The Explanation Gap

June 3, 2016

In amidst the most recent twist of the stomach turning, head spinning, logic defying debate over of the one-stop express (thank you David Rider for that) Scarborough subway extension headspinning– Chapter It’s Time To Talk About Expropriations – I was struck by how one local resident reacted. Scott Cole, who received a letter last week from the TTC telling him that his property could be subject to expropriation by the city if a proposed alignment of the extension ended up running along nearby McCowan Road, was, how would I put it, none too pleased. “I’m not going, they’re going to kill me to take me out of here,” Mr. Cole told the Toronto Star. A firm, first play negotiating stance, aggressive, leaving plenty of walk-back space.

But that wasn’t what really caught my attention.

“In my opinion, they’re just going to sell all of this to big developers and make tens of millions of dollars,” Mr. Cole stated.

Huh. Wow.

Of all the dark, dank angles and levels of subterfuge in this fetid debate over the Scarborough subway, this was one I hadn’t ever contemplated. moneymoneymoneyOf course, with any big infrastructure project, the possibility of somebody being involved purely for the money makes sense. But as the prime motivator at the heart of it all? That takes some genuine cynicism to get there, even if it is your house sitting under the shadow of expropriation.

That’s just how some people roll, I guess. Easy answers to complicated matters. It spares the brain from doing much heavy lifting.

I will, in this case, cut Mr. Cole some slack, however, and not simply because he’s looking down the barrel of being ousted from his home, even at fair market value. In a debate that often transgresses the boundaries of reason and common sense, there’s lots of room for detecting sinister specters. When a supposedly cash-strapped city is determined to spend a couple billion dollars on a one-stop express (thanks again, David) subway station that will move only 7300 riders during the peak morning rush hour, any grasping at straws for the reasons why shouldn’t be considered too outrageous.

Mr. Cole isn’t alone in expressing his dim views of transit building in Toronto.

Nick Kouvalis, the man who helped elect the last two mayors of this city and, I don’t think gets enough credit for his integral role in debasing the debate about public transit here over the last 5 years, jfkdonaldsutherlandtweeted out similarly baleful thoughts about another subway project when its proposed alignment went public this week. “Investigate this DRL [downtown relief line] route & land holdings of TTC Pension Fund & understand real politics.” That’s Oliver Stone level stuff, right there. Follow the money. Always follow the money.

In under 140 characters, Mr. Kouvalis manages to impugn the character and motivation of city staff and everyone else involved in pushing forward a subway project that has been on the demand table for decades now. Relief line? Relieving all of us of our hard earned tax dollars for no discernible return, amirite? That’s the kind of besmirching that earns Nick Kouvalis the big bucks and makes Scott Cole look like a rank amateur in comparison.

While I can’t figure out Kouvalis’ motives for weighing in on this subject at this time and in that manner, aside from perhaps just some simple union bashing, it reveals what I’ll call an explanation gap. With pro-Scarborough subway proponents desperately scrambling to justify the clearly unjustifiable building of their pet project, throwing out rationale after rationale, none of which hold up to much scrutiny but, stitched together with a thread of divisively parochial city building to create a loose-fitting blanket of… spidersinthebrainbecause, that’s why, there’s plenty of room left over to be filled with equally questionable ruminations. Defending politically based decisions leaves too much to the public imagination, too much space between the lines to read into.

That is where, there, be dragons.

And it just takes the one, in this case, it’s a big, $2 billion one, to throw into question the whole process. If the Scarborough subway is about nothing more than political theatre trumping good planning practices, why not the relief line too? What’s up with that? Who stands to profit?

It’s a contagion of suspicion that can cast a pall over every proposed transit project. Such a degree of mistrust will lead ultimately to a system wide paralysis. A situation, one might argue, we’ve been enduring and are currently suffering the ill-effects of. If the Scarborough subway is being used as a politically expedient route to pop open the spigot of public willingness to accept the cost of more transit building (and I’m being very generous in that interpretation), then do us all a favour and couch it in those terms.

Sure, that might lead to a whole bunch of Me-Tooisms, copycat demands for nothing but subways which, whispersas irony dictates in these cases, is one of the basis for building this subway. In the end, though, it’s probably preferable to the damaged credibility to actual, fact-based transit projects and the undercutting of legitimacy for the entire decision-making process that comes from pretending the Scarborough subway is anything but a political machination.

Don’t leave an explanation gap for people to fill because fill it they will. Once that happens, a competing narrative, regardless of how iffy and baseless, can take on an oversized life of its own. That, in fact, is how we ended up with this kind of debate on the Scarborough subway.

explicably submitted by Cityslikr


Are We Finished With The Nonsense Yet?

September 12, 2013

There’s this from Steve Munro over at Torontoist. And Ben Spurr here at NOW. stackofpapersBoth based on Metrolinx’s Feasibility Study Subway in Scarborough RT Corridor, comparing and contrasting Toronto city council’s Scarborough subway proposal with one announced by the Ontario government’s Ministry of Transportation last week.

Essentially, the province’s 2 stop subway addition to the eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth line will not clock in at the price the transportation minister is claiming, and the ridership numbers very, very suspect without the line running past the Scarborough Town Centre up to Sheppard Avenue. Moreover, the conversion of the planned LRT extension running along the current SRT route into a subway will necessitate station design changes that threaten the timing of the Eglinton LRT crosstown, one of the transit projects in this city actually being built.

So, shorter, serving fewer people with fewer stations, more expensive and quite possibly throwing a spanner into the works into another project already underway.

Whatever. It’s full steam ahead according to Transportation Minister Glen Murray.

“People are fed up with the debate,” Murray declared. whiteelephant“We’re building now. We’re past debate.”

It’s a terrible plan, in some ways worse than the terrible subway plan council and the TTC chair, Karen Stintz, championed in the summer. If you didn’t know any better, it’s almost as if the provincial government is attempting to run a subway along where an LRT more logically fits only for the opportunity to claim having built a subway in Scarborough. That’s hardly leadership. It’s politically pandering of the worst kind.

The odd thing is, because of the province’s expediency on this file, jettisoning sound policy decision making for crass political gain, our city council has been given yet another chance to emerge from this wreckage as the less dysfunctional governing body. A low bar to clear, for sure, given the transit debates we’ve seen over the last few years decades generations decades. Nonetheless, council can reassert control over the Scarborough transit debate and appear almost like the adults in the room.

The subway it asked for and the funding for it is not what the province now has on offer. therightstuffMany of the councillors’ support for that subway was contingent on those two things. Having not received it, they can now walk away, saying they tried delivering this Scarborough subway unicorn but were rebuffed by the senior levels of government. Embrace the Master Agreement that’s still in place that will return to the more sensible LRT plan that never should’ve been set aside in the first place.

More importantly, perhaps this discussion can now move beyond the platitudinous banner-speak that has polluted it since 2010. Let’s now start talking transit planning based on logistics and practicalities not grievances. What’s been revealed about both proposed Scarborough subway plans is there’s not enough money available to build one that would actually utilize the technology to the fullest. Even if there were money, a subway running either of the possible routes doesn’t make particular sense. reasonablediscussionMuch of it would be running at grade or elevated just like an LRT or it would be underground through established residential neighbourhoods where the necessary development to feed the ridership numbers might not be possible.

And any sort of Scarborough subway would be at least a decade away. We could start building the LRT tomorrow.

Despite Minister Murray’s chest-thumping claims, this debate isn’t over. But maybe, just maybe, if a majority of council so chooses, it can take a turn for the sensible and rational. There may be no precedent for such a thing but all the alternatives have led us down blind alleys, on foot, still waiting for transit.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Take Our MPPs, Please!

September 7, 2013

It’s times like these when I begin to ponder fondly on the idea of the province of Toronto.wistful

Let me stop you there.

I know what you’re thinking. Premier Rob Ford? Really? You want that guy leading your province of Toronto?

Yes. Our municipal governance isn’t always pretty. It gets downright nutty at times. Pull your hair out insane.

But the thing is, it’s our municipal government. It’s right here. Very accessible. Very hands on, if one so chooses. We can directly wrestle with the beast.

Our relationship with the province is a little more distant, let’s call it, more removed. We are represented at Queen’s Park by one of 107 MPPs. That representation can be even further watered down if your particular MPP doesn’t sit as part of the government. Municipally, we have a crack at two of 45 of the decision makers. provinceoftorontoThose are much better odds of being heard and counted.

So decisions that get made at City Hall, even the ones you might not necessarily agree with, feel like our decisions, decisions we had a hand in. Provincially? Completely beyond our control.

Take this week’s Scarborough subway mess, for example.

Back a few months ago, in response to a letter from the provincial transit body, Metrolinx, asking if the Scarborough LRT was our final decision to replace the current RT, council stupidly re-opened the debate and voted for a subway instead. A very particular subway, running from Kennedy station to Sheppard Avenue, with all sorts of stipulations to it, but a subway nonetheless. And if the province could please respond by the end of September, that’d be great.

Dumb-assed for sure, and for all sorts of non-transit related reasons, mostly revolving around political ambitions and pandering, I think it’s safe to say.toomanycooks

This past Wednesday, the provincial minister of transportation, Glen Murray, came back and said, hey wait, I got a better idea. A shorter subway, running along a different route than the one council approved and, in the process, knee capping a couple of the anti-LRT arguments that were made during the council debate. The only thing that mattered, however, was that the subway was located in Scarborough.

This subway plan might be even more dumb-assed, but again, for all sorts of non-transit related reasons, mostly revolving around political ambitions and pandering, I think it’s safe to say.

And if you think this is some sort of recent aberration, this profoundly political game of provincial interference, take a read through WorldWideWickens and the history of how we ended up with the much maligned Scarborough RT in the first place. Whose brilliant idea was that? Not the city of Toronto, as it turns out. eviloverlordFor different political but still political reasons, the Scarborough RT was foisted upon us by the province.

Here we are, barely 30 years on, hashing the same thing out again.

Of course, Minister Murray’s subway announcement doesn’t finalize anything despite what he might think. Reading Ben Spurr’s article in NOW, one might conclude that Murray’s only succeeded in pouring gasoline on the embers, re-igniting the whole thing back up into a conflagration of red hot clusterfuck. He’s just sent the flaming bag of shit back to be debated at city council again this fall and managed to wipe his government’s hands clean of it.

If council regains its senses and demands adherence to the signed master agreement which designates an LRT for Scarborough, they will be the ones (at least the councillors voting in that direction) denying Scarborough its subway. You know Mayor Ford will seize that club to use on any possible opponent in next year’s municipal election. The province can throw up its hands and say, what are you going to do with these squabbling kids? battleshipWe tried to give you a subway, Scarborough. They just wouldn’t listen.

The combination of both levels of government involved in our lives sometimes makes it feel like a 3-dimensional game of Battleship. Shit not only comes at you from the sides but from above and below as well. It’s this double-whammy that makes me think wistfully of being our own province. Halve the number of local representatives making dumb, self-serving decisions on our part. Let’s get rid of our MPPs and start making our very own dumb decisions.

At least we’ll only have ourselves to blame.

independently submitted by Cityslikr


Presto, Minions. We Said Presto!

July 26, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would never think of ourselves as experts in anything. There’s too much delving into the tiny details, combing through the minutiae. It taxes our tiny brains. Generalists we, rather than specifists; meta-analyzers.

So we wade very trepidatiously into the Presto/smart card versus open fare payment debate that flared up last week, once again pitting the province against the city over public transit planning. And certainly not to offer up any new insights into the pros and cons of either method as that’s something done much more thoroughly and knowledgably by someone like Steve Munro (whose blog we leaned heavily on for this post). No, we’re focusing on the politics behind the issue and how it’s playing out on the municipal campaign trail.

As anyone who’s traveled to any city that has a major transit system will tell you, Toronto is miles behind in how it collects fares. Tickets, tokens and transfers are a thing of the past in most metropolitan regions. It’s all about smart cards/open payments whether through a dedicated transit card or with personal credit and debit cards. Some systems even allow riders to swipe their cell phones as a method of payment. All of which help ensure a more streamlined and efficient operation, allowing for better opportunities to have the trains run on time.

But never fear, Torontonians, a decade into the 21st-century, ready or not, we are on the precipice of finally embracing the future. There is no choice as the new streetcars that are on their way will not be token or ticket friendly. We’ll have to swipe to ride. The only question now is, swiping what exactly?

The province has hitched its wagon to the Presto card which it has already implemented on GO lines and in a handful of subway stations in Toronto. For its part, the TTC is still deciding. While not ruling out Presto, it wants to make sure there is an open payment option which they feel is more conducive to further innovations down the road. PrestoPlus, let’s call it. An idea that even the brains behind Presto seem to be already exploring.

Lots of room for agreement and accommodation clearly, yet the provincial transportation minister, Kathleen Wynne, delivered an aggressively worded post onto the government website last week, stating emphatically that the TTC was to consider no other payment option but Presto. Presto Now. Presto Tomorrow. Presto Forever. Thinking otherwise was a wasteful exercise in misusing precious tax dollars. End of discussion.

Gas Tax funding was provided to GTA Municipalities, including the City of Toronto, with the requirement that they participate in the PRESTO fare card system, provincial funding towards the cost of the City of Toronto’s replacement streetcars is also conditional upon the City’s full participation in PRESTO and we’ve communicated to the City that the 182 light rail vehicles for the four Transit City projects in Toronto must be PRESTO ready.

Within this paragraph lies the nub of the patronizing approach the province has toward municipalities. When it stopped contributing to the annual operating budget of the TTC back in the late-90s, many assumed it was purely for the cost saving involved. But it seems obvious here that there was more to it, and the real reason that the McGuinty government has been slow to keep its election promise of reassuming the funding is not for money reasons but for the power they can wield in doling out funding on ongoing conditional bases.

With money comes power, and this Liberal government has become expert at withholding the first in order to use the hammer of the second.

Now, we encourage everyone to follow this fight on their own to decide the rights and wrongs of it. Only to say, that it does appear to these eyes that the province got into bed with Presto without consulting any of the affected municipalities and is now demanding that everyone fall into line behind them or else risk losing transit funding. Eat your peas or you won’t get any pudding!

What we find even more interesting is the response of a couple of our mayoral hopefuls to the imbroglio. Both Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman issued kneejerk statements, lambasting the TTC and chair Adam Giambrone for the decision not to whole-heartedly embrace Presto. Basing his response on the Board of Trade’s endorsement of Presto, Rossi used the opportunity to singularly castigate the TTC for not falling in line behind the province, using some questionable claims in the process. For his part, Smitherman’s view can be summed up with this: “Mr. Giambrone has been a barrier to the modernization of Toronto’s transit system and we should be glad he will soon be out of our hair.”

Two men, in their bid to become mayor of Toronto, categorically side with the province despite there being some very valid, non-partisan questions about the issue. What does this say about how they’ll lead if elected? Will the province always be right when it comes to resolving problems with the city? Rather than serve as mayor, will either of these two be nothing more than the Queen’s Park representative on city council, head of neo-Family Compact.

This is especially worrisome with George Smitherman. Once the highest ranking Toronto M.P.P. in the Liberal government, he delivered nothing by superficial air-kisses to this city. Is he now looking to be mayor to atone for that negligence or is he coming to town as nothing more than a deputy sheriff, intent on quashing the last of our independence and eliminating all voices of dissent against ham-fisted provincial rule? Every sign so far points to the latter.

worriedly submitted by Cityslikr


Public Service

March 15, 2010

It doesn’t take much these days to turn a pleasantly innocuous conversation about this and that into a full fledged, one-sided rant about the political state of things. Feckless, corrupt politicians. Lazy, ill mannered civil servants. Union members. Oh god don’t get me started on union members!

It’s enough to make you stop and wonder what kind of discussions go on at gatherings of these maligned groups. Do they bitch about the misinformed and self-interested voters whose concerns go no further than the front walks outside their houses? Of the sense of entitlement that occurs with every exchange at a fare box or Ministry of Transportation counter? I pay your salary, so I want this done yesterday! And, oh god, don’t get me started on members of other unions.

I thought these thoughts as I sat beside yet another pile of garbage on the subway this past weekend on route to my favourite little brunch spot. Somebody had simply left behind a couple empty bottles and a balled up paper bag on a seat for others to deal with. It’s not like trash cans and recycling bins are in scarce supply at subways stations here. They haven’t been removed as possible terrorist bomb depositories as has been done at times in cities like London and Paris. One need not go too far out of one’s way in order to rid oneself of one’s refuse while riding the subway in Toronto.

Then, having bummed myself a post-goat’s cheese crepe cigarette, I stood outside, huddled under a tiny awning along with 6 others, in a vain attempt to stay dry. To a smoker, including yours truly, upon finishing we flicked our butts out onto the sidewalk and street for someone else to deal with. This stopped me up. What we had done was no less an act of littering than the cretinous boars who left their garbage on the subway. Yet, judging from an early morning walk along my strip of College Street on any given morning, this is routine practice for smokers. We witness it so often, butts tossed from doorways and car windows, that it seems completely natural to walk on concrete littered with discarded ends of cigarettes.

Other places aren’t so indifferent to the habit. Cities as dissimilar as Tokyo and Dublin deem the careless tossing of finished cigarettes as an infraction, punishable by sizeable fines. Arguments can be made about the practical enforcement of such bylaws but it at least pronounces to the wider public that such behaviour is no longer socially acceptable.

The bigger issue here, however, is the disengagement with the rest of society that is on display. Personal convenience trumps consideration of others. Wherever I am, wherever I go, it is my personal space to do with it what I will. I litter therefore I am.

It is an attitude I would trace back to the time when we stopped calling ourselves citizens and choose instead to be thought of as ‘customers’ or ‘stakeholders’. The corporatization of the public sphere. I cough up my fare, I can leave my garbage behind. With all those taxes I hand over on a pack of smokes, we can obviously pay somebody to clean the streets up after me. Especially those lazy unionized city workers. That’s why they make the big bucks. To clean up after me.

scoldingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat