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Did ambition hurt Smart Track?

A group of colleagues and I set up the Transit Alliance back in 2011 to educate the public on the need for dedicated transit funding and transit development. We believed that transit development was suffering because politicians used it to garner votes, but few bothered delivering on their promises. Our goal at the Alliance was to keep transit development in the public eye, so politicians couldn’t slink away from it. By keeping the level of discussion around transit constant, the public would demand development. We started the discussion on dedicated transit funding, we worked on building support on the use of tolls, and we advocated on the need to build the Relief Subway Line.

As I look back over our work, I realize that our biggest challenges came from politicians who tried to use transit as a stepping stone to power. Politicians, who created controversy over what and where transit lines should be built, were actually delaying the development of transit across Toronto. For example the Eglinton West subway line broke ground in 1994, but was cancelled with the tunnel filled in by Premier Mike Harris in 1995, to the horror of transit development experts around the world.

Political candidates (desperate for power) continually throw out transit plans that will garner the most votes. But transit is a complex issue and planning it properly to meet with population and density growth should be left to educated experts not campaign teams. Unfortunately, in Toronto few politicians listen to the experts.

In 2014 Mayor John Tory came out with a transit plan that was put together by some of the best transit experts in North America. Their focus was to create a transit plan that would help not just Toronto, but the entire region. And knowing the political road blocks likely to happen along the way, my guess is that they created a plan that asked for much more than what is essential, as politicians and public servants would invariably widdle down the plan over time. Mayor Tory’s Smart Track plan lived up to its name and was a smart plan for the entire region. Tory pointed out that the Relief Line was the highest priority subway line, but he also knew that the connections that moved people across the region were key to a strong transit network.

What many don’t realize is that politicians rely on public servants to deliver on their plans. Mayor Tory relied on his former chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat to figure out how to deliver Smart Track efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to do it and seemed to have stalled the process. I’ve grown to admire and respect Mayor Tory. But I know him well enough to know that he would never point this out.

Today I learned that Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner, is now blaming Mayor Tory for her failure to deliver Smart Track. Her lack of willingness to take responsibility for her failures is shameful. But to blame Mayor Tory for her lack of success makes me wonder if she might have actually worked to hold it back? As chief planner, she could have added multiple layers of red tape, she could have delayed every aspect of the planning process around Smart Track and undermined the entire project.

I remember a dinner the Transit Alliance hosted with Jennifer Keesmaat as our guest of honour back in 2015 when she was Toronto’s chief planner. Keesmaat spoke about how great the Smart Track plan was and how it would help relieve gridlock in and out of the city. After dinner, I suggested that she should go into politics, that she might gain a lot of support. Her response – “Why do you think I’m here?”

GO Transit allowing dogs onboard until October

Looks like your pups will now be allowed on the GO trains and buses for a trial period after a petition surfaced asking to allow dogs onboard.

A petition was published calling for 30,000 signatures in support of allowing dogs to ride on Go Transit. Technically dogs are allowed on GO Transit, which the petition acknowledged, but only if they’re in crates or licensed service dogs. GO Transit specified previously how the reason for this was to ensure the safety of its customers and for liability reasons.

“This policy does not serve GO customers and is short sighted. Crating a dog is unrealistic because some dogs may be too large to crate in portable crates and are too heavy and owners will struggle to carry them or if they are crated, there is no place to store the crate when the owner arrives at their destination,” the petition stated. “Leashed dogs are allowed to travel on the TTC, allowing dog owners to travel within the city without a car. With the growth of the GTA and excessive traffic congestion, GO Transit customers need to be able to move across the city and into surrounding communities without using a car.”

The petition went on to suggest that GO Transit could designate several cars as being “dog free” while having the rest of the train accessible to dog owners.

To date, the petition received 25,483 signatures.

Metrolinx has since updated their policy to allow for dogs to travel on GO Transit. Their updated policies state that from July 20 – October 15 people will now be allowed to bring a maximum of two leashed dogs on weekdays and holidays between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. They will also be allowed to ride from 6:30 p.m. until the end of service. Outside of those hours, Metrolinx asks that dog owners revert back to the old policy of having dogs that can fit in your lap or that can be placed in crates.

Additional rules state that patrons and their dogs need to be seated on the lower levels of trains and buses, they would obviously need to pick up after their pet and ensure that any dog is kept close by without causing any disturbances for others.

“We aren’t making any changes to our service animal policy. Service animals are welcome on board with their owners all day, every day, and must wear a vest and have identification from an accredited training organization,” the statement read. “Throughout the pilot, we’ll collect and monitor feedback from customers and staff to help guide our future plans. […] We’ll let you know if we make any permanent changes to our policy about travelling with your pets.”

Though nothing is permanent, you’ll be able to participate in GO Transit’s trial period starting this Friday.

GTHA Transit Wants & Woes

A transit strike is looming that may impact the GTHA. Metrolinx shared that the strike involves CP labour unions and may commence as early as Monday. The action by the union may impact GO Transit rail services.

Metrolinx made a statement on the impending transit troubles promising that services will not be disrupted:

“While we are hopeful that an agreement can be reached, we have plans in place to ensure customers can continue to travel safely and as easily as possible if a strike occurs. Our plans have been adjusted since our last communication to customers in April and no train services need to be cancelled. In the event of a CP labour disruption, we are now able to operate trains into Hamilton GO Centre.”

The reason that a CP strike may still impact GO Transit service is that many tracks that are used by Metrolinx for these services, are owned by alternate rail companies, such as CP. A strike means less CP staff available to operate the traffic switches and signals, leading to delays and suspended services.

The unions, which include the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have carried on talks with railway management.

A spokesperson for Teamsters Canada stated that the union would likely reject any offer and that they will request immediate resuming of negotiation to reach a deal before a strike ensues.

If the unions decide to strike, members must give 72 hours notice, as CBC indicates.

GTHA Transit efficiency is always a focus, whether good or bad, in this city. Even without a looming strike posing a threat to service, it’s clear that Toronto and GTA transit could be made more efficient. The upcoming election has the big four political parties making promises to do just that. The PC, Liberal and NDP parties are all pro-relief line plan. The line is to be built from the Danforth directly to downtown and relieve overcrowding on the Yonge/University Line. The Green Party is also making transit a focus, but in Scarborough.

Strike or not, Canada’s most densely populated region needs politicians and transit services always looking to the future for betterment of the transit network already in place. Hopefully negotiations and elections lead to reaching this common goal quicker.

Sidewalk Labs launches Toronto Transit Explorer App

Sidewalk Labs continues to impress Torontonians. The company won a bid to develop Toronto’s waterfront from the eastern section of Queen’s Quay, over to Parliament, into a high- tech hub. Many have shared worries about transparency and security, because the New York-based company has promised to collect data to help improve Toronto living. They will focus data collection on aspects like housing costs, and congestion, in addition to others like safety and development.

The Google-affiliated company has now launched  apps and made them “open-source,” which means they are open to the public. The latest app is Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto Transit Explorer, which was first presented at a public roundtable back in March.

The web application is available on desktop and mobile and takes data from a variety of open data sources, then creates an interactive map of transit in Toronto. This allows users to find out how accessible each form of transit is to them, and to compare which mode of transportation is best for reaching their destination by outlining the time it will take using each option.

 The app shows different colours; anything in blue means biking in that area is the most efficient form of transportation, white means that both transit and biking take about the same amount of time and red means public transit is fastest. Software Engineer Samara Trilling developed Toronto Transit Explorer and spoke about the benefit of the application.

This tool “can be really useful if you’re looking for the most accessible new apartment or a new school or if you want to compare if it’s worth it for you to buy a bike-share membership,” said Trilling.

Although there are a number of transportation modes to choose from on the app, Toronto Transit Explorer does not add the car as a mode of transportation because Sidewalk Labs is focusing on how accessible the city is to people, without the use of a car.

The company shared that its engineering team will build in scenarios in the future to see how changes to transit infrastructure might have an impact on city accessibility.

In addition to the Toronto Transit Explorer app, Sidewalk Labs also previously launched Old Toronto, which is an application that shares the history of Toronto by pairing old photography with landmarks in the city on an interactive map. It was developed by Software Engineer Dan Vanderkam.

Despite worries about security and data sharing, it’s clear that Sidewalk Labs is helping to ease these fears by demonstrating how devoted the company is to enhancing life and experience in Toronto through technology.

‘Gyroscopic Transportation’ could be the future of transit

Congestion on urban roadways and highways seems to be an ongoing issue in urban centres and large metropolises regardless of newly built infrastructure, roadway expansions, traffic light syncing, in addition to any number of other alterations that can be made to attempt to ease traffic flow.

One major concern in high density areas, is the timeframe in which emergency service vehicles can reach their destination to assist individuals. Heavy congestion creates impassable roadblocks by times, meaning that such vehicles are left to dangerously use shoulders of freeways and sidewalks of inner city streets, creating a dangerous situation for EMS vehicle drivers and pedestrians.

The wave of the future in regards to this particular concern, however, appears to possibly present a sci-fi-like solution that will result in vehicles avoiding any roadway obstructions without endangering any additional pedestrians or drivers.

Russian inventor Dahir Semonov is the genius behind the electric vehicles, known as gyroscopic transportation vehicles.  The pods are fitted with telescopic legs that are intended to rise above the traffic-filled roadways and pedestrian congestion below, allowing the futuristic-looking vehicles to move freely around using monorails that are to be placed in roadway medians.

In addition to emergency vehicles, Semonov is set to begin building a prototype of a vehicle that will be used in the same fashion, for public transit. The inventor is hopeful that investors worldwide will see the benefit in building his designs and making them a reality.

The released video models, introducing the world to the possible future of public and emergency service transportation, demonstrates how the vehicles maneuver on just two wheels with great ease. The cabin on public transit vehicle models, within which commuters are seated, are self-balancing and controlled with a joy stick. A glass dome covers the cabin for commuters to enjoy light and bright surroundings while making their way to their end destinations. The vehicles additionally produce no audible noise and are outfitted with comfortable seating.

As to how the vehicles are intended to run, solar panels on top of the vehicles are connected to two generators and a back-up battery, which will work to provide continuous power while maintaining continual motion of the gyroscopes. One safety concern, however, is that if those gyroscopes do stop spinning, danger is eminent for anyone on board.

Despite such concerns, the gyroscopic transportation models have massive potential and feasibility. While the design proposes an economically efficient mode of transportation, it would ease bus congestion on highways and road ways, while also improving the timeframe within which emergency vehicles arrive to a scene. The environmentally friendly design just might be a reality on the roads sooner than frustrated commuters know.

 

 

 

Underground Sounds: Auditions for next generation of TTC musicians to begin, grand prize offered by Universal Music Canada

The weekday hustle to get to the office or to a pressing meeting seems to always be made even less enjoyable due to overcrowded streetcars and subway trains, not to mention due to the frequent delays which plague commuters near-weekly. The newly unveiled fund boost offered to Toronto City transit by the provincial and federal government, totaling nearly $9 billion, is hoped to soon diminish these issues.

Until that point, however, one pleasant fixture that exists at many TTC terminals and subway stations, which helps to put a bit of enjoyment in my morning or evening commute, is the soothing music that can be heard as the masses bustle along various platforms.

One of the most congested underground stations is Bloor/Yonge- one which I am a daily visitor to. The talented musicians set up to entertain passengers on this platform, often put a smile on my face. Just the other day, my grumpy demeanor was eradicated and instead was replaced with a smile, when a musician at the said station performed a fantastic rendition of a favourite Springsteen song. My scowl was instantly transformed into a smile as I clumsily sang along.

The TTC is fully aware that commuting is not always a joy in this city, yet the commission continues to seek to bring that bit of musical therapy that can add a pep in your step. This is the reason for its support of TTC musicians. The commission is currently calling all musicians who wish to be added to the current pool of performers, to audition, beginning April 9, 2018.  The auditions will take place online where the public will be able to cast their votes for their favourite artists.

A total of 90 three-year licenses are available from the subway musicians program, which has become known as “Underground Sounds.” Additional incentive comes by way of a TTC partnership with Universal Music Canada. Thanks to this partnership, one lucky winner will get to record their song, that will then be featured in an exclusive Apple Music “Tracks on Tracks” playlist.

Chair of the TTC and the Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council, Councillor Josh Colle, spoke about the impact these talented musicians bring to commuters daily and also commented on the new audition process, which seeks to reach a broader audience online.

“We know Toronto is filled with incredibly talented musicians and this is a chance for some of them to be heard by the 1.8 million customers the TTC moves every day. By moving to an online audition format, we are able to engage our customers, and residents of the Toronto area, and allow them to have a say in who earns one of the coveted licenses.”

Auditioning musicians will post their performances to You Tube between April 9 and May 6. If any musicians are in need of a camera, live auditions will be held on April 18 and 19, after which a created video recording will be uploaded to the audition site.

Online voting, to determine the top 10 qualifiers, will run May 7-28. Those qualifiers will perform live for a panel of industry experts, including representatives from Universal Music Canada, where the grand prize of recording time and a spot on an exclusive Apple Music playlist alongside top recording artists, will be awarded.

“The TTC takes you where you are going. Music transports you to another world,” said Jeffrey Remedios, President & CEO, Universal Music Canada. “This is a partnership designed to invigorate the TTC’s Subway Musician Program with a long-term digital solution, giving more musicians a chance to participate and connecting riders through their passion for music.”

It has been 40 years since the TTC initiated the Underground Sound flavor at various subway stations across the city. As of the fall, there will be 30 stations that are complemented by the sounds of talented musicians.

Toronto transit receives massive funds infusion totaling nearly $9 billion

By Jessica Ashley Merkley

Let’s be honest, it’s clear that the Toronto transit system is due for an overhaul. I, like many out there, am faced on the daily with the somewhat archaic city transit system that can certainly do with an upgrade.

Perhaps the delays and technical issues that cause frustrations quite regularly to commuters, will be a thing of the past, all thanks to a massive infusion of funds granted to Toronto transit by both the federal and provincial government, this week.

It was announced yesterday that Toronto transit will be receiving a massive boost from the federal government to be put to use over the next decade. The provincial government has also stepped up and nearly matched the amount given by the federal government.

It is now confirmed that the federal government has allotted $5 billion to the city of Toronto’s transit system. Additionally, the provincial government has matched this amount, allotting over $4 billion for various projects that are in the plans for the city’s transit infrastructure.

During a press conference that was held in Mississauga on Wednesday, the infrastructure ministers on both the federal and provincial level, joined forces and announced the signing of a bilateral agreement, which will see nearly $12 billion of federal funds used across Ontario for public transit, various community projects and environmental green infrastructure throughout the next ten years.

Of the near-$12 billion, Toronto is set to receive over half of the funds which have been allocated for Ontario transit- a figure that is roughly $8.5 billion. This infusion of money will allow the city to pay 40 per cent of the cost for slated transit projects.

It’s certainly refreshing to witness two levels of government joining forces to achieve a common goal. Ontario Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli, also holds the same opinion on this as I, stating “I often say that the people of Ontario are best served when all levels of government work together,” while at the press conference on Wednesday.

As to the reasons why Toronto was allocated such a massive sum compared to other regions of the province, Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi explained:

“The city of Toronto is getting a significant amount of money, Toronto’s ridership is larger and we want the resources to go where the resources are needed.”

The specific plans for how the funds allocated to Toronto transit will be used, have yet to be determined fully, however, the financial boost is sure to bring massive improvements to Toronto transit over the years.