Posts Tagged: sheppard subway


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 →


3
Feb 12

No Sheppard Subway without road tolls, new taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seems pretty convenient.


1
Feb 12

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

Council Scorecard: Likely Votes on Eglinton Overground (Updated)

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

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

So Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard wrote a letter today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Scorecard: How A Transit Vote Might Go

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

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

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

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

Unstoppable Force Meets The Immovable Mayor

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

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

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


30
Jan 12

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.


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.


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.


18
Aug 11

Ford administration demonstrates total incompetence with transit file

Mayor Rob Ford has proven himself almost entirely incompetent when it comes to transit policy and planning.

That’s the only conclusion I can come to after learning the details behind the mayor’s meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty. Early speculation had it that the meeting — held early yesterday morning — would be about potential uploading and cost-sharing strategies to mitigate the city’s 2012 operating shortfall, but that actually ended up as seemingly only a small part of the agenda. The real dominating topic, at least according to media reports, seemed to be the mayor’s plan to expand the Sheppard Subway west to Downsview and east to Scarborough Town Centre. While Ford had expressed nothing but confidence throughout his first eight months in office that he would be able to build the extension solely with funds from the private sector, it became clear today — when the mayor asked for some $650 million in provincial funds for the project — that that confidence has been shaken.

Here’s the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba:

Mayor Rob Ford insists his prized Sheppard subway extension will be built, but he needs the provincial government to put up $650-million sooner, rather than later, to help make it happen.

Mr. Ford issued his plea to “accelerate” provincial funding in order to nail down money from Ottawa during a closed-door meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty on Wednesday, before he goes into full provincial campaign mode.

This is not the first time Mr. Ford has acknowledged that government money is required to tunnel under Sheppard. But his demand of the province betrays a more urgent tone, with critics noting that the private sector won’t jump on board a major transit project until the public sector is committed.

via Ford pushes McGuinty for subway funding | National Post.

The only way to read this is as a tacit admission that the Sheppard subway plan, as it’s been explained to us for months now, is a total pipe dream. Private companies are not going to roll the dice on a low-ridership transit line with limited opportunities for residential and commercial development when the public sector won’t sit at the table with them. The Sheppard Subway deal, as pitched by Gordon Chong and the rest of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited, is a high-risk, low-reward affair, and they’re trying to sell it in the face of a world economy that is fraught with peril and bad news stories.

That the plan isn’t workable isn’t a surprise. But yesterday’s events, which all add up to a public indication that the mayor might actually be wrong about something, are definitely interesting. Rob Ford is not one to readily admit his own mistakes.

How Rob Ford might cost the Toronto more than $300 million in committed transit funding

The numbers behind Ford’s request to McGuinty tell a fascinating story of their own. In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and McGuinty emerged from a streetcar at a TTC maintenance shop and announced joint funding for the Sheppard East LRT, which was to be the first line constructed under former mayor David Miller’s Transit City plan. That line was to cost about $950 million, with the province kicking in about two-thirds of that figure, leaving the federal government to pick up the rest of the tab.

When McGuinty agreed to roll over all Transit City funds into the new transit plan announced last March, the province’s portion of the Sheppard funding got moved over to the now all-underground Eglinton LRT. It would now appear that the mayor’s office made an oversight with the remaining federal funds — which total more than $300 million — and they now risk losing them.

In short, the federal funds for Sheppard will expire if they’re not used by 2014. They seemingly can’t be moved over to projects. And the kicker: now that the province is providing no money for any transit project on Sheppard — ostensibly at the mayor’s own request — the agreement between the federal government and the city may be rendered entirely invalid. Without the province’s share of the cost, the federal money won’t flow without a new deal.

It seems likely that between the three levels of government, something will be worked out and the federal contribution for transit expansion won’t be lost. But that this administration has even put themselves in a position where we risk losing that money is demonstrative of their continued inability to effectively manage the transit file.

It’s worth noting, as always, that the Sheppard East LRT would have opened before the next municipal election, improving the daily commute for thousands of Scarborough residents and providing the basis for a network of light rail transit lines across suburban Toronto.

No talk of uploading for TTC operating?

Notably not part of today’s conversation between McGuinty and Ford, according to media reports: the potential uploading of a portion of the TTC’s annual operating costs. Ford’s silence on the issue is conspicuous, especially in light of an item, passed 41-1 with the mayor in favour at the July council meeting, calling for a reinstatement of the previous “fair share” funding agreement for transit, which saw the province pick up half the cost of the TTC’s annual operating budget.

Actual analysis of the City of Toronto’s budget from the mid-1990s until now reveals that the downloading of TTC operating costs onto the city — a ‘gift’ from Mike Harris — correlates with the beginning of Toronto’s budget problems. A return to a 50/50 agreement with the province would wipe out almost all of the so-called structural deficit facing the city.

But why would the mayor want that?


2
Aug 11

Listening to Toronto: On Transit

One Toronto taxpayer has a bold idea to pay for transit in Toronto

Respondent 2-625 has ideas for public transit in Toronto. Big ideas. “We could hold the first North American Electric Motorcycle Race,” writes the Toronto taxpayer. “These bikes are fast.”

Pushing for a world class racetrack up at Downsview Park, the respondent indicates that a private sector partner — like “Apple or RIM” — would sponsor a subway station connected to the race track that would host “world events in our backyard” with fast bikes and cars and so on. This, it’s said, is a “potential goldmine.”

“I can see it now,” he or she concludes,  “no more boring expensive walkways to the train, I see a walkway that brings your senses alive before you watch million dollar cars race for the day.”

Out with the boring, bland walkways in our transit system — in with the racetrack-adjacent walkways that bring your senses alive.

Let’s hear from Toronto

Earlier this year, the City of Toronto embarked on an extensive public consultation process as a precursor to a planned Core Service Review. Over 13,000 people filled out an online survey while hundreds attended public meetings held across the city. Unfortunately, soon after the data gleaned from this process was released, high-ranking members of Mayor Rob Ford’s Executive Committee dismissed it as irrelevant. The sample was “self-selected,” said one councillor.

And, sure, okay, maybe it would be a stretch to call this data statistically sound, but it still represents the collective opinions of thousands of Torontonians. Isn’t that, by its very nature, something worth considering? Something worth exploring?

I think so, and that’s why I’m doing this: over the next few weeks, I will write brief summaries of all eleven of the Core Service Review qualitative reports. These reports contain thousands of comments written by the citizens of Toronto on a variety of topics. Today, we start with transit. (The numbers refer to the survey question, followed by the response number. All data is anonymous.)

Duh, Transit is important

Seems obvious, but let’s start here: Of the 13,000+ responses, 4,569 reported public transit (or something related to it) as one of the most important issues facing our city in 2011. Many were colourful with their description of the problem. Respondent 1-9’s major issue is listed as “Public transit sucking hard.” 1-306 writes “We need more public transit now!”  2-64 just writes “TRANSIT!!!!!!!” Respondent 1-509 despairs over “the rising price of TTC and the terrible service they provide,” while 1-621 is rather forceful with the belief that “the TTC is the worst transit system of any major metropolitan area in North America.”

The prevailing trend is that people are tremendously protective of the TTC and the role it plays in our urban lives, but, also, simultaneously, they despise it with the fire of a thousand suns. Customer service is noted as a major issue. Respondent 1-2404 lists, as a top issue facing the city, “seemingly deliberate, rude, ornery, poor service among TTC [and other] employees.” 3-20 points out “when you’re paying ever increasing fares on the TTC and dealing with service disruptions, filthy stations and (some) rude staff, the combination is really unappealing.”

Cost comes up a lot, with many decrying the service as already unaffordable.”The TTC relies too heavily on service fees,” says 3-79. “[It’s] to the point where the fares are completely unaffordable to those on a limited income.” 3-19 makes the case for young people in the city, writing that “$120 is a lot for a Metropass right out of university when you work part time at Indigo and have to pay $700 for a basement apartment.” 2-863 makes a strong point, and is one of many who links the cost of transit to the cost of car ownership, writing “I pay 80% of my bus trip, how much of a car trip is paid for by the user?” (The actual TTC fare box recovery ratio is closer to 70% than it is to 80%, but let’s not split hairs.)

Expansion? Yes! How? That’s up for debate!

The word “expansion” appears hundreds of times in the document, with most agreeing that more service to more places is a good idea. Less universal are opinions on where that expansion should occur, and what form it should take.

There are a ton of voices opposing the mayor’s transit ideas and calling for a return to a more David Miller-esque vision. “MORE TTC SERVICE – MORE LIGHT RAIL (EFFICIENT)…LESS SUBWAYS (COSTLY)” writes 1-355. 1-490 concurs, saying that the city shouldn’t be “building subways when LRT is much cheaper.” 1-591 worries about “borrowing 4 billion to build a useless subway” while 1-640 asks that we be “promoting realistic public transit – not the destruction of it as outlined by Ford.”

On the other side of the fence, there’s 1-469, calling for “Building subways, not high speed railways or light rapid transit.” 1-79 asks for “Decongestion of traffic, ie. via delivering promised TTC Subway extending past Morningside Ave. on Sheppard.”

All in all, responses tilt away from the Sheppard plan, with only a few mild supporters in the bunch. The fabled Downtown Relief Line gets a number of mentions, with 2-1172 calling for “Subway expansion, specifically the Downtown Relief Line NOT Sheppard!” Respondent 2-807 points out that “Downtown subway expansion such as the downtown relief line is essential prior to any extension of the Yonge line into York Region.” Otherwise, the response continues, “Torontonians will be waiting on platforms watching trains full of York Region residents pass them by.”

An overlooked piece of the transit expansion debate also emerges, as many call for better TTC service to Pearson airport. 2-509 sums it up best: “What kind of major city doesn’t have subway or above-ground train to its airport in the year 2011?”

The Ford Nation appears? Killing streetcars and privatizing transit

Response 1-509 lists their top issue facing the city in 2011 as “streetcars-replace with buses.” Similar calls are echoed throughout the report, though they are ultimately a minority voice. Response 2-3762 calls for a “move from streetcars to electric buses in downtown core.” Many indicate a belief that streetcars only make traffic worse (2-319). “Streetcars suck,” writes 2-1135, “I’m happy Ford is removing this stupid Light Rail idea and adding more subways…more! More!”

Another vocal minority calls for the contracting out of bus routes or the complete privatization of the TTC. 3-571 says “if you can find somewhere to contract out TTC services, somewhere that does not use a a bloated union and employees are earning outrages salaries for regular jobs, I say do it.” Much of this desire stems from a belief that TTC workers are overpaid. Respondent 3-96 believes the “salaries of TTC workers should be cut…all TTC workers have inflated salaries.”

Fighting traffic congestion with transit

The big takeaway, expressed by hundreds of people in this document, is the common belief that traffic congestion can be solved with more public transit. Response 4-505 proclaims that “Toronto is choking on traffic,” but adds that the “solution cannot be more roads.” 3-237 says that “we need to set up our city as a walkable, and transit-able city. We can’t support the traffic we have now and as the city grows it is only going to get worse.”

There is significant support amongst respondents for new revenue tools for transit, primarily road tolls and congestion charges, though many ask that they only apply to 905 residents who come into the city. Respondent 4-401 echoes a common sentiment: “Our services are used by thousands of 905ers every day who don’t necessarily contribute to paying for them.”

We’ll let 4-327 have the last word: “Congestion is ridiculous and the answer is not widening roads and providing more capacity. The answer is is providing higher order transit and alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle. Rethink your priorities please, Mayor Ford.”

Which is a fair enough point — especially considering at least one member of Ford’s Executive have gone on record with their belief that more roads will solve congestion issues –, but still, I’m thinking we should just circle back to the beginning and really work out a strategy for funding transit with electric motorcycle racing. Those bikes are fast.


22
Jul 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A joke! That’s great.

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

There’a also this, from the same article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Will Nobody Stop Fords’ Folly? | SteveMunro.ca.

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