The Dubious Joys of Making a Public Deputation

TTC Board meetings (not to mention meetings of various Committees of Toronto Council) often entail a series of presentations by members of the public. In Toronto parlance, these are “deputations”. Some of these are entertaining, some are heartbreaking, and some are, let’s face it, an ongoing soapbox for a few regulars who can be counted on to show up at every meeting. I used to fall into that category, at least until I got my own much larger soapbox with this site.

It is no secret that some members of boards and committees regard this as a huge waste of time. It is common to see many of them wander out of the room, hold press scrums, consult their email, and generally ignore what the poor, ignorant public might have to say. Moves to restrict speaking time, normally five minutes, to three, or to limit a speaker to one presentation regardless of the number of items they might wish to address, are not unusual.

They are also wrong, very wrong.

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A Smarter SmartTrack

The SmartTrack scheme was born of an election campaign, but it was John Tory’s signature project, one he is loathe to relinquish despite its shortcomings.

What’s that you say? I am just being one of those “downers” who cannot see our manifest destiny? What’s that line about patriotism and scoundrels?

At the recent Executive Committee meeting, Tory actually had the gall to say that during the campaign, he didn’t have access to a squad of experts and had to make do with the people he had. Funny that. This is the crowd that estimated construction costs on the back of an envelope, who “surveyed” the line using out of date Google images, who ignored basics of railway engineering and capacity planning to make outrageous claims for their scheme.

When the dust settled and John Tory became Mayor Tory, I thought, ok, he will adapt his plan. Indeed, it didn’t take long for a reversal on TTC bus service and the recognition that Rob Ford had stripped the cupboard bare and then started to burn the lumber at the TTC. A campaign attack on Olivia Chow’s (far too meagre) bus plan changed into championing the restoration of TTC service to the days of the “Ridership Growth Strategy” and beyond. Good on the Mayor, I thought, he can actually change his mind.

SmartTrack is another matter, and what Tory, what Toronto desperately needs is a fresh look at what GO, SmartTrack and the TTC could be if only the fiefdoms and the pettiness of clinging to individual schemes could be unlocked. That would take some leadership. I wonder who has any?

Inevitably comments like this bring out the trolls who say “so what would YOU do” (that’s the polite version). Here’s my response as a scheme that bears at least as much importance as a way of looking at our transit network as the competing visions in the Mayor’s Office, Metrolinx, City Planning and the TTC.

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TTC Board Meeting: July 23, 2014 (Updated)

The TTC board met on July 23 with some items of modest interest on the agenda. This is the second last meeting of the current board before the October municipal election sweeps away at least some of the current crew. Nothing of real substance will happen until the new Council takes office, and a new Mayor attempts to forge an agenda for transit that is more than a simplistic, pandering slogan.

Included in the agenda are:

  • The monthly CEO’s report;
  • A purchase amendment regarding the new TR trainsets to retrofit additional handholds and to provide speakers outside of cars so that riders can hear door closing announcements;
  • The Transit Project Assessment (TPA) for McNicoll Garage (a proposal already contested by the neighbourhood where it will be built);
  • The proposed sale of the Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) used for the Spadina Subway Extension;
  • A proposal from Commissioner Heisey that the City of Toronto seek a change in TTC and Metrolinx governance so that one member would be cross-appointed between each board; and
  • A request from newly minted Commissioner Pasternak for a report on his pet project, the Sheppard Subway extension west to Downsview.

Update: An additional item came in via correspondence: a request for an express bus route from Liberty Village to downtown.

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An Interminable Debate About Track Gauge

This post has been created for the sole purpose of being a repository for a string of comments in the “Feeling Congested 2” article that got into increasingly farfetched schemes for regauging the TTC to standard gauge or conversely arguing that TTC gauge should spread throughout the GTHA and beyond.

This issue has been debated, if that is the word, at great length here to no discernible benefit — Metrolinx is building a standard gauge network, while TTC gauge remains on the Toronto streetcar and subway networks.

Comments on this post are closed.  Any that attempt to sneak in on another thread will be deleted.

What’s This Photo Doing on Metrolinx’ Website? (Updated)

Updated January 29, 2013 at 1:45pm:  Metrolinx’ response has been added at the end of this article.

A discussion has been running in the comment thread on another article about one of the photos used on the Metrolinx site.  The first of four photos in a rotating display is shown below.

metro_carousel1

This is clearly an Intermediate Capacity Transit System line (ICTS), and it has been identified by readers as part of the Kuala Lumpur system.

A strange choice considering that Metrolinx does not plan to build any ICTS in Toronto, or so they claim.  At one point, it was clear that Metrolinx had no interest in LRT, and my advocacy of it at an early public speech by the former Chair Rob MacIsacc was not well-received.  Simply “extending” the SRT to the airport was the preferred technology choice until the City of Toronto put its foot down with the Transit City LRT plan.

Why does Metrolinx use an ICTS photo to illustrate their home page when this is not supposed to be part of their plans?  (The other three photos showcase GO, Presto and the ARL.)

I asked about this last week and am still awaiting an answer.  Meanwhile the photo remains up on the site.

Metrolinx responds:

The image in question is stock photography from a website known as Shutterstock. While the image may resemble the Skytrain, it has been chosen through a creative selection process.

It should be noted that the image was also selected according to Metrolinx brand standards. Photography plays an important role in Metrolinx print and communication materials, which includes our website. Our images represent speed and action, giving the viewer a powerful sense of perpetual motion and transformation.

When shooting or selecting photography, we always try to add a touch of green, or at least, select and/or use colours that will complement the primary colour palette and add to the unique flavour of Metrolinx.

In particular, the image in question was chosen for its interesting perspective on city life, and has been blurred for use on the Metrolinx website as an artistic representation of rapid transit.

We plan on changing the images on our website soon to in order to keep it fresh, and avoid the appearance of a static site.

Well, that’s the longest “Ooops” I have read in some time.  The shot does not “resemble” Skytrain, it is the same technology in use in another city, Kuala Lumpur.

OneCity Plan Reviewed

The OneCity plan has much to recommend it even though in the details it is far from perfect.

The funding scheme requires Queen’s Park to modify the handling of assessment value changes, and they are already cool to this scheme.  Why OneCity proponents could not simply and honestly say “we need a 1.9% tax hike every year for the next four years” (not unlike the ongoing 9% increases to pay for Toronto Water infrastructure upgrades) is baffling.  A discussion about transit is needlessly diverted into debates about arcane ways of implementing a tax increase without quite calling it what it is.

On the bright side, Toronto may leave behind the technology wars and the posturing of one neighbourhood against another to get their own projects built.  Talking about transit as a city-wide good is essential to break the logjam of decades where parochialism ruled.  Couple this with a revenue stream that could actually be depended on, and the plan has a fighting chance.  Ah, there’s the rub — actually finding funding at some level of government to pay for all of this.

Rob Ford’s subway plan depended on the supposed generosity of Metrolinx to redirect committed funding to the Ford Plan (complete with some faulty arithmetic).  Similarly, the OneCity plan depends for its first big project on money already earmarked by Metrolinx to the Scarborough RT to LRT conversion.  If this goes ahead, we would have a new subway funded roughly 80% by Queen’s Park and 20% by Toronto.  Not a bad deal, but not an arrangement we are likely to see for any other line.

On the eastern waterfront, there is already $90m on the table from Waterfront Toronto (itself funded by three levels of government), and OneCity proposes to spend another @200m or so to top up this project.  Whether all $200m would be City money, or would have to wait for other partners to buy in is unclear.

Toronto must make some hard decisions about a “Plan B” if the Ottawa refuses to play while the Tories remain in power.  Even if we saw an NDP (or an NDP/Liberal) government, I wouldn’t hold my breath for money flowing to Toronto (and other Canadian cities) overnight.  A federal presence is a long term strategy, and spending plans in Toronto must be framed with that in mind.

Sitting on our hands waiting for Premier McGuinty or would-be PM Mulcair to engineer two rainbows complete with pots of gold landing in Nathan Phillips Square would be a dead wrong strategy.  Bang the drum all we might for a “one cent solution” or a “National Transit Strategy”, Toronto needs to get on with debating our transit needs whether funding is already in place or not.  Knowing what we need and want makes for a much stronger argument to pull in funding partners.

In some cases, Toronto may be best to go it alone on some of the smaller projects, or be prepared to fund at a higher level than 1/3.  If transit is important, it should not be held hostage by waiting for a funding partner who will never show up.

The briefing package for OneCity is available online.

My comments on the political aspects of OneCity are over at the Torontoist site.

To start the ball rolling on the technical review of the OneCity network, here are my thoughts on each of the proposals in the network. Throughout the discussions that will inevitably follow, it is vital that politicians, advocates, gurus of all flavours not become wedded to the fine details. Many of these lines won’t be built for decades, if ever, and we can discuss the pros and cons without becoming mired in conversations about the colour of station tiles.

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“One City” To Serve Them All

Updated June 27 at 5:20pm:  I have written a political analysis of today’s announcement for the Torontoist website that will probably go live tomorrow morning.  A line-by-line review of the plan will go up here later the same day.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz and Vice-Chair Glen De Baeremaeker will formally announce a new plan called “One City” on June 27 at 10:30.

The plan already has coverage on the Star and Globe websites.  Maps:  Globe Star

I will comment in more detail after their press conference, but two points leap off the page at me:

  • The proposed funding scheme for the $30-billion plan presumes 1/3 shares from each of the Provincial and Federal governments.  This money is extremely unlikely to show up, especially Ottawa’s share.  From Queen’s Park, some of the funding is from presumed “commitments” to current projects such as the Scarborough RT/LRT conversion which would be replaced by a subway extension.  The rest is uncertain.
  • The “plan” is little more than a compendium of every scheme for transit within the 416 that has been floated recently in various quarters (including this blog).  What is notable is the fact that glitches in some of the existing ideas (notably the fact that the Waterfront East line ends at Parliament) are not addressed.  The whole package definitely needs some fine tuning lest it fall victim to the dreaded problem of all maps — once you draw them, it’s almost impossible to change them.

For those who keep an eye on political evolution, the brand “One City” surfaced in April 2012 in a speech made by Karen Stintz at the Economic Club of Canada.  This idea of a new, unifying transit brand appears to have been cooking for some time.

So You Just Bought A Subway Station!

Let me be the first to congratulate you on buying the naming rights to one of our fine subway stations!  You’re probably wondering if there are extras in the contract, things you should know about your new home.

We’re sorry about the holes in the walls.  The stations are getting on and we suspected that there might be problems, so we took a look.  We will put the walls back in April, June, September, maybe next year.  Have we asked you about sponsoring the walls too?  We’ve cleaned up a lot of them, but every little contribution helps!

The ceilings are a bit grotty in a few stations.  We were planning to fix that too, but a scheme to develop a new easy-to-maintain ceiling tile system was cut from our budget.  Could we interest you in sponsoring that?

The collectors’ booths are a bit of a mess in some stations, and we know all those posters don’t look nice, especially the ones that are a few months out of date.  We’re working on it.  Could we interest you in buying poster space on the booths?  We really would rather sell it to you than put useful information on them, and our only request is that you leave an opening so that riders can talk to the collector.

Signage.  Yes, we know. Our signage isn’t the greatest in some stations, but we look on this as a museum of design.  This is Toronto, and artsy-fartsy stuff doesn’t count for much here.  We are prepared to take down all of the signs and replace them with new ones in your corporate colours and typeface.  We regret that this is an extra charge option.

Announcements.  All station announcements will include your company name, and a short message, changeable monthly, tailored to a specific campaign.  In keeping with our practice on print advertising, we will ensure that the new messages are posted on our trains no later than two weeks after any special offers are no longer valid.

For a small added fee, we will include your logo on our transfers.  They are sure to become collector’s items!  This offer will end once the entire system converts to Presto smart cards, but the more affluent among you could afford to sponsor that entire subsystem.  Please talk to our friends at Metrolinx about regional sponsorship opportunities.

Escalators and elevators.  Your contract does not include any guarantees that the vertical transportation elements within your station will be reliably operating at any time.  We regret that this could produce a poor impression on some target audiences.  To compensate, we invite you to sponsor one of our Wheel Trans buses.

Our trains are an important part of the transit system, and we will endeavour to have them pass through your station reasonably often.  Although service may at times be irregular, this gives you an opportunity to market to a captive audience.  Video advertising screens will be programmed to launch special advertising campaigns when there is an extended delay.

We regret that the shiny exteriors you saw in our brochure only are available on brand new equipment.  Older cars are washed as and when we can get them to the one working car wash in our system.  If you have purchased exterior advertising on our trains, we regret that it may not be legible or attractive to your target audience.  Our plans for platform doors will completely eliminate the need to wash train exteriors, and this problem will solve itself in a few decades.

Are you wondering why your station doesn’t have your name on it yet?  We’ve issued the work order, but there have been problems with co-ordination and we hope to have the station looking bright and new to your specifications in a few months.  Trust us!

What?  You’re want a refund?

Rob Ford’s Designs on Metrolinx (Update 2)

Updated 9:45am: Environmentalists scoffed at plans to convert rail corridors to roadways.  “Electrification of GO was our big chance to show the world just how green a transit system could be”, said Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.  Trains would not just run with clean electricity from overhead wires, they could be covered with solar panels to provide supplementary power, and wind turbines could be mounted on every car.

“We always suspected Metrolinx didn’t believe in electrification, and Queen’s Park’s quick embrace of Ford’s scheme shows we were right”, said Kirkpatrick.

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne refused comment on rumours that a new “Ministry of Highways” would be unveiled in the coming provincial election campaign.

Updated 9:00am: Sources inside the Harper Campaign leaked word that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, eager to show Federal support for Mayor Ford, will ditch their hopes for GO rail service to Peterborough.  In its place will be the “Shining Waters Expressway” linking directly into Toronto’s highway system in the Don Valley.  The Harper Government, if re-elected, will support the project through PPP Canada.

Mayor Ford welcomed the early endorsement of his rail corridor plan saying that with the private sector involved, the taxpayers of Ontario and Canada will benefit from his own innovative financing for the Sheppard subway.

Original post from 8:00 am:

As illustrated on our banner, the Ford clan has secret plans for conversion of the commuter rail network to a new highway scheme.

After banishing LRT from city streets, Mayor Ford continues the hunt for public spaces that are wasted on transit.  Ford argues that the rail lines are empty most of the time, and they’re a vital resource in re-establishing the balance between transit and cars.

Premier McGuinty was not available for comment, but sources tell us that he’s open to any reasonable suggestion from his friend at City Hall.  The Air Rail Link may be the first candidate for this scheme, although community opposition may demand that the line be reserved for hybrid cars.

More info as this story develops.

(Thanks to Len Dieter and Mike Sullivan for catching a test run of Ford’s proposal.)

Sunlight Park Carhouse?

The TTC has a report on its Supplementary Agenda for the June 2 meeting regarding the Unilever property at the foot of Broadview as a possible carhouse site.

During the initial search for new carhouse and maintenance sites, this property was rejected because the then-available acreage was too small.  The situation has now changed, and quite a large block of property is available.  However, the lead time to acquire and clear the site means that a new carhouse and maintenance facility could not be ready in time for the delivery of the Flexity LRV fleet.

All the same, it would be worthwhile investigating this property as a long-term site for a new carhouse replacing Russell and/or Roncesvalles once the high-floor fleet is completely retired.  This would allow redevelopment of two choice pieces of property on Queen Street.

Those familiar with the old Lever Bros. property know it is bordered by Sunlight Park Blvd., a street named after a well-known product.  If this does become a carhouse, that would make a fitting and historical name.

Of course, with that BMW dealership next door, the carhouse would have to feature a large window framing an LRV looking out onto the DVP!