Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Breaking the Political Gridlock

with 4 comments

Anne Golden at SFU Woodwards on January 28, 2014

Actually I have shortened the title: what was advertised was “Breaking the Political Gridlock to Address the Transportation Challenge: Lessons Learned from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

The first of a new lecture series with the title “Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas” by the City Program. Gordon Price announced that the next two lectures will be by Andrew Coyne and Charles Montgomery, but he is also asking for ideas of new people we have not heard from before to address the topic. He invited suggestions to be sent by email to price (at)  sfu.ca

I found myself by chance seated with “the great and the good” name dropping Mike Harcourt, Nancy Oleweiler, Clive Rock, Mark Allison, Ken Cameron, and many other familiar faces.

The evening started with a video on the Greater Toronto Areas transportation challenges. Sadly so far all I can find now using transitpanel.ca address is this statement from the Minister.

I have created a storify from the tweets of other people present

Anne was the Chair of a Transit Investment Advisory Panel set up by the Premier of Ontario to examine funding options for transit expansion in the Greater Toronto & Hamilton area.

UPDATE  Jan 31

Making the rest of this blog post redundant, PriceTags now has the “complete and slightly revised text of Anne Golden’s lecture”.

She said that the issues in Toronto are different to Vancouver but similar.  Population growth is rapid – and the region of 6m now is expected to reach 10 m in 18 years. The tipping point of congestion has already passed. “The situation is intolerable. Everyone agrees it’s a crisis but no-one wants to pay for it.” The region is  already exceeding earlier population forecasts and has reached the level now expected for 2021.

Vancouver was always seen as leading the way with its land use policies – the Agricultural Land Reserve and “intensification” of urban development 18 years ago when Translink was proposed. The Premier of Ontario was uncomfortable with the present situation but she doesn’t have a majority government

Context

The Premier required a fast turnaround: the panel was given three months to produce its report and was already appointed when Anne was approached to Chair it. “The Mayor of Toronto was already misleading the public on a number of topics including transit.” It was widely recognized that finding a solution to congestion would be the “cornerstone of success” but there was considerable doubt it could be achieved.

Reaction to the announcement of the Panel was cynical: it was portrayed by the media as a way to postpone decisions. The Scarborough line was dominating discussion. The Mayor had rejected replacement of the existing SkyTrain like Scarborough LRT with a more conventional light rail system. He claimed that a subway extension was the only acceptable solution even though ridership would not justify the higher construction cost. Metrolinx was rehired to review its decision that LRT was the most suitable technology. The chaotic result destroyed public trust in the process. There is in fact $16bn worth of construction on transit under way now – including a heavy rail connection to Pearson Airport from an existing GO Transit line using diesel multiple units (see notes below).

The panel produced a plan that is “practical, doable” with unanimous support across the panel – which was drawn from a wide variety of interests inkling business and the Automobile Association. The simple solution chosen was to select a few revenue tools, and then borrow  against this new revenue stream. It included a raise in gas tax,  a “redeployment” of  some of the HST and a half percent increase in Corporate Income Tax (CIT). The amount of borrowing is to be a low multiple (2.5x) of the stream and does not affect the provincial debt. It did not ask too much from any one group.

The were dozens of meetings with groups and the public.

Hard truths

  • Subways are not the only good transit
  • Transit does not automatically drive growth: transit must link up places effectively
  • Construction is not the only cost
  • Riders are not the only beneficiary: driving commute times in Toronto exceed that of Los Angeles and building transit will relieve congestion

UPDATE Thanks to Price Tags here is a Toronto Star article which sets out six truths more clearly – notice too that the links at the bottom of the article not longer point to the source material

The benefits are spelled out in the report. The myth was that nothing was happening, and also that we can pay for transit expansion by cutting waste in the existing bureaucracy. This is the mantra of the Mayor and the opposition but it is not the case. “Where’s the waste?” The province already has the lowest spending per capita  – lowest in the country – and it is rising at less than the rate of inflation. Ontario is reducing its deficit. It is also unrealistic to sell capital assets such as land to fund transit.

After the report was released the tone of the media became more respectful. There was also some new research on employment patterns, which showed that the Metrolinx proposals no longer met expected demands so they had to “make some tweaks”. They did this by setting  priorities in the plan – which previously had not been included. Transit investments must ease congestion, and the Yonge St subway line is already congested. People already travel north to board southbound trains as they were unable to get on full services further south. The “Big Move” proposal did not add up to a network. The major adjustment was to build a relief line first to reduce existing congestion in the system.

There is widespread distrust of transit accounting. It was proposed to phase in gas tax at 3c per litre initially eventually to rise to 10c, plus the CIT increase and HST diversion.

It is critical how these things are communicated. The CAA’s Executive Director felt it would be unpopular but “it’s the right thing to do”. The gas tax could be capped if necessary and the revenue replaced by a switch to more HST diversion. “Don’t have to go back and ask again.”

There is a two year “kickstart program” including desirable improvements such as real time next bus information at bus stops.

The price of gas went up 5c since the report was released. “No one noticed.” Gas tax will still be less than Montreal and the average impact was calculated at $80 per family per year. At the same time it was also projected that $800 would be the cost of more congestion but the mainstream media ignored that.

Business was in favour of getting a bigger, better labour pool. Companies that had moved to the outer suburbs were moving back into town to get better labour. And even after the increase Ontario will still have a comparatively low  CIT.

Tolls are seen by the public to be avoidable. But even though they would have to be applied to every route they would take too long to implement, and the cost of collection would be high.
Road pricing will be needed eventually

As one of those consulted remarked: “Dedicated or fuggeddaboudid”

Transparency is going to be critical. Depoliticized decision making will replace decisions  “unimpaired by any information”. Every project will have a published business case analysis.
The Scarborough subway is not justified by ridership: but even Karen Stintz of the TTC defended it on the grounds that “Scarborough does not feel part of the City”. Investments must be based on more than just self esteem. This had given rise to projects like the “Sheppard stubway” – “at least you can always get a seat on it!”

Each proposal is designed as part of an integrated network

Governance

Toronto Hamilton doesn’t have a region wide government. Many people suggest “Make it an authority like the airport”. Metrolinx does not have tax power

They would like to be able to capture land value increase but it is not seen as a reliable revenue source. She said that the Reichmann company drove the financing of Crossrail in London.

All governments have a role to play, but the feds are “missing in action”. Federal contributions are ad hoc and not programmed. Jane Jacobs said that large cities are what drive the economy of Canada (as opposed to natural resources).

Guidelines have to become policies with teeth. It is not about ideology. We must all be on the same side. We need champions. The strategy is not just about transit it is about transportation [and should also be about land use].

Media

There is a “new world of ADD communication” Reporters is the “lock up” at the reports release were already tweeting and filing before the report document was handed out. These days, she said, everyone is an expert. [Actually I heard that forty years ago when I started work for the GLC: everyone with a driver's license thinks its an advanced degree in traffic engineering]

There is a “dumbed down” broadcast media driven by a short news cycle. They only rporte th gas tax increase with instant responses from live interviews with startled people at the gas pumps. “Informed people are [portrayed as] elites  – who drink cappuccino!”

She said “Democracy works best with filters” and equated the Referendum with “mob rule”. She also pointed to an [Gary Mason's] article about the Denver transit referendum in Monday’s Globe & Mail [paywall] People had time to absorb what was proposed – and could see benefits for themselves. Business leaders got behind the proposals. There is “no short cut”.

Trust

A dedicated standalone fund is necessary but not sufficient. People are influenced by events like the Senate scandal and find institutions untrustworthy – including the church. But they
trust the airline pilot or the surgeon “because you have no choice”

There is no single rule for leadership – despite all the books proclaiming their own. There are always going to the inherent tensions requiring  compromises and tradeoffs. There is no template for regional government: the Greater Toronto Services Board (which preceded Metrolinx) did not last. Land use and economic planning is not integrated – and TransLink does not meet the test of good governance.

Our reputation is at stake, “the region that does it right … mostly.”

The will be ten million people in 18 years time in the GTHA. City regions cannot rest on their laurels. Greater Vancouver  produces about half of BC’s GDP: the GTA 40% of Ontario’s

Q&A

1. Are there many other regions in same boat?

New York (pedestrians, bicycles, role of design) Washington (streetcar), Denver, LA (at long last). We did study what others are doing

2. Intermediate Capacity Transit Systems were not considered in Toronto. Do you have an a priori down on SkyTrain?

I don’t know nearly enough knowledge about technology to answer that. The business case is the analysis to determine mode choice. “Buried LRT” was chosen for the Eglinton Line (“to keep it out of the way of the traffic”) but its business case never published. It is now halfway built but great care was taken not to take away the road space from cars.

3.  Were walking, biking, car sharing considered?

Our remit was  very specific. We not have time to consider cycling

4.  Transit Oriented Development:  what research did you do on value capture?

Didn’t get into value uplift not done enough

5. What would you have done if you had had 6 months?

If we had we would have done more consultation, and considered options like no parking on King and Queen Streets [major streetcar routes in downtown Toronto] as well as reconsidering truck delivery rules

6. Does concentration on office employment makes peak hours worse?

An excellent relief line will help

7.  Development charges?

These are under review. We don’t charge the true cost of debt in suburbs. They got hooked on Development Cost Charges: they are a perverse incentive “like a drug”. 

8.  You talked about congestion not Climate change or carbon taxes.  Flooding Richmond might be a bigger cost than congestion

We didn’t look at Carbon tax not viable. Canada is becoming less interested in being green
People are stretched and cranky

Cost of collection of tolls is too high

Revenue from gas tax has a limited life. The 1m more cars the rein expects will help but it is time limited

9 Province doesn’t have a clue about munis

From where you sit is what you see. TTC is bigger than Metrolinx but they have to concentrate on immediate political situations. Maybe need a provincial office for the Metro area – that used to be the case in Toronto when Gardner Church ran it. BC should bring Metro Vancouver and Translink together

10 Do people understand opportunity cost (citing the avoided cost of congestion she referenced)? E.g. road tolls

“I am not optimistic that there is enough white space”. The speed of communications defeats the consideration of complex issues. “The big lie is winning”

————————————–

NOTES

GTA Toronto population is 5.8 million.

“Big Move” is a comprehensive 25 year $50bn transit plan for GTHA with a goal of a 33% mode share. Phase 1 is the $16bn under way now which includes $800m for a makeover of Union Station. The Bloor Danforth subway extension to Scarborough City Centre will cost ~$3bn. The Eglinton Crosstown line is 12 miles png and will open in 2020. The 7 mile Finch West line will start in 2015 with scheduled completion in 2020. An 8 mile Sheppard East LRT will connect the Sheppard subway  terminal at Don Mills to Morningside starting in 2017 completion by 2021. The Union Pearson line will be open next year. 37 miles of BRT are being built in York Region and Mississauga. Tunnelling has been completed on a 5.4 mile extension of the Spadina subway to Vaughn. It will open in 2016 and is the first TTC line outside of the city.

source: Trains February 2014

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The Seattle Times had an editorial last weekend: “Political will needed to pass transportation package
    The clock is ticking on a transportation funding package”

    http://www.seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorials/2022749684_edittransportationxml.html

    Every few years the Washington State legislature vote on a transportation funding package. It takes them months to study and vote for it, as Democrats and Republicans have to go through the various stages of denial, refusal, conditional approval etc. in order to satisfy the people that elect them…then it is approved by the good citizens of the State (so far, anyway).

    The B.C. government has likely no clue about that, nor do they know that the Sound transit board, in charge of transportation, is made of elected politicians from Seattle, King County etc.

    “Sound Transit is governed by an 18-member Board made up of local elected officials and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. The Board establishes policies and gives direction and oversight.

    The Board includes three members from Snohomish County, 10 from King County, four from Pierce County and the State Transportation Department secretary.

    The Board and its committees work in open, regularly scheduled meetings. Please attend and provide public comment. Meeting agendas and related materials are available in advance of the meetings”.

    http://www.soundtransit.org/About-Sound-Transit/Board-of-Directors

    The mayor of Seattle is always a member of the board.

    Re the lecture at SFU….whoever is suggesting SkyTrain doesn’t know that other systems–similar to the Canada line—are more versatile as they don’t tie a city to a single manufacturer like Bombardier..

    The only constraint that cities in Europe, Japan etc. have, if they want to change manufacturers, is that the cars from manufacturer X or Y must have doors spaced properly to match the safety doors on the platforms:

    Red frog

    January 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm

  2. […] Stephen Rees, as usual, provides a helpful summary of the lecture here. […]

  3. Thank you for this informative review, Stephen. Your last paragraph (Notes) indicates that the GTA, despite its political troubles, regional governance immaturity and media bias, is building plenty of transit.

    I’d say that it will be in catch up mode for a decade yet, then must let inertia provide a continuance of a transit build-up for another decade at least before it can begin to handle a population of 10 million — which is 1.5 million higher than London’s current population which has the Underground, the Overground, very large double-decker bus fleet, Crossrail, ferries, many commuter, inter-city and high speed rail options existing and on the books, and, of course, a walkable city.

    The GTA and Metro Vancouver have a long, long ways to go. One thing we don’t have here out West is an equivalent to the Ontario Municipal Board which has the authority to quash or approve any development with little regard to local planning. Essentially private developers and their lawyers lobby the board to overturn public planning restrictions and conditions of approval on projects and the city, the urban planning function, local control and the public consultation process has suffered greatly while the quality of development has gone down.

    The invisibility of the federal government was strongly noted above. This is profoundly disappointing from many perspectives including, in part, strong, stable long-term funding, the massive economic power of volume orders of a National Transit Plan where regional and provincial project managers would otherwise not witness deep unit price and interest rate discounts (ordering 5,000 passenger rail cars nation-wide is far cheaper per unit than ordering 50 for one large urban project), and in imposing national standards with respect to safety, emissions reductions, energy security, etc. These are not insignificant elements.

    Red Frog,

    The Metro Vancouver board does consist of elected locals from the muni councils and they oversee TransLink to a small degree. Though the province has monkeyed with TransLink, they haven’t eliminated it altogether. Should the feds (yes, it would have to be under a different government) get involved with a Ministry of Urban Affairs and a National Transit Plan, then democratic local / regional governance would be crucial and indeed should be conditional upon receiving major funding.

    I personally see a lot of value in creating certain standards nation-wide (see above reference to volume discounts and other major benefits). Just one example, things like station platform height should be standardized if for any reason than for universal accessibility. If Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom and Hitachi have varying car deck standards, then you’ll get a plethora of differing car deck heights which will then necessitate ramps, stairs and stepped rail car decks, all adding cost and inconvenience. With massive rolling stock orders, the companies will have to conform to the one platform elevation rather than impose differing standards.

    MB

    February 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm

  4. The original material that was at transitpanel.ca has been moved to the Ministry of Transportation’s website at http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/news/backgrounder/transit-review-panel.shtml.

    stevemunrotoronto

    February 16, 2014 at 7:09 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,040 other followers

%d bloggers like this: