Toronto Sun-shiny Ways

July 8, 2016

No place reflects the petty, small-minded, tight-fisted, stadlerandwaldorfpublic ill-will slice of Toronto thinking more than the editorial and commentary pages of the Toronto Sun. And I’m not even going to be talking about the newspaper’s hypocritical Pride and Black Lives Matter coverage here! If you want to see the birthplace of Ford Nation, this is ground zero, the temple mount, the gravy crèche.

Last weekend, before falling into its lip-smacking Pride tizzy, we were gifted with a blasé editorial about City Hall money matters. Trimming city budget by 2.6% should be routine, the Sun “informed” its readers. Because, well, that just goes without saying.

It’s pretty much standard right wing, a priori reasoning based on the simple assumption that all government spending is too much spending, so the less of it, the better. There’s some straw man arguments thrown into the mix, quoting opponents, ‘the left’, with words no one has said, arguments no one’s made in order to sound reasonable or, at least, less stridently ideological. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even have read the tired mess except for a subsequent tweet that came across my time line.texaschainsawmassacre

An earlier Sun article by Daniel McKenzie reported that 20-25% of the subway cars on the Bloor-Danforth line would be without working air-conditioning this summer. The paper’s “Editor Emeritus”, whatever that is, an old horse unwilling to be put out to pasture? (surely you mean the glue factory – ed.), Lorrie Goldstein, was  presented with the consequences of the unrelenting demand for low taxes. Making do without those nice-to-haves like subway car air-conditioning. Mr. Goldstein’s retort? As classy and gracious as one might expect from the “Editor Emeritus” of the Toronto Sun.

Sorry, this is too stupid to even respond to. They have the money to fix them. They just haven’t been fixing them.

“Sorry, this is too stupid to even respond to,” yet Mr. Goldstein proceeds to respond, firmly establishing the Sun’s style page, as it were, for its stable of editorial and commentary writers. Two successive thoughts need not be connected. tinfoilhatJust type out words as they spring into your head. The angrier and more irrational the better.

As for the actual response?

On the level of quackery equal to those who tell us doctors and scientists have the cure to cancer but they’re keeping it to themselves because they don’t want to lose their jobs.

Mr. Goldstein is suggesting that the TTC has the money to fix the air-conditioning in its subway cars but is simply choosing not to. Why? He only had 140 characters to work with, so deeper conspiracy theories are more difficult to fully flesh out on the Twitter platform. Besides, he didn’t really want to respond at all in the first place. Such rank stupidity only deserves so much inane rambling.

(Here’s a better explanation for the lack of subway air-conditioning from Ben Spurr in the Toronto Star. IT’S STARVED FOR CASH! Uncomfortable commuters are down the list of TTC priorities right now.)

bloodfromastoneThat the “Editor Emeritus” of the Toronto Sun, a newspaper that’s part of a bigger media conglomeration mired in as dire financial straits as Postmedia is, still has a platform from which to pronounce on anything to do with fiscal fitness seems somehow apropos, I guess. A tired, disproven economic orthodoxy, clinging desperately to relevance as the ship slowly sinks. Unfortunately, you can still here echoes of the exhausted arguments in the words of some of our local decision makers.

That debate [new revenue tools] is coming and our position will be that any new taxes imposed by the city must be earmarked for specific projects, not just sent down the black hole of general revenues.

By the “black hole of general revenue”, the Sun must mean the operating budget. The one that paves our streets, pays for our emergency services, subsidizes public transit, maintains our public library and public health, etc., etc. That black hole. beancounterSo, the editors of the Sun can be persuaded to consider new taxes as long as they’re dedicated to building things but not actually running them.

Mayor John Tory has expressed similar sentiments. He’s made it perfectly clear this week to both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star that he’s ready and willing to talk turkey about new revenue tools but they must be dedicated to infrastructure needs. As for the day-to-day operations of the city? They can do perfectly well with less. (See: Tales from the TTC, above).

Of course, for the Toronto Sun, the mayor and the mayor’s council allies, any serious talk of additional revenues can be had only under one condition:

… the idea council would consider imposing any new taxes, levies and fees beyond its existing revenue streams, without first insuring the city budget is being run as efficiently as possible, is fiscally irresponsible and reckless.

Who measures that, ‘as efficiently as possible’? Back in 2012, the audit firm KPMG concluded that, all things considered, the city was pretty tightly run. isaacnewtonTwo successive city managers, neither considered to be part of the lunatic left the Sun loves to lash out at, have said similar things. Yes, there are ways to continue containing costs, even decreasing them in some cases. But nowhere near enough to build and pay for the things a growing city needs.

That’s the argument, not some concocted fairy tale of self-serving left wingers making claims about absolute efficiency at City Hall. It’s just that the Sun and Mayor Tory and every other penny-pinching fiscal “conservative” member of council wants you to believe that if there’s any example of waste they can find, then there’s no need for any new revenue. And, in an organization as big and complex as the city of Toronto, there will always examples of inefficiency. The notion of a perfectly running system died with Isaac Newton.

Too bad for us equally as dated ideas and beliefs haven’t been similarly discarded. But I guess the Toronto Sun isn’t in the business of discarding dated ideas and beliefs. In fact, since 1971, it’s been championing them, tub thumping for them, stubborn1bearing the standard for them. Because too many of us have been listening to their anti-government screeds for too long, we find ourselves in the state we’re currently in. Loudly demanding easy answers to complicated problems, and feeling put upon to fully contribute to the public good, convinced we’re getting less from it than we’re giving.

A constantly outraged sense of grievance, our strength. The Toronto Sun way.

brightly submitted by Cityslikr


Brood Parasite

June 29, 2016

The cuckoo, it is said, deviously lays its eggs in another bird’s nest to have its young raised and reared by the unsuspecting guest parent. cuckooforcocoapuffsThe cuckoo bird either hatches earlier or grows quicker than its host’s offspring, launching its faux-siblings from the nest in an effort to become the sole mouth to feed. A survival of the fittest tactic known as ‘brood parasitism’.

It strikes me as something too sinisterly perfect to be true. More like a child’s fable. No, not the white-washed ones we heard as kids. The grim ones, told by dour Germans or the icky Brits of the 18th-century, full of impending doom, evil lurking around every corner, stranger danger. The original scared straight, morality tales to keep the children in line. Suspect everyone. Trust no one. Are they really your parents?

In that vein…

The Scarborough subway. A cuckoo’s egg laid by the Ford Administration in the nest of City Hall. cuckoobirdnestIn a bid to grow and flourish, it, in turn, lays waste to everything around it, mainly in the form of reputations of those trying to give it life, even with the best of intentions. Here, I’m thinking city staff who know what’s what, a wink’s as good as a nod, but try anyway to make the best of a bad situation. It’s not a beast of their making. They’ve tried, at times, to set the record straight. To no avail, in the end, their attempt to make it all seem legitimate only succeeds in damaging their own credibility.

For those who actually try to claim parentage of this impersonator, the result is even more unbecoming or, in the extreme case, self-immolating. It derails political aspirations. Karen Stintz. It further mocks those already prone to mocking. This is not that subway. It’s a completely different subway. Which, just so happens, to be in Scarborough like that other subway. Councillor Michelle Holland. It makes some say the kookiest things. “The subway is never going to be cheaper than it is today,” said Councillor Ana Bailão.cuckoobirdbaby

Nobody’s fooled. Everybody’s embarrassed. Maybe if we can just get past the pretense of it all, we can start having a rational discussion again.

Except that no longer seems possible because no one in any position of real power is willing to step forward and admit mistakes were made, bad decisions pursued for all the wrong reasons. At first we thought this was a good idea. Now we don’t. This was an egg that should never have been allowed to hatch.

Mayor John Tory may be in line to take the biggest hit for trying to maintain this fiction. Whatever claims to sound judgment and a sober approach to governance he may have once made are meaningless now, nothing but empty campaign slogans. With his Toronto Star op-ed on Monday, he jettisoned any semblance of good sense or consensus building. Think that’s just me talking, an avowed and self-proclaimed Tory critic? cuckoobirdbaby1Or some other left-wing tongue-wagger in Torontoist?

Flip through the pages covering the transportation beat in the Star. Still not satisfied? How about this editorial in the august Globe and Mail? Both newspapers, by the way, that endorsed John Tory for mayor less than two years ago.

Why he’s taking such a risk to nurture somebody else’s terrible, terrible idea is probably both crassly obvious and backroom murky. Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter to John Tory because he, and every other politician who’s calculated to make this possible, won’t be around to see it to fruition, to have the scorn heaped directly on them.

In the meantime, we all can get a glimpse at the future. That deliberately misplaced egg has hatched and the cuckoo bird has already started to squawk, demanding we feed it, we love it, respect it. The sound, it sounds just like this:

fosterly submitted by Cityslikr


Folie á Deux

June 17, 2016

canx

It’s Friday. The weather outside is dee-lightful. I may or may not have had too much to drink last night.

My will to fight, rant and rage is compromised.

Mayor Tory is determined to lead the charge in the transit debacle that is the Scarborough subway currently unfolding before our eyes. Today he showed grit and determination to bury (along with the Bloor-Danforth extension) whatever vestiges of prudence, reasonableness and good governance he was clinging on to, fully stepping into crank hackery territory. Zero vision indeed. Credibility gone. Leadership void.

The degree with which the mayor is now trying to stifle further discussion is directly proportional to the growing realization how terrible a project this one-stop, “express” subway actually is, reflected in the latest bit of bad news from Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail. For Mayor Tory, any criticism of the plan comes from naysayers, scaredy-cats and those who just want to debate not build things. Almost as if those kind of people really exist.

This mayor is as lacking in good judgement as I feared he would be. He is not leading us from the civic wilderness the Ford administration took us into. He’s just taking us down another awful path. And if you think that’s the case, Mayor Tory wants you to know that you’re the one with the problem, not him. He’s a doer, goddammit! His critics are just an obstacle to progress.

But, it’s Friday and sunny. Let’s take a few days off and pretend not to be worried that Toronto is, once again, in incapable hands. Ahh, well. This city’s tendency to elect incompetent mayors will still be staring us right in the face come next week.

(h/t John Tory Watch)

sunnily (on the outside) submitted by Cityslikr


Blind Spot

June 16, 2016

Here’s how it starts.

On Monday’s edition of the CBC’s The Current, carsofthefuturethe show’s host Anna Maria Tremonti was talking to the president of General Motors Canada about technology, innovation and the future of transportation. It essentially went like this:

Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. E-bikes (manufactured by GM natch). Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Multi-modality. Cars, e-bikes, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

With self-driving cars, our future roads will look pretty much like our current roads. Filled with cars. In a 24 minute segment, public transportation wasn’t mentioned once. Unsurprisingly, at least from GM’s standpoint, as it looks to shore up its share of the electric and, ultimately, autonomous vehicle market. The nature of car ownership may change, with more of an emphasis on ‘sharing’ ownership. carsofthefuture1But car ownership there will be and General Motors wants to be a major part of that.

There continues to be very little talk, though, of autonomous vehicles and public transit which, one would think might be a relatively hot topic of conversation. Setting aside a discussion about the loss of yet another sector of well-paying jobs, since labour costs are the prime driver of public transit operating budgets, you’d think municipal governments all over the place would be salivating over the possibility of self-driving buses, streetcars, trolleys, trams. Just like the move toward automated subway systems. Not only cheaper to run but also better in terms of route management and increased frequency, owing to the absence of messy human imperfectness.

Yet, it’s still largely all about the new technology and cars. Cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars, cars.

Almost simultaneously with The Current interview on Monday, the city and Mayor Tory announced its road safety plan to… and I’ve been waiting pretty much my entire writing life to use this phrase in a sentence… carsofthefuture2universal opprobrium. “Very unambitious,” the Globe and Mail’s Transportation writer, Oliver Moore called it. Where other cities around the world have adopted the Swedish concept of Vision Zero, essentially a target of no traffic deaths with aggressive time lines and money to pursue it, our mayor championed the idea of reducing traffic fatalities by 20% over the next decade. A target “smaller than many of the normal [traffic fatality] fluctuations from year to year,” Moore pointed out.

“Very unambitious,” is a nice way of putting it.

As for money budgeted to achieve this modest target? Equally modest. $40 million extra over the next 5 years. Cities like New York? “An additional $115 million this year alone.” San Francisco? $70 million in the next 2 years.

Mayor Tory made the appearance of scrambling backward on the road safety plan on Tuesday when he told Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway on Tuesday that it was a ‘mistake’, a ‘communications mistake’ not to make it clear that he and the city had every intention of aiming for the Vision Zero standard of 0 road deaths. “The objective is to get to zero as quickly as possible without trying to put a time frame on this” Not really the “aggressive” approach to traffic safety Vision Zero calls for but very much the Mayor Tory way on policy issues he agrees with in theory. carsofthefuture3Why shoot for the moon when, really, the appearance of doing something is what’s called for?

As he was performing his radio mea culpa, the mayor’s traffic congestion enforcement blitz was underway and, wouldn’t you know it? It was the pedestrians’ fault all along! Not obeying the rules of road and following traffic lights that were set up to keep them in the proper place. Huddled together on the curb, waiting for their brief window of opportunity to scurry across the street and be one their way. Yep. If pedestrians would just follow the laws and traffic lights, cars would be free to do what they were designed and built to do, what cities have designed and built their infrastructure around. The domination by private automobiles of the public space that are our roads and streets. The terrorizing of other road and street users into submission.

The conclusion of this dynamic is perfectly logical.carsofthefuture4

Such pampered entitlement and obvious preferential treatment of car drivers leads to a contempt of anyone else not behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. A fraternity of the self-righteous and self-important. A confederacy of disregard.

As a matter of fact, I do own the road. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers. Don’t like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT.

And if somebody dies, we’ll call it an accident. Of course, it was an accident. No one would mean to jump a curb with their car and kill somebody. It’s more of a faulty assessment of the possible outcomes to bad, split-second decisions made to get just one car length further forward.

Damage done, death inflicted, it usually ends the only way it possibly could. A fine. Demerit points. Probably a bump in insurance rates. But no jail time. No talk of a life time ban for blatant indifference or lethal inattention to anyone else on the road. carsofthefuture5Fatalities merely chalked up to going about your daily business in the big city.

Hopefully, sometime in the near future, if certain carmakers are to be believed, technology will save us from our indifference to the death and killing in our streets. Fingers crossed. Nothing to be sneezed at, for sure. It’s just, by the sound of things, it won’t make a dent in how we prioritize our transportation hierarchy. Cars, first and foremost. Cars, now and forever.

carfully submitted by Cityslikr


Thanks For The Hat

June 10, 2016

I’m not going to bore any of us with the sad, ridiculous, anger-making madness that was yesterday’s city council debate over Toronto’s 10 year bike plan. killmenowRehashing tired arguments, already overwhelmingly dispelled and dust-binned pretty much everywhere else in the civilized world. Airing grievances from those who see Toronto as a special, unique snowflake, a delicate, hothouse, exotic flower, deathly susceptible to any sort of winds of change.

Bike lanes will decimate business. No, they won’t. They haven’t anywhere else where a biking network has been properly installed and maintained. But Toronto’s a winter city. Nobody rides a bicycle in the winter. Tell that to New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal, Copenhagen, Amsterdam. But we’re not Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Did you not hear me mention New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montreal? But it’s too expensive. We don’t have the money. Except for $400 million for the Gardiner East rebuild. And how many billions on a one-stop subway?

Thursday’s performance provided proof positive once again that too many of our elected local officials cannot imagine a future that isn’t just like the past. Or, in Councillor Norm Kelly’s case, one old man believing the future, the real future, is right around the corner. Why bother building terrestrial based transportation infrastructure when in 20 years we’ll all be hovering back and forth between destinations?! chickenlittleThe former deputy mayor of this city has obviously been talking to certain Russian scientists again.

That said, reason, albeit a battered and bruised version of reason, emerged from its mauling victorious. The staff recommended 10 year bike plan, slightly amended worse for wear, would go ahead. Huzzah! It’s a start, supporters claimed. A start from way back, almost so far back you couldn’t even see the pole position. Still, a start. Toronto would be spending — if my math is right here but it is in the neighbourhood – about 70% less in a decade than Oslo, Norway is spending on bike infrastructure in a year. A year, folks! Oslo, Norway! A city that once hosted the winter Olympics.

(Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It won! Toronto now has a 10 year bike plan with some money to actually back it up. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)

There are two thoughts I would like to further explore here, lines of attack trotted out by the most vehement of status quo supporters. Licensing and “psycho cyclists”. notthisagainYeah, I think Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti thought he was the first one ever to come up with that variation of a play on words.

Licensing of bikes and/or cyclists has never worked where it’s been tried either as some sort of safety measure or as a way of paying for cycling infrastructure. It costs too much to implement and operate, becoming the kind of red tape politicians like Councillor Mammoliti deplore in other situations. Besides, cyclists pay for the infrastructure they use, and use in a much less onerous manner than drivers do with roads, through the property taxes they pay, and every cyclist, renting or owning a residence in Toronto pays property taxes. Many cyclists also drive on occasion, and will further contribute to transportation infrastructure costs when they pay gas taxes.

Licensing cyclists makes no sense.

As for the scourge of the “psycho cyclist”? Yeah, well. Given the daily, hourly carnage on our roads done by those behind the wheel of motorized vehicles, and the pathological disregard for the rules designed exclusively for their mobility, railing about wayward cyclists is… there’s not even a word in English robust enough to describe that kind of hypocrisy. The Germans, I’m sure have a word for it, and I imagine it isn’t very pretty. crazycyclistThe kill-rate and injuries inflicted on others by those on bicycle is so infinitesimally small as to be barely worth mentioning. Anecdotes, really. Remember that time when that person on the sidewalk…

From a 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, the 6 Most Frequent Sources of Pedestrian Injury were: “Tripped on uneven/cracked sidewalk” 24%, “Tripped/fell” 17%, “Hit by a car” 12%, “Wildlife/pets involved” 6%, “Tripped on stone” 5%, “Stepped in a Hole” 5%.

Aside from the obvious need to repair pedestrian infrastructure and the general clumsiness and inability to safely walk their dogs of the pedestrian population, what jumps out at me from that list is the absence of cyclists. Apparently, they’re not quite the menace anti-cycling activists try to make them out to be. Oh, there was that time I was walking across the parking lot and that guy on the bike nearly clipped me. I saw that cyclist riding the wrong way down the street. He could’ve killed someone. (Are you sure it wasn’t a counter-flow lane?)

This is not to say there aren’t asshole people riding bikes in this city. They just ruffle feathers, get under peoples’ skin and, no doubt, at times inconvenience other street users. livestockonbikesThat’s a long way from the killing and injuring inflicted by asshole car drivers.

Here’s where I diverge from some of my cycling allies. While not condoning bad cycling behaviour, I most certainly understand it. Hell, I even engage in it from time to time. Because I’m a rebel and scofflaw? No. Because most of the streets I use have been built, designed and are operated almost exclusively for the movement of motorized vehicles, motorized private vehicles, no less. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders are all after-thoughts.

Here’s a personal example.

I’m out for a run yesterday, heading west, nearing the intersection of Ossington and Argyle, just that side of Trinity Bellwoods Park. You know it. It’s got that pho place on the south-east corner.

I see that the soutbound pedestrian signal on Ossington is counting down to zero, meaning the light will change in my favour and I can continue running without stopping. Sometimes runs just break like that. waitingataredlightThere’s, I don’t know, 5 or 6 pedestrian waiting to also cross the street, and that many people on bikes too.

Except that there are no cars on Argyle waiting to cross Ossington. So that southbound pedestrian signal hits zero and turns back white, meaning the north-south traffic signal didn’t change. Apparently none of the pedestrians or cyclists pushed the button to announce their presence at the intersection, so by all traffic control measures, none of them exist. Even when I do stop to press the button, I’m not immediately acknowledged. We’ll all have to wait until the full cycle is complete.

This, on a street that HAS A FUCKING PAINTED BIKE LANE ON IT! This, when there’s no north-south car traffic in sight along Ossington. So a bunch of pedestrians and cyclists wait for non-existent cars before they are expected to cross a road with the light.

I don’t wait. I continue my run through a red light. Other pedestrians and cyclist make their way across too.

Until we start to design and rebuild our streets and roads more equitably, stop forcing non-drivers to play only by driving rules, deathrace2000there’s going to be law-breaking, tension, and continued lethal competition between the various modes of mobility, with drivers almost always coming out on top and fending off any attempts to level the playing field. Yesterday’s approval of the 10 year bike plan is a start in the right direction. A grudging, tiny, tiny start. But it’s Friday. I will force myself to be content with that.

impatiently 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


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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