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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).

TTC to address last week’s complaints

While there are a lot of things to complain about this week in terms of transit service, the one thing riders can’t complain about is the sincerity of staff to do better.

There were a lot of problems with Line 1 and Line 2, mostly caused by either human error (passengers claiming emergencies) or a crack in the rail, something the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is trying to rectify. A report will be presented at the TTC board next week about the issues.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Later this month, City Council will be approving a total operating budget, which will include $1.98 billion for the TTC. This is $21 million more than last year. This money will be used to help in repairs and upkeep that have been postponed over the last few years.

The mayor also confirmed the relief line was still a priority. By 2019, city council should have a detailed design to push forward. The city will be asking the province to match the federal government’s $4.8 billion investment — money that will be dedicated to transit, including the relief line.

“The federal government has made it clear that they expect provinces to match this investment at least 33 per cent, but other provinces across the country have committed to 40 per cent, and it’s time for Ontario leaders to commit to doing the same for people of Toronto,” said Tory. “Toronto is growing fast and we must keep up. Having a strong and robust transit system is vital to our residents, to our economy and to our competitiveness as a city and a province.”

TTC looking to innovate, grow ridership past 2014 levels

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board will meet on Thursday to discuss ridership — how to move customers more reliably, make public transit seamless, and innovate for the future.

It’s a big topic. The TTC doesn’t just want to retain their current ridership. According to the TTC, ridership hasn’t grown since 2014, with about 535 millions trips each year. They want to see it grow along with the changing network.

“Over the past decade, major shifts in demographics, travel behaviour and technology have changed how people travel in cities,” the report reads. “The transportation system has shifted from a traditional model of owning a car or using public transit, to a “mobility as a service” system where one either owns their car or accesses a sharedcar/bike alternative.”

The goal of the TTC will be to focus on reliability, mobility, and innovation in order to increase ridership. To do this, the board will approve three initiatives:

  • Provide more surface routes to relieve overcrowding on busses
  • Implement two-hour transfers
  • Implement a discounted fare for PRESTO customers combining TTC and Go Transit/UP trips.

These three initiatives were discussed months ago by the board, as well as city councillors, so chances are they will pass at the meeting this Thursday. Other ideas mentioned in the report include a U-Pass for students, partnering with car-sharing services, and launching public awareness campaigns.

The board will also discuss a corporate strategy that will create a five-year plan “to be a transit system that makes Toronto proud.” This plan focuses on moving transit quickly, including looking at measures similar to the King St. Pilot to relieve congestion on certain routes under the Surface Transit Priority Plan. “Measures that keep transit moving include dedicated right-of-way like we currently have on the 510 Spadina and 512 St. Clair streetcars: queue jump lanes that let transit bypass other traffic at key intersections and traffic signal priority, which reduces dwell times for TTC vehicles by holding green signals longer or shortening red signals.”

There is also a goal to be 100 per cent emissions free by 2042!

New York Transit Agency needs Andy Byford

I actually missed the TTC last weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like I said — I really missed the TTC.

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

Toronto, take the transit this New Year’s Eve

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

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

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

Here is what you need to know:

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

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

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

Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension opens this weekend

It’s finally here! The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) will open on Sunday, connecting the City of Toronto to Vaughan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday for the $3.18 billion, 8.6 kilometre, subway extension.

“This opening is another example of all levels of government working together cooperatively to deliver billions of dollars in transit infrastructure and our ongoing commitment to getting Toronto moving,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

The TYSSE will be the first Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) route that crosses municipal boundaries, connecting Toronto and the Region of York. Each station has been specifically designed to integrate into each different neighbourhood. Pioneer Village’s station includes high columns with a green roof and a number of environmentally-friendly additions. Highway 407’s station has a beautiful stain-glass and the York University Campus station is sleek, modern, and pedestrian-friendly.

It is also the first subway route to be completed under the new “motherlode” transit network. The line has been highly anticipated by students who attend York University, as well as those who work near Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Highway 407. Torontonians will also now be able to access more affordable housing options, as well as Canada’s Wonderland, without having to take a specialized VIA bus.

“The opening of the Toronto-York subway extension is the single greatest transit achievement for this region in my lifetime,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, in a statement. “Thousands of Vaughan residents and York University students now have a world-class rapid transit option to get them where they need to go faster and more efficiently. Today’s celebration clearly indicates what we can achieve when all levels of government work towards one common goal — building more transit.”

It will be interesting to see how this extension will impact Line 1 without a relief line in place. With the completion of the TYSSE, and the hopeful completion of SmartTrack by 2024, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity by 2031, unable to carry new riders. The relief line must be in place by the time SmartTrack is completed in order to accommodate the increase in commuters who are all connecting to Line 1 in order to get downtown.

Most subway cars should have updated their maps already, including the lights indicating when the car arrives at a station. Check them out the next time you jump on transit!

Will you be taking the TYSSE this weekend? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Toronto’s Rita Skeeter is after TTC CEO Andy Byford

Why are certain journalists given leeway to sensationalize issues that are in fact non-issues? They twist words to create “a trap for fools” hoping to slingshot their career to international heights. Sensationalists get forgotten over time, while journalists dedicated to the truth, who don’t deal in opinion but report fact, always seem to survive the test of time. They don’t give in to the lure of fame by twisting words and creating controversy.

The latest witch hunt has been led by Jennifer Pagliaro at the Star – she’s determined to find scandal to build her name and slingshot into international fame, and now that the Toronto Transit Commission’s CEO Andy Byford is heading to New York, she has found the perfect opportunity to get recognition south of the border.

Pagliaro has taken a line that Byford quickly sent in a text message and twisted it out of context to such a degree it would make even the trashiest tabloid journalist squirm.

The text she is trying to make into a scandal was written in haste by Byford as he was preparing for his usual grilling at city council. Note the word preparing and think about how challenging it would be to face 40 councillors all with extensive questions (some whose lips move when they read, and others who grandstand on anything that could turn into an issue). Remember that Byford has to give council a full accounting of every decision he makes. His staff prepare briefing notes to help him prepare for committee and council meetings. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be consumed with “preparing” prior to such a grilling!

The text that Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to build into a scandal was sent by Byford to Matlow over a year ago as he was preparing for a council meeting. It reads “We have prepared a BN (briefing note) at the Chairs request and for the Mayors office.” This was an obvious mistake, and most at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the mayor. In fact, it likely was meant to say “We have sent a BN at the Chairs request to the Mayors office.” If one were in the middle of preparing for a large council debate, it is easy to see how the word “prepared” might slip into a text sent in haste. But, it is also common knowledge that TTC staff prepare briefing notes for their CEO. Anyone who’s spent time at city hall knows the TTC does not prepare briefing notes for the Mayor!

I find it impossible to believe that Matlow would not have realized Byford’s text message had errors in it. It’s no secret that Councillor Matlow has yearned to be on the board of the TTC. I’m sure the man salivates over the sensitive information he’d have access to if he had a board position, and dreams of ways he could twist and sensationalize it. Instead of questioning Byford on the obvious mistake in his text message – which most councillors would have done, Matlow hid the text message, putting it into his arsenal to be used at a later date. (Who would save a text message for over a year if they didn’t want to use it for something devious?)

But, let me take this back to journalistic integrity – because the real issue is apparent on any given day at city hall. Those of us in the media cringe when we see Councillor Matlow and reporter Jennifer Pagliaro whispering and snickering together in council chambers. Don’t get me wrong, councillors and reporters talk all the time, but to see the two of them together constantly sends off warning bells. And to read an article today by Pagliaro that so obviously props up Matlow by sensationalizing this ridiculous text message has me shaking my head.

Many of us in the media have watched Matlow try to stir up controversy over the Scarborough subway, he’s suggested scandal and corruption since he first realized it would get him on the news. I wouldn’t doubt he’s behind those who pushed for an Auditor General investigation – but that issue backfired on him! The auditors report clearly states that there was no evidence that the TTC CEO Andy Byford or his staff deliberately misled council, or were influenced in any way by the Mayors office. It found that in fact there was no political interference at all.

Instead of chalking Byford’s text up to a typo, Pagliaro has become enthralled by Matlow’s grandstanding … like a hen attracted to a peacock. Determined to create scandal out of an error in a text message, she has never questioned why Councillor Matlow did not clarify the text message with Byford, or why he held on to it for so long, or the fact that this typo led to a witch hunt that proved completely vacuous. I’ve seen her at city hall whispering to Matlow too many times to count, so I know that she’s had plenty of time to question him. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if the real scandal at city hall may lie between this councillor and reporter!

But what bothers me most is that one of the best CEO’s of the TTC that Toronto has had is leaving our city with very little recognition of the fantastic job he has done in improving our transit system. From timing to signalling, efficiency to improving overall customer service, Andy Byford moved the TTC ahead decades.

He was accessible and responsive to a fault, and I think he trusted that any typo he might make in a text message sent in haste would not be secreted away and used to create a scandal. That Jennifer Pagliaro and Councillor Matlow are trying to use Byford’s good reputation to slingshot their own careers is beyond pathetic.

Toronto Transit Commission approves time-based transfer

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has approved a two-hour time-based transfer for PRESTO card users, to start August 2018.

As the system is now, TTC riders have to pay a second fare when they get back on a bus, streetcar, or subway, regardless of how long they have been off the network. This new system will allow riders to run short errands such as drop kids off at school or go grocery shopping without being penalized for a second fare, as long as the errand fits within a two-hour window.

The idea has been floating around since 2005, but on Nov. 28th the board finally voted to approve city staff recommendations.

The net cost of this change will be $11.1 million, which will increase to $20.9 million after full implementation in 2020. The cost would have been higher if it wasn’t for the projected five million riders that will now be able to ride the TTC thanks to the time-based transfer.

“The greatest benefit from this policy change stems from reducing the cost of transit, making it more affordable for multiple short distance trips, thereby giving TTC customers the flexibility they require to carry out everyday activities,” the report reads. “Allowing a two-hour re-entry may benefit customers who need to exit the system to use restroom or restaurant facilities, including seniors and customers with disabilities or health needs requiring more flexibility in travel.”

Time-based transfers were publicly supported by Toronto Mayor John Tory and TTC Chair Josh Colle a few weeks ago.

“Time-based transfers would allow people on transit the flexibility to hop on and off to run errands or make stops along their way to work, school, or home.” said Colle in a statement. “This would continue the modernization of our services, and further demonstrate the TTC’s ongoing commitment to improving the customer experience.”

The request is part of both the modernization and fare integration process between the TTC and Metrolinx.

Ontario PCs wants to take over TTC – but only part of it

This past weekend has seen two group of people argue for provincial ownership of aspects of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives released their election platform on Saturday called “The People’s Guarantee.” In this document, the PCs say they will assume responsibility for maintenance and investments in Toronto’s subway system. Toronto would still retain control of the streetcars and busses.

“In partnership with the Mayor of Toronto, Patrick Brown and the Ontario PCs will assume responsibility for the physical subway infrastructure – tunnels, tracks, and stations. This will allow the province to amortize subway investments and costs on the province’s books over the life of the asset. The city would maintain complete control of day to-day maintenance and operations,” the document says.

The PCs will invest $5 billion in projects throughout Ontario, including the Relief Line and extension to Richmond. It also pledged to pay the city’s share of funding for the Scarborough Subway Extension, but only if Toronto makes a “significant financial contribution” to the Eglinton Crosstown West.

The PCs will not support the tolling of the Don Valley Parkway or the Gardiner Expressway to fund transit and infrastructure projects.

The political party is not the only one who thinks the province should take control of Toronto’s transit network. The Toronto Region Board of Trade released a report that calls for the consolidation of planning, construction, and operation of transit into one provincial transit agency. The idea is that politics would no longer interfere with the delivery of projects and provide extra revenue for other city issues.

This agency, dubbed “Superlinx”, would merge GO Transit and 12 different transit operators together to “provide the vision, scale and resources to finally provide the world-class transit system that the corridor needs.” Superlinx would be responsible for paying for the region’s transit operations.

As the provincial election gets closer in June, more and more of these proposals will pop up. Transit is the priority item, with almost every municipality in the province looking to expand and grow their networks. Is a provincially-run agency the best way to go about building transit? Will this reduce the bureaucracy preventing shovels from getting in the ground or will it create a whole new set of problems?

What do you think?

Andy Byford resigns to become CEO of New York City Transit

Andy Byford announced Tuesday morning that he was resigning from his role as CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). He will be leaving in mid-December, following the opening of the Yonge-Spadina Subway Extension, to take on the role of President and CEO of New York City Transit.

“My last task in Toronto will be to deliver the opening of the long-awaited, spectacular, Line 1 subway extension to Vaughan in York Region, with its 8.6-kilometres of new track and six beautiful, Wi-Fi-, cell-, PRESTO-equipped stations,” he said at a press conference Tuesday morning. “I will look back on my time at the TTC as the absolute highlight of my 28-year transit career to date.”

Byford joined the TTC in 2011 and has played an integral part in Toronto’s growth and development. He helped create and push forward a five-year modernization plan that transformed how this city designed and used public transportation. Toronto’s transit system was dirty, slow, and construction had come to a grinding stop. Byford had his work cut out for him — and he didn’t miss a beat.

His passion for customer service was what set him apart from other city staff. He had a deep desire to make Torontonians proud of their transit system. He wanted the best technology, the fastest bus routes, and the least amount of delays. At every board meeting, he would smile when presenting the CEO report, always underselling his achievements by saying staff needed to aim higher.

Byford didn’t shy away from speaking bluntly about the need to invest in transit. He used his knowledge and expertise to convince city council and private investors to spend much-needed dollars on building new subway lines and more sustainable busses. He championed the Relief Line, calling it a priority project that required investment. He pushed for the integration of the PRESTO card, the implementation of Wi-Fi at stations, the replacement of a 60-year-old signal system, the modernization of the fleet, and the creation of a new herd of streetcars, just to name a few.

Under his leadership, transit users have experienced 21 per cent fewer delays — a number he was fond of quoting. In June 2017, the TTC was named the best public transportation system in North America by the American Public Transportation Association.

And still, Byford had more ideas. At every board meeting and city council meeting he stood is ground when grilled by councillors who didn’t want to spend tax dollars on transit. He expressed the need to continue to modernize and merge new technologies into business practices. His ideas were radical for some of the more conservative city staff — a fully integrated system that was easy to use for daily commuters and tourists alike!

Byford also encouraged more diversity within the organization itself.

“I have deliberately changed the face of the TTC,” he said. “Five years ago – incredibly – there had never been a woman on the TTC Executive. Now, 50 per cent of my senior team are women, all on merit and both the Executive and the next two levels below are increasingly diverse. We have promoted talent from within and we have added bench strength where needed from outside.”

In his farewell press conference, Byford did what he always did — talked about transit, the successes of the TTC, and put the spotlight on his employees.

“But as I prepare to say goodbye in just four weeks, and before my wife, Alison, and I head to New York, I want to save my final thank you for the near 15,000 men and women of the TTC. The frontline staff of this company are the ones that really make the difference. They are the decent, loyal Canadians whose hard work has delivered the achievements of the past five years,” he said.

“So it is to TTC employees that I dedicate the final achievement of our Five-Year Plan.. That we achieved our objective of getting back to being number one by winning the 2017 APTA Outstanding Transit System of the Year, in spite of myriad challenges, is testament to the hard work, dedication to duty and passion of my colleagues and for that, they should hold their heads very high indeed.”

Byford will start his new job at the New York City Transit in mid-January of next year, and called it “arguably the toughest job in transit right now.” Sounds like it is just up Byford’s ally!

Deputy CEO Rick Leary will take over as acting CEO.

Featured Image courtesy of the TTC.