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Toronto: Metrolinx reaches new contract with Bombardier for Crosstown

Over the holidays, Metrolinx negotiated new contract terms with Bombardier, the transit agency responsible for producing light rail vehicles for Toronto’s Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit (LRT) system. According to a press statement, these new terms offer “significant financial penalties for Bombardier if they fail to deliver quality vehicles on-time.”

“This clearly resets the relationship with Metrolinx under its new leadership, and provides a clear path forward to ensure certainty on the technical and financial obligations of both partners,” a Bombardier press statement said.

Bombardier is contracted to manufacture 76 light rail vehicles, which is 106 less than the original contract for 182.

“We want our suppliers to succeed,” Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said in a statement. “The new agreement provides compelling incentives for Bombardier to allocate the right resources and attention to the production of our Eglinton vehicles.”

The new agreement includes performance deadlines and a new late delivery penalty. Bombardier has also committed to be more transparent when it comes to production plans and progress, which means that Metrolinx will have the opportunity to address progress on a regular basis. Bombardier will ensure vehicle quality is sustained throughout the lifespan of the vehicles.

The GO Transit Operations and Maintenance contract was extended by 18-month.

In May, the provincial government signed a new agreement with Alstom Canada to provide vehicles that would be used on the Eglinton Crosstown. Alstom is still contracted to manufacture 61 cars, but they will be used on other transit lines such as Finch West LRT.

“We have always been resolved to find a clear negotiated path forward, one that delivers value to all parties, and foremost to the people of Ontario. Bombardier is fully committed to the Metrolinx project and to the people of the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA),” said Benoit Brossoit, President, Americas Region at Bombardier Transport. “I look forward to working with Metrolinx’s CEO, Phil Verster’s, to advance this project and ensure that riders have the most efficient, comfortable and reliable transit system in the world.”

Ontario PCs wants to take over TTC – but only part of it

This past weekend has seen two group of people argue for provincial ownership of aspects of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives released their election platform on Saturday called “The People’s Guarantee.” In this document, the PCs say they will assume responsibility for maintenance and investments in Toronto’s subway system. Toronto would still retain control of the streetcars and busses.

“In partnership with the Mayor of Toronto, Patrick Brown and the Ontario PCs will assume responsibility for the physical subway infrastructure – tunnels, tracks, and stations. This will allow the province to amortize subway investments and costs on the province’s books over the life of the asset. The city would maintain complete control of day to-day maintenance and operations,” the document says.

The PCs will invest $5 billion in projects throughout Ontario, including the Relief Line and extension to Richmond. It also pledged to pay the city’s share of funding for the Scarborough Subway Extension, but only if Toronto makes a “significant financial contribution” to the Eglinton Crosstown West.

The PCs will not support the tolling of the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway to fund transit and infrastructure projects.

The political party is not the only one who thinks the province should take control of Toronto’s transit network. The Toronto Region Board of Trade released a report that calls for the consolidation of planning, construction, and operation of transit into one provincial transit agency. The idea is that politics would no longer interfere with the delivery of projects and provide extra revenue for other city issues.

This agency, dubbed “Superlinx”, would merge GO Transit and 12 different transit operators together to “provide the vision, scale and resources to finally provide the world-class transit system that the corridor needs.” Superlinx would be responsible for paying for the region’s transit operations.

As the provincial election gets closer in June, more and more of these proposals will pop up. Transit is the priority item, with almost every municipality in the province looking to expand and grow their networks. Is a provincially-run agency the best way to go about building transit? Will this reduce the bureaucracy preventing shovels from getting in the ground or will it create a whole new set of problems?

What do you think?

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.”

 

Ontario proposes a bill to have safe access zones near abortion clinics

The government of Ontario is proposing legislation that would ensure all women can make their own decision safely and freely.

The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, 2017 was introduced on Oct.4 by Minister for the Status of Women, Indira Naidoo-Harris and the Attorney General, Yasir Naqri. If the bill is passed, women can access abortion services without fear of intimidation or harassment. ‘Safe Zones’ will be located around clinics and other abortion service centres. These zones will protect the privacy of women as well as the safety and security of proper health care services.

In safe zones, anti-abortion protests or intimidating individuals would be prohibited from lurking or giving out anti-abortion information. If the bills is passed it would also mean it would be illegal for clinic staff or other health professionals to harass women about their abortion choices.

“Our governments proposed safe access zones would protect a woman’s fundamental right to fair and equal access to safe abortion,” Harris said in a statement. “It an important step forward, and one that strengthens the rights of all women in Ontario. Women in our province should be able to access health care free form the threat or fear of violence or harassment.”

There are eight abortion clinics in Ontario and the safe access zones will extend from 50 to 150 meters around the clinic. Similar safe access zones have been functioning in other provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson warmly welcomes this move as the city has had to deal with various protestors and anti-abortion activists who harass women as they leave the Morgentaler Clinic along Bank Street in downtown Ottawa. Watson is calling on the government to consider the legislation so police can now deal with the activists.


The safety zone will also automatically apply to the homes for abortion clinic staff, hospitals and pharmacies that offer abortion services. People who violate the zones can face a fine with a range of $5000-$10,000 and from six months to a year in jail. Anti-abortion groups such as the Campaign Life Coalition think the proposed legislation is drastic and far-reaching. Jim Hughes,the president of the organization, said this form of ‘bubble zone legislation’ is not about protecting women from violence that doesn’t exist, instead he said it a form of silencing pro-life campaigns.

The safe access safety zones will also be able to increase or decrease in size based on regulation, if this bill is passed. This proposition is completely different to a bill that has been recently passed by the United States House of Representatives, legislating that all abortions after 20 weeks will be criminalized and punishable by up to five years in prison. This bill is a direct hit to women’s rights. This move has been supported by the Trump administration and is gathering a lot of criticism in the U.S. Planned Parenthood Action Fund says this move is just a way to slowly end all abortions. They say that 99 per cent of abortions take place before 20 weeks.

What are your thoughts on this proposed legislation? Comment below!

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.

Woman of the Week: Lauren Doughty

Lauren Doughty joined CBRE, a commercial real estate company, 11 years ago as a summer student. She had just graduated from the University of Guelph and was planning on travelling abroad, but she abandoned her post-graduation travel plans when she was offered the job, deciding to test out the industry to “see if she liked it.” Since then, she got her real estate license and moved up within the same team — from summer marketing assistant to senior partner.

“Every day is completely different,” she said. “That’s what I love most about being part of land services group. Experiencing new projects and new challenges.”

As Vice-President of CBRE’s Land Services Group, Doughty represents the Toronto market for land services, focusing on selling development land. She has transacted over $1 billion in land dispositions, focusing on the GTHA with clients like Infrastructure Ontario and the Toronto Lands Corporation.

Doughty’s success can be attributed to how she handles her client relations. She says it’s important to think long-term and not push too hard to land the deal. It’s all about making the client feel like they have your undivided attention.

I think it’s more than just a deal,” she said. “You can’t be short sighted to try and get a deal for your sake, it’s about the client and the best decision for them. In real estate these transactions are really relationships, so that when the next deal comes there is no one else that they would rather go to.”

Some of the big projects Doughty has worked on include a transaction at Bloor and Dufferin on behalf of Toronto Lands Corporation and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). One of the things she loves about working with organizations like the TDSB is that it is community driven. The process involves meeting with city planners, various consultants, and speaking with the residents who live around the area about what they would like to see in the future development.

“I think what’s so rewarding about what I do — selling these properties and seeing what’s built on them and how it benefits the community,” she said. “Selling land for hospitals or run down buildings that are being torn down and turning it into something much more useful and vibrant in the community is what I really enjoy about it.”

Doughty spends a lot of time studying the housing market and says the numbers being reported in the media don’t accurately represent what’s happening in Toronto. The problem isn’t with the “housing bubble,” she says. It’s with supply and government oversight.

“Our inventory for new homes has dwindled down because there is so little supply and every new project that comes in gets sold quickly. When something does come in, it gets picked up really quickly.”

To compensate for the lack of supply, CBRE is looking at selling sites outside of the 416 areas like Kitchener, Waterloo, and Barrie — anywhere that is inside an urban boundaries and accessible to Go Transit so that those commuting into the downtown core of Toronto can still afford a home.

“When I started working here in 2006, we had listings out in geographical areas I hadn’t even heard of. Over the years we really focused on selling sites in the 416/905 municipalities. As of recently we have started working across the Greater Golden Horseshoe because there is so little supply of developable land within the GTA. People need to move out of this region for affordability reasons. When, in Markham, a townhouse now costs $1.5 million – homebuyers need to go to these out- of-golden-horseshoe areas.”

Her biggest concern is the new Ontario Municipal Board reforms and how that will affect zoning for sites that are in the process of getting approved.

In her free time, Doughty tried to volunteer her time with numerous organizations benefiting women. She just finished her term as Program Co-Chair with the Urban Land Institute and previously volunteered with Toronto CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women). Part of CREW’s mentorship is a program called Real Jobs, which allows high school students to learn more about careers in commercial real estate.

“At that age, I remember not knowing what to do. I would love to see more women get into real estate, whether its development or brokerage.”

Doughty still loves to travel — her latest adventure was three weeks in Asia — and spending time at the cottage. She is currently renovating her own house with her fiancé.

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.