Tag

public transportation

Browsing

Woman of the Week: Leslie Woo

Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s Chief Planning Officer, approaches everything with curiosity. With an extensive background in both the private and the public sector, Woo is the kind of person who will move to a new position to fill an education gap and learn how everything connects. She calls it design or systematic thinking, something she acquired through her architectural background.

“Every time I twisted and turned in my career, it was because fundamentally, in my work, I identify something that drives me to solve some other underlying problem somewhere else,” she said.

Woo grew up in Trinidad with a middle class family surrounded by poverty, something she says is one of the reasons why she went into architecture and urban planning — to give back to the community. Architecture, Woo said, is an “interesting bridge between community and planning.” Her mother, who was interested in interior design, encouraged Woo in her love of math, art, and language, leading to a study abroad in in Canada.

When she arrived in this country, she found a hostile climate and a foreign landscape. Even the language was difficult, as she had a thick accent. But, Woo pushed through the culture shock, falling in love with environmental studies and city building.

“In reflection, everything in my life and career is about creating roots and being grounded and establishing a place for myself and for my kids and family,” she said. “This interest in urbanity and quality of space and access, that’s where it comes from.”

Woo’s career is extensive. Prior to joining Metrolinx, she worked with the Waterfront Regeneration Trust as well as Waterfront Revitalization, helped shape the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan with the Ontario Growth Secretariat, and acted as strategic policy director for the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities.

At Metrolinx, Woo developed a large and expanding portfolio. She is responsible for the long-term vision of the provincial transit agency, based on The Big Move, a vast plan to create one of the “largest and fastest-growing urban regions in North America.” She is responsible for $31 billion worth of capital public investments and drives corporate sustainability and innovation.

“I don’t know that I have a love for transit planning to be honest,” she said. “I have a love for city building, and you can’t build a city without mobility. This job has changed three, four times as the organization has grown, as we have continuously demonstrated our capabilities and our expertise, and we have been rewarded to be a larger contributor to the success of the region. That energizes me. Transportation planning is part of the puzzle I have spent the last 10 years trying to solve.”

She is currently leading the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan, which will build on the foundations created between 2008 and 2018, and help create a fully integrated transportation system across the province. Woo says her biggest challenge was to separate herself from the original Big Move plan and take an objective view, focusing on fresh ideas. The first round of consultations has just finished.

“The people using the system, municipalities and public, they have real insights that are important,” she said. “Now we are focused on the ‘how’ – we feel like what we’ve got is a strong validation of the ‘what’ – the direction, the vision. The ‘how’ is about who is making the decisions, how will you prioritize, how will you develop the evidence, where is the money going to come from, what is the role of municipalities?”

In addition to her work, Woo is deeply interested in mentoring and building up women. She said she was blinded about the gender divide in her early career, as a woman from a matriarchal family. But then, she took part in The Judy Project, an executive program within the Rotman School of Management in Toronto that helps prepare women for executive and CEO positions. The program really opened her eyes to the challenges women face in business.

For example, she said data showed that when someone was meeting a woman for the first time, they judged them 60 per cent on how they looked, 30 per cent on how they sounded in terms of their voice, and only a small percentage of what they actually said. “That for me was disturbing but really helpful in how I speak with other women,” Woo said. “It’s a great time to be a woman right now, but it is going much to slow.”

She continued her development at Harvard through a custom designed leadership program. As part of this fellowship, she founded She Builds Cities, a website where she showcases female city builders, people she has admires within the profession. She also leads Metrolinx’s network for women in management, which includes a mentorship program.

“I have formally and informally mentored younger women, older women, I have been mentored myself – I’ve been reversed mentored by younger women, which is refreshing,” she said. “Coaching, sponsoring, those are all things that are important. In my career, I had many mentors…men and women!”

Woo celebrated her 10-year anniversary at Metrolinx this week.

 

Do you enjoy these profiles? Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter and have them delivered straight to your inbox along with the important news of the day! 

TTC looking to innovate, grow ridership past 2014 levels

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board will meet on Thursday to discuss ridership — how to move customers more reliably, make public transit seamless, and innovate for the future.

It’s a big topic. The TTC doesn’t just want to retain their current ridership. According to the TTC, ridership hasn’t grown since 2014, with about 535 millions trips each year. They want to see it grow along with the changing network.

“Over the past decade, major shifts in demographics, travel behaviour and technology have changed how people travel in cities,” the report reads. “The transportation system has shifted from a traditional model of owning a car or using public transit, to a “mobility as a service” system where one either owns their car or accesses a sharedcar/bike alternative.”

The goal of the TTC will be to focus on reliability, mobility, and innovation in order to increase ridership. To do this, the board will approve three initiatives:

  • Provide more surface routes to relieve overcrowding on busses
  • Implement two-hour transfers
  • Implement a discounted fare for PRESTO customers combining TTC and Go Transit/UP trips.

These three initiatives were discussed months ago by the board, as well as city councillors, so chances are they will pass at the meeting this Thursday. Other ideas mentioned in the report include a U-Pass for students, partnering with car-sharing services, and launching public awareness campaigns.

The board will also discuss a corporate strategy that will create a five-year plan “to be a transit system that makes Toronto proud.” This plan focuses on moving transit quickly, including looking at measures similar to the King St. Pilot to relieve congestion on certain routes under the Surface Transit Priority Plan. “Measures that keep transit moving include dedicated right-of-way like we currently have on the 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair streetcars: queue jump lanes that let transit bypass other traffic at key intersections and traffic signal priority, which reduces dwell times for TTC vehicles by holding green signals longer or shortening red signals.”

There is also a goal to be 100 per cent emissions free by 2042!

TTC hikes fares by 10 cents, needs investment from city

Last night, the TTC board approved a 10-cent fare increase for tokens, reducing their shortfall for next year’s budget to about $61 million. As Toronto Transit Commission CEO, Andy Byford, emphasized during his presentation, the board had very few choices. A fare increase was an inevitable and unfortunate necessity.

Cash fares will remain the same, but the cost of a token or a PRESTO single ride will increase to $3. A monthly Metropass will go up to $146.25 for adults and $116.75 for post-secondary students. Cash and ticket prices for seniors and students will also increase by 10 cents.

The change will be effective as of January 2017, although the board did pass a second motion saying they will recommend freezing fares in 2018.

The TTC will now have to turn the budget over to the city budget committee, who will then decide whether to approve the budget with the 2017 shortfall. The fare increase will result in an extra $27 million for the transit agency. That, in combination with a number of efficiency cuts, has already lowered the shortfall from $230 million to $61 million. By approving the budget Monday, the TTC board is saying there is no other way to cut the budget. They have done everything they can without increasing fares by an even more substantial amount or without cutting services.

The TTC receives a very small subsidy compared to other North American cities — 90 cents per rider. Vancouver’s subsidy is $1.89 per rider and Calgary is $1.69. York Region, whose transit network is much smaller, has a subsidy of $4.56. Without more funding, there is absolutely nothing the TTC can do but increase fares.

As much as city council is against raising property taxes, it was clear that concerned transit users are fine with it. Most wanted all residents to contribute, whether it was through tolls or property tax, so that seniors and low-income families don’t have to walk across the city to get to work because they can’t afford public transportation. Raising property taxes was actually a suggestion given to the board by a Toronto resident.

Byford has done all he can do in terms of finding efficiencies, cutting the budget by another 2.6 per cent for the second year in a row. During a time where the TTC is working with the city to build more transit and improve service, this is not a time for cuts.

Now, it’s the city’s turn to take this budget and commit to investing in public transportation. Residents have said they are willing to contribute through taxes, and there are other forms of revenue such as tolls that can be used to help decrease the shortfall, so let’s run with it! It’s time to seriously invest in transportation, especially if Toronto has any hope of completing our integrated transit network.

What if Uber and the TTC worked together?

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) shouldn’t be afraid of ride-sharing services like Uber.

In fact, according to study released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) earlier this month, they should embrace ride-sharing services that allow commuters more options during the hours public transportation is unavailable.

There’s been a lot of talk in Toronto about whether or not Uber is competing against public transportation agencies with the creation of services like UberHOP or UberPool. Last year, the TTC spoke with their lawyers about their monopoly on public transit in the city. They were concerned that UberHOP’s shuttling service was illegal under the City of Toronto Act, which says the only exemptions to this monopoly include rickshaws, pedicabs, taxicabs, vehicles used for providing sightseeing tours, and buses owned and operated by a corporation or organization solely for its own purposes, without charging a fee for transportation, among others.

There has still been no confirmation about whether or not UberHOP is illegal, but they probably shouldn’t be concerned.

The APTA study found that people who use ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft are also more likely to use public transportation. To make this determination, the APTA, which includes Canadian representatives like TTC CEO Andy Byford, surveyed over 4,500 users of ride-sharing services in seven cities.  About 57 per cent of respondents said the bus and train was the mode of transportation they used the most, followed closely by bike-sharing, ride-sharing, and car-sharing.

These “supersharers”—people who use various shared modes of transportation— also own half as many cars per household and spend less on transportation over all. They are also more active. Twenty per cent of respondents said they had postponed buying a car, 22 per cent decided not to purchase one, and 27 per cent sold their vehicle and didn’t replace it.

One of the most valuable conclusions of the study is that ride-sharing and public transportation shouldn’t be considered as competitors. They simply serve different trip types. Ride-sharing, for example, is mostly used for recreation and social services during hours when public transit doesn’t operate; around 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Public transit was still the most common form of transportation for daily use.

Since these services are no longer competitors, the APTA recommends collaboration, especially when it comes to technology and mobile payment.

“Everyone can benefit from a transportation system that provides more mobility options through seamless transfers, integrated fare payment methods, and improved information,” the study reads. “However, such a system is only possible if public sector entities make a concerted effort to ensure that collaboration with private mobility providers results in services that work for people of all ages, incomes and mobility needs.”

Public transit agencies and private operators who were interviewed for the study showed a strong interest in finding ways to harness shared-use models and technology, especially associated with the paratransit service experience. A good example of this type of collaboration is Milton’s Go Connect, a ride-sharing service that allows Go Transit commuters to book rides to the station.

At the end of the day, ride-sharing services and public transportation both aim to do the same things—help citizens get from one area of the city to another. Why not open up to a partnership and focus on customer experience?  Why not invest in technologies that will allow commuters to use their mobile phones to reserve spots on paratransit or to pay for any transportation service.

Why is Toronto fighting this? Whether someone uses a bus, subway, Go Train, or ride-sharing program, that’s one less car on city roads. Shouldn’t that be what Toronto strive for?