Sunday, 26 June 2016

Accidential Download: How John Tory Is Aiding and Abetting Queen's Park, and Costing Toronto Millions For It

On June 22, 2016, Ward 30 Councillor Paula Fletcher introduced Mayor John Tory at a press conference located on top a the building at the old Unilever site. She did so by calling him our "transit mayor."

Oof. Out of anyone, I thought Fletcher would have some more respect. She has been councillor since 2003, when David Miller was elected to office. You know, one of the primary people (another being TTC Chair Adam Giambrone) behind a Toronto transit plan called TRANSIT CITY. But she is only one person who has committed contempt and doublespeak on the Toronto transit file, and giving calling Tory a 'transit mayor' is a relatively mild offence.

18 months into his mayoralty, I am obligated to write this post today to remind everyone that John Tory is the furthest thing from a transit mayor, and it starts with one simple fact: he hasn't built anything yet. Of five major transit projects currently on the books, John Tory has not come up with, finalized or fully funded any of them.

Despite that, John Tory could still manage to unnecessarily cost the City of Toronto millions of dollars on three of them: Crosstown East, Crosstown West, and SmartTrack. Let the dissection begin.

Crosstown East: Nuking the Peace Plan (Tory Rebranding Part I)

The 3-stop SSE was estimated to cost $3.56 billion. So now I will give Tory some credit for an idea: cutting the SSE to 1 stop, and using the rest of the funding to extend the Eglinton Crosstown easterly to University of Toronto in Scarborough and the Pan Am Sports Centre. He touted it as 'buying peace in the land.'

This is credit for a shuffling of money only. It is NOT giving Tory credit for the SSE, as outlined above. It is NOT giving Tory credit for Crosstown East, which is just a truncated version of the Scarborough-Malvern LRT, another LRT proposed under Transit City and rolled into The Big Move. And while the money shuffle had funded it, the escalating costs of SSE has now rendered this funding basket incomplete. Therefore, John Tory has not come up with it, finalized it, or found the money for it.

Based on the demonstrated priorities of John Tory and city council, are all the necessary funds for Crosstown East really going to be taken from that $3.56 billion allocation? If we are going to get both the SSE and the Crosstown East built, there will need to be additional funding found, and with looming financial pressures, it will not be easy.

Crosstown West: A Bait and Switch (Tory Rebranding Part II)

Crosstown West was part of the original version of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which again was proposed under Transit City, and rolled into The Big Move. While the Crosstown is currently funded and being constructed between Weston Road and Kennedy subway station, it was assumed that Crosstown West was going to be constructed as part of a second phase.

Enter John Tory, a mayoral candidate in Toronto's 2014 general election. He proposed SmartTrack, which included replacing the LRT portion of the Eglinton Crosstown west of Weston Road with heavy rail; think GO trains. I was questioning the wisdom of this back in May 2014, and seriously doubting it would come within his $8 billion estimate. Furthermore, the proposal only went to the Airport Corporate Centre (Eglinton Avenue at Orbitor Drive), and not across the 401 to Pearson Airport itself.

Sure enough, a feasibility report found that it came with significant capital costs ranging from $3.6 billion to $7.7 billion, versus $1.3 billion for the LRT plan. Based on this and comparatively lower ridership, John did the sensible thing and backed the original LRT plan from Crosstown West. But he has nonetheless re-branded (and continues to claim ownership for) an LRT proposed under Transit City and rolled into The Big Move. Therefore, John Tory has not come up with it or finished it.

SmartTrack: Concept Over Reality (Tory Rebranding Part III)

When it was originally proposed, SmartTrack was billed as being a separate service for the price of a TTC fare, having 22 stops (11 new stops + 11 already existing or planned), and being a "London-style surface rail subway".

Over the past 2 years, it has become clear that it will be nothing more than existing provincial plans for GO Regional Express Rail (RER): it is GO trains, having 6 new GO Train stops, running every 15 minutes. When pressed about it, Tory defended it as being a service concept built upon GO RER. However, it has been clear that the new GO stations were part of independent GO RER evaluations being conducted by Metrolinx.

SmartTrack is GO RER, wrapped in a mayoral election banner. And despite being GO RER, these stations are contingent on funding from the city of Toronto. Therefore, John Tory has not come up with it, finalized it, or found the money for it.


To recap:
  • The Crosstown East LRT is a rebranding of the Scarborough-Malvern LRT.
  • SmartTrack is a rebranding of:
    • A western extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT; and
    • GO Transit Regional Express Rail.

Looking at these rapid transit projects for what they are, these were expansions of Toronto's rapid transit network that were to be paid in full by the Government of Ontario. These and other transit projects listed under The Big Move were to be funded by an Investment Strategy that generated $2 billion annually, the primary source being an increase in the HST. After promising an 'adult conversation' on funding transit, it ended with Wynne rejecting tax increases altogether, and also ended any prospect of stable and predictable funding sources for transit in Greater Toronto. Since then, we have seen Toronto transit projects suddenly "requiring new partner funding."

Now that John Tory has attempted to rebrand some transit projects as his own, he has also managed to let the province wiggle out of the original commitment to pay for them, and require the City of Toronto to front some of the money.

John Tory is breaking his election promises and/or plagiarizing transit plans by other people. That's one thing. But when these transit plans were to be paid in full by a provincial government and you are not calling them out on it? That is a whole other level of contempt for the City of Toronto. He is not our 'transit mayor,' but merely an accomplice of the province's broken promises, on delivering transit that may or may not even be built.

Image Credits
1CC-BY Rokashi
2: City of Toronto
3: City of Toronto
4: CC-BY-SA Danielle Scott
5: CC-BY-ND Alex Guibord

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

How Scarborough Transit Shenanigans May Go On

The final alignment under consideration for the $2-billion, single-stop Scarborough Subway Extension has been released. It's a step forward in the process, but there's nothing stopping us from going back to square one. It's Scarborough transit planning after all.

Along with it, we have a revised ridership forecast: 7,300 passengers per hour in peak direction (pphpd; the standard ridership measurement unit). This is about HALF the forecasted 14,000 pphpd that city councillors cited in their 2013 vote to build a 3-stop subway, instead of an LRT replacement and extension fully funded by the province.

Now I have previously outlined why I have concerns about the current RT route, and why I am sympathetic to a subway proposal. But now Toronto has managed to take this proposal, remove 2/3 stations to save 28% of the capital cost, and halved the ridership. An already rotten project has become festered with mould. Pulling off such a feat deserves of national award.

On top of all this, there are now residents upset that the subway may require their homes. Once rallying his constituents for the subway, local Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker now faces a potential backlash from it all. Angry and vocal Scarborough subway supporters now have an equal and opposite companion, calling for the cancellation of the project.

The Scarborough LRT was first proposed as part of Transit City in 2007. After nine years of back-and-forth and tons of studies and work, could we really see the subway cancelled? Absolutely, and my main reason for saying so is because I do not believe all the chickens have come home to roost.

When City Council voted on a major transit item on March 31 of this year, there was a motion from Councillor Josh Matlow that subsequently carried:

1. City Council amend Executive Committee Recommendation 3d by adding the words "that includes an update, in consultation with Metrolinx, of Item CC39.5 Scarborough Rapid Transit Options: Reporting on Council Terms and Conditions presented to the October 8, 9, 10 and 11, 2013 meeting of City Council, to determine whether all or portions of the Scarborough Subway Extension could be built at-grade along with the" after the word "alignment", and deleting the words "and" and "for the Scarborough Subway Extension" the so that it now reads as follows:
d. report to the June 28, 2016 Executive Committee on Part c above, along with a recommended preferred corridor and alignment that includes an update, in consultation with Metrolinx, of Item CC39.5 Scarborough Rapid Transit Options: Reporting on Council Terms and Conditions presented to the October 8, 9, 10 and 11, 2013 meeting of City Council, to determine whether all or portions of the Scarborough Subway Extension could be built at-grade along with the number and location of stations.

With this motion, growing backlash from residents, and worsening ridership forecasts, I can see a few different scenarios playing out at city council:

  1. It plugs its nose, building the subway in its current form;
  2. It votes to re-instate the original 3-stop subway, jeopardizing the Crosstown East extension to UTSC.
  3. It changes its mind again to build the LRT as originally set out, wasting years of time and millions of dollars in studies and accumulated congestion;
  4. It votes to build some or all of it at-grade, potentially requiring even more expropriation of homes and riling up more people; or
  5. Studying some other alternative and kicking the can even further down the (very long) road.
As any transit watcher in this city knows, it's a toss-up.