Toronto Council Endorses Transit Plan, Seeks Background Details

At its meeting of March 31, 2016, Toronto Council passed several motions relating to the proposed rapid transit plan for the city.These evolved first as a set of staff recommendations, then amendments at the Executive Committee and finally amendments at Council. The changes along the way give a sense of how the attempt at a general approach taken in the new transit plan by staff can be warped into an emphasis on individual projects while losing sight of the overall purpose. This is not new in Toronto’s political theatre, but the city and region are at a crucial time when the “big picture” of the transportation network is essential. The challenge for those who would lead this process is to find a responsible balance between wider priorities and local concerns without making every decision only on political merits.

Many of these motions involve requests for additional reports, and at one point there was some concern about whether city staff could actually handle the workload. One might ask whether the city should be making such important decisions if staff are unable to produce sufficient background material and simply want approval trusting their recommendations. While studying issues to death is a well-known delay tactic, rushing decisions without all the details is a classic method of railroading through decisions the city might regret later. There is certainly nothing wrong with asking for a more thorough study of items that have been omitted, provided that the same requests do not surface over and over again.

If anything, Council has been woefully underinformed on transit options, priorities and tradeoffs, and such an environment “debate” often has little to do with the real world. Will every Councillor read every page of every study? No, but at least the material will be there to answer questions, support the good ideas and counter the dubious schemes. We hear a lot about “evidence based planning”, but this can be a double-edged sword where “evidence” might not support fondly-held proposals.

This article groups Council’s motions by topic so that readers do not have to sort through the relationship of recommendations and amendments.

Continue reading

TTC Board Meeting Review: February 25, 2016

The TTC Board met on February 25, 2016. This article is a review of some of the reports and discussions at that meeting. For the full list, please refer to the agenda.

In this article:

As part of an update on cycling initiatives, the Board passed a motion asking staff to work together with the City on improved parking facilities for bicycles at subway stations. An article on this appeared on Torontoist’s website.

Continue reading

A Rainbow of Rapid Transit

In Toronto’s never-ending fascination with new transit maps, the City Planning department has released a vision for our rapid transit network as it will be in 15 years.

201602_15YrPlan

Despite much talk of “evidence-based” planning, this is a very political map, and I cannot help remembering then-Premier David Peterson’s announcement of 1990 (not long before he lost an election and Bob Rae wound up as his much-surprised replacement) that amounted to a chicken-in-every-pot map.

There is nothing wrong with network-based planning, and indeed I have been beating a well-worn drum on that subject for years. But let us also remember that the Scarborough Subway exists because of the political clout of Brad Duguid, a former City Councillor, now Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development. Mayor John Tory, in Toronto Life, cites Duguid as saying that “if anyone tries to cancel the [Scarborough] subway, they’ll do it over his dead body”. “Evidence” apparently includes having a large cudgel to keep wandering pols in line.

The map also includes the Mayor’s pet project, SmartTrack, and it’s no wonder that he steers clear of the Minister’s position given the need for a provincial agency, Metrolinx, to accommodate SmartTrack on their network.

All of this is part of the “Motherlode” of public consultation sessions now running in various places around the City, and through Metrolinx in the wider GTHA. Background information and links to related material are available at Toronto’s TransitTO web site.

Continue reading

Finch West LRT Soon, Sheppard East Not So (Updated)

Updated April 28, 2015 at 8:20 am:

The decision to push construction of the Sheppard LRT out to the 2020s was taken quite recently as shown by two separate reports.

In today’s Globe & Mail, Oliver Moore reports:

According to Mr. Del Duca, the delay on Sheppard was because of the difficulty of trying to do too many big projects at once. “The plan right now is to have the procurement begin for the Sheppard East LRT after we complete the Finch West LRT,” he said.

There was no firm timeline available for the Sheppard line. If it starts on its new schedule and takes about as long as Finch to build, it should be ready some time after 2025.

This timeline is sharply at odds with the information given to a reporter in the provincial budget lock-up on Thursday. The government’s position then – given on background and not for attribution, under the rules of the lock-up – was that the Sheppard line would open about a year after Finch. Mr. Del Duca’s spokesman did not return a message Monday seeking clarification of what had changed.

On April 27, over an hour after the LRT announcement, one of my readers, seeking clarification from Metrolinx received the following email:

From: Metrolinx Customer Relations <customerrelations@metrolinx.com>
Date: April 27, 2015 at 10:43:26 AM EDT

Dear [x]

Thank you for contacting us about the status of the Sheppard East LRT.

The Sheppard East LRT is fully funded and approved. The Sheppard East LRT underpass construction at Agincourt GO Station has been completed.

Preliminary design and engineering work will be happening over the next few years. Construction is expected to begin in 2017 and be completed by 2021.

I appreciate you taking the time to contact us.

Sincerely,

[x] Customer Service Representative
GO Transit, A Division of Metrolinx

One wonders just what triggered a change so last-minute that it was not communicated to Metrolinx’ own “communications” team. The Minister claims that the delay is because there is only so much construction work that can be undertaken concurrently, but this seems to have more to do with avoiding a politically difficult decision.

A much more honest position would be to say simply that “we’re waiting for the results of various studies now underway on transit for Scarborough”, but leadership, or even a bit of common sense on anything transit-related in that part of town seems to escape the Liberals at Queen’s Park.

Original article from April 27 at 12:11 pm:

Continue reading

Metrolinx Board Meeting June 26, 2014 (Corrected)

Correction July 1, 2014: In the original version of this article, I attributed a comment to Metrolinx Chair Rob Prichard regarding the sharing of information between bidders on rapid transit projects, and expresssed my surprise that this did not match the process I was familiar with from my own public sector experience. In fact, the remark was with regard to sharing information about questions to Metrolinx from candidates in the municipal election.

The procurement process does include sharing of information via addenda to Requests for Information issued to all bidders as mentioned in the Rapid Transit Quarterly Report. I regret this error and frankly cannot understand how I scrambled two very different topics together.

However, the process for dealing with candidate questions at Metrolinx is completely different from that followed by the City of Toronto. Where Metrolinx preserves confidentiality about questions a campaign might ask, the City posts responses to any query online so that no candidate has the advantage of professional advice not available to others. The basic premise is that the staff works for Council, not for an individual member or candidate.

As a public agency, Metrolinx should be providing information to everyone. The discussion (which starts at about 21:10 of the meeting video) emphasizes that Metrolinx has no part in the election, and yet the confidentiality of information exchanges could offer an advantage to a campaign that is unknown to other candidates.

Original Article  from June 29, 2014:

The Metrolinx Board met on Thursday, June 26 in a quite celebratory air. With the provincial election out of the way and the return of a pro-transit Liberal majority to Queen’s Park, Metrolinx sees a rosy future for transit expansion. They wasted no time telling anyone who would listen about the great work now at hand.

Among the items of interest were reports on:

Another burning question about the recently announced funding is just how much money is on the table, especially how much is new money as opposed to funds earmarked for specific projects like RER or previously announced/expected for projects in the “Next Wave” of Metrolinx undertakings. It didn’t take the assembled media long to notice that the GO RER scheme would gobble up much of the $15b earmarked for transit in the GTHA. I will return to this in a separate article.

Continue reading

Neptis Reviews Metrolinx: A Critique (III)

This article is the third section of my critique of the December 2013 review of the Metrolinx Big Move Plan written by Michael Schabas for the Neptis Foundation. It should be read in conjunction with Part I and Part II.

Continue reading

Feeling Congested Part 2: Setting Priorities

The City of Toronto’s Planning Department is consulting with the public for the development of an updated Official Plan.  The plan’s transportation component falls under the rubric of “Feeling Congested” with a website devoted mainly to transit issues.  In the first round of meetings, the focus was on “what is important”, what goals should the new plan try to achieve.  In the second round, the topic is the prioritization of goals and how these might drive out different choices in a future network.

This parallels work that Metrolinx is doing on their Big Move plan, but it includes additional options for study that are city initiatives such as transit to serve the waterfront.

A survey now in progress (until June 30) seeks feedback on the evaluation criteria for transit projects, and also for the goals of the cycling plans.  Some of this makes more sense if one first reads the toolkit, but even then the presentation will leave skeptics unhappy because there is no link to the detailed study explaining how the proposed criteria have been measured for each of proposals.  (A summary chart on page 14 does not include the subcategories within each of the eight criteria that generated the total scores .)

Even with this background, an exercise asking whether the methodology is sound seems to be an odd way to survey public attitudes without a stronger discussion of the implications for a preferred network.  This is rather like discussing the colour of a magician’s hat rather than the effect this might have on the rabbit he pulls out of it (or if there’s even a rabbit at all).

Continue reading

Metrolinx Dumps TTC as LRT Partner (Maybe)

Updated October 4, 2012 at 9:20 am:

Mr reaction to the announcement yesterday that TTC would remain as “operator” of the LRT lines is on the Torontoist website.

Although the TTC sees this as a “good news” story, I am less impressed because Toronto is still very much the junior partner.  We get to drive the trains, and that’s about all.  With all maintenance remaining in the hands of Metrolinx private partner, whoever that will eventually be, this is a big step in outsourcing transit operations.

Updated October 1, 2012 at 10:00 pm:

The Toronto Star reports that discussions continue between Metrolinx, the City of Toronto and the TTC regarding the possible operation of the planned LRT lines by the TTC rather than a private contractor.

Exactly how much “operation” would entail is not mentioned, although the TTC is known to be concerned about responsibility for safety-sensitive systems such as vehicle, signal and track maintenance.

A related issue is the amount of detail that must be worked out before a master contract is let by Infrastructure Ontario.  If the private work ends when operation begins (with possible exceptions such as building and station maintenance), then this is a much simpler contract to draft than one that would require all of the details of future operations to be bundled with a design and construction contract.

Whether Queen’s Park and Metrolinx are aware of or care about the delay inherent in needing to specify so much detail so far in advance for a single contract remains to be seen.

September 21, 2012

My thoughts on recent announcements that Metrolinx would completely take over the LRT projects formerly part of Transit City are in an article on the Torontoist website.

 

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.

Continue reading

“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.