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GM launches car-sharing service in Toronto

General Motors announced this week it will launch Maven, a car-sharing service, in Toronto. Maven is a mobility app that provides on-demand vehicle access, allowing members to enjoy the benefits of car ownership without actually needing to own a car.

Using your smartphone, a customer can choose a location or a car type, and then unlock the vehicle upon arrival. Vehicles are available by the hour and all reservations include gas and insurance (minus a deductable. Rates start as low as $9 per hour and users can choose from one of 40 vehicles, including Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu, Tahoe, Trax and Volt; GMC Acadia and Yukon; and Cadillac ATS and XT5. Each vehicle is equipped with OnStar, Wi-Fi, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and SeriusXM Radio. There is no preliminary fee for renting a vehicle.

 

“Toronto has a unique spirit. Residents are constantly on the go and want more sharing and mobility options,” said Julia Steyn, vice president, General Motors Urban Mobility and Maven, in a statement. “Maven offers cars Torontonians want to drive to help them be there for the moments that matter.”

Toronto will be the first city outside of the U.S. to host Maven.

General Motors recently opened up a campus in Markham, something it is calling ” the largest automotive technology development centre of its kind in Canada” and will focus on innovation in mobility. “Bringing Maven car sharing to Toronto not only reduces congestion, but also represents the latest step in the development of General Motors’ mobility footprint in Canada,” said Steve Carlisle, president and managing director, General Motors of Canada. “…[it] furthers our ability to bring new solutions to existing problems and redefine the future of mobility in Toronto and beyond.”

The most challenging part of the launch will be the parking, in terms of Maven’s park and pick-up model. Toronto city council voted to delay debate on a pilot that would have granted residential parking permits to car-sharing companies like Car2Go and Zipcar. Finding places to leave the cars during off-peak hours may prove problematic.

What do you think? Is there room for another car-sharing service in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto Mayor John Tory unveils new six-step traffic plan

On Monday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory unveiled six new steps to unlock gridlock and combat traffic plaguing the city.

The steps of the new traffic plan centre around enforcement and technology — utilizing all of Toronto’s resources to help people move more efficiently. According to the mayor, the plan will build on the progress the city has made and the foundation created by the study of traffic hotspots last year.

Here are the six steps of the new traffic plan:

  1. The mayor wants to establish “quick clear squads” that will help fix temporary lane blockages on major roads like the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The two rapid-response squads will help clear roads in the event of an accident, for example, to keep traffic moving.
  2. Creating full-time traffic wardens at congestion hotspots throughout Toronto. City staff employed a number of full-time police officers during their traffic warden pilot program earlier this year, with great success. By the first half of 2018, the mayor hopes to be able to maintain the program with city staff rather than police officers.
  3. Requesting utility companies like Toronto Hydro to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This will reduce the number of lane closures during commuter hours.
  4. Sharing city traffic data with Waze next month to help both traffic operations and communicate traffic patterns to the public and blockages. Waze is a community-based real-time traffic and navigation app. The mayor announced a partnership with Waze back in June.
  5. Installing smart signals in November to help monitor the flow of traffic and change signal lengths in real-time.
  6. Asking city staff for a report on possible fine increases for traffic blocking offences.

“We owe it to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders to make sure our city moves in the best way possible,” the mayor said in a statement. “While we have made progress improving how you get around, we can always do more. I am determined to deal with the congestion choking our roads. I’m here today to highlight the next steps we’re taking to tackle Toronto’s traffic because you deserve a better commute.”

Are Smart Cities the future of congestion relief?

The last time Mayor John Tory spoke about roads at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, he announced his intention to propose tolling of the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway.

At Wednesday’s annual meeting, Tory again talked about the state of Toronto’s streets and the need to tackle congestion in the city.

“Am I satisfied with the traffic and congestion we still see? NO, I am not. Is this good for our residents and our economy? No, it is now. We have to do more for our economy, for our residents, for our businesses and productivity and competitiveness,” Tory said at the Board of Trade.

In this speech, Tory announced a new “Smart Streets Plan”. This plan will center around the collection of data. Toronto has completed its first real-time and historical data agreement, which will provide real-time traffic flow data. This data will be used to help manage traffic better.

The city also announced a partnership with Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app. This app will be able to provide alerts about collisions and lane closures so that the city can push updates out to commuters.

Other parts of the Smart Streets Plan include the implementation of smart traffic signals, steps to manage curb space, and more parking blitzs in September.

Tory also praised the city’s King St. Pilot Study, saying it is a necessary project to help move the 65,000 people who use transit to navigate that corridor.

None of these announcements are as daring as that to toll the DVP and Gardiner, but considering the province has refused to allow Toronto to toll its own roadways, they are necessary steps towards trying to relieve congestion. Changing urban or street design to try and increase the flow of traffic will make Toronto a smart-city, but only if the rest of city council approves these innovative projects and studies.

 

What do you think of the Smart Streets Plan and the King St. Pilot Study?

Are you starting to bike to work this summer?

For most people, the approaching summer weather is meant for patio drinks and walks by the waterfront — but for me, what I love most is being able to dig out my bike and start cycling to work again.

After months of hibernating, eating like a bear, watching Netflix and hoping for better weather, the first ride of a new season always makes me a bit sore. Make sure to take your bike somewhere for a proper tune-up. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a bike mechanic at Velotique and I got a great deal. It pays to have a friend who understands how to fix bikes, but if none of your friends are bike people, it may be worthwhile to learn yourself. At some places in Toronto, like Bike Pirates, they give you the tools at hand and you can do the work yourself for a cheaper price.

Unfortunately, before I could get my bike tuned for the season I ran into my first hurdle. I made the irresponsible mistake of leaving my bike outside all winter and it sustained some pretty serious salt damage from the road. This caused my U-lock to rust to the point where I couldn’t open it. Always keep your bike indoors during the off-season.

When I was finally able to get on the road, I felt like a bird that was stretching its wings after a long sleep. I travel from the east-end and I soared down Dundas East on a bike path and waved at the cars stuck in traffic. It felt like a dream come true until I heard my panier bag disengage from my bike behind me and spill all over the road. I was forced to stop and clean up all of my belongings while swearing to the gods over my poor luck. I discovered after re-jigging the panier lock that it had been malfunctioning all winter and latched it to my bike with bungee cords for the remainder of the ride (note: always travel with bungee cords if you are a cycling commuter).

I arrived downtown with little time to spare due to my unexpected panier emergency, and found Dundas East blocked off at Parliament St. for construction! I decided to deviate south to Sumach St. which is the equivalent of riding on the surface of a volcanic crater (my bottom was very sore). Lesson learned; always give yourself plenty of room when getting back on the bike at the beginning of the season because navigational mistakes are sure to happen here and there. It is also frustrating when you do find an alternative cycling route (in this case on Gerrard St.) and delivery trucks park in the middle of the cycling route. This should be considered illegal and puts many cyclists in danger.

Delivery truck blocking the cycling path on Gerrard St.

The other challenging thing about cycling earlier in the season in Toronto is trying to account for the bi-polar weather in Southwestern Ontario. On one of my commutes last week, I put on a sweater, a jacket, took off both, changed pants, and arrived at home sweaty, cold, hot, and exhausted. Understanding Toronto weather is confusing to say the least.

All in all though, after a couple of days of adjustment, I am happy to be back on my bike, and collecting my bikos. I got back on my bike just in time for “Bike to Work Day”, a Toronto event where Mayor John Tory hopped on a bike at Bloor St. to ride with commuters in celebration of cycling in the city. The event is a precursor to ‘Bike Month’, an annual event in Ontario that celebrates all aspects of cycling. To ring in bike month, the City of Toronto will be giving away tote bags with cycling goodies at locations all over the city for the month of June and taking pictures of cyclists who love to ride.

Cycling is one of the positive benefits of being urban dweller. But it’s much more than that. There is absolutely nothing more enjoyable than feeling of the wind blowing through your hair as you cycle by vehicles stuck in traffic.

Zooming past morning downtown traffic in Toronto.

Will you be biking to work this month? Let us know if there are any problems with your commute, in the comments below!

Ontario will still have a revenue problem

I became a Liberal advocate in 2011 because they were the only party honest enough to admit that both Ontario and Toronto have huge revenue problems. Services like healthcare and education suck up all the tax dollars collected by the province and, as our population grows, there is an even greater need for more funding options. Few politicians have the guts to stand up for increasing taxes or implementing tolls because they risk their chances of re-election. But Toronto Mayor John Tory did. He stood up for tolls despite the risk of losing support in the suburbs because he, like many of us, understands that dedicated funding for transit has to come from somewhere.

I met Kathleen Wynne and others in the Liberal party who said they were willing to admit that Ontario didn’t collect enough revenue to pay for the services residents want — services like transit and housing that cities desperately need. I became a Liberal because of these facts. I believed the Premier would stand up and do the right thing, and not cave to low-polling numbers or pressure from cabinet members desperate to get re-elected. She once believed that tolls were a necessary tool to get the dedicated transit funding Toronto needs.

Tolls on Toronto highways are just as important as tolls on provincially-owned highways. Not allowing Toronto to access this funding tool will simply push the cost of transit expansion and other services on to future generations. From health care, to education, to efficient transit, we don’t have enough funding to pay for everything. But today, Premier Wynne has decided to ignore that problem and gamble that economic growth and low gas prices will last forever.

Relying on our current gas taxes for the billions of dollars needed over the next decade for transit expansion in Toronto is the same “do nothing” approach that has caused the growth of gridlock in the city. Gridlock is costing residents over $13 billion per year in time and lost revenues. A slight slip in economic growth, or increase in gas prices will lower the amount of revenue Ontario collects, meaning we’ll be financing all this transit expansion through debt.

So, why would Premier Wynne go against everything she stood for? Rumours of internal “poli-tricking” swirl with cabinet ministers outside Toronto apparently demanding she stop her support of Mayor Tory’s plan. The Premier should remember how flip flopping on the gas plant in Mississauga almost cost Liberals the 2011 election and this huge change in her position on Toronto tolls may very well lose her the liberal base of support in 2018. This kind of internal poli-tricking is why voters lose faith in politicians, and will choose an honest buffoon over a smart, intelligent, candidate.

Today I am ashamed.

Mayor John Tory right on the money with revenue tools

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced Thursday that he would be proposing the use of tolls and a hotel tax to create extra revenue for transit and infrastructure projects in the city. Prior to that announcement, a report was released by the Munk School at the University of Toronto indicating the need for a multi-tax system to pay for services. The conclusions of the report back up Tory’s decision to actively search for more revenue tools to help pay for the much-needed transit system being built in the city.

The report was written by Harry Kitchen, a professor in the economics department at Trent, and Enid Slack, director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs. They argue that property taxes, user fees, and transfers from other levels of governments have remained unchanged as large cities continue to grow and expand. This is unsustainable and larger cities in Canada must adapt.

The authors’ argue that decisions on public spending need to be linked with revenue decisions. This is what the mayor was trying to say in his speech on Thursday — that Toronto can’t afford to keep building and providing better service unless there is a way to pay for this growth.

The report also makes mention of services that benefit people across municipal boundaries like roads. While the report suggests transfer of responsibility to the province, sometimes that isn’t possible. Tolls, for example, would be a good compromise, allowing people who often travel into the city on a daily basis to contribute in a way besides property taxes.

In terms of the property tax, something Mayor Tory refuses to increase by more than half a per cent, the authors’ say it’s a good way to raise revenue for infrastructure, but that a mix of taxes is recommended. Property tax is also more expensive to administer compared to income or sales tax. “The property tax is relatively inelastic (it does not grow automatically as the economy grows), highly visible, and politically contentious,” the report reads. “It may therefore be insufficient to fund the complex and increasing demands on local governments.”

“A mix of taxes would give cities more flexibility to respond to local conditions such as changes in the economy, evolving demographics and expenditure needs, changes in the political climate, and other factors.”

The report suggests charging user fees for services as often as possible, as under-pricing can result in over-consumption. Tolls were specifically mentioned as an example of a user fee that can be used on a major highway or arterial road running into a big city. While high-occupancy tolls, which charges vehicles for using a specific lane, can be effective on big highways, it’s much more efficient to toll the entire roadway.

Revenue collected from the tolls in place on the 407 in 2011 earned the provincial government an extra $675 million. The proposal set forth by Tory indicated an extra $200 million in revenues with a $2 toll charge on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The other benefit is that it will reduce congestion and unlock gridlock while creating funds that can be dedicated for transit.

Other options presented in the report include a parking charge, an increase in personal income and sales tax, a fuel tax, hotel tax, and vehicle registration fee. The conclusion seems to be by increasing/implementing a number of these revenue tools, it won’t affect a singular demographic to harshly while still generating funding for a large Canadian city to grow.

It looks like our mayor was right on the money, so to speak.

West Toronto Railpath is on its way to being built

Biking through Parkdale and Liberty Village is similar to completing a difficult Olympic marathon challenge, complete with zooming cars, road-crossing pedestrians, and no bike path to be seen.

Luckily, cyclist enthusiasts and the City of Toronto are working on solving the problem — and the West Toronto Railpath is the solution. The goal of the pathway is to keep pedestrians and cyclists off the road, but there remains key challenges to achieving this goal. For example, the objective of the RailPath is to avoid roads. For this to happen, overpasses would have to be built over current rail bridges so that pedestrians could navigate through the limited land availability in a highly congested area. However, the City of Toronto is determined to persevere despite these challenges.

The West Toronto Railpath has been a long-time in the making. The first phase of the project began at Cariboo Ave., just north of Dupont St. to the Dundas St. W overpass and was completed in 2008. It has been a considerable success, and even won the 2011 City of Toronto Urban Design Award. The second portion of the cycling path begins at Dundas St. W. and Sterling Ave. and proceeds along the Kitchener GO rail corridor to Strachan Ave. The third and final phase would connect the bike path to the planned Fort York Pedestrian and Cycling Bridge.

Phase two of the project is moving forward despite challenges and the province of Ontario has recently approved a cycling path along with the expansion of the Dufferin St. Bridge. Metrolinx is expanding the bridge to increase access to GO service and the UP Express, and construction for the West Toronto Railpath will also be included.

So what does this mean for the West Toronto Railpath?

The Dufferin St. Bridge announcement means construction of the RailPath has finally begun! The project has now moved into its next phase: detailed design and implementation. This part of the construction process decides which of the recommended pathways should be chosen. After that, construction commences. The cycling and pedestrian bridge that will be built on the Dufferin St. Bridge is a good start for the next phase of the project. Creating a safe bike path at the intersection of Dufferin and Queen is a difficult task and placing it on top of the bridge solves this problem.

The RailPath currently stands in phase two of its construction, with an Environmental Assessment (EA) successfully completed last year. The study report from the EA was released for public review between Jan. 14 and Feb. 15, 2016. The project will move forward, and recommended alignment options are in place.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the path will be built connecting the Dufferin St. Bridge to Dundas St. W overpass in the Junction, and then through Sudbury St. to Strachan Ave. That being said, the Dufferin St. Bridge is a key area that is needed for the success of the West Toronto Railpath. Though the rest of the cycling path is still in the planning stages, the announcement for the bridge makes this cycling path a reality — and that is exciting indeed.