Ford Attempts Coup to Stall Debate on Transit City

In a bizarre political move at the TTC meeting today (January 31), Ford loyalists voted to gut staff recommendations on working with Metrolinx to finalize a framework for construction of the Eglinton project.  The effect was that staff were not instructed to continue working with Metrolinx, and in theory detailed information about alternatives for the Eglinton project won’t come forward to the TTC or Council.

The votes carried with only Chair Karen Stintz and Commissioners Maria Augimeri and John Parker voting against them.  Stintz has now effectively lost control of the Commission, and the true-blue Ford team has decided to run the show as they see fit.  How long she will stay as chair remains to be seen given the procedural manoeuvres required to unseat her.

The situation is even more ironic because earlier at the same meeting, Stintz had fought the good Ford fight by championing using Council’s recent allocation of $5-million to supplement Wheel-Trans budgets and continue to service to dialysis patients.  This is the same Commission that only months earlier effectively told these riders that theirs was not a core service of the City, and they would have to find cabs.  This didn’t wash politically, and service was restored for six months pending availability of new funding.

However, the City’s money was not intended for Wheel-Trans.  Stintz, by a feat of sophistry that deeply undermines her credibility, argued that “service cuts” were generic and the money could be used for either regular bus service or for Wheel-Trans.  The Commission smiled sweetly,  but voted to ignore Council, cut service and spend the money on a motherhood issue.

Lest readers think I am a heartless bastard, I’m not suggesting Wheel-Trans shouldn’t be properly funded, but its problems are much bigger, and the $5m was not intended to let Queen’s Park off of the hook for what is really a health services cost, not transit.  Even bringing the dialysis folks into the discussion shows how unprincipled the Ford camp (then including Stintz) might be in trying to bypass their loss of control on Council.

Stintz did her bit and sandbagged a big piece of Council’s rescue motion by scoffing the $5m.  However, her role as a Team Ford insider was short-lived when it became clear that by advocating an Eglinton alternative, she was now consigned to Ford’s trash heap and the truly loyal boys would run the show.

All this happened on the same day as a letter from Metrolinx to Mayor Ford and Chair Stintz said, briefly, “get your crap together and decide what you really want us to build”.  Metrolinx finally understands that the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Mayor Ford last year is of little value without the Council approval essential to committing the City.  “Absent Council’s endorsement of the MoU, the City is not bound by the plan and itis increasingly difficult for Metrolinx to implement it.”

Council now must seize the initiative.  Everyone has been trying to be oh-so-conciliatory, saying things they hoped Mayor Ford and his team would take as overtures for compromise, but Ford wants none of it.  It’s subways all the way.

By his actions, Ford has shown he only knows how to fight for turf, and that’s a disappearing quantity.  Ford Nation is becoming Ford Island.

Councillors now talk openly of calling a special meeting using a procedure that requires only a simple majority to invoke.  The agenda is set by the call for the meeting, not throttled by the mayor’s cronies at Executive Committee.  This will allow discussion of transit alternatives, disposition of the MoU, and many other actions such as reconstituting the TTC with a better balanced group of Councillors.  Council could even amend its own bylaws to strip Ford of his power to control Standing Committees and the Executive.  These are powers Council granted, and Council can take them away.

In 40 years of Council watching, I have never seen such open contempt for Council as that shown by Mayor Ford.  He claims a “mandate”, but forgets that Council was elected too, and they answer to voters and their distress at Mayor Ford’s agenda.

One final note:  Like City Council, the TTC has never rescinded its approval of Transit City.  We may debate just what exactly constitutes “approval” at the City, but at the TTC it’s quite clear.  On March 21, 2007, the TTC endorsed Transit City as the centrepiece of its planning, and they have never voted for anything else.  Nobody bothered to think of such a nicety when they had a fighting chance of winning the vote, and now their inattention leaves an embarrassing reminder of details ignored.

Whether Karen Stintz will survive these events as Chair or even as a TTC member is hard to say.  She’s no longer one of Ford’s boys, but by trying to play both sides of the street, she’s not exactly a prime candidate for Ford’s opponents.  She will have to prove her new position, if it is new, with actions that benefit transit and the city, not just the Mayor.

One way or another, we will have a new transit policy probably by the end of March.

Ford Had No Authority to Cancel Transit City (Updated)

Updated January 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm:  The full text of the legal opinion is now online.  This article has been extended with additional material.

On January 29, the Star reported that a legal opinion obtained by Councillor Joe Mihevc, former Vice-Chair of the TTC in the Miller administration, states that Mayor Ford had no authority under the laws governing the City of Toronto to cancel Transit City.

[The report] 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.

Since the mayor had no legal authority to enter into the memorandum of understanding, it shouldn’t be acted upon until council approves it, say the lawyers. Until that happens, it is only an agreement in principle.

According to the report by lawyers Freya Kristjanson and Amanda Darrach, Ford “did not follow the proper procedure for obtaining City Council’s authorization to rescind Transit City and develop and approve an alternate plan.”

“Under the City of Toronto Act, the power of the city resides in City Council. The Mayor of Toronto has very little independent authority beyond his role as head of City Council. Unless specific power is delegated to him, the mayor does not have the authority to speak for the city independently,” wrote the lawyers, from Cavalluzzo, Hayes, Shilton, McIntyre & Cornish.

Ford’s bully-boy nature, his attitude that his “mandate” gives him the power to do anything he wants and ask Council’s blessing, eventually, maybe, has left him in a precarious position.  During the early months of his administration, Council was under his thumb with a then-weak and pliable batch of Councillors who chose not to challenge the Mayor’s office.  If his “Transportation City” plan had gone to Council for a vote, there would have been a big debate, but Ford probably would have won the day.  By taking the quick “I’m in charge” route, Ford left himself open to the challenge which has now surfaced, and at a time when his ability to win votes depends more on consensus building than on back-room, strong-arm tactics.

Queen’s Park, for its part, foolishly signed on to Ford’s plan and proceeded in the absence of Council support, a specific requirement of the Memorandum of Understanding Ford signed with Premier McGuinty.  Metrolinx gives tacit support for the plan citing the benefits of shorter travel times and better ridership without ever discussing the basics — is this an effective use of the money available to build transit, not just on Eglinton, but in the wider context of Toronto and the GTA.

Updated January 30:

The lead counsel on this opinion is Freya Kristjanson who has extensive experience in administrative and public law.

The opinion covers two areas in some detail.  First is the question of whether Council actually approved of Transit City, and then the issue of the powers of the Mayor to act unilaterally without Council’s endorsement.

In July 2007, Council as part of an overall environmental initiative directed that studies for Transit City begin.  Various motions over following years approved work on specific parts of the plan, and some of these were supported by then-Councillor Ford.

Mayor Ford came to office and, before Council had even had its inaugural meeting, announced the cancellation of Transit City and directed that the TTC shift its efforts to his own transportation plan.  In March 2011, Ford signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Metrolinx and the Government of Ontario which purported to be a commitment by Toronto to the new plan.  However, a requirement both of the MOU and the law governing Toronto was that Council must approve the new policy.  The MOU was never taken to Council for a vote.

At this point, I must point out that no amount of whining about whether or not Transit City ever had an up-or-down vote matters.  If as Ford supporters claim, Miller was wrong to proceed as he did, then Ford repeated the same mistake.  In fact, many aspects of Transit City, and especially spending on its projects, were approved by Council, something nobody can claim for Ford’s plan.

The opinion goes into some detail about the powers of the Mayor and Council as this is essential to the discussion of whether what Ford did exceeded his authority as Mayor.  It is quite clear that a good deal of the Mayor’s authority flows from Council, and that he cannot act on his own claiming to act for the City.  The Mayor has a bully pulpit from which he can advocate his positions and, if he does well, to sway Council and public support.  However, he must formally receive that support from Council to act.

During this morning’s press conference, the media asked whether the Mayor had “broken the law” in acting as he did.  To this, Ms. Kristjanson replied that it was not a matter of criminal law as that phrase is normally used.  Councillor Mihevc did, however, raise the question of city staff acting only for and with the direction of the Mayor and not for Council to whom, on paper, they report.  This matter will sort itself out as debate among Councillors evolves and the pro- and anti-Ford factions become clear.  The issue is not to punish the Mayor, but to re-establish the appropriate role for the Mayor and for Council.

In a bizarre sideshow to the press conference, Councillor Norm Kelly, also a TTC Commissioner, claimed that decisions on the fate of Eglinton and its design were really a matter for Metrolinx, not for Council, because Eglinton is a provincial project.  This ignores the fact that Council has been asked by Metrolinx to make up its mind on the preferred alignment and technology.

Kelly also claimed that an all-subway option would be cheaper, although this is based in part on the assumption of automated control.  The TTC is expected to produce a detailed review of the options in late February, and I will hold off on comments about this issue until there are actual figures and claims to discuss.  If, in fact, either Metrolinx or the TTC has information that would support this claim, it should be made public for scrutiny as soon as possible.

Kelly made the absurd claim that running at grade was more expensive than underground because of the extra cost of maintaining infrastructure out of doors.  He may not have noticed that parts of the subway, not to mention the Scarborough RT, run out of doors.  It is sad, in a way, that this is the best representative that could be mustered by the Ford camp to defend the Mayor’s position.

How will Transit City, or whatever transit plan might be proposed, come before Council?    Although it would technically be possible to introduce the item from the floor of a regular Council meeting, this would require a 2/3 majority vote, something of a challenge at this point.  Either the Mayor or the City Manager could put this on a Council agenda, or a special meeting of Council could be called at the request of at least 23 members (a simple majority).  Which path is taken will depend a great deal on Mayor Ford’s willingness to compromise, or at least to let the issue come for a vote and take his chances on the outcome.


The Star errs in its description of the Mayor’s powers:

Although the mayor did receive some new powers under the City of Toronto Act that took effect in 2007, including the authority to appoint the deputy mayor and standing committee chairs, “Generally, executive and legislative powers rest with full council,” says the lawyer’s report.

In fact, the power to appoint the Deputy Mayor and standing committee chairs (and, therefore, to ensure Mayoral control of the Executive Committee) was conferred on the Mayor by Council through Chapter 27, Section 40 of the Municipal Code.  Council can amend this at any time (changes to the code happen so often that there is a long list of amendments on the City’s website that have not yet been folded into the consolidated online version).

What Council granted, Council can take away.

The TTC is a separate agency and the Chair is not appointed by the Mayor, but by the Commissioners from among themselves.  The Mayor has de facto control over this through the allegiance of his supporters on the Commission.  If Council chooses to reconstitute the Commission, the Mayor could lose control of the Chair’s appointment.

Six Years

January 30, 2012 marks the sixth anniversary of this blog.  A year ago, I was despondent after the municipal election left a band in control of City Hall whose politics, to put it mildly, do not align with my own.

As that year evolved, embarrassment about the absolute stupidity, the crass insensitivity and the “we’re in charge so fuck you” attitude of the Ford administration made me wonder whether Toronto would ever recover.  But this is not a dictatorship, and Toronto voters seem remarkably able to recognize a fraud when they see one.  I had hoped for a great fall, but didn’t expect it would come so quickly.  Council took a year, but finally has its voice and knows that the real power lies in a working majority, not in the bullies clustered around the Mayor.

In these pages, we have talked about the merits of various transit plans, technologies, funding schemes and the fundamental question of what transit should do.  We don’t always agree, but there’s a robust discussion.  Among the public at large, there’s a better knowledge of transit issues, if only because they get so much press.  A debate can start from a moderately informed basis rather than going back to first principles and explaining the concept of a wheel.  That’s what it felt like at times, years ago when citizen activism was just finding its legs for transit and other aspects of city life.

As I write this, the transit file is in total upheaval.  Nobody is quite sure whether Transit City, Mayor Ford’s plan, or some hybrid scheme will win out.  At Queen’s Park, the real intentions of Metrolinx are never clear.  Whether they are dark lords piloting a death star toward the TTC, or brainy bumblers plotting to take over the world, is hard to say.

Over at the TTC, they’re just trying to keep the wheels on in the face of an administration that cries wolf over Toronto’s supposed poverty and strips funding without understanding the real cost of what they do.  Transit planning is a political poker game whose players are drunk with the vision of billions on the table, but who plead poor, unable to afford a taxi ride home.

This will pass, and Toronto may actually head off in a new direction that could even resemble what we were doing not so long ago.  At least now there is a debate.

My own output in these pages dropped off in 2011 thanks to the complete lack of anything to write about for weeks on end.  Transit policy consisted of little more than lectures on how the fat times were over and we would all have to sacrifice something for the common good.  That the common good might actually benefit from spending was an utterly foreign concept.

The article count went up from 1,152 to 1,277 (just under 11%), but you, the readers, kept up your end with the comment tally rising from 20,190 to 23,908 (18.4%).  This blog was not subject to an arbitrary 10% cut in service.

Where 2012 will take us is still a mystery.  At City Council, it’s early days for an alliance of members from diverse political viewpoints.  They know they can beat the Mayor on a vote where there’s enough common sense around the table to spur 23 voices, voices that listen to their constituents and to the mood of the city, not just to the sycophantic railings of the gutter press and populist radio hosts.  May that number grow, and may Council again be a place where citizens are not dismissed as special interests, layabouts and pinkos.

At Queen’s Park, the challenge is to find some backbone for the funding of transit.  The Metrolinx “investment strategy” process drags on and on.  The date for a report still lies over a year away, far enough that nothing beyond talk will happen before the next election.

Transit will cost a lot of money, but Queen’s Park refuses to accept responsibility for funding this portfolio at the local level.  A small dribble of gas tax is all that keeps transit systems alive, and that won’t pay for transit on the scale needed to make a real change in GTA travel habits.  Two trains a day to anywhere is not a transit revolution.

In Ottawa, the government pulls as far away from municipal issues as it can, and prepares to stiff the provinces in order to deal with its own problems.  This is not a new idea.  There is great irony that we had Paul Martin as Finance Minister turning the screws, while years later, as Prime Minister he had the beginnings of a sensitivity to cities (with the NDP’s encouragement).  Any transit funding strategy for the foreseeable future must not count on improved federal participation.  “Tripartite” schemes are a recipe for complete inaction, something Toronto has far too much of already.

Is Toronto — the city, the region and its provincial government — prepared to build what is needed to ensure transit actually plays an important role in the region’s future?  Will we tax ourselves, however the money might be collected, to built and operate the network of tomorrow, or will the mythology of the private sector and its supposed billions for transit investment win out?

2012 will be an interesting year.  I hope to have much more to write about, and to write about positively.  You, dear readers, will have your say too.  Quiet corners may be hard to find in this café.

Council Votes a Small Increase in TTC Funding (Update 3)

Updated January 28, 2012 at 10:15am:  One intriguing point about the proposed service restorations is the formula on which they are based.  Originally, the off-peak standard for frequent services was to change from “seated load” (on average) to “seated load plus 25%”.  On this basis, several routes and periods of operation would have service cut so that the allegedly existing seated loads were given 20% less service. 

(If you have five buses each with a seated load, and you cut the service to four buses (a 20% cut), then one quarter, or 25%, of the seated load from that fifth bus much be added to each of the remaining vehicles.)

Now the TTC proposes a standard of “seated plus 15%” saying that this will rescue many of the services that would have been cut.  Hello TTC.  If an existing service is already at seated plus 15%, then it is most certainly over the current standard of a seated load.  The same sort of calculation applies to the peak period bus routes that were already saved by an adjustment of the new standard.

The common point here and in the round of service cuts on lightly used routes last year is that the TTC’s riding counts are out of sync with the service they actually operate.  One one day, a revised standard may cause a service cut, but on another, amazingly, it turns out that there were more riders on those buses and streetcars than we had been led to believe.  Certainly many routes are operating beyond the “Ridership Growth Strategy” standard, and the amount of headroom to cut service is less than alleged by KPMG’s Core Services Review.  That document is a tangle of half-truths and bad research, but it was the underpinning of planned cuts to many City departments.

Why didn’t the TTC explain this during the budget reviews?

Updated January 27, 2012 at 11:25pm:  A “final budget” report on the TTC’s agenda for the January 31 meeting recommends spending the $5-million voted by Council either on restored service on the conventional system, or on avoiding a cutback in Wheel-Trans service.  The report includes a list of services that would be restored on March 25, 2012 reversing completely or partially the cuts pending for February 12, 2012.  There is no discussion of service restoration (which would require redoing the work sign-up for February on very short notice) for the period from February 12 to March 24.

While funding of Wheel-Trans will be advanced by some as a more humane way to use the $5m, the very clear intent of Council and of everyone who spoke in favour of this funding was to restore service on the regular bus system.  Wheel-Trans funding is a separate issue that even the TTC had agreed to leave until mid-year pending possible funding from another source.

At the meeting, we will see whether the Commission chooses to thwart the will of Council, and whether Councillors who voted the additional money will show up to read the riot act to those Commissioners who do not understand that Mayor Ford lost that vote, and the TTC should get on with restoring regular service.

Those who argue that the $5m is “not sustainable” because it is drawn from one-time funding conveniently ignore that it will have this status whether it is spent on regular routes or on Wheel-Trans.  Moreover, it is entirely likely that a good chunk of this money will appear in fare revenue from riding that is running ahead of budget predictions.

Updated January 23, 2012 at 10:55pm:  The option of using the extra subsidy voted by Council as part of the capital budget to pay for new streetcars has been ruled inappropriate by the City’s legal staff because this conflicts with the wording of Council’s motion.  However, because “restore service” could also be construed to refer to Wheel-Trans cuts (although that was not the intent), it is possible that the Commission might sneak through redirection of the funding anyhow.  How this will sit with Councillors who thought they were saving regular service remains to be seen.

The original article from January 18, 2012 follows:

In a surprise victory at City Council, progressive forces — an alliance of the left, the “mushy middle” and a few from the right wing — combined to restore funding in the 2012 budget in several areas including the TTC’s subsidy.  The vote on January 17 was as close as it could be with a 23-21 margin (one Councillor was off sick, and the vote would have been 23-22 if he were present).

The TTC will receive an additional $5-million for its operating subsidy in order to reverse some of the planned service cuts.  This is less than the full amount needed ($9m), and will likely result in a concentration on off-peak services.  Why only $5m?  The political compromise needed to pull together this vote involved a lot of horse trading, and many of the amounts involved for other budget areas were considerably lower — in the hundreds of thousands rather than millions — and the overall package had to stay within a scope the coalition could support.

The TTC must now consider how it will use the money, and the mechanics of unwinding cuts that have already been scheduled for mid-February.

Continue reading

TTC Meeting Preview for January 31, 2012

The TTC agenda for January 31, 2012 contains a few items of interest.

The proposed disposition of an additional $5-million in subsidy is discussed in a separate article.

Eglinton Scarborough Crosstown Project Update

A long report giving an update on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT does not address any of the issues currently swirling in the media, and it gives only a basic sense of where various parts of the project sit.  The most important part comes in Recommendation 3 in which the TTC would ask the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure to hold off on any decision regarding overall project management and delivery until outstanding issues are resolved.

The critical paragraph (on page 7) reads:

Recently, Metrolinx has indicated that it is considering a different project delivery and governance arrangement for the Crosstown Project which could involve project management by another entity, rather than the TTC, a more extensive role for Infrastructure Ontario and one large alternative financing and procurement contract including final design and construction of all stations, the SRT, yards, and systems.

Infrastructure Ontario and Metrolinx have been trying to muscle into the Eglinton project for some time.  That’s no surprise considering the billions at stake and the desire by IO and Metrolinx to show that they can do a better job than what is perceived as the TTC’s historical ham-fisted project management and control.  How this attitude fits with current experience on the Spadina extension, and why we should believe another agency will do better, remains to be seen.

Moreover, the question of what, exactly, we are building on Eglinton has yet to be answered.  Queen’s Park and Metrolinx are dodging the question and claiming that they just want agreement between the TTC, Council and the Mayor.  Well, two out of three is likely, but unanimity is impossible after the highly misleading and misinformed post by Ford on his Facebook page.  The Pembina Institute (a somewhat left of Ford think tank) has responded to misrepresentations Ford makes about their position on their own site.

The meddling from Queen’s Park puts the Commission and Council in a position where a definitive policy for Toronto on the Eglinton corridor is needed soon.  Beyond that, the disposition of any leftover money (presuming that Queen’s Park would leave it on the table) needs informed debate by all concerned, and a compromise that won’t be worked out overnight.

Various factions argue for the Finch and Sheppard LRT lines, for some or all of the Sheppard subway extensions, and for the Finch BRT.  Everyone has a set of magic markers and their own map.  This is no way to plan a transit system.

Ashbridges Bay Carhouse and Shops

The Commission will award a contract for construction of the new yard, carhouse and shops at Ashbridges Bay in the amount of $237.4m.

Roncesvalles Carhouse

The Commission will award a contract for revisions to Roncesvalles Carhouse to accommodate the new LFLRV fleet in the amount of $9.9m.

Town Hall Update

There will be a presentation on the results of the recent “town hall” on TTC customer service and plans for future events.  This item is not yet available online.

Goodbye to the H4 Trains

For all the lovers of non-air conditioned trains, noisy ceiling fans, but comfy seats, Friday, January 27 will be the last run of the H4 class cars on the TTC.

Run 64 will leave Greenwood Yard eastbound at 7:27am to Kennedy, make a round trip to Kipling, and then run back to the yard at 9:44.

As more of the Toronto Rocket trains enter service on Yonge, they will replace the H5 and H6 fleets, and the BD line will become an all T1 route.  The last of the TRs now on order are for the Spadina/Vaughan extension opening in 2015.

First Steps for a Transit Compromise (Update 3)

[Updates with links to media coverage are at the end of this article.]

Elizabeth Church reports in the Globe about a proposed compromise that would redistribute the funding for the proposed all-underground Eglinton LRT line.

Tess Kalinowski and David Rider in the Star cover the same story and include a map.

  • Eglinton would stay on the surface east of Leaside with a dip underground at Don Mills to surface east of the DVP.  This is similar but not identical to the original Transit City scheme.
  • Part of the money released from the Eglinton project would be used to extend the Sheppard Subway east to Victoria Park and include a stop at Consumers Road.
  • A bus transit corridor would be provided on Finch West and East.

The article implies that there may be good support from various parts of Council for this scheme, and a clear endorsement by a motion would send Metrolinx the signal it claims to be waiting for of just what Toronto wants to build.

Updated January 25, 2012 at 10:45am:

Natalie Alcoba reports in the National Post that although there may be support growing on Council for this plan, the Mayor’s office appears unmoved.

But an official from the Mayor’s office suggested he is not interested in relinquishing ground on his LRT stance. “We’re happy with the Metrolinx plan that they’re working on now,” said Mark Towhey, the Mayor’s policy director. “Residents don’t want trains running down the middle of the street.”

On the radio on Tuesday, Mr. Ford seemed to distance himself from the Eglinton line, saying he doesn’t want to stick his nose in a provincial project.

“I’m concentrating on the Sheppard line, and building a subway up there. If Metrolinx or the province wants to do this… I’m not a fan of streetcars, I’m not a fan of LRTs. If they’re underground I am, that’s been my position all along.”

[End of update]

There are longer range issues here, but retention of a subway-surface alignment on Eglinton will permit future extensions to the west and northeast that would likely be unaffordable if an all-underground structure had been repurposed as a full subway line.  The difficult problems of an alignment from Black Creek to Jane have yet to be addressed.

Finch will see BRT at least initially, and it will be important that no design elements preclude future conversion to LRT when demand justifies this.  This would also avoid the cost of a carhouse on Finch West in the short term that was part of the Transit City scheme.

The unknown would be Sheppard and the terminal at Victoria Park.  Will this be a “temporary” end of the line, or will the design allow further extension by either subway or by LRT with a convenient transfer connection?  An argument now about the technology east of Victoria Park will only muddle the debate, but the option of either form of extension should be left open for a future decision.  Will a BRT on Finch stand in for the Sheppard East LRT?

Portions of the Ford subway scheme appear to have fallen off of the table.  We still need those debates about the role of subways, LRT and BRT (not to mention such lowly creatures as simple buses running in mixed traffic) in a suburban network.  Part of this will fall to Metrolinx’ “Big Move 2.0” about which we know very little today and to the degree that solid transit funding actually shows up through new revenue sources such as tolls, sales taxes or maybe even a casino.

Meanwhile, we debate the disposition of billions in capital spending while proposing a few millions in savings by widespread service cuts.  Such is the madness of Toronto’s transit politics.

I can quibble about some aspects of this proposed compromise, but it is a good start.  Here is a sign that finally Council takes seriously the need to plan and make responsible decisions about our transit future.  For a year, by its inaction, Council gave de facto endorsement to a half-baked campaign promise that Metrolinx adopted as its working plan.  Now we can have a real debate.

Updated January 26, 2012 at 12:40am:

Robyn Doolittle in the Star reports that momentum is building for the compromise plan.

Elizabeth Church and Patrick White report in the Globe with more details about response from Queen’s Park and Metrolinx.

Natalie Alcoba in the Post suggests that Mayor Ford is still wedded to a subway plan, but that support for surface LRT is building.

One troubling point in all of this is a comment by Metrolinx chair Rob Prichard who wants to see Council, the Mayor and the TTC all onside.  Whether Rob Ford will actually endorse a new plan, or wind up as one of a few voting against it remains to be seen, but at some point Queen’s Park has to listen to the majority of the citizens’ representatives.

Updated January 26, 2012 at 12:50:

Royson James in the Star gives Metrolinx a well-deserved thrashing.  By its own admission, this agency proceeded with the all-underground Eglinton plan even without Council approval, a clear requirement of the Memorandum of Understanding between Queen’s Park and Mayor Ford.

Christopher Hume weighs in with a video commentary including a call for an all-surface Eglinton LRT.

Stintz Supports LRT, Maybe (Update 3)

Updated January 23 at 11:00pm:  Links to updated coverage including signs of movement toward a new transit plan have been added.

From the Star:

Tess Kalinowski writes about support building for a new plan.  In this version, a surface-subway LRT on Eglinton frees up money for, possibly, a short extension on Sheppard to Victoria Park and something on Finch West.

It’s too early to tell which combination will win out, and there’s no reference to eastern Scarborough.

Martin Cohn writes about the imminent collapse of the McGuinty-Ford transit deal.  We learn that Queen’s Park was prepared to pay the extra cost of expropriating property to widen Eglinton to compensate for space lost to surface LRT, but this option was rejected by Ford.

A Star Editorial congratulates Karen Stintz for telling us the obvious and urges her to begin a campaign for a subway-surface line on Eglinton.  At this rate, they’ll be casting a bronze of Stintz arm-in-arm with David Miller.

From the Globe:

Marcus Gee writes favourably about a move to bring Eglinton back to the surface.

From the National Post:

Natalie Alcoba writes about the proposed change including comments from supportive Councillors.

Updated January 23 at 5:50 pm:  I recently spoke with Bruce McCuaig, President and CEO of Metrolinx, about this issue.  Notes from our conversation are at the end of this article.

Adrian Morrow reports in today’s Globe that TTC Chair Karen Stintz feels an all-underground Eglinton line should just be what it is, a subway, but that it belongs on the surface as LRT for its outer suburban section.

Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

“If the decision is to go with an LRT, it should be at-grade,” she said. “If there’s a decision to put it underground, it should be a subway.”

That’s an interesting position for someone in the Ford camp because it continues the anti-streetcar rhetoric of the Mayor’s office.  If Eglinton is built as a subway line, the option of converting it to LRT and resurrecting Transit City falls because a major link (and the proposed main shops for the LRT network) would vanish.

As Morrow points out in his article, other systems use a combination of surface and underground alignments (including Boston where downtown streetcars went underground over a century ago) so that a network of surface routes can share a common tunnel in the congested central area while switching to a simpler surface alignment elsewhere.

If Eglinton were to become a subway, the problem of valley crossings won’t disappear and Metrolinx will still face the problem of either going under several valleys, or bridging them with parallel structures.

The real question a subway option begs is the future of the SRT.  If Eglinton becomes a subway, it will not easily through-route to Scarborough Town Centre along the existing alignment, and this will reopen the debate over a Bloor-Danforth extension.

Morrow’s article implies that Stintz may be shifting into the pro-LRT camp, but I am not convinced.  If she were really shifting positions, there would be more talk about revival of some parts of Transit City, notably the Finch West line which, unlike Sheppard East, is completely independent of the Ford subway proposals.

The pending release of Gordon Chong’s report on financing the Sheppard Subway will trigger, finally, a debate on the future of Toronto’s transit technologies at Council.  We will see whether Stintz is truly an LRT supporter, or simply pitching Ford’s “no streetcars” view of the world.

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Metrolinx Plans a Fare Increase

The Metrolinx board will meet on Monday, January 9 to formally approve new, higher fares across the system effective February 18, 2012.  Unlike the previous fare hike of March 20, 2010 which was a flat $0.25 bump in all fares, this round uses tiered increases so that short-distance fares are not as disproportionately penalized.

  • Fares which are now between $4.20 and $5.50 would rise by $0.30 (5.5 to 7.1%)
  • Fares which are now between $5.51 and $7.00 would rise by $0.35 (5.0 to 6.4%)
  • Fares which are now at $7.01 or more would rise by $0.40 (at most 5.7%)

Considering that many GO fares are well above $7 (a one way from Kitchener-Waterloo to Union costs $14.60), that maximum increase amounts to only 2.7%.  Oddly enough, the presentation on the agenda notes that:

A flat increase disproportionately impacts shorter trips and will make any potential future fare integration arrangement with the TTC more difficult to achieve.

The 2012 increase is still disproportionately high for those who might make short journeys.  The idea that this somehow supports future fare integration with the TTC is hard to swallow.

The average GO fare is $6.55 and the average increase, allowing for the effects of discounts, will be about $0.31 (4.7%) .  If this were applied to the KW-Union fare, the increase would be about $0.70.

A chart of page 3 of the presentation makes interesting reading.  It shows various GO cost factors and their rates of increase over the past decade.  By far the highest are diesel fuel and electric power.

Concurrent with the fare increase, GO will change the discount plan for adults and students to encourage their shift from paper passes to Presto.  The discounts of 17.5% and 35% now offered to adult and student passholders respectively will stay in place for Presto fares, but the discounts for a paper pass will drop to 15% and 30%.

Like the TTC, GO faces the dilemma that adding service, even if they carry more riders, drives up costs because on average all services recover only about 80% from the farebox.  Stronger ridership with little service improvement is financially beneficial, but service improvements add to the operating costs.

With constraints on funding from Queen’s Park, passengers will have to dig a little deeper.  This is a major issue for future GO planning as they move to services that will not have as robust a cost recovery rate (two way, all day rail service).  The farebox cannot pay for GO’s evolution from a system that cherry-picks the cheapest of riders to one that provides service as a basic policy for the GTAH.

Metrolinx Board Report

Metrolinx Board Presentation

Rebuilding A Transit City

The waning fortunes of the Ford regime and its defeat on planning for the eastern waterfront have emboldened many to focus on the resurrection of the Transit City LRT plan.  Advocates despaired as the newly-minted Mayor Ford so unceremoniously and undemocratically cancelled the plan.  We watched as Queen’s Park, terrified of a “Ford Nation” juggernaut decimating Liberal ranks in the 2011 election, caved in with a “Memorandum of Understanding” completely undoing the principles of their own “Big Move” transit scheme.

Now we’re in 2012, rumour has the Liberals wanting a return to the original plan, but fearing a unilateral move without a request from Toronto Council.  Oddly enough, the absence of any Council approval for Ford’s actions, a requirement of the MOU, is never mentioned.  The economics of the all-underground Eglinton “LRT” and the private sector Sheppard subway don’t look encouraging, and Queen’s Park faces widespread constraint in public sector spending.  This is hardly the time to be blowing billions to gold plate projects, to cover them with “gravy” that would invite ridicule in other circumstances.

The left may engineer a vote at Council once the 2012 budget debates are out of the way seeking to resurrect Transit City as it was originally proposed and agreed to.  CodeRedTO has formed with the intent of seeking a way, preferably through compromise, to a revised transportation plan that will keep the best of competing views of our future.  They hope to copy the success of the waterfront’s CodeBlueTO.

Whether this will be possible given the bluster and intransigence shown by the Mayor whenever surface transit is mentioned remains to be seen.  Unlike the Portlands fiasco, a scheme hatched and promoted by the Mayor’s brother Doug, the transportation file is firmly part of Rob Ford’s agenda.  It was in his campaign platform, and the Mayor has often repeated his loathing for “streetcars” and his mantra that the war on the car is over.

Unlike Waterfront Toronto, transit agencies don’t have a string of projects to show off as a mark of their expertise.

The TTC still hasn’t lived down the St. Clair project even though many of its problems were not of the TTC’s making, and “St. Clair” is as much a conjuration of urban myth than today’s experience.  Local transit is more a collection of horror stories, of fights between the system and its customers, rather than of day-to-day triumphs.  Right at the top, the TTC is infected with the premise that transit is for somebody else, for the folks who can’t afford to drive, rather than an essential part of the region’s network for everyone.

Metrolinx does well as far as it goes, but has the comparatively easy job of serving a small, concentrated and select market.  It’s easy to do well when you deliberately ignore millions of potential customers and see high farebox returns as a mark of success without seeing all those trips not taken (because service isn’t provided) as a cost to travellers and to the region.

However the politics works out, a vital challenge for advocates is to avoid an endless debate on thirty years worth of future transit plans, pitched battles between various transit schemes, technologies and alignments.  Taxpayers who must fund whatever we build, and politicians who must get re-elected, need a focussed, clear objective.

The waterfront file was an easy fight in this regard:  a widely-praised, detailed plan already exists that was demonstrably better than what was proposed.  The rivalry between agencies (Waterfront Toronto vs Toronto Port Lands Corporation) and the desire to get quick sales to fund property tax breaks in Toronto exposed the shallow goals and cronyism of the Ford alternative.  The situation with Transit City is much different.

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