Several postmortems have appeared on blogs about the supposed death of OneCity and what might follow:
Updated July 19, 2012 at 7:00 am:
- A transit debate full of sound and fury, signifying … something? by Edward Keenan on The Grid
Updated July 16, 2012 at 11:15am:
- Is there a chance for OneCity 2.0 by John Lorinc on spacingtoronto
- Learning from OneCity by Hamutal Dotan on Torontoist
- Five myths about the death of OneCity by Matt Elliott on Metro
- The OneCity transit plan: What the hell happened? by Matt Elliott on Metro
- Mea Culpa by Cityslikr on All Fired Up In The Big Smoke
My own take on OneCity’s fate together with the original article detailing proposals for dealing with transit planning follow the break.
I won’t rehash the comments from my colleagues here. The actions taken by City Council were generally good as far as they went. The whole question of evaluating the schemes in OneCity and other plans goes off for a staff report that will actually come back this fall for debate, not in some indefinite future when momentum is lost. That report will propose a mechanism for setting priorities and, if we are very lucky, will also contain some updates on the cost estimates which are a vital part of any evaluation scheme.
Rumour already has it that a Downtown Relief Line (whatever we wind up calling it) will be top of the list because so many other network improvements depend on providing more capacity to the core.
Council asked specifically for proposals on accelerating transit to the Eastern Waterfront, a file that languished for years while transit attention focused on one suburban expansion after another. Waterfront Toronto had been contemplating “interim” transit solutions for the next 15 years. That’s no way to treat the largest single development node in Toronto.
Council instructed staff to work with Metrolinx and the GTA regions on preparation of a transit funding strategy. Although this was underway already, Council has endorsed working at a regional level.
That’s not to say we don’t have local transit issues. Painfully absent was any motion dealing with ongoing operating and capital budget problems for the TTC (discussed in the main article below). Council requested a full accounting of the funding for the new streetcars which, with a 2/3 share sitting on Toronto’s shoulders, dominate the capital budget and city debt management for the next few years. What is really needed is a full examination of TTC capital plans for expansion of service on the bus, subway and streetcar networks.
We must wait for budget proposals later this year to see whether the TTC and Council have the will to undo two years of Ford cuts to transit funding and to look strong ridership growth straight in the eye. It’s easy to propose a subway that won’t open for a decade, but much harder to tell someone why they can’t get on the Dufferin bus today. No, worse, that they should not even hope to get on the bus tomorrow or next year.
Last week, I was asked by one journalist whether the so-called defeat of OneCity was a victory for Mayor Ford and his allies. Yes, a successful launch would have been a joyous alternative, a continuation of the momentum for better transit funding and planning, and further marginalization of the Ford camp on transit issues.
However, this is not a “defeat” considering that transit funding and expansion are very much alive as topics for reports and debate. OneCity’s advocates “defeated” themselves through poor strategy in preparation and announcement of the plan. This was an “own goal”, not an example of brilliant footwork from the Mayor. Transit is now an issue for all of Council, and the debates will be out in the open where they belong.
The original article from July 7:
The OneCity transit plan was announced by TTC’s Karen Stintz and Glenn de Baeremaeker on June 27. Reception was mixed with many, notably an 80% favourable poll of Toronto residents, in support, but many others opposed for various reasons. In my initial reaction to the plan, I remarked:
Councillors—and you can bet OneCity’s sponsors already have a majority of votes lined up—have launched a major transit program independently of the mayor and his dwindling band of supporters. [From The Torontoist, June 28, 2012]
As things actually turned out, that majority support was far from a sure thing to the point where we have on-again, off-again articles about OneCity’s chance of surviving the next Council meeting on various websites. The “dwindling band” may actually be followers of Karen Stintz.
Is OneCity fatally flawed? No, but it needs a lot of work. Council should use the coming debate to perform surgery on the OneCity proposal of the type normally reserved for Mayoral schemes that are rewritten holus-bolus on the floor of Council.
How will we pay for OneCity?
Including Current Value Assessment Uplift Capture as OneCity’s funding scheme was an inappropriate strategy guaranteed to confuse the debate. It was a sad attempt to avoid saying “tax increase” under the guise of creating a locked-in transit fund through changes to the provincial Assessment Act.
City staff are already studying the effects of CVA Uplift Capture and will report to Council in October. There is no need to tie OneCity (or transit funding generally) to a specific new tax proposal before we have even decided what it is we wish to build and whether we are prepared to pay for it.
- Council should not link OneCity to a specific funding mechanism until reports on all possible streams (CVA Uplift, Metrolinx Investment Strategy, others) are available and the actual scale of funding needed for OneCity projects is clear.
Operations, Service Quality and Maintenance
The biggest omission from OneCity is any reference to operating costs, service quality, ongoing maintenance and enhancement of the base transit system. This was done deliberately to avoid having a new tax vanish into a vague pit of TTC funding needs without as much to show (especially in the ribbon-cutting arena) as for a program of entirely new construction.
Council should direct TTC as part of 2013 budget process to:
- Report on the backlog of demand for service, the implications of the ongoing 3% ridership growth, and the restoration of service standards to Ridership Growth Strategy levels including budget effects in 2013 and in 2013-22 capital plan.
- Report on the Transit City Bus Plan, updated to reflect current conditions, as a next step in the Ridership Growth Strategy.
- Report on fleet plans for buses and garages to accommodate growth and restored service standards.
- Report on fleet plans for streetcars including the backlog of service requirements caused by fleet shortages, and the effect of population intensification on streetcar lines.
- Report on fleet plans for the subway including the adequacy of Toronto Rocket fleet now on order for the Spadina/Vaughan extension, and whether the Bloor-Danforth fleet is large enough to support extension of that line without more trains or a new yard.
- Report on the backlog of capital maintenance projects that have been deferred to fit within the City’s debt target.
- Report on funding for Wheel Trans to maintain and improve service levels without requiring a subsidy transfer from regular operating budget (as done in 2012).
- Report on system-wide accessibility projects and the degree to which these have been deferred due to limited funding.
What should we do with OneCity?
If Council simply “receives” OneCity but does not send it for detailed review, it will squander an opportunity to become much better informed about transit options. People spend far too much time drawing lines on maps without having to answer difficult questions about cost-effectiveness or constructability, about the value of lines on a city-wide or regional basis, not just to their own wards and electoral prospects.
“OneCity” by name and intent is supposed to move Toronto past that sort of planning, and yet it includes a troubling number of dubious proposals meant to keep various Councillors happy. That’s fine, but only up to a point. A day will come, and fairly soon, when we should learn which of these schemes are actually worthwhile and which, though sounding good, contribute little or even draw attention and resources away from more deserving routes.
That review needs to be honest, not pander to individual Councillors even though we now live in a city where independent wisdom and advice are less than welcome. We cannot ask Torontonians to pay new, higher taxes for pet projects that serve few. That would only confirm the common suspicion that all taxes are wasted.
- Council should request a review of the OneCity project list including the projected costs of each element and the potential benefits to the transit network. This work should not be mired in the larger review of the Official Plan, but should instead contribute to the transit component of that Plan.
- A preliminary review should be completed by the end of 2012.
Obvious targets for review are the proposed service on GO corridors, the Scarborough and Etobicoke Express routes. They are clearly in Metrolinx territory.
The proposal tweaks Queen’s Park’s nose by including the immediate electrification of the Air Rail Link and its conversion to a local, quasi DRL-west service. That is simply not going to happen as anyone following debates on the issue knows. That train left the station a few years ago when Metrolinx and Queen’s Park were still dithering about the merits of electric operation and making bogus claims about how it wouldn’t work here.
The Scarborough Express is a reworking of Markham Councillor Jim Jones’ I-METRO-E scheme which has some rather strange ideas about how a rail corridor and future tax revenues (many within the City of Toronto) could be used to improve service for our friends to the northeast.
Between them, these two express services are a staggering 29% of the total estimated cost of OneCity ($8.4b out of the $28.8b total). Drop them from the plan, and we wouldn’t have to care whether Ottawa came to the table because we wouldn’t need most of their presumed 1/3 share ($9.6b).
The larger and much more important issue for GO is the provision of local, all-day two-way service between the 416 and 905. This is part of a regional planning and funding strategy, but it affects OneCity in the sense that handling trips from the outer 416 to the core on GO removes demand that would otherwise flow on the subway.
- Council should urge Metrolinx and the GTA Regions to review the role of GO as an all-day provider of service on its routes between and within the 416 and 905.
- Proposals for the Scarborough Express and the Air Rail Link replacement should be dropped from OneCity.
Don Mills Subway / Downtown Relief Line
Next largest (at $5.4b) is the Don Mills subway, better known as the Downtown Relief Line. This is part of The Big Move, and Metrolinx is known to be interested in it as part of a proposed “Union Station West” project. Provincial money will be there for this route regardless of the cold shoulder OneCity got from Queen’s Park.
Council needs to know what alignment would be appropriate through the business district, how the line would connect to subways and what potential it might have for extension such as to a redeveloped Exhibition Place. If this discussion is left to Metrolinx, they will dictate the goals of what is really a local subway route. Toronto cannot afford to let that happen.
We need to know what is possible for this important route rather than just drawing vague lines on fantasy maps.
- Council should request a report on preliminary options and alignments for a Don Mills to Downtown subway in the central area, through Riverdale and East York, across the Don to Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, and thus to Eglinton.
The Scarborough Subway depends for credibility on an allegedly small marginal cost relative to replacement of the SRT by an LRT line ($484m). Many cost estimates have been cited for the LRT and subway proposals over the years, and they are not always on consistent footings. The current Metrolinx estimate for LRT ($1.8b) is considerably lower than the cost cited by the TTC in a transition briefing paper for the Ford Administration ($2.5b). The TTC’s estimate for the subway project is much higher ($3.6b) than the value used in OneCity (about $2.3b).
These discrepancies must be settled quickly so that everyone will understand whether a Scarborough Subway really is just a low-cost upgrade to the SRT/LRT replacement scheme, or if it represents a major cost to Toronto that could soak up all of any new revenue stream in the near future.
For its part, Metrolinx needs to explain why the shutdown period for the SRT has grown to four years. Is this a question of project complexity, or of Queen’s Park’s desire to stretch out cash flows? Back in April 2010, the public information display for the proposed LRT line included this statement about temporary bus replacement services:
The temporary service changes and the temporary terminals are expected to be required for up to three years.
In April 2012, the Metrolinx Board approved a staging plan for the Transit City projects that would see construction on the Scarborough LRT begin in 2014 (with the section from McCowan north to Sheppard) and completing in 2019. This and other project schedules were modified by the provincial Cabinet in its project approvals, and the completion date has been extended to 2020.
Torontonians need to understand the reason for an extended SRT shutdown. Queen’s Park owes us an explanation of why they cannot accomplish the conversion in a shorter timeframe. If the subway option is not viable due to cost, then the shortest possible SRT shutdown is essential.
- Council should request speedy review of the cost and construction time estimates for SRT replacement and for the proposed Scarborough Subway so that a definitive choice can be made understanding the implications.
The projects discussed above have a major effect on the total cost of OneCity and, thus, on affordability debates about the plan. Half of OneCity’s projected $28.8b cost is consumed by this handful of projects.
Approving OneCity studies should not imply approval of routes or of the network. Toronto should determine what is viable, what gives the best benefit for the transit network, not pre-judge or pre-approve all of the lines on the OneCity map.
Motions already before Council
The Executive Committee recommends that:
City Council request the City Manager to engage and participate with Metrolinx in establishing a working group of appropriate officials representing the City of Toronto, Greater Golden Horseshoe municipalities, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, the Ontario Ministry of Finance, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and any other relevant bodies to provide input into the preparation of a funding strategy for the Metrolinx regional transit plan.
This motion essentially says “let’s participate in what is already happening”. The issue is not just to be at table, but to ensure that the scope of discussion includes true regional service integration (GO as local carrier, full cross-system fares) and funding of local transit systems including the TTC as part of the coming “Investment Strategy”. If GO/Metrolinx runs true to form, they will try to limit the future view to a minimal involvement in local travel even though that is the heart of the region’s mobility concerns. The GTA municipalities must not allow Queen’s Park to preclude a wider role for their “regional” carrier especially if new GTA-wide revenues are going to pay for whatever we build and operate.
The Planning and Growth Management Committee recommends that:
City Council request that the Acting Chief Planner and Executive Director of City Planning work collaboratively with the Toronto Transit Commission to develop a list of transit priorities, to be approved by City Council, and that these priorities be included in the Official Plan review.
This is a longer range task. The Official Plan won’t be decided by this fall, and its transit component will need extensive study and debate. That debate must be informed by a better understanding of the OneCity proposals (and whatever else may be on the table) than a one-page list of projects and cost estimates. As I recommended above, a preliminary review should be completed in 2012.
The Planning and Growth Management Committee recommends that:
1. City Council support and endorse the East Bayfront LRT line as an added priority for Toronto’s transit network.
2. City Council request the City Manager and the Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Transit Commission, in consultation with Waterfront Toronto and Metrolinx, to report to the Planning and Growth Management Committee meeting on October 12, 2012, addressing the following:
a. explore funding and financial tools that may be available to complete the waterfront rapid transit plan, and
b. explore connecting East Bayfront with Cherry Street to facilitate transportation for the Pan/Parapan Am Games Athletes’ Village and future residents in the West Don Lands and East Bayfront.
OneCity cites a total cost of $290m for the expansion of Union Loop and the construction of an East Bayfront LRT. However, this amount only takes the route to Parliament Street and does not include the connection through the “Keating Precinct” to Cherry Street.
(From Keating Channel Precinct Plan, Page 74)
The portion of this plan south of Queen’s Quay is entangled in the debate over a new plan for the Port Lands, but nothing prevents execution of the northern part except the will and the funding to proceed.
Accurate information about the East Bayfront LRT project is urgently needed so that construction can get underway to support developments already in progress. Waterfront Toronto is considering a set of 15-year “interim” solutions that would condemn this area to poor transit service simply because Toronto does not have the will to support its “transit first” strategy in the waterfront with proper funding.
- Council should approve the recommendations from Planning and Growth Management Committee, and OneCity should be amended to include the cost of the Keating Precinct LRT connection through to Cherry Street.