Think About Transit on Finch and Sheppard, But Not Yet

On May 30, I sat through a bizarre debate at Toronto’s Planning & Growth Management Committee.  Two motions proposed at Council were referred off to this Committee for action, one regarding Sheppard and the other for Finch.  The intent of these motions was to provoke a discussion of and request detailed information about the status of transit on the now-abandoned parts of the Transit City routes beyond the scope of the proposed subway extension project.

First up was Sheppard.  Councillor Raymond Cho, whose ward encompasses the northeastern part of Scarborough, is very disappointed that plans to improve transit to his constituents, and to the outer part of Scarborough generally, have been cancelled.  He asked that, at a minimum, consideration be given to taking the rebuilt SRT (now the Eglinton Crosstown line) further north to Sheppard as this would bring the rapid transit network across the 401 and much closer to Malvern.

Councillor Karen Stintz (also chair of the TTC) proposed that discussion of the issue be deferred “until such time as the Toronto Transit Commission’s plans for improved public transit on Sheppard Avenue are known”.

This is an odd stance to take given that there is no indication the TTC is working on any plans for improved public transit beyond the scope of the proposed Sheppard Subway to Scarborough Town Centre (STC).  Cho asked that at least a time limit for such a report be included in the motion, but this idea was not acceptable as an amendment by Stintz.

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

Councillor Anthony Perruzza (another former TTC Commissioner) asked about the cost to the city of the cancelled Transit City projects.  Stintz went into a convoluted explanation claiming that Transit City was put together before Metrolinx existed, that it was worked out as input to The Big Move, and that since Metrolinx decided to change its plan, there was no cost to the City.  Stintz claimed that since Transit City was never funded, there could not have been any costs.

This is simply not true on a few counts.  Metrolinx was created as the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority in 2006, and changed to its current name in 2007.  At the beginning of David Miller’s second term as Mayor in December 2006, it was already known that Queen’s Park was working on a comprehensive new transit plan in anticipation of the fall election.  Whatever Toronto had on the table would likely become part of it.  Transit City was announced early in 2007, and in June 2007, Premier McGuinty announced MoveOntario2020.  Metrolinx was charged with sorting through all of the projects in a long shopping list from the GTA regions and this, eventually, became The Big Move.

The TTC, with the approval of City Council, undertook a number of Transit City studies, and carried their costs on its own books.  Once the projects were officially funded, Queen’s Park reimbursed Toronto for the costs to date.  Some projects, such as Jane and Don Mills, never reached funded status, and the sunk costs on those projects remain on the City and TTC books.

The Memorandum of Understanding between Mayor Ford and Queen’s Park explicitly states that Toronto is on the hook to repay any subsidy already paid on Transit City projects (such as preliminary engineering and Environmental Assessments)  that are no longer part of the overall plan.  This affects the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects, and probably the SRT extension.

As for Metrolinx changing its plans, it was no secret that Mayor Ford was immovable on the elimination of surface LRT from the plans, and that Queen’s Park needed to salvage the Eglinton Crosstown line by making it an LRT subway.  The decision to cut Finch and Sheppard East out of the plan was simply a way to placate Ford, to free up additional funding for Eglinton, and to get out of the way of Ford’s Sheppard Subway.  This was not a unilateral Metrolinx decision.

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

Councillor Adam Vaughan grilled Stintz on the issue of tolls, a subject recently raised by Gordon Chong who is running Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited (TTIL), a TTC subsidiary.  Stintz attempted to claim that she has no reporting relationship with Chong even though she Chairs TTIL’s parent body.  Isolated by the TTIL board on which she does not sit, Stintz claims she has no responsibility for what Chong might say.  The irony here is that Chong, as a Ford crony, really doesn’t report to Stintz who is more and more only a figurehead at the TTC where major financial decisions are concerned.

Vaughan continued with questions about funding of the Sheppard line and the amount of development needed to generate revenues that would finance its construction.  He proposed that the Chief Planner report on development sites along the corridor and the potential effect of large-scale redevelopment at densities much higher than have been contemplated as part of Transit City.  Councillor Peter Milczyn (chair of the P&GM committee and vice-chair of the TTC), punted that idea off the table by suggesting that this be done as part of the quinquennial review of the Official Plan that will get underway later this year.  Vaughan and others responded that people should know now, not in the indefinite future, the implications of Ford’s financing schemes for development in their neighbourhoods.

Councillor Ana Bailão spoke laughingly to Vaughan as if Transportation City were already a done deal when in fact neither it nor the Ford MOU has ever been to Council, unlike Transit City which required both funding approvals and Official Plan Amendments.

The entire debate took on a surreal tone with the Ford faction (who control both the committee and the TTC) weaving a fable about how discussion now would be premature, and that the new “Transportation City” plan was getting the same level of debate and consideration as “Transit City”.  In fact, it is getting almost no debate, the very issue this faction complains about every time they talk about Miller’s exclusion of the right in the Transit City planning.

The Ford team spends far too much time justifying its actions, its lack of consultation and transparency, by reference to the Miller years.  That was a weak excuse months ago, and now it’s positively laughable.  A city is not governed on resentment for a man, for a regime no longer in power, but on a coherent, believable vision for the city.

In the end, the same fate met the requests for additional reports on both Sheppard and Finch — the issues, even a request for information, are deferred until the TTC gets around to proposing something specific for each of the corridors.  We already know what the Finch report looks like complete with its confusion of a golf course for a college in the route planning.  Nothing has been presented to the TTC on the Sheppard east corridor.

“Transparency” is not a word I would use to describe transit planning in Toronto under Mayor Ford.  In time we may see what, if anything, the TTC comes up with for the two corridors.

Meanwhile, the 2012 operating budget, almost certain to bring service cuts and fare increases, is expected to surface at the June 8 TTC meeting.  The city’s huge deficit going into the budget process will make any talk of new service on Finch, Sheppard or any other corridor seem like a distant memory.

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25 Responses to Think About Transit on Finch and Sheppard, But Not Yet

  1. Jacob Louy says:

    My thoughts on today’s Planning and Growth Committee meeting:

    Firstly, we were looking forward to using the LRT, as early as 2013.

    Fordites keep saying “We realise Finch is a very busy route, but the Finch LRT isn’t funded because the Province delayed the funding”. So? I don’t care what the province did! All we care about is “What is City Council doing about it? What have they done to try to restore funding?” Ever since we’ve pointed out how badly Finch needs better transit, all that the City has been doing is throwing their hands up, blaming Queens Park, and doing nothing to restore funding for Finch, especially at a time when we’re expecting them to stand up for “the little guy” at Queens Park.

    The City has pressured the province into drastically changing transit plans. They’ve got the political advantage, so why don’t they pressure them instead into restoring the funding for Finch (given that most of their fears for the Finch LRT has largely been disproven)?

    I am sick of the Ford administration using the province’s funding delay as an excuse to ignore Finch Avenue West. Torontonians are counting on the City to demand that funding be restored to the original Finch LRT line, because that’s Council’s obligation, and that lobbying is what Torontonians are expecting from our new administration.

  2. Mark Dowling says:

    Apparently Chair Stintz’ line is that Finchies will be fine because the Spadina Extension station will absorb the demand.

    Steve: And that line ignores the evidence from the TTC’s own original-destination data for the Finch bus that shows the lion’s share of riders do not want to go to places served by the subway. This suggests that eventually, folks in the northeast and northwest parts of the city will have their bus routes gerrymandered to serve artificial nodes at subway stations, and through surface rides will be even more challenging than they are today.

  3. Paul says:

    Adam Vaughan’s soundbite, reprinted – surprisingly enough – in The Sun, sums things up pretty well:

    “They have no strategy, no plan, and when it comes to presenting a vision for this city, what you heard today is that they have a plan to have a proposal that will provide ideas on how to have a plan to have a proposal that may be a plan at some point.”

  4. Karl Junkin says:

    Steve said: “Transparency” is not a word I would use to describe transit planning in Toronto under Mayor Ford.

    “Transparency” is not a word I would use to describe the window dressing on information sessions masquerading as consultations in Toronto under Mayor Miller.

    Steve: As I said in my article, it’s time to stop blaming the ills of the world on David Miller. You may think he was not transparent, and in some cases, I agree. That does not excuse Ford’s behaviour especially when so much energy is wasted telling us how much better his administration is.

  5. Dennis Rankin says:

    Thank you Steve for the overview of recent ‘debates?’ by our new gravy free transparent administration. Four years are not necessary to prove that this lot is far worse than the much maligned bunch recently ousted.

    Ideally, successfully removing the gravy from the train should have allowed us no more deficit. Should have given us buckets of money to run the city with a huge degree of fiscal responsibility and be on easy street come their midterm. What is going wrong Steve? Were we all deceived before November last year with BS rhetoric? I’m dismayed and disillusioned that the genie hasn’t popped out of the Ford bottle yet!

    Yours, Dennis Rankin

    Steve: You don’t have to deceive everyone, only more voters than everybody else on the ballot. Ford made lots of simplistic claims and played to voters who felt that “downtown elites” were taking the city down the wrong path. This tactic was assisted by the media latching onto every story of “waste” and “mismanagement” they could find. “The war on the car” played well among both the suburbanites who would never use transit, and even the downtowners for whom transit is a poor second choice for some types of travel.

    In some cases, Ford simply lied — or possibly he was extremely poorly informed — by claiming that we could have a gravy free city, stable or lower taxes, and no loss of services. We could have speedy subways whisking us across the city (well, if you lived in the right place) and no pesky streetcars taking up road space.

    The most recent installment brings together the question of excessive pay for public employees, essential services, the role of the police, and the possibility that to save a few bucks, we might reduce the size of the force. The proposed reduction is a tad smaller than the cumulative value of the recently agreed-to pay increase. So on one hand, Ford can say the cops are great and they deserve good pay, but on the other hand, we may not be able to afford them. Of course if he runs true to form, he will disavow the downsizing scheme within a day or two.

  6. Richard says:

    I’ve given up on Sheppard East and Finch West. I’m still skeptical about the Eglinton-Scarborough line. There’s no guarantee it will get built. I’m assuming it will be canceled if the Conservatives are elected Provincially. Remember when journalists in the gutter press were reporting that the Sheppard East LRT would be safe from the chopping block because it was under construction?

    I like the idea of extending the Eglinton-Scarborough line to Markham and Sheppard. I would go even further and say Malvern Town Centre. However, there is no money for either extension. Markham and Sheppard is about 2.5 to 3 km northeast of McCowan station. The Province is projecting a $600 million surplus from the Scarborough-Eglinton line but at $304 million/km it probably won’t be enough money to make the extension happen. The only way I see that happening is if the per km cost of constructing the extension is less than the per km cost of building the rest of the line.

  7. ROB in North Toronto says:

    The real Transit City cancellation cost that counts is due to the fact that the number of trains ordered from Bombardier has been reduced. Fewer trains and the unit rate goes up, but that depends on the wording of the Bombardier contract. You do not get a full credit .

    I believe Metrolinx ordered the trains not TTC.
    If so the contract is between Metrolinx and Bombardier.

    If the Bombardier Contract lists the owners as Metrolinx, City of Toronto and Province of Ontario, then City of Toronto pays some of the cost but not all.
    Maybe 33% Metrolinx, 33% Prov. of Ontario,and 33% City of Toronto, or whatever.

    The trains were ordered before the election.
    Who ordered the trains?
    I bet , Metrolinx’s name , is the only one on the Contract.

    Steve: Actually the contract was split. Metrolinx ordered its own cars with its own configuration, while the TTC ordered the cars for the “legacy” system. Only the Metrolinx portion of the order is affected by the cutback and rescheduling of the Transit City routes. However, the MOU between Ford and Metrolinx puts the City on the hook (presuming Council approves this arrangement) for any cancellation fees for the cars Metrolinx will no longer require on Finch and Sheppard, net of any extra they get for Eglinton-Crosstown. Given that these are more or less off the shelf designs, Bombardier won’t have a lot invested in the Metrolinx order, and I suspect that the penalty, if any, won’t be huge.

  8. JW says:

    Great write up Steve.

    I’ll start by saying I am a subway advocate BUT I am certainly not “against” LRT.

    The biggest crime and one that should be brought to the attention of every voter (especially people in the North East promised the subway extension) is the shocking revelation brought forward by you back in April that the Province specifically said they would contribute $2 billion ($2 Billion!) to the Sheppard Subway if they allowed East Eglinton to run above ground and the Fords flat out rejected it.

    The Sheppard Line’s eastern portion from Don Mills to STC has been conservatively pegged at $2.8 billion. With that $2 billion from the province and the $800 million avaliable from the $1.2 billion Federal PPP Fund (of which Ford would certainly get due to his friendship with Flaherty) we could have had the full Eglinton line with the eastern end of Eglinton above ground AND the Eastern Sheppard subway fully funded.

    This is simply incredible. It should go down as one of the most arrogant and short sighted moves by the Ford Administration in this city’s history. There must be some way we can beg the province to re-allocate the money to Sheppard and build eastern Eglinton back above ground.

    Steve: Considering that the east end of Eglinton won’t be built in the current Ford mandate, I think the only hope here is that Ford is defeated, and the whole plan revisited, again, in 2015.

  9. Dennis Rankin says:

    Hi Steve:-

    I’m wondering why we’re even having this discussion, when as our myopic, not yet grown out of his selfish teenaged suburban jock mindset of a ‘I gots my own car, ain’t I cool’ Mayor had been quoted, “Well they have buses” in the City’s northwest. Summing up in those four words his defining, well researched, extremely caring for the little guy, display of a true understanding of the transit needs of a fiscally responsible city that will grow and not stagnate.

    He said it all there, so why should we even revisit this topic. Buses is OK, ain’t they?

    Dennis Rankin, a fan!

  10. TTC Passenger says:

    I don’t see why the issue of Eglinton being underground in the east end needs to wait to be revisited until Ford’s first term expires. First, the memorandum of understanding is non-binding and in addition to that, it hasn’t gone to city council yet either. There’s also the fact that the Eglinton line’s being built and owned by Metrolinx and not the TTC or the city. Couldn’t Metrolinx walk away from the non-binding MOU and revert the east end design to above ground in the interest of cost containment at the direction of the provincial government at any time? Possibly as soon as later this year after after the provincial election?

    Steve: They could try, but co-operation of the City and the TTC is essential to this sort of project because it runs under roads and will be integrated with TTC infrastructure at junctions. They can build what Ford wants, or build nothing. By contrast, in the rail corridors the City has almost no jurisdiction, and this allows GO Transit to do more or less whatever it wants.

  11. BrisUrbane says:

    Wow, what a mess.

    If you spend money on subways or underground “subway like” LRT then you are going to have less extensive rapid transit. That’s just the consequence.

  12. Paul Sherwood says:

    Why don’t the mayor and Stintz just come clean and just tell the people of Toronto that there will be no improvements to transit; no subway, no BRT and certainly no re-instating any parts of the Transit City plan, all this is just window dressing, typical political clap-trap. All I can see are big fare increases and cuts, cuts, cuts and more cuts in the future, not only that I feel that the service will be deliberately run down to drive people away, if they successfully do that then no expansion is needed. The TTC is going bear the brunt of the council attempt to reduce its deficit.

    We also know that the political right hates transit users. If Hudak gets elected, which it seems most likely, then don’t expect any favours from him. Look to CTV news at Xmas interviewing drivers in the Yorkdale Mall complaining it’s taking 2 hours to find a parking spot and not just one hour it was taking last year — now that’s progress.

  13. john says:

    W says:

    “The biggest crime and one that should be brought to the attention of every voter (especially people in the North East promised the subway extension) is the shocking revelation brought forward by you back in April that the Province specifically said they would contribute $2 billion ($2 Billion!) to the Sheppard Subway if they allowed East Eglinton to run above ground and the Fords flat out rejected it.”

    I agree, and Toronto voters need to know about this. This is of those stories which if presented by the media would really get under the skin of most Torontonians. we have the city turning down FREE money, we have wasted money. and we have utter idiocy from our mayor. Clearly the bloody gravy train was still empty after Miller derailed it from the Mel Rail Road. If there were gravy we would have found it, and now because there was none Ford is cooking some up.

  14. Karl Junkin says:

    john said: we have the city turning down FREE money,

    The amount of money isn’t any different between the $2B going to Sheppard if Eglinton were at-grade through Scarborough compared to going to Eglinton tunneled through Scarborough. There is no “free money” (which should be read “YOUR money”) being turned down by anybody, it’s purely a matter of where the same amount of money is being allocated. That’s been the situation from the outset, even as far back as the campaign video originally announcing the Sheppard subway extension plan (which has since hit critically-wounding snags). No money has ever been added to the pot thus far, and nor was additional provincial money ever on the table.

    Disagree with how the allocation of available money is unfolding? That’s a valid debate; but to debate whether money should have been turned down is a phantom issue that never actually happened.

    Steve: The debate IS how the money is allocated. Ford is so dead set against surface operation on Eglinton that he turned down a shot at about 40% of the cost of his precious Sheppard subway line, and in the process forced Queen’s Park to spend $2b more on Eglinton that they would have otherwise. That will buy us a faster trip across the line, but also fewer stops, no SRT to Sheppard or Malvern, the loss of Finch West, and a dubious status of the line in both Weston and further west to the airport. And none of this has ever been presented to Council for approval.

  15. Jeremy says:

    On Sheppard Ave. E, just east of Morningside Ave, the Conlins Rd. car house that was to support the Sheppard E. LRT and replacement SRT lines appears to still be under construction. I stopped one day to ask questions of contractor Dufferin Construction. Two employees admitted to their work on the facility, one saying you had to lay the foundation before you could build the roof. When I mentioned there was no roof in Mayor Ford’s plan, he laughed and walked away. I have shared this info with two local journalists, but have yet to receive a response.

  16. Andrew Marshall says:

    Funny, there used to be a handful of Ford supporters on here during the run-up to the election…..now, they all seem to have disappeared. Odd that after spending months of denying that their idol’s plans were all just smoke and mirrors in a cynical bid to deceive the masses in Scarborough and North York, they are not here to spin for Ford Nation. I recall them even getting offended when people like me called them on the facts. If only we could use our schadenfreude to power the buses needed along Finch and Sheppard.

    Steve: For me, the real schadenfreude will come when I ride a Finch LRT car into Etobicoke. Sadly, the route does not require expropriation of the Ford homestead.

    Also, I think the Ford supporters know that they would be wasting their time posting here. What interests me more is that the balance of comments on articles on, say, the Star’s site is much more even, and people know the issues fairly well. There are still some Fordites who try to spin any situation to their advantage, but they don’t own the debate the way they did six months ago.

  17. David Aldinger says:

    Paul, I think you mean when, not if, Hudak gets elected. It’s starting to look like a foregone conclusion more and more all the time. Ford’s election was a forgone conclusion well in advance of it’s actual happening and you can look forward to Hudak’s election.

  18. Zorba says:

    We will not have new transit for the next 30 years, until the boomer generation is safely tucked into its death bed via (eventually) 75% of provincial spending going to health care. You sir, are a great citizen of this city, but I fear you are John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness.

    Steve: I would prefer to have a less bloody end that John the Baptist. I am having a hard time imagining Karen Stintz as Salome.

  19. Leo says:

    It’s starting to look like a foregone conclusion more and more all the time.

    Hudak’s election looked like an inevitable conclusion four years ago as well. He shouldn’t buy champagne prematurely. McGuinty’s a survivor.

    Considering that Hudak is running on “like McGuinty, but with the serial numbers filed off, plus an unpopular new highway into the Niagara peninsula”, he may have some difficulty energizing the electorate.

    My money’s on the Liberals staying in power until McGuinty retires. Our system likes incumbents.

  20. Michael says:

    Simple question: What is the legal mechanism that allows Ford to push his way around? He tells councillors how much information they’re allowed to have before deciding on issues (waste collection), makes it seem as though they should feel grateful just to be included in the debate at all (again, garbage collection), and seems able to effect change without ever uttering a word in council chambers (axing Transit City).

    I think I could be forgiven for getting the impression that Council approval is just a formality that other mayors didn’t realize they could ignore on a whim.

    I just don’t understand why decisions made without a vote by Council are even legally binding. Isn’t that the point of council, to vote on everything that gets done?

  21. Michael Forest says:

    Michael said: “I just don’t understand why decisions made without a vote by Council are even legally binding.”

    Technically, the Council had voted to appoint the members of Toronto Transit Commission, and confirmed the candidates selected by Ford. After that, a number of decisions can be legally made by the vote of Transit Commission, without the full Council vote.

    However, certain budget-related decisions will require a full Council vote, and this time the Council might not side with Ford so easily.

  22. Karl Junkin says:

    Legally, Eglinton-SRT doesn’t need to reappear before Council since there’s no City money involved, but that said, the optics leave something to be desired. Sheppard, eventually, would have to come before Council, because I don’t see how City money couldn’t be involved.

  23. Jack Hope says:

    Following this whole mess it seems to me that the best outcome possible with the current crop of actors would be for little to nothing happen on Finch and Sheppard until a more sensible administration is elected. Hopefully, that will be in the very next election.

    Its not right and its not fair that Toronto should have to wait, but throwing money after these schemes of subways on Sheppard and busways on Finch is simply ridiculous. The capital expenditure sucked up by these projects will further drain resources that could improve transit all across the City.

    Question: didn’t many of the Ford Nation people make a great deal of fuss about Transit City supposedly not receiving a council vote?

    Steve: Yes, this comes up over and over again even though it’s a lie, a common tactic within Ford Nation. Why convince people with facts when you can just make up whatever story does best at a focus group?

  24. Jacob Louy says:

    @Jack Hope:

    “Question: didn’t many of the Ford Nation people make a great deal of fuss about Transit City supposedly not receiving a council vote?”

    Some Ford supporters did at the last Planning and Growth Committee. While they did support Ford, they were not aware that Ford would actively pursue the cancellation of the Finch LRT (and assumed it was happening anyways). They were baffled when Councillor Bailao told them that Council wouldn’t vote on the cancellation.

    Steve: And Councillor Bailao didn’t know what she was talking about, at least if the MOU between Ford and Queen’s Park is to be believed. Bailao should be careful — she ran against the legacy of Adam Giambrone, and the cavalier “ha ha, we got you” attitude to people she sees as opponents won’t help.

  25. Jacob Louy says:

    I believe one of the motions Mihevc or Perruzza moved was that the LRT option be included in the overall study for transit improvements for Finch West (as the only options are bus-based). Some words in their motion caught my attention: that the recommended alternative maintain or improve travel times both for transit and for cars on Finch (I am surprised that Mihevc would add “cars” in the consideration for travel times).

    I suppose that these Councillors assumed that because all through lanes would be maintained that cars would not experience any delays. This is simply not true (but I really hate to acknowledge this) because re-routed indirect left turns in the form of right turns/U-turns would add to the demand of the existing through lanes. Not to mention that queues in the left-turn/U-turn lanes would be longer, possibly spilling back into the general through-lanes, delaying everyone.

    I wonder why the original EA for the Finch LRT didn’t consider simply lengthening the left-turn/U-turn lane to contain and prevent any possible spillback from the through-lanes? Through-traffic would be less affected by left-turner spillback, and the only motorists facing increased travel times are the ones needing to make the left-turns in the first place.

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