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Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).

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.”

New skating rink opens in Toronto under Gardiner

I’ve skated at Nathan Phillips Square and Harbourfront, as well as my local community centre, and each one has something unique I love. Depending on my mood — if I want music, ambiance, or an empty rink — I’ll visit each one in turn. So, I was incredibly excited when I heard Toronto’s plan to build a new skating rink under the Gardiner Expressway.

The Bentway Skate Trail is a 220 metre stretch of ice located right beside the Fort York Visitor Centre, between Strachan Ave. and Bathurst St. It’s a brilliant use of previously unused space, creating a public venue for winter activity in an area that typically isn’t visited. The city is even considering expanding the trail to include gardens, live performance areas, space for markets and exhibitions, and a dog park.

The Bentway will open on Jan. 6. at 11 a.m. There will be musical performances by Charmie Deller and Carmen Braden, as well as Ice Breaking demonstrations (hybrid of breakdancing and freestyle ice skating)! Be sure to check our some of the public art exhibitions and enjoy some of the food and beverage provided.

On the Sunday, the Mayor is hosting a skating party from 1-4 p.m. with complimentary skate rentals and hot chocolate!

Here are the hours:

Monday-Thursday: 11am-9pm (rentals available 4pm-9pm)
Fridays and Saturdays: 11am-11pm (rentals available all day)
Sundays: 11am-9pm (rentals available all day)

If you visit it next weekend, be sure to let us know what it’s like in the comments below! 

skating
The Bentway Trail, courtesy of the City of Toronto

John Tory and TTC Chair support time-based fares

When I was a student at the University of Ottawa, I didn’t have the means to print train tickets when I wanted to go home. This was particularly difficult around the holidays. I learned that if I waited to pick up my tickets at the train station before I left, the lines would take me at least 45 minutes. By then, there would be little room for my bags and I would be stuck with a seat close to the bathrooms.  Not an ideal situation.

So, instead, a week before I was set to leave for Toronto, I would jump on the bus to pick up my tickets in person. It was about a 20 min. bus ride to the station. I would get there, grab my ticket, and jump back on the bus to return to campus.

The best part was I only had to pay one fare.

On Thursday, Toronto Mayor John Tory, as well as Toronto Transit Commission Chair (TTC) Joshe Colle and Commissioner Mary Fragedakis, threw their support behind time-based fares for customers using PRESTO.

They sent a letter to TTC CEO Andy Byford requesting a report for next month detailing the costs and implications of time-based fares for 2018.

“I am dedicated to getting Toronto moving and making sure it is easier for people to get around our city,” said Tory. “Now with time-based transfers and the PRESTO technology, we once again have the opportunity to make life more affordable for our residents and further encourage transit ridership.”

This request comes at the height of discussion about fare integration with GO Transit and the UP Express. Another option is fare by distance, with discounts for those transferring on to the TTC from a GO Station. At the last TTC Board meeting, numerous councillors expressed concerns about asking residents who lived further away to pay more to take public transportation.

“Time-based transfers would allow people on transit the flexibility to hop on and off to run errands or make stops along their way to work, school, or home.” said Colle in a statement. “This would continue the modernization of our services, and further demonstrate the TTC’s ongoing commitment to improving the customer experience.”

There was a report written by city staff in 2014 outlining some of the basic financial repercussions and the options that are available to the TTC. This issue will be discussed during the TTC budget process, which needs to be submitted by early 2018.

What do you think of time-based fares? 

Is the Relief Line finally spurring forward?

Earlier this week, Toronto Mayor John Tory reaffirmed his commitment and support of the Yonge Relief Line. He affirmed his support while at a conference hosted by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships to a crowd of investors, builders, and designers. This transit line has been labelled a priority by not only the mayor, but also city staff and transit experts.

City staff have already said that Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031. In the meantime, further transit lines are being built — the Eglinton Crosstown, the Yonge-Sheppard Subway Extension, and elements of SmartTrack. And these are only the city initiatives. The province is also planning to build high-speed rail connecting Windsor and Toronto. The problem is that all of these lines funnel transit riders towards the downtown core. Without a relief line in place, Toronto’s Line 1 will be packed to the brim. It’s becoming more and more important to get the relief line built — and yet decision-making is moving at a slow pace.

Council has approved the alignment of the southern end of the relief line, connecting the Bloor-Danforth line with the downtown core via Carlaw Ave.

Toronto’s relationship with the province has been rocky since Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne refused to allow the city to collect funds using tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express, but it seems to finally be levelling out. Mayor Tory is having regular meetings with the provincial government, and seems to believe that funding is not as much of a problem as it once was. This is good news, and hopefully means the relief line can progress more quickly.

Toronto received $120 million from the federal government to fund infrastructure like the relief line, but it is at risk of losing the money because there is a time stamp attached. This means that if city staff don’t use the money by 2018, the federal government could take it away. Considering how long it takes for council to make decisions, especially when it comes to spending money on transit, this deadline is not realistic.

Mayor Tory has requested an extension of that deadline, but no answer has come. About $2.7 million of that money was earmarked to study the relief line.

Following the approval of the alignment for the relief line, city staff have begun to conduct a Transit Project Assessment Process (TPAP), which includes advancing planning and design

Danica Roem first transgender person elected as Virginia lawmaker

It was a historic moment in the United States last night as key areas in political history were marked. Of the many “firsts” in this election, the most inspirational was Democrat Danica Roem, who is now the first openly transgender person to be elected a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Roem was elected over outspoken state lawmaker Robert G Marshall, who has held the house seat since 1992. Marshall previously refused to debate Roem and repeatedly used the wrong gender pronouns when referencing her campaign. Marshall was criticized for his social policy by Roem and often faced controversial issues amongst his own Republican statesmen. Known for his homophobic remarks, Marshall supported restricted bathrooms for transgender people.

Roem openly addressed her gender during her campaign and was open about her transition and the therapy she underwent when she was 28. In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this year, Roem highlighted the fact that politics should be inclusive of all.

” No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship or who you love, if you have good public policy ideas, if you’re qualified for office, you have every right to bring your ideas to the table.”

Roem beat Marshall by nine percentage points and out-raised Marshall during the campaign, collecting almost $500,000, with a lot of support coming from the LGBT community. While Roem had a strong social media presence and went door to door in the community discussing her platform, Marshall kept his schedule private, instead issuing advertisements attacking Roem’s transgender identity.

Roem referred to Marshall as a mirror of Trump and criticized him on his unwillingness to deal with social issues. When Roem won, many community supporters compared the victory to that of Barack Obama. It is even more inspirational considering the political climate of the United States, where a government exists that is hell bent on refusing basic rights to people within the LGBTQ community.

There were a few other historic wins during Tuesday’s election:

  • Andrea Jenkins won a seat in Minneapolis City Council to represent Ward 8. Jenkins is the city’s first openly transgender woman of colour.
  • In New Jersey, Ravinder Bhalla was elected as as the first Sikh Mayor in that state.
  • Jenny Durkan is the first openly lesbian mayor of Seattle.
  • Michelle Kaufusi is the first female mayor in the City of Provo in Utah.
  • Vi Lyes is the first black woman to be elected the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Kathy Tran is the first Asian-American woman to be elected to Virginia House of Delegates.
  • Zachary DeWolf is the first openly gay school board member in Seattle.
  • Melvin Carter III was elected the first black mayor of St Paul in Minnesota.

Let us know your thoughts below.

Montreal makes history with first elected female mayor

Montreal elected the city’s first female mayor this past weekend. Valerie Plante beat out long standing Denis Coderre to gain the leading position. Coderre has served as mayor since 2013 and was elected six times as a Federal Liberal MP.

Plante began her political career as a city councillor in 2013. In 2016, she served as leader of the opposition party, Project Montreal. This historic win for Plante places her in a position to act out her proposed reforms on housing, traffic and transit, key issues that affect the City of Montreal.

During the race, Plante was seen as the underdog with fresh ideas, describing herself ironically as “the man for the job.”  Gimmicks aside, it was Plante’s vision to get the city moving that pursuaded voters to put an “X” by her name. During her campaign, Plante was seen interacting with commuters in the city, discussing traffic gridlock, plans for a proposed ‘pink line’ for city rail transit, and a more solid bike-path network.

At a victory party on Sunday, Plante remarked on her historic success by paying homage to Jeanne Mance, the co-founder of the City of Montreal. “We have written a new page in the history books of Montreal,” she said. “Three hundred and seventy-five years after Jeanne Mance, Montreal finally has its first female mayor.”

Plante’s first movements in addressing her platform include issuing 300 hybrid city busses on the road by 2020 and a fight to lower the metro fares. Her immediate action on transit issues will help voters feel secure in her campaign promises. Near the end of his term, Coderre was criticized for running a one-man show and Plante positioned herself to be in opposition to Coderre’s actions by saying —less ego, more action.

Plante is a Quebec native, growing up in Rouyn-Noranda and attending the Universite de Montreal with a degree in anthropology and a masters in museum studies. Plante is 43 and previously worked as a community activist and organizer before getting into politics.

Uber says “au revoir” to Quebec’s new regulations

There is a reason #Uber is trending. The popular ride-hailing company has made the news twice this week, with both issues spreading negative light on the company’s corporate operations. In a bold move, Uber announced they would cease operations in Quebec due to stricter regulations being imposed by the transportation department in that city. One such condition was the request that Uber drivers undergo 35 hours of training to match the requirements of regular taxi drivers.

Uber was operating in Quebec under a pilot project agreement that allowed the service to operate legally in the province for one year. This permit was initially set to be renewed under the new conditions. The Transportation Minister of Quebec, Laurent Lessard, agreed with these new rules and also requested that Uber carry out criminal checks on their drivers and have their cars inspected every 12 months.

In response, Uber executives felt the decision was brash and unnecessary. The director general for Uber Quebec, Jean-Nicolas Guillemette, said the company will cease operations if these changes and rules are imposed. Guillemette said Uber was not consulted about these changes. Guillemette further want on to say he wants the government to renew the operational permit and then resume negotiations on these new rules after.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said Uber’s response was “bullish” and “condescending,” and that Uber was probably concerned these restrictions will create a precedent for other cities.

“Bye-bye, I don’t care,” were the words spoken by Coderre, who said the extra training should not be a burden for a company of that size company.

The Ministry of Transport remains firm on their decision and noted they are not in negotiation mode. With that being said, Uber decided to officially leave Quebec on Oct 14.

Uber executives have also been busy this week after government officials in London, UK, decided not to renew their operational license in that city, saying they will not be providing private-hire operational licenses. Prior to this decision, Uber was only issued a four-month temporary license.

In some ways this was a test pilot for the City of London and in the end they were not pleased with Uber’s performance. The explanation by London Transport was that Uber held a “lack of corporate responsibility” and would fail to report minor to serious offences. Uber has since issued a public apology to the City of London. Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi apologized to the world for all the company’s mistakes, saying “it’s worth examining how we got here, and the truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation.”

Last year in Austin, Texas, Uber suspended operations after city council passed regulations to have drivers submit to background checks and fingerprinting. Earlier this year they returned to Austin after the governor in Texas signed a law to overpower the city’s rules

Uber has already been banned in a few countries and cities, including Italy, Denmark, Taiwan, cities in Auatralia, India and now London.

Back in the spring of 2016, Uber threatened to suspend operations in Toronto if city council passed rules to impose high-fees on drivers. The rule was not passed and Uber still continues to operate in Toronto.

Women’s Post presents Glass Slipper Awards to city builders

The staff at Women’s Post like to describe the organization as a social enterprise designed to help promote women and their various initiatives across the Canada. Every once in a while, we give out what’s called the Glass Slipper Award in recognition of great leadership and community service. The women who receive this award are passionate and driven, and the work they do goes way beyond the scope as defined by their employer.

At an event hosted by the Transit Alliance on Tuesday, Women’s Post presented two women with the Glass Slipper Award. Specifically, these awards were for women city builders in the private sector and in the public sector, presented to the people whose innovation, creativity, and dedication has helped this region grow.

The awards were given out with the support of John Tory, the Mayor of Toronto and were handed out by Women’s Post editor Katherine DeClerq.

The first recipient was Vickie Turnbull, Managing Director and Co-Head of the Canadian Infrastructure Finance Group, RBC Capital Markets. Turnbull describes herself as “the girl with all the money.” She was the lead financial advisor for over 21 infrastructure projects in Canada. For 12 years, she worked in the debt capital markets before she joined RBC’s Infrastructure Finance team in 2007. Her experience ranges from project finance advisory, debt structuring, and loan syndications, just to name a few.

The second recipient was Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto Chief City Planner.  Keesmaat has spent her career working tirelessly to create a walkable urban city with a strong focus on transit planning. She is a founding partner of Office for Urbanism, and has been recognized by the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, the Design Exchange, and the EDRA for her innovative projects across Canada, specifically in municipalities like Moncton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Toronto.

Here are some photos of the Glass Slipper Awards:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”9″ gal_title=”Glass Slipper Awards City Builders”]

Mayor announces $4.8 billion in federal transit funding

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced Thursday that federal money is on its way as part of the second phase of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.

“I’m thrilled that Toronto will receive approximately $4.8 billion of Ontario’s $8.34-billion allocation from the Government of Canada for our transit network expansion plan, which includes the Relief Line, Smart Track, the Eglinton East LRT and Waterfront transit,” Tory said in a statement. “This is a huge victory for Toronto and will lead to better transit for the entire region.”

He also confirmed that the province would be required to contribute 33 per cent of project costs and that Ontario would be encouraged to follow British Columbia’s example and commit to a 40-40-20 cost share arrangement.

The mayor has been a strong advocate for cost sharing when it comes to the Relief Line and Smart Track, and has been battling stubborn provincial politicians along the way. This soon-to-be announced funding is a big win on the part of Toronto and the much-needed Relief Line.

“With all the federal funding program allocations outlined today, including the Green Infrastructure Stream and Community, Culture and Recreation Infrastructure Stream, we thank Minister Sohi for underscoring the important balance between provincial and municipal priorities, ensuring that funding will flow to where it is needed most.”

 

More to come.