Posts Tagged: sheppard subway

Apr 11

Replacing the gravy train with a crazy train

Earlier this week, in response to news that board-of-one Case Ootes would approve the sale of 22 TCHC properties, the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat quoted Mike Layton. “What’s the rush now?” asked the rookie councillor.

It’s a question you could ask about a lot of news coming out of City Hall. If there’s a single unifying characteristic for the first four months of Rob Ford’s administration, rushing would be it. If you buy the mayor’s claim that the previous council was some kind of “gravy train,” this council is a train of another sort, rumbling forward at a million miles per hour, taking no care on the curves. This train moves forward even at the expense of planning, consultation or process.

The mayor rushed through the budget process, and attempted to make cuts to TTC bus routes without public consultation. Every effort has been made to avoid debate on transit planning issues, though that may change next week. We were told it was imperative that every member of the TCHC board be immediately removed, even recently-appointed councillors and elected tenant representatives.

For a recent example, take the Sheppard Subway plan. This week we learned that former councillor Gordon Chong was hired as President of CEO of Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd, the agency revived a month ago to oversee the early stages of the project. As John Lorinc with the Globe points out today, Chong was essentially “sole-sourced” into the position, bypassing the TTC’s normal process for recruiting senior executive positions.

Chong will be paid the equivalent of a $100,000 per year salary. Lorinc points out that he is “the third high-profile member of Mr. Ford’s transition team to find paid positions in the mayor’s administration.”

This kind of behaviour — rewarding supporters with well-paying positions; avoiding due process –, while it doesn’t appear to break any rules, seems surprising, given the mayor’s history. Ford once publicly accused Adam Vaughan of having a serious conflict of interest because a person who donated $250 to Vaughan’s campaign ended up appointed to a city committee. (Ford was later forced to apologize, then there was a party.)

Giving the mayor his deserved credit, I do believe that any characterization of Ford as even a little bit corrupt is nonsense. I think what drives the mayor is a casual ineptitude when it comes to rules and process, coupled with a general lack of patience.  You can see echoes of this in the stories (also by Lorinc) about irregularities in Ford’s campaign expenses. I doubt very much that the Fords attempted to game the system — it seems more likely that they simply barrelled forward, unencumbered by complicated campaign finance rules, taking the easiest path towards getting things done. Rush rush rush.

There’s an upside to the rushing. People often complain about the general lethargy of government. How nothing changes and nothing gets done. This administration certainly takes a different approach, and up until now it’s been largely effective in the broad-strokes. But a train moving this fast, and with so little regard for the rules of operation, runs the real risk of going off the rails.

Apr 11

A shrug on Sheppard

From his weekend column, the Toronto Sun’s Rob Granatstein:

The man is charge of making the business case for Rob Ford’s Sheppard subway admits the plan may never come to fruition.

“While everybody is optimistic about the building of the Sheppard subway, it could still not go,” said Gordon Chong, who is entrusted by the mayor with leading Toronto Transit Consultants Limited and putting together a business case analysis for Sheppard.

“It will either be yea or nay,” Chong said in an interview this past week.

Chong said pension funds are interested in investing and he’s optimistic, but there’s a real possibility the train is never going to hit the tracks.

via Rob Ford’s Sheppard hole: Granatstein | Rob Granatstein | Columnists | Comment | Toronto Sun.

I hope everyone who lives in the area around Sheppard East realizes that this administration just traded a sure-thing high-capacity transit line — due to open in three years! — with a roll-of-the-dice idea that no one, even the people working to make it happen, have much confidence in.

Mar 11

Sheppard subway a two (hundred)-step process’s David Nickle got Councillor Norm Kelly to talk on the record about the new Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited group (made up of Kelly, Doug Ford and former Councillor Gordon Chong) and their plans for the privately-financed Sheppard subway extension:

“It’s a two-step process,” said Kelly. “The first is to get P3 money that would fund the study, and then at the end of the study see who might be attracted to the line in the private sector – see if they agree with the numbers we come up with. We’re taking the nascent steps to create a business case.”

Kelly said he hoped to have the funding “sooner rather than later,” but would not commit to a timeline or share any theories as to how a public private partnership might work, other than to say the subway would be built by the private sector and operated by the Toronto Transit Commission.

via InsideToronto Article: Company seeks ways to privately finance Sheppard subway.

“Taking the nascent steps to create a business case” is code for “THIS WILL TAKE A MILLION YEARS.”

Don’t be surprised, though, if the federal government announces their full support for this project and funds the P3 study in the next few weeks. It would make a very good election announcement and work to build confidence that the Conservative Party cares about 416 ridings.

Mar 11

Public-private Sheppard Subway is a “dumb idea”

Stephen Wickens at the Globe & Mail talked to former TTC GM David Gunn about the news last week that he’d be coming to Toronto to help the transit agency work through the 2012 budget process. Gunn apparently doesn’t think he’ll be consulting after all:

“I think they’re wedded to this Sheppard subway public-private partnership idea,” said Mr. Gunn, who talked with Mr. Ford in January. “I’ll tell them it’s a dumb idea, but they won’t want to hear that.”

via Transit guru David Gunn says his views likely to kibosh TTC invitation – The Globe and Mail.

I’d love to hear the internal discussions surrounding the Sheppard plan right now. Are there actual true believers at City Hall, or is the hope simply that they can save face by killing time setting up committees and commissioning reports?

Reminder: we gave up a fully-funded ready-to-break-ground LRT for this. You could have been riding it in 2014.

Mar 11

Gunn in the first act

Some transit news got buried under the TCHC stuff last week, notably the story that David Gunn, who managed the TTC between 1995 and 1999, was returning to the agency as an unpaid consultant to help work through the transit agency’s 2012 budget process.

Kelly Grant and “City Hall Bureau Chief”:

Although he and TTC chief general manager Gary Webster still have to sort out final details, Mr. Gunn is expected to start the short-term gig the week of March 21 or March 28.

Mr. Gunn won’t be paid. However, the TTC would cover his expenses, including his flights, hotel and meals, TTC spokesman Brad Ross confirmed.

“We’re just preparing ourselves for 2012. Dave brings a lot of credibility. He’s one of the best transit managers in the world,” said Gary Webster, the TTC’s chief general manager.

via Former manager returning to help balance TTC books – The Globe and Mail.

Steve Munro’s post on the subject and the subsequent comment thread is good reading. Gunn was very much focused on maintaining the existing transit system at a ‘state of good repair’ and tended to be critical of expansion plans.

Notably, Munro notes that Gunn refused to attend the opening of the Sheppard Subway. The Urban Transport Fact Book quotes Gunn as saying “You would never have built the Sheppard subway if the decision was based upon transit principles. The only time you build a subway is when the street is clogged with buses.”

Still, though, he seemed to have earned the respect of TTC employees, which is no easy task.

The other big transit story from last week had to do with cellphone use. It all culminated in the Toronto Star publishing a story indicating when exactly operators are allowed to pee. While the story indicated management had made some critical mistakes the undercurrent to the story was that the TTC has gotten serious about cellphone use while driving, which is a good thing.

Mar 11

Shepherding Sheppard

The Toronto Star’s Transportation Reporter Tess Kalinowski, on the new agency that will work toward making a privately-financed Sheppard subway extension a reality:

Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd., (formerly Toronto Transit Consultants Ltd.) will be responsible for taking the business case for the Sheppard subway before the federal government to make sure “our business model makes sense,” TTC chair Karen Stintz told the Star.

“Someone just needs to be shepherding through that process and there is nowhere in the TTC that we can do that … so this consulting company has been re-established,” she said.

via TTC revives consulting arm to oversee Sheppard subway –

It dawns on me that one of their first orders of business will be to search for someone — anyone! — with credibility who could produce a report claiming that the more than four billion dollars the city hopes to raise with this scheme is possible.

Norm Kelly, Doug Ford and former councillor Gordon Chong are directors. Chong wrote an editorial praising Rob Ford’s transit plan for the Toronto Star in January. (I wrote about it.)

Related to this: the Toronto Environmental Alliance has released another snazzy graphic comparing the funded portion of Transit City with proposed revisions. They, probably wisely, leave the Sheppard subway line off their map. It’s nowhere near real enough yet to include, especially compared with a Sheppard East LRT that would have been open in just three years.

Really, though, you could probably simplify the graphic even further and just write “THE MAYOR WANTS TO SPEND TWO BILLION DOLLARS NEEDLESSLY PUTTING TRANSIT UNDERGROUND JUST BECAUSE SOME DRIVERS MIGHT BE INCONVENIENCED.” Probably less attractive visually, though.

Mar 11

Stalled Transit plan has 160 city workers in limbo

Peter Kuitenbrouwer with the National Post touches on a question I’ve been wondering about:

And we still have those 160-odd employees at the TTC, working on the Project-Formerly-Known-As-Transit-City, with neither the TTC, the mayor’s office nor Metrolinx able to explain what, precisely, these 160 people are doing right now to earn their daily bread.

via Peter Kuitenbrouwer: Earth to Rob Ford | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Despite all the talk of the privately funded Sheppard subway, the mayor’s full “Transportation City” plan has not been unveiled and no one is entirely clear what exactly is going forward. These workers could, I guess, be working on drafting plans for a fully underground Eglinton LRT but why keep that secret? What is the hold up?

The revised transit plan was originally scheduled to be revealed in late January.

Mar 11

Ford enjoys a 60% approval rating, says terribly misleading poll

Kelly Grant with the Globe & Mail:

Rob Ford enjoys a 60-per-cent approval rating, according to the first public poll released since he took office Dec. 1.

However, Toronto-based Forum Research, Inc. found that urban and suburban Torontonians remain deeply divided about Mr. Ford: His approval rating was highest in Scarborough (71 per cent) and North York (65 per cent) and lowest in the old cities of Toronto and East York (46 per cent.)

“That puts him higher than his vote, so somehow he’s got the approval of some of his opponents’ supporters, which I think is quite a task, especially given how polarizing the election was,” said Lorne Bozinoff, the president of Forum Research. “My gut feel is that’s a good rating.”

via Rob Ford more popular now than at election – The Globe and Mail.

Always fun to see pollsters going by their “gut feel.”

Grant points out that while a 60% approval rating isn’t bad by any means, David Miller’s approval rating was 82% six months into his first term. Quick googling reveals that Miller’s approval ratings stayed very high until the garbage strike in 2009. In 2005, well into his first term, Miller sat at 69%.

More troubling is the nature of the poll questions. Forum Research asked respondents 11 questions about various policies. Of those, several of the questions are incredibly misleading, generally skewed toward pushing support for the mayor’s initiatives.

Here’s a quick breakdown, I’m assuming all questions began with “Do you agree with…” or “Do you support…” but that’s been omitted in the report.

  • “The privatization of garbage collection for parts of the city” – A fine question. Notable that only 54% of people agree with this. I’d have pegged popular support at a higher level.
  • “The mandatory 5 cent plastic shopping bag fee” – Another appropriate question. It’s hilarious how much older people hate this fee.
  • “Declaring the TTC an essential service that would ban strikes and lockouts” – I don’t have a huge problem with this question, but I’d guess that rephrasing it as “Declaring the TTC an essential service, increasing labour costs related to transit” would see very different results.
  • “Tearing down the eastern end of the Gardiner expressway” – Why even ask this? Has it come up at all? Was there more context given? A weird question.
  • “Providing jobs for life for city employees” – This is where these questions go off the rails completely. They might as well have phrased as this “Do you support fatcat union members?”
  • “Using private sector financing to pay for the Sheppard subway so it can be built sooner” – What the hell is this one? No one is proposing that private sector funds will get transit built on Sheppard faster than originally planned. The Sheppard East LRT would have been open in less than three years.
  • “Spending $3 million to hire an outside consultant to look at ways to make the City more efficient?” – If there’s bad news for Ford in this poll, it’s this question. Only 38% of people support the move to hire an outside consultant. A fair question. (Interesting, too, that the $3 million dollars only become public knowledge at council on Thursday, February 24  – this poll went into the wild on Friday, February 25.)
  • “Relaxing liquor regulations so that you can walk around with a drink at licensed events instead of having to stay in a beer tent?” – This is a provincial issue that doesn’t have anything to do with the City’s government.
  • Licensing bicyclists so that traffic laws can be enforced with them?”Oh, screw off. I love the implication that traffic laws can’t be enforced with cyclists currently because of the lack of some kind of licensing program. Cyclists already are subject to the rules of the road. A municipal licensing program wouldn’t do anything to change that and would cost a ton of money.
  • “In order to improve public transit, do you think more below ground subways or more above ground light rail streetcars should be built?” – No one is proposing more streetcar lines as Toronto knows them. A ridiculous question in the sense that even diehard Transit City supporters would probably be forced to answer for below ground subways. In an ideal world we’d have below ground subways everywhere.
  • “Should the City build more City owned social housing units or should the City provide rent subsidies so those needing social housing can rent privately owned units instead?” – Not as egregious as some of the other questions but, again, there’s a clear skew here. The subtext is “Should the city keep spending YOUR TAX DOLLARS on public housing or should we just let the awesome private sector deal with it?” As I noted yesterday, Section Eight housing subsidies exist across the United States and still lead to the same issues we see with our public housing system — slumlords eagerly accept the subsidies while “nicer” market rental buildings refuse them.

In summary, this poll reveals primarily that Ford is currently a semi-popular mayor and little else. Anyone who can read some of the questions contained within this poll and feel like they’re an accurate representation of anything is kidding themselves.

Feb 11

On transit, we’re weighing a new fantasy versus an established reality

At Spacing, John Lorinc decides to be admittedly contrarian and argue the upside of the Ford team’s scheme to privately finance a Sheppard subway extension:

On the other hand, if the city can concoct a model that relies on a witch’s brew of subways, private capital and urban-minded up-zoning to goose densities in a carbon-addled suburban landscape, the reward may be worth the risk.

via LORINC: Subways in the suburbs, a contrarian view « Spacing Toronto.

There’s not too much to disagree with here in spirit — density’s good, transit is good, more urban spaces in the suburbs is good –, but he glosses over the fact that this new plan takes away from the Sheppard East LRT, which would have been open in just three years. The Transit City plan wasn’t development agnostic, either — it called for medium density, mixed used development along all LRT routes, something arguably more conducive to building a great city than clusters of towers bunched around subway stations.

Feb 11

The ins and outs of the city’s new transit plan

Over on his blog, Steve Munro presents a fantastic summary of yesterday’s Metrolinx board meeting. It includes a good, succinct look at what the mayor’s new transit plan actually entails:

On Tuesday, representatives of Mayor Ford met with Metrolinx with an updated version of Ford’s subway plan:

  • Extend the Sheppard subway west to Downsview and east to Scarborough Town Centre (STC)
  • Extend the Danforth subway northeast to STC
  • Build the Eglinton LRT in tunnel from Jane to Kennedy
  • Operate express bus service on Finch West
  • Build a new subway yard at a location to be determined

via Metrolinx Contemplates Ford’s Subway Plan | Steve Munro.

Munro notes that Metrolinx has asked that, instead of a Bloor-Danforth subway extension, the Eglinton LRT be extended through the SRT corridor to Scarborough Town Centre. This is necessary, as I understand it, because any transit funded with provincial dollars must be owned by Metrolinx. (It also allows for further LRT expansion in the future, when we have a political climate that isn’t so steadfast against surface rail.)

The subtext throughout is that, while Metrolinx is compromising with the mayor, they’ve successfully defended the part of Transit City that matters most to them. Metrolinx seems to be very aware of the numerous logistical problems with Ford’s private funding scenario, but is happy to let the mayor and his team busy themselves trying (and likely failing) to build a Sheppard subway while real work happens on Eglinton.

Building the eastern section of the line underground (needlessly) isn’t ideal, but it’s apparently a sacrifice Metrolinx is ready to make. If and when this plan comes to City Council, I’d hope that one of the first motions made is to build the eastern section of Eglinton at street level, and put the savings toward construction on Finch.

Speaking of Finch, it’s really the big loser in all of this,  getting stuck with ‘express buses’ instead of the proposed LRT. Per Munro, Metrolinx Director Paul Bedford did a good job of pointing out how little sense it makes to sacrifice Finch for Sheppard:

Director Paul Bedford agreed noting that the Finch West bus is among the routes with highest ridership on the TTC at 52k/day, greater than the Sheppard subway at 47k.  Bedford argued that ignoring the Finch corridor is a serious problem, and more generally that surface transit routes carrying 60% of TTC ridership were an important part of the network.

I guess it should be said that, with a few exceptions like Councillors Anthony Perruzza, local representatives have not been active in advocating the preservation of the Finch and Sheppard lines.

I’m happy with how this compromise plan is developing as at least we’re keeping the Eglinton LRT, but that doesn’t excuse this process which has been fraught with delays. None of this was necessary and plans for transit expansion in this city are no better off than they were before.

For the record, before this mess happened, the plan was for a Sheppard East LRT to be opened in 2014, a Finch West LRT to be opened in 2019, and an Eglinton Crosstown LRT and Scarborough LRT to be opened in 2020.