I Told You So, Sadly

May 30, 2016

I really, really resisted writing this. The tone, invariably, would be predictable, dreary even. I Told You Sos are boring, bringing little satisfaction to even the teller, this teller.

But Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, had a terrible, terrible week last week. Like, amazingly bad, exuding a willful, stubborn defiance of good judgment, an eager willingness to swipe aside anything that ran contrary to his rigid, preconceived notions.

Sound familiar?

At his Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Tory plugged his ears and refused to listen to City Manager Peter Wallace lay out all the reasons to consider new and increased revenues. Did you say, Find more efficiencies? Sell off city owned assets? That’s what I thought you said.

(NOW magazine’s Jonathan Goldsbie does an excellent job recreating the Tory-Wallace exchange.)

Also at his Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Tory punted the ward boundary review debate off into the fall, threatening the timeline that would see any changes in place for the 2018 municipal election. He pooh-poohed 3 years of work and public and stakeholder consultation that wound up recommending the addition of only 3 new wards, simply shook his head and shrugged his shoulders with a blithe We Don’t Need More Politicians down here at City Hall. Consult some more. Come back with the mayor’s preferred choice of 44 wards.

(David Hains in Torontoist explains why this is a particularly boneheaded and short-sighted direction the mayor seems determined to take.)

Fine. Fuck it. Whatever. None of this should come as any sort of surprise. John Tory is performing his duties as mayor pretty much as underwhelmingly as I expected.

And then his week got even worse.

That’s when the Toronto Police Services carried out its ill-advised raids of illegal pot dispensaries throughout the city, a course of action Mayor Tory seems to have encouraged in a letter he wrote 2 weeks earlier to the Municipal Licensing and Standards executive director. While this was happening, the mayor decided, not at all coincidentally I’m sure, to go plant some flowers while taking a crap on the head of a city council colleague and staff in the process. “Awful. A cheap stunt,” Metro’s Matt Elliott tweeted.

Indeed.

Isn’t this the kind of bullshit grandstanding we were supposed to have left behind in not electing a Ford mayor of Toronto? This isn’t Mayberry RFD. We live in a city of more than 2.5 million people with far bigger problems than a weedy street garden plot. It is not the mayor’s job to get involved in this kind of penny ante, day-to-day type of customer service.

If Mayor Tory really wanted to help the situation, speed the process up, maybe he should stop insisting on below-the-rate of inflation property tax increases and demanding across the board budget cuts to the departments that would take the lead on matters like this. Or he’d realize that in one of the fastest growing wards in the city where this neglected street garden plot was, the little things sometimes get missed and, in fact, we could use a few more councillor office’s at City Hall. If, you know, the mayor was interested in anything other than photo ops and playing political games.

After his sad sack performance this week, it dawned on me why, in the end, I believed electing John Tory mayor would be worse than Doug Ford. If Doug Ford had won, I think we would’ve remained on guard, prepared to fight the inevitable civic assault he’d attempt to carry out. With John Tory’s victory, we collectively stood down, many of us believing that whatever else, we’d elected a reasonable, competent candidate who might not do much but wouldn’t inflict too much damage.

Nearly 18 months into his tenure as mayor of Toronto, John Tory has proven to be anything but reasonable or competent. He has no ideas. He possesses an utter lack of imagination. His urban views are amber encased in the 20th-century, the mid-20th-century, no less. The only thing he’s proven adept at so far is avoiding our 21st-century challenges.

Let’s not mistake regular press conferences and media availability for dynamism. The boldness of this administration is inversely proportional to the number of times it claims to be bold. As the world moves on, continues forward, simply running on the spot still leaves us further behind. This isn’t a holding pattern we’re experiencing in Toronto. It’s just quiet regression that seems acceptable only after the noisy havoc of the Ford years. Little of that damage is being undone. The messenger has changed. The message remains firmly in place.

The frustrating thing about all this is that Mayor Tory has been given plenty of cover to adapt and rework his positions. A case has been made to consider new approaches to revenue generation, to civic governance, to the redesign of our streets and how we get around this city. The opportunities have been presented for the progressive side of John Tory to step forward, the red carpet rolled out for CivicAction John Tory to make his way into the spotlight, that side of the candidate voters were assured would figure prominently if elected.

“Progressive” John Tory has gone AWOL, if there was every such a thing as a “progressive” John Tory. I don’t want to say, I told you so but… I told you so. We’ll all probably be better off going forward if we stop pretending, and hoping for that side of the man and his administration to emerge. It was never really a thing anyway despite our insistence to believe otherwise.

resignedly submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto’s Taxing Problem, Part Infinity

May 27, 2016

I was in New York City earlier this week when this city’s City Manager, Peter Wallace, read the fiscal riot act to city council via Mayor John Tory and his Executive Committee in the boldest terms an unelected official could to his elected colleagues at City Hall. readtheriotact(Could I use the word ‘city’ and any of its derivations more times in one sentence? Probably. But, you know, overkill.)

What the mayor was told was the same thing the mayor and his predecessor have been told for pretty much 5 years now. Yes, there are probably more efficiencies to be found in the budget, efficiencies are always being found. Yes, the city can look at selling off monetizing some of its assets for a one time, payday infusion of cash. Yes, of course but… None of it will come close to narrowing the widening gap between the money coming in and money going out to pay for the services, programs and capital needs Toronto is responsible for. Not even close.

Mayor Tory was told all that but what he heard Jonathan Goldsbie highlights here in NOW. Essentially, the mayor heard what he wanted to hear. He heard what every self-serving, small-minded, pandering local politician hears when it comes to the city’s finances. Taxes bad. We already pay too much. Stretched to the limit. Hardworking homeowners. whatthecathearsNickel and dimed to death. Get off our lawns. Plow our streets.

A few years back, during a similar if not exact budget and fiscal discussion, I remember coming across a page listing the taxes and fees residents of other big cities throughout the world pay. For the life of me, I can’t find it now, and I’m too lazy and inept to actually track it down on the internetz but it did get me to thinking about a comparison I could probably present in a reasonable fashion. New York and Toronto.

I found this from 2009, a study of New York City’s taxation policy, funded by the Solomon Foundation, an off-shoot of the Solomon Company, a fairly substantial investment firm. Now, I offer it up with all the usual caveats. No comparison between cities is perfect, especially cities in different country and jurisdictions. This was from 7 years ago, so things might’ve changed. Moreover, I’m not much of numbers guy, my financial comprehension should be considered suspect and I am easily distracted.

That said…

Consider page 12, Exhibit 1, New York City Taxes and Other Revenue Sources.

NYCTaxes2009

Check out what I think could be called a laundry list of revenue sources the city taps into, taxes making up about 59% of all revenues. Personal income taxes, business taxes, sales tax, hotel tax, cigarette tax, beer, wine and liquor tax, horserace admission tax, vehicle tax, taxi tax. That’s before we even get to property taxes.

No wonder the city never sleeps! Everybody’s working 24/7 to pay all those taxes.

Now, look at this page [page 29], a pie chart from Toronto’s 2016 operating budget.

2016TOBudgetFinal

46% of our city’s revenues come from taxation, at least in name. Property tax, Land Transfer tax and something called “Supplementary Taxation”. Toronto already taxes residents and visitors to this city 13% less than New York did in 2009. So how is it that we’re overtaxed and “stretched to the limit” as the mayor claims we are, we being that mysterious group of “homeowners”?

And this is New York City we’re talking about here, not some zany, left-wing, socialist Scandinavian city. imbalanceThe Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, Tax Hating U.S. of A.

Mayor Tory and his allies do have a point, if they are trying to make a valid point that the city coffers are too dependent on property taxes to help pay the bills. Throwing in the Land Transfer tax, 44% of Toronto’s annual revenues come from property taxes. In 2009, “Real Estate Related Taxes” made up just 26.6% of New York’s revenues, 23.6% of that from straight up property taxes. So yes, especially given how we assess property taxes here, we probably rely too much on them to generate revenue.

So, let’s look for other sources of revenue then, shall we? Not just by selling off assets or ferreting out further efficiencies. The city manager, like the city manager before him, said that’s not going to do the trick.

We need to talk about revenue tools, taxes if you prefer. That’s not a bad word. notlisteningAt least, it isn’t in places that realize you have to pay for the things you want and need. Torontonians want, need and expect the city to provide these things. Somehow, if the words and deeds of many of the people we elect to represent us are any indication, we except to get all these things at impossibly low costs to us. Somebody else pay because I’m already paying too much!

It’s a tired line of argument, one with almost no factual merit. You get the kind of city you pay for. The bottom line is, we’re not paying for the city we say we want.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Fine!

May 16, 2016

These days, this council.

With the provincial government dangling the prospect of ballot reform, tantalizingly, and today’s announcement of the ward boundary review recommendation, giddywe here in Toronto should be giddy with excitement at the opportunity to reshape our local democracy. It’s something that hasn’t been done for 16 years since Queen’s Park pretty much unilaterally aligned all the city’s wards with the federal and provincial riding boundaries. So, we’re overdue, to make an understatement. Seize the moment to try and iron out some of the parochial wrinkles that have accumulated. Sweep out the dust bunnies and moldy odors that have collected in the cupboards.

It’s just… You know…

These days, this council.

With Councillor Justin Di Ciano, as city council’s woefully underwhelming representative, taking his anti-ranked ballots clownshow up University Avenue to speak to the standing committee overseeing voting reform initiatives, there’s some serious concern that Toronto voters won’t get a crack at using ranked ballots. dampenHell, if the councillor has his way, we’ll be robbed of even having a debate about it. His argument against moving from the current First Past The Post system is so full of shopworn bullet talking points, it’s impossible to tell what his real motives are with this antediluvian quest.

Equally unclear are the reasons our mayor, John Tory, seems determined to curtail debate on the ward boundary review ahead of the final recommendation going public. Earlier this year, when five possible new ward alignment options were outlined, he stated his position, which was pretty much as dismissive as you could be. “The last thing we need is more politicians.” Over this past weekend, his rhetoric had ossified into place, suggesting Mayor Tory hadn’t put so much as another thought into the matter.

I’ve maintained my position, which is, first of all, I don’t personally see the need for an expanded number of politicians, and secondly, I have yet to meet a Toronto citizen who has told me that their top priority — or any kind of priority of their’s — is to expand the number of politicians. I think we can make arrangements by reorganizing the boundaries a little bit.

The bottom line is I don’t think we need to have more decision makers at City Hall.

That there? That’s the sound of the door slamming on any sort of serious discussion about the size, shape or reorganization of city council. Maybe ‘a little bit’, John Tory’s incrementalism on full display. draggedIf it ain’t broke, amirite?

Rather than take the opportunity to show some civic leadership, and begin a discussion that might inject some new ideas and life into the governance structure at City Hall, Mayor Tory is intent on belittling the debate to nothing more than the number of councillors. Just like his predecessor did. As if numbers, and numbers alone, are the sole determinant of good, solid and proper political representation.

While it wasn’t part of the ward boundary review mandate to look at the structure of city council, the mayor and councillors could make it theirs, take the initiative and start talking about ways to improve how council functions, how to better represent the residents who’ve elected them to office. One of the biggest glitches plaguing governance in Toronto is the seemingly intractable urban-suburban divide that engenders division instead of cohesion. (Something I suspect is going to be a lightning rod of contention surrounding the ward boundary recommendation today.) Could a move toward at least some at-large, ward-free councillor positions help address that?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s at least worth some sort of examination, isn’t it?notlistening

Whatever the outcome and final decision city council makes determining new ward boundaries, it’s going to be in place for the next 4 election cycles, 2018, 2022, 2026, 2030. During that time span, the city is projected to see huge population growth – 600,000 new residents by 2031 — and significant demographic changes. Is this Mayor Tory led city council really going to look at that and pursue a redrawing of wards only through the lens of a head count? Will it also brush aside the chance to give voters in the city a new way to elect its local politicians, maybe even in a new type of arrangement that might help reduce the type of harmful geographic divisiveness that has dogged it pretty much from the beginning of amalgamation?

You’d hope not but… well, you know…

These days, this mayor, this council.

same-ol’-same-olly submitted by Cityslikr


You Don’t Say

May 13, 2016

If there were gold medals handed out for stating the obvious, I would nominate Dr. Frank Clayton of Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development for his not in the least bit surprising blog post, youdontsayDid You Know: Travel Times for City of Toronto Commuters on Average are 60% Longer by Subway than by Car? As friend of our site, John McGrath responded: “Trying to figure out for whom this is news.” Gee willikers, Dr. Clayton. I guess that’s why so many people choose to drive, huh?

Turns out, if you build and redesign a city to maximize car travel, to put the private automobile at the top of your transportation hierarchy, make it near impossible not to need one in some parts of that city, lo and behold, people will tend to drive because it’s the most convenient way to get around. Or, to paraphrase Dr. Clayton, it’s faster and easier to drive than take public transit. We are, after all, rational actors, making rational choices, as we make our way through our daily lives.

Isn’t that how the saying goes?

What I don’t understand, though, is the point of Dr. Clayton’s post.

Why is this important? As Professor Haider explains it in a 2014 blog post, environmentalists and transit enthusiasts routinely overstate the benefits of public transit by claiming more public transit will reduce congestion or travel times, which he states is a myth.

Oh oh, I thought. Professor Murtaza Haider? That Professor Haider?2plus2

Doesn’t this whole argument rest on whose travel times you are measuring? Professor Haider himself writes in the Globe and Mail article Dr. Clayton cites that increased investments in public transit “will reduce travel times by public transit.” So, how is it a ‘myth’ to claim that more public transit investment will reduce public transit travel times?

That it would still be more convenient and quicker to take a car? You don’t transform a transportation system that’s been in place for 70 or 80 years overnight. In almost every part of Toronto and the GTHA, driving remains the best bet to get to where you’re going because that’s exactly what’s designed to happen. Streets and roads built and operated to best accommodate car travel to the detriment of all other users, pedestrians, cyclists, even public transit. Never a lane given over to a bus or streetcar or bicycles uncontested by those seeing such advances as an infringement on the movement of private automobiles. drivingPublic transit wants fast and convenient? Build it underground.

What articles like this one from Dr. Frank Clayton (and almost everything transit-related by Professor Murtaza Haider) smack of is a defense of the transportation status quo. A majority of commuters drive, driving makes for faster commute times, therefore, we must ensure that we do not threaten that delicate balance by offering up more viable mobility options where currently there are none.

It is simply a hand-fisted reading of a very narrow data set that makes no differentiation between the quality of commuting modes, not to mention within the same modes themselves, using time as the sole measurement. You think the experience of driving to work for 45 minutes is comparable to a drive of 10 minutes? Perhaps a 45 minute bus ride where you’re watching last night’s episode of the Daily Show puts you in a better frame of mind when you get to your job than a half-hour grind behind the wheel. sowhatAnd if time and convenience is what we’re aiming for, shouldn’t we be plowing a whole lot more money and resources into cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in the city of Toronto where the commute time is just over 17 minutes, the quickest way to work by far?

Dr. Frank Clayton seems content to tell us where we are without much of an explanation why or even if it’s a place we want to be. I’m not sure what purpose it serves aside from confirming what pretty much anybody who travels around the GTA already knows too well. Cars are king. Long live the king.

m’ehly submitted by Cityslikr


Driving Through The Future

May 10, 2016

“Humans are bad drivers,” Oliver Sachgau writes last weekend in the Toronto Star’s “Driverless cars will shape our lives – if we let them.jetpack

Mr. Sachgau will get no argument from me there. Humans are also quite bad predictors of the future too, says someone who grew up with 1960s picture books that promised us jetpacks by the year 2000. Jetpacks, jetting us off to our long weekends at Disneyuniverse Mars.

I have no doubt driverless technology will be a part of our future. It’s already here, in fact. There are cars driving automatedly among us currently.

It’s just… I have a couple issues with how Mr. Sachgau sees this all playing out.

It’s 7:20 a.m. on a Monday in the not-too-distant future. You wake up, and realize you’ve overslept. It’s a two-hour commute to work, so you call your boss and tell her you’ll start working on the way.

(Woah! Your boss is a her? It must be the future.)worldoftomorrow

In this scenario, Sachgau’s non-gender specific stand-in lives 2 hours from work. Who the fuck wants a future where you’re commuting — driverlessly or not — 4 hours a day? But I’ll be able to get so much done during that time with something else doing the driving. During Oscar season, I can watch all the nominated films from the comfort of my own back seat!

With driverless cars, in this version of the future everyone is driving everywhere.

For the next two hours, you’re immersed in work as your car takes you to the office. Once you arrive, you’ll order another car to pick up your kids — who’ve hopefully woken up by now — and drive them to school. Another car will pick them up and drive them home in time to have dinner with you.

Just as it was forecast in New York in 1939. The World of Tomorrow.

I don’t doubt driverless cars will make the act of driving better in many, many ways. Safer, smarter, a whole lot less ragey. Maybe. worldoftomorrow2By almost every measure, we are terrible at driving. Our judgement at higher speeds is suspect. We don’t share the roads in any what that doesn’t make congestion worse. We’re so easily distracted.

Yet, this is the one important fact the article steadfastly does not address, most conversations about the future of self-driving cars I’ve heard and read rarely bring up. By making driving easier, more appealing to more people, more people want to drive…more. Induced demand, in other, more succinct words.

If everybody oversleeps and summons a car to take them to work, and everybody is still heading toward the same general area of a region, say, the downtown core, for example, where is all that extra road space going to come from? Has anyone actually done that math? Self-driving cars improve congestion travel times by x%, therefore we will see an increase of car use by y%. Unless the new technology is so vastly superior that it is able to transcend the bounds of induced demand, people are still going to be stuck in traffic, driving or not.

The article dedicates exactly one paragraph to self-driving vehicles and public transit. “Buses and subways might continue to exist,” Sachgau writes, “while people continue to own cars, only now…” wait for it, wait for, “…all of those won’t require drivers.” What does that sentence even mean? worldoftomorrow3Everything is going to be exactly the same except the cars will drive themselves.

Cities would be better off preparing for driverless technology and public transit rather than making way for driverless cars, the real key word there remains cars, private vehicles, not the driverless part. Sachgau suggests that car ownership might decline, with people realizing the benefits of just hiring them when necessary, like getting to work, getting the kids to school, going shopping, going out to a restaurant, a movie, although that possibility is questioned by an innovation expert at the University of Toronto.

There’s no second amendment for vehicle ownership. But a lot of people probably think vehicle ownership as a basic human right.

So, it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future, when a self-driving car isn’t prohibitively expensive, and the same, if not more, people own one, using it exactly like they use it today, the only difference being, they’re not driving it, but still demanding that cities make the room for them to operate smoothly. Sure, the amount of space dedicated solely to the private automobile will shrink, owing to things like increased safety and less need for parking, making room for other modes of transportation. worldoftomorrow1But if travelling by car gets easier, cheaper and even more convenient than it is now, cities are still going to be dominated by them. What kind of improvement will that be exactly?

“The tech sector…establishes a reality on the ground before governments and even ordinary citizens even have an opportunity to understand these issues, let alone figure out how they want to deal with them,” according to the innovation expert, David Ticoll, of the Munk School of Global Affairs, who has submitted a report to the city of Toronto addressing the driverless car future.

Ticoll said the city can’t afford to take the same pace when dealing with driverless cars that it has taken with other issues such as the Uber-taxi debate.

We all know how that turned out. Big business played chicken and our local government blinked, essentially rolling over on the red carpet that it had set out for Uber. That was one company. Now imagine a whole bunch of them, all with their own shiny version of a driverless car, wanting to flood our streets with them. Are we really aiming to have everyone spend more time in their cars even if they aren’t driving?

skeptically submitted by Cityslikr


The Politics Of Driving

May 9, 2016

Last week, I wrote about my self-diagnosed case of SUV-induced driving madness. The act of transforming into another, more horrible person while operating a motorized vehicle. gentlemenjekyllTurns out, that actually might be a thing, an ailment.

In response to the post, @trapdinawrpool sent me a 1950 National Film Board short film, Gentlemen Jekyll and Driver Hyde. Seems this has been a nasty condition afflicting drivers pretty much from the get-go of the auto age. Road rage.

We also received in our comments section a couple very interesting and pertinent links. A Wikipedia page to ‘Traffic psychology’, most of it not good or healthy. Also, a Guardian article from August 2013, Bad driving: what are we thinking?

Aside from pointing out that I’m not very original or breaking new ground here, it did feed into something that’s been percolating in my noggin for a bit now, accelerated significantly during my time spent down in Los Angeles earlier this year. Is there a link between our driving and our politics? Not necessarily big P politics but the way one approaches (or doesn’t) the political process, the expectations we hold of our elected officials and the demands we make of them.

Decades of research in traffic psychology suggests that poor driving is shaped by far more than carelessness or a subset of “problem drivers”. Even the most skilled road users are subject to loss of social awareness, intuitive biases, contradictory beliefs, and limits in cognitive capacity.

Decades of research in voting psychology suggests that political beliefs are shaped by far more than carelessness or a subset of “problem voters”. drivefreeEven the most skilled voters are subject to loss of social awareness, intuitive biases, contradictory beliefs and limits in cognitive capacity.

Strategically replace a couple words and phrases, and that paragraph still makes some sense.

In Fighting Traffic, Peter D. Norton’s book on the rise of the private automobile to the top of our transportation system heap, he points out how, in the early days when car makers were fighting for legitimacy and pushing back on the public perception of drivers as a dangerous menace on city streets, personal freedom and individual rights were evoked. Driving as a noble act, the logical outcome of the scientific age of reason, everything the Founding Fathers envisioned. I drive, therefore I am.

The automotive city arose in part from an attack on the old customs of street use and an effort to let individual liberty and free markets rule there too. From American ideals of political and economic freedom, motordom fashioned the rhetorical lever it needed.

Nearly a century later and this appeal to the spirit of individualism remains strong in the selling of cars. TV ads full of open roads, running through empty country, trekking deep into the wild frontier. getofmylawn“Long live the pioneers!”

The ascendancy of car travel and commuting contributed, not in a minor way, to the spread of the suburban design of cities that we contend with today. Detached, single-family homes on large lots, single-use building codes strictly maintained, industry here, commercial there, residential over that way, fed by and dependent upon car travel. The accentuation of private space enabled, ironically, by massive public spending in road and freeway infrastructure.

Can the leap be made, though, connecting the triumph of the car, and its emphasis on individual convenience and “freedom” (I just had to put that into quotes), to the rise in political conservatism, especially of the modern conservative type? Certainly not by me, not in this post. roadrageAnd certainly not as the sole culprit, the…a-hem, a-hem…driving force behind a political movement.

It is a concept worth contemplating further, I believe. Look, at the political dynamics here in Toronto, amalgamated Toronto. Consider those areas of the city where the residents are more car dependent and underserved by public transit. Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, for example. What wards do some of the most conservative city councillors represent, your Fords, Holydays, Minnan-Wongs, Norm Kellys? Where there is access to public transit and driving isn’t a necessity? Downtown, the old legacy city, essentially. That’s where you’ll find your most ardent left wingers, your Perks, Laytons and McConnells.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Correlation versus causation? That’s a tougher nut to crack, for sure. But I do think the overlap between how we get around our city and how we view the city is an important angle to explore. asamatteroffact(It probably has been already, extensively, and I’m just behind in my reading.) When the most significant public space to you during the course of an average day is that spot where you can park your car cheaply, your politics may be vastly different than those of somebody looking for a nice quiet spot in the sunshine to have a bite to eat during their lunch hour.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr

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Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

I’m going to paraphrase about a hundred people who’ve expressed these exact sentiments, and if that makes me another Margaret Wente, so be it. cheatingIt’s a jab I’m willing to live with.

Here goes.

If all those Uber people were even half as passionate about other, far more important city issues as they are with accessing their inexpensive, on-demand, chauffeur service, Toronto would be a civic paradise.

That said, I’ve said as much as I want to say about the Uber debate. It’s already taken a disproportionately significant chunk of our local political discourse over the past couple years. Mayor Tory made it his key item to begin this month’s city council meeting yesterday, and it consumed every bit of the extended day to finish it off. For now. Always, for now.

People will argue that it’s simply a response commensurate with the demand out there for Uber. outofproportion45,000 people a day can’t be wrong, won’t be denied. A grassroots uprising breaking the death grip of the taxi industry monopoly, yaddie, yaddie.

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

“Uber’s made a name for itself by barging into cities and forcing politicians to respond.”

How, you ask?

A $40 billion value corporation (as of the article’s writing last June) with all the lobbying muscle that kind of money can buy.

Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn’t count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber’s behalf. They’d become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they’d never seen anything on this scale.

“Uber makes the rules; cities fall in line.”

Bringing it closer to home here in Toronto, we all know that two of the mayor’s former campaign mucky-mucks, John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis, have gone to work for Uber, bullyone as a lobbyist, the other to do some polling. And it seems like there’s been a lot of Uber lobbying of the Mayor’s office leading up to this week’s meeting. According to Anna Mehler Paperny of Global News, “And the mayor’s staff met with Uber more than anyone else on this topic last year.”

But, you know, whatever. The various branches of the taxi industry are no slouches themselves when it comes to lobbying, and donating to municipal campaigns, and just generally getting this debate front and centre in a way that makes it seem like it’s the most important policy matter the city faces. It isn’t, not by a long shot. That’s just what effective lobbying does. That’s why lobbyists and lobbying firms get paid the big bucks.

None of this is news. I didn’t write and crib some 500 words to tell you something you didn’t already know. It is what it is.

Although, and here’s the kicker and the reason I wrote anything about this at all, after the Uber debate dies down, and perhaps today’s equally noisy matter of the proposed bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street gets settled, teeoneupthere’s an interesting little item going to council from the Executive Committee. It was deferred from the March meeting, and the oh-so-perfect irony of the timing of it is hard to ignore.

As part of some lobbying by-law amendments being considered, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forth a motion asking for a staff report on the question of forcing unions and not-for-profit organizations to register with the city as lobbyists. It’s been an idea, as Jonathan Goldsbie writes in NOW, kicking around since the establishment of the Lobbyist Registrar back during David Miller’s first term in office. It’s been given a new lease on life with the support of Mayor Tory, his deputy mayor and 9 other councillors sitting on his Executive Committee.

His [Mayor Tory] position is that there are groups that have vested interests in the outcome of council decisions that are not confined to direct financial benefit. This is about transparency, and our belief that the public should have visibility into the various groups that lobby city councillors on matters of public record.

This statement from the mayor’s office in response to the NOW article has made some of those “various groups” more than a little nervous. “STOP Mayor Tory’s attempt to force community groups to register as lobbyists. buildingawallSign this petition now!” tweeted out the shadowy NOJetsTO group who have used their deep pockets and sneaky loophole seeking ways to bully the under-resourced and hamstrung-by-lobbying-rules little guy Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines in order to stymy island airport expansion. Why? What do they stand to gain from keeping the airport just like it is?

Until they are brought to heel under the careful watch of the Lobbyist Registrar, we won’t clearly understand their motivations. We’ll just have to file it under: “not confined to direct financial benefit.”

But if I were a community group or social activist type, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. My guess is, Mayor Tory’s eyeing bigger game, like the unions, who the motion mentions specifically. And even that may be reading too much malicious intent into it.

Maybe the mayor is really and truly trying to level the playing field for everyone down at City Hall. wolfinsheepsclothingAfter yesterday’s vote, and his and a solid majority of city council’s complete and utter capitulation to the ferocious lobbying and PR effort of Uber, he’s reaching out to give the grassroots a leg up. See? Lobbying works. Become a lobbyist. Access millions and millions of dollars to hire high-priced consultants, pollsters and glad-handers. Then, prepare to roll over your local elected representatives.

If an upstart company like Uber can do it, you can too, little group looking to… I don’t know, provide some extra affordable daycare spaces. Think big. Big Daycare.

Besides, it’s only fair. Otherwise, just anybody can drop a line or send off an email, demanding access to decision-makers at City Hall. That’s just not how things get done around here anymore.

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


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