Posts Tagged: ttc


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.


22
Feb 12

Without Just Cause: Gary Webster gets fired

As expected, the TTC board formally released General Manager Gary Webster from his contract yesterday after a 5-4 vote. This is widely regarded as a dumb move.

The Globe & Mail’s Marcus Gee:

Mr. Webster is being fired just days after a public meeting in which he spoke his mind, in the most calm and respectful manner, about his views on the best way to expand Toronto’s transit network. Those views differ sharply from the mayor’s.

Firing him now reeks of spite. It confirms what many people already feel about the mayor’s blunderbuss, my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing the city. It conflicts with the mayor’s pledge to cut waste. Firing Mr. Webster only a year and a bit before the end of his contract could cost the city $500,000 and more.

Worse, it sets a dangerous precedent that could intimidate the other leading public servants who advise the mayor and city council on public policy.

via Shameful firing further alienates Mayor Ford | The Globe and Mail.

In addition to the cost and the dangerous precedent this sets, this move is ridiculously hasty and ill-timed. Even Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has acknowledged that it doesn’t make sense to fire the most important civil servant at the TTC when you have no workable strategy for replacing him. The commission will likely spend a year (or more) trying to find a permanent replacement, through which time management will undoubtedly suffer due to a lack of leadership.

Webster was going to retire in a year anyway. Instead of just waiting that out, the city gets to dole out $500,000 in severance payments, deal with a difficult period of managerial change and — oh yeah — live with the consequences of being a crappy employer with a reputation for firing people without just cause.

There’s no way to sugar-coat that last part. The motion passed at the meeting was clear: Webster was fired without just cause. For no reason.

The timing of this also sucks for Ford’s policy ambitions — assuming he has any left. Had the mayor waited and made a move against Webster later this year, this would have felt a lot less petty and vindictive. He would have been able to retain more support from allies, especially as council as a whole would have moved on from the contentious LRT/subway debate and onto other issues. As it is, Ford’s move to oust Webster has only hardened the conviction of previously “mushy middle” councillors who have spoken out against his agenda in recent months. Worse, it’s also put significant strain on the loyalties of at least three councillors who had been, up until recently, critical and vocal supporters of the mayor’s agenda.

There’s no political calculus that says firing Gary Webster was worth potentially alienating Karen Stintz, John Parker & Peter Milczyn. Without those bedrock supporters in the chamber, Ford can’t even dream of getting to 23 votes on any significant agenda item. Without strategy and without allies, Rob Ford continues to cast himself into irrelevance.

“This mayor is not one that unites people”

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney & Mike Spears, quoting the current budget chief:

“The message is not good,” said Councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt). “This mayor is not one that unites people. He has thin skin. Those that don’t agree with him aren’t going to last very long.”

via Soknacki retiring from politics | Toronto Star.

Sure, Del Grande was speaking about another mayor in another time (in 2006), but stripped of context his point will always be a good one: mayors should unite people. A mayor who fails to unite people is not very good at his job.

Criticize David Miller all you want — despite protests from some, he never saw a civil servant fired like this, without just cause and with such vindictiveness — but he was a hundred times better at uniting councillors in favour of a common agenda than Rob Ford has proven to be.

On the Defensive

In a parallel universe, the same group of citizens who gathered at City Hall yesterday to defend the career of Gary Webster could have easily spent a day criticizing his performance as TTC chair and demanding improvements. They could have made a list of a hundred things that Webster and the TTC should be doing better.

That’s not an indication of hypocrisy or political bias. It’s just one of those weird truths that come about when you’ve got a mayor who takes a damn-the-torpedoes approach to governance. By attempting to tear down and destroy, Ford puts his opponents into a perpetual defensive position. Nuanced viewpoints give way to a simple desire to preserve. Opposing Rob Ford these days generally means working to prevent programs, services and people from being tossed into the trash.

It is a shame, because nuance is important. Transit City isn’t a perfect plan. Gary Webster wasn’t a perfect manager. There’s room for improvement and innovation across every city department. But council hasn’t been able to work on the things that lead to improvement and innovation because they live in a constant state of defensive readiness. The entire political discourse in this city is dominated by strategy designed to preempt and contain the damage coming out of the mayor’s office.

Council wasn’t able to contain the damage yesterday. Webster’s career is over. But this story continues.


20
Feb 12

Down with Webster: Ford to spend half-million dollars because transit GM disagrees with him

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Rob Ford either doesn’t understand the basic principles of good governance, or he doesn’t care to be guided by them. Neither do Norm Kelly, Cesar Palacio, Frank Di Giorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, or Vincent Crisanti—the councillors (and TTC commissioners) who signed a petition yesterday calling for a special meeting to oust TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

via In Service to the Public Good, Not Mere Power | Torontoist.

At a special meeting of the TTC on Tuesday, those five councillors — in service to the mayor — will likely endorse spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to release Webster from his contract. The TTC will then presumably spend untold amounts of money and time conducting a search for a replacement.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars — respect-hungry taxpayer dollars! — flushed down the toilet all because Webster refuses to bend facts and figures to placate Rob Ford’s imaginary subway plan.

Webster’s great sin is providing evidence in support of a transit plan adopted by a strong majority of councillors earlier this month.

I’d never argue that Webster has been exemplary in his role as transit manager — the TTC is not without its problems — but he has presided over record ridership growth, new vehicle roll-outs, a vast expansion of new technologies like stop announcements and NextBus and design plans for the largest expansion of rail transit Toronto has seen in several decades. There’s a lot to be proud of.

Former GM David Gunn told the Toronto Star this weekend that Webster will be a hard person to replace:

At some transit agencies, Gunn said, senior management has been “rolled over and over” so many times for political reasons that only political people end up running the agencies, which he says require significant technical and operational expertise in addition to business or administrative acumen.

“They’re creating a situation where it is going to be difficult to have a very serious transit manager,” Gunn said. “Certainly they’re going to have difficulty replacing Gary, somebody of his quality.”

via TTC’s Gary Webster would be tough to replace: David Gunn | Toronto Star.

It’s clear, however, that Ford doesn’t necessarily care about qualifications. In fact, I’m not even sure that the mayor knows what he wants. Strategy coming out of the mayor’s office these days is mostly foolhardy, haphazard and ad-hoc. No one is thinking long-term. There’s no consideration of the three years ahead or the terrible precedents move like this set.

This decision appears to be entirely motivated by spite and cruelty, and not by any desire to improve management at the TTC.  Rob Ford realized he couldn’t fire Karen Stintz from her role as TTC Chair, so he’s firing someone else instead.

No Strategy

It’s hard to see this as part of a cunning plan by the Ford administration. What does the mayor expect to happen? Sure, he can oust Webster and a few other managers, but council can easily respond by dissolving the TTC board and reappointing councillors more agreeable to approved transit plans. Ford can’t expect to maintain any power or influence if he continues pissing everyone off.

If he actually wants to continue to have any influence on the transit file, Ford’s only real strategic move is to strike a conciliatory pose. He should turn back toward a compromise path. But he won’t do that. Even in the face of overwhelming reason, he won’t do that.

As it is, his latest move will serve only to further alienate allies like John Parker, Karen Stintz and maybe even Peter Milczyn. It will plunge council into another episode of procedural chaos where tensions run high and nothing gets done. And after all that, Ford will inevitably end up having little say in choosing Webster’s successor.

And none of this will impact the thing Ford’s really mad about. The light rail plan endorsed by council and accepted by the province will continue to move forward.

Who are the Ford Five on the TTC?

The TTC commission is currently made up of nine councillors. Five of them have signed the petition calling for a special meeting on Tuesday. Assuming that Maria Augimeri, John Parker, Chair Karen Stintz and Vice Chair Peter Milczyn vote against firing Webster, that makes for a 5-4 result.

Ford retains narrow control of the TTC only because these five councillors have seemingly dedicated themselves to following the mayor into the flames:

Vincent Crisanti is a first-term councillor who won his seat in Ward 1 by 509 votes, narrowly beating the incumbent by less than two percentage points. He’s voted with the mayor 97% of the time on major items, deviating only once on a matter relating to Community Environment Days.  Crisanti has distinguished himself by fighting tooth and nail against bringing higher order transit to his ward via the Finch West LRT.

The Finch West LRT has repeatedly been endorsed by the president of  Humber College. In 2008, the Emery Village BIA — located in the ward adjacent to Crisanti’s — indicated that “community response was unanimous in support of the LRT system.”

Frank Di Giorgio is a 90% Rob Ford supporter, though he’s been trending upwards in his support in recent months, while the rest of council has gone the other way. He won his seat, which he’s held on-and-off in various forms since 1985, by 422 votes or 3 percentage points. He voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times.

Di Giorgio has been most outspoken in the lead-up to the special TTC meeting. On Sunday, he told the Star’s Brendan Kennedy that it made sense to fire Webster because the mayor’s mandate matters, implying that the will of council is essentially irrelevant:

Di Giorgio said the responsibility of the city’s bureaucracy is to follow the will of the mayor and achieve the objectives set out by his mandate, which TTC managers have failed to do.

“We’re trying to eliminate some of the problems that surfaced over the last month that should not have surfaced and need not have surfaced.”

via TTC transit chief Gary Webster may not be only one to lose job: Di Giorgio | Toronto Star.

In 2008, the Toronto Environmental Alliance awarded Di Giorgio an A+ grade for his commitment to green initiatives, citing him as their “most improved” councillor. They noted his support for things like studying the teardown of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, implementing the Land Transfer and Vehicle Registration Taxes and beefed up waste diversion targets.

Since then, Di Giorgio has become a Ford-backing councillor who has supported closing libraries, rescinding the ban on the sale of bottled water at city facilities, eliminating bike lanes, backing off on the city’s tree canopy goal and killing Community Environment Days.

Funny how things change.

Norm Kelly has been in various offices since the 1980s, once serving as a Parliamentary Secretary under Pierre Trudeau. Under David Miller, he voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He has since become a 100% supporter of Rob Ford. In the wake of council’s vote on transit, Kelly implied that the province would be justified in ignoring council’s decision and deferring to the mayor.

Denzil Minnan-Wong is another Rob Ford stalwart at 100%. However, he differs slightly from Norm Kelly in that he expressed a desire for the mayor to accept council’s transit decision. “Council spoke and you just move forward,” he told the the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat. It’s unclear how firing the general manager figures into moving forward on this issue. Minnan-Wong supported Transit City at least four times between 2006 and 2010. He was absent for the other recorded votes.

Cesar Palacio is a 95% Rob Ford supporter. He also voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He’s decided that the litany of issues that arose with the St. Clair right-of-way project are reason enough to oppose on-street LRT, apparently working from the assumption that all surface transit projects inevitably go over budget because of scope creep, NIMBYism and nuisance legal cases.

 


16
Feb 12

Memo to the suburbs: pro-subway mayor wanted to cut your bus routes

Buried in a worth-your-time profile of Karen Stintz, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Yang reports this gem, from former Ford Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis:

Kouvalis said the first crack between Stintz and Ford appeared after she backed down on plans to cut 48 bus routes, a move that would have freed $7 million.

Kouvalis said the bus motion was a “test” to see which TTC commissioners would fall in line and which were “wet noodles.” Stintz was a noodle, he says.

“My advice was: Get rid of her, right there on the spot,” Kouvalis says.

He recently reiterated that point to Ford, he adds. “She’s committed the biggest sin in politics, which is disloyalty,” he charges.

via Toronto News: Karen Stintz reveals her master plan: There is none – thestar.com.

As a quick refresher, Ford started pushing cuts to bus service in January 2011, almost immediately after he took office. He called it a “service reallocation.”

Of the 48 routes impacted by the proposed cuts, most provided service to Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York. Many provided important links to subway stations and other forms of rapid transit.

The cuts drew a backlash. A series of public meetings on the issue did not go well. Transit users took issue with the TTC’s outdated ridership counts. And so the TTC blinked. The service cuts were rolled back. Instead of $7 million in service reductions, the city only saw $4 million.

At the time, it looked like both Ford and Stintz had yielded to the public response, but Kouvalis’ comments paint a different story. According to him, those initial route cuts stood as a twisted way to ensure that the mayor’s chosen TTC chair was, in fact, okay with screwing over transit riders to save a little money.

The truth was that Ford always wanted to cut bus service. It was Stintz that stepped in to preserve what she could.

Ignoring that this seems like an incredibly cruel way to test someone’s loyalty, let’s focus on what the move says about Rob Ford’s attitude toward public transit in the suburbs. He sees it as expendable. For all his talk about sticking up for transit riders in Scarborough, the mayor has now presided over two consecutive budget cycles in which suburban bus service was reduced. If he continues to insist on reductions to the TTC operating subsidy, this pattern will continue: fewer vehicles, wider headways, crappier service.

Even if Ford were able to wave a magic wand and build subways across Sheppard, Eglinton & Finch, most people in the suburbs would still live in areas far removed from subway stations. Bus service provides the local connectivity you need to make rapid transit corridors work. When you start making cuts to that service to save money, the whole network feels the impact.

Ford’s plan seems to be to sell himself as a champion for transit in the suburbs, but his attitude toward suburban bus service tells another story. He talks about building subways while simultaneously cutting service on the bus routes that would feed those subways. And now, via Kouvalis, we’ve got confirmation that Karen Stintz has been serving as the counter-weight to the mayor’s transit cuts. Without her, things would have been worse.

Measuring Stintz

Before I get accused of drinking too much of the Karen Stintz Kool-Aid, I want to note how disappointed I was when she did this:

The Toronto Transit Commission has decided to put an extra $5-million it was awarded by city council to maintaining Wheel-Trans service for dialysis patients – not to reversing some of the bus cuts.

The unexpected money also allows Wheel-Trans to start accepting new dialysis patients and restores overall eligibility criteria to earlier levels for 2012.

via TTC using $5M awarded by council to beef up Wheel-Trans | National Post.

That $5 million was directed to the TTC by council with the intention that it would be used to preserve conventional bus service. Wheel-Trans is a noble and important thing, but the commission had already identified a strategy to work to maintain service for dialysis patients when it was due to run out of funding later this year.

Stintz and other Ford-allies argued that using so-called “one-time” funds for bus service was a bad idea, because, hey, what if the city doesn’t have a surplus next year? We’d have to cut that service anyway. But, by that logic, this Wheel-Trans funding presents a similar risk: are we going to kick dialysis patients off the bus in 2013?

We’re not, of course. Because there will be a surplus next year. And even in the crazy unlikely event that there isn’t, there are always ways to find revenues to maintain the things we value most.


10
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.


9
Feb 12

LRT for Toronto: Rob Ford loses bid to control Toronto’s transit future

Rob Ford’s unilateral transit planning came to an end today when council voted 25-18 to re-endorse plans for light rail transit on Eglinton, Finch & the SRT route. Back before Rob Ford was elected, we would have called this “Transit City.” Mostly.

There were no major surprises coming out of today’s vote. TTC Chair Karen Stintz did broker a small compromise when she ended up punting on the idea of light rail on Sheppard. As it stands, an “expert panel” will review various options for that corridor — including the mayor’s favoured subway scheme. In addition, Jaye Robinson, who will always be a wildcard and was a major unknown going in to today’s vote, ended up voting in favour of the proposal championed by Stintz. Her vote was important as it gave council the strong majority it needed to convince the province this was a serious  — and unwavering — decision.

It seemed like it worked. Every indication is that the province will accept council’s plan and move forward under this new framework.

Rob Ford is obviously not happy. Over the course of the meeting, his administration tried everything from a deferral motion to spiteful procedural delay in an effort to stave off the inevitable vote. In the end, nothing worked. The mayor went down, losing a major vote on transit.

Afterwards, Ford attempted to save face by declaring today’s meeting irrelevant. On his Facebook page, he promised that the fight for transit is not over. But given the province’s reaction and the nature of today’s vote, it’s hard to see his statements as anything more than a lame duck mayor grasping for relevance in the face of total defeat.


6
Feb 12

Why are some councillors set to vote against transit in their wards?

Councillors Against Transit: How are councillors voting on projects set to pass through their wards?

Councillors Against Transit? Some councillors are set to vote against transit projects that would run through their wards. (The Sheppard East LRT will also skirt the wards of Councillors Del Grande & Moeser.)

Updated Feb 7 2012: The voting chart at the bottom of this post has been updated based on new information. Councillors Moeser and Lindsay Luby are both likely to miss the meeting. Frances Nunziata confirmed which was she was leaning when she called Karen Stintz a ‘traitor’ at council yesterday. And Mark Grimes is Mark Grimes. Jaye Robinson remains the only undecided, and I could see her going either way.

It’s official. As reported by Inside Toronto’s David Nickle:

Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz and 22 other city councillors have demanded a special Toronto City Council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, to consider whether to bury the Scarborough-Eglinton Crosstown LRT through Scarborough.

Stintz, who represents Eglinton-Lawrence on council, presented the petition to the city clerk prior to the start of the city’s regular council meeting Monday, Feb. 6.

via TTC chair Stintz calls for special council meeting on Transit City | InsideToronto.com.

Twenty-four councillors signed Stintz’s petition, with James Pasternak and Gloria Lindsay Luby standing as the difference-makers. I expected to see John Parker’s name on the list — he’s been vocal throughout this debate — but he seems to have opted to play it safe. Still, there’s a good chance he’ll vote in favour of the agenda item on Wednesday.

With the majority in place, our attention now turns to the motley crew of councillors who have decided to stick with the Fords even in the face of almost-certain defeat. For some, the motive is easy to understand. Scarborough councillors like Michael Thompson and Michelle Berardinetti have nothing to lose by supporting gold-plated underground transit through Scarborough, even if that support means that other projects lose out. And councillors like Peter Milczyn and Cesar Palacio are so far removed from the projects on the table that they might as well protect their political position and side with the mayor.

But for other councillors, motive is harder to pin down.

Take the councillors in the table above. All of them represent wards that lost out on transit when Rob Ford made his unilateral decision to cancel the Finch West and Sheppard East LRT projects. And yet, even knowing what’s at stake, three of them seem likely to double down on their support for the mayor and vote against bringing improved transit to their constituents on Wednesday.

You can almost excuse Norman Kelly and Giorgio Mammoliti. They’re council veterans unlikely to face electoral consequence no matter what they do. Kelly also has the spectre of a Sheppard Subway to point at. And no one expects Mammoliti make rational decisions.

But for Councillor Vincent Crisanti — still a quiet council newbie with a near-perfect record of Ford support — his vote on Wednesday could easily be seen as a slight against the neighbourhoods he represents in Ward 1. He’s got to know that any talk of underground transit into northwest Etobicoke is pure fantasy. Even the biggest optimist would be hard-pressed to include a Finch subway project in a fifty-year timeframe. He also knows well that the Finch bus route is one of the most crowded and uncomfortable in the city. And he knows that Humber College — a major driver of economic activity in his area — has long advocated for improved transit connections to their campus, something the LRT was set to provide.

Last February, the President of Humber College expressed regret over the mayor’s decision to kill the Finch West LRT project, telling the campus newspaper, “We had a plan in terms of the previous government. Now we don’t have a plan, and we have yet to see one.”

Crisanti has a chance to play a role in bringing that plan to Humber College this week. He’s got a chance to improve transit for the community that elected him. It’s a shame he’s going to pass on it.

Continue reading →


3
Feb 12

Wasted Money: Putting Rob Ford’s Transit City cancellation costs into context

Wasted Money: Putting Rob Ford's Transit City cancellation costs into context

Most people understand now that Rob Ford’s unilateral — maybe illegal — decision to cancel Transit City comes at a cost. There’s the widely cited figure of $65 million — a bill the city will have to pay to make good on contracts signed to deliver Transit City. But his decision also cost us $48.5 million in mostly unrecoverable sunk costs related to work done on now-scrapped light trail transit lines on Finch West and Sheppard East. (At the time of cancellation, a further $80 million had been spent on the Eglinton and Scarborough RT Transit City lines, but most of that work would still apply to the rejigged Metrolinx Crosstown project. See this TTC briefing for a breakdown of costs.)

All told, slashing Transit City will cost the taxpayer approximately $113.5 million. Let’s give that figure some context, using examples of “wasteful spending” identified by the mayor during his campaign.

For the cost of cancelling Transit City:

  • We could pay for the entire $106 million St. Clair streetcar ROW project, including overages. This project was famously plagued with delays and budget overruns — and it’s still pointed to by Ford and others as the reason we have to cancel Transit City — , but economic indicators point to a revitalized St. Clair Ave. (Budget figures are taken from the “Getting it Right” report on the project.)
  • We could build 11 Peter Street Homeless Shelters. Ford cited cost overruns and delays on this $11.5 million project as an example of gravy during the election.
  • The TCHC could scandalously squander ten times more money on Christmas parties and sole-sourced contracts. The TCHC mess that marked Ford’s first six months in office was undoubtedly a case where money was being misspent. But the $10.2 million identified by the Auditor General as ‘wasted’ amounts to just 10% of the cost of cancelling Transit City.
  • Councillors could enjoy free snacks at meetings for more than two millennia. Ford made political hay over the food provided to councillors during meetings. One of his first acts as mayor was eliminating the perk, for a savings of $48,000 per year. The Transit City cancellation costs add up to about 2,364 years of lame sandwiches and mysterious buffet pasta.
  • Kyle Rae could retire more than 9,000 times. Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party — charged to his office expenses — became a symbol of wasteful spending during the election. For the cost of cancelling Transit City, he could hold 9,000 just like it. Or one much, much bigger party.
  • Councillors could rent more than 176,105 animal costumes for children’s events. During the David Miller years, animal costumes rented for children’s events — a bunny, a chipmunk, a Dalmatian and a bear, for the record — were cited as examples of things councillors were squandering their office budgets on. Ford cut councillor office budgets by more than $20,000 after he took office. Councillors could rent enough animal costumes to outfit an army with the money wasted cancelling Transit City.

I make these comparisons not to excuse the behaviour of past governments — much of it is completely inexcusable — but to point out that, when it comes to wasting taxpayer money, Ford’s Transit City decision ranks near the top of the list.

Nothing Ford identified as ‘gravy’ during his campaign even approaches the amount of money he squandered on his first day in office when he recklessly halted Toronto’s transit plans.

Council will soon have the opportunity to vote on transit and potentially recoup some of these costs by restoring some or all of the original Transit City plan. There’s still time.


30
Jan 12

Council Scorecard: Did council ever vote on Transit City? Yes, at least seven times

Retro Council Scorecard: Transit City

A retro City Council Scorecard: occasions where the 2006-2010 council voted on Transit City. Click for bigger.

On Twitter Sunday night, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong charmingly asked if it’s “a good time to mention that Transit City was never brought before Council for approval?”

He posed his smug question, I guess, because of this news story, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski:

A report by a respected Toronto law firm says Mayor Rob Ford exceeded his legal authority when he cancelled Transit City without city council approval.

Councillor Joe Mihevc, who solicited the legal opinion, will release it publicly on Monday.

It says the mayor had no business entering into a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the province that authorized a new transit plan, including a Sheppard subway and a longer tunnel on the Eglinton light rail line. It says he further overstepped his powers when he told TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to stop work on Transit City.

via Mayor Rob Ford had no authority to cancel Transit City, lawyers say | Toronto Star.

The sad thing is that a legal opinion really wasn’t needed. Anyone with the ability to read sentences would come to the same conclusion that the lawyers did. The Memorandum of Understanding that set the new direction for transit in Toronto, as signed by the mayor and Metrolinx last March, was explicitly a non-binding agreement designed to “provide a framework for the negotiation of agreements to be approved by [the mayor and Metrolinx’s] governing bodies.” In the mayor’s case, that governing body is council.

Further, the City Manager wrote, in a response to an Administrative Inquiry by Councillor Janet Davis, that “any agreements to implement the Memorandum will require Council approval.”

So Ford clearly violated the limits of his power when he went and started implementing his transit plans. And don’t forget: his decision to kill Transit City cost the city more than $200 million in cancellation fees and wasted work by staff and consultants.

That $200 million stands as a bigger example of government waste than anything Ford has identified as ‘gravy’ at City Hall thus far. It’s a figure that exceeds the entire budget of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project.

But council was at least somewhat complicit in letting him get away with it. On his radio show yesterday, Councillor Josh Matlow asked Mihevc why he only commissioned this legal opinion now and not, say, a year ago — when most everybody knew Ford had overstepped his bounds. Mihevc was polite in his answer, but his real reasoning seems obvious: it didn’t make sense to make any noise about the mayor’s transit plan at the time because, had a vote on the subject actually come to council, guys like Matlow — and the other middle-aligned councillors — might have supported the mayor.

Things are different now.

But back to Minnan-Wong. He’s not just wrong in his claim that council never voted on Transit City. He is wrong in at least seven different ways.

How council endorsed Transit City at least seven times

I guess the implication when Minnan-Wong and others claim Transit City was never put to a vote is that never did David Miller bring an item to council asking for endorsement on the “Transit City” brand. And it’s true: council never approved the bundling of a number of suburban light rail projects together under that name, nor did they specifically endorse, in advance, Miller and Adam Giambrone’s decision to work with the province to get Transit City included as part of Dalton McGuinty’s MoveOntario 2020 funding announcement.

But council did approve — often overwhelmingly — every element of the Transit City plan that moved beyond early planning stages. Beginning in 2007, they unanimously approved the direction of Transit City as part of a Climate Change action plan. In 2009, as projects really started moving, Council approved capital expenditures of more than $134 million to work on Transit City. That same year, they approved  Environment Assessments for the Sheppard East LRT (no recorded vote), the Eglinton LRT — which at that point was running on the surface at both ends — and the Finch West LRT. They also okayed the acquisition of land from private owners to support various parts of Transit City. In 2010, council opted to make the Scarborough RT rebuild part of Transit City, converting it from a proprietary technology to the same light rail planned for Eglinton, Finch and Sheppard East. (Council also endorsed Transit City as part of a debate on an extension of the Yonge subway into Richmond Hill.)

Lastly, council gave authority to actually begin work on the light rail project on Sheppard East. Only three councillors opposed, including the mayor. This grade separation work was underway at Agincourt when Rob Ford cancelled the project.

No one denies that Ford has the ability to set priorities and direction on the transit file. He’s the mayor. But he is not allowed to move forward with decisions that impact the finances of this city without council’s endorsement.

Council had numerous opportunities to alter or stop forward movement on Transit City. They’ve have had no such opportunity with Rob Ford’s so-called “Transportation City.” It’s moved forward like a runaway train.


30
Jan 12

Toronto’s Transit Future: Responding to Rob Ford

On January 26, several days after TTC Karen Stintz mused openly about making substantial changes to current transit plans, Mayor Rob Ford made his first public statement on the subject. That statement was then quickly retracted because it was riddled with embarrassing factual errors, including a claim that the TTC had been building subways for 100 years. Toronto didn’t open its first subway line until 1954. The original message also claimed some degree of support for the underground plan by the Pembina Institute. To which Pembina quickly retorted: nope. (The original version, via Jonathan Goldsbie, is here.) On January 28, a revised version of the same message was posted to the mayor’s Facebook page. I decided to respond to it.

All quoted text via Rob Ford’s Weekly Report – week ending January 27, 2012.

Dear Friends,

Mr. Mayor! Hi. Sorry about how things have been going for you lately.

From 1910 to 2007, the City of Toronto has based its transit planning around subway lines (built or anticipated). It is now time that we get back to this sort of transit planning to make certain residents will continue to have rapid transit as a mode of commuting.

This is more historically accurate than your original claim that Toronto’s transit system has been based on subways for 100 years. But pointing to 1910 as the year the city started basing its transit planning around subway lines is still a little fishy. While a mayoral candidate that year did support subway construction, he was defeated. On New Year’s Day in 1912, the people of Toronto rejected the possibility of a Yonge subway line when it was put to ballot. The city didn’t get serious about subway construction until 1946.

It’d probably be more accurate to say that, historically, Toronto based its transit planning around streetcars. The TTC once operated a network of streetcar routes that crisscrossed the city, including very busy ones on corridors that later became part of Toronto’s subway system.

And it’s not like we’ve stopped looking at subways, either. There’s a subway extension to York University (and beyond!) currently in the works. And the Downtown Relief Line, which can only be heavy rail subway, is a critical infrastructure project for this city that deserves far more attention than it gets.

For the past 50 of those 100 years of planning transit around subways, the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth lines have continually served as arteries that take in thousands of people each day from near-by surface routes and get them to their destinations quickly.

No argument there. They’re great.

But just for the hell of it, here are some numbers you might find interesting: 714,000. 495,000. 48,000. 39,000. Those were, in 2010, ridership counts for the Yonge subway, the Bloor-Danforth subway, the Sheppard subway and the Scarborough RT respectively. The latter two figures are comparable with — and in some cases lower than — several bus and streetcar routes.

We are now at a juncture where we must expand on our established transit infrastructure to ensure people can continue getting to where they want to go in a fast and efficient way.

Great news! Glad that whole war on cars thing is over.

As you know, I have continually pushed for an underground LRT that will span from Jane/Black Creek to Kennedy Station. I have done this because residents have repeatedly stressed that they do not want streetcars that are marginally faster than busses and take up lanes of traffic. Lastly, it is important that Scarborough, the fastest growing region in Toronto, is finally provided with a rapid transit line that can help move its 625,000 residents faster.

Well, sort of. In your mayoral campaign, you pushed for no transit improvements on Eglinton at all. You told a crowd at a debate held at York Memorial Collegiate in September 2010 that the Sheppard Subway was “all we can afford.”

We’ll get to the speed of light rail transit (or ‘streetcars’ as you kind of derisively call them) later on, but let’s focus on the idea that you’re just doing what the people want you to do.

In a January 2011 Leger Marketing poll, taken at the height of your popularity, only one in four people believed that we should build subways because it’s what you promised during the election. One in four! Considering you won the election with just under half the popular vote, it’s probably reasonable to say that only about half of your base — of Ford Nation — saw your subways plan as an important driver of their support.

In the coming days you are likely to hear some comments from City Hall that will suggest we should go back to Transit City. Proponents will argue that Transit City is an effective way to get around Toronto. I argue, however, that the best way to move people across Toronto is with rapid transit – which you simply cannot have with the surface rail lines.

Sure you can. Speed is a function of design, not technology. Our subway system averages about 30 kilometres-per-hour across the whole system, but that figure is a lot lower if you look only at the downtown section, where stations are close together and the trains have to wait longer at stations due to crowding.

Similarly, speeds on the eastern part of Eglinton were designed to be a bit slower than they would have been on the western part, even though both were to be surface rail. In fact, the part of Eglinton that was to venture into Ford Country in Etobicoke was planned to run at speeds roughly equivalent to the Bloor-Danforth subway.

Metrolinx estimates that the average trip for a rider will be reduced by half on the underground Eglinton Crosstown. Scarborough transit riders on an underground line could travel from Laird Avenue to Kennedy Station in about 14 minutes. This is a vast improvement from the estimated travel time of 24 minutes on a surface rail line.

That feels a bit disingenuous. That section of the line had at least four more stops to service when it was on the surface. If speed is the priority, it’s well within your mandate as the mayor of Toronto to talk to Metrolinx about tweaks to the design that can achieve that. (By the way, here’s what’s decidedly not within your mandate: unilaterally deciding to spend $2 billion dollars to bury a section of rail track on Eglinton Avenue.)

And, even then: transit is inevitably about trade-offs. Does reducing travel times by ten minutes for some commuters justify leaving 50,000 riders on the Finch bus with no improved service?

It is also important to remember that an underground rapid transit line has considerable savings for taxpayers. Underground lines and the vehicles that travel on them require less maintenance since they are spared the wear and tear of Canadian summers and winters. This will result in infrastructure that lasts longer and keeps the capital replacement costs down.

Pretty sneaky, but I’m not sure this holds up. With underground transit, maintenance costs are mostly folded into operating expenses — after you or I take the last train home at night, the TTC lets loose with a phalanx of maintenance staff who work in the subway tunnels to keep things running smoothly on an ongoing basis. Our existing on-street rail, on the other hand, tends to be maintained through sporadic work paid for via the capital budget.

It’s hard to make direct comparisons between ongoing maintenance and operating costs and TTC budget data isn’t overly helpful in helping calculate costs.

Still, let’s look at an obvious cost advantage surface rail has over underground: when you run on the surface, you don’t need station infrastructure. This eliminates a number of ongoing expenses, including cleaning, security, building maintenance, heating & cooling, landscaping, and so on. A 2007 study that looked at station operating costs across 12 different transit systems (including Toronto’s), pegged the annual cost of a transit station at anywhere between $150,000 and $4.3 million. The median cost was about a million dollars.

But even ignoring station costs, let’s be charitable and say that putting all of Eglinton underground will save us $5 million per year over the long term. At that rate — ignoring interest — it would take only 400 years for your $2 billion investment to pay off.

The people of 2412 will thank you for your foresight. And then they’ll fly to work using their jetpacks.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thanks. You too.

P.S. Hey, wait, isn’t it weird that, only a week ago, you were talking about how the city couldn’t afford to spend $5 million to keep bus routes operating and now you’re out in public arguing that we shouldn’t skimp on transit?

Just thought that was kind of funny. Anyway, take care.

P.P.S You have no chance in hell of winning a vote on this issue.