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New York Transit Agency needs Andy Byford

I actually missed the TTC last weekend.

I travelled to New York for a few days of broadway shows and incredible food. Unfortunately, it was a tad brisk outside. The tall buildings, while impressive, created wind tunnels that nearly caused some severe frostbite. Despite New York being an extremely walkable city, my travelling companion and I decided to take advantage of the relatively cheap seven-day pass and take the subway to as many destinations as we could.

And man, the time we wasted trying to figure that sucker out.

The New York transit system is rather large, which is great. You can get almost anywhere using public transportation, whether that’s uptown Bronx or downtown Brooklyn. You don’t have to live centrally in order to explore the entire city. You also don’t have to pay a separate fee for transitioning into each neighbourhood or region (great for your wallet). However, because it is so big, it can be difficult to navigate. As the person responsible for the transit map, I couldn’t tell which lines went where. Sure, simply having the green or yellow lines go North-South makes sense, but certain trains only went so far down the line, and where that line ended wasn’t indicated clearly on the map. A few times my group got confused and ended up on the wrong train, including getting stuck in a slow-moving loop with no one else on the car! 

To make things even more confusing, not all trains stopped at all local stations. The map showed not only coloured lines (which were easy), but also lettered and numbered trains that were unique. I still don’t understand what each of those letters mean.

The biggest problem, however, wasn’t the confusing maps. You can get a sense of how it works after a few days and the metro staff were able to give us some decent directions. The problem was the communication once you were on the train. Unlike the TTC, most of the trains didn’t have any sort of map displayed inside the vehicle to indicate where on the line you were and what stops were next. This,  in addition to an extremely muffled and inaudible announcer who said the stop names out loud, meant you had to rely on visual cues — difficult for a tourist unfamiliar with the area. I was constantly looking out the window to find the stop names to confirm my location, something that was incredibly difficult to do when the train was packed.

Finally, there was the emergency system — or rather the lack of emergency system! I won’t go into the story leading up to why it was necessary for someone to pull the emergency breaks on one of the subway cars, but the gist of the matter is that it DIDN’T WORK! A loud, annoying alarm went off, but the train didn’t stop. No one walked down the cars to see what was the matter, and no one showed up once the train arrived at the platform. It was completely useless technology! Luckily, this emergency wasn’t life-threatening.

Oh, and there was no emergency button or intercom either.

There were plenty of other things that bugged me, like basic public transportation etiquette. No one moved to the centre of the train, so it took forever to get on. Passengers sat in the middle of two seats and refused to move. People listened to music so loud everyone on the train could hear the lyrics. In Toronto, we complain about the slightest inconvenience, but in New York, commuters seemed to thrive on disrupting the people around them.

Like I said — I really missed the TTC.

Andy Byford appeared in Toronto exactly when the city needed him. It looks like he is going to New York at the right time as well. Best of luck to you sir; you’ll need it!

CEO Sidewalk Labs answers Toronto’s questions

Back in October it was announced that Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, was chosen as a partner to create an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. 

Sidewalk Labs will be helping develop “a new kind of mixed-use, complete community” on 12-acres of unused Waterfront property. The aim is to use new technology and sustainable practices to address urban problems. They claim this new “smart” will help improve economic growth and bring international attention to Toronto.

Dan Doctoroff, Chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, answered questions from the public about the project on Reddit. A lot is still unknown, but here were some of the big, and quirky, questions**:

Question: What is the timeline for this project, when do you hope to break ground, and are there plans to have mix use housing? 

Answer:  Great questions. The only timeline right now is the year-long community planning process that we launched with the Town Hall on November 1. We’ll be releasing the formal engagement plan in early 2018. At the end of this process, Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the local community will determine whether we should proceed.

As for mixed-income housing — I answered that above but it’s worth repeating. We are strongly committed to making Sidewalk Toronto affordable and accessible to people with a range of incomes, ages, and abilities. We also believe strongly (this is in our RFP response) that mixed-income housing should exist within buildings.

What can you and your company do to ensure that there will be housing available for all kinds of families from various income brackets?

Right from the very beginning of this project, we and Alphabet have committed to making Sidewalk Toronto representative of the socioeconomic characteristics of the greater Toronto area. As a result, we think one of the great opportunities is to figure out ways to make housing more affordable to far more people than is typically done in new developments.

We’re looking at new types of buildings that can reduce construction costs; new approaches to making buildings more adaptable, which can lower cost; and innovative financing programs to make housing more affordable. I was very proud in New York to have led the development of a housing plan that created or preserved 165,000 units of subsidized housing over an 11-year period of time and would hope we can adapt some of those approaches to Sidewalk Toronto.

I was wondering if you can comment on what it is about Toronto that is unique or unprecedented when it comes to urban planning?

We have studied the idea of building a neighbourhood of the future since I formed Sidewalk Labs, in partnership with Larry Page, in 2015. Since then we’ve looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring that vision to life — and we found it in Toronto. Toronto is unique in its incredible diversity and openness, its rich legacy of urbanism, and its rising tech sector. It’s also suffering the problems facing many growing cities around the world, such as affordability and sustainability, which makes it the perfect place to explore new ideas to improve urban life. We did a tremendous amount of research on Toronto while preparing our vision response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP — and we look forward to getting to know the city even better this year.

With the challenges that Toronto faces to transit and moving people across its sprawling “downtown” – coupled with Quayside’s somewhat remote location – how do you see Quayside attracting people from outside of the bubble to come visit/work/play?

A second core assumption that we made right from the beginning is that this would never be a bubble! It should be fully integrated into the fabric of the metropolitan area. We’ve done a lot of work thinking about the ways that this site — which sits on the water, separated by the Gardiner from the rest of downtown — can be stitched together into Toronto’s existing neighbourhoods. That includes potential expansions of mass transit, new forms of shuttles (over time potentially using self-driving technology), heated bike and pedestrian paths, and other ideas. We also believe some of the approaches we pilot here, including using technology to manage flows of pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles, as well as cars, can be applied more broadly in other Toronto areas.

I would love to see some of this area opened up to a low-tech thing – fishing. Are there any plans to include a fishing node or assess areas for fishing the new harbourfront areas? 

Having spent a day last week fishing and having caught nothing, that’s a sore subject right now! I think Fishing as a Service would be a great thing to include in Quayside. (Promise I’m joking.)

Your point is really about waterfront access for the local community, which is a great one. Many Torontonians feel disconnected from the water by the Gardiner Expressway. One of our goals is to support the city’s plans to stitch together the waterfront with downtown neighborhoods, and we’ll be exploring many potential ways to improve access via transit or other means (I mentioned some of them in another answer). We’re also big fans of the recently launched Bentway project (Waterfront Toronto is a project partner) to create a lively public realm beneath the Gardiner and help draw people down toward the waterfront — to fish or otherwise.

What is the first structure you plan on building?

A statue of Jane Jacobs? The real answer is we don’t know yet. What would YOU like to see us build first?

How can I have a job with you?

That is the question I get most often! The truth is, we can’t achieve our goals with Sidewalk Toronto unless we create an organization that combines skills that no single company has ever had. We are looking for people with experience in government, product and engineering, real estate development, business development and investment, communications — and others. The Sidewalk Labs website will give you a sense of what types of jobs are available right now (several are potentially based in Toronto). We also have a way for people to submit their resumes to our “talent network” so that if a job opens up we can see if there are any qualified applicants already in the system. Here is that link — you should apply! https://boards.greenhouse.io/sidewalklabs/jobs/594339#.WlYuYbQ-dE4

Some members of the civic policy community are concerned that giving a private agency greater control over municipal space will result in reduced public ownership and oversight of regions of the city. How will Sidewalk Labs ensure that its activities are transparent, accountable, and that its outcomes serve the people of Toronto – as opposed to financial interests of Alphabet/Google? 

Answer: The short answer is we don’t see this as a private entity controlling this. We see this as a robust partnership with the public sector. Many of the staff members of Sidewalk Labs (including myself!) have spent much of their careers working in local government, and we believe strongly in its power to improve the lives of people in cities.

We also believe strongly in transparency, which is why we’ve been releasing documents at the Sidewalk Toronto site as often as possible, as does our partner, Waterfront Toronto, which will be taking the lead on making records of open meetings publicly accessible. (Waterfront Toronto also has an Open Meetings Processes that applies to board meetings and board committee meetings.)

**Questions shortened for space. Full Reddit Q&A can be found here

‘Everyone is King’ aims to appease Toronto business

Businesses along King Street in Toronto are not happy. They have reported a decrease in sales since the pilot study began back in November, and have complained rather publicly about how the transit-first policy is impacting their finances.

A coalition of business owners are even considering legal action against the city if it doesn’t allow cars full access to the corridor on nights and weekends.

To counter these complaints, Toronto Mayor John Tory launched a design-build competition for the public spaces along the pilot. The hope is that these public spaces and the initiatives that are tied to them will encourage more people to visit King St.

The competition is called “Everyone is King” and calls for ideas on how to animate the curb lanes (15 to 140 metres in length) of the corridor.

“I am pleased we have seen improvements to the efficiency of King Street as part of the downtown transportation network,” Tory said in a statement. “I want to make sure that King Street remains a great place to eat, shop, gather and be entertained during this pilot. This program will encourage people to continue to come out to King Street.”

Local businesses are also being given the opportunity to claim additional space outdoors to support their stores, such as a patio. Any space not claimed by a business will be transformed into something the public can enjoy. Some of these installations will include warming stations, ice sculptures, fire performers, and artwork. Food will be provided through an initiative called “Eats on King”, which hopes “to promote local quick and full-service restaurants in the King Street Transit Pilot Area” on Feb. 19 and March 29.

The mayor reminded residents and businesses that King street is open to car traffic; albeit limited to certain intersections. Drivers may use any of the designated pickup and drop-off locations, and there is $5 off parking in the area around the pilot thanks to a partnership with the Toronto Parking Authority, available until November 2018.

While I understand the complaints by businesses, it is also important to note there may be external factors in play, such as the horrendous weather Toronto has experienced over the last month or the fact that most people are broke after the holidays. And remember, the pilot study began only two months ago, and people are still trying to learn the rules. Give them time to adjust.

Despite the complaints and potential law suite, the first set of transit and traffic data released in December showed improved transit service during the afternoon rush hour. Travel time has reduced from 25 minutes to 22 minutes eastbound, and 24 minutes to 19.7 minutes westbound.

The King Street pilot runs from Jarvis to Bathurst. The corridor funnels drivers to parallel east-west routes like Queen St., Richmond, Adelaide, Wellington, or Front, while still allowing local drivers to access the street for short periods of time. It began on Nov. 12.

New Data will be released on Jan. 12.

No, I will not forgive greedy Tim Hortons

On Friday, Tim Hortons released a press statement to counteract the complaints regarding the slashing of benefits and paid breaks for employees at an Ontario store owned by the children of the franchise’s founders.

The statement reads: “Let us be perfectly clear. These recent actions by a few Restaurant Owners, and the unauthorized statements made to the media by a “rogue group” claiming to speak on behalf of Tim Hortons®, do not reflect the values of our brand, the views of our company or the views of the overwhelming majority of our dedicated and hardworking Restaurant Owners. While our Restaurant Owners, like all small business owners, have found this sudden transition challenging, we are committed to helping them work through these changes. However, Tim Hortons® Team Members should never be used to further an agenda or be treated as just an ‘expense.’ This is completely unacceptable.”

Essentially, the actions of a few spoiled children have resulted in a public relations nightmare and head office decided they needed to respond — without actually offering any assistance, solutions, or guarantees.

Last week, I wrote an article about how the Tim Hortons franchise was being greedy. I said a company that made roughly $3 billion (US) in revenue last year shouldn’t be so quick to devalue their employees. I also said I would not be purchasing any more product from the franchise.

Cue the comments from people defending Tim Hortons, many of whom I would bet make more than minimum wage.

A common argument expressed on social media was that I shouldn’t boycott all Tim Hortons based on the response of one or two store owners. While it is true that not all stores have decided to react to the minimum wage increase in this manner, the franchise itself is partially to blame. Most people have expressed a willingness to pay an extra 10 cents for a cup of coffee or a donut to make up the costs lost to the owners. People are actually asking Tim Hortons to raise prices so that their employees can afford their rent.

These people are the heroes Ontario needs.

Tim Hortons, on the other hand, has not raised prices. They have not promised to absorb the cost of the minimum wage increase. Instead, they chastised store owners for having to make difficult (and wrong) decisions. They claim no responsibility, merely saying they were “saddened” to hear of the actions taken by a “reckless few.”

Cry me a river.

It’s not like businesses didn’t see this coming. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement back in May 2017, saying the minimum wage will increase to $14 on Jan. 1, 2018. That was seven months ago. Did no one do the math? Did no one think: “maybe I should look at the books to figure out how I’m going to make this work?”

And it’s also not just Tim Hortons. Other big chains are dipping into their employees tips and laying off staff,. Sunset Grill is increasing their servers’ tip out by one per cent. This is part of a process called tip pooling, in which servers pay a portion of their day’s tips to support staff like bussers, cooks, and dishwashers. This tip out increase comes in addition to menu price increases at Sunset Grill. The Clocktower, a restaurant in Ottawa, is now removing dishwashers from the tip out, saying they make enough now that minimum wage has increased. They also increased their tip out by one per cent. Smaller businesses have cut store hours and even changed to commission-based wages rather than increase their hourly rate.

Unfortunately, this is how it will be for a while. Corporate head office will blame store owners. Store owners will blame the government. The government will call the store owners “bullies”, and then corporate head office will step in with a nicely worded press release. But, at the end of the day, who is actually left hurting? The employees caught between the madness.

It’s a few dollars per shift. If you can’t figure out the math and get creative, you don’t deserve to own a business.

So, to conclude — thank you for all the comments and remarks, but I’m going to keep boycotting greedy Tim Hortons. And if you had respect for the minimum wage workers in this province, you would do so too.

A baby white rhinoceros was born in Toronto!

It was a Christmas Eve miracle! A white rhinoceros was born at the Toronto Zoo, the first of its kind in 26 years.

A press statement released by the Toronto Zoo said that “both mom and baby are doing very well, with reports that this first-time mom is very restful, calm and protective.  The calf is notably big and strong, weighing in at 62.3 kg.  He has been nursing more than would be expected, and apparently has very hairy ears.”

The white rhinoceros is listed as Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with only 19,682-21,077 left in the world. The species is nearly threatened because of an increase in poaching for their horns, which can be sold on the black market for a hefty price. Their survival depends almost entirely on state protection.

The gestation period for a rhino is 425-496 days (poor mom!). The mom rhinoceros, named Zohari, was moved from the outdoor rhino habitat into an indoor area in November.

The Toronto Zoo is part of the White Rhinoceros Species Survival Plain, which helps maintain healthy rhinos and works towards conservation efforts worldwide. The last white rhino to be born at the Toronto Zoo was a male named “Atu”, and was born in 1990.

The next 30 days are critical for the mom and unnamed baby, which means they won’t be visible to the public. You can; however, check out these adorable videos provided by the Toronto Zoo!

What do you think the calf should be named? Let us know in the comments below!

How to stay warm in this frigid Toronto winter

It was -30 degrees this morning in Toronto with the wind chill, and according to the Weather Network, these temperatures are here to stay. For newcomers and those living on the street, this realization is even more shocking, not to mention dangerous. As Environment Canada puts it, “extreme cold alerts put everyone at risk.”

The City of Toronto has issued its own extreme cold alert, which means additional warming centres and shelter beds become available for those that need it.

Here are some tips to stay warm over the next few weeks:

Layer it up! I’m talking leggings under your pants, undershirts, and sweaters. When you go outdoors, make sure to wear an appropriate jacket that is warm and wind resistant. Pair it with a scarf that covers your entire neck and your face. Hats, mittens, and winter boots are necessary. If you don’t have any of these items, make a trip to the store as soon as possible. There are still some decent boxing day sales on (thank goodness they last for the whole week) and you won’t regret the investment. Don’t worry about your hair or your makeup in this weather. Just get from work to home safely and warmly — no one will care!

Stay indoors if you can! It’s all about reducing your exposure. In these conditions, skin will freeze after 10-30 minutes of exposure to the air. If you are waiting for a bus, for example, this can be problematic. It can also be problematic for drivers, as an increase in freezing temperatures also leads to an increase in black ice. Make sure to limit the time spent outside and talk to your employer about potentially working from home.

Insulate your home! It may be too late to put a plastic wrap around your windows this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. If your radiator is battling against a cold front, your home won’t actually warm up. Drape a blanket or sheet over your air conditioner and windows. If you have to use a staple gun to keep the sheet up, so be it. This will create an extra barrier against the cold entering through these crevasses. You can also roll up towels and place them at the bottom of all your doors. Speaking of doors, make sure all your doors are closed so the heat can fill up a space without travelling to great a distance.

Stay active: The more you sit, the colder you will be. Try to move around, even it if is indoors. Do some yoga, walk up and down some stairs, do some jumping jacks, or even just wander around to different rooms in your home. First of all, it’s important not to lose your fitness regime in the winter, so moving at all is a step forward. Second of all, your body circulation will help you retain heat.

Soup and coffee! Thermoses are your friend. Make sure to warm your insides by drinking lots of warm beverages and hot meals. Invest in a good travel thermos to make sure these meals stay hot for hours. I love my travel mug, which allows me to drink hot coffee from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.!

How are you staying warm going into the New Year? Let us know in the comments below!

Toronto, take the transit this New Year’s Eve

Be safe this New Year’s Eve and avoid drinking and driving.

Corby Spirit and Wine is sponsoring a night of free transit. Ride the TTC from 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 to 7 a.m. on Jan. 1 for free.

“”New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest nights for the TTC with more than a quarter million people traveling with us,” said TTC Chair Josh Colle in a statement. “We are pleased to partner with Corby for the fourth year in a row to ensure that our customers can ride for free and get home safe on the TTC as they celebrate the New Year.”

Here is what you need to know:

  • Most routes will continue until 4 a.m. and then start up again around 6 a.m.
  • Blue Night buses will be running until 8 a.m.
  • Last trains will leave Union Station around 3:30 a.m. for Finch Station and Downsview Station
  • New Year’s Day will be Sunday service.
  • PRESTO users do not need to tap their cards when entering the subway or boarding the bus.

You can also use GO Transit and the UP Express for free after 7 p.m., courtesy of Metrolinx.

So, invite your friends for a night of fun in the downtown core of Toronto — and don’t drink and drive!

Hey Toronto, the minimum wage is going up

No matter what happens in 2018, at least Ontarians will have some solace in the fact the minimum wage will increase by a dollar.

Ontario Minister of Labour announced that as of Jan. 1, the minimum wage will rise to $14. This means an estimated 55 per cent of all retail workers in the province will be getting a raise. Employees will also be eligible for an extra 10 days of personal emergency leave and increased family medical leave for eight to 28 weeks. The government is also instituting a new domestic or sexual violence leave of up to 10 individual days.

“Our plan for Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs provides a minimum wage people can actually live on and modernizes our labour laws to address today’s world. Too many families struggle to get by on part-time or temporary work. Those working full-time can be living in poverty. This is unacceptable in Ontario. Our plan will help ensure everyone who works hard has the chance to reach their full potential and share in Ontario’s prosperity,” said Flynn in a statement.

This is the first step towards the province’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2019.

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.”

Toronto deputy manager John Livey retires

Toronto deputy manager John Livey will be retiring from public service on April 4, 2018.

Livey was responsible for corporate oversight and administrative governance. He has overseen collaborative city-wide initiatives and projects including city planning, transportation, engineering, and construction.

“John is known as a principled leader with a commitment to innovation and excellence,” said City Manager Peter Wallace in a statement. “He has always faced obstacles and challenges head on, with a drive to deliver the best possible results for the residents of Toronto. His determination and hard work will certainly be missed.”

Some of Livey’s notable achievements, according to the City of Toronto, is his role in the Port Lands development and implementation plan, the transit file including Smart Track, Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension, Relief Line, and Scarborough Transit Network. Livey was also responsible for the city’s emergency response during the 2013 ice storm.

He was also a strong supporter of the new motherlode transit network and Rail Deck Park, two initiatives that strived to connect neighbourhoods and regions to the downtown core.

“It has been an honour to work for the City of Toronto,” said Livey. “I would like to thank my many staff teams, senior management colleagues, Mayor Tory and the Members of Council with whom I have had the privilege to work. I know that City staff will continue to advance city-building initiatives through innovation and a commitment to continuous improvement.”

Livey joined the City of Toronto in 2011 after serving as Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Markham. He also worked with the Region of York.

The city will begin the hiring process in early 2018.