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politics

City Hall’s Transit Gridlock Must End

The mayor and his allies are once again trying to derail a proper conversation about the future of transit. City council must stop them.

The outcome of the debate was clear from the moment the report appeared.

Mayor Rob Ford is absolutely, positively, undeniably opposed to any new taxes to pay for transit (or anything else, for that matter). He sees fiscal salvation in vague promises of government efficiency, the magic of private sector finance, and the siren lure of a megacasino. Taxpayers are fed up, says the mayor, and new taxes just won’t happen on his watch.

To that end, this week Ford and five of his closest allies decided to shelve a major report on long-term transit funding for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. They decided to derail that conversation—a chance to give Metrolinx, the regional agency in charge of transit, their advice and recommendations about how to proceed—for just long enough to make themselves entirely irrelevant to the process. Metrolinx will unveil their strategy for tackling that funding question on May 27; the executive committee deferred their debate on the issue until May 28.

Mayor Ford is entitled to his opinion, as are the executive members who passed that 6 to 4 vote to take no action. But there are 45 members of Toronto city council who represent the voters of the city, who now won’t get to sit down together and debate this report. The executive committee simply does not care to let them have their say, exercise their democratic right to discuss one of the most important issues facing the city. The mayor and his minions have spoken.

This cannot stand.

The congestion on our transit and road systems currently dominates the agendas of municipal and provincial governments, community groups, and business associations. They are all asking how we can undo the damage cause by decades of underinvestment in transportation, while the region sprawled and travel demand grew beyond the network’s capacity. All of them, that is, except for the leadership at Toronto City Hall.

How We Got Here

Five years ago, the Ontario government tried to wrestle with this problem through Metrolinx, with a plan called The Big Move. Fighting congestion was never going to be easy or cheap; the task requires a regional view both of transportation requirements and of funding options. The plan was—is—imperfect and undersized, but it was a starting point.

The Big Move arrived just as the world economy began to unravel. Just when momentum, a sense of beginning and accomplishment, was needed, Queen’s Park put the brakes on transit spending thanks to budget pressures, throwing the whole project into question. But the conversation didn’t stop. Congestion did not conveniently evaporate just because provincial revenues fell, and though implementation was delayed, people began considering how the $50 billion set of projects could be funded.

Our collective conversation about these issues changed fundamentally when the business community recognized that the “do nothing” option would not bring the savings a “no new taxes” policy might promise. Congestion affects the region’s economic vitality, and the value of lost time and of falling competitiveness is greater than the cost of improving the network’s speed and capacity. With that recognition, better transit stopped being a “left-right” issue, a question of social good versus hard-nosed business, and became a common problem.

Metrolinx’s pending report on “revenue tools”—a euphemism for the suite of taxes, tolls, and fees we’ll need to introduce to raise all that money—goes back almost as far as The Big Move itself. The menu of options was always there in plain sight, although many were reluctant to discuss the issue lest a tax-and-spend brand be stamped on their foreheads. But we are, finally, talking about it.


Related:

Kathleen Wynne Takes on the Future of Toronto Transit (Sort Of)


For the past year, the debate over transit funding has been hard to escape. Metrolinx has had its round of consultations. The Toronto Region Board of Trade stepped up with support. CivicAction’s What Would You Do With 32? campaign, backed by a variety of business and social leaders, stressed the personal loss that worsening congestion will bring in added commute times. The debate hasn’t stopped at the 416/905 boundary, and recognition that inaction is unacceptable pervades the region. Will new revenue streams be an easy sell? No, but at least politicians are engaging us on it now.

The Toronto Problem

Now we come to Toronto, centrepiece of the region, with half its population and by far the largest and best-used transit network. Metrolinx asked all municipalities to comment on possible funding tools, and Toronto passed this task on to its professional staff. The response, a long report [PDF], is the one that came before the executive committee on April 23. It’s the one that committee decided to defer until after Metrolinx had issued its recommendations.

Council’s rules of procedure are designed to give extra power to the mayor and executive, in part, to prevent a pesky minority from advancing business that a “majority government” of the mayor and council don’t support. (We use the quotation marks because, without political parties at City Hall, the terms technically don’t quite fit. They capture the dynamics accurately, however.) Toronto effectively has a “minority government” with the mayor and his shrinking band of loyal allies cornered by opposition on council. The rules require a super-majority, a two-thirds vote, to seize the agenda from the mayor’s control. If the mayor can exploit division among his opposition, building minority coalitions just big enough, he can thwart votes to undo his policies.

A little over a year ago, that tactic failed, and council held a special meeting to reinstate a long-standing plan to build several new light rail lines in the city. Control of the transit agenda passed to Karen Stintz and a coalition for whom Ford’s subways-subways-subways mantra was an empty promise obstructing real progress on transit expansion.

The question of revenue tools should come before council so that the entire assembly, the representatives of all voters, can decide which options they support, and more generally how transportation planning and spending should proceed.

Six members of the executive committee think they know better. Some of them hope for a new political dawn with a Tory government installed at Queen’s Park. A mayor who cares so much for his taxpayers and his city places his faith in a change of the guard at the Pink Palace. Everyone else can step aside.

That’s not how government is supposed to work in Toronto. The arrogant meddling of the mayor and a few of his puffed-up lieutenants should not prevent us from having a proper, complete debate on this vital issue. If Toronto really does not want Queen’s Park to levy new taxes or pay for expanded transit, then let council say so.

The process has been used before and it is quite simple: if 30 councillors, two-thirds of council, work together, they can run the table, control not just votes but the process of conducting city business. Nobody likes the idea of paying more for anything, but that train has left the station. If we want more transportation, if we want to support the regional economy, if we want to reduce the paralysis on roads and transit, we must pay. The questions now are how much we need, and which revenue sources we will tap.

City council deserves a chance to debate these questions and to participate in unlocking decades of inaction, of political gridlock. We deserve a government that is willing to have that debate.

Rob Ford has sabotaged Toronto’s transit planning, and much more, for too long. Where are the 30 who will put this wretched mayor in his place?

Comments

  • http://twitter.com/natekelly Nathan Kelly

    Brilliant article.

  • OgtheDim

    Precise arguments as always Steve. Thanks.

    The inability of the populist right to lead baffles the mind. All they had to do is work with the mushy middle and they would have gotten their agenda through. “You want discussion? Sure. Just don’t expect the result to be for this stuff.” Would have been easy. But, Mark Twohey doesn’t seem to want to work that way.

    Josh Colle put out today that threats to current councillors have pretty much lost Ford support for getting anything done. Seems we will be having 18 months of the Ford Nation Party running against everybody else.

    Sad because we don’t pay them to win elections – we pay them to get stuff done.

    • spoobnooble

      There had better be a serious candidate running against Ford in 2014 (hint: NOT George Smitherman), because four more years of these neo-Tea Party assclowns gumming up the city works is just too depressing a scenario to consider.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

        That serious candidate better be somebody like Olivia Chow, or this city’s finished-neocons and fiscally conservative centrists are not what we need to solve this mess.

  • scottld

    7 meetings since November. Ford doesnt exist anymore. The real issue is with the dolts who still think he is cool.

  • iSkyscraper

    Great post, well done Steve.

    But I don’t see any solutions coming. The Tea Party North, aka Ford Nation, simply doesn’t want to hear rational arguments about anything but their own paycheques/tax bill, to which Ford gives them all the right answers even if they mean nothing and in the long term actually hurt their own quality of life.

    We live in a time when conservative, redneck places like Oklahoma City are building streetcar systems, when congested cities like New York are changing their building codes to install bike infrastructure, when auto-centric cities like LA and Denver are funding new LRT lines through dedicated regional sales taxes…. and a time when Toronto does nothing but rip out bike lanes, repair an elevated expressway and call anyone who wants to solve transit woes a “socialist”. It’s a sad, sad era.

    • Dinah Might

      But the Leafs made the playoffs!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

        Who gives a shit? I care about public transit, not about a stupid trophy that the Maple Leafs already won umpteen times.

  • adamd1

    Well said, sir!

  • Nick

    My letter to Ford today:

    Dear Mayor Ford,

    I was so happy to hear you say the other day you’d not consider any new taxes to fund transportation expansion in Toronto, rather that you encourage finding efficiencies and getting rid of gravy as the way to fund these vital initiatives. I’m very glad you’ve cut the budget for office supplies because that certainly helped fund your Sheppard subway! And I liked how the private sector just jumped on board that one too. Certainly cutting the VRT meant that Metropass holders only had to pay an extra $60 a year for their pass. Great work to find those efficiencies!!

    Interestingly, you seem very keen to encourage people to fly out of Billy Bishop airport, so perhaps that is your strategy for dealing with congestion – let everyone fly on his or her own jet out of the Island Airport! Yay, works for me!

    I look forward to your further ideas for dealing with congestion in the GTA as we approach the upcoming election.

    Best regards from a willing taxpayer and concerned citizen,

    Nick

    • http://verdantcity.tumblr.com/ PCalith

      Mmm sarcasm may be lost on the man…

      • Michael Greason

        He will read it and say – “Here’s another Taxpayer who wants me to “Stay the Course” For maximum effect, deliver it at Tim’s.

    • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

      what a worthless letter! Don’t worry, it’ll be cheque-day anytime now. Personally I would use your tax refund to return to school, maybe take some night courses? Think about it chump!

      • Nick

        Haha that’s a good one William! Maybe you’re right…I need to get an LLD or MBA in addition to the PhD I already have. Anyhow, not sure what your point was…why was highlighting the mayor’s hypocrisy and lack of effectiveness on the transit file worthless?

        • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

          because you are focusing on Ford for some reason. This transit BS goes way before Ford was ever a Councillor. McLiar had every opportunity, AND the money to reverse Harris’s cuts yet McLiar refused to do so. McLiar also extended the construction(ie MONEY) way out to past 2020 claiming industry cannot handle etc, was just a way of stretching out the payments so they do not count as much. Ford meddles but even with another Mayor in place, this work would not be sped up. You know that. Munroe knows that. He is so fixated on his little LRT network, he carefully spins and comments on just what HE wants to hear. And no, we do not need to pay any more PROPERTY TAX for this bs. I don’t mind paying more IF the $$ goes to transit. Of course in the past McLiar spent on eHealth,Ornge,power plants, silly windmills, all-day kindergarten…..etc. I do not trust that these “new” taxes, whatever you want to call them will go to transit.(1)

          • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

            (2) recall that Miller’s famous VRT did NOT GO TO TRANSIT, rather it went into general revenues. Thats why it does not exist anymore. Ford is just a distraction. Wynne I do not believe. What, this is the first time in 20 years that she mentions transit? She is doing what every other politician does…tell them what they want to hear. By the time anything is built over half of us will be dead, or close to it. We do not need casino downtown as we already have mega-addictive gamblers every day on legalized bookies, I mean ProLine and 3 times a week on 649 + Max where poor starving people are gambling their rent money away in the hopes of striking it rich. The Waterfront is already toast. Forget the Gardiner, because City Council likes condos we now have walls of condos forever blocking the view and access to the waterfront. Hey Nick, council int he 90′s would not even give the Ferry Docks a place on QQ. The docks are ‘hidden’. That’s not For’s fault.

          • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

            (3) What do you care about Billy Bishop? I live in the Beach, on the water and I cannot hear or see 90% of the planes coming in to land. What I do hear is the Air Ambulances and cop helicopters which are extremely annoying they are so loud. Finally we could have built and aafforded subways. We DO NOT NEED Finch West! Finch West is already getting a full subway next year or so. Over 1/2 of the bus riders will certainly take the new subway downtown. We should have used the FInch West and the Sheppard East money and made Eg a full subway to Don Mills only. We do not need either LRT or subway east of Don MIlls. Once again not Ford’s fault but Metrolinx already decided that the new SRT and LRT will run seaprately. People will transfer, no direct ride. Anyways, quick question sir, how’s that PHD degree working for you? nice? REAL nice? or just OK?

          • Nick

            I pay $45k a year in taxes to give you an indication of my income, so real nice, thanks, William. The reason I bring up Billy Bishop is that Ford is focusing his energies on it, instead of on transit, and for someone who claims that he wants subways for Scarborough, his efforts have been underwhelming, in fact, they’ve been fruitless. He could have been lobbying his buddies in Ottawa, going over the head of “McLiar” (as an aside, you diminish your arguments using names like this), having meetings with developers etc. At least Miller had a vision, and tried to get Queen’s Park and the feds to cough up our tax dollars for it. Just sayin’. And tell the people who are packed onto the buses on Finch West they don’t need improved transit (it’ll be an LRT, not a subway, b.t.w.) We need all kinds of transit, a relief subway line, better buses, more LRTs, just like other cities with visionary leaders and populations who realize there is no other way and are willing to pay for it..

          • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

            you cannot compare us to other cities…ours was laid out strangely which is why transit has a hard time coping. Miller had no vision. Absentee mayor. Always on the move trying to get decent lunches with other mayors somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was not here. Good for you sir, I pay $27K instalments 4 times a year , total avg I pay about 106K taxes every year for the past 18 years. My house is only worht about 600k and I’m tired of the damn property taxes always going up. They have been rising for 20 years with promises of better times, way more transit and guess what, NOTHING was done by any government. Sorry for the McLair, let me say Mr. McGuinty was a lying cheat!. And no sir Finch West is going to be a SUBWAY first. The Spadina Extension going from Downsview to Finch West to York Univ to Hwy 407 was what I was referring to.

          • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

            (2) This is where most people will travel downtown. The LRT coming in about 10 or 15 years is only going to go from around Humber Coll to Finch West Subway Station. I say we should have waited until we see what the local travel patterns are, because whenever a new subway is built, travel patterns do change. Wait til we see what happens up there and THEN decide do we want subway, LRT or BRT.

          • tomwest

            “Finch West is already getting a full subway next year or so.” [citation needed]

          • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

            what do you mean? “citation”??????
            As part of the Yonge-University-Spadina subway you do realize that we are building an extension up to Vaughan right? Well, there will be a Finch West Subway Station (after Sheppard Subway and before York University Subway Stn) built and ready for action in the next couple of years. Therefore Finch West riders will have a speedier option to get themselves downtown, or later down to the Eglinton LRT etc etc etc

          • Testu

            “Wynne I do not believe. What, this is the first time in 20 years that she mentions transit?”

            You do know Kathleen Wynne was Minister of Transit for Ontario right? I’m not saying she did a particularly noteworthy job but she certainly has has something to say about transit in Ontario for some time now.

          • http://twitter.com/oncemore30 William Paul

            if Wynne or McGuinty etc had actually DONE anything for transit we would be enjoying new subways or LRTs by now!
            And no, I do not count Howard Moscoe giving us a useless (not anymore, but at the time useless) extension to a lavish palace aka Downsview Station. As Transport Minister she was silent. Now htat she’s head honcho she is all of the sudden full of ideas

  • Transitmy

    People need to see those changes and improvements happening to local transit … then they will (hopefully) be ready to tell their councillors to accept and support the revenue tools and get past Ford’s influence on council.

    I heard it said very well yesterday at the Spacing / Evergreen Innovation Talk … Because Metrolinx will be making the decisions (and taking the heat) either way, it costs Ford and his supporters nothing (for the moment) to oppose the decision to make recommendations on revenue tools and pass those recommendations on to Metrolinx. The question is whether people will remember that decision in 2014.

    As they say, a week is a long time is politics … with the budget being tabled on May 2 and the Metrolinx staff decision going to the Board on the 27th … well, we have a long few weeks ahead

  • http://twitter.com/yolkregion Yolk Region
  • Transitmy

    Seems councillor Gary Crawford has stepped up

  • YoungMinds

    Great piece Steve as always. Steve For Mayor?

    I’d like to point out that council can also go another route to getting this matter discussed. If they can get 23/45 councilors to sign a petition asking for a special meeting solely on this matter then they can convene a special meeting to deal with it. this avoids the need to get 30/45 councilors to support a motion on council floor to reintroduce the item for debate.

    I see 23 saying “no problem” and even 30 as an achievable goal. This mayor has lost all power. and control over this council. it all started last year with the core services review when citizens and councillors stood up and fought back against cuts. Stintz followed next with her brazen move to pass the LRT plan and the subsequent Sheppard subway failing . We saw the DoRoFo Portlands Monorail dream quashed, followed by his several court cases which he escaped on a technicality.

    With the adjustments made to this years budget to reduce cutbacks and restore city services Ford once again was found flatfooted. His failings on this matter are just another point to chalk up on the board.

    Mr. Ford, do us all a favour and gracefully step aside while the city conducts its business with its head held high.

  • John Kuzark

    1) move2020 or whatever it was called was 18B, current plan 50b
    2) This so called plan is put things in downtown and then leave crumbs to the rest of the city.
    3) Each community council has 30%-35% of the Toronto population, so why focus on getting people downtown? why not let people in North York work in North York, same for Etobicoke and Scarborough.
    4) Every plan that we had for the past few decades has been to give downtown everything.
    5) It is usual the partisan groups like TTC Riders, CodeRedTO and so forth. Who go on that Ford’s Sheppard subway plan wasn’t funded. Transit City’s Jane/Don Mills/Scarborough-Malvern and West Waterfront LRT lines were NOT funded EVER.

    Oh my god it is a crime to spend most of the transit money in Etobicoke/North York/Scarborough and leave crumbs for downtown. Yet it is ok for the reverse.

  • mark

    Dear Ford,

    Stop huffing and puffing, and just piss off already.

    Love, Everyone.

  • kEiThZ

    Gridlock will end once you actually have an attempt at consensus building.

    On the one side you have LRT boosters who are just as dogmatic as the subway proponents on the other side. Then you have downtowners who will cite density arguments to insist that only they deserve “subways” and suburban residents who feel shafted every time they are standing a bus stop on a cold winter’s day or every time they are confronted with another SRT breakdown.
    It’s time to acknowledge that there is no universal truth on transit and that we need to come to some kind of accomodation and compromise.

    As for City Hall, sure, Rob Ford isn’t a great mayor. But his opponents would be wise to remember that he got elected because he has the ear of the everyman. The guy is a shrewd politician even if he is utterly terrible at everything else. He knows how to tap into the sense of anger that permeates the inner suburbs. And I fear that many think the well has run dry prematurely. If anybody wants to beat Rob Ford, they need to start thinking about the average citizen in Scaroborough or North York. Stintz’s change of heart on the SRT replacement is a stirring sign on this front. Removing the much hated transfer at Kennedy while avoiding a shut down of the SRT for several years will win her a lot of accolades and sew the seeds for these citizens to trust her to look after their best interests. Hopefully, other potential mayoral candidates will follow suit.

    • Entitlement

      A poll released a few weeks back suggested that those in the inner suburbs were the most resistant to higher taxes to pay for expanded transit infrastructure but the truth is that service in the suburbs can only improve beyond a bus every 20 minutes with massive subsidies especially when it comes to heavy rail operations. There seems to be a huge disconnect between what people want and what people will actually pay for. Density and built form (zoning) does matter (but residents will fight that too) and that is reality. If you want the best where economically it can’t be justified, you don’t get to complain when the bill comes. By the way, North York already has 3 subway lines.

      • kEiThZ

        Isn’t this true everywhere though?

        It’s easy for downtowners to support road tolls for example. They won’t be paying them. Also easy for downtowners to support fare-by-distance. They won’t be paying higher fares.

        Meanwhile, the lower income families of the burbs will be asked to support higher taxes with the bulk of that spending going towards areas other than their own. They’ll still be stuck with many transfers and very long bus rides to get to the subway network. An LRT that saves you 10 minutes is really a token offering if you live in Malvern or Rexdale.

        One would sympathize with their suspicions.

        Now, I for one, support new taxes. But I do think if you write off such concerns and dismiss them off-hand, you can’t expect them to be co-operative. And the last time the suburbs rebelled we got Rob Ford. Be careful what you wish for.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Neville-Ross/100002343524258 Neville Ross

          The suburbs were bamboozled (by themselves) to support Rob Ford in the first place because they are far too ignorant to try to learn anything about LRT at all. Maybe if they were to turn off the TV and access the Internet, they could’ve learned about it better, and not elect Rob Ford. Unfortunately, many people like to be sheeple who vote against their own interests, and so, we have what we have now. There was NO EXCUSE for suburban voters to be rejecting Transit City and to be voting for Rob Ford, but they all did it anyway. Where are the ‘subways, subways, subways’ going to come from now? Do they (and Ford) expect the the province and the federal government to finance branch/spur lines extending from York Mills Station, Sheppard station, Finch station, Warden station, and Victoria Park station, as they have as shown here on this map of the New York subway? Or do they believe that a group of Ferengi will sell them a replicator that will produce enough gold to pay for a subway built by private investors? The LRT lines are all that we’ve got that will work for that section of the city, and these idiots kiboshed it due to a stupid belief about LRT being like streetcars!

          We truly need new blood on council, especially in the mayor’s seat, and I hope that it can be Olivia Chow, or somebody progressive-minded (hell, I’ll even take a fringe candidate.) If we don’t get somebody like that, we’re finished as a city. We also need study vacations for most of the populace of Toronto, so that the can go to effective countries and learn how they’re run, but that might not realistically happen.

    • Dinah Might

      “It’s time to acknowledge that there is no universal truth on transit.”

      But there are universal truths regarding things like population densities and operating costs. The numbers either add up or they don’t.

      I think using the word “deserve” is misleading. It makes it sound like there’s some kind of moral judgment in building subways or LRTs.

      Port Hope may have the nicest, best residents in the province. But do we ask whether Port Hope “deserves” an international airport? Or do we ask if it “needs/requires/can support” an international airport? Well we don’t, because it clearly doesn’t, and it’s not for passing judgment on anybody’s character.

      • kEiThZ

        There is plenty of judgement that can go into it. Because transit planning is not just about quantity. It should alse be directly correlatable to quality and user/taxpayer willingness to invest.

        In this case, although Rob Ford has made it about Sheppard, Scarborough residents have wanted the BD extension since before anybody knew Rob Ford.

        And more on judgement. People like to claim there are universal truths, as you just did, but where we draw the cut-offs is most certainly a matter of judgement. For example, people argue that ridership is insufficient on the SRT. Based on what? If you look at the ridership numbers STC easily bests a third of all stations in the city, and Kennedy’s RT station is on par with some downtown subway stations:

        http://www.ttc.ca/PDF/Transit_Planning/Subway%20ridership%202011-2012.pdf

        Arguably, there is a case to be made on using tthat money to extend the LRT further into Scarborough. But again, that’s mostly judgement. Engineers will tell you that it might save the average rider a few minutes. The average rider will tell you that they’d rather not have to transfer again or risk waiting on another platform to watch the LRT they just missed leave the station.

    • Mark Dowling

      “On the one side you have LRT boosters who are just as dogmatic as the subway proponents on the other side.” The author of the piece above is frequently accused of being LRT at all costs, yet he supports the DRL as subway because he believes the passenger number projections support the expense. The subway boosters admit to no intermediate technologies between bus and subway, even when the ridership numbers are too low for the expense of subway even over multi-decade horizons, and the cost of buses tailing each other incurs huge costs in additional drivers and garages required.

      • kEiThZ

        Fully familiary with Steve Munro’s work. And while I’ve agreed with some of his work (say support for the DRL or some LRT lines), I’ve also disagreed with him on many issues (like extending the Bloor-Danforth line to STC).

        All I’m saying is that there has to be give and take. Certainly, the “subways, subways, subways” crowd was living in La La Land. But where did ramming LRT down the throat of Scaborough residents gets us…with Rob Ford’s election?

        It’s time to recognize that the people that live in these parts are stakeholders with genuinne concerns about the transit services they receive and to incorporate their concerns as best possible. I realize that calls for sophisticated debate, compromise and patience. A tall order on both the right and left in this city. But the end result will truly be better, if only because you’ll have support from all corners.

        Stintz’s maneuver with reviving the Kennedy-STC subway is quite shrewd. It’ll undoubetdly win her support in Scarborough and will make her look like the consensus builder that Rob Ford could never be. It then gives her room to pursue other transit ideas, like perhaps converting Sheppard to LRT….