The February 29th meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission was one of the shortest in my long memory of these events. The agenda was trivial with an utter absence of meaty issues for debate, and the real action would follow in press scrums.
This generally upbeat report was approved without debate.
Notable by its absence is any mention of the operating budget challenges faced thanks to cutbacks in funding by the City of Toronto. Recently, the Commission diverted $5-million intended to support regular bus service quality into the Wheel Trans budget. For the long term, Council must address the fact that cutbacks to the Wheel Trans subsidy have much more severe effects, proportionately, than cuts to the regular system.
The TTC may be improving its accessibility, slowly, but basic questions about whether the service is adequate to meet demand receive little public debate. This is not just a question of Wheel Trans for those who cannot use the conventional system, but of recognition that mobility affects many who are ambulatory, but whose neighbourhoods and destinations may not be well served by surface routes.
The Commission adopted “Highway 407” and “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre” as the names for the two stations north of Steeles on the Spadina subway extension on a 5-2 vote.
For some time, staff and some Commissioners have pressed for the simpler “Vaughan Centre”, but the City of Vaughan Council prefers the longer (and somewhat more pretentious) name. Sadly, the opposition to the long version came from Commissioners whose credibility leaves much to be desired, although their comments might in other circumstances be cogent.
Norm Kelly mentioned the “conceit” of former cities within Metropolitan Toronto which created “town centres” such as in Scarborough, Kelly’s home turf. This is deeply ironic considering that it is the failure of Scarborough Town Centre to attract employment that is part of the argument against the Sheppard Subway extension which Kelly supports. Frank Di Giorgio worried that everyone will make a case for special consideration on station names. Di Giorgio, it should be remembered, is the advocate for total obedience to Mayoral fiats by city staff, and if Rob Ford had a position on station names, it would take precedence over everything.
Meanwhile Maria Augimeri had hopes her “Black Creek” would get equal consideration when it comes to formally naming “Steeles West” station.
After the meeting, a group of my colleages agreed that one of my local stations, Chester, should be renamed as “Riverdale Metropolitan Centre”, although I might add the word “Organic” in deference to the neighbourhood.
It is unclear how the TTC will handle placing the long version of “VMC Station” on its maps and other signage.
St. Clair at Keele/Weston
Commissioner Palacio asked for a report on improving traffic conditions at the St. Clair and Keele intersection where, because of the rail underpass just to the east, traffic is constrained to a single lane by the streetcar right-of-way.
Restructuring the Commission
In a scrum after the meeting, Chair Karen Stintz announced that she had reached a compromise for the proposed change in the makeup of the TTC. A report coming to Council on March 5 (whose origin lies in the machinations of the Ford camp to enhance control of all agencies by the Mayor) recommends a nine-member Commission (as at present) with five citizen members and four Councillors. The Chair and Vice-Chair would be a Councillor and Citizen member respectively.
The new proposal would see an 11-member Commission with six Councillors.
After the firing of Gary Webster by Ford’s Gang of Five, many Councillors have talked about restructuring the Commission to be more representative of Council as soon as possible, including at the March 5 meeting. Stintz feels that she has the votes for the compromise arrangement, and that a major shuffle of the Commission would not occur until June when the citizen appointments are confirmed by Council.
The next move is up to Council itself on March 5.
While the TTC was meeting, across on the other side of City Hall Mayor Ford was hosting a bevy of developers for a luncheon discussion of subway funding. After the TTC meeting completed, there was a scrum outside of the Mayor’s office (with Chair Stintz nowhere in sight) in which the Mayor and his circle claimed that there was broad support in the development industry for subways. When pressed about funding, Mayor Ford didn’t want to get into the details beyond pointing to the Chong report, but claimed that the development community was totally onside. Onside maybe, but the developers all slipped out the side door and avoided the media lest they have to go on record supporting or, worse, opposing the Mayor.
Of course developers love subways because they offer an opportunity to squeeze higher densities out of the city than they would get otherwise. We have been down this path before with the Sheppard Subway. However, don’t ask the developers to pay for subways, certainly not through development levies that would make their brand new condos uncompetitive with buildings downtown, the really hot part of the condo market.
The strangest part of the whole scheme is that funding the subway depends on new revenue sources many of which Ford is on record as hating, and one (the vehicle registration tax) which he killed early in his term as a swipe at Toronto’s alleged appetite for higher revenues rather than reduced expenses. Even the normally supportive Toronto Sun cannot believe what their hero is up to.
All of this leads up to a March
15 21 special Council meeting where the “expert panel” convened to look at Sheppard options will report that LRT is the preferred option. Will Mayor Ford have a credible financing scheme in place, or will this be more smoke and mirrors, more claims that the money is there without any commitment to actually raising the levies needed to build the project?