Correction: The original version of this article claimed that the Board was meeting in private today to discuss matters that will be on the agenda tomorrow. The Tweet from Metrolinx about today’s is a Stakeholder meeting, not a Board meeting. Thanks to Ben Spurr at the Star for catching this.
The Metrolinx Board will gather on Thursday, October 26 for what is described in the media release as its “annual strategy meeting”. Much of the agenda will be discussed in camera, and if the agency has a strategy, we won’t learn much about how the board members feel on the subject.
The meeting announcement tells us that the Board will discuss “transit expansion progress”. Maybe, but that hardly sounds like “strategy” with the Draft Regional Transit Plan already out to the public for comment. The draft ignores many issues, and the plan does not improve the regional modal split for transit beyond current levels. Moreover, the transit growth is disproportionately focused on Toronto’s core, but transit loses ground (not that it has much to start with) the further from the centre one gets.
Hard discussions about how road space will be used – transit, multi-occupancy vehicles, freight, cycling, pedestrians – need to happen at the regional level, not just on a few “transit streets” downtown. This is a debate both for the 905 and for Toronto’s suburbs where the combination of built form and transit density work against a strong transit market share.
In any event, the public agenda item is a small update on consultation, not a review of any significant policy issues, and it is scheduled for only 15 minutes.
About a month ago, I published a review of the draft plan, and plan to return to the subject in another article soon. My intent had been to make a “deep dive” into the draft, beyond its introductory chapter, but I quickly found how little of substance is actually there.
Other items on the Metrolinx agenda include:
Benefits Management and Realization (90 minutes)
The title might suggest a discussion of the knotty problem of actually capturing some of the value created by transit investments. I asked Metrolinx to explain just what this was about, and they replied:
Benefits management is a process to help us maximize project value as Metrolinx plans, builds, operates and connects transit projects in order to provide benefits to the region. [Email from Scott Money at Metrolinx, Oct. 23, 2017]
Why, exactly, this should be a matter of confidential discussion is a mystery. This is quite clearly an important part of transit network building, but it has been sidelined when political considerations take precedence over planning issues and “mobility hubs” are little more than enormous parking lots.
Board Governance (15 minutes)
Given recent discussions about political interference in transit decision-making, I cannot help wondering if the Board is aware of its irrelevance, real or perceived. The rare public meetings, the superficial level of debate, and the blizzard of press releases and photo ops from the Minister of Transportation’s office don’t help the situation one bit.
Much of the real debate appears to take place in committee meetings which are so private they are not even advertised and there are is no public record of them.
Metrolinx’ new CEO, Phil Verster, has spoken of the need for “transparency” at Metrolinx, but the problem begins above his level at the Board itself.
Regional Express Rail (60 minutes)
This includes two items: the procurement of a new network operator, and an update on the capital program. Metrolinx has disqualified the current operator, Bombardier, from bidding, a strange move that might raise more eyebrows if Bombardier were not so late on its LRV deliveries. As for the capital programs generally, the only part of this that belongs in a private session would be information on contract issues.
A preliminary discussion of risk issues (30 minutes)
Risk management is an important topic for any Board, and some aspects rightly belong in a private session. That this is “preliminary” and is included in a “strategy” meeting begs the question of what new risks the organization faces, including political fallout from the coming election.
2018/19 Budget Submission (30 minutes)
Unlike budgets at the City of Toronto and TTC, provincial budgets are dark secrets until the moment they are unveiled in the legislature. This puts the public debate of “strategy” for Metrolinx in a difficult position because any spending proposals could embarrass the government by showing what could be if funding were available, or if projects face financial difficulties that could upset spending or delivery plans. The budget could also include new revenue generating strategies including mandated contributions from so-called “municipal partners” or changes to fare schemes.
These are important issues, but we will never hear about them from Metrolinx because of the way Provincial budgets work.
I will update these sections if there is anything substantive presented at the meeting.
Regional Transportation Plan Update (15 minutes)
This is superficial review of public engagement and has nothing to do with actual content.
Hydrogen Fuel Technology Analysis/Evaluation (30 minutes)
The Minister of Transportation is hot to trot on hydrogen as an alternative fuel, and so of course, Metrolinx must be as well. This report is a review of the current status of the Hydrail project in Germany and an overview of the study work needed to assess its implications for Ontario and GO/RER.
GO/TTC Fare Discount (15 minutes)
This is simply a repeat of the information in the report about the planned co-fare with TTC that has already been dealt with at that agency and is now working its way to City Council.