Posts Tagged: sheppard subway

Jun 11

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

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

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney:

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

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

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

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

via Sheppard subway cost soars –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Councillor Ford guarantees Sheppard Subway | Toronto Sun.

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

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

Jun 11

Executive committee moves to cut out the private sector

The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy writes about a decision made by the Executive Committee on Monday following an amendment by Councillor Mike Del Grande:

[Del Grande] proposed that city officials start to phase out the capital loan guarantees once they expire — and not continue to roll them over again. He also suggested once the Waterfront’s Corus building sells and their $128 million outstanding loan is repaid, the maximum of capital loans given out be limited to $125 million in total. Both motions were approved by executive committee.

“We’re not in the business of providing loan guarantees,” Del Grande said. “It is not a core activity… simple as that.”

Added Mayor Rob Ford: “I don’t think we should be in the business of loaning money … we’re here to deliver services, I think that’s what banks are for, to loan money.”

via Toronto’s $449-million loan groan | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Phasing out loan guarantees would impact the financial situation of institutions like the Evergreen Brickworks, Artscape Wychwood Barns, Ricoh Coliseum and, after 2020, BIXI.

Ford says that the city should not be in the business of loaning money which, actually, is true. The city shouldn’t and is not in the business of loaning money. What the city does is guarantee loans taken out by private companies. It’s like your parents cosigning your apartment lease when you were in college — they’re not giving you any money, but they’re on the hook if, for whatever reason, you skip town and stop paying your landlord.

That Ford and Del Grande are railing against this practice at the same time they have people working on a deal to get the private sector to pay for the Sheppard Subway is a massive contradiction. If the city isn’t going to provide capital loan assistance for a subway project, the prospects of such a plan actual coming to fruition are even dimmer than we thought.

Jun 11

Ford’s transit plan: still unapproved, still lacking

On Monday, Rob Ford’s Executive Committee briefly discussed the City Manager’s response to Councillor Janet Davis’ administrative inquiries regarding the mayor’s transit plan and the steps necessary to officially adopt his plan over the previously-approved — and started — Transit City plan.

You’ll recall that the City Manager confirmed in his response that “any agreements to implement the Memorandum [between the province and the city, regarding the new transit plan] will require Council approval.” That’s a requirement that Rob Ford has continued to ignore.

Still, Ford was defiant at the meeting, as reported by the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

“We’re working on [my transit plan], everyone is going to see it, everything is on track, pardon the pun,” Ford told reporters.

He dismissed Davis’ concern that his transit plan hasn’t been approved by council.

“I campaigned for close to a year, I was crystal clear that I want to build subways and that I was going to kill Transit City or Streetcar City or whatever you want to call it…the people spoke loud and clear.”

via Ford’s opponents try to block his transit plan | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

(For sanity’s sake, let’s just ignore the bit where the mayor seems to imply that things he perceives as popular don’t require council approval.)

While Ford did campaign for close to a year, his transit plan was not unveiled until his team released it via YouTube on September 7, 2010. A mere 48 days before election day.

Before the YouTube reveal, Ford’s comments on transit did tend to stick close to his “subways good, streetcars bad” position, but it was never a top-of-mind issue when he was campaigning. His supporters were, I’d argue, most moved by the “stop the gravy train” rhetoric. His other policy positions were background noise.

Ford’s anti-LRT position hinges on a number of incorrect assumptions. First, he wrongly believes that LRT as proposed with Transit City is synonymous with the city’s downtown streetcar network. It’s not. Second, he believes that LRT will inevitably remove road space used by vehicles. But it doesn’t. Transit City didn’t propose any loss of lanes for cars.

He also believes — and I think this is the prime motivator — that on-street LRT construction is inherently more disruptive to businesses and residents (In the campaign-era article I referred to above, he argued “Once you’re going underground you won’t affect the stores and the businesses as much as you did on St. Clair.”). Thus by avoiding on-street construction we avoid situations like we saw on St. Clair, where businesses suffered and children cried and so on.

But the mayor has never really understood that the St. Clair construction –and the recent project on Roncesvalles, for that matter — was about more than just installing a streetcar right-of-way. It was about street beautification, improving the pedestrian realm and doing necessary utility upgrades, among other things.

Now that construction for the coming Eglinton LRT has shifted underground along the length of the route — at a cost of two billion dollars — some of the same businesses Rob Ford would seek to protect by avoiding another St. Clair situation are actually complaining. Turns out they wanted the streetscape improvements they would have received with the original on-street LRT plan.

The Globe & Mail’s Josh O’Kane:

[The Eglinton light-rail line] was originally was originally planned to be a largely above-ground project, but this spring the province gave in to Mayor Rob Ford’s desire for underground transit, agreeing to fund $8.2-billion for the Eglinton line. Because it will be mostly dug by a tunnel-boring machine, there’ll be few disruptions on the ground. But at Tuesday’s meeting, there was concern that the underground project would mean no revitalization for the midtown artery.

“The street is a mess,” local business owner Arnold Rowe told The Globe. “We need improvement for pedestrian facilities … and the use of roadways.” He asked the city and provincial representatives at the meeting – TTC chairwoman Karen Stintz, Ontario Minister of Transportation Kathleen Wynne, Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle and Ward 15 Councillor Josh Colle – if there were plans to work on the street itself as part of the project.

Mike Colle said that there no concrete plans, but that he hoped the launch of the rail line would mean the “reshaping, revitalizing, improving above ground – starting now.”

via Metrolinx seeks to calm anxieties over Eglinton LRT | The Globe and Mail. (Emphasis added.)

It should be noted that underground subway construction is no picnic for businesses and residents that live along the route. Stations still need to be constructed, and stations require on-street access.

Jun 11

Doug Ford: Mayor is ‘Walking Pollster’

Patrick White has a very nice feature story on Councillor Doug Ford in the weekend Globe & Mail. Very much worth reading:

“He’s like a walking pollster,” says Doug of his younger brother. “Just imagine calling 80 to 100 people from all across Toronto hearing what they have to say. He gets this city. It really bothers me when people say this or that about him.…That guy is brilliant in his own way. Is he a brilliant speaker? Not all the time. Is he eloquent? Not all the time. But man, Rob’s my hero. Rob’s a political genius.”

via Doug Ford: Riding shotgun in the Fordmobile – The Globe and Mail.

Making political decisions based on amateur phone polling — of less than 100 people, apparently — doesn’t really seem like something to brag about, but I guess it’s worked out pretty well for him so far.

White also gets Doug talking about the plans for Sheppard Subway financing:

He’s heard a number of serious proposals already for financing the $4-billion line privately, including at least one from a Chinese firm. He insists the city should start digging with partial funding: accepting a few hundred million from the federal government, borrowing against future tax revenues (known as tax-increment financing) along Eglinton and Sheppard and diverting cash leftover from the $8.1-billion the province has promised for the Eglinton subway. “I know for a fact Eglinton won’t cost that much,” he said. “Let’s just get the shovels in the ground,” he added. “Even if we go a kilometre a year, just don’t take those boring machines out of the ground once they start going.”

So: Taking future tax revenues from development around Eglinton and applying them to Sheppard. Getting construction started before all the necessary funding is in place. Hoping that the Eglinton line comes in under budget. This, apparently, is what fiscally responsible government looks like.

Jun 11

Ford’s approval rating down, weak support for Sheppard subway

The Toronto Star’s David Rider has details on a Forum Research poll regarding municipal issues:

Asked if Ford is doing a good job as mayor, six months after his upset victory, 57 per cent agreed, down from 60 per cent in a late-February Forum Research poll. An early-May Toronto Real Estate Board survey pegged Ford’s support at 70 per cent.

As a whole, the new results aren’t great news for Ford, said Bozinoff, who said he did the poll independently to gauge opinions on civic issues.

“Ford’s support appears to have plateaued and these trial balloons being floated on how to solve financial problems, like road tolls and cutting the number of police, have no real support,” he said.

via Road tolls to pay for Sheppard subway a non-starter, poll finds –

A 57% approval rating is actually remarkably low for a sitting mayor less than a year into his first term, especially because Ford hasn’t had to make any unpopular decisions.

The big news springs from the two questions asked about road tolls. When asked if they would support road tolls to reduce traffic congestion, 43% of people approved. (With a strong majority of 58% in Toronto & East York.) On the other hand, when asked specifically about road tolls to pay for the Sheppard Subway, support drops to 35%. A loser of an idea anywhere in the city, apparently, as the mention of the subway doesn’t even draw increased support for road tolls in Scarborough, where the new subway line would go.

The full report detailing poll results is available as a PDF. Other findings:

  • Privatizing garbage collection is still popular with residents, with 52% approval. This is down 2% from Forum Research’s last poll, in February. I’m still surprised that this doesn’t poll higher. Interestingly, a majority opposes privatization of garbage in Scarborough.
  • The five cent plastic bag fee enjoys a majority of support with 52% in favour. Not sure how this squares with the populist mayor continuing to push the idea that people hate paying a nickel for a bag.
  • A strong majority — 57% — oppose “reducing the police force to help freeze property taxes.” We are unlikely to see either a property tax freeze or a reduction in the number of police officers this year.
  • A whopping 72% of people support “physically separating bike lanes from car lanes.” I wonder if this question is too vague, however. Phrased as “adding a new, fully separated bike lane on Richmond Street”, would the results differ? Either way, this is an encouraging result.
  • In the most ridiculous question in the poll, 65% express support for “having public festivals, marathons, marches and walkathons in city parks, rather than closing city streets and expressways.” This would appear to suggest that moving, say, the Toronto Marathon to High Park is feasible when, of course, it isn’t. These events don’t happen on the street just for the hell of it, but rather because they require the space.


Jun 11

For whom the road tolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11

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

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11

Does anybody really believe in Ford’s transit plan?

Councillor John Parker, who serves as Deputy Speaker and is pretty firmly aligned with Ford and Council’s conservative wing, wrote a column this week for My Town Crier, appearing in the Leaside-Rosedale print edition, where he expressed some doubt about the mayor’s recently unveiled transit plan:

There will be at least one provincial election and possibly one municipal election before we can expect construction work to begin on the projects not already designed and approved.

My prediction: Finch West will soon get improved bus service. Eglinton will get its underground crosstown line to Brentcliffe. The TTC will eventually adopt the Presto fare system and the SRT will eventually be replaced by an LRT.

But stay tuned for further debate concerning plans for Sheppard and the form of LRT service on Eglinton east of Leaside.

via More twists and turns for Toronto’s new transit plan – TownNEWS – – the online home of Toronto’s Town Crier Group of Community Newspapers.

Beyond the Mayor, his brother, and a few of their closest allies, I’ve yet to hear anyone express the opinion that a privately-funded Sheppard subway line is possible or desirable.

Related: At Council next week, Janet Davis will attempt to ask a series of questions regarding the new transit plan and Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited, the agency revived to work on securing private funding. Her questions, which could simply be referred and not answered, include everything from an inquiry about how much TTIL CEO Gordon Chong is getting paid to the million dollar query: will council ever get to vote on this damn thing?

May 11

What does the Mayor want from the Federal Government?

So the federal election happened. I’m over it. Municipal politics are way more fun and important anyway. How interesting can a government chamber be when you always know how everyone is going to vote?

But before we can move on, we’ve got to acknowledge the Ford Nation, and whatever impact it is they had in Monday night’s outcome.

Here’s what Doug Ford, presumably speaking for his brother, had to say about the results:

“What is good for Toronto is good for Canada,” Ford said Tuesday, adding that for the first time in a long time, Toronto will have a say in the federal government.

“We have a friendly voice in Ottawa right now,” he said. “We never had a voice in Ottawa for a number of years…we have numerous strong voices now to represent us in Toronto and Ottawa knows we are going to be a strong voice coming from Toronto now.

“It’s always nice to be able to pick up the phone and have a direct line to Ottawa, day in and day out.”

via Election good for Toronto, Councillor Ford says | Decision 2011 | News | Toronto Sun.

Okay — but what is it that the Ford Brothers want from the federal government? The line in the endorsement was about the Public-Private Partnership Infrastructure fund, but that at most represents a $300 million dollar commitment and isn’t going to be anything close to the magic bullet the city needs to actually make this Sheppard subway extension happen.

So what is it? What should the federal government do for Toronto? Ford had a laundry list of demands for the provincial government earlier this year. And other mayors across Canada have certainly made it clear they need more direct funding for infrastructure.

But so far Toronto’s mayor hasn’t asked the prime minister for much more than a handshake. He voted against sending a letter to the federal government that would condemn cuts to immigration services in Toronto, something that negatively impacts thousands of people, including many who supported Ford. At the last council meeting, the mayor was one of a group of five councillors to vote against asking the federal government to provide support to businesses who suffered damage or lost business during the G20 weekend.

If the mayor is so sure that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to be good for Toronto, he needs to define what “good for Toronto” is. It has to be more than token support for a P3 subway line and the meagre funding the city gets from the gas tax.

We’re facing an 800 million dollar hole in our operating budget next year and our combined capital budget requirement for transit and other infrastructure over the next decade totals into the tens of billions of dollars. Surely the federal government — who receive more than 50 cents of every tax dollar you pay — can do something about that.

Wouldn’t that be good for Toronto?

Apr 11

Provincial money for Sheppard Subway derailed by Ford’s demands

On his site, Steve Munro looks into “The Mythical Private Sector Subway” and leads off with this tidbit:

Recently, I learned that Queen’s Park had offered $2b toward the Sheppard Subway provided that the Fords would allow the eastern part of Eglinton to remain on the surface, but this was turned down flat.  So intransigent is the Mayor on the subject of incursion by transit into road space that the possibility of substantial funding for his pet project was not an option worth embracing.

via The Mythical Private Sector Subway | Steve Munro.

Two billion dollars toward a Sheppard Subway extension would likely not have been enough to ‘complete’ the existing subway line with an extension to Scarborough Town Centre — TTC estimates pegged that cost at $3.6 billion this past fall — but it certainly would have put the city in a position where some kind of public-private partnership could have been workable.

Putting this in perspective, and assuming that Munro’s source is reliable, this means that the top transportation priority from this mayor is ensuring no transit vehicle ever runs on-street. He’d rather spend an unnecessary two billion extra dollars burying a line, even if it means denying a large number of transit riders access to new, high-capacity service.

A note on in-median LRT: A few weeks ago, Ivor Tossell wrote an article for the new Toronto Standard outlet, questioning the desirability of on-street LRT:

Transit City might have been a genuine boon to its neighbourhoods. But it gave every indication of being a lousy way to get across town.

For one thing, it’s slow. Advocates like the Toronto Environmental Alliance claim that, on average, Toronto’s street-level LRTs would be only slightly slower than subways. But these numbers, like Ford’s fundraising schemes for the Sheppard line, live in the gauzily optimistic land of theory.

via Transit City’s Dead! Long Live Transit! | Toronto Standard.

It’s all hypotheticals, but I’d point out that two things. First, that if speed is (or was) a major concern on the surface sections of the new LRTs, there are far cheaper ways to deal with those concerns: elevated sections over intersections, side-of-road operation, etc. Second, it’s important to separate inherent problems with infrastructure from potential issues with line operation. Put another way: if the TTC just plainly sucks at running on-street transit, we’re better to work with management to fix that problem than we are to simply bury all future projects.

From an open house consultation regarding the Eglinton LRT, here were the proposed operating speeds of the line as originally envisioned (as found on page 12):

Eglinton LRT Operating Speed

Munro also posted a number of other interesting transit-related articles over the holiday weekend. Check out “The Vanishing Eglinton Right-of-Way“, which notes an item on the Government Management Committee’s upcoming meeting agenda that would transfer land adjacent to Eglinton to Build Toronto for eventual sale. This would close the door forever on using this land for transit. Also fun –if totally nerdy — is “Reading the Fine Print” which breaks down the TTC’s capital and operating budgets.