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Toronto transit on track, RER/SmartTrack MOU signed

Toronto Transit is finally set for expansion after years of city and provincial officials mulling over the best course of action. For transit users like myself, this is a fantastic day.

Mayor John Tory successfully passed a revised version of his SmartTrack plan—which was initially proposed during his 2014 campaign. Today, Premier Kathleen Wynne joined Mayor Tory at the GO Transit Willowbrook Maintenance Facility in Toronto to formally sign a SmartTrack Memorandum of Understanding that would give the go-ahead for the revised RER/SmartTrack plan.

Mayor Tory spoke today on the issue:

“Today is good news for SmartTrack and Toronto residents. Today’s SmartTrack MOU signing between the City and the Province is a significant milestone in the life of the project. SmartTrack will provide real relief for transit riders and because it uses existing surface rail lines that relief will come much faster than any other project we are building. The City is committed to getting on with building SmartTrack, the Relief Line and every other priority transit project.”

This is a major milestone and this collaboration and expansion means that integrated GO Regional Express Rail and SmartTrack project will add six new stations within the city while also making the system more affordable and convenient for trips in Toronto.

Premier Wynne also announced that the 2018 fiscal plan for the province will allow for the next steps in major projects like the Relief Line Subway, the Yonge North Subway Extension and the Waterfront LRT to move forward.

The MOU outlines that Toronto will fund the construction of the 6 new GO/SmartTrack stations, which are set to be completed by 2025. The stations are as follows: Finch-Kennedy and Lawrence-Kennedy on the Stouffville corridor; Gerrard-Carlaw and East Harbour on the Stouffville/Lakeshore East corridor; and King-Liberty and St. Clair-Old Weston on the Kitchener corridor.

Trips within the city of Toronto are set to cost only $3 per trip when commuters use a PRESTO card—a major perk.

Premier Wynne shared her own thoughts on the MOU signing for the SmartTrack plan:

“The days of waiting years between big transit projects are over. We are building a record amount of infrastructure, and we are not stopping. Under our plan, the province is putting up its share for priority transit projects, such as the Relief Line Subway, the Yonge North Subway Extension and the Waterfront LRT. The SmartTrack MOU we signed shows that we are serious about building tomorrow’s transit solutions today.”

Building this new rapid transit system is not only directly helpful to those needing to get from point A to point B swiftly, but is also welcome in a time of economic change, making travel around this costly city, more affordable for all.

Revised SmartTrack plan a GO

Plans don’t always pan out as expected, and although less sometimes means more, disputes can arise. This is the case with Mayor John Tory’s  initial SmartTrack proposal and the plan which has passed by city council on Wednesday.

 A recent announcement was made by the council confirming an agreement to spend up to $1.46 billion on SmartTrack. The plan put forth is an improved version of the one  Mayor Tory proposed during his 2014 election campaign.

 Federal and municipal governments are collaborating to fund this project. The city will raise $878 million of the total and the remaining $585 million will come from the federal transit fund. There was opposition to funding as some councilors believe that the province should pay instead of the city,  forgetting that the funds all come from the same source-tax dollars residents from across the region pay.

Despite worries of high costs and financing the plan, the decision was made to go forward with SmartTrack in a 37 to 6 vote.

Mayor Tory’s initial plan proposed 22 new stations and a link to Pearson Airport. The new plan will see 6 new stations to be operated by Metrolinx – the provincial transit body that operated regional transit service. The plan fuses SmartTrack’s use of existing GO stations and Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail, and proposes integrated fares.

Mayor John Tory spoke about the much needed transit:

“This is the stage at which we are moving forward to start to build transit stations within the city of Toronto…Other municipalities are not proposing to build stations that the province would not otherwise have built to suit their local needs.”

Mayor Tory has consistently defended the plan noting the  33 million trips estimated on SmartTrack by 2041. The “cheapest transit we’re ever going to get inside the city,” he said.

There is a need for these stations to be built and Toronto municipal leaders are right to move forward with the revised plan put forth by Mayor Tory. Action means results, and as TTC Chair and councillor Josh Colle points out “Toronto has taken too many years off dwelling on the best way to improve the transit system.”

Male victims of sexual assault often ignored

On Feb. 8th, a 28-year-old woman in Vaughan was charged with sexually assaulting a male student. The allegations are being investigated by the York Regional Police after someone came forward with information about a supply teacher for the York Catholic District School Board who had a sexual relationship with a teen between October and December 2017.

The supply teacher was employed occasionally since 2014. She is being charged with three counts of sexual assault and three counts of sexual exploitation.

Stories like these are rarely reported. The idea of a woman sexually assaulting a man is something many can’t fathom, but it does exist. According to a 2012 UCLA study, 38 per cent of all rape and sexual assaults are committed against men. The Canadian Children’s Rights Council, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of Canadian children, estimates that 86 per cent of these victims are dismissed, which leads to an increasing amount of unreported incidents.

There is also evidence that the number of sexual violence that occurs to men and women in their teens is rather similar — a difference between one in five and one in four.

“While the majority of sexual abuse is by males on females, anyone can be a victim of sexual trauma,” the men’s trauma centre in Victoria, B.C. says on their website. “Research suggests that between 20 and 30 per cent of all male children are sexually abused before the age of eighteen.”

“Despite the media stories of male survivors of abuse that have come out over the past few years, many people remain unable or unwilling to respond to this problem and the long term damage it creates both individually and at a societal level.”

The stigma associated with male victims of sexual assault if much different than that of women. While people think a woman may have “deserved it” for leading a guy on or acting in a way that could be described as promiscuous, it is assumed a man is enjoying whatever experience he is thrust into. That complaining about being forced to have sex is something a man would never do, and therefore it is not possible for a man to be raped or sexually harassed.

While it may be more rare for an adult man to be sexually victimized, it does happen, and those cases should be treated with the same level of respect and consideration as other stories shared in the MeToo movement.

Toronto, take the transit this New Year’s Eve

Be safe this New Year’s Eve and avoid drinking and driving.

Corby Spirit and Wine is sponsoring a night of free transit. Ride the TTC from 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 to 7 a.m. on Jan. 1 for free.

“”New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights for the TTC with more than a quarter million people traveling with us,” said TTC Chair Josh Colle in a statement. “We are pleased to partner with Corby for the fourth year in a row to ensure that our customers can ride for free and get home safe on the TTC as they celebrate the New Year.”

Here is what you need to know:

  • Most routes will continue until 4 a.m. and then start up again around 6 a.m.
  • Blue Night buses will be running until 8 a.m.
  • Last trains will leave Union Station around 3:30 a.m. for Finch Station and Downsview Station
  • New Year’s Day will be Sunday service.
  • PRESTO users do not need to tap their cards when entering the subway or boarding the bus.

You can also use GO Transit and the UP Express for free after 7 p.m., courtesy of Metrolinx.

So, invite your friends for a night of fun in the downtown core of Toronto — and don’t drink and drive!

Metrolinx Transportation Symposium: tolls, single-payment, and connectivity

Metrolinx hosted a Transportation Symposium Monday with the goal of hearing insight from transit leaders, residents, and influencers from across the region. With their 2041 Regional Transportation Plan still in the draft stage, Metrolinx is looking for reactions and input.

The day began with opening remarks from Metrolinx’s new CEO Phil Verster, who was only 30 minutes into the job. He talked about how the consultation process the transit agency is going through isn’t boring or redundant, but rather an important part of city building. “Great plans succeed because everyone is invested in it,” he said.

Leslie Woo, Chief Planning Officer for Metrolinx, provided an overview of the Draft 2041 plan. She said that over 10 million people will live across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Region by 2041. For that reason, the region must look past the Big Move and continue to work together and increase public transportation. Woo also warned about building based on technological advancements, saying the GTHA allowed a love affair with the car to influence how cities were designed. She doesn’t want Metrolinx to make the same mistake. At the same time, she admitted that no one can deny the importance of incorporating shared-services and autonomous vehicles into future plans.

Participants spent the rest of the day listening to panels on connectivity, customer service, and funding models. Many of the panellists touched upon the vulnerability of transit funding. While Canada is experiencing a boom of infrastructure funding on all three levels, it is not enough to make up for a 30-year gap. What’s required is dedicated funding for transit, perhaps through the direct use of road pricing and tolls, something that was called “inevitable” by one of the panelists.

Another common theme was the idea of a single-payment system. While fare integration is a necessity for Metrolinx’s 2041 plan, as well as any future Toronto Transit Commission plans, the idea of paying not only for public transportation, but also for car-sharing and bixi bikes, is a relatively new one. This would require one card or mobile app that customers could use across the board.

Above all else, the consensus was that transit needed to be comfortable, reliable, frequent, and be able to get customers to their destination without too many transfers.

Woman of the Week: Lauren Doughty

Lauren Doughty joined CBRE, a commercial real estate company, 11 years ago as a summer student. She had just graduated from the University of Guelph and was planning on travelling abroad, but she abandoned her post-graduation travel plans when she was offered the job, deciding to test out the industry to “see if she liked it.” Since then, she got her real estate license and moved up within the same team — from summer marketing assistant to senior partner.

“Every day is completely different,” she said. “That’s what I love most about being part of land services group. Experiencing new projects and new challenges.”

As Vice-President of CBRE’s Land Services Group, Doughty represents the Toronto market for land services, focusing on selling development land. She has transacted over $1 billion in land dispositions, focusing on the GTHA with clients like Infrastructure Ontario and the Toronto Lands Corporation.

Doughty’s success can be attributed to how she handles her client relations. She says it’s important to think long-term and not push too hard to land the deal. It’s all about making the client feel like they have your undivided attention.

I think it’s more than just a deal,” she said. “You can’t be short sighted to try and get a deal for your sake, it’s about the client and the best decision for them. In real estate these transactions are really relationships, so that when the next deal comes there is no one else that they would rather go to.”

Some of the big projects Doughty has worked on include a transaction at Bloor and Dufferin on behalf of Toronto Lands Corporation and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). One of the things she loves about working with organizations like the TDSB is that it is community driven. The process involves meeting with city planners, various consultants, and speaking with the residents who live around the area about what they would like to see in the future development.

“I think what’s so rewarding about what I do — selling these properties and seeing what’s built on them and how it benefits the community,” she said. “Selling land for hospitals or run down buildings that are being torn down and turning it into something much more useful and vibrant in the community is what I really enjoy about it.”

Doughty spends a lot of time studying the housing market and says the numbers being reported in the media don’t accurately represent what’s happening in Toronto. The problem isn’t with the “housing bubble,” she says. It’s with supply and government oversight.

“Our inventory for new homes has dwindled down because there is so little supply and every new project that comes in gets sold quickly. When something does come in, it gets picked up really quickly.”

To compensate for the lack of supply, CBRE is looking at selling sites outside of the 416 areas like Kitchener, Waterloo, and Barrie — anywhere that is inside an urban boundaries and accessible to Go Transit so that those commuting into the downtown core of Toronto can still afford a home.

“When I started working here in 2006, we had listings out in geographical areas I hadn’t even heard of. Over the years we really focused on selling sites in the 416/905 municipalities. As of recently we have started working across the Greater Golden Horseshoe because there is so little supply of developable land within the GTA. People need to move out of this region for affordability reasons. When, in Markham, a townhouse now costs $1.5 million – homebuyers need to go to these out- of-golden-horseshoe areas.”

Her biggest concern is the new Ontario Municipal Board reforms and how that will affect zoning for sites that are in the process of getting approved.

In her free time, Doughty tried to volunteer her time with numerous organizations benefiting women. She just finished her term as Program Co-Chair with the Urban Land Institute and previously volunteered with Toronto CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women). Part of CREW’s mentorship is a program called Real Jobs, which allows high school students to learn more about careers in commercial real estate.

“At that age, I remember not knowing what to do. I would love to see more women get into real estate, whether its development or brokerage.”

Doughty still loves to travel — her latest adventure was three weeks in Asia — and spending time at the cottage. She is currently renovating her own house with her fiancé.

Relief line alignment moves forward to council

Executive Committee voted to move forward the Relief Line and the Yonge Subway Extension for city council approval.

Next week, city council will vote to approve the Carlaw alignment for the Relief Line and move to start the “Transit Project Assessment Process.” The alignment for the southern section of the relief line will travel down Carlaw from north of the Go tracks at Gerrard Ave. to Queen St. East.

Council will also vote on advancing the planning and design of the Yonge Subway Extension.

The discussion about these two transit projects began with statements by York Region chair Wayne Emmerson, Makham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, and Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow. Each city leader pledged their support for both the Relief Line and the Yonge North Extension and they be built concurrently.

The support for the relief line being built concurrently with the North Extension is significant since the extension will bring more people from the GTA into the downtown core and Line 1 is nearing capacity. Without the relief line, those new transit users won’t be able to use to get on the subway once they enter the city.

City councillors were given the opportunity to ask questions of the York region representatives, including joint-funding and their decision to oppose the creation of tolls, which would have provided much-needed revenue towards these projects. Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti spent most of his time at executive committee praising the provincial government for providing starting funds for both transit projects, despite the fact the amount is minimal. Toronto Mayor John Tory emphasized that it will take all three levels of government to move these projects forward, saying there is a distinction between funding for the planning of a project, and the construction of a project.

In the end, everyone agreed that more funding is needed for both the relief line and the Yonge Extension. This decision is a far cry from Tory’s threat last week to withdraw his support for the Yonge Extension unless the province provided more funding for the relief line. It appears as though Tory made a deal with the York mayors that he will support the extension if they publicly support his bid for the relief line.

A few amendments were added to the original report before it passed, including a cost-analysis of the northern section of the relief line and the renaming of that section as the “Don Mills Line”.

City Council will be held on May 24 at city hall.

Metrolinx signs contract with Alstrom as backup to Bombardier

Metrolinx announced Friday they have entered into a contract with Alstrom, a French transit agency specializing in integrated systems, to build 17 vehicles for the Finch West LRT project as well as 44 backup trains for the Eglinton Crosstown.

“We know for sure that Alstrom’s light rail vehicles work. They are currently producing quality vehicles on-time for Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT Project,” a statement released by Metrolinx President and CEO John Jensen said. “We are going through a dispute resolution process with Bombardier but that could take 8-12 months, and we can’t wait that long to determine whether Bombardier will be able to deliver.

The vehicles were meant to be backups in case Bombardier is unable to deliver their trains on schedule. Metrolinx has been in a continuous legal feud with the Montreal-based agency. If Bombardier fulfills their contract for the Eglinton Crosstown and the 44 vehicles built by Alstrom aren’t needed, they will be reassigned to the Hurontario LRT project.

The contract was awarded for $529 million and includes an option for additional vehicles once the original 61 are built. The specific vehicle — the Citadis Spirit — was specifically designed for the Canadian market and can withstand winter conditions up to -38 degrees. Alstrom will also be providing Metrolinx with a new control centre to integrate the Go Transit network and a new signalling system for the Union Station Rail corridor, among other things.

“We are proud to continue our collaboration with Metrolinx as it seeks to link communities and deliver advanced public transit solutions to the greater Toronto area, and we are honoured by their renewed confidence in our products, solutions and teams,” said Angelo Guercioni, Managing Director of Alstom Canada, in a statement.

Alstrom has sold over 2,300 of these trains to 50 cities around the world.

Green Party hopes to woo voters with honesty and revenue tools

The Ontario Green Party is working on a comprehensive revenue tool package that will help fund infrastructure and transit projects throughout the province. The package will include a plethora of options for drivers and transit users, including the use of tolls and congestion charges in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express back to the province.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the GTHA is gridlock,” says party leader Mike Schreiner. “It affects our economy to the tune of $6 billion in lost productivity.”

According to Schreiner, the Green Party is willing to do something other political parties are not — explain honestly and openly what it will take to improve transit and quality of life in cities across Ontario.

“This is a situation where political self-interest is trumping the people’s interest,” he says. “There is a myth that somehow all this infrastructure is going to be built. Imagine if our great grandparents hadn’t paid for dams in Niagara Falls that generates electricity … or hadn’t agreed to pay for the cost of the 400 series highways that enabled us to ship goods to province and the US. It’s time for our generation to step up to plate and fund transit infrastructure desperately needed.”

As part of this plan, the Green Party is supporting dynamic tolling, where drivers are charged a larger cost for using certain roadways like the Gardiner and DVP during on-peak hours and less (or not at all) during off-peak hours. The hope is that this will encourage those who can use transit, to do so, and those who must drive, to carpool.

“A toll taxes people regardless of time of day when real problem is rush hour,” says Tim Grant, Green Party shadow cabinet minister for transportation. “The dynamic road pricing – although it sounds harsh at first glance – is really fair and equitable. It acknowledges that there is a higher cost to discourage drivers in rush hours.”

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. It’s a win-win scenario — the challenge is to convince people the long-term benefits are worth the cost.

“If you reduce traffic congestion, people have a higher quality of life,” Grant says. “Air pollution is reduced, fuel economy is reduced, which leads to higher air quality and more time on [drivers] hands.”

Grant says the problem with the current funding provided by both the provincial and federal governments to municipalities for infrastructures is that it only pays for the initial planning and construction of a transit project, but not to operate or maintain it. This results in poorer service and low ridership.

Another aspect of the Green Party’s revenue plan is to upload the costs of operating and maintaining the DVP and Gardiner Expressway back to the province, something that was promised over 10 years ago. This would free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

The key, both Schreiner and Grant say, is to actually listen to experts and communicate that information honestly to the public, without political agenda.

“Part of the problem is that political parties prepare their platform and policies based on a calculation of what voters think – and it’s a sad state because the alternative is for a political leader to go out and be honest and say, you won’t like this, but you will love it afterwards,” Grant said. “It needs political leadership willing to get out in front of all this and say we are doing this because people will get to work faster, kids will have better transit, and this will be a benefit. Vote for me or not – but I will try to make life better.”

The Green Party will discuss their platform and comprehensive revenue package in May in preparation for the 2018 election.

CEO Sarah Thomson reveals purpose of Green Cities

In addition to being the publisher of Women’s Post, Sarah Thomson is also the volunteer CEO of the Transit Alliance. The Transit Alliance is a non-profit that is dedicated towards making the golden horseshoe area as green and pedestrian/transit-friendly as possible. In January, she hosted Green Cities 2017, a breakfast attended by over 300 business, community, and political leaders.

Attendees got to listen to two panels of experts discussing sustainable options for transit and building.

See what Thomson said at the end of Green Cities: