Transit Alliance: financing infrastructure via P3 and AFP

Ontario has an infrastructure deficit — there is a lot of infrastructure that still needs to be developed, but very little money is available. This creates a bit of a challenge. “If we were to build all infrastructure on public balance sheets, we wouldn’t be able to get there,” said Bruce McCuaig, Executive Advisor of Privy Council Office. “Money isn’t free.”

McCuaig was a special guest at the Transit Alliance’s seminar on alternative financing and public-private partnerships. Over 80 people attended the June 20 event in hopes of learning more about the Infrastructure Bank and alternative financing models that can help push municipal projects forward.

The morning seminar began with a fireside chat between McCuaig, KPMG partner Will Lipson, and Transit Alliance Chair Brian Crombie. The conversation centered around the Infrastructure Bank, a crown corporation that will provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects. McCuaig is set to help launch the Infrastructure Bank through the Privy Council.

“It’s about finding the best financial model for the project,” McCuaig said. “Each on has different needs.”

Transit will play a big part of the portfolio, although clean water was also mentioned numerous times throughout the discussion. McCuaig stressed that a balance will be needed between public interest and independence within the crown corporation, and that decisions should be made using evidence-based analysis.

The Infrastructure Bank will be complimentary to Infrastructure Ontario, Infrastructure Canada, and other private agencies. KPMG said the corporation will bring about numerous opportunities for municipalities, providing more financing options than before.

“The government has been quite wise in implementing the bank,” Lipson said.

After the fireside chat, Crombie moderated a second panel that dealt largely with financing for smaller municipal projects. Special guests on the panel included Rob Pattison, SVP, LRT, Infrastructure Ontario; Don Dinnin, VP Procurement Services at Metrolinx; Olivia MacAngus, VP Corporate Development at Plenary Group; and Omer Malik, Vice President Project Financing at Stonebridge Financial Corporation.

Each member of the panel is involved in public-private partnerships or alternative financing, and believes that innovation and creativity are key when it comes to municipal projects. For most, the Infrastructure Bank is a unique opportunity, but not something to depend on. MacAngus and Malik both think there is too much unknown about the Infrastructure Bank. “We don’t need another traditional lender,” Malik said. “It should focus on a gap, where larger equity funds aren’t interested.”

Dinnin suggested the use of an agency such as the Infrastructure Bank to help spearhead the relief line in Toronto. Metrolinx, he said, has a number of funded projects using public-private partnerships, but maybe the Infrastructure Bank can fill the rest of that gap. “There is always more than one way to do something,” he said.

The collective solution to municipal infrastructure, as suggested by the panel, is hybrid-financing models and innovative thinking — partnering with the right investors to see your project completed.

The goal of alternative financing and public-private partnerships is to build and develop a project on time and on budget. According to Pattison of Infrastructure Ontario, the worst thing someone can do is drag out the construction phase.

The seminar also included a networking opportunity, where business and municipal leaders were able to approach these financial firms to discuss their personal projects and seek advice (or offer potential solutions).

“Expertise should always be evolving,” Pattison said.

Here are some photos from the event:

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More photos to come.

Photographs taken by Ethan Helfrich.

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.

Is Ontario a ‘real funding partner’ for Toronto’s relief line?

The Yonge Relief Line may have a new alignment — and that decision couldn’t come soon enough. This alignment is one of the few remaining steps that need approval before city staff can push this much-needed project forward.

And this project NEEDS to move forward.

The relief line has been talked about on and off for the last decade, and yet, it is still nowhere near completion. Politics always got in the way. Since then, the original Yonge line (Line 1) has become more crowded. This has made commutes nearly unbearable during peak hours. It has effected ridership and forced more people to use their cars instead of taking public transportation.

While some question the need for a relief line, especially with SmartTrack on the table, city staff, the Toronto Transit Commission, and Metrolinx have all come together to label the relief line as a priority for Toronto’s new transit network. Without it, they say, congestion on the Yonge Line will not be alleviated.

The biggest problem with the relief line will be the funding. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said repeatedly at a series of press conferences on transit last week, without serious funding from provincial and federal partners, Toronto will be unable to grow its transit network.

The Ontario government promised in 2016 to provide $150 million in funds to the planning and design of the relief line. That number has not changed, despite the current cost projection of $6.8 billion for the relief line. This means that the provincial contribution won’t do anything other then fund a study or two.

It’s also why Tory has been campaigning and pushing the province for more. When the province dismissed Toronto’s attempt at raising funds through tolls, they effectively removed a significant form of revenue for the city. Without that money, Toronto has no choice but to make its residents pay for the transit network, no matter what the politicians say. That’s why Tory is asking the province to step up and become a “real partner” in their efforts to fund transit infrastructure. He wants the province and the federal government to each pay 40 per cent of the relief line.

The province has been hitting back, indicating they are a “stable provincial funding partner”, despite the lack of funding announcements. But Toronto residents are not falling for it — and that fact is already showing in the polls.

Taking away a revenue-generating tool like tolls without offering a solution is not leadership. Ignoring the needs of one of the biggest cities in the province is also not the way to get elected, despite what advisors may be whispering into the Premier’s ears. The Liberal government will find that out if they refuse Tory’s proposal of short-term hotel taxes as a revenue tool.

Back to the relief line: In May, the executive committee will debate the new alignment option down Carlaw Ave., between Gerrard St. and Eastern Ave., before sending the route to city council for approval.

At this moment, construction will begin in 2025.

Over 300 people ask ‘do we live in a green city?’

On Jan. 25, over 300 people entered the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss and debate this question: How do we design, plan, and build a green city?

The Transit Alliance, a non-political organization that works with those in the transit and infrastructure industry, hosted its first Green Cities breakfast Wednesday to discuss the need for greater transit, greener building, and an overall more liveable city design. Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat was the keynote speaker. “As humans, we have the ability to shape our habitat,” she said. “The model is not sustainable.”

During her speech, Keesmaat announced the King Street Pilot Project, which hopes to help unlock gridlock in a particularly messy and busy corridor. This is the first time Keesmaat has, in an official capacity, mentioned the project. Further details will be released on Feb. 13.

While guests enjoyed their coffee and muffins, Bruce McGuaig, CEO of Metrolinx; Dr. Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environment Commissioner; David Paterson, VP Corporate and Environmental Affairs for GM Canada; and, Mary Margaret McMahon, Toronto City Councillor walked on stage to take part in a panel discussion on transit. While a variety of topics were introduced, the common denominator seemed to be this: the Golden Horseshoe needs more. The city needs more transit, more funding, and more emphasis on liveability in design.

The second panel of the morning focused on green building, both commercial and residential. The panel consisted of Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Ontario Green Party; Amy Erixon, Principal and Managing Director Investments at Avison Young; Christopher Wein, President of Great Gulf; and, Andrew Bowerbank, Global Director, Sustainable Building Services at EllisDon. Education was a big topic of interest. Building green is only slightly more expensive, but the benefits and the return to the homebuyer is much greater. Everyone agreed that educating the public as to the real costs of building green is critical to a low-carbon community. The question of the panel: Why would we ever NOT build a LEED-certified or Net-Zero home anymore?

Here are a few select photos from Green Cities:

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Green Cities 2017 Conference

Join the Women’s Post and The Transit Alliance at the Green Cities 2017  Conference  for a discussion on building healthy urban communities.  With special guest speakers:

  • Bruce McCuaig, CEO of Metrolinx
  • Jennifer Keesmaat, City of Toronto Chief Planner,
  • Dr. Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environment Commissioner
  • Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Ontario Green Party
  • Mary Margaret McMahon, Toronto City Councillor
  • Amy Erixon, Principal and Managing Director Investments, Avison Young
  • Christopher Wein, President Great Gulf
  • Andrew Bowerbank, Global Director, Sustainable Building Services, EllisDon Corporation

Tickets:  https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/green-cities-breakfast-tickets-31207879608 

Sponsored by:







Should Toronto use tolls to maintain transit network?

The City of Toronto has completed the first round of negotiations with the province over funding for the Transit Network. Staff will present their updated financial report to a special executive committee meeting Tuesday afternoon for approval prior to the November city council meeting the following week.

The report outlines the funding model for the various elements of the Transit Network, including the amount of money being provided by the Ontario government. As of Nov. 1, the province has offered $3.7 billion for Regional Express Rail (RER) and $7.84 billion for Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The biggest blow to the transit-funding model is that city council will now be responsible for the day-to-day operations or maintenance of the Finch West, Sheppard East, and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs. These are projects that will be built by the province and Metrolinx; yet, Toronto residents will be on the hook for its maintenance.

Aspects of SmartTrack will be covered under the provincial funding; however, it will not be enough. The federal government has said they will make a contribution — but there has been no firm commitment yet. In the meantime, the city will have to come up with other ways of finding revenue to pay for the project, as well as the maintenance and operations of the network once it is complete. This could mean raising property taxes, something the city has promised not to do.

But, why should Toronto residents pay for all of these transit plans when they benefit the GTHA region in its entirety? Maybe the more economically feasible form of revenue can be found in the use of tolls, something that everyone entering and driving in Toronto can contribute to.

If drivers were asked to pay a toll when using the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway, a lot of these funding problems could be solved. First of all, tolls would encourage more people to use the new transit network, thus freeing up the roads and alleviating the insane gridlock Toronto faces on a daily basis. Second of all, the money collected from these tolls could be funnelled directly into a transit fund — to be used in conjunction with the money collected from fares, ect. — to pay for the daily operations of these projects.

On Tuesday’s meeting, staff will be recommending that city council approve the current funding model and authorize further negotiations and agreements with the province, Metrolinx, and other agencies in order to gain extra funding for SmartTrack.

But, I don’t think Toronto should hold its breath. It’s time to come up with some realistic solutions to the transit-funding problem instead of hoping that other levels of government will bail us out. Embracing tolls is the logical solution — but is there someone brave enough to say it on the council floor?

The city has until Nov. 30 to finalize financial arrangements for SmartTrack to keep the provincial deadline.

Why isn’t Metrolinx developing above Crosstown’s Avenue station?

Developing alongside transit lines and creating urban density is a necessity when building a growing city. It ensures that transit corridors will be used and simultaneously provides people with much-needed places to live in neighbourhoods with a strong sense of community. It is a win-win right? For Metrolinx and Terranata Developments Inc., it appears not.

Metrolinx recently rejected Terranata’s application to build a 15-story condominium over top of the Avenue Rd. station on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line. Terranata was willing to offer millions up front to Metrolinx and work flexibly with the province to build both the station and development. However, Metrolinx is focused on transit-oriented development (TOD), which requires certain agreements to be put in place before approving an application.

According to Metrolinx, the Terranata proposal didn’t meet those transit-oriented guidelines for development along the transit corridor. For example, the development must have the support of the local municipality, should have no impacts on the delivery time of the project, and have no negative impacts on the budget of the project. The proposal by Terranata would have benefited the project’s budget, but it didn’t comply with the other two guidelines, specifically it would have delayed the building of the project by at least a year.

Terranata asked to build above the LRT line last spring, but the shovels hit the ground for the Crosstown LRT in early March. Though Terranata applied for the air space above the station before the station began construction, obtaining municipal support for the development had yet to happen. It didn’t help that Terranata wanted to build 15 stories high, which exceeded zoning bylaws. Terranata has since appealed the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (not an organization with the fastest track record). From Metrolinx’s perspective, construction of the development could potentially delay the scheduling impacts on the delivery of the LRT. Terranata, on the other hand, wanted to give Metrolinx access to their property as a construction staging area, which may have benefited both parties.

Metrolinx remains interested in pairing transit construction with city development, but it isn’t their central focus. For the transit agency, it is more important to get the line built and promote commercial development and infrastructure near the transit corridors. Metrolinx has approved proposals by the Country Wide Homes at Crosstown’s Leaside Station and Build Toronto at Crosstown Eglinton Station. Though these projects were approved by Metrolinx because they fit the criteria, perhaps Terranata should have been given the opportunity to at least gain approval on part of the city.

It is clear that the merging of city building and transit has its challenges in Toronto. Toronto needs to re-evaluate how it builds. Soon, the city will no longer be able to build outwards, and will have to develop high-rise building to compensate for the growing population. Planning for the future is imperative, and building above transit corridors or subway stations is exactly what the city should be considering. And it can work — it’s being done now with the Rail Deck Park.

The case of Terranata has been in the media a lot lately, which is causing a lot of people to wonder about the hoops developers must jump through to gain approval.  City planners and Metrolinx have expressed a commitment to development and density, but when will they plan on acting on it? It’s all still in the air.

Media seems to be one-sided towards TTC and Metrolinx

It often seems that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and Metrolinx are getting roasted by everyone — the local media, twitter, and even people sitting at the dinner table.

Transit services provided in Toronto have a tough time catching a break and their achievements are often buried under the criticisms constantly being launched their way. It is no easy feat providing public transportation for a city of six million people. If you think of the massive population that TTC and Metrolinx serve on a daily basis, it’s a miracle these services get off the ground, let alone get each and every one of us home!

As a member of the media, I am going to temporarily ditch the table of media sharks and take a moment to appreciate the successes of TTC and Metrolinx. I may be burnt at the proverbial stake for professing my love of local transit, but I will bravely stand up and say this: thank you TTC for getting my tired buttocks home after a long day at work!

First off, kudos to the tireless efforts of City of Toronto politicians, the province of Ontario, and both the TTC and Metrolinx boards for the massive transit plans that are being actively adjusted and carried out every day. Toronto may not have the transit it needs right now, but the relief line is on the table and many other transit projects are being pushed forward with diligence. As someone who attended the public consultations on the relief line assessment, the TTC planners of the project were repeatedly roasted by the public and I commend their professionalism and perseverance through this process.

Another joint success of the TTC and Metrolinx is their ability to work together and launch the PRESTO fare integration. Being able to use one form of payment across the Metrolinx and TTC systems has made my commute much easier. It has been difficult to integrate the system in some circumstances, and the TTC drivers have been patient towards customers using PRESTO from the beginning as well.

Another major success was Mayor John Tory’s move to make the TTC free for kids under 12. As a single mom, this has made an incredible difference in my life. I never have to worry about taking my daughter with me on transit and it is such a financial relief. Seeing the City of Toronto support its children first-hand makes me feel as if I am a part of a community.

Lastly, I would like to demonstrate my appreciation for TTC drivers. The amount of flack these employees receive is inconceivable, and I’ve witnessed many acts of kindness from drivers that help people onto the streetcar or take the time to direct an old man to his destination. These are the true heroes of these transit systems. Overall, there are always new subway routes to be built or new trains to be provided, but without the TTC and Metrolinx, I wouldn’t be able to get home. Next time you are reading another hate-piece on transit in Toronto, think on that and maybe TTC and Metrolinx won’t seem so bad after all.

Toronto and GTHA integrating fares for easier travel

Have you ever had to commute between the Toronto boundary lines and the GTHA and pay two full fares? The cost of transit quickly adds up and often prevents people from traveling by transit in the region.

Metrolinx and TTC came together for a joint meeting on Wednesday to discuss an integrated fare system to make public transportation more accessible in the region. The meeting will address the fare barrier at the Toronto-905 boundary and present three possible solutions to the issue. The current system is disjointed and can create confusion for some commuters. Having to purchase fares twice is inefficient and can slow down or prevent people from transiting around the GTHA.

The first option is called the Modified Status Quo  and would provide a common transfer rule across the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and the 905 regions. The transfer would be free or have a consistent price determined by the network. The TTC would remain the same, providing transit users with the same cost on the streetcars, buses, subway and LRT. The cost of regional services would be reduced to ensure that the cost principles were fair, but the fare would gradually increase with longer trips. This system would be the easiest to integrate because it wouldn’t involve a lot of changes for the TTC itself. The concern with the first option is that without zones, it is difficult to assess fair costs for various trips across the large GTHA region.

The second concept is based on Local and RT Zones. This option would develop an entirely new fare structure for the region and would add local and regional zones into fares. This regional network would have very specific pricing considering the distance of travel, and would only use one service provider for fare integration.

There would be three types of service under this option; Local transit, which includes streetcars and buses, Rapid Transit (RT), consisting of subways, SRT and LRT, and the Regional GO transit network.  Zones would be approximately seven kilometres and RT would share the same zone boundaries as local transit. Go Transit fares would increase with distance, but all the systems would have a free transfers. The downfall of the system is the expense of commuting from areas in Toronto that are far north to the downtown region. The TTC fare would increase substantially under this system. This option would arguably be a money-maker for TTC and Metrolinx.

The third option is a Hybrid, which is a popular option being used in Amsterdam and Melbourne. This system also uses zones and divides the three types of transit into Local, RT, and Regional. The difference in this approach is that the fare structure is not strictly divided between the local and RT systems. Instead, distance would be the facilitator of differing costs. The cost would be the same on short-distance local and RT trips within the city limits and would increase as the distance grows. The transfers would be free within a set time period as well.

The Hybrid option combines the fare integration system into a united whole and still uses the organized zone structure. It also attempts to lower costs of local trips in the city.

Consultations with the public and the city will occur in May and June.

Building community

The Women’s Post office is a hub of activity, but unlike most media companies our work revolves around the stories we write and the charity work that our publisher, Sarah Thomson, is focused on at Civic Alliance and the Transit Alliance. Readers will notice that while we carry the usual fashion and passion stories we also write about city building – creating strong healthy communities. We believe that the future is shaped by the passion and commitment we put into building community and that each one of us has a duty to give back to the community. And we hope that you the reader can share in our passion.

This year the Transit Alliance is working on a series of seminars focused on educating our public servants at the municipal level with the goal in to update the entrenched procedures and processes that are no longer competitive or productive. The focus will be to share new ideas, and new ways to structure our large infrastructure projects in order to ensure efficiencies.

To that end our first seminar on Feb. 16, 2016 will involve a lot of terrific infrastructure leaders donating their times to moving our region forward. With the help of terrific leaders like Bert Clark, CEO of Infrastructure Ontario and Bruce McCuaig, CEO of Metrolinx who are both committed to building our communities. Tickets are available here.

The Transit Alliance will once again host the Toronto Region Vision Summit in April our goal is to develop a 50 year vision for the entire region. If you would like to take part early-bird tickets are now on sale here.

The Transit Alliance is also working on a series of education campaigns. Each campaign is focused on a key issue essential to unlocking gridlock and creating stronger and safer communities. The campaigns cover the need to fund infrastructure with user fees like tolls; the importance of the smart relief subway line; and updating our safety standards for road hardware and making our roads safer.  If you would like to help the Transit Alliance, or take part in our initiatives, please become a member here.

This year Civic Alliance will be focused on educating the public on the environment and the importance of lowering our carbon footprint in housing, as well as the use of electric vehicles.

We hope you enjoy the work we are doing and will join us in our effort to build a safer, stronger Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.