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Eurostar launches direct rail from London to Amsterdam

Over four million people travel by plane between London and Amsterdam every year, making it one of the most  — now, they have another option.

Eurostar announced they will be launching a new high-speed direct rail service in between these two major systems, to be operational by April 4. The company will take advantage of one of the busiest traffic routes in Europe, creating a direct transit corridor that stops at Rotterdam and Brussels.

“The launch of our service to the Netherlands represents an exciting advance in cross-Channel travel and heralds a new era in international high speed rail. With direct services from the UK to The Netherlands, France and Belgium, we are transforming the links between the UK and three of Europe’s top trading nations,” said Eurostar Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic.

“Our new route marks the culmination of the extensive investment in high speed rail on both sides of the Channel. With £1 billion investment in our new state-of the art trains and enhanced connectivity on the European network passengers can now enjoy fast, seamless rail connections between the UK and mainland Europe and a transformed travel experience.”

The cross-Channel rail operator is marketing itself as the more economic and sustainable transportation option, saying a trip from London to Amsterdam will emit 80 per cent of the carbon emissions as a flight between the two tourism hubs. Other benefits include express service, free wifi and onboard entertainment, fast check in, as well as free baggage allowances for two bags/suitcases and one piece of hand luggage. All baggage is taken on board so there is no ned to line up to reclaim your property.

Tickets will go on sale starting Feb. 20, at 35 Euros each way. There will be two trains running per day at a speed of 300 kph and the trip will take approximately three hours.

Who doesn’t love the train?

TTC to address last week’s complaints

While there are a lot of things to complain about this week in terms of transit service, the one thing riders can’t complain about is the sincerity of staff to do better.

There were a lot of problems with Line 1 and Line 2, mostly caused by either human error (passengers claiming emergencies) or a crack in the rail, something the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is trying to rectify. A report will be presented at the TTC board next week about the issues.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Later this month, City Council will be approving a total operating budget, which will include $1.98 billion for the TTC. This is $21 million more than last year. This money will be used to help in repairs and upkeep that have been postponed over the last few years.

The mayor also confirmed the relief line was still a priority. By 2019, city council should have a detailed design to push forward. The city will be asking the province to match the federal government’s $4.8 billion investment — money that will be dedicated to transit, including the relief line.

“The federal government has made it clear that they expect provinces to match this investment at least 33 per cent, but other provinces across the country have committed to 40 per cent, and it’s time for Ontario leaders to commit to doing the same for people of Toronto,” said Tory. “Toronto is growing fast and we must keep up. Having a strong and robust transit system is vital to our residents, to our economy and to our competitiveness as a city and a province.”

What you need to know about bitcoin and why it’s so popular

So, what is bitcoin and why should we be paying attention — or not paying attention — to this cryptocurrency. The decision is yours. Let’s start with the basics and to be honest, I’m learning about this as well. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency or in its simplest form it is a digital form of money. These virtual currencies held whispers of being the currency of the future, which would make sense since we are living in an increasingly digital world.

Bitcoin’s origins can be traced back to 2008 and was founded by inventor Satoshi Nakamoto, a relatively unknown inventor who never came forward to the public. Some people believe he/she was operating under an alias. Nakamoto succeeded at what many companies failed to do in the 90’s — to create a digital currency. In fact, it was not his intention to create a digital currency, but to invent a ‘peer-to-peer electronic cash system.’ What does this mean? He essentially created a virtual market for trade that has no central entity or or single administrator. This virtual space enables worldwide payment and in this virtual market, trade is only allowed if specific conditions are met. This is the exact way a currency works and thus bitcoin was born.

Once a transaction is requested, it is validated through a code of algorithms sent to a peer-to-peer network. Bitcoin is not redeemable for any other commodity (as of yet) and doesn’t exist in a physical form, only in the network. The supply is not controlled by an administration like a bank.

As the buzz for bitcoin began entering the news space, it made sense for investors, banks, and even regular people to start paying attention and consider trading in this virtual currency. As of Jan. 1  2017, one bitcoin was trading for $960 per coin and as of Dec. 5, 2018 ,one coin trades for $11,816.93 USD.In Canada. that would trade for $14,990.48 CAD. It reached the $10,000 mark just last week. So much buzz has been generated by bitcoin and everyone has questions.

This is not the first time there was a surge in the proposed value of bitcoin. Back in 2013, major Canadian banks, such as RBC, TD, and Scotiabank, made the move to make it difficult for investors who trade in bitcoin to convert this digital currency into real cash. Back in 2013, one coin was going for a bit over $1000. Banks froze the accounts of Bitcoin traders and middlemen like bitcoin brokerages. Banks can collect millions of dollars in wire transfer fees, but in an uncontrolled bitcoin market there are no fees and as it is gaining popularity, many banks and financial institutions have started paying attention to their proposed digital competition.

The rise in popularity of bitcoin is determined by perception and interest in the market. The price of bitcoin is determined by the economic basis of supply and demand. For bitcoin to have value, people need to trust the adoptive use of this digital trade in the market-space. If you were to compare it to gold, which had a physical presence and is more demanding to acquire, supporters would say one bitcoin coin is easier to acquire though it doesn’t exist in a physical form. This trade becomes based on trust.

What can you purchase with bitcoin? Many technology companies have adjusted their payment models to include a bitcoin options, like Microsoft and Dell. Gift card companies for Walmart, Amazon, Target, and Nike now accept bitcoin. Jewelry and travel companies are also jumping on the bitcoin bandwagon.

With the anonymous and mysterious veil over the use of bitcoin, it also brought forth a negative impact. It can be used for illegal trade and potentially cause alarm for law enforcement as they try to determine how bitcoin can be related to issued in the real world. Also the fact it is unregulated leaves room for manipulation and fraudulent cases.

So, will bitcoin continue to rise and will more people put their trust into this digital currency? There are only two ways to go —up or down.

What are your thoughts or theories on the use of bitcoin and will this digital coin fare will in financial crisis? Comment below.

We can’t have high-speed rails without a relief line

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Friday the provincial government will invest $15 million in a high-speed rail line that will eventually connect Toronto to Windsor, cutting down travel time from four hours to two hours.

“Building high speed rail along the Toronto-Windsor corridor isn’t just a game changer for Southwestern Ontario — it’s going to deliver benefits all along the line,” Wynne said in a statement. “Whether it means accepting a job that previously seemed too far away, visiting family more often, or having ready access to the innovators who can take your business growth to the next level — high speed rail will make a real difference in people’s lives and drive economic growth and jobs.”

The project, estimated to cost about $19 billion in total (if the trains run 250 km/hr), will travel through Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Catham, with a connection to the Toronto Pearson Airport. The $15 million investment is for a comprehensive environmental assessment.

Provided by MTO

 

The 2017 budget included a small mention of funding being provided to RER, but the $19 billion price tag is a bit of a surprise, especially considering the lack of support for municipal projects that should be built prior to this high-speed rail line.

While connecting Southern Ontario to Central Ontario has its advantages, it’s only going to cause increased overcrowding on Toronto’s transit system. Presumably, the people working and visiting in Toronto’s downtown core won’t all be heading to locations around Union Station or Pearson Airport, meaning they will have to use the TTC to get around. Considering Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031 — the same time the high-speed rail is supposed to be completed — it would be wise for the province to invest more funds in the downtown relief line before promising funds for high-speed rail.

Without a relief line, commuters in Toronto will suffer from these connecting high-speed lines. Connecting the cities in this corridor would absolutely benefit businesses and commuters throughout Ontario— but if those commuters get stuck as soon as they get in Toronto, what’s the point?

The province hopes to have high-speed trains up and running from London to Toronto by 2025, and from London to Windsor by 2031. The provincial government will be looking at alternative financing options as well as public-private partnerships to fund the rest of the rail line.

What do you think about this investment? Let us know in the comments below!

Are simple economics to blame for rising housing costs?

Toronto is undergoing a serious housing crisis — everyone is saying so! Experts, real estate agents, the media, and even politicians admit openly the cost of housing is getting out of control. And yet, even after months of knowing this fact, no one is doing anything about it.

Sure, the government is enacting rent control and a non-resident speculation tax. But this same government, whether municipal, provincial, or federal, hasn’t done what experts are claiming is the easiest and most effective thing they can do for the housing market: build!

“The only reason why prices rise is because there are more buyers than sellers,” explained Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital. “Prices rise for no other reason.”

Thursday, new statistics became available through the census that said Toronto has 5,000 fewer detached homes homes in 2016 compared to 2011. It’s what Love calls simple economics. When there are three people interested in purchasing one home, the problem isn’t foreigners or lack of regulation; it’s demand and supply. It means there aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Sure, we have lots of high-rise buildings popping up throughout the downtown core, but a family with three children most likely won’t want to live in an apartment building. Without diversity in housing, there will always be people left without.

It seems so simple; why is this so hard to understand? What is preventing people from building more family-friendly homes in Toronto and throughout the Golden Horseshoe?

Most people blame the NIMBYs — the people who claim they don’t want condos built in their back yard — or the bureaucratic red tape of development agencies. But Love says everyone is to blame. At the end of the day, he asks, “do we want to be Chicago, or Detroit?” A world-class city needs housing, daycare, parks, and transit — so, how do we get it?

First of all, the government needs to intensely invest in transit and open up surrounding geographies for development. If people who work in Toronto have the option of living in places like Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa — with the possibility of commuting on an express train — many people will do so! An hour commute is not unreasonable if it means saving money on a home. This would also free up homes within the city for those who want or need it.

Why not take it even further and build on top of the rail, Love asks. The purpose of expanding the Golden Horseshoe through transit is to connect people and create communities and neighbourhoods along these hubs. This can’t be done if people have to walk for 30 minutes just to get to the bus.

Second of all, the city needs to encourage development zoning and encourage the building of low and mid-rise condominiums. “People are terrified of 60-story buildings,” Love said. “But mid-rise is fine! I would pre-zone areas to allow for that density.”

This type of variety in housing is necessary not only in order to accommodate the many types of people looking for homes in the GTHA., but also to allow for the immediate development of land in neighbourhoods that are against the building of tall condominiums. Pre-zoning would also reduce the number of complaints and bureaucratic tape that surrounds development. Instead of a developer purchasing land and then deciding what to do with it, the community would actually have a say in what kind of buildings or homes will be put in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, allowing a second kitchen within a home to be used as a secondary apartment, within designated areas, would be a short-term solution that would allow homeowners to rent our basements and provide housing for short-term occupancy.

These short and long term solutions were all suggested with the clear understanding that prices go up because there are more buyers than sellers, a concept Love says won’t be accepted until there is a significant change in public opinion.

The biggest problem is that NIMBY-ism and the fear of immigrants taking our land, jobs, and homes, are much more attractive for both the media and government agencies. Rather than stand with the experts, public servants are focusing on issues that will bring them votes, things like free prescription and lower electricity bills. Things only ever get done when the government is scared of losing power. If the public told governments to build, to increase the supply so that more people could purchase homes, it would have to do so. Until then, they will continue to blame tax foreigners and claim to help cool the market while families are left homeless.

It’s time the government consulted experts and remembered their university or college introduction to economics course — prices rise when the demand is higher than the supply. And here in the Golden Horseshoe, we have about as much demand as you can get.

2017 budget highlights include health care, no new transit

Thursday, the Ontario Liberal government put forward the first balanced budget in the last decade.

“This budget is fiscally responsible,” Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa said to reporters in budget lockup, prior to the Throne Speech. “Balancing the budget allows us to make these important investments — investments that have real meaningful impacts in people’s lives.”

The 2017 Ontario Budget, entitled A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, is meant to spearhead a balanced budget for the next three years. The document focuses greatly on health care and education, while investing less in infrastructure and transit. There are some special tidbits for families, including a 35 per cent reduction on hydro bills for eligible households, free prescription medication for children and young adults, and funding for work-related opportunities through a new Career Kick-Start Strategy.

Sousa was adamant the budget did not have anything to do with the impending provincial election.

“Our message for the people of Ontario is that we, together, have balanced the budget, have taken the precautions of assumed growth, and now we are taking the necessary steps moving forward,” he said. “We want to be competitive long term. These decisions we make today are not based on election times. They are based on long-term benefit for the people of Ontario.”

It’s important to note that despite the balanced budget, there still exists a projected total debt of $332.4 billion as of March 31, 2017.

Here are some of the highlights from the 2017 provincial budget:

Health care

The biggest announcements in the 2017 Ontario Budget was the Child and Youth Pharmacare benefit program, which will provide free prescription medications for everyone ages 24 and under — also called OHIP Plus. The coverage includes rare disease medications, cancer drugs, medication for diabetes, asthma, mental health, HIV, and birth control. The new OHIP program will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2018.

The cost of this program, which was left out of the budgetary documents and press releases, is $465 million annually.

Ontario will also expand access to safe abortion by providing publicly funding the new abortion pill Mifegymiso.

Other investments include:

  • $9 billion over 10 years to support construction of new “hospital projects” across the province
  • $518 million to provide a three per cent to help decrease wait times and maintain elective surgeries, among other hospital services.
  • $15 million for primary care and OHIP-funded non-physician specialized health services
  • $74 million over three years for mental health services, including supportive housing units and structures psychotherapy

Transportation

The provincial government, while making significant investments in health care and education, chose to maintain investments on pre-existing projects rather then provide new funding for further transit networks like the downtown relief line.

In addition to the province’s continual $190 billion investment over a 13-year period, which started in 2014, Ontario is investing an additional $56 billion in public transportation for the GO Network and other pre-existing infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown, Hamilton Rapid Transit, and the Mississauga Transitway.

The budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Other transit projects receiving funding include:

  • $1 billion for the second stage of the Ottawa LRT
  • $43 million for proposed transit hub in downtown Kitchener, which will connect to GO and Via Rail.

Housing

The province introduced their Fair Housing Plan, which is meant to help increase affordability for buyers and renters. The cost of housing has increased up to 33.2 per cent since 2016. Ontario has proposed a non-resident speculation tax to help cool the market. This will be a 15 per cent tax on the price of homes for non-Canadians, non-permanent residents, and foreign corporations. If passed, this tax would be effective as of April 21, 2017. Ontario has also committed to improving rent control in Ontario to include units occupied on or after Nov. 1, 1991.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

The authority to implement such a tax will also be extended to all “single-tier and lower-tier municipalities”, with the understanding that 50 per cent of the funds accumulated from the levy be given to the municipality’s regional tourism organization.

An amendment to the City of Toronto Act will have to be approved before such a levy becomes a reality.

Other investments include:

  • $200 million over three years to improve access for up to 6,000 families and individuals to housing assistance and services
  • $125 million over five years for multi-residential rebates to help encourage development
  • $70-100 million for a pilot project throughout GTHA to leverage land assets to build affordable housing
  • Proposed amendment of legislation that would grant Toronto authority to add a levy to property tax on vacant homes.
  • Frozen municipal property taxes for multi-residential properties where taxes are high

Child Care

Ontario will support an access to licensed childcare for an additional 24,000 children ages four and under. The $200 million in funding allotted to this project for 2017-18 includes a mix of subsidies and the creation of physical spaces for childcare.

In fall of 2016, Ontario spent $65.5 million to create 3,400 licensed childcare spaces.

Climate Change

This year’s budget didn’t put as much of an emphasis on the province’s environmental efforts. Through the cap and trade program, the government has accumulated $472 million in funding that must be re-invested into programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This specific funding was from Ontario’s first carbon auction in March.

Through these auctions, Ontario expects to raise $1.8 billion in 2017-18 and then $1.4 billion annually following that year. Examples of where this money can be spent include promoting electric vehicles, modernizing transit, preserving lands, enhancing research, and Green Investment Fund initiatives.

Other investments include:

  • $377 million through the Green Ontario Fund to make it easier for households and businesses to adopt proven low-carbon technologies.
  • $200 million in funding for schools to improve energy efficiency and install renewable energy technologies
  • $85 million to support additional retrofits in social housing
  • $50 million in commuter cycling infrastructure like cycling lanes and barriers
  • $22 million in electric vehicle charging infrastructure

 

More to come.

How to budget for the new year

Personal finances can get complicated. Should I invest, save, or spend? How come I only have a few bucks to spend at the end of the month? Where did all my money go?

These are all very real questions people ask on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. A monthly budget will help you answer at least some of these inquiries — and if all else, it will help you save up for that much-needed summer vacation.

To help you out, I’ll go through the basics.

Find a mode of keeping track of your spending and income: If you don’t want to invest in a personal accountant, purchase Quickbooks or some sort of accounting software. You can also get started using an excel sheet. Whatever you use, make sure you are able to alter numbers as the month progresses. Keeping a firm track of your finances, no matter how depressing, is the only way to create a successful budget.

Fixed costs: Fixed costs exist and there is nothing you can do about it. The mortgage payment, rent, insurance — all of these things need to be paid promptly and on-time, so ensure they are a priority in your budget. If using quickbooks or an excel sheet, these payments would go at the top of your list.

Varied costs: This section includes cell phone bills, groceries, Internet, and cable. You have a little more control over when you pay these items and how much they are, but know there are always consequences for late payments. This should be the second section of your budget. When doing these calculations, make sure to note interest rates for late fees so you are aware of what happens if you don’t pay on time.

These varied and fixed necessary costs should, ideally, make up half of your monthly income. This may mean you have to adjust your Internet packages or change cell phone providers for a cheaper deal.

Calculate the small things: Toiletries, groceries, your morning coffee — anything that you purchase on a monthly basis needs to be in your budget. Don’t omit anything, even if you do drink an embarrassing amount of Starbucks. The point of this exercise is to see if you can decrease your spending while still ensuring you have the necessities of life.

A key tip for these calculations is to always over-estimate: If you think you spend $50 a week on groceries, say you are going to spend $70. If you think you spend $2 a day on coffee, double it! One day, you may get a pastry with your coffee and it will screw your entire budget up. If you overestimate and you have money left over, all the better! You can either spend it or put it into your savings account. Either way, it ensures your budget is more accurate. It’s always better to have money leftover at the end of the month than realize you spent more than your allowance.

Savings/Paying off Debt: It is imperative that you include a section for savings and debt in your budget. If you don’t, you will never save any money. Decide on a monthly amount you will put into a savings account of your choice, and count that money as already spent.  If you have loans or a credit card, use some of these funds to pay it parts of it off. Try to use 20 per cent of your monthly income to pay things off and save up.

Always put some money aside for “fun”: Let’s be realistic. At some point in the span of a month, you will go out to dinner with friends, see a movie, or  take a day trip somewhere. If you don’t set aside some cash for entertainment, a) you may go a little insane and b) you’ll end up spending more than you’d like on a spontaneous splurge. The remaining 30 per cent of your budget can be spent on these activities, although if your priority is paying off debt, swap the numbers with your savings. The idea is to give yourself a weekly or monthly allowance to spend on fun things — that way, you don’t feel deprived, but at the same time, you don’t overspend.

Keep your receipts and actually look at them: This is the hardest habit to break. Most people try to avoid those pesky small pieces of paper in their wallet, but it really is necessary. If you use quickbooks, this will allow you to keep track of all your payments by manually inputting your spending. If you use excel, it will help you reflect on what you spent money on, and where you can cut back. Not to mention you may find a lot more deductibles come tax-filing time.

I hope this helps you create a basic budget. Remember, keep track of everything — no matter how depressing it will be. Who knows? Maybe after a few years you won’t need such an intensive system, but for now, embrace it! Think of what you will do with those savings. Will you buy a house? Go on a vacation? The possibilities are endless — but only if you budget.

Why not use tolls and fees to fund green projects?

Over the last few months, the City of Toronto and the Ontario government have made some amazing announcement focused on green energy, infrastructure, and public transportation. The most recent announcement was made Tuesday: the Ontario government released $750 million in funding (in the form of a green bond) for environmentally friendly, low-carbon infrastructure projects, the majority of which would be dedicated to transit in the GTHA.

These investments are a good thing. A great thing, even. This city and this province must invest in infrastructure and transit. But, where is this money coming from?

A green bond is a great tool to raise capital for projects with environmental benefits, but eventually the bond holders need to be paid back. Investors provide funds for these projects and the government guarantees a return for each investor. When asked by Women’s Post if there was a plan to pay back these investors, this was the response given:

“Ontario’s Green Bonds rank equally with Ontario’s other bonds,” a spokesperson for the Ontario Minister of Finance said in a written statement. “Payments of principal and interest will be a charge on and payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Ontario and not tied to the revenues of any particular projects.”

Luckily, the maturity date for the green bond is in 2023, which means that the government has time to educate the public on the need to come up with the revenue for these investments. And it will be interesting to see what forms of repayment they create.

Tolling — while under both the provincial and municipal responsibility depending on the road — would be an ideal form of revenue. Ontario is starting a pilot project in the summer that will allow single-occupancy vehicles to use the High-Occupancy Vehicle lane meant for carpooling. Vehicle owners will be able to purchase a permit and pay a toll for its usage. This is the first time a responsible government has risked their positions to do the right thing.  Toronto is a long way off, with only a handful of councillors willing to stand up for the revenue tools Toronto needs to pay for the capital projects the city has committed to.

The money collected from these tolls can be used to fund the  the relief subway line which will provide an alternate east-west route to the Gardiner. Council has to make the bold move to call for other user fees – tolls, carbon tax, parking increase – so that property owners won’t carry the full burden of our capital deficit.

Both the city and the province are trying to find money in the budget — which amounts to shuffling through the same insufficient funds that caused our infrastructure deficit.   Toronto councillors will need to show the bravery their province counterparts have demonstrated in committing to high occupancy toll lanes.  The obvious solution is to use existing green projects such as tolling, congestion fees, or even a carbon-tax , to fund infrastructure investments.

The biggest problem facing all levels of government is that most Canadians want the infrastructure but they don’t want to pay for it.   The province is doing an amazing job ensuring that transit and green infrastructure is built, but Canadians have to start doing our part.

Let’s support the use of tolls, congestion fees, carbon taxes – whatever our council might bravely suggest — and start investing in Toronto’s long-term future.

Ontario raises over $700 million for green transit

Tuesday, the Ontario government announced $750 million in funding (in the form of a green bond) for environmentally friendly, low-carbon infrastructure projects, the majority of which is dedicated to transit in the GHTA.

Proceeds from the bond will help fund eight projects that will improve transit, education, health care, and employment across the province.

“Effectively combating climate change requires smart investments in environmentally friendly infrastructure projects such as improving energy efficiency and building more public transit,” Glen Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, said in a statement. “Green bonds give all Ontarians the opportunity to invest in climate actions that will protect the environment, strengthen the economy and improve everyday life.”

The funding will go to the following projects:

  1. Eglinton Crosstown LRT: $402 million for things like constructing electric powered transit vehicles that produce near-zero emissions.
  2. York VivaNEXT Bus Rapid Transit Expansion: $100 million to improve access to public transit.
  3. Go Transit Regional Express Rail: $200 million to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using electricity instead of diesel in trains. The funds will also be used for LEED gold-level certification for all Regional Express Rail stations and facilities

Green bonds were pioneered by the World Bank in 2008 as a tool to raise capital for projects with environmental benefits. The government guarantees a return for each investor. The maturity date for paying back the bond is also quite slow — Ontario priced a $750 million bond with a maturity date of January 27, 2023.

This is the second green bond Ontario has issued. The first bond was issued on Oct. 2, 2014 in the amount of $500 million.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to issue green bonds.