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Metrolinx announces discount for GO, UP Express, and TTC riders

Friday morning, Metrolinx announced a 50 per cent discount for transit users who transfer between GO Transit, UP Express, and the TTC using a PRESTO card. The provincial government will subsidize the co-fare in the first step towards “regional fare integration”.

The discount comes up to $1.50 per ride, or half of a TTC fare. This equates to savings of around $720 a year for the regular commuter. The cost to subsidize the discount is about $18 million a year for the province.

The discount is not available for those who download monthly passes on their PRESTO cards.

“Our region needs fare integration,” said Phil Verster, President and CEO of Metrolinx, in a statement. “This discount is an important first step in breaking down barriers to fare integration across the network, making it easier and more convenient to take transit.”

Over 50,000 daily trips include transfers between these three transportation lines — GO, UP Express, and the TTC. The new co-fare system will launch in January 2018 following the opening of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension in December. The subway extension is the first TTC line to cross regional boarders, connecting York University and the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre with the Yonge Line 1 subway.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, joined Verster for the announcement.

“Transit will not be more affordable for Toronto residents who ride a mix of the TTC, UP Express, and Go Transit to get around the city,” Tory said. “This agreement also moves us a step closer to make sure that SmartTrack will cost Toronto residents the same as the TTC.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metrolinx thinks to the future in new transportation plan

Metrolinx is thinking about the future — at least as far as 2041.

The board released their Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at their Sept. 14 meeting, with the intention of gathering feedback over a 90-day public consultation period. The information they get will be considered for use in the final draft, which will be available in December.

By 2041, Metrolinx says over 10 million people will live across the Golden Horseshoe Area. The new transportation plan will move beyond The Big Move.

The report reads: “We need to plan for a future characterized not only by continued population and employment growth, but also by changing demographics (including an aging population), the changing nature of work, new transportation technologies and services, and the impacts of climate change. In short, we cannot stop.”

There are five different aspects of this new transportation plan.

  1. Completing delivery of current regional transit projects: Metrolinx is in the midst of increasing their Rapid Express Rail, working on the Hurontario, Eglinton, Hamilton, and Finch Light Rail Transit, as well as the York VIVA. Delivery is expected by 2025.
  2. Connecting more of the region with frequent rapid transit: The goal is to create 15-minute all day service so that people can get around the region without delay.
  3. Optimizing the transportation system to make the best possible use of existing and future transit assets: Metrolinx has determined that fares by distance is the most efficient structure. It also wants to ensure that more people take alternative modes of transportation on their way to use the transit system. Their goal will be to increase the number of people who bike, walk, or carpool from 38 per cent to 62-64 per cent.
  4. Integrating land use and transportation: This strategy will help create mobility hubs and new developments, with the goal of intensifying certain areas so that transit becomes more accessible. The designs wil encourage cycling and walking as primary modes of transportation.
  5. Preparing for an uncertain future: The plan encourages a regional approach to transit planning as opposed to municipal or private enterprises. Metrolinx will also continue to study new technologies to help reduce greenhouse gasses.

The public will be able to provide feedback at six regional roundtables prior to the final draft.

Metrolinx announces Phil Verster as new CEO

Thursday afternoon Metrolinx announced that Phil Verster, an experienced rail operator hailing from the United Kingdom, would replace Bruce McCuaig as CEO.

“Mr. Verster has graduate degrees in both engineering and business and a post-graduate diploma in law,” Prichard said. “He has operated, built and electrified commuter rail. He has the expertise and executive experience we need to deliver on our ambitious agenda, leading the 4,000 employees of Metrolinx and working with all of our partners. We are delighted the Mr. Verster has chosen to join Metrolinx.”

Verster is an engineer with vast experience in infrastructure management and operations for passenger rail systems. Prior to joining Britain’s Network Rail in 2011, he worked with Southeastern Trains and the UK division of Bombardier Rail. He also spent five years at Irish Rail, including some time as Deputy CEO.

From 2015-17, Verster ran Scotland’s ScotRail, overseeing the delivery of $3 billion of new electrification and has served as managing director of Network Rail’s East West Railway.

For Metrolinx, the decision to hire Verster was an easy one. According to Rob Prichard, Chairman of the Metrolinx Board, the Board itself was looking for someone with deep expertise in the field and significant executive experience delivering infrastructure.

“What stood out to us the most is what [Verster] has done successfully exactly what we need to do, which is to operate, expand, and build services and infrastructure, and to do that while maintaining existing services at the same time,” Prichard said.

Prichard also clarified that Metrolinx was not “searching the world for a politician.” For Verster, the politics behind the transit-agency is not his first priority. His first priority is to listen and get to know the people in Ontario and Toronto.

“My number one priority is to listen,” Verster said at the press conference. “And not only to listen to our different levels of management, but to listen to the front line people who day in and day out deliver for us on an ongoing basis.

“I’ll spend a lot of time getting to know the local politics and local communities. In the end, we as Metrolinx aren’t political. We serve only one master and that master is our passengers,” he said.

Verster was chosen unanimously by the Board of Directors of Metrolinx. He will start his new position on Oct. 1 2017.

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:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”7″ gal_title=”P3 Seminar June 20″]

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:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”5″ gal_title=”Green Cities Highlights”]

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.