Adam Giambrone Withdraws From Mayoral Race

At 11:00 am today, Adam Giambrone held a press conference at which he profusely apologised to his supporters, to his personal partner, and to his fellow Councillors for the recent revelations about his personal life and his mishandling of the response.  Then he left the podium.

A few minutes later, his Executive Assistant, Kevin Beaulieu, return to read the full statement in which Giambrone announced that he was withdrawing from the mayoralty race, but would remain as Councillor for Ward 18 and Chair of the TTC.  He wants to address the renaissance of the TTC and the building of Transit City.

Whether he actually gets to do this remains to be seen.  The Commission will meet next week, and it is possible that a vote of non-confidence will end Giambrone’s role as Chair.  His opponents may use this opportunity to tar much of what he and others in Mayor Miller’s camp have achieved with transit, and that would be a terrible mistake.  Those changes, those policies exist not just because of Giambrone, but because many Councillors, the Mayor, Queen’s Park and countless members of the public recognize that transit in Toronto must improve.  The Chair may pass to another Councillor, but the organization and the goals remain.

The TTC is in desperate need of clear, unambiguous leadership from someone who inspires confidence and trust, from someone whose word can be believed, whose announcements are not second-guessed as photo ops for a political campaign.

I have been a long-time supporter and advisor to Adam Giambrone, but my view is that he must step down.

Walking the Talk (2)

Today (February 9), Bob Kinnear, the President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, held a press conference to present the union’s response to recent events and statements on the TTC, in the media and from TTC management.

Note that the text linked here was scanned from the version distributed to the media before the briefing, and it may not exactly match Kinnear’s presentation.  However, the text doesn’t appear to be in a convenient online location and so I am posting it here.

The text reads fairly well and while it takes a firm stance, it does acknowledge that things need to change.  To that end, the ATU plans to organize a series of Town Halls where the public and union members can discuss issues related to the TTC and how they might be addressed.  Whether such events will be at all cordial I don’t know given the comments on various blogs and media sites, but at least the union is trying to go to the public with its story.

I wasn’t at the press conference, but received news of it later and saw a few clips on the evening news.  Unfortunately, what I saw showed Kinnear in the more familiar, combative mode that is the union’s public face.  Some of this was selective editing.  For example, there was a line “Who made you God?” which was directed at the TTC’s Brad Ross for implying that it is possible to take a washroom break in only 3 minutes, including the time it takes to get between the vehicle and the washroom.  This was forcefully (more than necessary) delivered, and used as a free-standing clip by Global TV.

Later, I was interviewed by Global, but they used only a snippet out of a longer conversation.  In that clip, I said, in effect, that the problem of rude staff isn’t a one-or-two-of thing because there are simply too many separate reports coming from reasonably credible sources.  I didn’t mention that I (and I’m sure anyone else who is even vaguely connected with the TTC) am getting notes and reports from friends about their experiences.

The larger context of the interview was first my pleasure that the union took the high road even though, as I understood things, Kinnear’s delivery of the message used a hard line that might have been counterproductive.  I talked about “TTC culture” and a management where, for anything that happens, the first reaction is to find something external to blame rather than looking inside for improvement.

I also talked about the need for some labour discussions to take place in public, and unusual move I know.  One of the big issues through the past weeks is the question of breaks — how long, how often, where.  Some operating shifts have breaks built in, but not all of them, and even the scheduled breaks can be thrown awry if service is always badly off kilter.  Fixing this will take much negotiation and probably changes in the way operators’ work is defined and scheduled.

Recent events are so public that at least the broad outline of the issues, positions and possible fixes must be visible so that even if everyone can’t agree (and I use a very broad definition of “everyone”), at least they will understand the options on the table.

(I am not going to get into a debate about the level of operators’ wages here as we have pounded that topic to death before.)

The joys of media coverage, whether you’re a union president, a politician or just a transit advocate, involve the chances one takes in the editing.  I said what I said, and I stand by that, but wanted those who might only see the five second clip to know the larger story.

Please note that comments on this item will be strongly monitored for intemperate language.  This is a complex issue and it deserves an informed, detailed discussion, not rants from either side of the political spectrum.

The Mythology of Benefits Case Analyses

Among my many “things to do” on this site is an evisceration of the concept of the “Benefits Case Analysis” as practised by Metrolinx.  These analyses purport to judge the value of project options by reducing many aspects of the process to a monetary value.

This scheme is born of an era when nobody cared about the soft, social benefits and costs of doing or not doing something, when “businesslike” behaviour was the goal for all right-minded public enterprise.  Sadly, we never had a discussion about what “businesslike” actually means.  Recent private sector examples appear to involve raiding not only your own cookie jar, but getting the government (ie: you and me and our descendents beyond count) to keep refilling that cookie jar to save the starving plutocrats.  I will generously assume that this is not the sort of behaviour Metrolinx has in mind.

[The above paragraph is for the benefit of readers who decry my left-leaning stance on many issues.  Now and then I have to throw them a bone, a quote they can use to prove their point.]

In a future post, I plan to review one or two of the Metrolinx BCAs.  Their most glaring failure lies in the scope of the analysis.  The Big Move is a network, but each BCA considers only an individual component of that network, not its role in the overall picture.  Moreover, construction spending is actually treated as a benefit because of the employment and other economic effects it would generate.  This completely misses the larger picture of public sector spending (might a hospital be more valuable than a new transit line), not to mention the future implications of the public debt (however it might be hidden in public or private sector accounts) for the viability of transit systems and governments.

Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog has an interesting article on the evolution of Benefit Case Analysis and the flawed philosophy underpinning the methodology.

A Response to “Save Our Subways”

For some time, I have stayed away from the “Save Our Subways” dialogue over on UrbanToronto in part because Transit City and related issues are presented as being “Steve Munro’s” plan (there’s even a poll that just went up on that subject), and because there are many comments in the SOS thread that are personal insults, not fair comment, well-informed or otherwise.

Such are the joys of an unmoderated forum.

Some have proposed a public debate, possibly televised, which I flatly reject.  First off, the issues are more complex than can be properly handled in that forum, and it certainly should not turn into a mayoral candidates’ debate on transit.  I do not know any candidate who could debate the details of either commentary.

Second, the lynch mob mentality of some writers on UrbanToronto is utterly inappropriate to “debate”, and this poisons many of the discussions on that site.

Recently I was asked by the authors of the Move Toronto proposal to respond, and this article is an attempt to start that dialogue in a forum where civility occasionally breaks through the diatribes.

To begin with, there are areas where SOS and I agree strongly, notably on the need for the Downtown Relief Line (at least the eastern side of it).  I’ve been advocating this for years at the very least as a high-end LRT line, more recently as a full subway as that technology fits its location in the network better and is well suited to the likely demand.

Where we part company is the premise that we have to give up big chunks of Transit City to pay for the DRL.  This sets up a false dialogue where TC lines are portrayed as overpriced and underperforming, denigrated at least in part to justify redirecting funding to the DRL.  That is an extremely short-sighted tactic and harms the cause of overall transit improvements.  It takes us back to the days of debating which kilometre of subway we will build this year.

I don’t intend to repeat my three long posts about Transit City here, but anyone who has read them knows that I do not slavishly support everything in that plan.  If anything, the lack of movement on some valid criticisms people have raised regarding TC sets up a confrontational dynamic.  Instead, the City/TTC could have been seen as responding to concerns.

Now, with the mayoralty campaign, attacking TC has become a surrogate for attacking the Miller program and the candidacy of Adam Giambrone.  These need to be disentangled if we are to have any sort of sensible debate.

My greatest concern is that whoever is the new mayor, the issues will be so clouded by electoral excess, by positions taken as debating points, as sound bites to attack an opponent, that we won’t be able to sort fact from fiction afterwards.  If, for example, George Smitherman winds up as Mayor, he will need a reasoned program, likely a mixture of some old, some new, not a “throw it all out and start over” policy.  People will have different ideas about what that new program might be, and that’s a valid debate.

Whether Steve Munro is an arch villain (SFX: maniacal laughter) plotting the end of civilized transportation is quite another matter.  To some, I have a vast reach through the political machinery of the GTA, while to others I am irrelevant.  I am not the issue.  Transit is.

These comments are organized roughly in the sequence of the Move Toronto paper (6mb download).  Although variations and alternatives have appeared in other locations, notably threads on the UrbanToronto website, I have not attempted to address these as they are (a) a moving target and (b) not necessarily the formal position of the Save Our Subways group.

I believe that Move Toronto contains many flaws arising from an underlying desire to justify a subway network just as critics of Transit City argue against its focus on LRT.  Among my major concerns are:

  • Subway lines are consistently underpriced.
  • LRT is dismissed as an inferior quality of service with statements more akin to streetcar lines than a true LRT implementation.
  • Having used every penny to build the subway network, Move Toronto proposes a network of BRT lines for the leftover routes. However, this “network” is in fact little more than the addition of traffic signal priority and queue jump lanes (“BRT Light”) on almost all of the BRT “network”.
  • Parts of the BRT network suggest that the authors lack familiarity with the affected neighbourhoods and travel patterns.
  • There is no financial analysis of the life-cycle cost of building and operating routes with subway technology even though demand is unlikely to reach subway levels within the lifetime of some of the infrastructure.

That’s the introductory section.  The full commentary is available as a pdf.

Walking the Talk

Today, the TTC issued a Media Advisory containing a letter for all TTC staff from Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

Our Customers Deserve Better

February 6, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I am becoming increasingly tired of defending the reputation of the TTC; tired of explaining what is acceptable and what is not; and tired of stating the obvious: that much of the behaviour being reported is, indeed, unacceptable.

You have heard me say that I am proud of the TTC. I still am, but I am not proud of what we have been dealing with over the last several weeks.

Two weeks ago I said that the vast majority of TTC employees care about the organization and do a good job, but we can all do better. I asked everyone to respond well. Some of you did. Clearly, some of you did not.

We all have to accept responsibility for allowing the TTC to drift into a culture of unacceptable operating discipline. In other words, we have deemed it acceptable for some employees to not do all aspects of their jobs.

We have two choices. We can continue to react to issues, deal with individual employee problems, and hope that the rest of our employees get the message, behave themselves and not get caught doing something they should not be doing.

The other choice, and the one we are going to take, is a much broader approach. Expectations need to be clear, especially for frontline employees. And employees need to be held accountable for their poor performance.

We are in the customer service business, but some of the behaviour our customers have encountered recently would suggest otherwise. Our customers pay a fare and the City provides hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the TTC. This public transit agency belongs to the very people we serve.

As Chief General Manager, I am ultimately accountable to our customers. As employees, you – and you alone – are accountable for your actions. The culture of complacency and malaise that has seeped into our organization will end. I hold all of management responsible to make this happen. Reviews and plans are under way to address systemic issues regarding customer service, but real change starts with you.

Gary Webster

Chief General Manager

On the same day, Joe Clark, who writes about many issues including transit, but from a design, signage and accessability perspective, was on a Queen car where the operator clearly was wearing earphones.  When Joe challenged him, the situation escalated including calls for assistance to Transit Control, and officious behaviour from a TTC Supervisor.  Both TTC staffers persisted in claiming that photography on the TTC is illegal (it isn’t, and there is a specific section both in the bylaw and on the TTC website on this subject).

TTC staff may feel under siege from the hordes of camera-bearing riders, but I have absolutely no sympathy.  If they are doing their jobs properly, there will be nothing to photograph.

Joe Clark can be a pain in the butt, but his valid messages are too often ignored by the TTC.  (Even I have been the target of his less than decorous comments.  Some folks consider a mention on his site as almost a badge of honour.)  His frequent letters and deputations to the monthly meetings are almost always “received” (thanks, now bugger off), and hardly anyone at the meeting table pays any attention while he speaks.  That is precisely the sort of treatment that sends guerilla photographers out into the streets looking for the most embarrassing shot they can find.

Good manners start at the very top, even when the customers or deputants at TTC meetings have messages you don’t want to hear.

TTC Trip Planner Available For Beta Testing (Updated)

Updated February 3 at 10:55:  The TTC added another server to the trip planner last night, and this may explain some of the outages during the evening.

The TTC has announced a trial version of its online trip planner.  Those of us who have played with earlier versions know it has some warts, and the TTC wants your input.  There is a feedback form linked to the planner pages.

The TTC wants feedback from users about the beta version of its trip planner as it continues to develop this tool. When complete, the TTC trip planner will include alternate route suggestions, an expanded points of interest list, a mobile application, the ability to create profiles, and complete integration with e-alerts and service changes. Later this year, the TTC will make its trip planner data openly available to the public and outside organizations, such as Google, so applications can be developed that will be useful to TTC customers.  [From the TTC’s press release]

Please direct technical notes about what it does or doesn’t do to the TTC, and keep track of your submissions (I’m sure the dedicated among us will have many).  The real test will be how quickly changes and fixes are implemented.

Help Avoid Short Turns (Updated)

Today I received a note in another thread from Drew who said:

I was riding the 512 home last night, and noticed a sign that read:

HELP AVOID SHORT TURNS – EXIT FROM THE REAR DOORS.

There. Short-turns are our fault.

Of course, exiting through the rear doors is written all over every surface vehicle —  it does make boarding/alighting much faster … it could be done without the inference that we cause short-turns.

Now we KNOW on St. Clair, it can’t be traffic causing short-turns (or where, aside from St. Clair West Stn these turns take place), so it must be us.

I too saw this notice on a 504 King car.

Update:   Joe Clark has supplied a photo of the sign.

I was sorely tempted to start a guerilla campaign of my own with signs saying “Manage headways, not schedules”, but I would probably be arrested for defacing TTC property.  I won’t say anything about loading delays caused by three cars leaving the end of the line in a pack with the first one having to wait forever to board passengers at each stop.

Yes, passengers do need to move back, but that’s not the whole story.

Looking Back at “A Grand Plan”

At the end of my series on Transit City, I refrained from offering my own recipe for a new transit system.  That sort of issue is hard to address, and without first knowing just how much any government, future mayor or council might want to commit to transit, it’s very hard to pick a “solution”.

Indeed, we have seen exactly this conundrum with Metrolinx, a body formed to sort out the details and priorities of MoveOntario2020.  With much effort, they whittled a $90bn plan down to $50bn and change, only to find themselves in a recession and a desire by Queen’s Park to limit spending.

All the same, having a network view of things is absolutely essential.  We need to know what we will do as and when money is available either from a booming economy or a change in relative budgetary priorities.  That is the philosophy behind Transit City and The Big Move.

Some readers are relatively new to this site and probably have not delved into the archives.  There are a lot of archives, and I don’t blame people for not reading every word.  Back in March 2006, I wrote an article called A Grand Plan that attempted to give a unified view of transit from my perspective.  Note that this was a year before Transit City was announced, 15 months before MoveOntario, and well before Metrolinx came into being.

Sadly, that agency regarded me as an arch-rival, an enemy to be neutralized, not as a potential friend and supporter of transit.  They are under new management now.

Reading my words from 2006, I am struck by how much survives either because it has already been implemented or is an integral part of current plans.  There are a few points where I took a hard line on the subway-vs-LRT argument, notably what we now know as the DRL East, but the paper stands up.  For the record (in case you haven’t read anything else here), I now agree that the DRL requires heftier service than an LRT line integrated with surface operations on Don Mills could provide.  This change comes in the context of the DRL’s “relief” function for the Yonge line and the Richmond Hill subway extension.

I recommend it to any would-be mayors, and to those planners whose gaze rarely extends beyond their own drawing boards.

Transit City Revisited (Part III, Updated)

(Updated at 3:00 pm, February 1.  I omitted a section on the proposed Sheppard subway extensions to Downsview and to Scarborough Town Centre.  This has been added.)

In this, the final installment of my review of Transit City, I will look at the unfunded (or underfunded) TTC transit projects.  Some of these spur passionate debates and the occasional pitched battle between advocates of various alternatives.  There are two vital points to remember through all of this:

  • Having alternatives on the table for discussion is better than having nothing at all.  It’s very easy to spend nothing and pass the day on comparatively cheap debates.  The current environment sees many competing visions, but most of them are transit visions.  The greatest barrier lies in funding.  Governments love endless debate because they don’t have to spend anything on actual construction or operations.  Meanwhile, auto users point to the lack of transit progress and demand more and wider roads.
  • Transit networks contain a range of options.  They are not all subways or all buses or all LRT.  Some are regional express routes while others address local trips.  Most riders will have to transfer somewhere, even if it is from their car in a parking lot to a GO train.  The challenge is not to eliminate transfers, but to make them as simple and speedy as possible.

I will start with the unfunded Transit City lines, and then turn to a range of other schemes and related capital projects. Continue reading