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Woman of the Week: Anne Golden

Sitting in a Starbucks drinking a decaf flat white, Anne Golden recalls how she was “in the vanguard of women going on to have professional careers.”

Golden is an academic down to the bone. “I can’t just dive into a subject without understanding context,” she explained to Women’s Post in an interview. Her background is in American history, a subject she studied at the University of Toronto for both her BA and PhD.

Her own history is a bit of a roller-coaster, and Golden tells it with a hint of dry humour, almost as if she herself can’t believe how much she has done in her lifetime. She is now a distinguished visiting scholar and special advisor at Ryerson University, where she teaches a class on successful cities in the 21st century. She also holds a position on the board of Metrolinx and participates in a number of panels and task forces relating to issues of city building and transit.

Her career had a rocky start. First, she was discouraged from pursuing a career in law after one of the only women in the field told her she would never be allowed to work on any real cases. Then, she was convinced to give up a promotion in the department of history because she was married to a dentist and didn’t need the money.

“The interesting part was I said I understood. I didn’t say ‘injustice’,” Golden said. “I wasn’t bitter or angry. I just said [the other candidate] just got married and needs the job, and I was married to someone who was already a professional and I would survive. I mean, today, that would be cause for protest, but it wasn’t for me.”

From there, Golden took every opportunity she could get her hands on. She was always interested in politics, so when David Crombie ran for mayor in 1972, she was one of the first people to call and volunteer. Golden eventually coordinated the campaign that led to Crombie’s victory.

“New progressive ideas were coming on stream. There was an understanding that there was a new vision for cities beyond expressways, beyond sprawl, beyond imitating the American example.”

The jump from history major to politician, philanthropist, city builder, and transit aficionado was a relatively easy one for Golden. She describes it as “a result of very good luck,” but, in truth, she is an avid learner, ready to jump into any position that was offered to her.

As a board member at Metrolinx, Golden reads about 500-1,000 pages worth of contracts and files before every meeting. She also reads a daily roundup called a “Media Analysis Report”, which includes every single article or radio report published in Canada that relates to transit. Board members then go back and forth, discussing the issues and trying to find solutions to various problems. “I always felt that if the public saw how hard we worked they would be less cynical,” she said.

Some may argue that this cynicism comes from years of failed transit promises and miscommunications between politicians and transit agencies. According to Golden, the main reason for this lack of collaboration is that each institution is protective of its own turf.

“Where you stand is dictated by where you sit,” she said frankly. “If you are sitting in the [Toronto Transit Commission] building at Yonge and Davisville, you may see things differently than if you are sitting in Metrolinx on Front St. having to look at the whole region.”

In addition to city council, the TTC, and Metrolinx, there are about 160 organizations in the Greater Toronto Area dedicated to city issues, including transit. With so much competition, Golden says it is important to stress what makes each group unique. If an organization fails to do so, it may lose its voice and therefore its chance at being part of the formal discussion. She also suggests merging smaller organizations to gain legitimacy.

Despite the many interests of each decision-making power in Toronto, Golden acknowledges that there are good people running each of them, and that a lot of collaboration is happening to ensure the city gets the best possible transit system.

Golden is currently reading Margaret MacMillan’s History People and The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park.

Stephen Harper announces $2.6 billion in funding for SmartTrack Plan

It’s been a great day for the city of Toronto as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his plans today to provide more than $2 billion in funding from the federal government for up to one-third of the cost for Toronto’s SmartTrack transit line.

The announcement was made by Harper alongside Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Toronto Mayor John Tory today. The Smart Track, as stated on Mayor John Tory’s website, will provide service from the Airport Corporate Centre in the west, southeast to Union Station and northeast to Markham in the east. It will have 22 new station stops and five interchanges with the TTC rapid transit network.

Oliver said the funding is all about making Toronto a liveable place for citizens and efficient place for job-creating businesses at today’s announcement, which took place at the Toronto Transit Commission’s Hillcrest Complex in midtown Toronto.

That budget included $750 million over two years, starting in 2017-18, and $1 billion for each year after, for a new public transit fund to help cities fight traffic congestion by encouraging public-private infrastructure projects.

Andy Byford: Serving The Rocket Through Transformative Change

Whether you’ve seen him on the subway with other fellow passengers, or heard about his five-year corporate plan to modernize the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) operations, it’s evident that Chief Executive Officer, Andy Byford, is bringing significant change to the TTC. However, there is much more about Mr. Byford than meets the eye. In a mere three years, he has managed to overhaul his senior leadership team and has  brought some crucial change to the TTC.Mr. Byford has replaced his Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with Gary Shortt, brought in Mike Palmer as the Deputy CEO for Subway Operations, Chris Upfold as the Deputy CEO, Rick Leary as Chief Service Delivery Officer and Susan Reed Tanaka as the acting Chief of Engineering, Construction and Expansion.

Mr. Byford has not neglected the importance of bringing women into leadership roles. While there are three out women of the 11 member, including Vice-Chair, Maureen Adamson, Councillor Shelly Carroll, and Anju Virmani. The TTC executive team has Chief of Staff, Joan Taylor, Chief People Officer, ‎Gemma Piemontese, and Chief Capital Officer,  Susan Reed Tanaka.

 

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Service has also improved significantly since Andy Byford became CEO in 2011. Performance measures show that punctuality and device availability are at an impressive 90+%.  Steps were taken to refurbish rundown subway washrooms, step up subway-car cleaning and improve announcements about service disruptions.

Andy Byford’s other efforts to complete expansion projects, improve customer service, and modernize the outdated system cannot be overlooked. In 2013, Byford introduced six, new Group Station Managers (GSMs) as part of his continuing commitment to modernize and transform the TTC. And just last year,  debit and credit machines were introduced to 69 stations, allowing passengers to buy tickets and passes the more convenient way.

Byford’s dedication and expertise has shaped the TTC into a much more efficient transit system. He is slowly changing the culture at the TTC, building confidence in his team, and tackling the thousands of changes needed to create better process at every level.

Mr. Byford is slowly turning the biggest transit system  in Canada around. The cultural transformation he promised is  happening, service has improved significantly, and despite the lack of transit infrastructure  and funding (4 million from this years budget) Byford has managed to keep Toronto moving with equipment that is long overdue for replacement.

His mission is clear; to have a transit system that makes Toronto proud and despite the lack of investment, the barrage of political attacks that come with his position, and the terrible mess he inherited, Byford just may pull this off.  We can only hope the politicians will leave him alone long enough to bring about the transformation the TTC so desperately needs.

Plowing transit funding forward

I have a lapel button with the words “I’ll pay for it” transposed over a subway map. It’s a reminder of all the people I’ve met over the years (while campaigning for dedicated transit funding) who were willing to pay for transit expansion as long as they knew their funds would go directly to it.

Last week Toronto City Council announced it would have to borrow $86 Million to cover cuts the Province made to social housing back in 2013. Mayor Tory had hoped to convince the province to reverse their decision but they wouldn’t, or, to be more accurate, they couldn’t reverse their decision because they too are having revenue issues.

The critics have attacked Mayor Tory on his decision to borrow the funds needed to cover this shortfall to social housing. But we can’t expect Mayor Tory or City Council to address the huge revenue problem Toronto has, when we as a city refuse to support candidates who advocate for more funding.

It’s time to deal in facts, and the very basic fact for Toronto is that there isn’t enough revenue to provide, or expand on, the services the city currently has to fulfill. From housing to transit Toronto doesn’t have the funds we need to provide the services and the anti-tax attitude dominating every issue has limited our ability to keep up with other growing cities. There are two questions we have to ask : Do you want more transit in the city? Do you want to care for those in need? Politicians who even suggest Toronto use dedicated revenue tools common in other cities, get swept aside for those who shout “no tax increases.” Our civic leaders can’t invest in our city because we refuse to give them the support to do it.

It’s time to change. Time to come together as a city and begin the work required to educate our residents on the crisis Toronto will have if we don’t act today.  We have elected someone who may turn out to be one of the best Mayor’s Toronto has ever had, he’s a consensus builder, a centrist not shackled to the far left or right. But we can’t expect Mayor Tory to deliver the services Toronto needs if we don’t provide him the funds to do it.

When it comes to revenue tools there are a number of good ideas that the Board of Trade, Metrolinx and the Transit Alliance have endorsed. Metrolinx suggested a basket of revenue tools that included a 1% sales tax, a 5 cent gas tax, parking levies, and an increase in development charges. Other North American cities have used toll roads, and the Toronto Act gives our city the ability to toll the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, which were downloaded to Toronto over 20 years ago.

It’s time for each one of us to rip away the rigid anti-tax attitude that has settled over Toronto, and held us back from building an effective and vibrant city. The first step is to envision what the city might be like if we invested in transit. Think of the jobs this kind of investment would bring, and of the future we would be building not just for today but for our children. The next step is to work actively to dispel the myth that city hall is rolling in funds with the reality – Toronto has a revenue problem that must be solved. If you would like to help, please join the Transit Alliance campaign for dedicated transit funding – you can become a member, volunteer, and share our posts on your social media wall. Forward. Together.

Transit integration moves forward for GTHA

Today GO Transit and the TTC announced a partnership on a pilot project to give metropass holders the opportunity to purchase a new monthly GO fare sticker for $60 that can be used  for unlimited travel between Exhibition, Union and Danforth GO Stations. It will begin on Feb 1, 2015. The new stickers will go on sale on Jan. 26, at Exhibition, Union and Danforth GO Stations.

CEO of Metrolinx, Bruce McCuaig said, “This project is more than about saving time. It’s about working together to provide the best transit service”

The goal is to attract people to use different transit options, and to inform them of all the transit choices that are available to them. Transit officials say this will save commuters between 10 to 15 minutes per trip during rush hour.

Ontario Transportation Minister, Steven Del Duca announced that the project would last one year, and offer Metrolinx a lot of information to analyse in order to help them with long-term planning.

Here is how to get the sticker

1. Bring your TTC Metropass (for the current or upcoming month) to the ticket counter at Exhibition, Union or Danforth GO Station.

2. A GO station Attendant will attach the GO fare sticker to your valid TTC Metropass.

Safe travels.

Extreme cold shuts down too many streetcars

By Sarah Thomson

With 28 street cars pulled out of service Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning due to extreme cold a question many should be asking, is what will happen as global warming causes more extreme weather conditions for Toronto? Ice storms and snow storms also play havoc with above ground transit. The T.T.C. has announced they’ll have busses runnng to fill in where they can -502 Dowtown, 503 Kingston Road & 511 Bathurst – check transit app to get updated times.

Major cities around the world invest in underground transit. With the extreme weather predicted for Toronto’s long-term future, it makes the larger investment today all the more reasonable. Toronto must begin to look at transit planning through a bigger lens than merely cost. The last time Toronto’s subway shut down fully was during the July 2013 flood when all major highways and transit in the city was shut down for a few hours at the height of the flood.

The subway system has proven over the years to be the most reliable system through the winter months, but we have to invest in it. It is an aging system in need of significant upgrades and investment, and remarkably small system given the growth of Toronto ove the past two decades.

The downtown relief line running under Queen Street and joining up with Eglinton Street at either end is still the most important subway line that Toronto needs to build. Unfortunately political maneuvering continues to stall it’s progress. With so few politicians willing to stand up for the dedicated transit that is needed to fund such a project.

While Mayor Tory announced his Smart Track as an alternative for the downtown relief line, the truth is that it too will suffer from the increasing extreme weather conditions (primarily winter conditions) that Toronto is expecting over the next few decades. And while his Tax Increment Financing (TIF) may have seemed the perfect solution to transit funding during the election, it was merely a strategy for borrowing and it does not actually raise funding, but merely works as security for a loan. And unfortunately it will leave future generations forced to pay it back.

Personally I believe Mayor Tory knows that Tax Increment Financing is nothing more than a strategic campaign platform, it is not a funding tool but a financing strategy that has worked on small projects across North America.  He still has a lot more work to do when it comes to supporting the basket of revenue tools – increase in development fees, parking levies, sales taxes or tolls – that he has advocated for over the years.

But for some reason, with Tory at the helm, I can imagine a time when Toronto decides to invest in itself, when revenue tools have been put in place to generate funds that we can invest into our transit system. Add in a Federal transit funding strategy to the provincial and municipal funds and then our City will have a real choice – invest in below ground subway or cheaper above ground rail that continually shuts down during extreme weather conditions?  If the funding is there Toronto will build subways because they are a better long-term investment.

It’s time for Mayor Tory to get started on securing the dedicated transit funding tools that he’s advocated for over the past few years.  He’ll need all the help he can get, and each one of us can play a part in convincing our neighbours to support dedicated transit funding.

A courageous man once said “If anyone tells you that Toronto does not need revenue tools for transit, they aren’t being honest.”  It’s time again for that man to show courage.

Founder of Kik Messenger takes stand against LRTs because they don’t look futuristic enough

While Toronto’s subways vs. LRT debates splash against the front pages of newspapers our neighbours in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge to the west have had their own ongoing debates about the future of transit in the city.

The major bus route throughout KW is King Street, and the plan was to run an LRT along it and to reorganize buses in the city to feed into the LRT for better, more reliable, and faster crosstown travel.

The plan, which also includes a multi-modal downtown transit hub, hasn’t seen any major battles erupt like the mention of LRT will garner here in Toronto.

That is, until Ted Livingston decided he was not only an expert at providing a platform for tweenagers to sext each other and perverts, pedophiles to collect child pornography (no, really) but also an expert at transit in Waterloo Region.

His beef? The trains for the LRT aren’t futuristic enough.

His Change.org tirade, which you can read for yourself here, begins earnestly enough as he lets us know that he “only started reading about the specifics of the LRT this past Sunday.” This should be a red flag to anyone reading, as the “specifics” of the LRT have been publicly debated for the past fours years or so, and there also isn’t a lot more ever going on in the news in Waterloo to keep you distracted.

He tells us that he was excited, because trains are cool, that is until he saw a picture of one of the trains. “Not a futuristic train whizzing by overhead, but just a glorified bus running up and down King in a dedicated lane.”

Yes, he’s upset because the train doesn’t look cool enough.

He goes on to explain: “We say that traveling by bus is brutal and that these trains will be so much more comfortable to take, but after two wheels are photoshopped in we will all see that it is simply a shinier bus.”

Oh, that’s right, he photoshopped some wheels onto a concept design of one of the LRT trains going by Grand River Hospital to, um, prove to us that these trains are a lot like buses, maybe?

Waterloo Region and Grand Rvier Transit could also do a lot worse than double length articulated buses like the one Mr. Livingston has photoshopped into existence here.

“Instead of a train we all know and love, we’ll have glorified buses that are just as miserable to take. Because instead of getting cars off the streets and opening our roads, we’ll have closed key roadways and made traffic a mess. And because instead of looking for a unique solution that would actually make commuting in Waterloo fun, we’ll have gone over budget and burdened any future options for decades to come.”

The whole thing reeks of someone who, fresh out of school with a cash cow of an app, has to pay taxes for the first time and thinks that the dedicated lane will make it more difficult to travel around town in his new car. In Toronto he might have a few more fans, but in Waterloo where most people who take public transit are captive passengers, meaning they actually have no choice but to take the bus to work or school because they can’t afford a car, I think he’s going to be a bit hard pressed to find a group of car snobs willing to turn down any step in the right direction.

Ted Livingston, Jim Balsillie you ain’t. Stick to your app instead of opining on Waterloo’s transit.

 

 

Politics in Toronto: Not broken, maybe bent, but certainly cracked

Quite a few people in the Twitterverse and beyond were shocked today by the transit video we released.

It was created by our publisher (and tireless transit advocate) Sarah Thomson who took to Facebook last night to announce that Women’s Post had “the video” and it would be appearing on Women’s Post’s website today at noon.

Supporters of transit initiatives in Toronto and those who see Sarah tick by in their Facebook and Twitter feeds regularly were familiar with the video she was talking about – a video where she sings a cover of Pink’s Just Give Me a Reason with lyrics re-written to showcase Toronto’s issues with securing reliable transit for the city and asking Torontonians to do what they can to support the Big Move.

A little bit silly? Of course. A conversation we need to be having? Definitely.

The video opens with a smoke filled room and a character holding a pipe before a segue into shots of Toronto’s congested streets and regular people holding cards asking for help in relieving transit stresses and commuter problems in our fair city. The message is clear: we need to move past the haze of drug scandals that have Toronto politics in a vice grip and get back to reality. Our city and the people in it are stuck immobile by distraction after distraction and are suffering the consequences of inaction on a daily basis.

What happened next couldn’t have driven the point home any better. Overnight Toronto’s hashtags and feeds jumped to the collective conclusion that the video going up today was of Rob Ford smoking crack.

Their shock came when the video turned out to be a song about transit.

My shock came in the immediate aftermath of the video going live. The message left in our comments, on Twitter, and on YouTube was that this was a waste of time, we need to get back to “real” issues about Rob Ford’s reckless personal life.

My shock was that a scandal plagued mayor has so thoroughly damaged the civic and political landscape of Toronto to the point where the people of Toronto can’t even clearly see that the most pressing issue to us right now, to our children, and to our future as a viable world-class city isn’t what people at City Hall have in their pipes, it is what their circus of distraction is preventing us from becoming.

This week boring machines began working on the largest transit project Toronto has seen in half a century. Unfortunately, the number of people tuned into stories about the Eglinton LRT pales in comparison to the number of people tuning in daily to see an elected official deny, dodge, and destroy politics at City Hall.

My suggestion to my fellow Torontonians is to take a cue from Sarah’s video. Wave the smoke out of your face and move on. Focus on what is important, do everything you can to make City Hall, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill work for you by speaking out about transit, urban development, bike lanes, the Gardiner, and everything else that is currently being ignored by the Mayor’s office. While we can waste time arguing over what kind of dust coats the Mayor’s desk it is quite clear that it isn’t being used at all for the municipal issues that need to be addressed.

Taking a stand on the problems faced by Torontonians instead of the demons faced by Toronto’s mayor is the only way we can step forward into the future.

The politics of Toronto aren’t broken, perhaps bent, but certainly cracked. What we need to do now is fill that crack with our voices. Our next big move as a city shouldn’t be into the depths of crack houses, it should be into the communities that need accessible transit, stitching together the tapestry of our city with busses, light rail, subways, proper highways, and bike lanes.

Together we can make it work.

 

You can follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.

Toronto’s not broken just bent

Amid the scandal and smoke that swirls around city hall it is good to know there are some people and organizations in Toronto who push forward to tackle the real issues holding back our city. Credit should be given to organizations like the Toronto Transit Alliance for the work they are doing to educate and inform Toronto area residents of the need to come together and build a great city.

 

Be sure to follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.