An Invitation to Dinner

At the recent meeting of the TTC Board, Vice-Chair Alan Heisey proposed that the TTC and Metrolinx Boards should meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual interest. Such a meeting took place a year ago, but despite the best intentions at the time, nothing further came out of this. As Heisey said “It’s not as if we don’t have things to talk about” citing fare integration, Presto, the Crosstown project and SmartTrack. Using fare integration as an example, with some discussion already afoot about just what this entails, it will be better to have these discussions earlier rather than later, said Heisey. The TTC should be in front of discussions on how an integrated system will be structured in Toronto.

Heisey went on to mention that at a recent meeting of the Toronto Railway Club, of which he is a member, he learned things about the Crosstown contract he did not know such as that the operation of the Mount Dennis yard will not be done by the TTC, and that although the TTC is supposed to be operating the line, the company delivering the project would really like to do this work. This is the sort of information Heisey hopes would come out in a joint meeting, and he proposes that the TTC host the event (as Metrolinx did in 2016).

It is no secret that far more information is available outside of formal Board meetings at both TTC and Metrolinx than one ever hears on the record. Those of us who attend Metrolinx meetings regularly know that “information” is thin on the ground at these events where the primary function appears to be telling the staff how wonderful they are and luxuriating in the ongoing success of everything Metrolinx, and by extension the Government of Ontario, touches. “Seldom is heard a discouraging word” could be the Metrolinx motto.

Indeed the TTC has become infected with a similar problem recently where whatever new award(s) they manage to win take pride of place at meetings while serious discussion about ridership and service quality await reports that never quite seem to appear. Budgets do not offer options conflicting with Mayor Tory’s insistence on modest tax increases. Getting an award for the “We Move You” marketing campaign is cold comfort to people who cannot even get on a bus or train because there is no room.

Oddly enough, when TTC Chair Josh Colle contacted his opposite number at Metrolinx, Rob Prichard, the word back was that such a meeting might have to await the appointment of a new CEO. The position is now held on an acting basis with the departure of Bruce McCuaig to greener pastures in Ottawa. That is a rather odd position to take. Is Metrolinx policy and strategy so beyond discussion that without a CEO, they cannot have a meeting? How is the organization managing to push trains out the door, let along host an almost endless stream of photo ops for their Minister?

Commissioner De Laurentiis agreed that there are many issues, and warmed to the idea, but suggested an information sharing/exchange session as opposed to a formal meeting. She concurred that the type of information Heisey is gathering “accidentally” should come the Board’s way formally.

Vice-Chair Heisey noted that he was told he could not see the Crosstown’s Operating Agreement because it was confidential. For what they’re worth, here are a few handy links:

These do not include the operating agreement for the line because, I believe, it does not yet exist beyond a draft format and the intention is not to formalize it until a few years before the line opens in 2021. However, aspects of the proposed agreement are certainly known to TTC staff. Whether their interpretation matches Metrolinx’ intent is quite another issue.

Other topics for a joint meeting suggested by Commissioner Byers included Accessibility, and the working relationship between Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario including the topic of risk transfer.

For those who have trouble sleeping, the Crosstown agreement makes interesting, if tedious, reading. One section deals for pages on end with the contractual arrangements between Metrolinx who will procure and provide the fleet, and the project provider who must test, accept and operate (or at least maintain) the cars. This is a perfect example of the complexity introduced by multi-party agreements with the 3P model. Each party must define at length its roles and responsibilities where a consolidated organization would deal with the whole thing in house. Of course some would argue that this simply shows how keeping parts of the overall procurement within Metrolinx adds layers of complexity that a turnkey solution might avoid. That’s a debate for another day, but an important part of any future project design.

Chair Colle observed that just because you invite someone over to your house, they don’t necessarily accept, and the TTC could find itself without a dance partner. Heisey replied that we should invite Metrolinx to dinner and tell them what the menu will be. Dinner invitations are often accepted. Colle observed that any one or two of the suggested items could “keep us well nourished”.

Mihevc added to the list by suggesting both the Finch and Sheppard LRT projects. That should be an amusing discussion considering that Metrolinx and City Planning have gone out of their way to be agnostic on the subject of Sheppard East’s technology considering that there are Councillors and (Liberal) MPPs who would love to see a subway extension there, not LRT. Both Boards, not to mention their respective management teams, would go to great lengths to avoid implying any sort of commitment beyond the next announcement of another GO parking lot or a long-anticipated subway extension’s opening date.

The biggest problem with the Metrolinx-TTC relationship is the province’s heavy-handed approach whereby any move away from the “official” way of doing things will be met with a cut in subsidy. Indeed, despite increasing outlays from Queen’s Park on transit, they keep finding more ways to charge Toronto for their services. The City gets more money on paper for transit, but spends some of it to buy provincial services in a monopoly market. Even if Metrolinx invites Toronto to dinner, they will expect the City to foot the bill.

As a public service, if only to forestall imminent starvation of the TTC Board, the balance of this article explores some of the issues raised by Commissioners.

The video record of the TTC debate is available online.

[For readers in the 905, please note that this is a Toronto-centric article because it deals with issues between the TTC and Metrolinx. Municipalities outside of Toronto have their own problems with the provincial agency, not least of which is its undue focus on moving people to and from Union Station.]

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TTC Board Meeting April 20, 2017 (Updated)

The TTC Board will meet on April 20, 2017. Items of interest on the agenda include:

  • The monthly CEO’s Report
  • Repair of SRT Vehicles
  • Disposition of Bay Street Bus Terminal

This article has been updated with a commentary on subway and surface route performance statistics presented at the Board meeting. (Scroll down to the end of the CEO’s Report.)

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Metrolinx Board Meeting Wrapup February 17, 2017 (Updated)

The Metrolinx Board met on February 17 with the following items, among others, on their public agenda.

  • Presto Update
  • Regional Express Rail Update: Level Crossings
  • Fare Integration
  • Bombardier LRV Delivery

Updated: Replies from Metrolinx to questions clarifying their process for grade separation prioritization have been added to this article.

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The Metrolinx Fetish for Fare By Distance (III) (Updated & Corrected)

Correction: The original version of this article stated that the “Income and Transit Use” paper was the work of Steere Davies Gleave (SDG). This was an assumption on my part – that it was a continuation of their previous work. I have been advised by SDG that this paper is not their work, but that of Metrolinx staff. All references to SDG in connection with this paper have been modified appropriately. My apologies to SDG for mis-attributing work to them.

Updated: This article was updated on February 19 at 6:45 pm to include comments on the things Metrolinx should also be studying, but omitted in their review of incomes and transit use. Scroll down to the end to see the update.

In two previous articles, I have examined the February 2017 update to the Metrolinx Board by staff on Regional Fare Integration, and a June 2016 background study by Steere Davies Gleave [SDG] on fare integration concepts.

This article reviews another June 2016 study by Metrolinx Staff on income equity: GTHA Fare Integration: Income and Transit Use

The context for this study, nominally, is to determine whether a new fare scheme will affect low-income households.

In reviewing potential modifications to the transit fare system across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), the social equity implications of transit fare policy must be considered. Lower-income households rely more on transit for their mobility, are more sensitive to the fare they pay for their transit trips than higher-income households, and, as a result, fare policy choices may impact them more. [p. 1]

However, the selective examination of effects by Metrolinx staff focuses on the benefits of a lower fare for “short” trips while playing down the effect on “long” ones.

For the purpose of the analysis, Metrolinx looked at a fine-grained version of census data, “dissemination areas”, where each element contains less than 1,000 people.

[these …] typically exhibit greater homogeneity in the household incomes of their residents than larger geographic units. [p. 2]

Each of these areas would lie within one geographic section of travel surveys (the Transportation Tomorrow Survey which, at the time of writing would have been based on 2011 data), and the transit usage for each dissemination area was taken from the corresponding TTS area’s results. Census data on income was used to assign each census area to one of ten income ranges, and through this to map transportation patterns to incomes.

Note that there was no adjustment to reflect the availability of transit in any of the census areas, and the results merge data across the region. The income groupings are based on dividing a population of 6.5 million into roughly equal groups of 650,000. “Equivalent income” is a value derived from a combination of household income and household size.

fareintegration_incomedeciles_201606

The actual distribution of income shows a familiar pattern with higher incomes along the Yonge Street corridor and in some parts of the 905, notably those well-served by GO Transit.

fareintegration_incomedistribution_201606

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The Metrolinx Fetish For Fare By Distance (II)

Back in June 2016, Metrolinx received two reports from its consultant, Steere Davies Gleave, that give some insight into the work and philosophy to that point on fare by distance schemes that Metrolinx contemplated.

GTHA Fare Integration Concept Evaluation Backgrounder

GTHA Fare Integration: Income and Transit Use

This article reviews the Concept Evaluation report. I will turn to the Income and Transit Use report in a separate post.

At that point, three concepts were under review:

  • A modified version of the existing flat fare system with adjustments to deal with the high premium for cross-border travel to and from Toronto.
  • A zone-based system
  • A hybrid system with flat fares region-wide for “local” buses (including local expresses and BRTs) and distance based fares for subways, SRT, LRTs and GO Transit (rail and bus).

The recently added fourth option, a full fare by distance tariff, was not in the mix.

The breakdown within the “hybrid” option was acknowledged to be incomplete with assumptions such as the placement of BRT and the need for additional classes of service still up for debate.

fareintegrationreferencecases_201606

The starting point for all sample fares was the then existing $3.00 cash fare on the TTC. The exact value is less important than the ratio between that base value and other proposed fares.

For Concept 1, there are only two changes. First, transfers between service providers would include a 50% discount on the second fare. This would reduce the cross-boundary fare from 200% of the base value to 150%. On “regional” service (GO), trips up to 7km in length would charge the base fare, and beyond this a distance based tariff would kick in. This would reduce the high premium now charged by GO for very short trips including those within the City of Toronto.

For Concept 2, the zone structure is built on the 7km screen used in Metrolinx proposals for “local” trips. The chart above is misleading for local trips because the chart shows a base fare of $2.60 with an additional $0.78 per zone, but because the second tier of pricing is set at 15km, it adds two extra zones. The pricing for trips that did not involve GO transit and the ratios to the “flat” fare would be:

Distance Fare Change
0 to 7 km $2.60 13.3% discount
7 to 14 km $3.38 12.7% premium
14 to 21 km $4.16 38.7% premium
21 to 28 km $4.94 $64.7% premium

For Concept 3, “local” services (buses) would retain the base flat fare, but rail modes (plus GO buses) would see an incremental fare for trips beyond 7km. The example shown here is a $3.45 trip (a 15% premium) for a 15km “rapid transit” trip, but there is no specification of how this pricing would scale for longer or shorter journeys.

Longer “regional” trips on GO would change by up to 10% because the longest trip prices (now lower on a distance basis than short trips) would have to be rebalanced to offset the reduced short trip fares.

This all looks quite reasonable from the abstract viewpoint of a “pay for what you use” philosophy, but the effects on riders are not spelled out geographically. The 7km cutoff for zone size and for the onset of distance based fares implies a fare increase for many trips. To put this in context, here are the bounds of a 7km trip from various points within Toronto. Note that these are “crow fly” distances, not trips plotted on the transit/street network.

From North South East West
Queen & Yonge .7km N of Eglinton Ave N/A .8km E of Woodbine Ave Grenadier Pond
Scarborough Ctr Stn .7km N of Steeles Ave S of Kingston Rd W of Meadowvale Rd E of Don Mills Rd
North York Ctr Stn .5km S of Highway 407 S of Eglinton Ave W of Victoria Pk Ave .7km W of Keele St
York University N of Rutherford Rd .5km N of Lawrence Ave Yonge St .2 km E of Kipling Ave
Finch & Kipling .8km N of Langstaff Rd .8km N of Eglinton Ave .7km W of Keele St .4km E of Airport Rd
Six Points Highway 401 N/A Dundas & Bloor Sts .4km E of Cawthra Rd

The “old” City of Toronto is rather compact, and a great deal of it lies within 7km of the core. This is not unlike the old “Zone 1” of the TTC before zone fares were eliminated. The suburbs are quite another thing, and 7km does not get one very far. Scarborough is 15km east-west at Ellesmere, and 13km north-south at McCowan. Cheaper “local” fares might apply to short trips within Scarborough, but not to trips anywhere else in the region. The “crow fly” distance from STC to York University is almost 20km, and to the business district downtown 17km.

With the goal of reducing cross-boundary fares, a whole new set of “long” trips that will pay a substantial premium for travel simply within the “amalgamated” City of Toronto will be created. Indeed, those cross-boundary riders will not see much of a benefit unless they live fairly close to their work locations. Scarborough Town Centre is more than 7km away from most of the area north of Steeles Avenue. Anyone working living in Rexdale but commuting to Markham faces a trip that will not bring the “cheaper” fare for short hops across the boundary. Richmond Hill is more than 7km north of Steeles.

The big savings would actually come to GO customers who now pay a full TTC fare to switch to that system. Their “local” fare would be bundled with their “regional” one at a premium of at most 10% over current fares.

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The Metrolinx Fetish For Fare By Distance

On Friday, February 17, the Metrolinx Board will consider yet another update in the long-running saga of its attempt to develop an integrated regional fare policy.

It is no secret that for a very long time, Metrolinx staff have preferred a fare-by-distance system in which riders pay based on the distance travelled, possibly at different rates depending on the class of service with fast GO trains at the top of the pile. The latest update tells us almost nothing about the progress their studies, but does reveal that a fourth option has been added to the mix.

fareconcepts

Option 1, modifying the existing structure, simply adds discounts to smooth the rough edges off of the existing zones between service providers. This has already been implemented for GO Transit “co-fares” with systems in the 905, but it is notably absent for trips to and from the TTC. Riders face a full new fare to transfer between a TTC route and GO or any of the local 905 services.

Option 2, a more finely grained zone structure than exists today, would provide a rough version of fare-by-distance, but would still have step increments in fares at boundaries. Note that this scheme also contemplates a different tariff for “rapid transit”.

Option 3 is a “Hybrid” mix of flat fares for local services and fare-by-distance for “rapid transit” and “regional” services for trips beyond a certain length. The intent is to charge a premium for faster and longer trips on services that are considered “premium”.

Option 4 is new, and it eliminates the “flat” section of the Hybrid scheme so that the charge for a trip begins to rise from its origin and there is no such thing as a “short” trip at a flat rate. The rate of increase would vary depending on the class of service.

fareconceptsummary

Ever since Metrolinx began to treat “rapid transit” as a separate fare class, this created an inevitable conflict with the Toronto transit network’s design as an integrated set of routes where subways provide the spine. Riders are not penalized with a separate fare for using the subway because it was built to replace and improve on surface streetcar and bus operations. This is fundamentally different from GO Transit which replaced no significant existing transit services in its corridors, and which was designed as a high speed operation to attract commuters out of their cars.

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TTC Presto Update December 2016 (Updated)

Updated January 5, 2017 at 7:00 pm: Information has been added about Presto sales within TTC subway stations. See the end of the article.

With a modest fanfare, both the TTC and Metrolinx celebrated the completion, if that’s the right word, of their planned 2016 roll out of the Presto fare card system. The work is not yet finished, and the full conversion away from existing “legacy” media is a year off. According to the TTC:

“Tickets, Tokens and passes will be available for sale and use throughout 2017. We will stop accepting these in 2018.” [Presentation, p 8]

Still to be worked out is the actual final date beyond which any tokens or tickets bought in 2017 can be used or redeemed. With the TTC Board committed to a fare freeze in 2018 (election year) the old media won’t expire on their own, and of course tokens are always good for “one fare”, whatever it may be.

At some point in 2017, the TTC will begin to offer Metropasses on Presto. This will include regular and monthly discount plan versions, but the fate of the bulk purchase “VIP” program is still uncertain. According to the TTC, the roll out of passes by Presto had been delayed awaiting capacity upgrades in the central system to handle the volume of transactions passes will bring. This was confirmed by Metrolinx who said:

“As with any major system expansion, related upgrades are scheduled to roll out gradually as we test and optimize our system for anticipated increases in future use. These upgrades are deliberate and measured, and they include improvements such as the migrating to our new data centre. The system has been built with enhanced scalability features that will accommodate Metropasses.” [email of Dec. 21, 2016]

For now, Metropass users should remain on the “legacy” cards until the same functions and pricing are available through Presto.

Riders wishing to purchase Presto cards have faced a challenge thanks to the limited number of TTC outlets selling them. This is about to change. Already Presto cards can be bought at many Gateway News outlets, and Metrolinx expects this to expand in 2017:

“We are pursuing plans to expand the PRESTO card distribution footprint through a partnership with a third-party retail network. This network would also enable us to increase our ability to set special concessions, such as student and senior discounts. We expect to have more information to share in the new year.”

An important part of the sales process is that riders who are entitled to concession fares will be able to buy cards with that option pre-loaded. However, there is a potential conflict with the TTC’s intended implementation of discount fares that could complicate this type of purchase and account setup.

For a few classes of rider, the TTC proposes that a “Photo ID” be available. This would not be a separate card as in the early days of the Metropass, but a photo integrated into the user’s Presto card and account. The exact mechanism for loading this photo have yet to be determined. Also, it is not yet certain that photos will be required for seniors because, unlike children and students, their eligibility never expires, and linking the card to the rider for fraud prevention is less of an issue. One side effect the TTC did not mention is that a return to photo ID makes the card non-transferable, and this would produce limitations on its use that do not exist with current media.

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Who Deserves a Fare Subsidy?

Updated: Further information on the history of seniors’ fares has been added at the end of this article.

With the never ending problems of balancing the TTC’s budget, the question of trimming or eliminating various forms of fare subsidy are back on the table. This shows up as a quick fix to revenue problems with the assumption that “if only riders paid more, there wouldn’t be a problem”. The target group varies from time to time, but the premise is the same – somebody is freeloading and “my tax dollars/fares” should not be paying their freight.

A basic problem with this argument is that it will not fix the revenue shortfall permanently, only increase the cost of using transit by whichever group is targeted. If, for example, all discount fares were eliminated in 2017, we would be right back at the same position in 2018 wondering how to deal with increased costs, but without that convenient list of scapegoats.

A quick review of the “concession fares” is in order to put the question in context.

  • Adults who are willing to purchase tokens up front (or preload their Presto cards) get a discount relative to riders who pay cash.
  • Adults who want to prepay even more can purchase daily, weekly or monthly passes which cap their costs within a time period.
  • Special passes and validation stickers are available to extend the range of services covered by adult passes to premium fare routes and to other transit systems.
  • Daily pass holders get a special “family” deal on weekends and holidays when up to six people, maximum two adults, can travel on the pass.
  • Monthly pass holders can obtain various extra discounts based on a commitment to buying 12 months’ worth of transit (the Metropass Discount Plan or MDP), and bulk-buy discounts are available to organizations that resell passes (the Volume Incentive Program or VIP).
  • A Convention Pass is available to allow for bulk purchase of transit service for large groups at a price considerably below the cost of a day pass.
  • Students and seniors have passes priced at a 20% discount from adult passes, and MDP pricing provides for a further discount. Cash and ticket fares are discounted about 33% from adult rates.
  • Children ride free.
  • A limited number of designated groups (the blind and war amputees) travel free.
  • WheelTrans users are entitled to be accompanied by a Support Person at no extra charge.

Some of the concession fares have been around for a very long time:

  • Children’s fares predate the TTC’s formation in 1921 and until recently floated between 1/3 and 1/2 of an adult fare. A “child” was defined by height with rings embossed on the stanchions at vehicle entrances to give operators an unambiguous measure. Older vehicles (PCCs and the Peter Witt) bear witness to how the standard was changed over years as the average height of children rose.
  • Scholars’ fares date from the 1950s, and they lie partway between the fare for children and adults.
  • Seniors’ fares came along by the 1970s in recognition of the then-new issue of a growing aged population and their relative poverty. The CPP was less than a decade old, and “house rich” oldsters benefiting from the real estate market were unknown.
  • The Metropass dates from May 1980, and its cost has fluctuated between 52 and 47 “token” fares depending on the prevailing political and fiscal mood.
  • Post-secondary student passes were added to the mix in 2010 after several years of lobbying by student groups.
  • Free rides for children were granted in early 2015 as a political move by then-new Mayor Tory to “do something” quickly on the transit and poverty files.

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TTC Board Meeting: November 30, 2016

The TTC Board will meet on November 30, 2016 at 1 pm in the Council Chamber at City Hall. This is not a budget meeting, but the agenda contains a number of items of interest.

  • CEO’s Report for November 2016
  • Purchase of Air Conditioning Parts for T1 Subway Cars
  • Purchase of land to expand bus storage capacity
  • Reports related to the Hillcrest Complex including a review of property usage, approval of new equipment for Duncan Shops, and approval of a new Streetcar Way Building.
  • Expansion of Davisville Carhouse
  • St. Patrick Station Easier Access Elevators

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TTC Approves 2017 Fare Increase, Punts Service Decision to Council

On November 21, the TTC Board approved the fare increase proposed by staff in their Operation Budget for 2017. Adult and Senior/Student token/ticket fares will rise by ten cents to $3.00 and $2.05 respectively. Metropasses for both fare classes will rise by $4.75 with the result that the “multiple” (the ratio between the pass price and the single token/ticket) for seniors/students drops slightly (by about 0.5) while for adults it is unchanged. Here is the full table of old and new fares.

ttcopex2017_fareincreasetencents

There was a long parade of deputants at the meeting who, despite a motion by Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong to limit presentations to three minutes, mostly managed to push the envelope out to the normal five minutes simply by taking a rather long time to “wrap up” when Chair Josh Colle gave the three minute warning. Their comments overwhelmingly spoke to the effect of a fare increase, but also to the question of service quality. Despite the TTC’s claims that they are not limiting service growth and causing crowding, actual experience does not match these claims, a point echoed by Councillors who sit on the TTC Board and who receive many complaints about this from their constituents.

To soften the blow, the TTC Board voted to direct staff to prepare the 2018 budget on the basis of no fare increase so that, in effect, over a two year period fares would only have gone up five cents per year. This is a Catch-22 decision going into an election year because somehow Council will have to find the money to pay for the idea just when tax increases are regarded as political suicide, but service cuts would be equally unpalatable.

The most contentious part of the debate turned on Appendix C to the report which described various options for higher fares and lower service. Included on the list was the cost of free passes for the Blind and War Amps ($2.1 million), and even considering this shows a breathtaking insensitivity.

This was described by CEO Andy Byford as the “Armageddon Appendix” in an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning, an presents a menu of extremely unpleasant options to close the remaining gap between TTC’s planned revenue, including the fare increase, and projected costs. This amount has three components totaling $99 million:

  • A $35.1 million shortfall in the “conventional” system’s operating budget.
  • A $26.4 million shortfall in the WheelTrans operating budget.
  • A proposed transfer of $37.5 million from the TTC’s operating budget to the City’s capital budget. This scheme has not been endorsed by the City Manager, and is simply an accounting trick to bump the TTC subsidy without showing it as part of the annual increase. Either way, it would mean increased City spending whether as “operating expense” or “capital from current”.

Byford was at pains to emphasize that he would not recommend any of the changes, but produced the list because he was asked for it. What is missing, of course, is a sense of the effect of any of the changes at the individual level: how many riders benefit from which discounts, which services would be affected by changes to standards? It is easy for the budget hawks on Council to talk about “efficiencies” when they are single-line descriptions, a dollar amount, but with no specifics about what would happen.

For their part, members of the TTC Board seemed unable to grasp the difference between sending an unbalanced budget to Council without recommendations on how to fix it, as opposed to taking a strong stand saying “we oppose these cuts”. This evolved as the meeting wore on with some recognition of the need to take a stand, but this did not find its way into the final motions (see below).

The Board may have punted the issue over to Council, but nothing prevents Council from saying “TTC, you are only getting this much subsidy, you figure out how to deal with it”. Even a desire to save service improvements implemented at Mayor Tory’s behest will require someone to decide either on new revenues to fund transit, or on which of these improvements will die on the altar of “efficiency” and “saving taxpayer dollars”.

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