Posts Tagged: karen stintz


6
Feb 12

Council revives Transit City as opponents run out of fresh arguments

Transit City Opponent Bingo

Transit City’s back.

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

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

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

How we got to the LRT

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

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

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

The Next Station

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

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

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


1
Feb 12

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

Council Scorecard: Likely Votes on Eglinton Overground (Updated)

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

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

So Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard wrote a letter today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Scorecard: How A Transit Vote Might Go

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

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

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

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

Unstoppable Force Meets The Immovable Mayor

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

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

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


30
Jan 12

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

Retro Council Scorecard: Transit City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things are different now.

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

How council endorsed Transit City at least seven times

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

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

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

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

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


30
Jan 12

Toronto’s Transit Future: Responding to Rob Ford

On January 26, several days after TTC Karen Stintz mused openly about making substantial changes to current transit plans, Mayor Rob Ford made his first public statement on the subject. That statement was then quickly retracted because it was riddled with embarrassing factual errors, including a claim that the TTC had been building subways for 100 years. Toronto didn’t open its first subway line until 1954. The original message also claimed some degree of support for the underground plan by the Pembina Institute. To which Pembina quickly retorted: nope. (The original version, via Jonathan Goldsbie, is here.) On January 28, a revised version of the same message was posted to the mayor’s Facebook page. I decided to respond to it.

All quoted text via Rob Ford’s Weekly Report – week ending January 27, 2012.

Dear Friends,

Mr. Mayor! Hi. Sorry about how things have been going for you lately.

From 1910 to 2007, the City of Toronto has based its transit planning around subway lines (built or anticipated). It is now time that we get back to this sort of transit planning to make certain residents will continue to have rapid transit as a mode of commuting.

This is more historically accurate than your original claim that Toronto’s transit system has been based on subways for 100 years. But pointing to 1910 as the year the city started basing its transit planning around subway lines is still a little fishy. While a mayoral candidate that year did support subway construction, he was defeated. On New Year’s Day in 1912, the people of Toronto rejected the possibility of a Yonge subway line when it was put to ballot. The city didn’t get serious about subway construction until 1946.

It’d probably be more accurate to say that, historically, Toronto based its transit planning around streetcars. The TTC once operated a network of streetcar routes that crisscrossed the city, including very busy ones on corridors that later became part of Toronto’s subway system.

And it’s not like we’ve stopped looking at subways, either. There’s a subway extension to York University (and beyond!) currently in the works. And the Downtown Relief Line, which can only be heavy rail subway, is a critical infrastructure project for this city that deserves far more attention than it gets.

For the past 50 of those 100 years of planning transit around subways, the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines have continually served as arteries that take in thousands of people each day from near-by surface routes and get them to their destinations quickly.

No argument there. They’re great.

But just for the hell of it, here are some numbers you might find interesting: 714,000. 495,000. 48,000. 39,000. Those were, in 2010, ridership counts for the Yonge subway, the Bloor-Danforth subway, the Sheppard subway and the Scarborough RT respectively. The latter two figures are comparable with — and in some cases lower than — several bus and streetcar routes.

We are now at a juncture where we must expand on our established transit infrastructure to ensure people can continue getting to where they want to go in a fast and efficient way.

Great news! Glad that whole war on cars thing is over.

As you know, I have continually pushed for an underground LRT that will span from Jane/Black Creek to Kennedy Station. I have done this because residents have repeatedly stressed that they do not want streetcars that are marginally faster than busses and take up lanes of traffic. Lastly, it is important that Scarborough, the fastest growing region in Toronto, is finally provided with a rapid transit line that can help move its 625,000 residents faster.

Well, sort of. In your mayoral campaign, you pushed for no transit improvements on Eglinton at all. You told a crowd at a debate held at York Memorial Collegiate in September 2010 that the Sheppard Subway was “all we can afford.”

We’ll get to the speed of light rail transit (or ‘streetcars’ as you kind of derisively call them) later on, but let’s focus on the idea that you’re just doing what the people want you to do.

In a January 2011 Leger Marketing poll, taken at the height of your popularity, only one in four people believed that we should build subways because it’s what you promised during the election. One in four! Considering you won the election with just under half the popular vote, it’s probably reasonable to say that only about half of your base — of Ford Nation — saw your subways plan as an important driver of their support.

In the coming days you are likely to hear some comments from City Hall that will suggest we should go back to Transit City. Proponents will argue that Transit City is an effective way to get around Toronto. I argue, however, that the best way to move people across Toronto is with rapid transit – which you simply cannot have with the surface rail lines.

Sure you can. Speed is a function of design, not technology. Our subway system averages about 30 kilometres-per-hour across the whole system, but that figure is a lot lower if you look only at the downtown section, where stations are close together and the trains have to wait longer at stations due to crowding.

Similarly, speeds on the eastern part of Eglinton were designed to be a bit slower than they would have been on the western part, even though both were to be surface rail. In fact, the part of Eglinton that was to venture into Ford Country in Etobicoke was planned to run at speeds roughly equivalent to the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Metrolinx estimates that the average trip for a rider will be reduced by half on the underground Eglinton Crosstown. Scarborough transit riders on an underground line could travel from Laird Avenue to Kennedy Station in about 14 minutes. This is a vast improvement from the estimated travel time of 24 minutes on a surface rail line.

That feels a bit disingenuous. That section of the line had at least four more stops to service when it was on the surface. If speed is the priority, it’s well within your mandate as the mayor of Toronto to talk to Metrolinx about tweaks to the design that can achieve that. (By the way, here’s what’s decidedly not within your mandate: unilaterally deciding to spend $2 billion dollars to bury a section of rail track on Eglinton Avenue.)

And, even then: transit is inevitably about trade-offs. Does reducing travel times by ten minutes for some commuters justify leaving 50,000 riders on the Finch bus with no improved service?

It is also important to remember that an underground rapid transit line has considerable savings for taxpayers. Underground lines and the vehicles that travel on them require less maintenance since they are spared the wear and tear of Canadian summers and winters. This will result in infrastructure that lasts longer and keeps the capital replacement costs down.

Pretty sneaky, but I’m not sure this holds up. With underground transit, maintenance costs are mostly folded into operating expenses — after you or I take the last train home at night, the TTC lets loose with a phalanx of maintenance staff who work in the subway tunnels to keep things running smoothly on an ongoing basis. Our existing on-street rail, on the other hand, tends to be maintained through sporadic work paid for via the capital budget.

It’s hard to make direct comparisons between ongoing maintenance and operating costs and TTC budget data isn’t overly helpful in helping calculate costs.

Still, let’s look at an obvious cost advantage surface rail has over underground: when you run on the surface, you don’t need station infrastructure. This eliminates a number of ongoing expenses, including cleaning, security, building maintenance, heating & cooling, landscaping, and so on. A 2007 study that looked at station operating costs across 12 different transit systems (including Toronto’s), pegged the annual cost of a transit station at anywhere between $150,000 and $4.3 million. The median cost was about a million dollars.

But even ignoring station costs, let’s be charitable and say that putting all of Eglinton underground will save us $5 million per year over the long term. At that rate — ignoring interest — it would take only 400 years for your $2 billion investment to pay off.

The people of 2412 will thank you for your foresight. And then they’ll fly to work using their jetpacks.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thanks. You too.

P.S. Hey, wait, isn’t it weird that, only a week ago, you were talking about how the city couldn’t afford to spend $5 million to keep bus routes operating and now you’re out in public arguing that we shouldn’t skimp on transit?

Just thought that was kind of funny. Anyway, take care.

P.P.S You have no chance in hell of winning a vote on this issue.


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.


23
Jan 12

Eglinton LRT resurfaces as Karen Stintz breaks with the mayor

The Globe & Mail’s Adrian Morrow:

Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

“If the decision is to go with an LRT, it should be at-grade,” she said. “If there’s a decision to put it underground, it should be a subway.”

via TTC head favours surface LRT on suburban stretch of Eglinton | Globe & Mail.

At this point, this issue seems to have enough critical mass to make some serious waves at council. I don’t believe the mayor would win the resulting vote if he worked up the courage to ask council to endorse current transit plans.

Morrow states rather emphatically that “any rethink on the [Eglinton] line, however, would lead to further delays.” But a report by the Star’s Tess Kalinowski disagrees: “if the TTC returned to the original environmental studies for surface LRT – part of former mayor David Miller’s Transit City plan – there would be no delay.”

For what it’s worth, Steve Munro seems to agree with the Star. Last week, he speculated that the province “wants to keep their options open as long as possible depending on whatever position Council eventually takes.” Because, for them, not having to do new design work for the tunnel and stations along the eastern section should actually save time and money. And with an in-median route, there’d be no question about how to deal with those sneaky goddamned valley crossings which are vexing the hell out of engineers.

The best — and most obvious — outcome of all this would be for council to endorse moving the eastern section of Eglinton back to the surface and using the savings (which should approach anywhere from $1 billion to $2 billion) to build some form of higher order transit on Finch West. The LRT design for that corridor is sitting on a shelf somewhere and it wouldn’t take much to put those wheels in motion once again. (Last year, David Miller described reactivating the project as like flicking a switch, which is probably overly simplistic. But not too far off.)

Still, there’s reason to be concerned that we’ll just go from one goofy transit plan to another with this move. In her interview with Kalinowski this morning, Stintz floated the idea of using the savings from un-burying Eglinton to build the mayor’s desired Sheppard extension.

Not only does the Sheppard subway offer far less in terms of cost-benefit than the Finch route — any subway extension will add way more to long-term operating costs than surface LRT –, such a move would also seem to require the city to renegotiate the agreement they made with the province last year with their Memorandum of Understanding.

In that memo — which famously was never approved by council, even though it was supposed to be — the province pegged their maximum contribution to the Sheppard project at $650 million. And they said that the money would only materialize should Metrolinx come in under budget on the $8.4 billion Eglinton project. (This past summer, the mayor sat down with Dalton McGuinty to try to get him to release that money ahead of schedule. The premier, more or less, told the mayor to get bent.)

But Rob Ford can be stubborn, and reports out of the mayor’s office are that he’s not shown much willingness to compromise on his Sheppard Subway campaign pledge. Trying to get the province to agree to devote more funds to Sheppard is likely to cause further undue delays as things get sorted out. Meanwhile, riders on crazy overcrowded bus routes will continue to suffer.

Another reason to worry: there’s a small-but-terrifying chance that the province — which is flirting with big-time austerity measures at the moment — may seize on this debate as a golden opportunity to decrease their total financial commitment to transit in Toronto. Queen’s Park has to be getting nervous about their capital commitments beyond 2015, when the bulk of this spending is due, and a fractured and indecisive council is only going to embolden Metrolinx to swoop in and start tinkering with Toronto’s transit plans.

So here’s the plea to council: get the transit file in order soon. Find a plan that works for a strong majority of people across Toronto and that fits within the current funding envelope. Then tell the province, unequivocally, that this is what Toronto needs.

Then just build the damn thing.

 

 


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.


17
Oct 11

Catching Up: Provincial Election Fallout, TTC Customer Service, Library Cuts & Budget Blues

After nine months of episodic thrills — Public Housing Chicanery! Disappearing Bike Lanes! Marathon Meetings! A Waterfront Under Attack! — the loud political drama that has surrounded Mayor Rob Ford since he took office last year seemed to finally quiet down last week. The only thing to really come out of City Hall was a committee decision to ban the sale of Shark Fin. Which, sure, is a good thing, from what I can tell, but it’s hardly an issue rich with intrigue or nuance. It’s simply good news for sharks.

So I decided to take last week off from blogging.

But just because shark fins were the only major thing up for debate at City Hall doesn’t mean there weren’t rumblings of larger stories to come. Here are a few jumbled thoughts on the bigger stories from the past seven days.

Provincial Election Fallout

Ford did a mini media-tour on the morning after the provincial election, going so far as to stop by the CBC studios to speak to Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway. The results of the provincial election — a complete Tory shutout in Toronto — can realistically only be seen as a major defeat for the Fords and their agenda, but the mayor still came out with his own spin on things.

The National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

Mr. Ford met with the three major party leaders during the campaign but did not endorse anyone. During the radio interview, the Mayor dismissed any suggestion the Progressive Conservatives’ inability to crack through the 416 may have been a repudiation of his approach to balancing the books.

“Not at all. Last time I checked, we never had a seat, Tories never had a seat, my name was never on the ballot… I’m getting a lot of support, people are saying stay the course,” said Mr. Ford. “I’ve worked well with Mr. McGuinty. He helped us make the TTC an essential service and we’re not going to have strikes anymore…we have a great working relationship.”

via Liberal minority government ‘excellent’ for Toronto: Rob Ford | National Post.

The spin is, of course, kind of lame, but there’s actually a bit of truth to what Ford’s saying: his October 2010 victory did hinge on the support he got from voters who wouldn’t describe themselves as conservative or even right-leaning.

He got that support because his major platform plank wasn’t conservative or right-leaning.

Here’s the thing about all that stop-the-gravy-train, spending-problem-not-a-revenue-problem stuff: it all rested on the premise that there wouldn’t be service cuts. Ford wasn’t preaching good, right-wing austerity and the elimination of social programs. He was calling for the status quo, only cheaper. People believed in that. They voted for that. But, in return, they got the same conservative, let’s-cut-everything governance they had roundly rejected in the past.

And that’s why the mayor is unpopular.

Improving customer service while cutting actual service

TTC Chair Karen Stintz announced a “customer service liaison panel” and an upcoming Town Hall meeting as the first step toward improving customer service on the TTC. This is incredibly boring news.

Steve Munro points out that trying to improve customer service while cuts are moving forward that would increase overcrowding on transit vehicles — thus providing worse service in general — seems kind of ridiculous:

What nobody mentioned is that most of these recommendations address problems of communication in a broad sense, but the report is silent about system management and service quality.

There has been no discussion of the service implications of the budget cuts beyond the general policy change in loading standards — we don’t yet know which routes and time periods will be affected, or how much more crowded they will be.  Chair Stintz stated that the proposed cuts, in detail, would be part of the budget process at the TTC and Council.

via More Icing, Less Cake (Updated) | Steve Munro.

I don’t think you need to have a big discussion to determine that riders don’t like it when their bus driver is rude, and that they especially don’t like when their bus driver is rude and their bus is late. Customer service suffers on the TTC when service itself suffers.

Major cuts to Library Service

While Ford took branch closures off the table — finally –, library cuts are still very much on the table for the 2012 budget. And they’re significant.

The Toronto Star’s Raveena Aulakh:

Closing libraries was suggested by consultant KPMG some months ago. Ford backed down after an unprecedented public outcry led by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. But the mayor left the door open to a reduction in operating hours and other cuts.

Now the cuts are here:

•An almost 30 per cent reduction in the number of hours that neighbourhood branches will be open on Sundays.

•At least 25 neighbourhood branches losing some morning service from Monday to Saturday.

•Nearly 20,000 fewer open hours from Monday to Saturday.

•Two research and reference libraries will lose two mornings each.

•A reduced acquisition budget, meaning more than 106,000 library items won’t now be bought.

via Toronto library services face cutbacks | Toronto Star.

In an edition of the National Post Political Panel from earlier this year, Post columnist Chris Selley noted that “Ford told the Post in a sit-down interview that closing a library on a Sunday, never mind entirely, constituted a major service cut in his mind.”

So: this would be a major service cut. Do you think Rob Ford will oppose these staff recommendations, which were made to meet his edict that departments reduce their budgets by 10%?

$774 million is wrong. So wrong. Incredibly wrong.

That $774 million figure — the purported budget shortfall for 2012 that leads us to apocalyptic budget scenarios and 35 per cent tax hikes — was always BS. This is continuously confirmed by reports coming from city staff, who can’t help but point out that there are significant revenues that have come in or will come in from the 2010 and 2011 budget years.

Here’s the latest, via The Star’s Paul Moloney:

In a report to the budget committee, finance staff project the tax windfall and cost cuts mean there will be a $139.3 million surplus left over at the end of this year. That’s money that will make it easier to balance the 2012 budget.

The large surplus results in part from a hiring freeze and other cost-saving measures, but most comes from the higher tax haul.

via City headed for $140M surplus thanks to tax Ford wants to scrap | Toronto Star.

“City headed for $140M surplus thanks to tax Ford wants to scrap” is a great headline.

Ford’s allies were quick to dismiss this news, arguing that we shouldn’t use one-time funds to plug systemic budget issues. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told a group of his constituents that “We’ve got to make balancing the budget repeatable and accountable every single year without a provincial bailout or pulling a rabbit out of a magic hat.” The budget chief echoed that: “You should use one-time surplus money for one-time expenses. The problem for the city for a long time has been the use of one-time monies to balance the budget. We can’t get back into that trap.”

And, yes, I suppose, in a perfect world we’d have budgets that balanced without prior-year surplus dollars, which would allow us to put the surplus dollars in reserves and save them for a rainy day. But we don’t live in that world. And the only alternative we’ve been shown so far to using these one-time funds to get us through 2012 is to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from programs that people seem to value a lot.


5
Oct 11

Transit City, rise from your grave! (Or, at least, let’s build something on Finch)

On Councillor Josh Matlow’s radio show this week, the councillor half-wondered if the Transit City plan could be resurrected, given the recent flavour of council, which has shown a willingness to go against the mayor.

NewsTalk 1010’s Russ Courtney:

Matlow says transit advocates believe that because the mayor has been forced to alter his agenda the time could be right to return to the plan scrapped by Rob Ford after taking office.

“They smell blood in the water, says Matlow. “They’ve seen the Mayor not win every single vote. They’re wondering if this is an opportunity to revive Transit City from the dead.”

“Any discussion about whether or not (Transit City) get revisited would be done in conjunction with Metrolinx,” said TTC chair Karen Stintz.

via NEWSTALK 1010 – IN-DEPTH RADIO :: Matlow Wonders If Transit City Could Rise From the Dead – Local News :: Local News Stories.

As John Michael McGrath over at OpenFile notes, Stintz’s response on the issue is surprising, because you’d expect an outright denial and instead she side-stepped.

Reviving Transit City — and by Transit City at this point we mean the surface/underground alignment for the Eglinton LRT, the Sheppard LRT, and the Finch LRT — is challenging, but not so far outside the realm of possibility. Given construction timelines, switching the plan for Eglinton back to surface operation on the eastern and western edges of the line is doable. That said, I’m not sure Metrolinx — who has positioned the crosstown as a regional line with future links into the 905 — would be eager to accept yet another change to the plan.

I get where Matlow’s coming from, though. Given council’s newfound enthusiasm for rejecting the mayor’s most unworkable ideas, a council debate on the current transit strategy is warranted. We’ve been promised a council vote on these issues for months now. Even if the idea of reviving Transit City doesn’t come to the forefront, a thorough look at the mayor’s quest to privately fund a Sheppard Subway extension deserves scrutiny.

Remember, there’ still $300 million in committed funding from the federal government for transit on Sheppard. No one is entirely sure where that’s going. Attaching those funds to a Sheppard Subway extension that probably won’t ever happen is a waste. Applying that cash where it’s needed — say, on Finch West, in the form of light rail or a bus rapid transit project — could provide immediate, transformative benefit to an overcrowded corridor.