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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.

NDP calls on Kathleen Wynne to fund relief line

BREAKING: NDP transit critic Cheri DiNovo calls on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to commit to funding the relief line.

“The Mayor of Toronto and the TTC say that the relief line must be built before the Yonge line extension, or else there will be transit chaos,” she said in a statement. “But the premier seems to be more interested in saving Liberal seats north of Toronto than funding a subway project that transit experts say must come first.”

This statement was released on May 11, two days after Toronto Mayor John Tory said he would remove his support for the Yonge North Subway Extension unless the province supplied funding for the relief line. The Relief Line will provide an alternative for commuters travelling downtown from the west end of Toronto, rather than continue to funnel Torontonians into the singular central Yonge Line 1.

Line 1 will be at capacity by 2031.

More to come.

Who’s promising what for the relief line?

Toronto Mayor John Tory knows what the city needs and is not afraid to fight for it. Tuesday, in what may be a last desperate attempt to prove to the current provincial government he is not to be trifled with, Tory announced that he would remove his support for the Yonge North Subway Extension unless Ontario provided more funds for the relief line.

The Ontario government has informed the City of Toronto that they will be implementing a budget freeze, which means no new money will come in for this important project. Over the last few weeks, Tory has been meeting with other party leaders to see what they will be offering the city in terms of transit and infrastructure. Here is the rundown:

Liberals

Ontario’s 2017-18 budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

Conservatives

Patrick Brown, leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, met with Mayor Tory at the beginning of May to outline further promises for social housing and funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation— something the Liberal government did not allot money for in this year’s budget. The promises made included allowing TCHC to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line was not mentioned at all in the statement released following the meeting. It should also be noted that during the provincial budget release, Brown said he was not in favour of tolls or short-term accommodation levys.

NDP

Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP Party, was the latest major politician to meet with Tory. She promised to provide one third of the repair costs for social housing if elected.

In a press release passed out to journalists following the Liberal budget, Horwath also announced the party would enter into a 50 per cent funding agreement with municipal partners to help pay for transit operating costs.

Horwath has not ruled out the use of tolls or short-term accommodation levies; although she has not said she has not clarified if she would implement such revenue tools.

Green Party

The Green Party is all for the use of tolls (dynamic tolling) and congestion charges, in addition to uploading the cost of maintaining and operating the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway back to the province.

The money collected from these tolls would be dedicated to transit, ensuring that those who choose to use alternative modes of transportation are able to use a modern and well-maintained system. This would also free up a couple billion dollars worth of funding the City of Toronto could use to build better transit infrastructure and maintain other roads within the city.

Tory threatens to stop Yonge extension until relief line funded

Toronto Mayor John Tory has threatened to remove his support of the Yonge North Subway Extension unless the province agrees to provide funding to help construct the relief line.

This announcement was made following a report that was released for approval by the Executive Committee on both transit projects, seeking approval for the alignment and design/planning stages. This new report also included the cost estimate for the relief line — $6.8 billion for the construction of the first phase of the project. There is little doubt the cost will continue to rise as the design of the line continues.

As of now, there is no dedicating funding from the federal or provincial government for the relief line. The Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, has promised $150 million for the planning of the project, but that’s it. According to a press statement released by the minister, the province has also notified city officials of a budget freeze in 2018,” which would leave no room for funding either of these projects at the municipal level.”

Del Duca doesn’t see this as a problem. “We’ve been at the table right at the start for both of these projects, by contributing $150-million to the Relief Line planning and design work, nearly three times the amount the City has committed, and $55 million towards the same work on Yonge North,” he said in the statement. “However, Mayor Tory just can’t take yes for an answer.”

What Del Duca fails to realize is that $150 million for the planning of the project will do nothing to help move the relief line along. It’s small change for a project as large as this. By 2031, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity, unable to carry new riders. It’s important to remember the development of SmartTrack will not offer relief to Line 1. The many transit extensions being built prior to the relief line will actually drive traffic towards this central line, increasing capacity until it’s no longer feasible to operate.

That’s why Tory said at a press conference that he would not support the development of the Yonge North Subway Extension until the province changes their mind on funding this important project. The extension is a project supported by many Liberal candidates in the York region.

“We might have to consider just diverting our resources to other work,” he said to reporters. “If we are uncertain that the relief line will be funded or not, then why would we be devoting our time working on the Yonge Street North Extension because the two are very much interconnected.”

Tory emphasized that without provincial or federal funding, there is no way the City of Toronto can afford to build this critical subway line.

The new relief line, if approved by city council, will travel down Carlaw between Gerrard St. and Eastern. The next phase of the work will be to accelerate the planning and design of the southern part of the line, including developing the next budget estimates.

Are simple economics to blame for rising housing costs?

Toronto is undergoing a serious housing crisis — everyone is saying so! Experts, real estate agents, the media, and even politicians admit openly the cost of housing is getting out of control. And yet, even after months of knowing this fact, no one is doing anything about it.

Sure, the government is enacting rent control and a non-resident speculation tax. But this same government, whether municipal, provincial, or federal, hasn’t done what experts are claiming is the easiest and most effective thing they can do for the housing market: build!

“The only reason why prices rise is because there are more buyers than sellers,” explained Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital. “Prices rise for no other reason.”

Thursday, new statistics became available through the census that said Toronto has 5,000 fewer detached homes homes in 2016 compared to 2011. It’s what Love calls simple economics. When there are three people interested in purchasing one home, the problem isn’t foreigners or lack of regulation; it’s demand and supply. It means there aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Sure, we have lots of high-rise buildings popping up throughout the downtown core, but a family with three children most likely won’t want to live in an apartment building. Without diversity in housing, there will always be people left without.

It seems so simple; why is this so hard to understand? What is preventing people from building more family-friendly homes in Toronto and throughout the Golden Horseshoe?

Most people blame the NIMBYs — the people who claim they don’t want condos built in their back yard — or the bureaucratic red tape of development agencies. But Love says everyone is to blame. At the end of the day, he asks, “do we want to be Chicago, or Detroit?” A world-class city needs housing, daycare, parks, and transit — so, how do we get it?

First of all, the government needs to intensely invest in transit and open up surrounding geographies for development. If people who work in Toronto have the option of living in places like Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa — with the possibility of commuting on an express train — many people will do so! An hour commute is not unreasonable if it means saving money on a home. This would also free up homes within the city for those who want or need it.

Why not take it even further and build on top of the rail, Love asks. The purpose of expanding the Golden Horseshoe through transit is to connect people and create communities and neighbourhoods along these hubs. This can’t be done if people have to walk for 30 minutes just to get to the bus.

Second of all, the city needs to encourage development zoning and encourage the building of low and mid-rise condominiums. “People are terrified of 60-story buildings,” Love said. “But mid-rise is fine! I would pre-zone areas to allow for that density.”

This type of variety in housing is necessary not only in order to accommodate the many types of people looking for homes in the GTHA., but also to allow for the immediate development of land in neighbourhoods that are against the building of tall condominiums. Pre-zoning would also reduce the number of complaints and bureaucratic tape that surrounds development. Instead of a developer purchasing land and then deciding what to do with it, the community would actually have a say in what kind of buildings or homes will be put in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, allowing a second kitchen within a home to be used as a secondary apartment, within designated areas, would be a short-term solution that would allow homeowners to rent our basements and provide housing for short-term occupancy.

These short and long term solutions were all suggested with the clear understanding that prices go up because there are more buyers than sellers, a concept Love says won’t be accepted until there is a significant change in public opinion.

The biggest problem is that NIMBY-ism and the fear of immigrants taking our land, jobs, and homes, are much more attractive for both the media and government agencies. Rather than stand with the experts, public servants are focusing on issues that will bring them votes, things like free prescription and lower electricity bills. Things only ever get done when the government is scared of losing power. If the public told governments to build, to increase the supply so that more people could purchase homes, it would have to do so. Until then, they will continue to blame tax foreigners and claim to help cool the market while families are left homeless.

It’s time the government consulted experts and remembered their university or college introduction to economics course — prices rise when the demand is higher than the supply. And here in the Golden Horseshoe, we have about as much demand as you can get.

Who will win Toronto’s votes?

Monday saw a battle to woo voters, with representatives from both the Conservative and Liberal Party of Ontario in Toronto to discuss their plans for housing and transit in the city.

After receiving little support in the provincial budget last week, Mayor John Tory sat down with Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown Monday morning to discuss funding for social housing and SmartTrack.

The meeting itself was behind closed doors, but the media was given a press release following the exchange indicating PC promises to Toronto if elected into power in 2018. This included allowing Toronto Community Housing to purchase natural gas independently instead of bulk buying from the Housing Services Corporation. The idea is that TCHC will be able to save money be negotiating better prices on natural gas. The city estimates savings of about $6.3 million.

Other inclusions in the PC plan: financial support of the Scarborough subway (actual contribution unknown), supporting TTC fares on SmartTrack RER, and pledged to intervene so that Bombardier trains for the Eglinton Crosstown arrive on time.

The Yonge Relief Line, the project every transit and city building agency has indicated as its priority, was not mentioned in the statement. There was also no mention of allowing municipal sources of revenue such as tolls and short-term accommodation taxes — which makes sense considering Brown made it clear during the budget lockup that the Conservative Party was against both sources of revenue.

At the same time this statement was released, the Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca took questions from reporters in Etobicoke. In it, he re-stated that the Ontario Liberals are big supporters of Toronto and “no one was invested more than them” in the city.

The Liberal Party has only promised $105 million for the planning of the relief line.

Honestly, at this moment in time, it doesn’t seem like Toronto will win with either party. There is still no promise for further funding for social housing or important transit initiatives like the relief line — two things that are critical to the growth and survival of Toronto.

I wonder if the mayor is planning on speaking with the New Democratic Party to find out their views? During the budget lockup, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she was committed “to a 50 per cent funding agreement along with its municipal partners” to help in operating costs for transit. It would be interesting to see what her commitment was to Golden Horseshoe Area.

It’s the perfect time to light a fire under Queen’s Park for more transit and housing — and Tory knows it. It’s about negotiating the best deal as soon as possible, because it’s all about the votes at the end of the day.

Will Ontario’s new housing regulations do anything of value?

Ontario is cracking down on the red hot housing market by introducing a series of incentives that will, hopefully, control inflating real estate in the Golden Horseshoe region.

The province plans to bring in a series of 10 different initiatives to help placate the housing and rental markets — but the proposed regulations are a mixed bag. The non-resident speculation tax (NRST) is the primary regulation the Ontario Liberals hope to pass and the plan has immediately fallen under criticism. NRST would tax individuals that are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada 15 per cent when they purchase a home. The tax would apply to transfers of land, including “single family residences, detached homes and condos”. It would not apply to residential apartment buildings. This tax is similar to the foreign buyer’s tax in Vancouver, but differs because it would allow people to refund the tax if they obtained permanent residency within four years of living in the home.

NRST is one of the less impactful initiatives announced Thursday morning because it only applies to foreign buyers and doesn’t adequately represent most of the buying market in Toronto. Blaming foreign buyers for the problems of a mostly localized Canadian real estate market echoes the xenophobic tendencies seen lately in the United States, and won’t help the housing sector in a large or meaningful way. Why not instead implement a vacancy tax so that local homeowners, including foreign buyers, wouldn’t be allowed to keep their homes empty? This would directly respond to the desperate need for housing in the city.

Luckily, one of the other initiatives does leave room for municipalities throughout the province to enact a vacancy tax if they so wish. This puts the onus on each individual city to make the decision, which is either an avoidance tactic or a way to appease a heightening tension between Canada’s largest city and the province. The province will also crackdown on assignment clauses, which allows a buyer to pass on the right to another person to buy a property, and is a ‘scalping’ strategy to avoid taxes.

In the renting sector, the province will allow rent control again, which was banned in 1991. This will prohibit landlords from raising rent by more then 2.5 per cent, which has recently become a massive problem in the Golden Horseshoe. This is a positive change for renters who are currently at the whims of greedy landlords without rental control in place. The province also plans to strengthen the Residencies Tenancy Act to further protect renters from corrupt landlords.

The province of Ontario is finally taking action on the over-inflated housing market in the Golden Horseshoe, but it still stands to ask whether the initiatives introduced are too weak? By introducing a non-resident tax, the province avoids tackling the larger issue. With an election around the corner, the province may be hesitant to bring the hammer down on wealthy homeowners. Hopefully, the City of Toronto takes the initiative instead and enacts a vacancy tax on behalf of the province.

That being said, the incentive to crack down on speculation driving the market up and re-introducing rent control are fantastic incentives for the province. It remains to be seen what the new regulations will actually do for Ontario — but it will be clear what works and what doesn’t have an incredible impact on the red-hot housing sector.

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.

Rent control needed to control rising prices

Rent is at an all-time high in Toronto, with low vacancy rates and high prices. In other words, it is nearly impossible to find a home to rent in the current market.

The cost of renting a home in the city has increased above the rate of inflation, and the municipal and provincial governments are looking at ways to help control the price of rent. The Ontario government announced in March  it will consider substantial changes to rent-control rules due to tenants complaining about double-digit rent increases that are leaving people homeless. As the rules stand, only apartment buildings built before 1991 can have rent control and the government is now looking at changing that.

Ontario introduced rent controls in 1976 as a temporary measure to lower rent increases to the rate of inflation, and the NDP government offered a five-year rent control exemption to units in 1992 to encourage developers to build new units. The rules then became permanent. Instead, landlords can only raise rent by 1.5 per cent annually, but can apply for additional increases. Many stakeholders, including CIBC Capital Markets, are against re-implementing rent control because it previously reduced new construction of apartment buildings, and accelerated building deterioration that had rent control.

Rent control is being criticized because there is a concern that landlords won’t upkeep apartment rentals if they can’t lift the cost of rent, or that tenants will remain for longer. It is assumed that landlords will do the bare minimum to maintain an apartment and many rent-cost units fall into disrepair. Avoiding rent control because it would cause landlords to not maintain their property truly demonstrates how corrupt the rental market is. There should be a morally upright desire to fix units. Instead, avoiding certain rent control strategies because it is naturally expected landlords won’t upkeep their responsibilities proves how greedy and deplorable the apartment rental market can be.

The City of Toronto has decided to implement a new set of rules that will force landlords to track tenant complaints, respond quickly to repair requests, and provide pest control. The rules will come into effect on July 1 and is being widely celebrated by tenants in Toronto. The program will be enforced 12 months after launching and will apply to 3,500 buildings with three or more storeys of 10 or more units, resulting in 350,000 apartments. The rules indicate that emergency requests such as no water or heat must be handled in under 24 hours and a pest control situation must be dealt with in 72 hours. Landlords will also be forbidden from renting an apartment with a pest control problem.

Re-implementing rent control is a necessary in Toronto, especially with the new rules that have been implemented that would force landlords to upkeep their rental units. The cost of renting an apartment should be at par with the rate of inflation, because otherwise it is giving way to corruption and greed. It is commendable that the province and city are getting involved in rentals and will ultimately force landlords into a position to provide tenants with fair prices and liveable apartment units.

Tory hits back at province for transit and relief line funds

Early Tuesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter and a list of budget recommendations to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, calling on Ontario to become “a full partner in cost-sharing of major infrastructure investments going forward.”

The letter outlines Toronto’s infrastructure expectations given the province’s rejection of tolls. Tory said the province has an “obligation” to help the city pay for the maintenance of both the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, in addition to helping pay for new lines in the transit network, like the Yonge Relief Line.

Tory’s budget recommendation included the approval of a new revenue tool — a levy on hotel and short-term accommodation. The city of Toronto needs legislative authority from the province in order to tax lodgings; however, it doesn’t want this tool to interfere with the funding already given to Tourism Toronto. Tory is proposing a four per cent tax on hotels and short-term accommodations like airbnb.

In addition to a revenue tool, Tory has outlined a list of recommended items the province should fund, including $820 million to help rehabilitate the Gardiner Expressway, $3.36 billion for the transit network plan, $863 million for Toronto Community Housing, and $50 million for child care subsidies.

These recommendations follow a public exchange by Tory and Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca on Monday, in which Tory told the media the province was not acting like a “full partner” in their commitment to build transit. Tory stood at the Bloor – Yonge subway platform and said the province needed to come up with a plan to help contribute to the relief line and other transit projects. He suggested the province, as well as the federal government, each contribute 40 per cent of the funds for the project. Toronto would then pay for the remaining 20 per cent.

Del Duca responded with his own press statement, saying the Ontario government has “always been a strong partner with Toronto city council” and that they were “not going to play political games with transit.” With words bolded and underlined, Del Duca mentioned the measly $150 million the provincial government has already pledged to the relief line and claimed to be a “stable provincial funding partner at the table” unlike the federal government.

The reality is that Toronto needs billions to develop its transit network — a network that will benefit residents throughout the GTHA as more people use public transportation instead of driving on already congested roadways. The refusal of the provincial government to allow Toronto to fund its own projects through revenue tools like tolls puts projects like the downtown relief line in jeopardy. Toronto’s growth and development is, effectively, at the mercy of Queen’s Park.

Tory understands this and is fighting back. He is trying to make it abundantly clear that if the province doesn’t allow Toronto to explore and use its own revenue tools, then it has to step up to the plate and help pay for these important projects.

There are universal benefits to developing Toronto’s transit network. It will help reduce carbon emissions as less people drive into the city. It will help connect the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area so that people can get from their home to work in a seamless manner. And it will help reduce congestion for those who have no choice but to use their car to get around.

Funding this network is a win-win scenario — and if the province is not going play politics with transit, they would see that.