We Know The Why. It’s The How That Escapes Us.

November 10, 2015

Last week a group of economists, going by the name of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, issued a report entitled We Can’t Get There From Here: Why Pricing Traffic Congestion Is Critical To Beating It. cantgettherefromhereIt is, by any measure, a vital read and an important addition to the arsenal in the ongoing War on the Car war of words. As a matter of fact, no, drivers don’t fully pay for their use of the roads. We think it’s time, way past it, that we start making up the difference.

So, take this criticism that’s forthcoming in the spirit intended, from someone who is totally behind the concept of road pricing. And forgive me if I wind up mixing this report with the panel discussion I attended on Tuesday, a week ago, the day following the report’s release. That may well have been more market-oriented, let’s say, than the document that gave rise to it, colouring my impression of the report in a way that might not be there in just the words that are written.

As thorough as this report is, I couldn’t help think it glossed over a couple key issues. The first is the cost of the infrastructure necessary to implement any type of road pricing option. One of Tuesday’s panelists, Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne, gave the impression that it was as easy as handing out transponders and, Bob’s yer uncle. The money just starts flowing in.

The high cost of implementing road pricing is often an impediment to jurisdictions. Icongestionf it costs more than it brings in, how will that help already cash-strapped municipalities, even with financial assistance from similarly cash-strapped senior levels of government? The report points out that even the highly successful London, England congestion charge system doesn’t yet pay for itself. Isn’t such a high cost prohibitive to the idea of rolling out the pilot projects the report emphasizes as necessary to contend with the inevitable pushback to road tolls that will initially happen from the driving public?

This, of course, speaks to one of the more important points the report highlights: determining the objectives of road pricing right from the outset. It might not be about generating revenue, a “tax grab”, to use the common parlance. It is possible a reasonable toll rate cannot pay for itself plus produce extra money in which to re-invest into other projects or meet simple maintenance demands. So why on earth would any government pursue such a policy?congestion3

Road pricing might be pitched as a basic matter of fairness, making drivers pay more toward the true cost of their mobility choice. Tolls could also act as a disincentive to driving, a nudge to try other transportation modes. A tool of behavioral modification to get people out of their cars and into more active ways of getting around.

State your reason(s) for pursuing a policy of road pricing and get busy selling to the public, a very wary public it will be too.

Bringing me to my second bone of contention with this report and the public presentation I saw. How to get an initial buy-in from the public, this wary public, this voting public. It’s the biggest nut to crack, in my opinion, one too easily treated as simply an after-thought, a matter of basic information delivery and education.

The panel discussion leaned too heavily in its blasé, free-market approach to the matter. The ‘We’re all rational actors reacting rationally to rational discussion and market determined price points’ point of view. Generally speaking, I have trouble with that angle of argument, and specifically, when it comes to the topic of cars and driving. congestion1We’re in no way rational when it comes to our driving habits. If we were, the rational argument that single-occupancy vehicles are the most irrational, most expensive, least efficient way of moving people around a city and region would have won out decades ago.

That the primacy of cars still prevails, that any challenge to it has to be couched in delicate terms, is proof positive that driving and reliance on private automobiles remains divorced from reality. Pointing out that pricing road use works well in other places may convince a few of the unconvinced but it usually leads to the pushback reaction of: Well, we’re not other places. The ludicrousness of the debate about tolls (or other forms of de-congestion taxation like the recent transit-directed sales tax increases in California) having to put some of the money raised back into new road construction reveals just how ingrained driver privilege and unreasonableness truly is.

None of this is to say that the We Can’t Get There From Here report isn’t invaluable. congestion2Any promotion of a reasoned debate on road pricing should be welcomed and read thoroughly. Its arguments shouted to and from the hilltops.

But if it doesn’t come with helpful suggestions how to successfully sell road pricing to a skeptical, unwilling public, its benefits will be limited. We have been talking about this (along with other ways of funding our way out of congestion) for some time now. Very little traction has been made. One of the panelists last week, Cherise Burda, sat on the Ontario Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel chaired by Anne Golden that 2 years ago tabled revenue generation ideas to be dedicated to building public transit initiatives. Two years ago! With very little subsequent movement since.

“If it were an easy thing to do,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said at the time, “it would have been done already.” congestion4So much so that her government has chosen instead to pursue the unpopular goal of selling off 60% of a public utility in order to raise money for public transit. Without public support, there will be little political courage to put a true cost to driving, tolls, taxes or otherwise.

A report that tells us how to convince the driving public to pay more for the privilege of doing what they think they already pay more than enough for is the report we really need right now.

howly submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Treachery

March 4, 2015

Our list of municipally elected transit villains is well known. Why, just in the past 4+ years alone, names fly off the top of your head. villainRob Ford, Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker, and all the subway lovers who enabled them. We elected them. We re-elected them. They are our responsibility, our bad.

Yet, I am going to make a bold, perhaps controversial assertion here.

They are but bit players in this sad, sad drama we call transit planning here in Toronto. Supporting actors in our mad tragi-farce, farcedy. Wilfully self-unaware fall guys, the lot of them. Patsies. Patsies, not pasties. Mmmmmmm… pasties.

The real culprits here, the progenitors of this city’s — the region’s — diseased public transit, Ian McShane’s Teddy Bass to Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan, is undoubtedly the provincial government. Ultimately, Queen’s Park pulls all the strings, fiscally, jurisdictionally. Theirs is the final yea or no although they would demur, preferring to project an image of sage partnership with its municipalities. Who us? We’re just sitting here minding our business, happily signing the cheques. Are you sure you don’t want a subway with that?

Follow the timeline with me on our current misadventure.benkingsley

In 2007, the city and province announced a grand plan, Transit City, as a step in the right direction to dealing with Toronto’s increasingly problematic congestion. We often forget that the project was more than just new LRT lines, 7 of those in total, running some 120 kilometres. New bus rapid transit routes were also in the mix along with increases to existing services. Looking at the original Transit City map, what is immediately apparent is the plan’s scope of bringing better transit into the long under-served inner suburban areas of the city.

Back then, the provincial government was picking up the tab for Transit City as part of their bigger regional transit vision, MoveOntario 2020. Unfortunately, the economic crisis and meltdown got in the way and, more attentive to politics than good governance, it scaled back Transit City to just 4 LRT lines. villain7Argue as we might about if the move made any economic sense but what we can say with a fair degree of certainty is that this change of plans instilled in Transit City a sense impermanence, assailability. Just more lines drawn on a map.

December 10th, 2010. Newly elected mayor, Rob Ford, unilaterally declares Transit City dead. That noise you heard coming from Queen’s Park? **Crickets**

Again, we can debate in hindsight whether or not city council should’ve stepped in and demanded the mayor bring the matter to a vote. Ford was as popular as he would ever be at this point. Had city council pushed, he may well have received the go-ahead to rip up the master agreement with Metrolinx and officially bury Transit City. Whether through wisdom or pure shocked inertia, city council stood pat, allowing the mayor enough time and rope to leave himself dangling.

The inaction on Queen’s Park in defense of Transit City is equally opaque and open to question. Remember though, they are the big bosses, the final arbiters, the holders of transit plans in their hands. They could’ve stepped in and stopped the insanity in its tracks. That power was theirs.villain1

Instead, they blinked. Deeply unpopular in the polls and facing almost certain defeat in the general election to be held the following year and not looking to have to face down the self-proclaimed Ford Nation flank in Toronto, the Liberal government shrugged and told the mayor and city council, Whatever you want to do. (It probably also didn’t hurt that any delays to the transit plan formerly known as Transit City would save the deeply indebted Liberals from immediately having to spend any money.)

Unsurprisingly, Rob Ford stumbled and fell flat on his face. City council seized control of the transit file from him. With only a 2 year delay to show for it, some semblance of order seemed to be on the horizon. Of course, it wasn’t. City council, led by a TTC commissioner eyeing the mayor’s office in a couple years, began dialogue on another transit plan, mostly pie-in-the-sky, unfunded schemes called One City. More lines on a map including – what the hell was that? – another Scarborough subway, this one a replacement for the proposed Transit City LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line.

It bears repeating at this point that, once more, the Liberal government could’ve put their foot down and put an end to the discussion. villain3They have the power to do that, rule by fiat pretty much. That is the nature of our municipal-provincial relationship. They didn’t, thereby perpetuating the farcical shitshow.

They’d been reduced to a minority status and their grip on power was tenuous. No false moves that might embolden the opposition to trigger an election. So just more of the, Whatevs.

But this is where the provincial government’s motives get really, really murky. During a by-election in Scarborough-Guildwood, the Liberals dubbed their candidate, Mitzi Hunter, the ‘subway champion’. Sorry, what?! Increasingly, Scarborough MPPs (many of whom were former Toronto city councillors) went public with their preference for extending the Bloor-Danforth line with a subway rather than LRT. Everybody now had picked up the Rob Ford chant of Subways! Subways! Subways! Scarborough deserves a subway!

It’s like the boss, when you ask if you can cut out early to take your kid to soccer practice, tells you ‘no’ while winking and nodding his head ‘yes’. villain2No. *wink, wink, wink, wink* Quitting time is 5pm. *wink, wink, wink, wink* You cannot take your kid to soccer practice. *Nodding ‘yes’*

So it went. City council took the bait, cancelled plans for the fully funded by the province Scarborough LRT, taking upon itself all the risks and liabilities of building a subway instead, beginning with about $75 million it was on the hook for for cancelling the LRT plan, the plan the province covertly encouraged them to cancel. The Liberals scored a majority government last June and then pretty openly expressed its preference for who Toronto should elect as its next mayor, John Tory, a candidate with transit plans of his own, SmartTrack which, just so coincidentally, meshed nicely with the province’s own regional rail plans, and a candidate with no plans to reopen the Scarborough subway debate if elected.villain4

Why do I feel the need to revisit this recent, sordid history now?

On Monday at the Executive Committee’s budget meeting, buried oddly near the bottom of the 2015 Water and Waste Water Rate Supported Budget, a budget that doesn’t usually get the same spotlight its operating and capital budget brethren receive, a report surfaced revealing that the city and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) had been negotiating a $95 million bill Toronto was expected to pay for infrastructure upgrades that were happening along the Union-Pearson-Georgetown rail link. Hey! You want out-of-town visitors and commuters moving smoothly around your city? Pay up. That shit don’t come for free.

So, a city struggling to balance its operating budget (which it is provincially mandated to do) and with limited access to revenue to do that (and an even more limited propensity to access the tools it does have, admittedly) villain5is being told to come up with nearly $100 million to help pay for infrastructure improvements that will ultimately more directly benefit another level of government with increased taxation through economic growth. Oh, and the cost overruns on the main terminal of that rail link? You’re on your own, Toronto.

It is clearly evident that this city is more than capable of fucking itself. What’s becoming less apparent is why we have to continue putting up with a second fucking from a senior level of government more concerned about its own well-being than the municipalities it is purportedly looking out for. As my good friend MookieG77 said on the Twitter yesterday, this is just another form of provincial downloading onto cities.

While the idea of pushing for provincial status for the GTA remains quixotically out on the fringes of political discourse, it’s just not seeming that crazy an idea currently. For 20 years now, Queen’s Park has not acted much like a partner, albeit a senior partner in its relationship with Toronto. The dynamic is more like an occupier. villain6Happy to take our money but less interested in providing sound oversight or reasonable leadership unless it provides some tangible gain for them in return.

If we’re going to go down in some sort of ignominious flame out, let it at least be one of our own making and not imposed by a government who views us as little more than a liability, a vote rich and money laden liability.

rebelliously submitted by Cityslikr


Scarborough Subway Debate, Part ??

October 22, 2014

In an election that has boiled down to essentially restoring order back at City Hall, a return to civility and decorum, one city united, this explosive deuce got dropped into the proceedings. notagain1“Fate of Sheppard East LRT depends on results of city election” goes the headline of Mike Adler’s article in the York Guardian. Hey Toronto. Enjoy the quiet while it lasts because Scarborough subway, Part 3 is coming soon to a public debate near you.

While other incumbent councillors have been busy seeking re-election for the past few months, it seems the outgoing Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly, has been hard at it concocting a new way to wreak havoc on the city’s already havoc wreaked transit planning.

“The plot against the LRT line is being quietly led by Norm Kelly,” Adler writes, “Toronto’s deputy mayor, who hasn’t talked to Tory about his plans.”

“We’ve not had a tete-a-tete on this matter,” Kelly said in an interview, suggesting it may not matter if Tory, as mayor, chooses to fight for the LRT line or another planned for Finch Avenue West.

“The last chat I had with John, I tried to get across to him the nature of political life at Toronto council,” where members aren’t bound by caucus discipline, and a mayor’s position on issues “will be tested just like that of any other member,” Kelly said.

Talk about setting the agenda. I thought that was the mayor’s job? Kill the Sheppard LRT or your mandate gets it.

Now, you might chalk this up as little more than the babbling of a city councillor with too much time on his hands and too much time spent in public office doing a whole lot of nothing but it would seem Kelly’s not alone in his thinking. hatchingaplanA couple more Scarborough incumbents spoke out in favour of stopping the LRT as well as the new M.P.P. in the area, Soo Wong.

“As your M.P.P. I have listened to the community, and heard that the vast majority of you want a subway, and that is what I will continue to work for,” Wong told a crowd during last spring’s provincial election.

The provincial Transportation Minister, Stephen Del Duca, certainly didn’t rule out the possibility in a conversation this morning with Metro Morning’s host, Matt Galloway. When asked about the government’s plan on proceeding with the LRT along Sheppard Avenue, Del Duca said:

Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words. Words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words, words…

Pressed further by Galloway on his government’s support of the Sheppard LRT, the minister continued filling the space with words.

Well the bottom line is that we ran on an election platform, of course, throughout May and June, and we passed a budget, and there are a number of public transit projects for Toronto and elsewhere that were contained including the Scarborough subway… the Sheppard LRT is in our plan and it’s the mandate we were given by the people of Ontario, and my focus is on going forward with implementation.

Now, a whole lot of shit jumped out at me from that paragraph.readbetweenthelines

According to the minister, the Scarborough subway was included in the recent budget. If so, does that mean the Master Agreement with Metrolinx has been altered to make official the change from the planned LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth line into Scarborough to a subway? I certainly heard no news about that.

And while the minister claims the people of Ontario gave the Liberal government a mandate to proceed with the Sheppard LRT, the M.P.P. in the area certainly doesn’t seem to see it that way. Soo Wong, as you might remember from a few paragraphs ago, is committed to building a subway along Sheppard, mandate from the people of Ontario be damned.

But don’t get yourself too tied up in knots about it. The minister’s ‘focus is on going forward with implementation.’ Implementation of what, the LRT or the subway? He conveniently didn’t say.smarttrack

So once more, provincial politics and internal Liberal party machinations land smack dab in the middle of City Hall and threaten the progress of transit building in Toronto.

All this, of course, should renew questions being asked a few months back of John Tory’s decision not to include either the Sheppard or the Finch LRTs on his SmartTrack transit maps. “I want the LRTs to proceed,” Tory assured skeptics of his commitment to the LRT plan. “I will move them forward. I have no problem with them proceeding.”

Sounds… definitive, I guess, in a way that also leaves an opening for Tory having no problem if things change in a more subway-like direction. SmartTrack and the Scarborough subway will be his priorities. The Finch and Sheppard LRTs can fend for themselves.

“Things that are on track (e.g.: the Finch and Sheppard LRTs),” Team Tory spokes person, Amanda Galbraith assured us, “don’t need the full force of the mayor behind them to keep them on schedule.”falseassurances

Is that right, Ms. Galbraith? Norm Kelly seems to think otherwise. ‘A mayor’s position on issues’, as we quoted earlier, “will be tested…”

As stated here countless times before, the mess our transit plans have descended into is not to be blamed solely by the noisy know-nothingness of the Ford boys. There’s been too much internal party politics at play, too many other politicians cravenly pandering for votes and not standing firm with expert advice on the matter, for this to have been nothing more than a two-man shit show. John Tory’s expressed ambivalence has helped feed the beast, and now he faces a real dilemma if he’s elected the next mayor.

He’s vowed to proceed with the Scarborough subway because re-opening up the debate will only cause further delays. stopfightingNow there’s a new eastern front, demanding we re-open that debate on the Sheppard LRT. Again. How’s a self-proclaimed uniter and get along facilitator going to delicately balance those competing interests?

So if you’re hoping to see a more consensus minded city council in the next term, a kinder gentler dynamic, I’d suggest not holding your breath. Politicians of all stripes and from all levels in Scarborough are already pounding the drumbeat of discord over transit. Recent history has shown us we should expect no quiet resolution.

sick-and-tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Stupidity Not Mendacity

September 12, 2014

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I hate the Scarborough subway plan pacification vote getter plan. hateitNothing more than, what do those politician-hating politicians call it? A boondoggle. If this monstrosity actually comes to be, and there’s no guarantee it will, folks. There’s no deal signed. No money in the bank. Just malleable promises, pandering politicians and one big novelty cheque.

But let’s say the political winds don’t change and sometime down the line, off there on the horizon, at a distant point in the distant future, 3 new stops get slapped onto the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Hurrah! Scarborough gets more of a subway, civic pride is restored and… well, nothing much else will change. It’s all just questions after that. Will the ridership numbers live up to the pie-in-the-sky estimates or will there be more of a drain on the TTC’s operational budget? What about all those other residents of Scarborough who can’t easily walk to one of the three subway stops and are once more relying on bus service for their commutes? How come I’m still paying property taxes for this fucking subway?ooops1

What’s so particularly galling about this nonsense is that it’s all so unnecessary, unnecessary and counter-productive.

In a discussion paper released this week, Build Regional Transit Now, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, among other things, called for an end to political interference in transit planning. This being 2014, it is something of a sad irony such a plea had to be made since the provincial transit planning body, Metrolinx, was established just for that very reason. David Hains does a great job in the Torontoist, running down the rocky not so non-political history of Metrolinx.

I want to take you to page 17 of the TRBOT’s report. Under the subheading, “Decison-Making and Project Execution a Struggle”, it speaks directly to the Scarborough LRT/subway debacle. Or ‘standoff’ as the report calls it.

At the heart of any sound governance structure is accountability and efficient decision-making. These elements were clearly not in place with the on-going Scarborough subway versus LRT standoff. Indeed, it demonstrated much confusion around the roles and responsibilities of Metrolinx and who exactly was accountable for driving regional transportation expansion. Despite Metrolinx’s transportation planners recommending an LRT line, including close to $100 million in sunk costs associated with environmental assessments and other preparatory work, Metrolinx’s advice was, in the end, ignored by both the Province and the City of Toronto. Over the span of several weeks, the agency was compelled to first endorse a subway proposal from the then provincial Transportation Minister and later Toronto Council’s approved subway route.

In a paragraph nutshell. Expert advice was ignored. Money burned. Political pressure brought to bear on an apparently non-political agency.

The question, of course, is why? And the simple answer is politics. whyThe conventional wisdom went that Scarborough residents wanted a subway, so Scarborough politicians bent over backwards to give them a subway, good governance and a cool hundred mil be damned.

But here’s what really burns my ass about that line of non-reasoning. When did that become conventional wisdom? Rob Ford’s election and his Subways Everywhere mantra, perhaps. The minority Liberals, running scared and willing to do anything in order to keep seats in Toronto.

A good theory, I guess. I don’t have a better one. The problem is, I’m not convinced the very premise lying at the heart of all this holds water.

As a Forum poll showed this week, 56% of Scarborough residents asked stated a preference for subways over LRTs. Here’s the catch. It was a completely loaded and skewed question. thisorthatEssentially it went, subway or LRT, “if costs for building both were the same”?

The costs aren’t the same. Not even close. Subways are more expensive. End stop. Moreover, the Scarborough LRT wouldn’t have cost Toronto residents any additional money. The subway has its own property tax increase.

So it was a stupid question, for sure, of the all things being equal type when clearly they’re not but even so, even with a pro-subway angle to the question, only 56% of respondents in Scarborough favoured building a subway.

That is hardly an overwhelming majority. Nowhere near the 100% support the mayor and other subway proponents tout. Given a proper shaping of the question, it would be even less.

In fact, earlier this year, a Leger poll found 56% of Scarborough residents wanted to revert back to the originally planned Scarborough LRT. “I think we’re starting to see a shift now as people become more aware of the cost to build subways,” said a Leger researcher. ontheotherhand1Yet, here we are, being told the exact opposite by the politicians we elected to represent our best interests.

The confounding thing to me is why. If voters can be convinced of the folly of building a subway extension into Scarborough with little more than a money argument, how come politicians aren’t willing to do just that? To recommend the advice of the non-political experts who tell us that a Scarborough LRT is really our best option. How has this debate become so fucking convoluted and divisive?

I have no answer. It’s one thing to chalk up politicians’ motives as doing whatever it is they need to do to get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. Putting their interests before the interests of the voting public. A time-honoured, tried and true formula.

But the decision-making process for the Scarborough subway doesn’t seem to be that. It’s not about some failure to lead. It’s about the desire to mislead.

steamroll

When all the factors point in the direction of one decision, and the public appears prepared to accept that decision, what politician would opt not to make it? That’s not crass and craven politics. It’s flat-out idiocy.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Bastards Keep Grinding

September 3, 2014

“I’m beginning to think politicians aren’t really looking out for the best interests of this city,” wide-eyed, naïve me writes. wideeyed(Yes. Such an aspect of this person exists.)

Jaded, cynical adult me turns and gives wide-eyed, naïve me a withering look.

“You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

This is a thing that happens, early on in the process most days. An ongoing battle between my cheery ingenuousness and the hardened pessimism about what passes as politics in these parts. Lately, it’s been a one-sided affair, and not in favour of the good guy.

“So who’s disappointed you this morning?” meany me asks.

Well, for starters, John Tory called a transit related press conference yesterday. Goodie, goodie, goodie, I thought. staringcontestMaybe now he’ll explain how his Smart Track funding will really work, because lately, some people, well, they’ve expressed some reservations about it. Mr. Gee and Mr. Barber.

“And what actually happened, sunshine?”

Well, not what I expected, OK?

It turned out to be an out-and-out endorsement for John Tory’s mayoral candidacy by the province’s Economic Development and Infrastructure minister and Scarborough MPP/subway lover, Brad Duguid.

“My Liberal colleagues at Queen’s Park are almost unanimously enthusiastic about John’s candidacy,” Duguid said. really“We see him as the guy… to provide the stable leadership to ensure that Toronto is the partner that we need.”

“Holy shit, eh?” nasty me exclaims, bursting out into a disturbingly cackle-like noise. “Imagine that!”

“Can they do that? Should they do that?”

The cackling gets louder and even more harsh on my sensitive ears.

I mean, it’s still nearly two months until the election and the provincial government essentially just came out and told voters in this city that John Tory is the mayor it wants, the candidate it’s willing to work with. Is that normal? Blatantly meddling in a municipal election is something that’s done regularly? Why not just cut to the chase and use its legislative powers to just appoint the next mayor of Toronto?

“I know, right?”

Even the soft-headed, big-hearted me can see the gears in motion, the politics at work. Pick the candidate who’s vowed not to re-open the Scarborough subway debate. Get somebody who isn’t Rob Ford into the mayor’s office to officially close up the Metrolinx master agreement on the previous LRT and sign off on the new subway plan. bodyblowFait accompli.

“Sure. That’s one way of looking at it,” cynical me says. “Don’t forget to factor in though that, above all else, Liberals hate the NDP. More than unfunded transit plans. More than nut job, far right conservatives, more than former opponent and rival, John Tory. John Tory, Tory leader, bad. John Tory, mayor of Toronto, good. How does that even work?”

No. No. I am not going to buy into such soul-crushing, naked cynicism. Cynicism? Fatalism.

Good me, hopeful me, sanguine me refuses to accept the fact that there are politicians out there so corrupted by power that they will sacrifice the interests of the people and places they were elected to serve purely for political gain. Partisan hackery above good, sound policy. I can’t. I won’t.toomuch

“Well, run these numbers around the daisy maypole of your mind, see what conclusion you can continue to ignore.” Meany me’s just taunting happy me now.

“The province gets its subway in Scarborough with both the feds and city kicking in some money instead of having to pull the full freight for an LRT. The province has already been working on its own version of Smart Track. Now here’s this guy volunteering to put up some city money to help them do it. A guy who’s spent the entire campaign deriding an opponent as ‘the NDP candidate’. The question isn’t why or how could the Liberal government endorse John Tory. The question is, what took them so fucking long?”

No. No. Nope. No, no, no. I’m not giving into this. Not again. There’s only one proper response now. drinking1Plug my ears and walk away until jaded, cynical adult me gets bored and goes out and gets drunk somewhere.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!

[Pulls bottle and glass from desk drawer, pours a nice, stiff drink] Look. It’s not like I enjoy being cynical and bitter. It’s not because it’s easy. It’s just… It’s just… [takes a drink]… Hope needs to toughen up, to smarten up. Hope needs to stop being taken for a sucker. Hope needs to start realizing who the real cynics in this equation are. It ain’t me. Not by a long shot. [Finishes the drink, pours another.] Not by a long shot.

dually submitted by Cityslikr


Leadership Starts From The Ground Up

July 25, 2014

4 out of 4 transit experts agree. Toronto needs to start building the [fill in your preferred first name here] Relief Line now yesterday! expertsagreeWhile we can, should talk about other transit modes i.e. GO electrification, the only one that is going to take pressure off our already too tightly squeezed subway system is another subway line moving people to and from the downtown core, “… the fastest growing part of the entire GTA.”

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about a relief line for 30 years now. The necessity for it has been known for that long. It’s not new or news.

The problem is, it will be a messy, disruptive, expensive undertaking. Building a “new subway through the core — underground and with truly urban station frequency” can’t be anything but. subwayconstructionEven if crews started digging today, many of us wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of the labour and money. And, of course, it will be a project assailed on all fronts by parochial interests, convinced that downtowners, once more, are getting more than their fair share of public money and attention.

Despite all that, a Relief Line remains, in the words of our subway loving mayor, a Need to Have rather than a Nice to Have. Unlike say, the Scarborough subway extension?

A couple weeks ago in CityLab, this article headline appeared: “NYC Can’t Afford to Build the Second Avenue Subway, and It Can’t Afford Not To”. Read through the article and replace 2nd Avenue subway with DRL and Toronto and New York are pretty much having the same conversation right except for the fact, New York has at least started building their vital subway.

And yet, the Second Avenue line DRL has become a beacon for New York Toronto’s future and a symbol of the numerous challenges facing a global city that must, in light of massive costs and slow build-outs, expand its transit network to stay competitive. Ask anyone who has to ride the 4, 5, or 6 trains into Manhattan south of 60th Street Yonge Street line during a morning rush hour, and the need for a Second Avenue line DRL becomes clear. These trains aren’t just crowded, they’re packed to the gills. Very often, riders standing on a subway platform…have to let multiple trains go by before they can squeeze on board.

Even the cowering reaction by New York politicians to the enormity of building a needed subway has familiar echoes of leaders here in Toronto and at Queen’s Park.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders have begun to think small. They propose ferries, with ridership that tops a few hundred per day, as opposed to a few hundred thousand per day for a full-length Second Avenue subway. They urge bus rapid transit as a lower-cost option, without discussing how lower costs inevitably lead to lower capacity. Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.

Ringing any bells? Ferries? Where did I hear about ferries recently?

“Thinking big — building more than 750 miles of track in five boroughs,” the CityLab article concludes, 2ndavenuesubway“made this city great, and to keep it great, New Yorkers will have to remember how to think big.”

And in Toronto’s case, ‘thinking big’ doesn’t just mean big projects like a subway. It means planning beyond simply local asks or demands, and looking at the proverbial bigger picture. The city in its entirety. The GTA region as a whole.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much of that from our elected officials. The non-political make-up of the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, has been hijacked for political purposes by the Liberal government. The only major mayoral candidate really talking serious nuts-and-bolts about transit so far in this campaign is David Soknacki, and he remains stuck in single digit numbers of voter preference.fullfinchbus

So we remain crammed onto subway and streetcars, buses and on the roads while the best possible solutions are picked clean to the bones by opportunistic and do-nothing politicians, driven by their own agendas and the tax-and-spend aversion that has gripped residents.

The end result is not at all surprising.

Allow me a metaphor to point how this all winds up, if indeed it is a metaphor. I’ll have to confirm it with Doug Ford and get back to you.

“Faulty towers: The hidden dangers of low condo maintenance fees” is the headline for a Globe and Mail real estate article back from 2011.

The lack of interest [in a condo unit up for sale] has nothing to do with market conditions, and everything to do with a 30-year history of indifference by the residents who were content to keep condo fees low at the expense of necessary maintenance.

Hmmm. Do go on, Mr. Ladurantaye.

“This is a coming crisis that nobody is talking about”, said Chris Jaglowitz, a lawyer who specializes in condo law for Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and a member of the Condominium Managers of Ontario. “You have all of these older buildings, and someone needs to pay for long-neglected repairs. And many people won’t be able to cover their share.”

That’s because condo buildings are owned collectively by the residents, and all repair bills are shared equally. Condo boards are able to levy special assessments in addition to condo fees to pay for projects. But the boards are made up of residents, who are sometimes motivated to keep fees low. And they serve short terms, which means long-term planning is often difficult.

Not just condos, is my point here.

thinkbigInfrastructure, transit, the city as a whole, all left in a serious state of disrepair and neglect because we residents, to paraphrase the article, have been content to keep our taxes low at the expense of necessary maintenance and needed expansion to keep up with the continued growth of the population. We’ve come to expect easy (and cheap) solutions to complex (and expensive) problems, succeeding only in making the solutions more complex, more expensive.

But hey. Not on us. Not on our dime.

That’s how you get an infrastructure deficit. That’s how, years, decades later, we find ourselves precipitously and willfully under-served by even the most basic of the necessary amenities. Housing, roads, public transit, all inadequate in dealing with the ever increasing numbers of people choosing to live here.headinsand

That’s the legacy we’ve already passed on to our kids with little expectation it won’t be even worse for our grandchildren. Unless we choose to step up right now and say, enough is enough. It’s time to start accepting a little responsibility and stop clutching our pocket books and narrow self-interest and leaving future generations to make even tougher decisions.

buck stoppingly submitted by Cityslikr


One Step Forward…

April 15, 2014

Listening to veteran transportation planner Ed Levy on Metro Morning today talk about the province’s latest foray sighinto the choppy political waters of transit building in the GTA, I felt for the guy. He and the likes of Steve Munro, and all the others who’ve been following this sorry tale for much longer than I have. How else do you respond to the question, Well, what do you think? A shrug. A sigh. A sad, slow shake of the head.

The equation is remarkably easy.

This region is in desperate need of transit and transportation infrastructure upgrades. It has been woefully neglected for at least 3 decades. We are now paying the economic and social costs for this lack of investment.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this. Time to get busy. The clock is ticking. We must roll up our sleeves and get down to transit building business.

That’s where the consensus all goes to shit. agreetodisagreeThe perpetual sticking point. How do we pay for it?

Nothing about this is going to come cheap. If it did, public transit would be everywhere. We wouldn’t be having this ongoing conversation. Parse it any way you want, it is an expensive proposition, a pricey necessity for the proper functioning of any sizeable city.

It’s going to cost us. All worthwhile investments do. So, pony up, shut up and let’s get on with it.

On the other hand…

Yesterday’s Liberal government announcement of $29 billion in money directed toward transit and transportation building throughout the province, $15 billion of that in the GTA, over the next 10 years is not nothing. It only seems like that because there’s been a long, deliberate build up to this point. There’s something anti-climactic to the announcement. holdonaminuteI’m sorry, what? That’s it?

Part of the problem is that the money’s not new. What did the Minister of Transportation call it? Repurposed revenue. If these guys spent half as much time coming up with smart ways to convince the public to buy into the need to pay for transit as they did polishing up weasel words and phrases to mask their continued ambivalence in confronting this issue head on, we’d already have the Yonge Street relief line built and paid for.

This is $29 billion already coming into the province through gas taxes and the HST paid on gas. The government is simply dedicating that amount in this particular direction. Which is fine and good, a start at least. Where it’s being pulled from is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll cross that bridge (after it’s been retrofitted) when we get to it.

The other glitch in the announcement is that the $1.5 billion coming the GTA’s way annually over the next 10 years is still below the goal of $2 billion a year Metrolinx has said would be needed to fund the capital side of its Big Move build. All in good time, we were assured by the premier and minister of transportation. willywonka1More will be revealed with the upcoming budget.

This is where the politics comes in to play. Unfortunately, politics always comes in to play. The $29 billion was the opening gambit (after what? A 6 year overture?) by the government. How would the opposition parties react? Were they going to sign on or in any other way show their hand on this?

The trouble for the Liberals right now is two-fold. One, they have no spending credibility, lost amidst the scandals plaguing them. Ehealth. Ornge. Gas plants. Trust us to get it right this time, folks.

It’s a scenario that could be easily dealt with if there was a serious alternative being put up on offer. But this is the second problem. Out there on the extreme is the official opposition pretending like building transit is free and easy. You want subways? We’ll give you subways. And it won’t cost you a thing. Just a nip and tuck there. Bob’s your uncle. Remember the last time the Progressive Conservatives were in power and all those subways they buil—No, wait. Strike that.

We have proof negative of exactly higotnothingow this approach to building transit works here in Toronto. It doesn’t. Remember when our current mayor was running for office back in 2010 and he guaranteed us he could deliver subways here, there and everywhere without any additional revenues? Uh huh. That’s the exact bill of goods Tim Hudak’s trying to sell us again.

Unfortunately, the third party at Queen’s Park, the NDP, are tilting heavily toward similar populist pandering. Corporate taxes is their mantra. Rolling back a decade’s worth of corporate tax cuts will pay for everything we want while eliminating the deficit apparently. A different angle on the too good to be true pitch.

And then we all flip the table and walk away from the discussion. Politicians, we bellow! Where have the true leaders gone, we ask? If only Bill Davis. If only… If only.

Until we start punishing those elected representatives who believe that in concocting fairy tales of no money down, whome1no interest until forever as the surest way to secure office, this song will play on repeat. We will still be bitching about the state of our public transit 10 years, 20 years from now. We will still be reading posts like this. We will be explaining to our grandchildren how it was our politicians let us down, how they failed to tackle the most pressing issues of our time.

We will still be absolving ourselves of any responsibility for the gridlock that has continued to worsen and the deplorable state of ill-repair our trains and streetcars and buses operate in. Like the generation before us, we will wipe our hands clean and successfully pass the buck to the next to deal with.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr