Has the “subway Scarborough needs” already (sorta) been built?
Following up on last week’s transit clown show (Is “clown” too kind a description? Think of those scary clowns that inspire children’s nightmares—think this guy), I wanted to touch on something that’s been a preoccupation of mine for a while, something Matt Elliott at Metro touched on early this month and that Councillor Chin Lee hinted at in his speech to council. It’s this: if Metrolinx and the TTC got together to use them right, the existing GO Train lines in Toronto could be the high-speed, high-capacity mass transit solution we’re often looking for when we cry out for new subway construction.
First look at the existing GO network in Toronto:
Council transit funding debate: What the hell was that?
There were two long days of debate at City Hall on the question of transit this week. It got complicated, and messy. So I have taken the liberty of editing the video footage of council down to a single 45-second clip that I think sums up what happened:
In an orgy of petulance, childish selfishness, cowardice, and spite, this city council jumped the shark. It’s been an entertaining up-and-down drama over the past two and a half years since Rob Ford was elected but, over the course of the meeting this week, our elected officials showed they are pretty much not worth paying attention to.
David Hains: Street signs for sale!
Guest post by David Hains
If you’ve ever struggled to steal a neighbourhood street sign at 2 a.m., there could soon be an easier way to decorate your room.
After a year of study and review by city staff, a motion by Adam Vaughan to sell the city’s inventory of disused street signs to the public is now going forward to the Public Works committee. In 2007, council passed a harmonized-streets bylaw to transition to the more legible reflective blue-and-white signs, and the City was left with thousands of old street signs that were going to be sold for scrap metal, at a price of $15 for each sign.
However, 975 of the signs are still in good condition and appropriate for sale, and 90-180 will be added for sale each year as more street signs get decommissioned. There’s demand for the sale, too—the transportations-services division has already received 675 requests to purchase the signs. If the the motion is passed as is, the signs will be sold on a first come-first serve basis for $30 ($15 to cover what the City would get for scrap metal, and $15 to run the program). So if you really want your childhood street sign or are super forgetful and can’t remember the one you currently live on, now you can fill that void in your life.
If there are no hiccups at either May’s Public Works meeting or June’s council meeting, the signs are expected to be available sometime around early August through the city’s website.
David Hains: Porter and BIXI debates are the same, but different
Guest post by David Hains
Two of the more contentious issues at the ongoing city council meeting involve requests from private companies to change the terms of their existing agreements with the City. In this case it’s Porter Airlines and BIXI Toronto, and both argue they need a different deal that would ensure profitability for themselves and expand service for Torontonians.
Porter would like to amend the 1982 tripartite agreement that restricts jets from the island airport (so as to reach more destinations and grow their business). BIXI Toronto would like to change the terms of their financial agreement with the city, presumably in order to expand the limited service area they feel keeps it from profitability.
To an outside observer, these might seem like very similar issues. After all, the surface principles are the same in terms of honouring contracts and letting businesses succeed or fail based on the environment into which they entered, a point that politicians often speak about in lofty terms. That outside observer would be surprised, however, by the fact that different factions at City Hall have different opinions about each issue. Left-wing councillor Adam Vaughan supports BIXI but not Porter, and right-wing mayor Rob Ford supports Porter but not BIXI.
It’s tempting to say that these are mere preferences, but they speak to different worldviews for the two politicians: the left-wing Trinity-Spadina councillor is council’s resident planning nerd, and the mayor is the chamber’s consummate nuisance and private-enterprise troubleshooter. For Adam Vaughan, BIXI and Porter are planning issues. He believes cycling as a transportation mode builds and connects communities, whereas expanding the island airport does the opposite for that community. Rob Ford believes cyclists are generally an inconvenience to getting around the city and do not benefit private business, while Porter Airlines’ strength is providing great convenience in travel, often for business travellers.
So when we hear the debates about these two issues at council, let’s not think they’re based upon some kind of Lockean discussion about contract law, property rights, and the free market. Instead, it’s about people like Vaughan and Ford and the filter through which they see their city.
“The subway Scarborough deserves”
The recently revived talk of a Scarborough subway, I wrote this week, is a stupid political play that fetishizes a transit technology in a way that will hurt riders. That’s not even the beginning of the trouble with Karen Stintz and Glenn De Baeremaeker’s brazen populist revival, though—re-opening the signed agreement with Metrolinx at a moment when we could see a Premier Hudak thundering into town looking to bust shit up is, in my opinion, inviting disaster. I suspect both Stintz and De Baeremaeker know that. But hey! There are votes in Scarborough, and Glenn and Karen have an election to think about next year, and if they have to completely derail transit planning for the whole city for another generation or two to find an edge in the polls, so be it, I guess.
Anyhow, that’s how I see it. Glenn De Baerermaeker has a different angle on it, obviously, which he shared with constituents in a letter today. I have reproduced it below unedited to allow him to make his case:
(from left to right: Councillor Michael Thompson, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker and Councillor Gary Crawford are lobbying other Toronto Councillors in the hopes of securing the required majority of 23 votes on Toronto Council that are needed to approve a Scarborough subway.)
I wanted to update you on my continuing efforts to get a Scarborough subway built in Scarborough.
David Hains: Debt isn’t always a bad thing
Guest post by David Hains
File this under “debt should not be a four letter word,” item #774929281. The National Post reports that Waterfront Toronto, the arms-length tripartite government agency responsible for developing the city’s waterfront, is asking for the ability to take on debt to finance its operations.
At City Hall, we’ve been conditioned to think of debt as some kind of evil sorcery out of Game of Thrones, when in reality it can be a good financing mechanism. Even Apple is planning to take on $17 billion in debt, confident that this is the best and cheapest way to raise capital over the next few years. The fact that Apple is well-run and regarded helps, as this indicates the money raised will be well-used and have a positive long-term effect.
Similarly, Waterfront Toronto has won accolades and awards for its projects so far, but they have now spent or committed to spend their $1.5 billion of seed money (with an apparent economic impact of $3.2 billion). So to realize their full vision, they need to invest more—a realization that anyone could have foreseen from the beginning. And before the idea gets raised, no, don’t expect the private sector to graciously chip in $600 million for flood protection without selling some of Canada’s most valuable undeveloped real estate for pennies on the dollar. (Let’s call that the Doug Ford option.)
So now we have to get over it. Debt, if spent wisely, is not always bad—like that time your parents bought a house with a mortgage and it turned out to be the best investment they ever made. It’s true, developing the waterfront costs a lot of money, but this is a project that needs to be done right, and halting it because we’re afraid to do it that way isn’t the way to go. After all, let’s try and learn from our monthly transit travesties.
How do I dislike the new money? Let me count the ways…
I don’t like the new money. I’m not talking about Bitcoin—I don’t know enough about that to form an opinion. I mean the polymer notes with the little peekaboo panel in them that the
Royal Canadian Mint Bank of Canada has been gradually introducing. They started with the $100 bill a while back, then the $50, and then began making their way towards the denominations people in my income bracket actually get to handle regularly—the $20 a few months ago, and now the $10 and the $5.
1. They are kind of ugly. Okay, that’s subjective, and may just be “I don’t like change” crankiness. But look at that portrait of Wilfred Laurier on the new $5 and tell me if it isn’t just a little less Spock-cool and a little more Stephen-Harper-robot-eyes than you really want it to be.
2. They melt. (UPDATE: Or, as Justin Cozens points out on Twitter, the probably do not melt unless you put them in an oven with the explicit purpose of melting them! The melting bills in dryers and car windows may well have been a hoax! The mint tested the bills to 140 degrees celsius, which is hotter than your pocket or car will ever get. So don’t bake your money.)
3. They stick to each other. I like to know by feeling the wad of bills in my pocket how much money I have. But the plastic ones stick to each other—I don’t know if it’s static or what—which makes it tricky. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself handing a cashier two twenties thinking it was one, only to notice at the last second. I really don’t know how many times I haven’t caught myself doing that.
4. They don’t stick to other things. Because they’re frictionless plastic, they’re all slippery against other types of surfaces. They slide around in the middle of a stack of bills in your hand, and worse, they slide out of your pocket and fly away in the breeze when you’re just trying to take your phone out. That’s a bad quality in money.
5. Because of 3. and 4., they are difficult to count. I used to work as an office controller in a bingo hall. I had to count stacks and stacks and stacks of money. I got quite good at it—you sometimes need to lick your finger or wear one of those rubber thimbles, but the paper money behaved in a way that meant you could count it quickly. The plastic money, which is always getting stuck to itself and refusing to stick to the paper bills around it, makes counting even a small little pile of bills difficult. I find myself re-counting multiple times to be sure I haven’t missed something.
7. It feels too fancy—somehow too valuable to spend. As Jaime says, somehow the fancy plasticness of it, with its shiny foil elements, holograms, transparencies and photorealism makes it seem like an object you’re supposed to keep instead of spending. I suppose that could be an asset for some.
8. It don’t fold easy. And then it stays folded in odd places if you crumple it. Another reason it’s terrible for stacking with other bills to keep in your pocket.
This is a list of my grievances. I demand the mint cease this experiment in making the currency appear more and more like something you’d find in a children’s board game, and go back to the money we used when Glenn Miller played those songs that made the hit parade. Wait. I don’t remember that money. If we could go back to the paper money we were using a year ago or so, that would be fine too.
In protest of the mint’s folly, I will be collecting as much of this new money as I can and spending it. Unless it melts first.
PHOTO: BANK OF CANADA via CBC
The quotable Doug Ford: campaign begins
Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford—the mayor’s brother, enabler, best friend and worst enemy—took to the pages of the National Post and (!) the Globe and Mail today (UPDATE: I also hear reports the same thing is in the Sun, too! Hat trick!) to give everyone a message about transit funding. And that message is:
ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE ARGLE BARGLE…
Wait. There’s more:
This is not about visions of city building, or transit expansion. Folks, don’t be misled, this is about finding new ways to raise your taxes. They want a sales tax, a vehicle tax, a gas tax, a parking tax, a payroll tax, toll lanes — the list goes on and on, and on.Tax, tax, tax, spend, spend, spend.
Hmmm. Interesting argument. But as a city councillor, what is his plan? Beyond the shouty taxaphobia, what’s the argument?
I call the Premier to take her plan to the people, and let them decide if they trust this government with another $50-billion of their hard-earned money.
Oh right. This is about a provincial election. I see. He was acting in his capacity as the Conservative candidate for Etobicoke North. I should have known—he told us himself this wasn’t about visions of city building or transit expansion. It’s about election propaganda. Good job those major newspapers picked it up.
RoFo’s paradox: David Hains examines mayoral rhetorical logic
Guest post by David Hains
So Rob Ford made a speech yesterday, which, as Edward Keenan writes, was not exactly his finest moment.
But there were some core ideas in the mayor’s statement that are worth unpacking, if only because they get to the heart of his worldview and are repeated so often they are truisms to many.
You look, every single day almost, there’s something going on. $275-million scandal at the gas plant; millions—and we still don’t know the number—on Ornge helicopters; the eHealth billions of dollars; in our own backyard here just a few days ago thousands in hand sanitizer. And you’re going to turn around to the working person in the city and say, “You know what, we don’t have enough money to spend on transit. We’re going to take the easy way out and implement new taxes.”
Talk about legacies—that’s a complete disaster. Let’s get every level of government in line and efficient and running like a well-oiled machine, and then you can go to the taxpayers and say, “You know what, we’ve tightened up every single screw on this car. There’s no more tightening.” Folks, we’re far from that. We’re far from that.
On Twitter I referred to this argument as “RoFo’s paradox.” In Zeno’s paradox, named after the ancient Greek philosopher, you continually cut a distance in half before you can begin a journey. But since there’s an infinite number of steps—even the smallest distance can still be halved—the journey can never begin. Thus, the given framework provides an argument that motion is an illusion, and progress cannot be made. This, too, is the Fordian argument about waste in government. (That Zeno’s paradox contains questionable assumptions about the nature of space and time is a different subject, and one which we have not yet broached at council.)
The thing is, inefficiency is a feature of everything we do. It’s true of anything from decisions in football games to how SUVs are engineered. I wouldn’t refuse to ride in a car that is less than perfectly efficient, because I still have to get where I’m going, and you do the best with what you have. Sure, you try to make better choices, but standing still isn’t the way to get things done.
These principles are true of complex bureaucracies, too. It is true: there is inefficiency at all levels of government, and the mayor cites strong examples of failed projects (ORNGE, eHealth) to prove his point. But this type of inefficiency is not unique to the city or province, but the by-product of any organization with tens of thousands of employees.
The mayor often speaks about the vaunted expertise and efficiency of the private sector and argues this is a model for the city to follow. Well, I’ve worked for the private sector for a top bank, and I can tell you that the same problems and failures exist. There are failures to communicate between sprawling departments, and when I left the company they had just shut down a $100 million systems-improvement project that wasn’t delivering results. Failure and inefficiency are parts of any complex system. The thing is, the CEO and managing directors of the company I worked for didn’t panic. They studied their mistakes, assessed how they could improve and moved on with the business of banking. You still keep investing and taking calculated risks, because those are the necessary mechanisms of progress, and you don’t let small obstacles get in the way of bigger goals.
If your starting point in a conversation—whether it be banking or investing in transit—is that we’re not going to start making progress until every existing inefficiency is taken care of, then you’re just saying that you don’t have an interest in seeing progress made. Good management is about doing both at the same time, and the mayor would do well to take his cues on that from the private sector. Paradoxically, for all the business expertise the mayor says he brings to the table, I’m guessing he’s not willing to take that step.
A mayor who refuses to lead
So here’s what just happened at the meeting of Mayor Rob Ford’s Executive Committee, moments ago as I write this: a slim majority (6-4) voted to defer voting on recommending new transit funding tools until later. How much later? A day after Metrolinx’s meeting where they’ll decide which revenue tools to recommend. The recommendations that will go to the province days later in order to decide how the GTA will pay for transit for a generation.
Rob Ford, Frank Di Giorgio, Norm Kelly, David Shiner, Cesar Palacio, and Gary Crawford. Those are the six who voted to remain silent on what might be the biggest quality of life decision the province will make on our behalf this year, or in many, many years. What a sad sack bunch that is. Michael Thompson, among others, was absent.
They didn’t vote to recommend some other set of tools, of course (say, a bake-sales and talent shows plan—which could work because Gary Crawford has spent more time playing music in front of political crowds in the past year than he has saying anything of substance). They didn’t vote to reject the idea of funding transit altogether. At least if they had done one of those things, they’d have been making a decision—putting their ideas out there in front of council and the voters so they can be judged for them. I would have criticized them if they had done that, because they’d still have been wrong, but I could at least muster some bit of respect for their integrity. If they decided to stand for something.
Instead, they decided to stand for nothing. They just voted to do nothing until it will be too late. The mayor, getting handed the ball with a minute left on the clock, down by two points, decided to just kneel down with the ball. Pathetic.
Mayor Ford gave a speech, of course: he said the whole process was “ass-backwards.” He said a provincial election might be coming right up, and who knows what will happen then? He said hell would freeze over before he supported these tools. And then he took a knee. Because why make a tough decision when you don’t have to? Why try to steer the provincial discussion when you can wait to see what they do and then complain about it, and blame them for any fallout? Why lead?
It is pathetic. This is our mayor. And this is his team of pet jellyfish, all five who remain on his own executive.
Council can fix it, of course, and most likely will. They could, at the next council meeting, revive the item for debate with 30 council votes—votes those who want to have this talk about transit funding probably have. Or they could, with the signatures of just 23 councillors, call a special meeting on this. Which is what Adam Vaughan is talking about doing now.
And so for the second year in a row, the mayor will see council respond to his lack of leadership by calling a special meeting over his objections, at which they’ll do what needs doing for the city on public transit. They can do it, and probably will. But they shouldn’t have to.
Of course, the mayor wants them to do that. His Chief of Staff, Mark Towhey, was apparently telling reporters today how exciting he finds the prospect of the mayor’s opponents calling a special meeting to implement taxes. You can see why: in next year’s election campaign, Rob Ford can blame those guys for raising taxes!
Now, if you actually care about the city, about governing, about doing what you can to make the city a better place, then the prospect of your opponents repeatedly humiliating you is not exciting. What’s exciting if you care about those things is implementing your plans. But if you have essentially given up on doing the job the people of Toronto elected you to do, the job they pay you to do, then it’s all a fun game of seeing what might turn into a wedge issue in the next election campaign. Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, thinks he gets to run again on the anti-government, these-guys-running-this-place-are-incompetent load of hooey he ran on before. Neat trick. Who knows, it could work. It worked for him last time. It’s the only political point he’s ever known how to make, and the only one he’s ever had to make.
But it’s not leadership. It is beneath his office, beneath this city, beneath the trust of the voters and taxpayers who elected him. Instead of doing his job, he’s playing a cynical, cowardly, political game. Let someone else make the difficult decisions so he can complain about them.
Does he wonder why almost all of the strong coalition of supporters he had on council to begin with has abandoned him? Does he wonder why even on his executive committee—his cabinet—forty per cent vote against him on a key issue? Maybe he doesn’t. He won the mayor’s office in the first place by being an ineffectual ranting loner who lost every vote 44-1. He’s on schedule to work himself back into that position in time to run that way again. That may be where Rob Ford is comfortable. That may what he does best. But it is not leadership.
PHOTO: STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR