “rolled over and over” so many times for political reasons that only political people end up running the agencies, which he says require significant technical and operational expertise in addition to business or administrative acumen.

“They’re creating a situation where it is going to be difficult to have a very serious transit manager,” Gunn said. “Certainly they’re going to have difficulty replacing Gary, somebody of his quality.”

via TTC’s Gary Webster would be tough to replace: David Gunn | Toronto Star.

It’s clear, however, that Ford doesn’t necessarily care about qualifications. In fact, I’m not even sure that the mayor knows what he wants. Strategy coming out of the mayor’s office these days is mostly foolhardy, haphazard and ad-hoc. No one is thinking long-term. There’s no consideration of the three years ahead or the terrible precedents move like this set.

This decision appears to be entirely motivated by spite and cruelty, and not by any desire to improve management at the TTC.  Rob Ford realized he couldn’t fire Karen Stintz from her role as TTC Chair, so he’s firing someone else instead.

No Strategy

It’s hard to see this as part of a cunning plan by the Ford administration. What does the mayor expect to happen? Sure, he can oust Webster and a few other managers, but council can easily respond by dissolving the TTC board and reappointing councillors more agreeable to approved transit plans. Ford can’t expect to maintain any power or influence if he continues pissing everyone off.

If he actually wants to continue to have any influence on the transit file, Ford’s only real strategic move is to strike a conciliatory pose. He should turn back toward a compromise path. But he won’t do that. Even in the face of overwhelming reason, he won’t do that.

As it is, his latest move will serve only to further alienate allies like John Parker, Karen Stintz and maybe even Peter Milczyn. It will plunge council into another episode of procedural chaos where tensions run high and nothing gets done. And after all that, Ford will inevitably end up having little say in choosing Webster’s successor.

And none of this will impact the thing Ford’s really mad about. The light rail plan endorsed by council and accepted by the province will continue to move forward.

Who are the Ford Five on the TTC?

The TTC commission is currently made up of nine councillors. Five of them have signed the petition calling for a special meeting on Tuesday. Assuming that Maria Augimeri, John Parker, Chair Karen Stintz and Vice Chair Peter Milczyn vote against firing Webster, that makes for a 5-4 result.

Ford retains narrow control of the TTC only because these five councillors have seemingly dedicated themselves to following the mayor into the flames:

Vincent Crisanti is a first-term councillor who won his seat in Ward 1 by 509 votes, narrowly beating the incumbent by less than two percentage points. He’s voted with the mayor 97% of the time on major items, deviating only once on a matter relating to Community Environment Days.  Crisanti has distinguished himself by fighting tooth and nail against bringing higher order transit to his ward via the Finch West LRT.

The Finch West LRT has repeatedly been endorsed by the president of  Humber College. In 2008, the Emery Village BIA — located in the ward adjacent to Crisanti’s — indicated that “community response was unanimous in support of the LRT system.”

Frank Di Giorgio is a 90% Rob Ford supporter, though he’s been trending upwards in his support in recent months, while the rest of council has gone the other way. He won his seat, which he’s held on-and-off in various forms since 1985, by 422 votes or 3 percentage points. He voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times.

Di Giorgio has been most outspoken in the lead-up to the special TTC meeting. On Sunday, he told the Star’s Brendan Kennedy that it made sense to fire Webster because the mayor’s mandate matters, implying that the will of council is essentially irrelevant:

Di Giorgio said the responsibility of the city’s bureaucracy is to follow the will of the mayor and achieve the objectives set out by his mandate, which TTC managers have failed to do.

“We’re trying to eliminate some of the problems that surfaced over the last month that should not have surfaced and need not have surfaced.”

via TTC transit chief Gary Webster may not be only one to lose job: Di Giorgio | Toronto Star.

In 2008, the Toronto Environmental Alliance awarded Di Giorgio an A+ grade for his commitment to green initiatives, citing him as their “most improved” councillor. They noted his support for things like studying the teardown of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, implementing the Land Transfer and Vehicle Registration Taxes and beefed up waste diversion targets.

Since then, Di Giorgio has become a Ford-backing councillor who has supported closing libraries, rescinding the ban on the sale of bottled water at city facilities, eliminating bike lanes, backing off on the city’s tree canopy goal and killing Community Environment Days.

Funny how things change.

Norm Kelly has been in various offices since the 1980s, once serving as a Parliamentary Secretary under Pierre Trudeau. Under David Miller, he voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He has since become a 100% supporter of Rob Ford. In the wake of council’s vote on transit, Kelly implied that the province would be justified in ignoring council’s decision and deferring to the mayor.

Denzil Minnan-Wong is another Rob Ford stalwart at 100%. However, he differs slightly from Norm Kelly in that he expressed a desire for the mayor to accept council’s transit decision. “Council spoke and you just move forward,” he told the the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat. It’s unclear how firing the general manager figures into moving forward on this issue. Minnan-Wong supported Transit City at least four times between 2006 and 2010. He was absent for the other recorded votes.

Cesar Palacio is a 95% Rob Ford supporter. He also voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He’s decided that the litany of issues that arose with the St. Clair right-of-way project are reason enough to oppose on-street LRT, apparently working from the assumption that all surface transit projects inevitably go over budget because of scope creep, NIMBYism and nuisance legal cases.

 


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 →


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.


25
Jan 12

Council builds a new transit plan: the pros and cons

Toronto Star: Proposed New Transit Plan

That happened quickly. We got word last night that TTC Chair Karen Stintz’s musings about an above ground Eglinton LRT have given way to a full-blown alternative transit plan. One that’s significantly different from the scheme Rob Ford and Metrolinx have been pushing for the last year.

The Globe & Mail’s Elizabeth Church:

A compromise is in the works to relieve Toronto’s transit headache for the new Eglinton light rail line and fulfill the mayor’s election pledge for a Sheppard subway extension.

A group of Toronto city councillors that includes TTC chair Karen Stintz is proposing that the eastern leg of the new Eglinton Crosstown line run at street level as first planned with the money that saves used to extend the Sheppard subway two stops to Victoria Park. The proposal also would use some of the money to improve TTC service on Finch Avenue West with a dedicated transit corridor.

via Compromise would bring leg of Eglinton LRT back to street level | Globe & Mail.

The Toronto Star’s version of the story includes a helpful map, though it leaves out the coming Spadina subway extension for some reason. I’ve included their graphic at the top of this post.

So: Surface LRT on Eglinton East. A stubby extension to the already stubby Sheppard Subway. And a long Bus Rapid Transit line on Finch. Details are light, but — like with anything — there are some notable pros and cons to this plan.

PRO: This is a plan that’s actually sensible and realistic. It’s a design that serves riders, not the whims of a man with an irrational bias against transit he can see while he’s driving.

CON: Ignoring the fact that it was thrown in as an offering to the mayor, there doesn’t seem to be a strong business case for the one- or two-stop Sheppard extension included in the plan. The Star’s David Rider and Tess Kalinowski peg the cost of that extension at $1 billion, which seems like a high estimate considering that was the cost of the entire Sheppard East LRT, a 14 kilometre route.

PRO: The LRT, as planned as part of Transit City, would have required a similar underground connection to Victoria Park, because there’s a highway interchange standing in the way. In terms of design, a subway extension doesn’t greatly differ from what we would have seen under the original plan, and still leaves the door open to a future LRT line on Sheppard East from Victoria Park to the zoo….

CON: …or ANOTHER subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre. Without a firm long-term plan for transit in this corridor, Toronto risks spending another twenty years endlessly debating what to do on Sheppard. Meanwhile, other parts of the city that are crying out for transit infrastructure go neglected.

PRO: Finch finally gets some love. One of the most horrifically overcrowded transit corridors in the city, Finch needs something — anything — that can help provide higher order service.

CON: The ‘busway’ concept planned for Finch seems rather poorly defined. Rider and Kalinowski peg the cost at about $400 million, for a route that looks to be more than double the length of the 11km Finch West LRT. That LRT line was to cost about $1.2 billion, three times as much. The low cost-per-kilometre makes me wonder how much we’re sacrificing: is this ‘BRT’ just going to be some painted lines on the road or is the plan to build something robust enough that it can be easily converted to light rail in the future? More details are desperately needed here.

PRO: A return to the surface alignment on the eastern section of Eglinton opens the door to further on-street extensions of the line westward toward Pearson Airport. Over time, we may just get the kind of comprehensive network of LRT routes once envisioned with Transit City.

CON: On-street operation on Eglinton East means that the TTC and the City’s transportation department desperately need to get their act together when it comes to route management and transit signal priority. Staff tend to come up with an endless list of excuses for why the streetcars on Spadina and St. Clair continue to bunch up. But we don’t need excuses on Eglinton — we need a transit line that runs well.

PRO: With support from councillors like Karen Stintz, Josh Matlow and John Parker, this alternative transit plan will most assuredly sail through council. Both Dalton McGuinty and reps from Metrolinx have said they’re on board with exploring a new plan. Given growing political support for switching up Toronto’s transit plans, the mayor would have to be completely out of his mind to stand in opposition.

CON: The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba reports that Mark Towhey, Ford’s Director of Policy, has indicated that the mayor does not support any changes. “Residents don’t want trains running down the middle of the street,” he said. Right.

PRO: Despite the questions and concerns on the table, this rethink is very welcome. Blowing $8 billion on a single transit line is the kind of bonehead decision that haunts a city for decades, similar to building an escalator to nowhere or the world’s largest magnifying glass. Going forward, the thing to watch is that we don’t jump from one half-baked plan to another. Council has to make sure that what they’re proposing is realistic, cost-effective and timely.


21
Dec 11

What the hell is happening with transit in Toronto?

Transit Plan comparison: Before Ford versus With Ford

Rob Ford has screwed up transit in Toronto. We can endlessly debate the merits and impacts of the mayor’s budget policies, but nothing compares to the long-term damage he’s done on the transit file. In less than a year, Ford has taken a fully financed and designed plan for multiple transit lines in the suburbs and replaced all of it with an overpriced half-baked tangle of transit ideas, all in various incomplete stages of funding and design. In doing so, his administration has set transit expansion back by a decade and replaced near-certainty with gobs of doubt. Thanks to Rob Ford, no one is really sure where transit in Toronto is going.

Ford’s undemocratic transit meddling comes with an estimated price tag of $65 million, most of which will go toward paying various contractors and manufacturers to not do the work they were originally supposed to do.

Keeping track of Rob Ford’s transit strategy is an exercise in frustration, as no one is forthcoming with information and nothing has come to council about any of this. To the best of my knowledge, here’s where thing stand.

Eglinton Crosstown LRT

The one Transit City line that still has a beating heart, Eglinton represents, in its current incarnation, both a vital piece of infrastructure and a massive waste of public money. Writing for Spacing, John Lorinc called Ford’s unilateral decision to build the entirety of the 19 kilometre line underground the “single most expensive infrastructure mistake in Toronto history.”

Here’s why: there’s no ridership projection, traffic model or any other kind of reasoned analysis that shows a cost-benefit for burying the eastern section of the line. No one has made an argument in favour of burying this section of the line that doesn’t boil down to “Rob Ford hates above ground transit.” But that’s not a sensible reason to make any kind of public policy decision, much less one that involves spending billions of dollars.

There is some hope that cooler heads will prevail on this one. The existence of the Don Valley — sneaky jerk that it is — has forced some public conversation about how an underground line can really work. And TTC Commissioner and Ford ally John Parker recently reiterated his support for sticking with the original Transit City design on the eastern part of Eglinton. He told the Town Crier’s Karolyn Coorsh that, as planned, Rob Ford’s Eglinton Crosstown line will be “the goofiest LRT line known to man.”

The TTC now pegs the open date for Eglinton at 2023, a minimum three-year delay over the original window of 2019 or 2020. The money we’re set to spend to appease one man’s irrational bias against surface rail could fund major transit infrastructure improvements on key corridors like Finch West.

Sheppard Subway Extension

There is no plan to extend the Sheppard Subway in the near-term. It will never happen. Former Councillor Gordon Chong, hand-picked by the mayor to bring the dream of the privately-funded subway to reality, has come clean, admitting that private partners are only likely to fund 10-30% of the overall project cost. And we can’t even know that for sure unless we spend another $10 million on further analysis.

Ford’s Sheppard gamble always felt like a face-saving decision. His original transit vision called for the outright cancellation of the Eglinton line, funnelling all resources into extending Sheppard at both ends. When the province told him this wasn’t likely to happen, both sides compromised.

Somewhat inexplicably, Ford has stuck to his guns on the long-term viability of the project through his end-of-year interviews with various media sources. Citing federal money that was committed to David Miller several years ago for the Sheppard LRT, Ford told the National Post’s Chris Selley and Natalie Alcoba that we could see shovels in the ground on Sheppard in 2012. Sure.

Finch West

N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

When plans shifted away from Transit City, Finch West — a horrendously busy bus route — was left with nothing but  a vague commitment to “Enhanced Bus Service.” No one ever indicated what that meant, and further details now seem entirely unlikely. Finch West was actually one of the routes proposed for service cuts under the TTC’s original plan to roll back the Ridership Growth Strategy in 2012. Fortunately, thanks to some commendable wrangling from TTC Chair Karen Stintz, we got a stay of execution. Council will get a chance to permanently preserve service as part of their budget debate in January.

The Way Forward: Calling for a new consensus on transit

As we learn more about the long-term implications of Rob Ford’s transit vision, it seems more and more like this all amounts to something resembling the Port Lands fiasco from this summer. There, Ford backed a short-sighted vision for a major city asset that really didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Once the public started pushing back, councillors who tend to support the mayor started to question whether Ford had things right.

The rest is history. At the eleventh hour, Ford backed a face-saving compromise that saw council unanimously back a way forward for the Port Lands. And while there’s still a lot of questions about the implications of that new consensus, it’s a hell of a lot better than what would have happened otherwise.

Is a Port Lands-style consensus possible with these transit plans? Early indications are good. Aside from Ford, very few councillors expressed strong objections to the on-street operation of Eglinton and other Transit City routes when they were first proposed. And there’s certainly an appetite for more transit in more places, which is what we’d get if council rejected Ford’s all-underground scheme for Eglinton and reverted to something resembling the Transit City plan.

The important thing is to position any changes as a compromise, and to leave room for the mayor to save face. As much as it might be fun to see Rob Ford utterly defeated as Transit City rises from the ashes, we’re far more likely to find a successful way forward with a compromise strategy that integrates elements of Transit City with new vision for transit. That vision could include a small subway extension (to Victoria Park), a tweaked plan for surface LRT service on Finch & Eglinton, and even bus rapid transit — any and all things that can meet our goal of moving more people more efficiently.

This isn’t optional. Letting Ford’s transit vision move forward unimpeded will only amount to a waste of time and money. In 2012, council must be given an opportunity to debate these issues and get transit planning in this city finally and permanently back on track.


6
Dec 11

Karen Stintz and Rob Ford’s TTC problem: there are too many riders

In 2002, the average Toronto resident paid $128.71 on their property tax bill to support TTC operations. In terms of net funding, transit came sixth, lagging behind Police, Housing, Fire, Debt Charges & Social Services. Per capita, transit’s level of financial support was barely above Transportation Services — the department responsible for building roads and maintaining highways. Annual ridership that year was 415 million, down four million from the year before.

By 2011, that same average Toronto resident was now paying $337.95 to support transit. The TTC had transformed into a top priority, now following only the police as the largest recipient of net municipal spending. Ridership this year is estimated at 497 million. The TTC has added almost 100 million annual riders over the last decade.

This wasn’t accidental, nor is it an example of out-of-control spending. In 2003, the TTC launched a Ridership Growth Strategy, which was approved by council in 2004. (Voting against: Mike Del Grande, Doug Holyday, Norm Kelly, Giorgio Mammoliti & David Shiner. Rob Ford was absent for the vote.) Representing the first major public investment in transit since the 1980s, the strategy — even if never completely implemented — has seen ridership grow to levels never before seen in Toronto’s history.

More notably, this ridership growth proved resilient even in the face of a weakening job market. What the RGS was successful in doing was creating a climate where more people relied on transit as a primary means of getting around the city. Last year’s TTC budget report described this phenomenon:

Over the long-term, changes in City of Toronto employment levels have tracked quite closely to to TTC ridership changes … However, starting in 2009, City of Toronto employment starting to drop but ridership continued to grow. Only in recent months (January 2011) have employment levels reflected growth over the same period in 2009.

Favourable weather conditions last winter and economic uncertainty for riders have undoubtedly contributed to these strong ridership results. The large service improvements implemented in late 2008 have also prompted the growth as the service on the street more closely matches the service hours of the subway, giving riders far more choice in transit options.

via 2011 TTC Operating Budget (PDF). (Emphasis Added)

The RGS proved that there’s no voodoo required to get people onto transit vehicles. It’s not about marketing campaigns or slogans or incentives. Instead, it’s a fairly simple equation: more spending on more service equals more riders.

For you and I, this might seem like all good news. If these one hundred million trips per year weren’t made by bus, streetcar or subway, a good chunk of them would be made in single-passenger vehicles. Cries of “gridlock” would be even louder. Air quality would be worse.

But for Rob Ford and TTC Chair Karen Stintz, these high levels of TTC usage represent a huge budgetary hurdle, second only to the Toronto Police Service’s continued levels of spending in terms of complexity and overall burden on the City’s Gross Operating Budget.

To save the kind of money Rob Ford wants to save, some of you need to stop taking the TTC.

A Brief History of Transit Travel

The generally accepted narrative is that the TTC was humming along nicely — and affordably — until Mike Harris’ provincial government swooped in and cut all provincial funding for transit. There’s truth to that story, but it’s an incomplete truth. The reality is that both the province and the city spent the 1990s gradually reducing their respective transit subsidies.

After record high ridership in 1989, ridership began to fall with the Toronto economy. (Two prolonged work stoppages in 1989 and 1991 didn’t help matters.) As ridership fell, so too did public investment in transit, which in turn only caused ridership to decline further. This vicious cycle continued until 1997, when Harris pulled the plug on his share of the subsidy altogether.

Ridership actually sort of recovered following the Harris cuts, but the TTC’s mandate at the time was to improve efficiency, not ridership, and so the gains were a secondary outcome, and ridership was still a far cry from where it was in the late 1980s. It wasn’t until the TTC and City Council made a conscious decision to investment in transit to build ridership that the TTC was able to recover out of its prolonged funk. And while this increase was undoubtedly helped along by external factors — the price of gas, the economy, Toronto’s condo boom — the correlation between the implementation of the RGS and ridership growth is hard to ignore.

What 2012 will do for transit in Toronto

The 2012 budget notes for the TTC lay things out clearly. Referring to the change to loading standards as Major Service Impacts, the document reports that “the TTC will be reversing service improvements implemented by the Ridership Growth Strategy to surface vehicles, causing more crowding and offering less- frequent service on approximately 50 routes during peak periods and 60 routes during off-peak periods.” The change will result in the elimination of 171 staff — most of them drivers — and cause, over the course of the next year, 3.7 million people to opt out of taking trips with the TTC.

Stintz has defended this move, despite it also coming with a fare increase. She released an open letter that makes the following claims: “…you will see minimal change to your bus schedules in January. In most cases changes will be minimal, measured in seconds, not minutes. Some service will be added to some routes in January. No TTC route will be cut. Our system remained intact this March when we told Management to not cut routes. Our system will remain intact in 2012. This does not change the need for funding to preserve service.”

None of these things are particularly true. Talking about “seconds, not minutes” in terms of scheduling is misleading, because what we’re really talking about is having fewer vehicles on the streets picking up people. Some service will be changed on some routes in January, but far more service will be removed. The system did not remain “in tact” in March, especially as many of the promised “service reallocations” never materialized this fall.

She’s right about the last part, though: we could always use some more money to preserve service.

TTC Commissioner John Parker tried to play down the 2012 changes, writing on Twitter that TTC service standards will only be affected “to the extent that we revert to service levels in effect in 2004-05.” But the TTC had 80 million fewer annual riders in 2004. Trying to cram today’s ridership into 2004 service levels is like trying to cram ten pounds of crap into a five pound bag.

It’s easy to hand wave these service reductions. That whole “times are tough – what’s a little extra crowding on a bus going to hurt anyone?” thing. But in real terms, what we’re seeing in 2012 is the reversal of a longstanding successful policy to build transit ridership through public investment in service. By doing so, we threaten to go back on all the progress made over the past decade, setting off a chain reaction where we’ll continually cut spending as service and ridership decline.

These transit cuts are only necessitated, by the way, because Rob Ford is sticking to an arbitrary 2.5% property tax increase for 2012 and refusing to consider using some of the 2011 operating surplus to balance the coming year’s budget.

As always with transit, this is about priorities.


15
Sep 11

The Port Lands vote: the first significant defeat for the Ford administration

Updated Sept 16, 2011 — 9:27 p.m. The Toronto Star has now reported that Michelle Berardinetti and Karen Stintz are likely ‘no’ votes. I’ve also moved Frank Di Giorgio to the ‘maybe’ column. The remaining 15 ‘yes’ votes are the most bedrock Ford supporters, so I don’t expect to see much change from this point onward. It’s obvious at this point that the item as originally presented is doomed. The mayor’s office must now scramble to find a face-saving compromise motion.

A quick update on the voting chart from last week:

Lots of movement on the chart: previously up-in-the-air Councillors Colle, Bailão, and Lee were switched to presumed ‘No’ votes. Councillors Berardinetti, Lindsay Luby and Parker have been re-listed as questionable votes after sources indicated they are all feeling rather conflicted about things.

The big news, though, is Councillor Jaye Robinson who, despite sitting on the mayor’s executive committee, announced that she would not be supporting the Ford-driven item to seize the Lower Don Lands and Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto. This is an important development not only for waterfront watchers but for council as a whole, as it severely weakens the mayor’s ability to obtain a majority going forward.

It remains to be seen whether this is only a minor blip in the relationship between Councillor Robinson and the Mayor — which has always felt a bit awkward and forced, she a rather centre-left type with an interest in the arts and he an iconoclast with a hate-on for government programs — or a significant sea change. How the mayor’s office responds to this outburst of independent thinking is the thing to watch. (When former councillor Brian Ashton, as an executive committee member, voted against one of Mayor David Miller’s key items, Ashton was quickly cast into the wilderness and removed from the committee.)

The Fords now face a looming council vote that looks very challenging for them to win. With 22 likely ‘No’ votes, their only hope is that all of the remaining available votes go their way without any absences in the chamber when the bells ring. This is a very unlikely scenario.

Councillor Peter Milczyn — a Ford guy — has been rather frank about their failure on this one. He told the Toronto Star’s Royson James that this “blew up in our faces” and, also, that “there is egg on our faces for allowing this.” Their collective faces have definitely seen better days.

So what happens now? It’s unlikely the item will make it to vote when council meets next week, unless something drastic or daring happens. Expect a deferral motion or another stall tactic to send this to staff for further study. A 1,333-word epic of an email from Milczyn’s office appears to lay out a future compromise that would see Waterfront Toronto and the Toronto Port Lands Company work together to review the collective plan for the Port Lands. Why TPLC needs to be involved at all is a fair question at this point.

It continues to amaze me just how many political missteps the mayor and his brother are making these days. There were probably dozens of workable strategies that would have resulted in the technical and contractual changes necessary to wring more value for the city out of Port Lands development. None of those strategies involved the councillor from North Etobicoke trotting out to the media with visions of a giant ferris wheel and an honest-to-god plan for a monorail. What kind of political strategy is that? What kind of meeting ends with everyone agreeing that the answer is sending Doug Ford out there to really wow ‘em with some razzle dazzle?

Despite all this good news, I will caution that nothing is set in stone and a lot can change in the week ahead. Keep watching CodeBlueTO for further updates, and — if you haven’t already – sign the petition.


24
Jun 11

What we talk about when we talk about Jarvis

At yesterday’s meeting of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, while discussing Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s new bike plan, Councillor John Parker moved an amendment to kill the bike lanes on Jarvis Street.

Here’s the text of Parker’s amendment:

City Council rescind its decision related to the bicycle lanes on Jarvis Street.

via Agenda Item History – 2011.PW5.1.

Council will debate the item at the July council meeting. If approved by a majority of council, the lanes will be removed.

No Justifiable Reason

I’m going to have lots to say about this over the coming weeks, but let’s get some stuff out of the way. First, the big one: as far as city planning, traffic engineering and economics go, there is seemingly no justifiable reason for removing the bike lanes on Jarvis.

The city’s own numbers tell the story. Since the lanes were installed, traffic levels for cars has remained at the same level as previous. Travel times increased by about two minutes in the morning, and three to five minutes in the afternoon. If that latter figure seems a tad high, staff agree, and are taking steps to correct it:

Much of the increased travel time could be attributed to the delays and queues experienced at the Jarvis Street/Gerrard Street East intersection, particularly in the northbound direction during the p.m. peak period.

The introduction of an advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction at this intersection, scheduled this summer, will reduce the delays at this intersection and the overall travel times between Queen Street East and Charles Street East.

via Bikeway network — 2011 Update. (pg 17)

Most notable, however, is that the total number of vehicles (cars + bikes) using the road in both directions during daily peak eight hour periods increased from approximately 13,290 to 14,180 after the installation of the lanes. 100% of this increase comes from bikes.

In other words: a $63,000 one-time investment in infrastructure increased the daily utility of a Toronto roadway by about 7%. That’s an incredible value-to-dollar ratio.

This isn’t some hippie pinko gut-based opinion. This is black-and-white fact. The Jarvis Street bike lanes aren’t preventing people from moving through the city. They’re enabling people to move through the city.

Let’s ignore cyclists in this debate

But, on this issue, we might be best to ignore cyclists. I have a very real concern that if we let this debate spiral into the same tired car-versus-bike war we’ve seen a dozen times before, bikes will lose. And lose bad.

Rob Ford car-friendliness isn’t just a part of his character. It turns out it’s also what drives some of his most bedrock support. In a post at OpenFile yesterday, John Michael McGrath took a look at an academic paper by doctoral candidate Zack Taylor at UofT, which laid out the strong correlation between people who commute by automobile to work and those that supported the mayor:

The other strong predictor in Taylor’s paper was car ownership and use. No surprise, the man who ran against “the war on the car” picked up the support of Toronto’s most car-dependent areas. “Toronto isn’t the only place you’re seeing this happen. Once you own a car, once you experience the street as a car—a car driver—you experience anything that impedes you as an annoyance,” says Taylor.

via Why suburban motorists voted for Ford, and why this is news | OpenFile.

If the Jarvis lanes are simply held up as a key battleground in the ever-ongoing war between cars and bikes in the city, Rob Ford likely still has enough clout on council and enough popular support to kill the lanes. It’s as simple as that.

You bike guys had your way with the previous council, they’ll say, but things are different now. We have to give the people what they want.

What Jarvis Street means

Jarvis Street was, for much of Toronto’s history, a place for Toronto’s well-off. One of the richest thoroughfares in the city, it was lined with trees and huge mansion homes setback from the roadway. To illustrate, BlogTO’s Derek Flack compiled a beautiful-then-sad series of images that sets the scene.

Spacing’s Shawn Micallef described the old Jarvis in an Eye Weekly column as “once the most beautiful street in Toronto” that “has been reverse-gentrified and turned into a fat arterial traffic pipe between North Toronto and downtown.”

The widening of Jarvis street and the installation of a reversible centre lane — one that flowed south in the morning and north in the evening — immediately changed the character of the roadway.

During the first debate over what to do with Jarvis, a local resident told the National Post’s Allison Haines that “many consider Jarvis Street to be a freeway and it’s not – it’s a downtown city street.”

Yes, Jarvis is a downtown city street. It’s a street with numerous homes — and more coming, with a recent condo proposal for the once-thought-uninhabitale Dundas intersection — businesses and institutions. The National Ballet School calls the northern part of Jarvis Street home, as does a public high school and a large downtown Toronto park and conservatory.

The Jarvis bike lanes were not part of the original plan to revitalize Jarvis Street. The thought was to instead improve the pedestrian realm with wide sidewalks and landscaping. The idea was that the street would look like this:

 

via Jarvis Street Streetscape Improvements Class Environmental Assessment Study (2009) pg 13

That may have been a better option in the long-term than what we got — further improvements to the streetscape on Jarvis seem to have stalled out after the bike lanes were installed — but the two approaches carry one thing in common: both called for the removal of the reversible fifth lane.

Removing that lane under any context was a huge win for Jarvis Street.

It’s unclear at this point whether Parker’s motion means that the fifth lane will be reinstalled if council approves his amendment, but it is important that councillors understand that Jarvis Street about far more than just travel times. It is a downtown city street with all that entails: a place for people to live, learn and work.

Any further discussion about what to do with Jarvis must take that into account. It is not and should never be again thought of as a mere urban arterial, where speed is king, and nothing else matters. Not only does that sort of argument shortchange the growing number of people who call the area home, it also ignores the huge economic impact a revitalized Jarvis could have.


6
Jun 11

City ends 2010 with $88m surplus, but no one’s finding fault

Let’s play compare and contrast.

Here’s the Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney, on a recently discovered surplus found on the city’s 2010 books:

The final tally of the city’s books shows there’s an extra $88 million available to reduce next year’s budget gap.

The year-end report for 2010 shows higher revenues and lower costs than had been projected in September.

City finance staff are recommending that the $88 million be used to reduce the $774 million hole in the 2012 operating budget rather than put the money into capital repairs.

via City ended 2010 with $88M surplus – thestar.com.

Now here’s Royson James, writing for the same paper, in March 2010, criticizing Mayor David Miller for announcing that the city had discovered an approximately 100 million dollar surplus on the city’s 2009 books:

But it raises many questions about how the city manages our money – it seems able to “find” massive sums of cash, almost on demand, while crying poor.

Surpluses are obviously better than deficits – cities can’t run a deficit, by law – but budget integrity suggests you levy the amount of money you need to run city services. And if you took more than you needed, maybe you give it back, not continue to raise taxes.

via James: How did a city that’s broke find $100 million? – thestar.com.

Around the same time, the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba interviewed a number of Miller’s council opponents, who piled on the bandwagon that claimed a discovered budgetary surplus indicates poor fiscal management:

“I’m still trying to get my head around the whole notion of finding $100-million,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre).

“The credibility of the budget is worn fairly thin. I worry by the time it reaches council they will have found more money under the sofas and desks at City Hall,” said Councillor Brian Ashton (Scarborough Southwest).

via Analysis: The looming battle over David Miller’s $105-million surplus – Posted Toronto.

And the venerable Toronto Sun’s Antonella Artuso talked to the mayoral candidates, who at the time were mostly all pretending to be right-wing budget hawks — not yet understanding that the real key to success as a right-wing budget hawk candidate is repetitive slogans and yelling –, getting more of the same type of reaction:

“That means one of two things – that they overtaxed us or they’re incompetent and don’t understand how to do math,” candidate Rocco Rossi said of the shifting surplus.

“He will not be the mayor then… now he’s making next year’s budget on the back of an envelope, the same envelope that he’s used to figure out this year’s budget,” Smitherman said.

Councillor John Parker said it’s always nice to find money but he wondered why city finance officials didn’t know about it.

“I see that as nothing to be proud of,” he said.

via Miller playing budget games: Critics | Toronto Sun.

Of course anyone who takes a second to think about it understands why these surpluses happen. The city’s budget is, in many cases, little more than a collection of informed estimates. They estimate how many people will ride the TTC, how much fuel the city will use, what the cost of building materials will be, and so on. Plus, revenues from the land transfer tax are highly variable; the city has no way of accurately knowing how many homes will sell in the city in any given year. Essentially, they just guess.

The difference between this year and last year, of course, is that where Miller made a big show of announcing the surplus at a media event, Ford hasn’t gone on record with a comment about this year’s extra money. You have to assume this is largely because he can’t take credit for a 2010 budgetary surplus. This was forged before he was mayor.

Still, though, I wonder if the same critics will continue to throw barbs should this sort of thing continue into the coming budget year.

Related: Not all budgetary news is good. The TTC is facing a shortfall of at least $39 million. Steve Munro has an excellent analysis of the numbers. It would appear that we’re cruising toward a fare increase. And those promised increases in service we were promised following the recent route cuts? Don’t hold your breath.