Tag

transit

Browsing

Buses, buses, buses!

It’s always fantastic when people can work together for the greater good, especially when it involves top decision-makers  and a faster commute for transit users.

Today It was announced that the City of Toronto and the Federal Government are pooling resources and investing in public infrastructure –buses, new routes and cycling infrastructure – in Toronto. The funds will support efficient and affordable services. The total investment is $934 million. The Federal Government is providing over $442 million and the City of Toronto is  Matching and adding a bit more with an investment of $492 million.

The funds will ensure buses are maintained and will meet the demand of commuters. Improved accessibility and lower greenhouse gas emissions are an added perk.

Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi, Ontario Minister of Transportation Kathryn McGarry,  Mayor John Tory and Chair of the TTC, Councillor Josh Colle announced the purchase of 1,043 new buses and the revitalization of 695 current buses as a part of the TTC’s Bus Purchase and Bus Rebuild project. The fleet will include 729 clean diesel buses, 254 second generation hybrid electric buses, and 60 battery electric buses.

Funding was also announced for 15 new public transit projects across Ontario. $20 million will go towards new transportation routes and cycling infrastructure. Mayor John Tory spoke about the initiative:

“Every day, the lives and livelihoods of Toronto residents depend on being able to move around our city quickly, safely and reliably. Maintaining our existing bus fleet and adding more buses on our roads will bring transit into every neighbourhood of our city. There is no area where collaboration and cooperation is more essential than in keeping our residents moving. Together, we will make Toronto’s transit system faster, stronger, safer and more accessible to everyone in every part of our city.”

The project is much-needed in Toronto and across the GTA. The extra buses and repaired fleets will cut down those end-of-day wait times, and will lessen the number of breakdowns which add extra minutes, or even hours on transit routes.

GTA Electric buses set for 2019 launch

Everyday I see the signs of global warming and climate change. The extended cold weather this season, and the record breaking hurricanes last fall  have me wanting to do my part to try to reverse these effects. In the day-to -day hustle it’s easy to ignore the environment and forget to conserve water and electricity. It’s easy to leave the car idling in frigid weather or forget to recycle a coffee cup- believe me, I am guilty of all of the above.

The Ontario government is planning to do more to reduce greenhouse emissions produced by municipal transit systems in the GTA.  A new pilot program will be launched to test electric battery-powered buses in Brampton and the York Region.

The program is part of the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan, and is funded by proceeds from the cap on pollution and carbon market.

Steven Del Duca, minister of Economic Development and Growth, was in Newmarket earlier this week, to make the announcement:

“Our investment in York Region and Brampton demonstrates how we are helping our municipal transit systems reduce their carbon footprint. Reducing greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles is one of the most important actions we can take to fight climate change.”

The province is investing $13 million and purchasing 14 electric buses and four charging stations for the York and Brampton transit systems. The projects will be coordinated by the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortum – a green transportation group.

Chris Ballard, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, spoke about the benefits of the new initiative:

“Investing in municipal electric buses will help us significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution from transportation, a sector that contributes more than one-third of the province’s emissions. Buses are an energy efficient way to move a large number of people. Making them an even cleaner option is a great example of how our carbon market and Climate Change Action Plan are investing in innovative actions to move us towards a healthier, low-carbon future.”

Service of the new electric buses will begin in 2019. It’s wonderful that the Liberals are determined to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 37% as of 2030 and 80% before 2050. The commitment to improving  quality of life and the health of the planet must be made by everyone.

TTC walks from union negotiations

TTC is a part of my every day journey  and it would definitely mess up  my mornings if workers were to strike. Fortunately for transit-users of Toronto, that won’t happen because TTC is considered an essential service and striking isn’t possible.

This past week TTC union and management were in negotiations over a new collective agreement. As usual, the union has called out management for “walking away” from talks. TTC has responded assuring that its commitment to an agreement has not wavered. The game of union negotiations is riddled with one side blaming the other publicly in a dance that is growing stale.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 released a statement this week slamming TTC for halting contract negotiations to wait for the Ontario Ministry of Labour to “appoint a conciliator.”

The statement reads:

“The union will continue its fight to protect pensions and benefits, while saving Toronto’s public transit system from privatization, which cost taxpayers more money in the end,” the release states. “Toronto’s transit union invites the TTC to return to negotiations and bargain in good faith.”

If a collective agreement is not reached, the issue will go to arbitration. But TTC says this is still possible and that negotiations can still happen:

“The TTC believes a conciliator can help reach a negotiated agreement with Local 113 and remains committed to productive good faith bargaining, The TTC negotiated contracts in 2014 with all of its unions, without arbitration. The TTC remains committed to doing the same in 2018.”

In a continued statement, TTC said that it has negotiated contracts with other unions which represent machinists-AMW Lodge 235 and CUPE Local 5089.

The collective agreement that existed between the union and TTC expired last month.

But let’s make no mistake- a provincial election is about to be called and both TTC management and the union know the public will be revved up about taxes and public spending especially given Doug Ford’s agenda to align himself with a “cut the fat” mentality. Politically the union isn’t in a good position if it has to fight public opinion and TTC management knows it. Waiting for a conciliator will allow the “cut the waste” propaganda that Doug Ford is spreading to take hold making it  publicly much harder for a union to ask for more. It is a clever tactic on behalf of TTC management, and the union can’t do much about it

Transit is an essential service. But what is fair? The TTC is bringing n a conciliator to make that decision because they don’t agree with the union and they know that they can’t make it either.

Weather and mood: ready to sing in the rain

This dreary weather has a way of playing on my mood, and based on the expressions on the faces of those I walked past on my way to work this morning, I’m not the only one to be affected.  Nobody was smiling and no one interacting. It’s a gray and gloomy day and the commute to work among hundreds of other public transit users, was one of the quietest and most lifeless journeys yet.
I wanted to take a picture- I didn’t get a seat and began noticing the scowls. I thought about how I could change this. By starting to dance in the packed subway car, or making eye contact with a commuter and smiling in their direction? Perhaps plastering a false smile to my face until I feel it would spark a chain reaction.
I’ve also noticed that my less cheerful mood brought on by rainy weather, causes me to be less friendly to others.. I wonder if this causes a chain reaction of less positive interactions. The gloom has a strange hold, just as warm sunshine on a cold  day can liven my spirits and put an extra bounce in my step that sets my pace over the rest of the day.
It’s amazing how much more cheerful I feel when I can reach for my sunglasses and immediately put them on,  as opposed to grabbing them with the hope that the clouds will part and the streets will dry. I actually still put my shades over my eyes during the rainy weather, not just for style, but as a way to coax a change in weather and to bring on the sunshine.
This extended winter seems to be paired with cloudy and damp weather. As Canadians we have a short window to enjoy warmer temperatures and patio weather. I’ll bask in the sun as much as I can when these days do finally arrive.
Despite knowing that sunshine and warmth will arrive soon, I still wish I could climb out from under the negative cloud that hovers when it’s gloomy outside. I know it’s human nature to be affected by the weather, but I’m set on attempting to bring sunshine to dreary days as best as I can. I need to learn how to sing.

Ontario Government Announces Plans To Expand GO Transit

Due to increasing congestion on roadways and expenses of owning a car making public transit a more viable option for commuters, I always take it as welcome news when the government announces its plans for expansion and improvements that will further connect me to outlying regions with greater efficiency.

Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s transportation minister, has said that the provincial government has now set plans to expand GO Transit in Greater Toronto and the Hamilton region.

McGarry has shared the news about the GO Transit expansion while appearing at Union Station on Monday, when she indicated that the government has issued a request to begin selecting companies to initiate the designing, building and financing, in addition to operating and maintaining the GO Regional Express Rail network.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that we are on track to deliver the next stage in GO Transit’s evolution — Regional Express Rail,” McGarry said. This includes new trains, refurbished vehicles, infrastructure for electrifying the entire GO corridor, and improvements such as bridges, tracks and noise walls to make travel seamless. This also includes improvements right here at Union Station to its tracks as well as its platforms to make room for more train service and electrification across the entire network.”

The process is therefore underway, ahead of any contracts being offered for GO Transit expansion. Ontario will issue a request for qualifications.

Six new Toronto Smart Track stations will also be built, and there will be upgrades made to 22 current GO stations that will involve renovations to stations, digital signage and new bus loops.

Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said the request for qualifications is a “big milestone” and the transit projects are “hugely exciting” for the provincial agency. “In many transit jurisdictions, these are the biggest projects out there today,” Verster said. “For our customers, this is really exciting.”

Regional Express Rail is also to include more than 400 projects across 40 municipalities, which is being financed with the city of Toronto.

The project Mayor John Tory initiated during the 2014 municipal election, SmartTrack, will include integrated services via rail on the Stouffville, Lakeshore East and Kitchener GO lines, as well as on the Eglinton West Light Rail Transit extension, between Mount Dennis and Renforth.

Spokesperson for Metrolinx, Anne Marie Aikins, says that this is “another step closer to building the transit people need.”

 

 

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.

GO Transit gets a sustainable and digital revamp

Thursday, the provincial government announced they are taking the next steps in exploring hydrogen-powered trains, or “hydrail” as a more sustainable alternative to electric trains.

A study was released saying it was feasible to build and operated electrified rail service on both GO Transit and the UP Express with hydrogen-powered trains. This change will be a comparable cost to conventional electrification, which uses overhead wiring.

“The potential benefit of hydrogen fuel cells compared to overhead wires makes exploring hydrogen rail technology worthwhile,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Kathryn McGarry. “Our government is taking the next step in assessing how this important technology could work for our own transit system.”

Concept designs are being produced by manufacturers Alstom and Siemens.

What is a hydrogen-powered train? Energy is created when hydrogen, which is stored at the top of the train, is combined with oxygen. That energy is then converted using fuel cells, which charges batteries stored below the train. This creates electricity to run the train. Additionally, extra unused energy is stored in lithium batteries and allows the train to be more efficient because it doesn’t have any waste energy.

The hydrail is considered carbon neutral. because it takes hydrogen already in the environment and re-uses it. Though electrification doesn’t have any carbon output, hydrogen fuel cells are able to provide more flexibility in hard-to-reach places because they don’t require a lot of infrastructure to build, a common issue on train routes.

The first hydrogen-powered passenger train was revealed in December 2017 in Germany.

GO Transit will also be testing wireless Internet on two of their GO trains and four GO busses. While most GO stations and terminals have free Wi-Fi, none of the trains do. That is something Metrolinx, the transit agency responsible for GO Transit, wants to change.

“We are committed to making the entire GO experience even better for people. These enhancements are an example of how we are modernizing GO Transit and enhancing services for people across Ontario,” McGarry said in a statement.

Information will be gathered from commuters about the wireless internet and quality will be examined before it is installed in all trains.

Both of these revitalizations are part of a $21.3 billion investment in GO Transit made by the Ontario government.

-with files from Kaeleigh Phillips

Expanding urban revitalization across the GTA

In the last couple of years, Toronto has begun to transform the downtown core into a more liveable and walkable city. Beyond the King St. Pilot, which has increased transit use along the corridor, the city has also approved a bike lane pilot project, the revitalization of the Waterfront, the creation of a new skating trail under the Gardiner Expressway, the proposal of a rail deck park, and the expansion of smart cities with Sidewalk Labs and (hopefully) Amazon.

And now, North York and Scarborough want in.

Residents and city councillors of North York have put together a plan called “REimagine Yonge” – now “Transform Yonge” – that would see the six-lane strip between Sheppard Ave. and Finch transform into a more walkable community. The original proposal approved by city staff suggests the removal of two lanes, the creation of a raised bike lane, and the widening of sidewalks for more public space and foliage, essentially copying the King Street vibe following the pilot study. The plan has the support of staff, local councillors, and residents who are looking forward to being able to safely walk in their neighbourhood; however, it does not have the support of the mayor.

Toronto mayor John Tory announced earlier this week an alternative plan that would include bike lanes on Beecroft Rd., which is parallel to Yonge. In this scenario, there would be no need to remove a lane of traffic on Yonge. According to reports, this “enhanced” plan will cost an extra $20 million. Tory told reporters he believes the area can be beautified without removing lanes in such a well-trafficked area.

“Transform Yonge” (City of Toronto)

North York isn’t the only neighbourhood that wants change. City councillor Paul Ainslie wants to expand the Bike Share program into Scarborough, as the 270 stations in Toronto are currently situated in the downtown core. With potential partners in GO Transit and the University of Toronto campus, Ainslie believes the program could thrive in that region.

It’s not surprising that these two areas want to change alongside downtown Toronto. Too often, the outskirt neighbourhoods are ignored when it comes to growth and development. Residents have indicated that they want connectivity. They want to live in a walkable city where commuters have the choice of walking or cycling safely, or where a sense of community exists beyond the household. They want the same level of investment as those who live in the downtown core.

No one wants to live in an area that doesn’t feel like a community — and if city hall is dedicated to this new transformation towards a sustainable and smart Toronto, it should be for all of it.

Toronto approves 2018 budget, with extra funding for transit

City Council approved the Toronto 2018 budget Monday 33-11, with a special interest in transit. Included in the $11-billion operating budget budget is over $50 million for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to help in new investments and maintenance, as well as provide discounts for low-income riders and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

There will also be a fare freeze for the next year.

The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

“This is a good news budget. It invests in key areas while spending low and keeping tax increases low,” said budget chief Gary Crawford in a statement. “Toronto residents want City Hall to build the city but they also appreciate that we strike the right balance, that we tighten spending, find efficiencies and don’t hike taxes sky-high. For the fourth year in a row, I’m confident we have struck the right, responsible balance that people expect.”

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. City staff say this will equal an increase of about $82 on average for homeowners with property valued at $624,418. Residents will pay an additional 0.5 per cent for the City Building Fund, which supports infrastructure projects such as transit and housing. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

Prior to budget approval, mayor John Tory announced $3 million (included in the $50 million investment) earmarked to help overcrowding on Line 1, including the prioritization of the relief line. The 10-point plan includes the addition of more subway cars during peak hours, overnight maintenance schedules, hiring of platform staff for the Bloor/Yonge station, and the use of express busses to alleviate overcrowding.

“I know delays and crowding can be frustrating. I know people want an expanded transit system as soon as possible. I know how maddening it can be when transit and traffic don’t move in this city,” said Tory in a statement. “I want Toronto residents to know that I am dedicated to getting transit and traffic moving. I’m dedicated to building our entire transit network plan. I’m dedicated to making sure the TTC is doing everything possible to minimize delays and ease crowding.”

Council also voted to approve a 50 per cent reduction in property taxes for culture hubs like 401 Richmond. To be eligible, a hub must prove their tenants produce cultural goods and services, charge tenants below market rent, and have a minimum rentable space of 10,000 square feet (5,000 if owned by the city).