The Day The Big Move Died (Update 2)

Updated December 2, 2010 at 11:55 pm:

The Globe and Mail has a story by John Lorinc echoing the sentiments here with quotes from sundry people weightier than I am.

The Star reports on provincial reaction to Mayor Ford’s move.

Updated December 2, 2010 at 1:50 am: The Globe and Mail reports on a poll of Councillors regarding support for Transit City or subways.

  • Pro Transit City:  14
  • Transit City + Tweaks:  4
  • Subways:  11
  • Unknown:  15

Original article from December 1, 2010:

Toronto’s new Mayor Ford, acting with a haste uncharacteristic in Toronto affairs, and without even bothering to consult his new Council, has directed the TTC to stop work on Transit City.  The “war on the car” is over, and all new rapid transit will be underground.

The deafening silence from Queen’s Park shows us how much Metrolinx and its regional plan, The Big Move, depend on political agreement among GTA municipalities.  Removing the pols from the Metrolinx Board may have centralized important announcements at Queen’s Park, but it did nothing to blunt the effect any local Mayor or Council can have if they don’t play ball.

The Big Move has both a 15-year and a 25-year component, although the likelihood either of these would see substantial construction was compromised the moment Queen’s Park’s budget priorities trumped a scheme to build major transit improvements first as a prelude to new revenue tools.  Nobody wants to talk about taxes or tolls, but money for transit, whatever the technology, won’t come from the tooth fairy.  It won’t come from the private sector either, at least not without a guaranteed return on their investment.

Ford, whose aggressive tactics on Council are well known but whose character was carefully controlled during the election, has shown that he has a plan, and feels that his mandate gives him carte blanche to implement whatever he wants.  The voters have spoken.  Those who voted for 44 Councillors might beg to disagree, but that’s for Council to decide in weeks and months ahead.

The real problem is the lack of leadership on the transit file from Queen’s Park.  The Big Move was cobbled together from many local plans, including Transit City, and flawed though it might have been, there was general agreement about the shape of the plan.  Changing Toronto’s focus to subways unbalances the plan’s scale and benefits, not to mention the huge change in net cost.  Mayor Ford’s concern for taxpayers’ dollars appears to end when someone else is expected to pay the bill, and this could deprive Toronto of transit improvements while growth proceeds on smaller-scale projects in the 905.

If we can rip Transit City out of The Big Move with only the barest of response from Queen’s Park, how safe is the rest of the plan?  Will expansions in Mississauga, Hamilton, York Region and Durham be subject to the whims of whoever is in power, or will a semblance of regional planning remain?  Will provincial efforts dwindle to supporting GO Transit, an organization whose forced marriage with Metrolinx is still quite shaky.  The bride and groom are still arguing over decorations, and they almost certainly have separate bedrooms.

Readers who know me well will appreciate that today is not the brightest day in my history of transit advocacy.  It would be easy just to write a bitter rant against the incoming regime.  That would be a waste of time — they won’t read it anyhow, any more than they will listen to editorial boards at the Globe and Star.

That regime is not stupid, although many would paint Ford and his crew as a bunch of bumbling hicks.  They know what they want to achieve and they appear ready to push as hard as possible until, no, even if someone pushes back.  That’s the role of Council and of Queen’s Park if they really believe in Transit City.

There is a place for LRT and for subways in Toronto, and if we are to remake the transit plans, this process deserves more than the midnight YouTube announcement of Ford’s election campaign.  It also deserves a concerted effort by transit supporters everywhere to fight against slurs of downtown elitism, and to argue strongly for better, cost-effective transit.  We need to ensure that the “war on the car” is not replaced, stealthily, by a war on transit.

As for Metrolinx, I can’t help wondering what, exactly, its purpose is.  The Board rarely meets in public, and doesn’t discuss much of substance when it does.  Major announcements come from the Premier or the Minister, and many of these deal with GO plans that were in the pipeline before the Metrolinx amalgamation.  Now we see a Mayor can just tear up part of the plan, an ironic situation considering the grief David Miller endured for trying to get Toronto’s interests recognized at Queen’s Park.  If the Tories win the fall 2011 provincial election, Metrolinx and its hoard of consultants may find themselves out of work, and transit may be relegated to a desk at the back of the Ministry of Transportation offices in Downsview.

Meanwhile, my box of “Big Move” documents can join the many other plans in my archives.

136 thoughts on “The Day The Big Move Died (Update 2)

  1. Stephen Cheung writes: “I just have one thing to mention: if everyone here is so concerned about the future of public transit, then why did Ford get 47% of the vote?”

    Am I mistaken here, or are you backing down and moving the goal posts? Your previous comments have said, paraphrased, “Yes, I supported Ford for his general policies, which I think are good. I just did not expect him to do a number on streetcars and on Transit City, and I’m sure that when he realizes the folly of this action, he’ll backtrack. You’ll see.”

    Would that be true. But, as I think you can see, he doesn’t appear to be backtracking.

    Now you’re saying, paraphrased, “well, almost 47% of Torontonians who voted voted for Ford, clearly public transit isn’t as important as you think it is.”

    My question to you is, do you support public transit, or don’t you? Do you think that what Rob Ford is doing is good policy or not? If you believe that it’s poor policy, have the courage to stand up and say so, not just to me, but to Ford’s supporters, and to Ford himself, who you say is so receptive to different ideas.

    And, if not, I have to ask, with respect: why do you come here, again?


  2. With the talk of the downtown relief line and the high ridership that this line promises, what is the feasibility of completing it via private-public partnership with the operator collecting fares/maintaining the system for 35 years?

    To me it looks like an excellent business plan. Ridership along Queen, King, Pape, and Roncesvalles and what we get is a subway line (automated) that is built without cost overruns and built on time or even early. It is sure to grow in ridership with the countless condos and gentrification occurring along its path. Downtown section can go under Richmond to avoid ripping up Queen.

    Steve: There is a wonderful myth that if we make it a PPP, we get the line for free. That is not necessarily true. To get from, say, University Avenue to Pape Station is roughly 6km, maybe a tad shorter if we can cut the corner via the CN mainline from Queen to Gerrard. Much if not all of this must go underground. Even at $200m/km, that’s over $1-billion. Somebody had to borrow that money, and they will want to pay back the loan and its interest, not to make something in the process. Let’s say they can borrow at 5%. That’s a carrying cost of at least $50m/year. When we build routes in the public sector, this cost is absorbed in the general cost of government debt. However, this would now be part of a lease arrangement with the private owner of the line. Would this cost receive the same generous subsidy treatment that tends to follow capital transit projects, or would it be treated as an operating cost to be paid for from the farebox?

    There’s also the small matter of paying for the line’s operation and, eventually, paying off that capital debt, with a few pennies of profit left over.

    Canada Line inflicted pain along Cambie St in Vancouver but I am pretty sure that once the line opened, it is better then before! 25 minute ride from the core to the airport!!! Who would not love that! (Yes I know our airport is further away.)

    Steve: The Cambie line serves many demands other than the airport, and even at that provides better service at a lower fare than the proposed Blue 22 line from Union Station. Among other things, the service actually stops in the neighbourhoods through which it travels.

    We should also cut corners on grand enormous subway station designs. What happened to the simple “Bloor-Danforth” style simple stations. Sure there could be some art but we don’t need to make every station look like Downsview! (Except maybe “City Hall Station”)

    Steve: I really have to point out that the public and politicians in Toronto both decried the “bathroom tile” BD stations and wanted something grander. In any event, our stations cost more than Vancouver’s because they are much bigger to handle longer and wider trains and, at heavy stations, larger passenger volumes. In Vancouver, there is already a concern that the stations are too small, and that future capacity growth will be constrained by cutbacks made by the private partner during construction.

    Steve, can you please explain why Canada Line in Vancouver was a failure? Because all I see is a pure success…Built within costs and opened early!

    Steve: I never said the Canada Line was a failure. However, I can’t help drawing an analogy with the cockups on the St. Clair project where the neighbourhoods went through far worse upheaval than they were promised, and one successfully sued on the grounds that the Cambie project used bait-and-switch tactics to get buy-in for its construction.

    By the way, Bombardier hoped to get the contract for more ICTS/Skytrain cars, but they lost the bid and the Canada line runs with what are basically scaled down subway cars. ICTS technology is not a prerequisite for this type of operation.

    I think this is the only way that the TTC management would change … with competition from another management.

    Steve: Be careful what you ask for. Remember that not all PPPs end happily, and a consortium walked away from huge losses in London UK leaving the government to pick up the tab and rebuild the tube system.


  3. James, I respect your opinion. I am here because I support Public Transit. But at the same time, I support ensuring we get our best bang for the buck when it comes to public services. We’ve never had that under David Miller (which is why I moved to Woodbridge in the first place), and hopefully that will change.

    In context, I am sick and tired of the people who are bitching about how Ford is doing bad things to the city when half of the people who voted did not vote for him. We’ve only gone through one week and the poor man is being slagged from every corner. Did anyone here set up an appointment with Mayor Ford to discuss this issue? How about Karen Stinz? I hear crickets chirping.

    I am an advocate of Transit City too, so I was just as baffled when the first order of business was, as he put it “cancelling Transit City”. But the deed is not done yet, not by a longshot. I’ve seen newspaper columns saying that Ford’s transit plan does not translate to “respect for taxpayers”. And I agree with them.

    Royson James of the Toronto Star had it correctly, there likely may be a compromise solution. Which has already been mentioned on this blog too. Several of the Transit City lines may need to be cut (I’m not a fan of Sheppard East), while others may survive (Eglinton needs to be built). It’s not the best plan, but it is better than going full bore with subways to nowhere. It may not be called “Transit City”, but it may still be built.

    There is still time. We’re just getting warmed up. This is not an all-or -nothing situation.

    Steve: Your naive faith is touching.


  4. Stephen, I would argue that Ford is bringing all of this slagging down on himself, possibly deliberately (to further his reputation as an anti-elite gadfly), by acting in a far more provocative manner that his predecessors (Miller and Lastman). You yourself have said that you are “baffled” by Ford making killing Transit City his first order of business, but look beyond this policy decision and see what’s going on here:

    City council hasn’t met in any substantive fashion, yet. That first meeting where Don Cherry spoke was largely ceremonial. Nothing of consequence was debated and no critical votes were taken. In the interim, Ford has been making some big policy decisions without consulting with council.

    As Steve notes, when Miller started to push forward with some of his powers, the opposition decried his actions power hungry, undemocratic and bullying. This was in the middle of Miller’s term. Here we are, in Ford’s first week. Can you think of any policy that Lastman and Miller moved on as quickly as Ford has done, without even bothering having a meeting with council?

    Yes, Miller pushed forward on the bridge to the Island Airport, but that does not compare to the killing of Transit City (and by extension further badmouthing of the legacy streetcar system) in scope or in timeline. There were at least a few council meetings where the Island Airport issue was discussed and ultimately voted on.

    So, what I think you’re seeing here is a contempt for council by Ford, and an attempt to bully councillors in line in a way that neither Miller nor Lastman did. This is not a recipe for a functional city. Council members seeing Ford’s actions cannot help but wonder at what four years of this attitude will bring.

    I see parallels here to Larry O’Brien’s one term as mayor of Ottawa. He too was elected in a “throw the bastards out” landslide, but then he tried to push over the equally duly elected councillors on council, and within two years, he had to admit to the folly of that action. O’Brien tried to turn things around, but for him the damage was done. He went down to a bitter defeat earlier this year.

    Now, if Ford can learn and change his approach, more power to him. If he doesn’t learn, and council manages to push back, more power to them. But the damage done to the city will be pretty large, and I really wish that we could have avoided that. I fear that we’ve lost another opportunity to build for our future, here, and future generations are going to rue this day.

    But maybe this is what people voted for: they wanted to “throw the bastards out”. Given the economic conditions of the day — which the current council has limited control over, but what can you do? — I can understand why people are frustrated. It’s hard to have faith in the public service and in government given the news we’ve had over the past two years, and its easy to see how certain politicians can capitalize on that mindset.

    But if we elect politicians that campaign on a contempt of the public service and a distrust of government, don’t be surprised if they apply that contempt and distrust to all aspects of public service and government, even policies that you personally agree with. You supported Ford because he promised to shake things up. Well, congratulations, you got what you voted for.


  5. The Canada Line is a perfect example of penny pinching that comes back to bite.

    Bombardier lost the contract because their proposal for a bored tunnel build was too expensive for people to stomach so the people got cut and cover along Cambie Street.

    Now after all that capital got spent and disruption, there’s talk about stations being underbuilt. Stations being 40m, expandable (ha!) to 50m which is basically the equivalent of two subway cars here.

    I just hope we don’t make any of the same mistakes here. Eglinton station boxes look like they’d be large enough for 4-car subway trains or 3-car LRV trains which seems like it’d be enough but what of the pocket tracks? If the DRL is ever built, I pray that we choose the right alignment and not the cheapest and go with 6-car subway because that’s what it’s looking like it needs.


  6. How exactly does cancelling Transit City end the “War on the Car”?

    Four lines had been approved.

    Eglinton was to run underground from Black Creek (or thereabouts) to Laird, i.e. in the downtown core where there is not a wide road allowance. In Etobicoke there is this wide corridor, a legacy of the Richview Expresway so what traffic lanes would be lost if the route ran on the surface?

    Similary Finch and Sheppard are both suburban arterials with wider road allowances which leaves room to relocate traffic lanes.

    So where’s the loss, where’s the war?

    Steve: In the minds of those who need that war to justify their political existence.


  7. Steve: I never said the Canada Line was a failure. However, I can’t help drawing an analogy with the cockups on the St. Clair project where the neighbourhoods went through far worse upheaval than they were promised, and one successfully sued on the grounds that the Cambie project used bait-and-switch tactics to get buy-in for its construction.

    I know you never said that, I’m just asking it as a response to the big campaign before the election about “keep ttc public” that used Vancouver as a failed example … I do not see the issue at all … the video is quite “stupid” too because it says how bus service on Cambie street was reduced … well of course! Because there is a subway underneath it.

    One thing I did notice when assessing the transit system in Vancouver, I realized that while the Expo Line and Millennium Line have a *slightly* longer platform, the width of the cars are a lot narrower (akin to a light rail car) but the Canada Line vehicles are subway width.

    So is it not cheaper to have smaller stations and then increased frequency (as ridership increase) since the vehicles are automated? This is something to consider in all future subway building in Toronto although I’m pretty sure that the DRL needs full 6-car platforms. Canada Line will be fine if they increase the frequency and build light rail along the Arbutus corridor as proposed.

    I understand PPP’s don’t always work but I just have this feeling that the Downtown Relief Line is a perfect candidate for this. The Density of the corridor and the potential growth make it really a win! It is also a way for the private sector to help alleviate the Yonge-Bloor interchange! How interesting is that…

    Has the TTC or the Province at least bothered to study it and see if its worth pursuing?

    Steve: Don’t forget that growth along the corridor will be on land that is not in the public sector, but is already privately held. While the city will benefit from some future tax revenue, based on past experience with development charges, this won’t come close to paying for the line. This is not Hong Kong where the transit agency gets a huge gift of state land and uses proceeds from development to pay for transit construction.


  8. James, I must commend you for your comment. Concise and balanced approach. Now it may not make me change my mind about things, but you are right, the ball is in Ford’s court. I along with my Ford supporter friends expect Ford to try to work with council as he does with his constituents when he was councillor. Failure to do so will mean that he has lost his support for me as well. And no, this is not naive faith. Ford got quite a lot done as councillor in Etobicoke which owes to his election as Mayor. We hope he doesn’t squander this goodwill.


  9. Stephen Cheung wrote: “In context, I am sick and tired of the people who are bitching about how Ford is doing bad things to the city when half of the people who voted did not vote for him. We’ve only gone through one week and the poor man is being slagged from every corner.”

    The problem is that Rob Ford is claiming he has a “mandate” to kill Transit City. As Steve has pointed out, Ford’s mandate, insofar as he has one, is to “stop the gravy train.” However, the exact same voters who allegedly gave him that mandate also gave mandates to their councillors, and most of those councillors have at least as much reason to believe that their mandate is to keep Transit City alive. Many of them would have to be absolute idiots to believe that their mandate is to cancel improved transit in their own wards in favour of a subway most of their constituents will never ride.

    Furthermore, to many people, stopping the gravy train is not compatible with wasting millions of dollars on cancellation costs and billions of dollars on building a subway line that will provide worse service than the cheaper alternatives it replaces. That is, he seems to be claiming that his imagined mandate to scrap Transit City trumps his genuine mandate to save money. This is as stupid as it is bizarre.

    To me, what is surprising is not that the 53% of the electorate who didn’t support Rob Ford on election day still don’t, but that so many of the 47% who did still do. What percentage of those people will see a net benefit — any benefit — from his transit “plan”? For most voters, included Ford supporters, the effect of scrapping Transit City will be transit service that will be unchanged now and worse in the future, most likely along with higher taxes. Apparently, the full “mandate” was to “stop the gravy train, turn it around and drive it to Scarborough Town Centre, because I like the big underground choo-choos.”

    Finally, you will note that David Miller received about 57% of the vote in the last municipal election. This is, by any measure, a much stronger “mandate” than the one Rob Ford received. I don’t, however, see any evidence that this stopped Ford from fighting tooth-and-nail against many of Miller’s initiatives (when he showed up and bothered to find out what he was voting on). I must therefore assume that Mr. Ford and his supporters will welcome similar treatment now that the situation is reversed.


  10. “Furthermore, to many people, stopping the gravy train is not compatible with wasting millions of dollars on cancellation costs and billions of dollars on building a subway line that will provide worse service than the cheaper alternatives it replaces. That is, he seems to be claiming that his imagined mandate to scrap Transit City trumps his genuine mandate to save money. This is as stupid as it is bizarre.”

    And I agree. Read the countless newspaper articles and editorials that state that killing off Transit City does not constitute “Respect for Taxpayers”, which was supposed to be his mantra. If the city has to pay through the nose in cancellation costs, then people WILL be very angry. And he has a lot of ‘splainin to do.

    “I must therefore assume that Mr. Ford and his supporters will welcome similar treatment now that the situation is reversed.”

    That’s called the democratic process. Now it’s time to play.


  11. I do find it particularily odd that Ford puts so much focus into funnelling all the transit money into Scarborough even though he served Etobicoke for 10 long years.

    Makes you wonder if he is a “typical” politician or just somebody that wants to do good but isn’t well educated about the circumstances of it…

    You would think that if he was playing classic politics, he would be pushing hard for a subway under Finch or at least pushing Eglinton to the Airport…?

    If only someone gave Rob Ford a proper education seminar about transit modes, would we be in this situation? One thing for sure… Saving Streetcars in the 1970s has surprisingly damaged Light Rail today!

    Steve: When we saved the streetcars, the idea was to start building a Light Rail network right then, but Queen’s Park had other ideas. We have still not built a real LRT line in Toronto, only some streetcar lines that have a somewhat private right-of-way.

    We also have transit staff and consultants who leave something to be desired when it comes to design and community consultation.


  12. I participated in one of the email campaigns to save Transit City (as I would hope many of you have) and here is the response I received:

    Good Afternoon,

    I would like to reassure you that your concerns are being taken seriously. By being an active part of the democratic process, you are allowing me to gain perspective on public opinion and suggestions.

    It is my hope that the Transit City brand will be replaced with a brand that takes a broader transportation perspective. The plan isn’t being killed, but much of the work will be refocused underground.

    The first transit priority is to build a subway on Sheppard Avenue and replace the Scarborough RT. These routes were first priority in the Transit City plan, I would like them open before the Pan-Am Games in 2015. The second transit priority is the Eglinton line. This route was second priority in Transit City plan. I would like this line open, as currently scheduled, by 2020.

    I have asked the TTC to investigate and present options for a new plan to achieve these goals. Once this plan is established, I will be able to answer more specific questions with regards to cost and changes.

    The previous Transit City plan was not approved as one plan by Council, individual lines were voted on. As your Mayor, I look forward to bringing the new plans forward to my council colleagues.


    Rob Ford

    Mayor of Toronto

    This is the first language I have heard assigning priority to the Eglinton line. (Note the nonspecificity of the type of line which I think is a deliberate choice). I continue to note the absence of any solution to (or even knowledge of) the overcrowding on the Yonge and Bloor-Danforth lines during rushhour.


  13. Just saw this in the G&M : TTC puts new hires on hold Webster says he’s ‘following directions from mayor’ and stopped any new hires for design of Transit City. Depressing not even waiting for direction from transit commission. Recognition of the new power in town.


  14. Ford is not worried about transit service for Etobicoke because he’s got that place under his political thumb already. He doesn’t need to work for votes there, they’ll vote for him in droves, no matter what. He needed to make sure that the voters in the other big suburban areas (North York and Scarborough) thought that he was their man too, so he gave them both subways.


  15. I think Webster is between a rock and a hard place. He at least has to be seen to be working with the mayor, or else the mayor and his minions will start looking for a more co-operative TTC chief.


  16. Why would Ford want to extend the Sheppard Subway? Because he is stupid. The Sheppard Subway would have been better off with an LRT in the first place. It is barely used. Eglinton Avenue deserves it most.


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