Sink Or Ride

April 18, 2013

If we were only permitted to travel around this city on modes of transport paid in full, upfront by each of us on a fee-for-service basis, we’d all be walking everywhere we went. hackingthroughthejungleThere’s probably an argument to be made about bicycle use as well. Its impact on infrastructure a fraction of its costs.

For every other way we get from point A to point B? Subsidized to the hilt. Roads for vehicular traffic are not fully paid for through gas taxes and registration fees. While transit users in Toronto pay an unusually high percentage of the system’s annual operating costs, a good chunk of it comes from other revenue sources. And we haven’t even got to the matter of capital costs.

So if our car, bus, streetcar, subway travel all is subsidized to varying degrees, why do we expect the public bike sharing system, Bixi, to pay its own way?

In normal circumstances that would be purely a rhetorical question. You’d think mobility was mobility regardless of the number of wheels under your ass. This, however, is Toronto 2014. subsidizeCycling is nothing more than a sport or a jaunty ride about town, to and fro places of latte-sipping.

Reports of Bixi’s financial duress emerged on Tuesday. The Montreal based company is looking to sell off its franchises including the one in Toronto. A couple years back, the city signed on as a loan guarantor to help get the operation up and going. Now it’s on the hook for about $3.9 million.

Unsurprisingly, Mayor Ford is uninterested in helping out. The chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, is not any more enthusiastic about the idea. He’d prefer to off-load it onto the private sector.

“Government, fundamentally, isn’t the first place where you look to run a business,” the councillor said. “The private sector is better at making a dollar because it is their dollar. tossoverboardI’m a firm believer that if it can be in the Yellow Pages, it shouldn’t be in the Blue Pages.”

*sigh*

On Tuesday, I wanted to hug Councillor Minnan-Wong to my bosom for having the courage of his convictions in speaking out and voting against a casino. I’d always questioned his courage and believed his only conviction was reducing local government to a heaping rubble. But by later that day, he’d returned to form.

Only the firmest set of anti-cycling minds saw the bike sharing program as some blue chip business venture. bixiAccording to the National Post’s Megan O’Toole, in a report going to the Executive Committee next week, Toronto’s GM of Transportation Services suggests BIXI has become “’an important part of the transportation mix’ in the city and a key component of the Pan Am Games transportation plan.” ‘An important part of the transportation mix’, you say? Well, let’s just hand that over to the private sector to maximize profits why don’t we.

BIXI was never intended to individually cover great distances. It’s all about short hauls. Think timed transfers we’d like to have on the TTC – hop on-hop off privileges – but on a bike.

Set up to actually succeed, BIXI could immediately begin paying back any investment in it from the city by helping to alleviate the stress along certain transit routes. Right now, I’m thinking the downtown streetcar lines, especially King Street. fieldofdreamsReduce the ridership there in order to re-allocate TTC resources in other parts of the city.

Of course, it’s not as easy as simply putting up more stands filled with more bikes. Biking infrastructure also has to be improved to further entice reticent but interested would-be riders to casually start using the system as part of their transit routine. All part of the concept of induced demand. Build it (and maintain it properly) and they will come.

As part of the city’s overall transportation outlay, coming to the rescue of BIXI would be a modest outlay. For a fraction of the amount we’re looking to shell out keeping the Gardiner in the pink, we could triple the number of BIXI bikes and broaden its reach from High Park to Broadview and Dupont Street to the lake. Hardly the ‘drain on the city’s finances’ the Public Works chair pretends to fret about. eraseA concern particularly rich coming from the man who cost the city a couple hundred thousand dollars reverting the Jarvis bike lanes back to a 5th lane for cars and another $19.4 million trying to bury the Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment without council consent.

But we all know this isn’t about sound policy or good governance. It never is with this administration. BIXI’s financial problems offer up yet another golden opportunity to kill off a David Miller initiative. That’s really the only kind of agenda they have left.

sharingly submitted by Cityslikr


Fighting Entropy

June 11, 2012

It’s not as if city council voted to secede from Ontario and go it alone as a province. Or to institute sharia law. Or legalize pot. Or rid Yonge Street of all cars for all time.

Last Thursday, city council voted to ban plastic bags beginning January 2013. Political implications about our mayor’s relationship with council aside, it was no big deal. Get in line and join the club. Toronto is not the first municipality in Canada seeking to enact such a ban. Not even close.

Yet some who aren’t necessarily against the idea of banning plastic bags found the process with which council went about it detrimental, let’s call it. “Irresponsible,” Torontoist’s Steve Kupferman suggested. “There’s a real chance this move could prove to be a disaster,” Matt Elliott wrote for Metro’s Urban Compass.

Really, guys? Really?

I get that how the vote came to be was out of the ordinary. Oh yeah, I’ll admit that it was impulsive even. Items are traditionally studied before coming to council. Staff delivers reports. They are put through the committee wringer.

All for very good reasons. Councillors should have all the facts there are to have before them ahead of making decisions. To be as informed as possible in order to facilitate easy implementation.

I get it.

But strange times call for strange measures. There’s a gaping agenda hole that needs be filled. Mayor Ford seems intent on whiling away the next couple years campaigning and repealing much of what council achieved over the course of the Miller years. It’s legislative entropy. Without some pushback from the rest of council, the entire apparatus might collapse into itself.

It wasn’t as if it all came right out of the blue, out of left field. They weren’t talking bike lanes or economic development and – boom! – suddenly there’s two plastic bag ban motions. The mayor brought plastic bags to the table. He wanted to rescind the 5¢ fee retailers were supposed to charge for them. As the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale pointed out in his calm, even-handed article, “…once a proposal is brought to a meeting of the whole council, any councillor can propose an amendment to the policy in question — and have the amendment decided upon once and for all on that same day.”

Shit happens in other words. Mayor Ford came to council unprepared for any sort of possible curve in the road. Caught flat-footed by an audible called at the line of scrimmage, he had no back up game plan. It was a rear-guard fight he didn’t have the forces at his disposal to fend off.

This should come as no surprise. Since the bruising transit battle in the spring, the mayor has cast himself in the role of opposition. He’s reactive not proactive; rejecting not building. All with an eye toward finding that one thing that’ll get him in good with ‘taxpayers’ again, that one issue to re-ignite the ire of Ford Nation.

It’s a game of counter-punching now. Unless or until council seizes control of some of the key committees at midterm this fall, we should get used to legislation being made in an extemporaneous manner. As John McGrath wrote back in March, “Every. Single. Decision. From here on out everything the city does is going to be decided on an absurd, ad hoc basis…Toronto’s going to lurch from one battle to another as the two sides at council try to poach votes from the centre.”

But I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing or an institutional crisis. (Do I think our municipal governance needs some tweaking? Absolutely). This is simply a crisis of… no, let’s not use such catastrophic language… a failure of leadership. Up until the mayoralty of Rob Ford, the amalgamated city of Toronto admirably muddled through for 13 years. Our current cris—predicament is about one guy and the strictest of his ideological adherents.

And as Mr. Dale points out in his article, we’re not in uncharted waters with the plastic bag ban. “Unlike the federal and provincial legislatures, which take months to turn an idea into law,” Dale writes, “council regularly makes policy changes on the fly.” City staff will still write up a full report. If council’s smart, they’ll make time for public deputations. “Since the actual bylaw has not yet been approved, only a council motion,” Dale goes on to say, “the city could still hold public meetings or otherwise allow for corporate feedback. But spokesperson Wynna Brown said ‘it’s premature to speculate on next steps at this point.’”

Leave the speculation to Mayor Ford. That’s really all he’s got. For the rest of us, as the t-shirts and fridge magnets recommend, Stay Calm and Carry On. The wheels of municipal government must keep turning even if it’s unclear who’s at the wheel.

improvisationally submitted by Cityslikr