Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Scarborough Rapid Transit Debacle: Episode V

Just when you thought it was over. The idea of a subway for Scarborough subway may go off the rails (transit puns are so overused) be shut down yet again.

To summarize what has happened until this point:
  • Transit City was announced in March 2007, which included the Scarborough LRT
  • Rob Ford takes office as Mayor in December 2010, and declares that Transit City is dead
  • Toronto City Council defeats the mayor's campaign for subways, votes to revive the Scarborough LRT and 3 other LRT lines from Transit City in February/March 2012
  • The City and Metrolinx sign a master agreement on the LRT lines in November 2012
  • Council changes its mind and votes for a subway proposal to Scarborough in June 2013; Metrolinx halts any work on the Scarborough LRT
  • Council votes to confirm it wants a subway in October 2013
Nearly seven years later, we still don't have anything definitive. And Councillor Josh Matlow is trying to kill it once again. Tomorrow, Matlow will put forward a motion to delay a $14.5-million allocation and cancel a 0.5% property-tax increase required to pay for the Scarborough subway.

Some lefty is just trying to give Scarborough the shaft and force them to use these stupid modified streetcars, right? (/s) Matlow's key argument: "This is not the year that we should be hiking our debt and residents’ taxes to pay for a subway extension that, frankly, we know very little about." Clearly appealing directly to those who call them fiscal conservatives:
  • The city will be responsible for (according to Metrolinx):
    • $1.48 billion is the amount still being committed to the subway, if that's what goes forward. The City/TTC must reimburse Metrolinx for $85 million sunk costs put towards the LRT, and any costs to re-negotiate the vehicle contract with Bombardier.
    • Assuming risk for delivering it on time and on budget, and assuming any operation and maintenance costs.
  • The project is subject to an environmental assessment (EA), and Metrolinx asserts the EA must consider all station and alignment configurations, be subject to public consultation, and be receptive to "ridership, costs and benefits, land use, economic development and employment opportunities, providing service to priority neighbourhoods, and the implementation of applicable provincial and municipal policies". It will also present a refined cost estimate; the estimations done to date are very rough.
One may also consider the opportunity costs, both in terms of actual money and time.

Torontoist did an article outlining other things the extra $910 million the City needs to raise for a subway could have gone towards, on top of building an LRT for Scarborough:
  • Malvern LRT: $1,260,000,000
  • Jane LRT: $630,000,000
  • East Bayfront LRT: $300,000,000
  • 50% improvement to TTC state of good repair: $1,250,000,000
Or how about the Subway Relief Line?! If this illustrates anything, it is that the subway wastes money in Scarborough, and takes away from the ability to improve other parts of the city.

Finally, some have argued that it is time to stop debating and just move on with the subway. Forgive me, but if that was a genuine concern, councillors would stop pursuing a subway that still requires EA and design work, and Matlow's aforementioned financial unknowns and risks, and tell Metrolinx to go ahead and start putting shovels in the ground. At the end of the day, it was Rob Ford and flip-flopping councillors pushing for a subway that have delayed the project for three years.

Forget gravy trains, this debacle has been pork-barrelling at its finest.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Condo Politics

I can honestly say I engaged in my biggest twitter exchange today. It all started from a tweet from Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's wonderful chief planner. After giving Jen a retweet, I looked beyond the gender implication, and thought about how it applied to Toronto. Is Toronto considered a beautiful place? How much of that rests on how much pride and love its own citizens hold for it? What followed was something out of the blue. George Sawision, a candidate for Toronto City Council in Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina) (and currently represented by Mike Layton, as well as represented federally by Olivia Chow) started raising legitimate issues about whether we are building too many condos, their impact on aestetics, transit, and local retail. Bizarrely, he also started taking shots at China. Below are some of the tweets. It's no secret that I believe Rob Ford is a terrible mayor, and has done much to divide the people of Toronto. But electing a councillor that singles out a certain ethnicity of people for the issues we face? That could be much more damaging and divisive than a conflict of urban and suburban values. Perhaps next week we can return to a meaningful discussion of the issues with condos in Toronto.