Posts Tagged: transit


26
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.

SUNDAY

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.

MONDAY

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)

TUESDAY

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.

WEDNESDAY

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.

THURSDAY

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.

FRIDAY

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.


16
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.


14
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 SRT is NOT LRT

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.


9
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.


6
Mar 12

An organized opposition versus a disorganized mayor: a look at the TTC ballot votes

Commission votes: ballot results for the election of a new TTC board

In addition to today’s City Council Scorecard update, here’s a snapshot look at the results of yesterday’s vote to elect a new TTC board.

The balloting process was a bit muddled and confusing, but essentially — after a quick nomination process — each councillor had to fill out a ballot listing their seven choices for the TTC board. Nominees needed to achieve majority support (23 votes) in order to be named to the board.

Fourteen councillors were nominated but three — Shelley Carroll, Gord Perks and Mary-Margaret McMahon — declined to serve. That mean there were eleven nominees standing for seven open spots.

The thing to note is how organized things look on the bottom half of the chart. From Gloria Lindsay Luby on down, the opposition mostly stuck to an agreed-upon slate of candidates, all of whom ended up winning spots on the board on the first ballot.

The mayor had a slate of his own, of course. It included one councillor who dropped out — Caroll — and six others, a couple of whom were also on the opposition’s list. (Speculation is that Carroll’s nomination was designed to split the vote and/or allow the mayor to stick a presumed mayoral candidate with responsibility for a difficult file.)

But contrary to the discipline shown by the left, Ford’s allies were all over the map with their votes. Many of them didn’t even fill out a complete ballot. Yes, they may have done the math and realized they couldn’t win, but the lack of coordination between the mayor and his councillor supporters is worth noting.

You can view the above chart in google docs as part of this month’s council scorecard.


6
Mar 12

City Council Scorecard: Rob Ford loses control of the TTC

Toronto Council Scorecard

March 6, 2012: Google Docs (Best View) – Download (PDF)  – Download (PNG)

Last night, the mayor of Toronto lost control of the city’s biggest budget item. He no longer wields influence over the Toronto Transit Commission.

The new TTC board remains much of the same as the old one: the four councillors who voted not to fire Gary Webster remain in place. Karen Stintz is still chair and Peter Milczyn is likely to be Interim Vice Chair. Joining them will be Josh Colle, Glenn De Baeremaeker and Raymond Cho.

While some will buy into the narrative this happened because of a council opposition that’s drunk with power and bears a personal dislike for the mayor, I have to see it differently: what we saw yesterday was a necessary shift following a series of rejected compromises and aborted deals. A majority of council would have preferred to work within the status quo to achieve the transit direction set out and approved by council in February, but a combination of stubbornness and spite made that impossible.

In addition to being a political body that democratically makes decisions, Council is also responsible for ensuring that those decisions are carried out. To that end, dissolving the existing TTC board and replacing it with one more in tune with council’s approved direction was the only responsible move.

The New Vote

TOCouncil Scorecard March 6 2012- New Votes

The Vote Added:

The existence of EX16.8 was a stroke of luck for council’s opposition. Had the item not coincidentally appeared on the Executive Committee’s agenda a few weeks ago, Stintz would have been forced to call yet another special council meeting in order to get an item relating to the composition of the TTC board on the agenda. Since this item — it originally was just supposed to add some citizen members to the board — was already due to come before council, councillors were able to piggyback their plans on top of it.

The process worked very similarly to what we saw with the TCHC board a year ago. With a majority vote of 29-15, council dissolved the existing board and kicked off a process to appoint seven councillors onto a replacement board. They also voted to add four citizen members at a later date.

The mayor was ill-prepared to counter this motion. Never has his team looked so disorganized and out-of-their-depth on the council floor. Michael Thompson was chosen as the guy who would move a counter-motion, suggesting that the TTC instead be made up of all citizen members with no representation from councillors. Thompson spoke at length about how this would de-politicize transit planning and provide new expertise to the operations of the TTC.

This lame strategy never had a chance of getting anywhere near majority support. To further complicate matters, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Councillor David Shiner — both Ford-allies — moved their own conflicting motions.

The alternative motions were ultimately irrelevant, as Stintz’s motion to dissolve came before council first and passed by a huge margin. Even stalwarts like Cesar Palacio and Gary Crawford supported it. Giorgio Mammoliti’s thumb barely made an appearance all day. The mayor, it seemed, had given up.

Trend Watch

With her full-term voting percentage dropping below 70%, Councillor Jaye Robinson is now firmly in “mighty middle” territory. She should feel more at home there.

The mayor needs to start finding some common ground with middle-of-the-road stalwarts Josh Matlow and Josh Colle — their voting records lately are looking more lefty and less middle.

It’s important to note that the new TTC board is still heavy with councillors with very Ford-friendly voting records. Despite her recent characterization as a tool of the left, Karen Stintz has voted with Ford 87% of the time. John Parker is a 92% stalwart. Peter Milczyn beats them both at 95%. Of the other four, Josh Colle and Raymond Cho are hardly flag-waving leftists. Under any other circumstance, this would be considered a very balanced board.

Hell, I can prove it mathematically. Average out the full-term Ford Nation scores of the seven councillors on the new TTC board and here’s what you get: 50.3%.

Questions

Questions about the Council Scorecard? Read my notes on methodology. Also, you can email me.


5
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.


1
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.

 


28
Feb 12

Tunnel Vision: four reasons we can’t have the subways Rob Ford wants

At this point it’s become a relentless drumbeat: Rob Ford wants subways. He wants them so much he’s prepared to spend the next two years campaigning for reelection on the promise of subways for Scarborough — and, if there’s time, maybe for Etobicoke too. Underground trains have become a live-or-die priority for his administration.

Why this is a foolish political play is well-established: Ford is promising something he has no workable strategy to deliver. He’s writing a multi-billion dollar cheque he can’t even begin to cash.

But beyond that, there are more reasons why Ford’s tunnel vision is bad for Toronto. A recently unearthed “secret” report, first publicized by the Toronto Star’s Royson James and then released by Steve Munro, raises a number of objections to the suburban subways at the centre of Ford’s demands.

Here are four of the bigger reasons why Ford’s subways won’t work.

1. Scarborough & North York haven’t become the bustling downtowns planners thought they would be

Rob Ford's Reasons Why Not Subways: 1 - Jobs

If you’re looking for proof that now-former TTC General Manager Gary Webster was loyal, look no further than this leaked report. Written in March of 2011, it basically lays out all that is wrong with Ford’s subways-only approach to transit building in the suburbs.

And yet the report — so devastating to the arguments Ford’s been using to support his transit plan — didn’t leak until recently, almost a year after it was originally written and then buried by the mayor’s office. And even then, indicators say that the leak didn’t come from Webster’s office.

The smoking gun part of the report goes like this: Toronto planned its transit expansion back in the 1980s under the assumption that they could limit growth in the downtown core and turn the city centres in Scarborough and North York into bustling job-rich urban spaces. Metro Council and the TTC expected huge job growth in the inner suburbs — projecting a 218% increase in the number of jobs in North York Centre, and a whopping 351% increase in Scarborough Centre.

Those projections turned out to be spectacularly wrong. More than 25 years later, neither North York or Scarborough has seen anywhere near that kind of job growth. The city as a whole has only added about 70,000 net new jobs since 1986. North York Centre added 800 employment positions, while Scarborough Centre actually saw a net loss of employment positions, shedding 700 jobs.

Employment areas and transit ridership are very closely linked. Toronto’s existing subways are so successful because they connect homes with all the big buildings downtown where people work. Most of the new residents in the city’s suburbs, unfortunately, don’t work in areas near where Ford’s subways would go — a lot of them find employment in the 905.

Which means that Ford’s 2012 transit plan is based on planning concepts and ideas from the 1980s. Concepts and ideas that turned out to be wholly and devastatingly incorrect.

2. In the wake of low job growth, ridership projections are much lower

Rob Ford's Reasons Why Not Subways: 1 - Ridership

Because these subways likely aren’t going to be of much regular use to the person who lives in Agincourt but works in Markham, the TTC has dramatically reduced its projections for rapid transit routes on Eglinton & Sheppard. The latter was expected to carry 15,400 people in its peak hour. In its abbreviated form, it carries less than a third of that figure. Expectations for ridership on Eglinton have been scaled down by a similar amount.

As of 2011, the TTC estimates ridership of 5,400 people in the peak hour per direction on Eglinton, and 6,000 to 10,000 on a fully built-out Sheppard line from Downsview to Scarborough Centre. About 15,000 riders per hour are needed to justify the costs of a full-scale subway.

3. The subway system costs us a ton of money to maintain — and Rob Ford’s subways would lose money

Rob Ford's Reasons Why Not Subways: 3 - Cost

An interesting statistic via the leaked report: the TTC spends $230 million in operating costs and $275 million in capital costs just to maintain the existing subway system. Assuming those figures take into account the costs of maintaining the Scarborough RT, that works out to per-kilometre maintenance costs of $3.2 million operating and $3.9 million capital. In other words: every kilometre of subway costs $7 million a year. Just to keep the trains running.

So much for all this talk of subways being an asset that last 100 years with minimal operating costs.

You can have a lot of fun with these numbers, though it’s important to remember that they represent long-term costs of maintaining infrastructure. Things will be much cheaper to run when the infrastructure is shiny and new.

Still, take the full 18 kilometre Sheppard Subway route the mayor wants to build. Not only will the new track and tunnel cost about $300 million per-kilometre, we can also expect to pay $59 million per year in operating costs and $79 million in capital. Working from the TTC’s assumption that each rider is worth about $2 in revenue, Sheppard would need in excess of 175,000 riders per day to even approach break-even operation.

Because we haven’t seen the job growth predicted in the 1980s, ridership projections don’t approach that break-even point. The city would need to subsidize Rob Ford’s subways for decades to come

4. Given current priorities, Rob Ford’s subways are the wrong subways for Toronto

We run the risk with this subways-and-LRT debate to oversimplify things down to some sort of pseudo-ideological battle. But this really isn’t a matter of choosing sides: you aren’t either for LRTs or for subways. It’s about choosing the right mode for the right route at the right cost.

Let’s make it clear: no one is saying that we should focus only on surface light rail transit. Toronto’s transit future includes new subways. It has to.

There are two pressing issues facing Toronto’s transit system.

First, there’s a lack of higher-order transit connecting the inner suburbs. Mobility sucks across much of the 416 and that limits our ability to successfully address a host of social and fiscal issues.

Second, the backbone of our transit system — the Yonge subway line — is overcapacity and trending worse. (Current capacity estimates for Toronto’s subway routes and extension were compiled based on data provided by former staffer Karl Junkin on Steve Munro’s blog. Big thanks to him.)

The city’s current transit planning mostly tries to address the first point. With a network of suburban light rail lines, the TTC can provide service that’s way more effective than the current buses without breaking the bank. Light rail is flexible enough and cheap enough to provide for frequent expansion that isn’t always reliant on provincial funding gifts.

As for the second point: we’ve got nothing. The Yonge subway line operates at more than 100% of its capacity during rush hour, and often even outside of rush hour. Up until now, the TTC has proposed a bevy of short-term fixes like automatic train operation and adding extra cars to the subway trains, but these are expensive band-aids that aren’t going to permanently resolve chronic overcrowding.

No, the only real solution to fixing Toronto’s crowded subway problem is to build another subway.

The Downtown Relief Line, kicked around as an idea since the 1970s, could extend down Don Mills from Eglinton, connect with the Bloor-Danforth line at Pape and then continue on a route through the eastern part of the old city before connecting with the Yonge & University subways downtown. A second phase could take the line on a similar route in the west.

Unlike Eglinton & Sheppard, the TTC’s ridership projections for this route have actually increased since they were first made in 1986. With 13,000 riders per hour in the peak direction, the DRL would open with ridership very close to subway minimums and, more importantly, would serve as a relief valve for the overburdened Yonge line, solving one of the most pressing issues facing Toronto’s transit system. The line would provide new service to dense neighbourhoods while simultaneously having a positive network impact.

If Rob Ford really wants to champion subways, this is the one he should support. It’s achievable, justifiable and ultimately affordable, thanks to some of the revenue tools put on the table by Gordon Chong.

There is a subway vision that actually makes sense for Toronto — it’s just not the one the mayor is fighting for.


23
Feb 12

City Council Scorecard: Adding up the transit vote

Toronto Council Scorecard

February 23, 2012: Google Docs (Best View) – Download (PDF)  – Download (PNG)

Council has actually met three separate times in February, but only one of those meetings resulted in a vote worth recording on the City Council Scorecard. Aside from a couple of integrity commissioner issues that — while fun to watch — didn’t go anywhere, February’s regular council meeting was fairly quiet. If arguments in the chamber got contentious, it was probably because momentum was building behind-the-scenes for the special council meeting held on February 8 that saw the mayor’s transit vision smashed with a procedural hammer.

From that special February 8 meeting, the vote added to this month’s scorecard represents the most significant defeat of Rob Ford’s administration. I’ve made that claim several times before — and each time it was true! — but this is a serious major-league defeat for Rob Ford. The council he’s supposed to be leading basically told him that he wasn’t allowed to make decisions on transit.

The New Vote

Council Scorecard: February 23, 2012 (New Votes)

The vote added:

  • CC17.1, Motion 3a as moved by TTC Chair Karen Stintz, pushed council to endorse what they had already endorsed in 2009 (and several other times): light rail on Finch West & Eglinton. The second part of her motion, which also passed, will see an expert panel report back to council with options for Sheppard. While no one wanted to say it, this is the vote that brings back Transit City. It passed — after two re-votes because councillors kept hitting the wrong button — by a final and decisive margin of 25-18.

Trend Watch

What’s most notable about the chart is how bad 2012 has been for Rob Ford. Only 20 of 44 councillors have sided with the mayor more than 50% of the time on major items this year. And the gap is only widening: going by the same metrics I was using last year, only three councillors — Gloria Lindsay Luby, James Pasternak and Jaye Robinson — fit the profile of the “mushy middle” based on their 2012 votes, and they were all reliable Ford supporters through the first nine months of this term. Everyone else has either supported the mayor on virtually every item or come out in strong opposition.

Ford has lost most of the sway he had over votes through 2011. Opposition councillors are now able to round up 23 votes without too much hassle. That threshold has been crossed. And there’s no going back unless the mayor starts compromising.

The thing to watch going forward is whether we’ll find a scenario where 30 votes will go against Ford. A consistent bloc of 30 councillors — controlling two-thirds of the chamber  — would effectively neuter any positional power Ford has as mayor. It’d be a whole different ballgame.

The path to 30 isn’t easy. Take the 25 votes who went against Ford on the transit item, then add Gloria Lindsay Luby, who was absent from the vote, to make 26. From there, the best bets would be councillors like Peter Milczyn — who bravely opposed the mayor on the Gary Webster firing –, Gary Crawford, Michael Thompson, and basically anyone else with a Liberal Party membership or a stated interest in the arts, the environment or sensible urban planning.

It’s not straightforward, but it’s doable. And every uncompromising and bullheaded decision made by the mayor’s office only makes it more doable.

Questions

Questions about the Council Scorecard? Read my notes on methodology. Also, you can email me.