Tag

toronto

Browsing

Mayor John Tory proposes tolls for DVP and Gardiner

The city of Toronto has finally clued in — if you want change, you need to be willing to make the unpopular decision to pay for it. As the mayor said in a speech Thursday afternoon, “If we are to achieve those goals we have to acknowledge that things we need, from transit to affordable housing, are not free. Pretending otherwise is not responsible and it’s not fair to the people of Toronto.”

Mayor John Tory chose to announce a new proposal to find much-needed revenue to help pay for the new transit network being built in the city at a luncheon at the Toronto Region Board of Trade Thursday afternoon.

What was this exciting solution? It was tolls.

Tory is proposing a $2 single-use toll to use the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. This will bring in an approximate $200 million of extra revenue that can be used specifically for infrastructure. This would be a tax on everyone, whether or not they live in the city or not. This will ensure that those who work in the city also contribute to its growth.

“People say that Toronto’s population is approximately 2.8 million. That’s true, at night, when the people who live here are home sleeping,” said Tory. “But by day, the number of people in this city goes up dramatically with all the people who come to work or to visit, all the while using the services paid for by Toronto taxpayers.”

The details of the proposal are still unknown. It will be presented to executive committee next week along with all the other options for revenue tools. The city has to find about $33 billion over the next 20 years to fund capital projects, despite provincial and federal aide.

Mayor Tory has said he will not be considering vehicle registration tax or a parking levy. Two other forms of revenue were proposed during the speech, including a half per cent levy on property taxes and a mandatory hotel tax at all Toronto hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb.

During a press conference following the speech, the mayor said that doing nothing is not an option. The $2 cost, as well as the functionality of the tolls, will be up for discussion at city council in the upcoming months. Assuming city council sees the value of tolls, Tory hopes to see it implemented as of 2019.

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.

‘Ride responsibly’: CondomTO campaign winners are announced

What would you want to see on your condom wrapper? How about ‘wrap your willie’  or ‘no glove, no love’? The possibilities are truly endless!

Cue Toronto — the city that likes to keep up with the trends. Toronto not only has it’s own condom designs, but also holds a contest so that residents can design their own. This year’s winners of the CondomTO contest were recently announced by Toronto Public Health. Over four hundred people submitted condom designs, and only 10 finalists were chosen. The top four condoms will be passed out at various health centres in the city, and the two top-choices will receive a cash award, and a year’s supply of their condoms. They will also get to choose a health organization to donate their condoms too.

The judging process was really serious, and focused on the quality of design, originality, and a focus on themes relevant to Toronto. Because that’s what everyone looks for in a condom, am I right?!

There were two separate “categories” with a winner and a runner up in each one. Here are the best designs:

Put It On Toronto by Diane Adams. Photo provided from condomTO, Toronto Public Health.
Put It On Toronto by Diane Adams. Photo provided from condomTO, Toronto Public Health.

The Open Grand Prize winner, Diane Adams, is a graduate of Seneca College’s graphic design program and won with a design that featured ‘put it on Toronto’. Adams has over 15 years’ experience in graphic design and has worked for Rogers Communications, Kia Motors, and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ride responsibly by Serge Leshchuk. Provided from condomTO, Toronto Public Health.
Ride responsibly by Serge Leshchuk. Provided from condomTO, Toronto Public Health.

The Open Runner-up, Serge Leschuk, a social media strategist and content creator in Toronto, designed a condom that focused on Toronto transit saying ‘condomTo- ride responsibly’. Leschuk is self-taught in design, writing, and video production.

No transfers by Andrea Por. Provided from condomTO contest, Toronto Public Health.
No transfers by Andrea Por. Provided from condomTO contest, Toronto Public Health.

The Student Grand Prize was won by Andre Por, an advertising and graphic design student at Humber College. She designed another transit-inspired condom that focused on the design of Toronto’s subway transfers to demonstrate how condoms help stop the transfer of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). Por is a previous Fine Arts graduate from Queen’s and began her Graphic Design diploma in 2015.

Condom LuberJack by Janine Thomas. Provided from condomTO, Toronto Public Health.
Condom LuberJack by Janine Thomas. Provided from condomTO, Toronto Public Health.

The student runner-up, Janine Thomas, is a fourth year student in the Bachelor of Design program at York-Sheridan and designed a Canadian-themed condom that said, ‘cover your lumber, Jack’. Thomas is a fourth year student and has a passion for typography and dogs.

A condom contest is a stellar idea for Toronto, a city known for it’s rising STI rates (isn’t that what every city wants on its resume?). But, why stop there. Wouldn’t it be great if Toronto also had a design contest for tampons or pad wrappings? It’s the same region, so why not go there! It would be a great way to dismiss the stereotypes and stigma associated with the act of menstruation. Plus, a little added humour does wonders for the PMS.

Women’s Post hopes CondomTO continues to host this contest on an annual basis. Sexual health is something that is not taught enough, and using fun designs on condoms is a great way to encourage its use. Plus, they are just hilarious. Who knows what people will come up with next year. Until then, have fun, but remember ‘cover your lumber, Jack’, okay?

City council approves transit network plan

As a reporter, I love covering City Hall. But, sometimes it can get frustrating — for example, when it takes nine hours of discussion before a decision can be made surrounding a transit plan that has been on the table for over a year.

City Council voted Tuesday to go forward with the “motherlode” Transit Network Plan and approve a deal made with the province that will see them contribute approximately $11 billion towards transit. This includes $3.7 billion for Regional Express Rail (RER) and $7.84 billion for Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The problem? The city was not prepared to carry their weight of SmartTrack. This agreement would see the city contribute $3 billion of their own funding towards the project (or $2 billion if the federal government pitches in). Toronto will also be responsible for day-to-day-operations and maintenance of the Finch West, Sheppard East, and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs.

Mayor John Tory had to remind council a number of times that the deal with the province really does benefit the city, saying that if the province had meant to pay for everything, they would have had a parade and used it as an election campaign issue.

“The number one thing they want me to do is ease the strangulation that has taken place in this city as a result of traffic congestion and the number one way you can do that is build public transportation,” Tory said to reporters half way through the meeting.

This transit network has been a continuous source of political capital for city councillors, which is why staff divided the funding discussion into two parts in hopes of making the decision easier. During this particular council meeting, councillors were simply voting to approve the negotiations between the province and the city, and committing the city to continue their work. Staff will then return with the exact costs and details of construction for each project.

The second discussion will be about revenue tools — how exactly will Toronto pay for transit? Will they have to raise property taxes? Will they have to find cuts somewhere in the budget? This discussion will happen in December or January and is sure to be just as lengthy, if not more so.

However, this did not stop a number of councillors from using this time to try and amend the motion to squeeze as much as possible out of the province. Staff warned that by delaying the provincial negotiations, it could result in the province completely reneging on the agreement. As City Manager David Wallace pointed out, Toronto needs to make an investment and they need to do it now.

There were a number of councillors who were concerned about making that investment, saying that approving a plan before knowing how the city was going to pay for it was irresponsible. While I can admire their tenacity and commitment to the budget, city staff, as well as the Toronto Transit Commission, have reached an agreement that appears to be quite fair. By continuing to delay the building and construction of necessary transit systems, council will ultimately ruin all the hard work city staff have put into building an integrated transit network to begin with.

The solution seems simple: instead of complaining, be creative and start to come up with ways of creating revenue without raising property taxes to the extreme. I’ve previously suggested the use of tolls, something I firmly believe would help raise the much-needed revenue for transit. Not only would it unlock gridlock on our congested roads, but the money could be earmarked for SmartTrack specifically!

Toronto NEEDS transit, and if at all possible, it would be great if part of it was finished in my lifetime. Let’s stop the bickering and start to think of real solutions to the city’s gridlock problems.

Should Toronto use tolls to maintain transit network?

The City of Toronto has completed the first round of negotiations with the province over funding for the Transit Network. Staff will present their updated financial report to a special executive committee meeting Tuesday afternoon for approval prior to the November city council meeting the following week.

The report outlines the funding model for the various elements of the Transit Network, including the amount of money being provided by the Ontario government. As of Nov. 1, the province has offered $3.7 billion for Regional Express Rail (RER) and $7.84 billion for Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The biggest blow to the transit-funding model is that city council will now be responsible for the day-to-day operations or maintenance of the Finch West, Sheppard East, and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs. These are projects that will be built by the province and Metrolinx; yet, Toronto residents will be on the hook for its maintenance.

Aspects of SmartTrack will be covered under the provincial funding; however, it will not be enough. The federal government has said they will make a contribution — but there has been no firm commitment yet. In the meantime, the city will have to come up with other ways of finding revenue to pay for the project, as well as the maintenance and operations of the network once it is complete. This could mean raising property taxes, something the city has promised not to do.

But, why should Toronto residents pay for all of these transit plans when they benefit the GTHA region in its entirety? Maybe the more economically feasible form of revenue can be found in the use of tolls, something that everyone entering and driving in Toronto can contribute to.

If drivers were asked to pay a toll when using the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway, a lot of these funding problems could be solved. First of all, tolls would encourage more people to use the new transit network, thus freeing up the roads and alleviating the insane gridlock Toronto faces on a daily basis. Second of all, the money collected from these tolls could be funnelled directly into a transit fund — to be used in conjunction with the money collected from fares, ect. — to pay for the daily operations of these projects.

On Tuesday’s meeting, staff will be recommending that city council approve the current funding model and authorize further negotiations and agreements with the province, Metrolinx, and other agencies in order to gain extra funding for SmartTrack.

But, I don’t think Toronto should hold its breath. It’s time to come up with some realistic solutions to the transit-funding problem instead of hoping that other levels of government will bail us out. Embracing tolls is the logical solution — but is there someone brave enough to say it on the council floor?

The city has until Nov. 30 to finalize financial arrangements for SmartTrack to keep the provincial deadline.

Presto fare system not working up to standard

What is the deal with Presto these days?

On three separate occasions, I have gone into subway stations to fill up my Presto card and the machine is either broken or refuses to load my “e-purse”. The machines on buses and streetcars have also been malfunctioning, and an internal audit has confirmed that five to six per cent of machines aren’t working at all times on TTC transit.

Presto is supposed to be running on the entire transit system by the end of 2016, and will eventually replace the metropass and TTC fare tokens. Considering that the machines malfunction so often, it is inconceivable to think that Toronto’s entire TTC system will rely on the Presto fare system. If you think that TTC delays are long now, can you even imagine?

The Ontario government signed a $250 million contract with Accenture and other vendors to develop and operate Presto by the end of 2016. As the operator, these companies must design the software, test it, manufacture, implement, do rollout and support the project for 10 years. It appears that Accenture and the other vendors aren’t living up to its promise considering rollout issues, due to the machines malfunctioning. The project’s glitches and high costs have also been criticized by the Auditor General of Ontario.

When a student or senior tries to get their fare for a lower price on Presto, it is necessary to commute up to Davisville Station to get the specialized rate. This surely prevents seniors with limited mobility from accessing the service and is not user-friendly. When the Presto system was implemented in TTC, more planning and implementation of these issues should have been considered and solved. With the end of 2016 looming, machines not working and not having specialized fare options available at every station shows how poorly the Presto card system is working.

TTC had hoped to implement the Presto fare system instead of tokens or the metropass by sometime in 2017. It has been delayed and a lot of questions remain on how that will happen. How will a pay-asyou go system be implemented without crashing the system? How will single-fare transfers be managed? What will be the daily cap? How will the metropass work as a part of the Presto card? Accenture and other vendors will also have to really step up to the plate and fix a lot of unnecessary issues before anyone believes Toronto commuters can rely on Presto as one of their main transit options.

The idea of integrating the GO transit system and TTC into one fare was a spectacular idea for Toronto and Ontario. It is frusturating that the rollout of the Presto machines has been so disappointing. It will be interesting to see if Accenture and the other vendors can fix the operating issues with the system, and then TTC can move forward with integrating the Presto system into Toronto successfully.

City approves $2.4 million Rail Deck Park study

A $2.4 million study for the Rail Deck Park was approved unanimously by city council Wednesday, despite complaints by the suburbs.

The proposal would cover the rail lines between Bathurst St. and Blue Jays Way with an urban park. Toronto Mayor John Tory compared this 21-acre project to that of Chicago’s millennium Park and New York’s Central Park — all big tourist attractions, with the added bonus of making the downtown core more liveable. The preliminary work is estimated to cost a bit over $1 billion.

Councillor’s unanimously approved the motion to study the feasibility of the park; however, they also took the opportunity to complain about the lack of funding in their wards to maintain park space and clean up their neighbourhoods. York West Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti told his colleagues he would only support the project if suburban parks were given the same consideration and investments.

Because of all the concerns from the suburb councillors, an amendment to the original motion was added to a study on the “deficiencies in parks in the suburbs” and a study on funding mechanisms for parks in other wards.

Both studies will be presented to City Council next year, and will include feasibility, costs of obtaining air rights to the site, and details of the platform used to suspend the park over the rails. Staff will also look at funding alternatives.

Toronto is always growing and expanding — and while building condominiums and malls is important, councillors also need to remember to embrace green spaces. The value of having community space available downtown, where most people work and live, is incredibly important. Toronto needs to have a long-term vision and ambitious planning goals to ensure future generations don’t suffer from intense gridlock and pollution. Building an amazing park overtop of a transit hub is exactly what this city needs.

A little Stars Hallow in Toronto – Pop-Up Luke’s Diner

I left my house at 6:30 in the morning excited and ready to experience something I’ve only ever dreamed of — getting coffee from Luke’s Diner, a staple set on the comedy-drama TV show, Gilmore Girls.

I’ve followed the escapades of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore for most of my life. I laughed when Rory stole a box of cornstarch after her first kiss; cringed whenever Taylor Doosey led a town meeting; swooned when Sookie and Jackson finally went on a date; and cried my eyes out when Lorelai broke up with Luke (both times), leading to a recovery Gilmore-esque feast of pop-tarts and marshmallows.

Not only was the show full of quick-witted dialogue and loveable characters, but it showed a side of teen drama that wasn’t boy-obsessed or filled with unnecessary dating triangles.

While Gilmore Girls did touch on relationships, it also showcased developed characters who cared more about their ambitions than who they were going out with at night. In fact, no Gilmore girl would ever settle or change their lifestyle for a guy, and that’s something I really respected and learned from as a young girl.

And then there was Rory Gilmore. She was a bookworm — smart, academically driven, and completely comfortable with who she was. As she struggled to figure out what it meant to be a teen, a university student, and then an adult, so did I. I watched as she pursued journalism in high school and university, struggling to befriend her nemesis Paris Geller, and fought for her perfect study tree. In the end, she succeeded in getting a job in journalism, something that gave me hope as I ventured out into a similar profession.

After years of watching this show over and over again (thanks Netflix), I was ecstatic to hear there would be four pop-up “Luke’s Diners” in Toronto. I knew I had to go, even if it would mean being slightly late for work. The line was already around the corner when I arrived around 7:15 a.m. and took my place among a sea of plaid, flannel, and backwards baseball hats. While I waited for my free coffee, I chatted with the group of women around me, discussing our favourite episodes and arguing about whether Rory should have married Logan, or stayed with Jesse or Dean.

As the line unravelled and I got closer to the storefront, I saw the sign. Luke’s Diner, just like the show. I snapped a photo and moved inside the independent coffee shop The Rolling Pin, near Lawrence and Yonge. After a bit of a wait got a coffee with a sleeve that said Luke’s Diner. The cup itself had one of my favourite quotes on them (Coffee please and a shot of cynicism).

And then…I left. That was it. I stood in line for one and a half hours for a picture of a sign and a cup of coffee with a marketing sleeve.

20161005_084332_hdrI’m not sure what I was expecting, but I know it was more than that. I thought the music of Carol King, the singer of the infamous theme song “Where You Lead”, would be playing in the background. I thought there would be cut out of the characters and a list of Luke’s diner rules plastered in large print on the wall (it was there, but it was typed on regular printing paper and tapped messily on the wall). I also thought they would be selling some cool Gilmore Girl merchandise — which was honestly a lost opportunity because the group I was with would have purchased anything after that wait! Baseball hats, tshirts, even roasted coffee with the words “Luke’s Diner” would have sold like, well, Luke’s coffee!

 

I know these pop-ups are marketing ploys, but a little more effort could have been made to make the experience more complete. Netflix could have provided a lot more in terms of supplies. I don’t think the coffee shops had enough time to do any sort of re-decorating and some of them struggled with the mass amount of people waiting to enter their storefront.

Suffice to say, it was a great idea, but it was all poorly executed. With the Gilmore Girl revival coming to Netflix in November, you would think there would be more of a fanfare. You know, Lorelai Gilmore style?

But, I got my picture with a Luke’s Diner sign. So, I guess that’s okay.

Oy with the poodles already — am I right?

20161005_100734_hdr

What the hell happened to Nuit Blanche?

I remember the first time I went to Nuit Blanche. My sister and I headed out around 10 p.m. and stayed out until 2 a.m. wandering the streets of Toronto, taking a look and even taking part in some of the art. University Ave. was completely closed off and all of the exhibitions were placed on platforms outdoors. There were performance pieces, sculptures, photography galleries, and some really neat interactive installations. A few of the pieces were inside a few select buildings, but the majority was outside. Enjoying art under the stars — there is really nothing better.

As we made our way through the intense crowds, we were handed free samples of coffee or hot chocolate, pamphlets from sponsors, and a bunch of other goodies. There was live music and a few DJs, but mostly it was the atmosphere. All together, it seemed like an incredibly late night festival celebrating Toronto’s art community.

And I have to say I enjoyed it immensely.

This year, I left my house late at night hoping to experience something similar. And boy, was I disappointed.

I’m not sure if lack of funding was a factor, but there was very little that was good about this year’s Nuit Blanche. First of all, there was very little organization or signage. I managed to grab a map from a lone volunteer standing on a street by herself downtown, but aside from the rare volunteer and the odd Nuit Blanche square (it was an actual lighted square with a map and nothing else), there were no directions, arrows, or instructions as to how to find and/or enter each instalment.

Second of all — the lines!! If the point is to present art for the masses, this year’s Nuit Blanche failed. Most of the artwork was held inside, and therefore people had to line up to simply enter the building. Some of the interactive installations only let a dozen or so people in at a time.

The lines extended a few blocks and by the time I walked to the front to read the vague and artistic sign that explained what I would see if I decided to wait 45 min. outside in the cold, my mind was already made up. Like most people, I’m not willing to wait in line that long to see a few lights projected against a wall, no matter how modern it is.

The advantage of having art on the street rather than inside a building is that people can actually see it. There are no lines necessary. It also doesn’t make you feel as though you have to rush when you finally enter the building. I think in my total three hour Nuit Blanche experience, I only truly witnessed four or five installations.

And finally, there was no sense of community. Previous years, there were conversations about art, people spoke to one another, discussed what they were seeing, danced to the music, and celebrated Toronto’s culture.

The music, the atmosphere, it was all missing. Most of the time, I was left wondering: is this art or is this just a random group of people playing music dressed up as deer?

Sure, there were some really cool exhibits. “Pneuma” by Floria Sigismondi, a series of projections onto a steady stream of water being sprayed from the pool at Nathan Phillips Square, for example, was truly beautiful and mesmerizing Luzinterruptus’s Literature vs. Traffic was a treat for us book lovers and was quite the compelling installation.

But it wasn’t enough to warrant a whole night out. And by the end, I felt more exhausted than enlightened.

I realize that Nuit Blanche lost a significant amount of funding when Scotiabank pulled out, but if you are going to do it, make sure it is worth seeing. Because next year, some of us may not bother to show up.

GTA pipeline outside our front doors, and nobody seems to care

Did you know a natural gas pipeline is being placed in the ground right outside of our front doors — and it is using your money to do so?

Enbridge, a gas distribution company, is building a pipeline in the GTHA that will cost taxpayers $900 million and will run natural gas through Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham and Toronto. The GTHA project consists of two new natural gas pipelines and adds 50 km of new pipeline into the Toronto. It will run along the Highway 407 corridor, with 23 km alongside Keele St. E to Scarborough and then south to an existing line near Sheppard Ave E.

The project was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) on January 30, 2014. It is a part of Enbridge’s largest upgrade to their natural gas distribution system in 20 years. Enbridge claims that if the pipeline wasn’t approved and built, the current station in Toronto’s Port Lands in the downtown core could run out of gas in the winter of 2016. This would mean 270,000 customers would run out of gas in Toronto.

On the other hand, the pipeline came under fire by many green groups. Enbridge was criticized because they kept trying to obtain more customers though they would not be able to support the level of gas needed come 2015-2016. Natural gas accounts for 35 per cent of Ontario’s energy, and instead of offering alternatives, the OMB decided to build more pipeline and continue to grow gas output in the province.

Ontario has set a greenhouse gas target to cut emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050, but they still supported the Enbridge project, which will charge taxpayers to build more natural gas pipelines.

Ontario recently cut $3.8 billion in renewable energy contracts, claiming it will help Ontarians save money on their electricity bills. The province may save money in the short-run, but is being short-sighted when looking at the long term impact of trying to build and support green energy in the future. An investment in renewable energy needs to happen now in order to meet emissions targets by 2050 and the continued support for natural gas in place of renewable energy contracts demonstrates a lack of green leadership on the part of the Ontario government.

Taxpayer’s dollars are being wasted and the press has been silent about the pipeline project. The pipeline is due to be complete this year and will continue to use natural gas, a source of energy that is not sustainable or environmental in any way. We need to put more pressure the government to choose alternatives and not remain silent over the continued use of natural gas. Clearly the government has two very different objectives; to publicly support green projects and to privately fund unsustainable and very powerful natural gas companies.