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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 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.

Ontario makes abortion pill Mifegymiso free

A week after Alberta announced the government would cover the cost of Mifegymiso, otherwise known as an abortion pill that will terminate a pregnancy up to 49 days from the start of the last menstrual period, the government of Ontario followed suit.

As of Aug. 10, women in Ontario will be able to request this drug from their doctors free of charge. “The commitment to publicly funding Mifegymiso means women across Ontario will have fair and equal access to safe abortion without payment, judgment or exception,” said Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario Minister of the Status of Women, in a statement.

Mifegymiso is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, and is an easy and safe alternative to surgery. One of the biggest barriers facing women’s reproduction rights is the financial accessibility of both birth control and abortion. By covering this drug under a universal health plan, women will now have immense power over their own reproduction system — only a doctor’s prescription is needed to get the drug. There will never be a woman in Ontario who cannot afford to get an abortion. That is an amazing thing.

“The arrival of the new abortion pill Mifegymiso has been greatly anticipated,” said Notisha Massaquoi, Executive Director, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre. “The Ontario government’s decision to publicly fund this option is increasing our right to choose and will provide all Ontarians with barrier-free access to safe abortions regardless of socio-economic circumstances.”

The Liberal government promised to make Mifegymiso free of charge in their 2017 budget back in April. Ontario is now the third province to cover Mifegymiso following New Brunswick and Alberta.

Next step? Making birth control government funded!

What do you think of this announcement? Let us know in the comments below!

Minister Murray resigns as Minister of Environment

On July 31, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has announced his resignation. Chris Ballard, former Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, will replace him in the cabinet.

Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, will be given the position of Minister of Housing.

Murray has dedicated most of his life to public service. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Unlike some politicians, Murray is genuinely passionate about the environment, working tirelessly to ensure the policies enacted by the provincial government followed sustainable practices. He is most known for his instrumental role in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May as well as Ontario’s Climate Chance Action Plan.

Murray announced his resignation Monday morning, saying that he will step down from cabinet immediately, but will remain an MPP until Sept 1.

“As part of the Ontario Liberal Government, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have always tried to bring a fresh and creative approach to public policy and government, making decisions that keep those that matter the most in mind.”

“I ultimately have made the difficult decision, with the support of my partner Rick, to transition from this chapter on to the next chapter of tirelessly working to mobilize to fight climate change at the national level.”

On Sept. 5, Murray will join the Pembina Institute as Executive Director. The Pembina Institute is a 30-year-old Canadian think tank that advocates for clean energy solutions and the overall reduction of fossil fuels.

“Glen is a renowned thought leader on social and environmental issues, with an impressive track record of policy leadership throughout his tenure in elected office,” said David Runnalls, president of the Pembina Institute. “On behalf of the board of directors, I am thrilled that Glen is joining our talented team and know he will propel the Pembina Institute to new heights as we work to solve today’s greatest energy challenges.”

It is unclear at this moment if this change will result in new priorities for the Liberal government, and if Ontario’s climate change plan will still be considered among them.

Ontario implements new condo board laws

The Ontario government will implement new condo laws in the fall that is said to “ better protect condo owners and residents by increasing consumer protections in Ontario’s condo communities.”

The media has reported on a number of issues involving condo boards, including conflicts of interest and possible corruption. These new laws will provide more education to those that sit on these boards and ensure more transparency as to the process.

One of the biggest changes will be to improve corporation governance and introduce disclosure requirements for directors. This means that all condo directors must indicate whether or not they occupy units in the condo or if they have interests in contracts involving the corporations. Condo directors will also be given mandatory training to improve management and operations.

New voting and quorum rules will be implemented to make it easier for owners to participate. The board must also update the condo corporation regularly to help improve communications.

To aide in this transition, the government will be creating two new administrative authorities — the Condominium Authority of Ontario and the Condominium, which will educate and promote awareness of condo owner rights, and the Management Regulatory Authority of Ontario, which will help regulate and licence managers and providers.

“Creating new consumer protections will help to build more sustainable condo communities so residents moving into condos today and in the future will be able to look forward to healthy condo communities and peace of mind in the place they call home,” said Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, in a statement.

These new rules will be implemented on Sept. 1 and phased in throughout the year.

Will replacing the OMB cause more problems?

The Ontario government is looking to replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with something called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The OMB is an independent adjudicative tribunal that conducts hearings and makes planning decisions on zoning bylaws, development proposals, subdivision plans, and ward boundaries. It has been around for over 100 years and has been criticized by some for its lengthy and costly process.

Despite these criticisms, the OMB is considered a positive third party officiate between developers and municipalities. The fear is that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal may not have the same reputation.

One of the biggest challenges with the new tribunal is the elimination of the “de novo” hearings, which allows the OMB to consider municipal land use planning decisions as though no previous decision had been made. This is frustrating for city councils that may have already made a ruling on a development and it lengthens the hearings because all evidence has to be presented anew. It also gives the perception the OMB favours developers, despite this not being the case.

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is supposed to be independent and at an arms’ length from the government — but removing the “de novo” hearings will ensure the decisions of city councillors and/or provincial representatives are taken into consideration during appeals, effectively giving them more power than before.

Another example is the new appeal process. The tribunal will only be able to overturn a municipal decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans, unlike the OMB, which has power to overturn a decision if it isn’t considered the best planning decision. Instead of repealing the decision, the tribunal will then give the municipality 90 days to take new action based on that information. The tribunal will have a final say only if on a second appeal the plan still falls short of provincial policies. The idea is to give communities more control in land use planning.

The new legislation will also exempt a range of major land use planning decisions from appeal, including Official Plans to support transit areas like Go Train and subway stations or Official Plans (and their updates) that have been approved by the province, as well as minister’s zoning orders.

All of these changes to the appeal system are meant to try and reduce hearing times and encourage mediation. Since length and cost are the two biggest complaints about the OMB, this makes sense. However, the new tribunal also makes it difficult for developers to get their projects past councillors who may not approve of their blueprints despite it being the best planning option. It also limits hearings to policy rather than encourage innovation and creative thinking.

While the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal does include a number of interesting new policies that would encourage resident and community engagement, it is unclear how it will function as a third-party appeal agency.

The legislation in question, also known as Bill 139, “Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act “, has already passed the first reading in the Legislative Assembly.

What do you think of Bill 139? Will it help or hinder the system? Let us know in the comments below! 

Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.

John Tory calls for provincial funding for relief line

Toronto Mayor John Tory did his best not to grimace at Friday’s joint federal-provincial-municipal press conference on the Yonge Relief Line.

For what seemed the millionth time, three levels of government “re-affirmed their commitment” to this important transit project without actually promising dedicating funding. In fact, in what was an awkward turn of events, Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca took his time at the podium to outline the province’s previous transit commitments and gush about the government’s contributions to Toronto.

Afterwards, Tory took the podium and said “investing in transit is not work that can ever be considered complete.” He called on the province and the federal governments to each contribute 40 per cent of the funding needed to build the relief line. With federal and provincial representatives standing at his side, he said this commitment was necessary and Toronto wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

The federal representative, Ahmed Hussen, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenships, who was there on behalf of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, pledged his support for the relief line. Hussen talked about the $27 million the federal government has already promised to this project and said more is on the way as part of an 11-year, $81 billion infrastructure plan.

“This investment will not have a real and lasting impact for Canadians unless the province is involved,” Tory said in a statement. “While the Province of Ontario has invested $150 million to help plan the Relief Line, and we thank them for that, we need them to commit to partnership on the construction of this transit project and the continued expansion of our network across Toronto.”

“I’m asking for a steadfast commitment from the Province that they will be financial partners in the building of the Relief Line.”

It seems like even after all of this discussion — Toronto is in the same place it was before. The mayor is fighting for funding after being refused the right to raise it on his own with tolls. The province is in denial, saying they have already provided enough money. And the federal government is saying they will help, but won’t give an exact number just yet.

It looks like Toronto’s Mayor has a bit more fighting to do.

Toronto city council approves relief line alignment

Toronto City Council voted to approve the Carlaw alignment for the southern section of the Yonge relief line, but not before a lot of debate that proved councillors still don’t understand the necessity of this incredibly important project.

Councillors threatened to hold off this project if their transit project of preference, made generalized statements about how little relief the “relief line” will have in their riding, and argued about the price tag attached.

As the province of Ontario moves forward with high-speed rail connecting Windsor to Toronto and a transit line that connects northern 905-ers to Finch, there has been little provincial support offered for the relief line.

The relief line is necessary if the city of Toronto wants to relieve congestion and unlock gridlock on major roads. It becomes even more necessary as these other transit lines are built to connect to the already overcrowded Line 1.

City staff have already said that Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031. At this moment, if councillors, staff, and the province keep bickering, it doesn’t seem like the relief line will be built by then. In fact, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter to Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford asking for creative solutions to address short-term subway capacity issues.

“I want to make sure we are doing everything we can now to make the ride better for riders,” Tory wrote.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is still refusing to contribute to the relief line. In a statement released as a response to Tory’s press conference Wednesday morning, Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation, released a statement saying they have already pledged $150 million towards the planning of the relief line and have been an active partner in Toronto’s transit planning.

They have not committed any further funding towards the building or design of the relief line, and have indicated that the province will not be making further commitments for another two years.

Tory, on the other hand, is saying that the province needs to step up and commit to helping fund the downtown relief line, especially since the Kathleen Wynne government shut down his plan to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway for dedicated transit funds.

“I’m not asking for a blank cheque,” Tory said. “I’m asking for a commitment.”

The relief line alignment passed 42-1. Amendments to the original motion include an exploration into cost-sharing for the Yonge extension and the promise that the Yonge North subway won’t open unless the relief line is built and funding is made available.

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

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

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

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

Provided by MTO

 

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

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

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

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

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