Posts Tagged: transit city

Mar 12

The week that was: Ford loses major transit vote as Sheppard gets LRT

Council Scorecard: Transit Votes

While I was out: Rob Ford experienced yet another spectacular defeat on the floor of council. True to form, the mayor refused to endorse any workable revenue plan for building his beloved Sheppard subway – even the one that came from his council allies. Instead, Ford stuck with what the political strategy that has sustained him since he was first elected councillor over a decade ago: yelling and losing.

Here’s how it happened.


March 18, 2012

Rob Ford devotes much of the time on his crazy boring radio show toward the transit discussion. As recapped by OpenFile Toronto’s David Hains, the mayor and his co-host Councillor Paul Ainslie hit all the same notes you’d expect: people want subways; St. Clair’s a disaster; all glory to the private sector; and the power of repeating the word subways endlessly.

Notably, Ford and stalwart Ainslie agree that the Sheppard Subway should be funded with “creative financing because people don’t like taxes.” This attitude would continue throughout the week, and sink any remaining chance Ford had of winning the council vote.


March 19, 2012

With the special council meeting just two days away, subway advisor and noted dentist Gordon Chong again makes public his opinion that the mayor must support new tolls and taxes if he wants to see a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. Ford continues to ignore the advice of the man he picked to make the case for subways in Toronto.

Meanwhile, many of the swing vote councillors begin to make their opinions known. Councillor Josh Colle tells reporters he’s just looking for some kind of indication of where the mayor will get the money to build subways. “A pie graph would be nice, just something that would show where the source of funding would come from.”

But the mayor’s “plan,” even presented as a pie chart, would prove unconvincing. It’d end up looking a lot like this:

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)


March 20, 2012

More mighty middle voices tip their hat toward the LRT plan. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon tells the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat that she’ll be supporting light rail because “Nothing has been concretely brought forward and I don’t see a [subway] plan.” Councillor Ana Bailão also hints that she’ll be a light rail vote.

In a bit of a surprise, Councillor Ron Moeser joins the group of councillors supporting the expert panel’s recommendation for LRT. Moeser has been battling an illness for several months that has caused him to miss virtually all council votes relating to transit. His support for the mayor had been widely assumed, but the mayor may have pushed things too far with the Scarborough councillor.

At this point, a majority of councillors have firmly pledged their support for light rail on Sheppard.


March 21, 2012

Council begins its session by endorsing the use of Skype as a means for Professor Eric Miller to take questions from councillors. Miller was the lead on the expert panel that ultimately recommended the light rail plan. After much debate, Skype finds strong bipartisan support, though the mayor objects.

Soon after, battle lines are drawn. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker moves the motion that will support the panel’s recommendations. As a counter, budget chief and Scarborough Councillor Mike Del Grande proposes what we’ve all been waiting for: new revenue tools to fund transit.

Del Grande’s motion includes a levy on non-residential parking spaces, and seeks to raise $100 million per year for transit funding. The proposal is rightly criticized for being light on detail and short on scope. Those kinds of revenues would only fund about 300 metres of subway construction every year.

But, still, the motion is welcome news, acknowledging that even the most thrifty of suburban councillors have recognized the need to build public transit with public money. Del Grande finds support from most of council’s right-wing, but is stymied when the mayor — stubbornly, foolishly, inexplicably — refuses to lend his support to the plan.

Del Grande would end up attempting to withdraw the motion the next day. Without Rob Ford’s support, he knew it was doomed.

In another bit of procedural pettiness, Ford’s allies end the day with a good old-fashioned filibuster. The plan, which nobody expects to work, is to run out the clock and force a continuation to Thursday, with the hope that they can use the time to convince some councillors to support them.


March 22, 2012

Having exhausted all his remaining options, Ford pulls out a would-be trump card: a loud and rambling speech in which he uses the word “subways” repeatedly. The point, buried in amongst the repetition, was to convince council to delay any decision until after the release of the federal and provincial budgets. The mayor appears to actually believe that those governments – both of whom are in full-on austerity mode – may announce billions of dollars in transit funding for Toronto.

As has become their custom, council mostly ignores the mayor.

The vote happens shortly after lunch, with the results breaking down mostly as expected. With 24 votes in favour, council supports the recommendations of the expert panel for light rail on Sheppard. Nineteen councillors stand opposed. Notably, Giorgio Mammoliti, who had promised on Wednesday that he would fight against the light rail plan on behalf of his constituents, ends up missing the vote on Thursday.


March 23, 2012

The fallout from the vote comes quick and looks obvious. The mayor declares, yet again, that his election campaign begins today. The plan is to foster so much support for subways that he gets yet another strong mandate from voters in 2014. By Sunday – on his still-boring radio show – the mayor will even go as far as floating the idea of running a slate of Ford-supporting candidates in wards across the city, in the hopes of ridding council of those who oppose him.

This brings to mind two immediate questions:

  1. Would any legitimate candidate actually want to be part of a slate backed by a mayor with a terrible approval rating and a record of refusing to work with his allies to accomplish anything?
  2. If Ford’s going to be in full-on campaign mode for the next two years, then who the hell is running the city?

Ford’s stubbornness on this issue has made for even more alienation. Councillors like Jaye Robinson, Peter Milczyn and David Shiner went as far as to publicly question the mayor’s leadership on the transit file. Their comments were tinged with the kind of frustration that comes about when a mayor refuses to support a revenue tool that he recently championed in an editorial. It’s the same frustration that comes when someone ignores advice from everyone, even in the face of overwhelming reason and common sense.

It’s the kind of frustration that comes when the guy you’re trying to help ends up spitting in your face.

Despite protests from the mayor and his brother, this chapter of the Rob Ford mayoralty appears to be over. There’s little chance the province will re-open the subways debate and even less chance that more money materializes for subway construction. As was originally endorsed by Mayor David Miller and council, Toronto will see light rail transit built on Sheppard, Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT corridor. Transit City lives again.

Mar 12

Rob Ford can’t win Sheppard vote without a realistic plan

Likely votes for the March 21 Sheppard transit vote. "Target" indicates a swing vote councillor that is being pressured by both sides.

Rob Ford is probably going to lose again at council next week.

The item council will be considering – an expert panel’s recommendation on transit options for Sheppard Avenue – doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. The panel’s report strongly endorses light rail as the preferred option for the corridor, and recommends construction begin as soon as possible. The panel has released a detailed collection of background documents, which include presentations and reports from Metrolinx, the TTC, City Planning and City Finance. All of their data points to the same conclusion the panelists reached.

Ford, of course, dismissed all this preemptively. He called the panel “biased.”

It’s known that Ford’s office is aggressively targeting swing councillors in an attempt to win them to his side on this issue. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll win much support of the remaining undecided or wavering councillors – at best, there’s seven of them – when he still doesn’t have a plan for building anything beyond a two kilometre stump of subway tunnel financed with provincial money.

This week, the mayor’s been dismissing the need for planning altogether. He told reporters yesterday that he just wanted to get “shovels in the ground” and start building. “There is too much talking going on,” he said. “and not enough doing. I’m a doer.”

Unless his team manages to produce a more detailed funding and construction plan next week, I can’t see Ford winning the support of many middle-aligned councillors. Spending a billion dollars of public money on a short subway extension without any plan to continue building anything beyond is bad policy. It’s a simple waste of money.

Without a realistic plan, the mayor’s subway promise dies next week.

The case for compromise

The mayor continues to be the architect of his own defeat. He’s ignored or rejected at least a half-dozen compromise solutions since this debate began in January. Had he simply worked with Karen Stintz, council likely would have found broad consensus on a transit plan that would have seen a small extension of the Sheppard subway. With that, the mayor could have moved on to other things and we wouldn’t be mired in an endless debate where people yell a lot and make ridiculous claims.

Still, even after all the procedural nastiness and name-calling, the mayor still has a workable compromise solution available to him: a two-stop extension of the Sheppard subway followed by light rail on the rest of the corridor.

Here’s how the expert panel lays out the financing for that option:

Panel report: Financing transit on Sheppard

The “hybrid” option – subway and LRT – requires between $500 million and $800 million in extra funding – an achievable amount if the city uses some of the revenue tools laid out in Gordon Chong’s report. The mayor could quite easily win some support on council if he backed this plan and presented a strategy to raise the missing funds.

This would be an outcome both sides could live with. The mayor gets to claim he’s fulfilled an election promise while the rest of council gets to deliver transit expansion on a large scale. Everyone goes home happy.

The mayor probably won’t go for it, however. He’s been offered this compromise before and rejected it out-of-hand.

Programming Note

Sadly, I’m going to be away all next week and so I’ll miss the meeting. For always-good City Hall coverage, keep tabs on OpenFile Toronto and Torontoist. I also recommend the Twitter-stylings of David Hains, Neville Park, Daren Foster, Jonathan Goldsbie, Don Peat and so many others.

I’ll be back next weekend with some thoughts on the meeting and its fallout.

Mar 12

FAQ: Should we build a Sheppard Subway extension?

Sensible Transit Planning: Ridership versus Capacity

Building any of the proposed Transit City routes as heavy rail subway would mean significant unused capacity. Click for bigger.

On March 21, City Council will — I hope — finally end the transit debate that’s been overshadowing every other municipal issue this year. At that meeting, they’ll decide whether to endorse the previously-approved plan for light rail on Sheppard East or shift to a subway-based plan as per the mayor’s wishes.

While various town hall events have been described as either pro-subway or pro-LRT, my experience has been that a good percentage of the people attending these meetings are mostly just confused. They’re hearing conflicting things, sometimes from the same people. Opinions seem to shift from week-to-week. Mob mentalities run rampant and, weirdly, two very similar types of transit technology have become associated with the eternal left-wing versus right-wing pissing match.

So let’s simplify. Straightforward answers to straightforward questions.

Should we build an extension of the Sheppard Subway?

No. The ridership just doesn’t exist in that corridor to justify full-scale subway construction. The existing Sheppard Subway would need to be at least three times busier during peak periods to even begin to approach efficient use of infrastructure.

Planners and engineers don’t need to agonize too much when choosing transit technology: ridership projections make the choice obvious.

But Scarborough is growing, right? Shouldn’t we plan for the long-term? I heard this story about the viaduct…

You often hear politicians and historians trot out the Bloor Viaduct as an example of prudent long-term planning because it was built to support a future rail crossing, but that analogy doesn’t hold when we’re talking about subways. Making the viaduct subway-ready increased capital costs, but it had minimal impact on operation and maintenance.

It doesn’t make sense to take on all the increased costs associated with running a subway just in case riders show up in 50 or 100 years.

To truly justify full-scale subways, Scarborough residents would need to accept significant change to their neighbourhoods, because ridership follows density. Written mathematically, the equation would look like this: more people + more jobs = more subways.

And so Scarborough would need to densify and get busier. That means a significant shift. Single family homes would need to give way to multi-unit residences. Low-rises would need to become high-rises. Parking lots would need to vanish under new development. Scarborough would need to change.

Are residents really willing to accept that?

Aren’t LRTs slow and unreliable? I don’t want a second-class kind of transit.

Where modern cities are building transit, they’re mostly building LRTs. Subway construction has become so enormously expensive on a per-kilometre basis that large-scale building requires significant federal investment. If LRT is second-class, than dozens of major world cities are building vast networks of high-ridership second-class transit.

Light rail vehicles are more than capable of providing fast, reliable service. They run well in the snow and vehicles can be coupled together into trains. Many of the factors that slow down our downtown streetcars won’t exist on the light rail routes: riders will board from all doors, the vehicles will be low-floor to ease boarding for people with disabilities or those with strollers, and all routes will run in an exclusive right-of-way, meaning LRVs will move quickly even if traffic is backed up.

That said, service speed and reliability is primarily a function of TTC management and funding – not transit technology. The city has always invested to ensure frequent service on the subway – even where other cities have reduced subway service in the evenings and on weekends –  which is why so many find it the most reliable way to travel.

Won’t LRTs tear up the road and cause businesses to fail? We don’t want another St. Clair disaster!

Here’s a picture of St. Clair Ave when it was under construction, via the Toronto Sun:

And here’s a shot of the Sheppard Subway, from when it was under construction, via VIVA Next:

You don’t get shiny new transit infrastructure without a period of pain-in-the-ass construction, unfortunately. Yes, subways are underground, but the stations need to come up to the surface which usually requires reconfiguration of utilities. No matter what you build, streets will need to be dug up, traffic will need to be diverted and everything will end up covering in a thick layer of dust and grime.

The only difference? Subway construction tends to take longer.

But Scarborough already has an LRT and it’s terrible! It breaks down constantly, offers a rough ride and already needs to be replaced!

A helpful infographic explaining the differences between the Scarborough RT and the proposed LRT lines the city is planning to build:


The Scarborough RT was the result of the provincial government deciding to use Scarborough residents as lab rats. They took an unproven technology – ICTS, a kind of proto-Skytrain – and forced it onto the TTC, in the hopes that everything would work out great and they could then sell the same technology to other cities for a tidy profit.

It didn’t work. The experiment was a failure. Today, Bombardier is the exclusive supplier of the vehicles used on the SRT. As a result, parts, maintenance and replacement vehicles come at a high price premium.

The light rail planned for Toronto is the same technology being built in cities across the globe. Numerous suppliers can provide vehicles and parts. This isn’t a repeat of past planning mistakes – it’s a correction. If the province hadn’t forced the city’s hand in the 1980s, Scarborough would have gotten a true LRT line decades ago.

What about a compromise? Isn’t there some way we can get some of subway extension?

“I support new taxes and tolls.” That’s what Rob Ford needs to say if he wants to start an honest debate about extending the Sheppard subway.

If he won’t face that reality with clear eyes and a full heart, compromise is impossible. Council is left with only two choices: two or three kilometres of subway that will improve transit for a very small number of residents or 14 kilometres of light rail providing significant benefit to Scarborough transit riders.

And that’s not a hard choice.

Enough with all this talk of planning – why can’t we just build a kilometre or two of subway every year?

Even under the most optimistic estimates, two kilometres of subway construction costs between $400 and $600 million. The city doesn’t have that kind of cash laying around. Which brings us back to the question of taxes and tolls.

And even then: you can’t just send a crew out to start digging holes and pay them until you run out of money. That’s not the way major infrastructure projects work.

If council had an endorsed, unchanging and funded long-term plan for transit in this city – a plan that would have to include light rail, buses and, yes, subways –  we’d probably see a couple of kilometres of new track built every year until that plan was complete.

So, yes, we can be a city that continuously builds transit. But we need a realistic, sensible and affordable plan first.

Council’s meeting next week is another step forward.

Mar 12

Forget building transit, let’s just talk endlessly and yell at each other

All Fired Up In the Big Smoke’s Daren Foster, who attended a transit town hall put on by the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition  in Scarborough last night:

Nearly two and a half hours later, we were pretty much right back where we started. People wanted subways. People were owed subways. World class cities have subways. Scarborough demanded their piece of that transit dream.

But there was no one there to tell them how that could happen. It was all vague notions, untested theories and a whole lot pie in the sky projections. I’d be plenty pissed too. I just think the crowd turned their ire on the wrong target.

Which wasn’t their fault in the least. The real target wasn’t in the room. He’d skipped the meeting, encouraging the anger while sidestepping any responsibility for it.

via Seething In Scarborough « All Fired Up In The Big Smoke.

For OpenFile Toronto, David Hains covers more of the details. The short version: unrealistic promises and mostly fact-free rhetoric has whipped up some Scarborough residents into a frenzy. The prospect of light rail transit is the hated villain, while Rob Ford’s subway dream stands as the hero.

After the meeting, Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy — adding credibility to the proceedings by serving as a panelist — summed up the mood with a tweet: “Scarborough residents would prefer NOTHING, NADA, over light rail transit.”

There seems to be an unconscious desire from some in this debate to return to the transit planning status quo that existed prior to 2007 and the announcement of Transit City and MoveOntario 2020. During that time, the TTC continuously drew and redrew subway lines on various maps. They bounced through Network 2011 and RTES and other plans that promised a whole lot of subway construction. Sometimes politicians would make election-time promises that they would build pieces of whatever plan was on the books at the time.

But even though the city stuck with this subways-to-the-suburbs strategy for decades, very little happened.

It was only through Mel Lastman’s relentless enthusiasm for North York that we got a 5.5 kilometre subway line on Sheppard Ave, and that’s proven to have had a net negative impact on TTC operations. The city will be subsidizing it for decades.

The city did come close to getting an Eglinton subway, but Premier Mike Harris infamously filled in the already-dug hole, scuttling the line as a budget-saving measure. And while that was undoubtedly a mistake, it’s worth noting that, by the time Eglinton got canned, the only part of the plan funded was a stubby five-station line running from Eglinton West station to York Civic Centre.

Had Harris not stopped construction, the mourned Eglinton subway could have made for a similar story as what we’ve seen on Sheppard: a too-short, under-utilized line requiring huge annual subsidy. With no money to pay for an extension.

The city had to shift its focus away from subways and toward LRTs not because of some ill-defined ideology but because the subways-first strategy was a complete and utter failure. It was all talk and no action.

And now, in Scarborough and other parts of the city, we’re seeing what looks like angry demands to return to that. Despite the raucous demand for subways coming out of last night’s meeting, the prospect of new taxes or revenue tools were roundly shot down. For subways, there’s talking – and yelling! – but no plan. No action. No money.

Save our Gordon Chongs

Speaking of things for which there is no plan and no money, it turns out the mayor isn’t going to pay Dr. Gordon Chong and the other consultants who worked on his Sheppard Subway report.

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

First, they didn’t take Gordon Chong’s advice on how to pay for the Sheppard Subway. Now they won’t pay him.

And consultants the ex-city councillor hired to make the case for Mayor Rob Ford’s subway dreams are owed $80,000 they may never collect.

That’s the bankrupt state of the TTC subsidiary Mayor Ford created to promote his subway plan.

via TTC subway study ran out of money, Gordon Chong and consultants still owed more than $100,000 | Toronto Star.

Sometimes analogies are too obvious.

Mar 12

After Ford rejects compromise, Karen Stintz moves to dissolve TTC board

The Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant, on the issue that’s going to keep this week’s council meeting from being boring:

The embattled Toronto Transit Commission is about to undergo a major shakeup with chair Karen Stintz and her allies moving to dissolve the Ford-friendly board and replace it with councillors who support light-rail transit and private citizens.

Ms. Stintz will be putting her own job on the line Monday when she moves a motion to fire all nine current commissioners.

via Stintz readies motion to fire Ford-friendly transit commission | Globe & Mail.

This is shaping up to be yet another significant loss for Rob Ford. By a combination of law and custom, he’s supposed to be the one who sets the composition of boards and committees. Should council have the votes to do this – and every indication is that they do – the mayor of Toronto will have lost influence over the city’s biggest budget item. Major transit decisions will go forward without input from his office.

Some will attempt to spin this as the actions of a bitter and spiteful council that seeks to undermine the mandate of a democratically elected mayor. But that’s crap. What we’ll see this week is no less than Karen Stintz’s last resort after attempts at compromise were roundly rejected or undermined by the mayor and his friends.

There have been at least two major compromise attempts between Stintz and the mayor’s office since this whole transit battle took hold back in January. Both could have seen an outcome where Ford walked away looking like the winner. Instead, he rejected everything.

The First Compromise

The first major compromise is the more obvious one, since it played out in public. With this olive branch, Ford could have agreed to bring the eastern section of the Eglinton LRT above ground, build a two-stop extension of his beloved Sheppard Subway and deliver improved transit to Finch with a new busway project.

Ford probably could have played hardball with this deal, asking for further guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. During talks with the province after he took office, Ford was given an offer that would have seen Eglinton widened to ensure traffic flow wasn’t impeded.

This would have been an easy thing to spin as a victory. Ford gets his subway, along with a trumped up guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. And Finch gets some fancy buses. Everybody wins. Mostly.

The mayor could then spend the next several months talking up Gordon Chong’s report as the magic key that will allow for further construction on Sheppard.

But that’s not what happened, despite Stintz getting an initial assurance from Doug Ford that the mayor was open to the deal. Instead, the mayor flatly rejected the offer, sat through an awkward council meeting where he was overruled – he called it irrelevant – and then proceeded to call his hand-picked TTC chair a back-stabber.

The Second Compromise

This one is murkier, with most of it happening outside of the media.

Shortly after the TTC board fired Gary Webster, the impression I was given by several people is that council would quickly move to remove Ford-allied councillors from the TTC and replace them with people more amenable to council’s approved direction on transit. Also: there was a desire to ensure that the TTC board wouldn’t continue to fire long-time employees for spiteful and/or vindictive reasons.

But things soon changed. As of the middle of last week, stories started to emerge that Stintz and Ford had reached a compromise on the composition of the board. Having already agreed to allow for citizen representation, the two agreed that they would support a board of six councillors and five citizens, with the chair being chosen from the councillors. More importantly, the deal seemed to imply that the current TTC board would stay in place until June.

That was the deal on Wednesday. And still on Thursday. But on Friday, things changed: Stintz announced that she would be making a motion at this week’s council meeting that would call for an immediate change to the make-up of the board, removing all existing members and seeking replacements. Seven councillors will join the board immediately, with four citizens to join later on this summer following an appointment process.

What happened between Wednesday and Friday is anyone’s guess, but a late night Twitter posting by Stintz sheds some light on the situation: “My attempts at compromise with the Mayor were again undermined by Doug Ford & Nick Kouvalis,” she wrote. “The situation became untenable.”

The details of the announcement also point to this being a snap decision following some sort of renewed strife between the mayor and Stintz. Initially, Councillor Josh Matlow told the Globe that there would be a predetermined slate of councillors chosen to replace Ford’s allies on the TTC board. But Stintz quickly backed away from that story, and said it would be an open nomination process. (In the confusion, Matlow was unfairly criticized for what looked like a premature leak – it seems clear now that things were just happening really fast.)

The obvious speculation is that Stintz was hoping to find common ground with the mayor that would have seen him cease his efforts to invalidate council’s February decision on LRT. A compromise may have even included broad support for a Sheppard Subway extension, contingent on the mayor actually presenting a viable plan to pay for it.

Coincidentally, late on Thursday, Doug Ford took part in an extended media scrum in which he rejected the idea of all taxes and tolls as a way to pay for new transit. He called them evil. He also accused Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli of being biased toward LRT and made further claims that the Eglinton LRT plan was similar to the right-of-way project on St. Clair Ave.

What no compromise means

There’s lots to worry about going into this week’s meeting. Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan cautions against a worst-case scenario in which half of council puts their name forward for a seat on the new TTC board, leading to a procedural circus and dozens of votes. I’m hopeful that there’s more organization in the works and that there is a chosen bloc of councillors with broad support ready to step in as commissioners.

But even if not, this is the only play Stintz has left. With every compromise rejected, a recomposition of the TTC board is imperative. Without it, the city goes forward with a situation where the guys controlling the majority votes on the TTC are actively against the council-approved plans for transit expansion. Given the sheer number of items related to these plans that are set to become before the commission, it’d be way too easy for the mayor to use his influence to alter or delay progress, creating procedural snags that would continually require council’s intervention.

That’s no way to build a railroad.

Mar 12

Rob Ford’s Toronto has a revenue problem

Days after his landslide victory in the October 2010 election, mayor-elect Rob Ford returned to the AM radio station that had launched his political career into the stratosphere. With his electoral triumph still fresh, he told John Oakley — Ford calls him Johnny — about his ambitious plans for the city, starting with the immediate cancellation of the $60-a-year vehicle registration tax.

When Oakley asked how Ford planned to make up the revenue that would be lost after killing the tax, the new mayor was nonchalant. “It’s only $40 million,” he said. “There’s more than enough money. We have a major spending problem at City Hall, not a revenue problem.”

A lot has changed since then. Less than eighteen months removed from those comments, Ford faces a new reality: one where he wants things he can’t pay for. To deliver the subways he’s been promising, Rob Ford has got to deal with a revenue problem all his own.

And, funnily enough, he’s actually looking at things like a revived vehicle registration tax as a way to solve it.

The Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant & Elizabeth Church:

It remains unclear how Mr. Ford intends to finance his subway plan without relying on road tolls and other new sources of revenue that he has adamantly opposed in the past. Several councillors confirmed that in private meetings the mayor has even floated the option of bringing back the vehicle-registration tax – and jacking up the annual fee to between $80 and $100 from the $60 charge that was killed last year.

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon said Mr. Ford mentioned a VRT of between $80 and $100 as he ticked off a list of possible revenue tools, including road tolls and parking levies, during a meeting last week with her and fellow centrist councillor Ana Bailao.

via After meeting developers, Ford claims unanimous support for subways | Globe & Mail.

This news follows a Globe editorial last week wherein the mayor — writing under his own byline — expressed initial support for a new tax on parking across the city. “According to KPMG, a modest parking levy could generate more than $90-million annually,” he wrote. “That would fund a public-private partnership model to build the Sheppard subway and generate ongoing revenue for future subway expansion.”

Looking closely, the mayor’s numbers are totally out of whack. A report released by the Toronto Parking Authority in 2007 pegged revenues for a city-wide annual levy of $25 applied to all off-street commercial parking spaces at about $23 million. A $100 levy applied only to parking spaces downtown would bring in even less: just $7.5 million. To generate the kind of dollars KPMG and the mayor are talking about — and, yes, you need those kinds of dollars to pay for expensive capital projects like subways — you’d be looking at a per-space levy of closer to $100 per year charged at all commercial properties across the city. (And that’s not even taking into account the displacement factor — commercial businesses would immediately slash the size of their parking lots in response to a new tax.)

In addition, the existence of new revenues doesn’t magically make the idea of subways on Sheppard and Finch any more sensible from a planning perspective. If Ford really wants to justify these projects, he needs to go beyond just raising the capital money and also provide a strategy for financing long-term operational and maintenance costs. Cutting bus routes to subsidize empty subways is not a strategy.

He also needs to tell the people in North York & Scarborough that their neighbourhoods will need to change to accommodate dozens of 40-story condo towers.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m down on the idea. That Rob Ford is actually having these kinds of conversations about revenue tools is monumentally good news. This is a major turning point for the mayor and for Toronto. Under a conservative regime, the city as a whole may finally be coming to terms with the fact that the budget process has been seriously constrained by limited revenue sources since amalgamation.

Former budget chief Shelley Carroll has been pointing out the need for new revenue drivers — including a sales tax — for years. It’s a relief that Ford-allies like Councillor Norm Kelly and the mayor himself are starting to come around to the idea.

Here comes the sun

But wait. The Toronto Sun editorial board:

The problem with new taxes is that they have a way of growing like topsy.

Within days of Ford floating his $90 million-a-year parking tax, key Ford council ally Norm Kelly was pitching a 0.5% Toronto sales tax to raise $250 million annually for new subways.

We can’t think of anything more off brand for Ford and his allies to be running up the flagpole than a new tax.

What about all that private sector enthusiasm for the Sheppard subway Ford’s been talking about?

What about the city living within its means?

via Ford should bury subway tax idea | Toronto Sun.

Oh, right. We can’t ignore this truth: Ford Nation hates taxes and fees. Sure, they’re also the ones being most vociferous about their demands for subways instead of cheaper alternatives, but can their collective desire for underground transit trump the anti-tax sentiment that was at the core of the mayor’s election campaign?

Early indicators say no.

So far, Ford hasn’t publicly endorsed any new revenues aside from the single mention of a parking levy in his Globe editorial. And even that was kind of hand-waved away in the next paragraph: “Some partnership models don’t require any taxpayer funding in the first few years,” he wrote.

Ford is at a tough political crossroads with the transit file, and I’m worried he’s likely to retreat. Without the bedrock support provided to him by outlets like the Toronto Sun and AM radio, the mayor’s bound to start feeling pretty lonely. On the other hand, these kinds of compromises and face-saving moves are the only workable strategy Ford’s got if he wants to continue to drive the agenda at council.

Council will be revisiting the idea of transit in the Sheppard corridor on March 15. The lead-up to that meeting is critical. If Rob Ford is serious about his plan for transit, he needs to make a clear public statement in support of new revenue tools. No weasel words, no call for studies, no vague requests to the province: if Rob Ford really wants underground transit, he has to tell us he wants new taxes and tolls.


Feb 12

Here I go again on my own: three stories about Rob Ford

Rob Ford: Here I Go Again On My Own

Original photo by Craig Robinson / Toronto Sun.

To end the week, three stories about Rob Ford.

December 15: In the midst of major budget meetings, Rob Ford finds himself standing in a backyard in Councillor Frank Di Giorgio’s ward, looking at a pile of sand. After examining the sand — a neighbour had complained about the pile — the mayor decrees that the sand must be moved.

Rob Ford is the CEO of a corporation with $10 billion in annual revenues and a workforce of 50,000 employees. He runs the sixth biggest government in Canada. His decision to involve himself in a civil dispute over a pile of sand goes beyond micromanagement. It’d be like if Apple CEO Tim Cook volunteered to take a look at your broken MacBook.

The neighbour with the sand pile told the Toronto Star’s David Rider that he couldn’t understand why the mayor had taken an interest. “I don’t think he should be involved in such a petty issue,” he said. “He has staff, councillors, labour negotiations. When did the mayor get involved in such small matters?”

In the same Star article, Doug Holyday defended the mayor’s decision. “He does care about the little guy,” said the deputy mayor. “I guess it’s hard to stop.”

Yeah, hard to stop. The mayor comes out on the losing end of the city budget debate, but the sand is moved from the backyard a month later.

January 26: With local councillor Frances Nunziata, a handful of staff and — always — a crew from the Toronto Sun, Rob Ford visits a TCHC building in Mount Dennis. This is the kind of thing he’s best at. Never is the mayor more likeable than when he’s visiting with people, listening to their concerns and promising action.

While admirable, the mayor’s passion for this kind of politicking and governance — one-to-one, personal, on-demand — hints at one of his big weaknesses. As the mayor of the city, Ford can effect more large-scale change sitting at a board room table with staff than he can wandering the halls of a TCHC building, pointing out needed repairs.

Even Rob Ford doesn’t have the energy to personally monitor the condition of every TCHC property in the city. If he really wants to improve conditions, he has to start with policy. With funding. With leadership.

But, still, the mayor visits. People smile and give him hugs. The Sun’s Don Peat hears from a resident that she really appreciates the mayor’s visit. “It’s good,” she says. “He’s showing he cares.”

Meanwhile, Ford is rightly put off by the number of holes he’s seeing in the walls of TCHC units. “Holy, there’s three of them,” the Sun reports him saying. “These holes are driving me nuts.”

February 8: A few hours after losing a major vote on transit at a council meeting he didn’t even want to hold, Rob Ford decides to get on the subway. He begins riding at Royal York station in Etobicoke, going east toward the Scarborough RT and then on to Scarborough Town Centre.

There are a lot of different things a mayor might be expected to do after losing a major vote. Riding trains and buses for four hours in the middle of night wouldn’t generally make the list. But Rob Ford isn’t conventional.

The Sun’s Joe Warmington,  invited along for the ride, tracked the mayor’s conversations with riders. The idea, I guess, was to collect feedback in favour of Ford’s subway plans.

“This is where it’s all about it. I don’t call it retail politics. I call it the ground game. This is where the people are,” the mayor says, according to Warmington.

In addition to talking transit, the mayor also talks to riders about other topics. His weight loss comes up. So does the old stand-by: city hall expense accounts. “I think it’s ridiculous all of the money that we have available to us at city hall,” the mayor says, maybe forgetting for a second that he’s no longer the perpetual outsider, no longer a rogue councillor from Etobicoke. He’s the mayor.

Somewhere along the route, Warmington reports, a rider asks the mayor if he has a lighter. The mayor doesn’t, so he gives the woman five dollars.

On the way back — it’s well past midnight — the mayor’s trip gets interrupted as the subway closes for the night. Rob Ford has missed the last train. He soon finds himself on the bus, but at Eglinton he and his staff realize they forgot to get transfers. The ride is over.

The mayor takes a cab home. Again on his own.

Feb 12

Notes on a Transit Plan

An April 2010 photo shows David Miller distributing "Save Transit City" buttons at Eglinton station. That woman on the left sure looks familiar. (Photo by Brad Pritchard / InsideToronto)

An April 2010 photo shows David Miller distributing "Save Transit City" flyers at Eglinton station. The woman pictured at far left sure looks familiar. (Photo by Brad Pritchard / InsideToronto)

1. We probably should have seen this coming

In April 2010, Karen Stintz spent a morning at Eglinton station with then-mayor David Miller. In the wake of provincial cuts to funding, the two of them distributed “Save Transit City” flyers to commuters. “I fully support Mayor Miller and his initiative and I’m proud to stand here beside him and get the message out,” she told the National Post.

That was a big statement. Stintz and Miller rarely saw eye-to-eye. It’s probably fair to describe her as a perpetual thorn in his side. She once dismissed his agenda as “bags, bottles and bicycles.” But when it came to funded and realistic transit planning, she was willing to work with the guy in the mayor’s chair. She was willing to be an advocate.

So what did we really learn about Karen Stintz this week? That she’s willing to stand up for achievable and realistic transit planning? That she’s open to working with people across the political spectrum to ensure those plans move forward? That she believes in Light Rail Transit?

We already knew these things about Karen Stintz.

2. Unavoidable truth: Transit City’s back

The light rail plan endorsed by council on Wednesday has got all sorts of names. Some called it the “Stintz plan.” Others called it the “Council plan.” The mayor, as is his way, called it “streetcar city.”

But whatever. Ignoring the politics of it — and maybe it’s not wise to point this out — it’s impossible to ignore that this plan is, essentially, a direct continuation of Transit City. It’s pretty well the same plan we would have seen go forward had David Miller remained in office for another term.

No bones about it: David Miller’s legacy got a shot in the arm on Wednesday.

3. Will the mayor get his Sheppard Subway anyway?

An interesting twist at this week’s meeting came from a Stintz motion that called for an “expert panel” brought together over the next month to discuss what to do with transit on Sheppard Avenue. The light rail plan — currently on the books as part of Transit City — has faced opposition because it’ll force an inconvenient transfer at Don Mills station on the Sheppard Subway line.

My first thought was that this panel was just an attempt to throw a bone toward Scarborough councillors, and that they’d ultimately conclude that light rail was the way to go. But during an appearance on NewsTalk 1010 Thursday morning, Councillor Adam Vaughan gave the impression that he expected the experts to support a one- or two-stop subway extension to Victoria Park.

A small subway extension would be an interesting outcome, serving two purposes: first, it shoves the question of what to do on Sheppard in the long-term off to the far-flung future. Another council and another mayor can figure it out. Second, it gives the mayor — even after all of his bitching and hyperbole and dirty tricks — a chance to deliver on a campaign promise.

4. Dirty Tricks & Pettiness

I mentioned dirty tricks: it’s worth noting how desperate and petty Ford and his allies got as yesterday’s council meeting rolled forward. Coming back from the lunch break, rumour was that the Ford allies were going to attempt the procedural equivalent of  taking the ball and going home. The talk was that the mayor would try to force a halt to the meeting by intentionally breaking quorum in the council chamber.

After a tense delay, Ford and a handful of allies did return to the chamber so the meeting could resume. There weren’t enough of them to break quorum.

They followed that up with further petty procedural meddling. When it came time to excuse councillors who were absent from the meeting, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong insisted on separating the vote into two parts. He wanted to vote against excusing Gloria Lindsay Luby, who had booked a vacation before talk of this special council meeting got started.

In a show of macho pride made completely bizarre because all it does is further alienate a councillor who is ideologically aligned with Rob Ford on most issues, Minnan-Wong voted against excusing her. So did Paul Ainslie, Mike Del Grande, Frank Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti, Frances Nunziata and the mayor.

This is not how you win friends and influence people.

5. What happens next? 

As expected, the province was quick to lend legitimacy to council’s decision. In fact, we learned today that Dalton McGuinty told Rob Ford days before the meeting that he would not support the mayor’s subway plan without council’s endorsement.

The remaining piece of the puzzle is Sheppard. Council will come back for another special meeting on March 21, at which time we’ll know whether we’re looking at subway or light rail in that corridor. That should be another fun meeting for the mayor to sit through.

Meanwhile, Rob Ford’s doing his best to make himself relevant to this debate. He’s spent damn near every hour since the vote attempting to spark public outcry over council’s decision, but there’s no real indication that he’s going to get anywhere with this plan. Yeah, the average person on the street will tell you that subways are awesome and we should have more of them, but that same person might also tell you that we should have libraries that are open 24 hours a day, free recreation programs, no property taxes and a fully-developed waterfront built by 2015.

Politics is about balancing what people want with fiscal reality — you can’t give people services you can’t pay for. You have to accept trade-offs to ensure public money is spent to maximum public benefit. You’ve got to be efficient and realistic. It’s weird that Rob Ford doesn’t understand this.

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 |

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 →

Feb 12

Council revives Transit City as opponents run out of fresh arguments

Transit City Opponent Bingo

Transit City’s back.

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

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

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

How we got to the LRT

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

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

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

The Next Station

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

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

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