Rules Of Engagement

December 15, 2015

Yesterday with the news of a new Uber launch, this one called UberHOP, a commuter service of minivans and SUVs shepherding people from 4 downtown hotspots to the financial district at $5 a pop, I found myself in yet another social media spat. As so often happens with these things, the conversation went off in directions not exactly on point to the issue at hand. I swore at somebody, fairly quickly. Everybody eventually retreated into their familiar corners. Nothing much was solved.

donnybrook

Just for future arguments, let me state my Uber stance for quick reference:

  1. I’ve never suggested Uber anything be banned. I think it should be subject to the same kind of driver and car oversight the taxi industry faces in terms of insurance, safety, background checks, etc. Whether further regulation is required in terms of things like fare rates and passenger protocol or if we just open it wide like the wild west, leaving it to the market to decide seems to me to be the legislative battle ahead. If drastic changes for the industry are in store, I do think there must be some talk of compensation to those who’ve invested under previous terms and agreements, and played by the rules in place.
  2. As for UberHOP, have at it, yo. If you want and are able to pay $5 for the pleasure of a semi-private ride back-and-forth to work, it’s a free country. Ditto your fancy limousines, rickshaws and sedan chairs. Just don’t try convincing me such a service will contribute to improving public transit in general in the city. It won’t. Solving your problem does not solve the problem. Getting people who can afford $5 a trip around the city is not the problem the TTC faces at the moment.
    sedanchairEven the TTC could turn a profit if it had the luxury of only providing service along high demand routes. Unfortunately, that’s not how effective public transit works. I don’t know how much overlap between transit and Uber users there is in the neighbourhoods UberHOP is going to service but it’s not going to free up that much space for those still opting to use the King and Queen streetcars. A solution for some is not a solution for everyone.
  3. There are already on-the-books ways in which commuting from Liberty Village, Fort York, City Place and the Distillery District to the financial district could be improved during the morning and evening rush hours without charging more for it. A service like UberHOP helps us avoid addressing those possible solutions. In fact, by putting more vehicles on many of the same streets, competing for limited road space, UberHOP might contribute to making those commutes worse for more people. Time will tell, I guess.
  4. UberWhatever is not about sharing. It’s about profit-making. That’s fine. For some, that’s what makes the world go `round. Fair enough. Just stop trying to convince us it’s about anything else. It’s not.

moneymoneymoney

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Failing Upward

June 15, 2012

Yeah look, folks. Everybody knows this gig is bush league. Anybody with a lick of ambition or smarts sees municipal politics as nothing more than a stepping stone to bigger things. I mean, look at who’s mayor of this place? My idiot brother! No, I’m just kidding. He’s alright. Doing great. Turning this ship around. Yeah but sure, first opportunity and I’m outta here.

Come on. Admit it.

Councillor Doug Ford might’ve just as well said that when news broke of a possible summer election here in Ontario. Look at what he did say, according to Toronto Sun reporter Don Peat.

He Came Back For You, Ward 2

There’s bigger fish to fry, folks. Brother-Mayor Rob has got us  – or at least Etobicoke – covered. So Doug’s now free to work the Ford magic for the city at the provincial level.  “I can do more for them provincially, than municipally,” the councillor claimed.

Let’s hope so because after nearly 18 months down at City Hall it’s hard to see exactly what he’s done for the city as a whole or his own Ward 2 constituents in particular. As his brother’s right hand man, Councillor Ford has essentially helped rip up the mayor’s mythical mandate with his regular near Ralph Kramden pie in the sky schemes that began last year down on the Port Lands and that ill-fated land grab, continuing apace through the subways v. streetcar transit debacle. Rarely a week goes by without the councillor having to take a foot from his mouth in an attempt to reverse damage to the family brand. Why, just last Sunday, he called his sister-in-law, the mayor’s wife, The Polock. Apparently, some people think that’s derogatory.

And Doug Ford was supposed to be the smart one, helping to keep his maverick brother in check.

It seems his constituents haven’t fared a whole lot better since the councillor finds that kind of work boring. One of those constituents, Rahim Lahda, wrote a less than glowing post in April at blogTO about the representation Councillor Ford’s bringing to the table. Underwhelming, let’s call it.

Yet the man is raring to go, wanting to take it up a notch, and bring his D game to Queen’s Park. Never mind his likely opponent is Shafiq Qaadri, a twice re-elected incumbent who survived last October’s election with only a minor downturn in plurality; the 2nd place PC challenger was closer in vote totals to the 3rd place NDP candidate than the winner. Never mind that Tim Hudak and the PC party haven’t exactly lit it up from the opposition bench. Never mind that by all accounts except for garnering publicity (most of it of the bad variety for the past year or so), Doug Ford has been a terrible, terrible councillor.

I’m Doug Ford, dammit! We have a family dynasty in the making! I returned from Chicago for you, Etobicoke Ward 2, North, Queen’s Park, Ontario.

Fingers crossed.

Good luck and good riddance to him.

City Hall will be a better, if less fun, place in his absence.

bidding adieuly submitted by Cityslikr


Core Services Review Review Two

July 12, 2011

Imagine if Mayor Ford and his Merry Band of Yes Men spent nearly the time and energy managing reality as they do trying to wrestle it into submission. Or conversely, simply came out and honestly said, this is how we see things and this is what we’re going to do about it. We’d either have a functioning city council or they all would’ve been blown out of the water last October and, well, we’d have a functioning city council.

Instead we have the circus side show that was yesterday’s unveiling of the outside consultant group KPMG’s assessment of the city’s core services review. First up, Public Works. If I’m understanding it correctly, this one was a complete and utter waste of time and money, examining services 96% of which “… are core municipal services, either mandatory as a result of provincial legislative requirements or essential to the continued operation of the City as an urban area.” In other words that MC Hammer sang, can’t touch this.

Even if council were willing or able to enact all the cuts KPMG offered up as options, it would amount to a whopping grand total of $10-15 million according to the Torontoist. Take that, next year’s $774 million operating budget shortfall. You’ve been reduced a whopping 1.93%. A hill of beans is what I’m suggesting.

Dutifully, like an organ-grinder’s pair of monkeys, Budget Chief Del Grande and Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair Minnan-Wong performed at the press conference ‘technical briefing’ in the mayor’s continued absence, blowing smoke for media consumption, in turns embracing and distancing themselves from the report. Cherry picking, some might say. Jettisoning water fluoridation probably wasn’t on the table, according to Councillor Minnan-Wong but, hey, even if the city scaled back work on cycling infrastructure, they’d still be doing more than the previous administration ever did. So we should rest easy in the knowledge that if we’re knocked down off our bikes and smash in our teeth, they will have been perfectly healthy teeth.

Phee-ew!

When reporters started asking questions, Minnan-Wong ratcheted up the double-speak to even greater heights. Hearing that a majority of people involved in the core services review consultation process expressed a preference for paying higher taxes in order to maintain current services, the councillor pronounced such views statistically invalid because those participating were ‘self-selected’. I’m not up on my statistic-ese but isn’t everyone who chooses to take part in the online surveys and public consultations ‘self-selected’?

In other words, they are active and engaged citizens. To hear the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair tell it, anyone choosing to participate in public consultations is self-selected and therefore statistically invalid. Bringing up that whole thorny issue of the usefulness of elections, I guess.

Not to be undone for sheer chutzpah in terms of ignoring the reality swirling around him the budget chief swung for the fences when he allowed himself to be quoted saying, “We have the lowest taxes in the GTA, with the greatest services provided.” I says, what now?! Can you run that by me again, Budget Chief To The Mayor Who Says We Don’t Have A Revenue Problem We Have A Spending Problem? We have the lowest taxes in the GTA and yet you voted to repeal the Vehicle Registration Tax and freeze property taxes right before starting to run around Chicken Little-ish warning us of an oncoming budget tsunami?

Don’t fear though, Councillor Del Grande assured the gathered media throng, he’s a chartered accountant. Leading one to assume that they let just about anybody into those professional schools including folks without a seeming grasp of basic arithmetic. Exactly what course is it that teaches cutting taxes and revenues doesn’t lead to some sort of budget crunch?

But apparently the budget chief, the PWI chair and all the others gathered around Mayor Ford are completely at home with cognitive dissonance. Commission a report that fundamentally undercuts everything you stand for politically, no problem. There’ll be the odd word or phrase or bullet point that, if spun correctly, will fully support your argument. Those you can’t? Pronounce them statistically invalid. Playing with facts is fun. Playing with reality is even better because it is what you make it and nobody can take it away from you. We have a spending problem, dammit. I don’t care what anybody says, even high-priced consultants we paid to tell us we have a spending problem and who may be suggesting that, in fact, we don’t.

The fun is only beginning, too. Carefully stage managed to present the more untouchable services first, the rollout is heading toward what’s thought of as the ‘soft’ services. The real source of gravy like libraries, parks, recreation, community centres, public transit. That way, the reality will be that they’ve got no choice. Their hands were tied by the province or political reality (you can’t be cutting sidewalk snow shoveling in your Ford Nation base) in Public Works and the other ‘hard services’. So sorry, folks. You can always sit around Chapters when we close your library branch on the Sundays.

From a strategy point of view, it’s nothing short of top notch. Tactical shock and awe, dropping the possibility of big ticket cuts first that you have no plans whatsoever of enacting. So when you take them off the table, it’s greeted with a sigh of relief and we’re then prepared to accept cuts to easier targets. Bike lanes. Libraries. After school programs.

You know, the usual suspects.

Just imagine, though, the possibilities if such PR ingenuity was put into something actually concrete, beneficial, constructive.

Oh, the city we would have.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


Boxstore Aesthetic

April 29, 2011

There’s not much I can add to the discussion about this week’s decision by the Public Works Committee to kill the Fort York pedestrian bridge that hasn’t been already said more fully and completely by Derek Flack at blogTO and Ford For Toronto’s Matt Elliott. Except maybe to introduce a new word to the English language. Derived from a combination of despair and anger that has become the prevalent mood here in Toronto during the Mayor Rob Ford era. Angair? Desger? Despanger? (Try it with a French pronunciation. Day-PAN-jay.)

How many times and ways can we talk about myopia and short-sightedness? Pennywise and poundfoolishness. The stunted notion of ‘core services’ being seen as little more than roads and sewers and not the wider, longer view of all round liveability.

That the public face of the move to kill the bridge is Councillor David Shiner comes as no surprise. He is part of the core group of Team Ford whose prime motivating factor seems to be, even more than simple political ideology, exacting revenge on anyone or anything from the Miller administration for excluding them from positions of power or influence. Once the mighty budget chief under Mel Lastman, Councillor Shiner was reduced to outsider status during the David Miller years, and somebody has to pay for that slight.

He couldn’t really have bagged a bigger prize, either, than the Fort York bridge. Not a big ticket item money-wise (less than the revenue the city won’t see from the decision to repeal the VRT), it was the baby of Ward 19’s former councillor and Miller’s Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone.  ‘An attack on taxpayers’, Councillor Shiner called the bridge and its ‘fancy’ design. Fancy’s the old way of doing things at City Hall. Austerity (in both mind and matter) is the new fancy.

What’s especially rich about Councillor Shiner’s demand for more financial accountability in somebody else’s ward is that he’s one of the beneficiaries of perhaps the biggest boondoggle… I mean, investment in future development… in recent memory:  the Sheppard subway line. Running through a bottom slice of his Ward 24, we have recently heard the councillor get up and defend the mayor’s plan to extend the subway, extolling ‘the subway to nowhere’’s contribution to a construction boom along its corridor. An argument some have made about the Fort York bridge. Its fancy design would help spur interesting investment around it much more than a Gardiner Expressway version of it might.

It’s also interesting to note that in justifying his decision Councillor Shiner said, “… just think about what that $23 million could do for bridge rehab, for road repair; think of the community centres it could fix up, of the children’s services and child care centres it could provide.” I believe that this is the same councillor who back a few months during the budget debate, grilled a representative from the Toronto Public Library about switching projects after money had been specifically allocated even if timelines and preparedness dictated a strategic change. Doesn’t his rationale about using possible savings from a scaled back version of the bridge on more pressing needs use the same kind of reasoning he dismissed on the part of TPL?

While I’m sure impossible to track, it would be interesting to see how much of any savings that might arise from a new, modified bridge construction Councillor Shriner will then fight to spend on infrastructure upgrades, community centres and child care. Colour me sceptical (which is more or less teal-like) that’ll be the case. Instead, I see whatever money there is being flushed down the sinkhole created by tax cuts and freezes, and the fundamental ill-will the conservative faction at City Hall bear toward generating revenue.

The fate of the Fort York bridge is the inevitable outcome that arises when politicians elected on a platform of respecting taxpayers not citizens gain power. There’s no bigger picture outside the bottom line. Why do anything special or fancy when it can be done for less money? Imagine the oodles of dough saved for Paris way back when if Napolean III told Baron Haussmann that his plans were all pretty and such but let’s scale it back a little, shall we. Why build a stage with a Frank Gehry proscenium arch (to use an example from one of the mayor’s favourite cities, Chicago) when a concrete band shell would work just as well?

despangerly submitted by Cityslikr


Rancor And Ridiculousness

March 7, 2011

Am I the only person to find it odd that TTC union chief, Bob Kinnear, sent a voice message out to his membership, warning them of a City Hall directed crackdown on cell phone use by transit workers? I mean, is he deliberately trying to get them in trouble, sending a note that everyone, in all probability, will read via their cell phones? Just imagine the gleeful headline in the Toronto Sun.

Kinnear’s claim that a driver was fired for using her cell phone to take a picture of the person who had just allegedly assaulted her had better be true. Otherwise, it’s one of those accusations that not only undermine the argument of the person making it but the cause attached to it. And if it indeed happened, well, we’ve moved beyond the realm of the ridiculous, firmly into theatre of the absurd. A counter-productive, poisonous atmosphere of workplace dysfunction that can hardly be conducive to improving customer relations.

So far, nothing being issued from the commission or its chair has actually spiked Kinnear’s statement. On Metro Morning earlier today, TTC GM Gary Webster said he hadn’t heard of such an incident happening. Not a denial exactly. Commission spokesman, Brad Ross, assures us that the driver has been ‘reinstated’, suggesting that she had been initially canned but on sober second thought, saner heads had prevailed. Ross then proceeded to go into semi-damage control mode, reiterating TTC chair Karen Stintz’s statement, “We’ve put safety measures in place like cameras, so if there is an incident or an assault or a safety concern on the vehicle, we do have a way of capturing that information.”

That’s a kind of official denial that also works on the level of confirming the original allegation. It seems to be suggesting that there was no need for the TTC drive to fully exercise her right to use her cell phone to take a photo because there were security cameras in place to do that for her. It also points to some serious underlying tension at work between the TTC commission and its employees. This would seem to be a pretty straight forward regulation to have in place. All those operating a moving vehicle should adhere to the law that states use of hand held devices while doing so to be illegal. Anything beyond that could be perceived as bordering on unnecessary harassment.

Of course, denials have been much firmer about any connection between the recent blitz targeting texting/talking TTC workers and directives coming out of the mayor’s office. It would be hard to believe even if such a thing actually existed it would have been written down somewhere, waiting to be scooped up for a wider public broadcast. Kinnear’s suggestion could just as conceivably be seen as a salvo thrown by a city union at a union hating mayor.

Yet… yet… it just seems so convincingly plausible. So much so that the mayor’s people have had to spend time to officially deny it. Why? Because the mayor obviously hates unions. Hates the TTC. And loves to malignantly micro-manage. He lives to declare war on things. That he’d get involved in a petty pissing match isn’t really hard to believe.

The fact that such state of affairs is even possible is the result of an elected official whose entire reason for being is to attack the very government he leads. As a councillor, on the campaign trail and now as mayor, Rob Ford is all about dismantling the public sector or, at least, to limit its scope of operation. He displays a pathological mistrust in the notion of anything outside of private, for-profit enterprise. Everything else? The Gravy Train. Those he perceives to be slurping from it are treated as suspect and must be hassled, vilified and punished for their weakness of character.

It’s a toxic attitude and unsustainable, built entirely on resentment and vindictiveness. Co-operation gives way to squabbling, and instead of progress being made, there’s just internecine struggles that accomplish absolutely nothing. While there’s plenty of blame to pass around for that, in the end it’s a kind of rot that starts at the head.

stinkily submitted by Cityslikr