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Transit: It’s all about politics

“Let them do their work,” pleaded Toronto Mayor John Tory early Tuesday morning when City Council first sat down to discuss budgets and transit.

And thankfully, most of those councillors listened.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city council voted to approve the transit network plan as proposed by staff — including the controversial single-stop express subway in Scarborough.

A few amendments were tacked on to the motion, including a promise to study alignments and associated costs of the corridor. Staff will also be looking at a Sheppard subway extension and the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling Station to Sherway Gardens.

But even with these unexpected add-ons, the approval of the transit network plan is a win for both the mayor and the golden horseshoe area.

“Following this vote we must now put an end to years of inaction and delay and move ahead with a comprehensive plan to serve our city’s needs.” Mayor Tory said in a statement

And there’s the rub. Despite the positive results of the city council meeting, progress was nearly delayed because a handful of councillors were pretending to be transit experts in their attempt to garner media attention.

In every municipal government, there are elected officials — who often have a variety of skills, including some experience in management, customer service, and politics— and then there are city staff, who are hired based on their particular expertise.

This week’s city council transit kerfuffle is indicative of a lifelong politicians working the issue for media attention to gain recognition for the next election. A handful of councillors ignored recommendations provided by Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (who has a Master’s in Environment and Planning), City Manager Peter Wallace (who served as the provincial Deputy Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury Board), and Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford (with over 15 years of Transit operations), among others.

There are certain city councilors who have been pushing their own transit agendas, ignoring the sound advice from staff. Councilor’s like Josh Matlow have gone as far as recommending council revert to the original transit plan proposed before former Mayor Rob Ford was elected  — citing high costs and new polls that indicate residents want an LRT instead.

Matlow (whose extremely thin resume has school board trustee, and co-director of an environmental non-profit) put forward a motion to return to the 24-stop LRT plan, saying that someone needs to think about the taxpayers and how best to invest funds.

Other councillors used the opportunity to try and promote projects for their voters, like the Sheppard subway extension. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti even suggested diverting funds from the Finch LRT — which is already in its procurement stage — to fund the Scarborough subway.

The problem? Consistently changing plans costs tax payers a fortune and would have resulted in a two-year delay, leading up to another election in which a new council may have different ideas.  Essentially, Toronto would be forced to start from scratch. “It would be problematic to pull apart this optimized network,” Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat reminded council.

At the end of the day, the experts were able to argue their case and explain the high-costs and the severe consequences of changing the transit plan yet again.  If there is one thing that should be taken away from Wednesday’s exchange, it’s that there are a few councillors focused on only one thing: re-election. Councillors are pretending to be more knowledgeable than the experts because it makes them look good to their constituents.

City staff work year after year trying to hold together a broad transit plan they understand that Toronto needs to start building now or else it will take another 50 years before residents see any relief on the Yonge Line.

The experts did their job — now it’s time for council to just sit back and listen.

Edits I would make to Mayor John Tory’s Op Ed

Toronto Mayor John Tory wrote an op-ed Tuesday defending his transit plan. His writing was balanced and to the point — but I feel like there were some things that he really needed to say. 

Edits – Delete what’s between [ ]’s and add  in CAPS

“Throughout my time in office, I have tried to be completely honest with the people of Toronto so I will make this admission: The extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway is an issue [THAT OVER AMBITIOUS COUNCILLORS WANT TO USE AS A WEDGE ISSUE FOR THEIR 2018 MAYORAL RUN [with which I’ve struggled].

We are a city that likes to draw lines and take sides, especially when it comes to transit, and it’s easy to characterize people as either “for the subway” or “against.”

But this does a disservice to me and to everyone who cares about our city and its long-term success. WE CAN BUILD WITH IMMEDIACY TO SATISFY VOTERS TODAY, THE LRT WILL DO THIS — OR WE CAN DO THE HARD JOB OF ADDING TO OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM AND HAVING A MUCH MORE SIGNIFICANT  LONG-TERM IMPACT ON TRANSIT FOR OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN.

There is no doubt the original decision to cancel a planned LRT in Scarborough and extend the subway instead was made without enough information or process, but I cannot let the mistakes of the past cloud my judgment on what Toronto needs for the future.

We are decades behind when it comes to [transit] EXPANDING OUR SUBWAY SYSTEM and as mayor I’m driven by one principle: to move this city forward, productively, responsibly and collaboratively.

There are those (IDIOT COUNCILLORS POSTURING FOR MEDIA ATTENTION) who argue we should cancel the planned subway extension into Scarborough because of its projected cost,  even as our city clearly requires a major SUBWAY network expansion to improve service and connectivity throughout the city.

I have considered the Scarborough extension with an open mind and have found compelling reasons to proceed.

Opponents of the Bloor-Danforth subway extension seem to take for granted that cancelling the subway would result in the immediate construction of an LRT. OPPONENTS OF SUBWAY EXPANSION COMPLETELY RELY ON THE JUDGEMENT OF TRANSIT PLANNERS, IGNORING THAT OUR PLANNERS ARE DUTY BOUND TO BASE THEIR VISION ON EXTREMELY LIMITED FINANCIAL PROJECTIONS. LONG-TERM VISION HAS TO STEP BEYOND 20 YEARS TO LOOK AT THE NEXT 50 TO 100 YEARS FOR OUR CITY. TRUE LEADERS COUNT THE PLANNERS AS ONLY ONE PART OF THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS.

There is no discussion of what the real aftermath of another about-face would be, whether the LRT remains feasible, or would have the support of Metrolinx and our government partners. THE IDIOTS OPPOSING SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY DON’T REALIZE THAT TORONTO MAY LOSE THE FUNDING PROMISED BY OTHER LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT IF WE FUCK AROUND WITH THIS ISSUE.

There would be sunk costs from three years of planning and engineering work, on top of the $85 million incurred by the city after cancelling the LRT.

The proposed LRT corridor is now also shared by SmartTrack, which proposes to provide local commuter service on the Regional Express Rail network, with Scarborough SmartTrack stops at Lawrence and Finch East. WHY SPEND TORONTO FUNDS BUILDING AN LRT WHEN SMART TRACK, PRIMARILY FUNDED BY THE PROVINCE, WILL PROVIDE SERVICE IN THE SAME CORRIDOR?

Multiple lines in this corridor would require further study and would likely delay both projects, while cancelling local service on the SRT for years.  ME THINKS THAT SELF SERVING COUNCILLORS LIKE JOSH MATLOW (WHO REFUSED TO HELP AN ASSAULTED WOMAN — BY VOUCHING TO THE DRUNKEN STATE OF A CERTAIN GROPER) ARE USING THE SCARBOROUGH SUBWAY ISSUE AS A WAY TO GAIN MEDIA ATTENTION — PERHAPS THE COUNCILLOR COULD  LEARN TO STAND UP FOR WHAT IS  RIGHT INSTEAD OF POSTURING?

Trust and credibility

[The council-approved extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway has committed funding from our provincial and federal partners, both of whom continue to support the extension. With a change of plans, there is no guarantee their contributions would remain committed to Scarborough transit, and you couldn’t blame them for taking their investment elsewhere.] CITY COUNCIL HAS A FEW COUNCILLORS WHO ARE NOW REBUFFING THE COUNCIL-APPROVED BLOOR-DANFORTH SUBWAY EXTENSION. THEY PRETEND TO WANT TO  “SAVE THE LRT”, IGNORING THE FACT THAT THEY RISK JEOPARDIZING THE TRANSIT FUNDING COMMITMENTS WE HAVE FROM OTHER LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT, THESE SELFISH FOOLS PUT THEIR AMBITION BEFORE TORONTO’S NEED FOR AN EXPANDED SUBWAY SYSTEM.

Toronto is at a critical juncture, preparing to receive up to $840-million from the federal government over the next three years to make unprecedented investments in the reliability and performance of our transit system and advance the planning of our major transit projects.

With so much at stake, we cannot afford to deliver a self-inflicted blow to our credibility, resources and timelines. OR ALLOW COUNCILLORS WHO LACK VISION TO LIMIT TORONTO WITH EMPTY PROMISES OF IMMEDIATE TRANSIT.

It’s what people need

Earlier this year, Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came forward with her department’s analysis of what good transit looks like in Scarborough.

They found most people taking transit downtown from Scarborough are students who want to connect directly into the core, which makes multiple stops along the way unnecessary — on an LRT or a subway. The analysis favoured an express subway extension above the original light rail. THERE ARE ONLY A HANDFUL OF PLANNERS WHO CAN THINK BIG – JENNIFER KEESMAAT IS ONE OF THEM, AND IGNORING HER IN FAVOUR OF THE LIMITED PROJECTIONS OF LRT-SUPPORTING PLANNERS IS EITHER A JUNIOR LEVEL MISTAKE THAT SHOWS AN INABILITY TO LEAD, OR A CALCULATED ATTEMPT TO SECURE LEFT-LEANING VOTES.

Transit ridership in Scarborough is also much lower than the rest of the city and greater high-speed connectivity from the Scarborough Town Centre will help get people out of cars and promote social equity and employment opportunities.

Development and investment in the region has stalled, a problem we cannot give up on considering our rapid growth and affordable housing challenges.

As an architect recently noted on Twitter in relation to the project, “Amalgamation was a deal for equality of conditions. Connect all City Centres.”

Of course, we will work with the TTC to bring down the $3 billion price tag for the extension. And yes, we need to talk seriously about how we will pay for transit projects, a process that is already underway. AND ONE WHICH I HAVE DEDICATED THE PAST DECADE TO WORKING ON!

But many of the subway’s loudest critics do not live or work in Scarborough, where more than half the population is born outside of Canada. When they say this is too much to spend on a subway, the inference seems to be that it’s too much to spend on this part of the city. COUNCILLORS TREAT THEIR WARDS AS FIEFDOMS AND THIS HAS LED TO INACTION ON BIG PROJECTS LIKE SUBWAY EXPANSION, PROJECTS THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE ENTIRE CITY. THOSE OPPOSING THE SUBWAY IN SCARBOROUGH ARE DOING SO BECAUSE THEY WANT TO DIRECT FUNDING INTO THEIR WARD, TO GET RE-ELECTED BECAUSE THEY CAN’T GET A JOB ANYWHERE ELSE. THEIR THINKING IS SMALL-MINDED AND LIMITED – BUT WHAT CAN WE  EXPECT FROM COUNCILLORS WHO LACK REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE? WITH WORK HISTORY SO SCANT IT AMOUNTS TO WORKING AT A COUPLE OF NOT-FOR-PROFITS AND AS A SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEE?  THE ONLY FOUNDATION THEY HAVE FOR THEIR JUDGMENTS IS LIMITED TO WHAT THE EXPERTS OF THE DAY TELL HIM TO THINK.

The optimized Scarborough transit plan is part of a proposed 15-year network expansion, one that finally presents projects, including the Relief Line, SmartTrack and Waterfront LRT as an interconnected network, rather than a zero sum game of competing priorities.

For those reasons and more, changing tracks on Scarborough is not the answer. It will delay transit for those who need it, introduce new problems, new costs and a weakened position for our city.

I will continue my work to find the best path forward for the people of Toronto. I WILL CONTINUE TO BUILD CONSENSUS; I WILL HAVE THE PATIENCE TO LISTEN TO THE BLATHERING OF FOOLS; AND CONTINUE TO BE OPEN TO IDEAS FROM DISRUPTERS WHO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO. Those who fight to move backwards must ask themselves where that journey ends.

John Tory is the mayor of Toronto.

Toronto City Council – rudderless, erratic and irresponsible

After spending the past week at city council I have come away disappointed and disgusted by some of the self-aggrandizing, weak-kneed opportunists the city has elected to council. Many councillors, who have claimed to support revenue tools for transit, withdrew their support, choosing to protect their political derrieres.

Here’s the background: Toronto has spent 40 years quibbling over subway and transit expansion – mostly due to the lack of funds to build anything. It’s easier for councillors to debate over the lines than to take a stand on funding tools. Over the past few years Mayor Ford has claimed that “efficiencies” and “developers” would pay for the subway expansion. However the efficiencies he found added up to very little and should properly go to balancing the budget with any surplus going to paying down the debt. Developers informed the Mayor that they could not sell condos above subway stations for the $4 to $5 million price tag required to cover the $200 million cost of building the subway stations below. The value of the “air rights” Mayor Ford claimed would more than pay for subway expansion was completely bogus.

Thank gracious we still have Metrolinx, the transit organization set up by the Province to build and expand transit across the GTHA. After years of consultation with transit experts, policy wonks and politicians, they created a 25 year transit expansion plan. But the plan needs to be funded and will cost approximately $50 billion – this works out to  $2 billion per year needed to get transit in the Toronto region caught up after 40 years of neglect. On May 27, Metrolinx will announce the funding tools they believe the Province should use.

This opened the door for Toronto to present direction on revenue tools to Metrolinx and so council instructed city manager, Joe Pennnachetti, to do extensive consultations with the public and create a report summing up what transit revenue tools Toronto residents wanted to support. The report was extensive and the top four revenue tools chosen through public consultations were:

  1. Sales Tax
  2. Fuel Tax
  3. Parking Levy
  4. Development Charges

However, the Mayor and his executive tried to block the city from submitting any revenue options to Metrolinx, in a bid to push responsibility for any “taxation” to the provincial level, where the Mayor’s brother Councillor Doug Ford is planning to run for the provincial Conservatives and could use the issue to further define his anti-tax campaign.

Council over-ruled the brothers Ford insisting a “mature” conversation was needed. Unfortunately nothing even coming close to a mature conversation could be found at last week’s debate, which saw councillors ignore all the research and instead fly off with their own funding ideas and digress into soap box campaign speeches on the need for particular subway lines in each of their wards.

Councillor Josh Matlow – one of the few brave councillors in the bunch – proposed Motion 1.b suggesting council support the revenue tools outlined in the city manager’s report. Unfortunately this led to heated debate that carried on for three days.

The debate was divisive and provided the perfect  opportunity for councillors vying for the Mayor’s chair to demonstrate their leadership skills. But leadership did not appear, and unfortunately the anti-tax chants coming from brothers Ford worked to eventually push councillors away from backing any of the funding tools the city manager put forward.

Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker tried to score points with his constituents by refusing to consent to any transit revenue tools if plans did not change to include a subway in his ward.

Councillor Stintz, who had originally claimed to want an “adult” conversation on revenue tools, yet again compromised her credibility by ignoring her prior support for the Big Move transit plan and endorsing Councillor De Baeremaeker’s demand for a subway line. Not only did she support a new transit map (that seemed to be drawn on the back of a napkin) but she also backed out of supporting the revenue tools that the City Manager, the Toronto Regional Board of Trade, Civic Action and the Toronto Transit Alliance have all endorsed.

At one point Councillor Ford announced to the press “that if subways required transit revenue tools then there wouldn’t be any subways for Toronto.”

Councillor Vaughn created a motion asking city council to support “a surcharge on vinyl labels as a new tax dedicated to fund subways.” This caused quite a reaction from Councillor Ford (who is also the CEO of Deco labels) and Vaughan eventually withdrew it.

But it was Councillor Josh Colle who announced the most conniving and devious motion of the week: to amend the original motion (supporting the city manager’s revenue tools recommendations) and delete all revenue tool recommendations.  On a side note I wonder if the arrival of MPP Mike Colle (father of Councillor Josh Colle) into city council chambers had anything to do with the younger Councillor’s subsequent motion to delete all revenue tool recommendations? His motion’s main agenda was to push responsibility for revenue tools up to the Provincial level, and it would seem that those who voted for it are more concerned about appearances than doing what is right for Toronto.

Such strategic political maneuvering allows Councillors who supported Councillor Colle’s motion to circumvent their duty to the city without being too suspect while at the same time allowing them to honestly claim they didn’t back any revenue tools for transit. So instead of directing the province with recommendations on the transit revenue tools the city manager compiled from weeks of consultations with the public, these councillors simply supplied the province with a list of tools each one of them personally would not support, ignoring the will of their constituents and the research provided to them by the city manager.

This pathetic political posturing was supported by:

Ana Bailåo, Michelle Berardinetti, Raymond Cho, Josh Colle, Gary Crawford, Vince Crisanti, Glen De Bearemaeker, Mike Del Grande, Fran Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Rob Ford, Mark Grimes, Doug Holiday, Norm Kelly, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Giorgio Mammoliti, Peter Milczyn, Frances Nunziata (Chair), Cesar Palacio, James Pasternak, Anthony Perruzza, Jaye Robinson, David Shiner, Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson, Krystin Wong-Tam

The councillors who stood firm in their commitment to transit revenue tools were:

Paul Ainslie, Maria Augimeri, Shelley Carroll, Janet Davis, Sarah Doucette, John Fillion, Paula Fletcher, Mary Fragedakis, Mike Layton, Chin Lee, Josh Matlow, Pam McConnell, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Joe Mihevc, Ron Moser, John Parker, Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan

These councillors deserve a hefty pat on the back for not putting their political careers ahead of doing what is needed for the Toronto. I tip my hat to each and every one of them.