A candidate in, a candidate out

Rob and Doug Ford made most of the news yesterday, but the candidate list for Ward 11, which includes Weston, also changed at the last minute.

Daniel Winer, a young man who had thrown his hat in the ring for Ward 11, dropped out. Jose Garcia jumped in. Dory Chalhoub and the incumbent Frances Nunziata stayed in the race.

Nunziata will be hosting a kickoff barbecue today at her campaign office, at 2051 Weston Road, from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. All are welcome.

In related news, John Nunziata, Frances Nunziata’s brother, and a former MP for Weston, entered the race for the other York South—Weston riding, Ward 12, just over Jane. John Nunziata served as MP from 1984 to 2000 as a Liberal and an Independent. He was later charged with assault and fined $10,000 for lying under oath.

No news on fares

Metrolinx declined to release any information on fares for the UP Express at its quarterly meeting on Friday despite media and political pressure over the past few weeks. The CEO was also “noncommittal” about electrifying the line by 2017.

Metrolinx staff, though, will meet with airport workers, according to The Star. Workers are worried that the line will be too expensive to use for regular commuting. One worker told The Star

We’re shareholders (of UP Express). Calling us customers is disrespectful. When it’s a public company, on public lands, using public funds, the public are the shareholders, not the customers. It’s our service and we’re being excluded from it,” he said.

MP Mike Sullivan released a letter last week to Steven Del Duca, the Ontario Minister of Transportation. In it, Sullivan adds his voice to the chorus asking for reasonable fares. He also asks for more stops along the line.

Transit Plans – 1. John Tory

The top four Mayoralty candidates have released their transit plans. This is the first of a four-part series assessing these plans.

In a nutshell, current front-runner John Tory believes that above-ground subway lines are the best way to go. He proposes a line following GO train tracks where possible that will run across the city from east to west, passing through Union Station.

London has many of these – in fact 52% of London’s subway network is above ground. London has been building subways since the early 1860s – nearly a century before Toronto opened its first line.

Unlike London where new above-ground subways have been able to take over existing but unused railway lines, Toronto has no such advantage. New tracks must be added to current ones and, where none exist (along Eglinton for example), carved out of the existing landscape. Think of the disruption we are enduring here in the comparatively simple task of adding GO tracks to the existing line and right-of-way through Weston – imagine what carving out a rail corridor from scratch will involve. Unfortunately, the corridor along the north side of Eglinton (that Mr. Tory appears to think still exists) was sold off as surplus by the city in 2010 and is now a construction site for hundreds of new homes. Where Mr. Tory’s SmartTrack will fit along this route is anyone’s guess. And all of this will allegedly come to pass in 2021.

John Tory's Transit Plan

John Tory’s Transit Plan – click for larger image.

At its western end, Mr Tory’s SmartTrack line begins at the Matheson / Airport Corporate Centre (not the airport) – which connects to Mississauga Transit. It travels along Eglinton – until a few years ago, the planned route of the Richview Expressway. Once it hits Mount Dennis, the SmartTrack joins and heads down the GO / U.P. Express tracks towards Union. No mention is made of the U.P. Express or what his plans are to retain or modify the service.

Mr. Tory claims that the billions needed for SmartTrack will come from tax increment financing. This is the financial wizardry in which extra money is provided in the future by additional tax revenue generated by higher property values and therefore higher tax assessments along the new lines. Tax increment financing is how Rob Ford proposes to pay for his subways subways and more subways. ‘Nuff said.

John Tory's anticipated flow of passengers.

John Tory’s anticipated flow of passengers.

The Tory plan theorizes that passengers will be diverted from the east west and north-south subways and buses and use the SmartTrack trains from the west and east ends of the city to get to Union. This will provide, “congestion relief on the Yonge line for someone who lives in Lawrence Park or Leaside”.

Unfortunately, most commuters don’t want to go to Union Station. Only 260,000 do so daily and that’s using GO Train, GO Bus and subway combined. Bloor-Yonge is already straining with 420,000 daily passenger movements. Mr. Tory’s plan will simply add more pressure on this station from passengers hopping off SmartTrack and onto the Bloor Line in the West or East. Yes, the people of Lawrence Park and Leaside may be more comfortable but SmartTrack will add even more congestion to an already congested area. A downtown relief line is seen by experts as the only answer to this rapidly growing demand and Mr. Tory does not adequately explain how his SmartTrack will be an effective substitute.

It’s one thing to think outside the box and come up with a concept such as an above-ground subway. It’s another to believe that you and a group of your political advisors can ignore expert opinion and sit down with a map of the city and magically determine the fate of transit in this city for decades to come. The experts say that a downtown relief line is needed. SmartTrack is not an effective substitute.

With regard to finances, tax increment financing is fraught with peril. Extra revenue generated by such accounting sleight of hand is not guaranteed. This windfall would normally be taken into account to maintain and upgrade the city’s infrastructure so it’s not just free money.

Mr. Tory should defer to the experts (who spend whole careers immersed in the topic) before launching Toronto in yet another whimsical transportation direction with magical financing. The incumbent Mayor’s floundering has cost us dearly and set transportation in this city back by several years. Let’s not add even more delays and band-aids to an increasingly desperate situation. SmartTrack is the wrong track.

24-hour work announced

Metrolinx will soon start 24-hour, 7-day-a-week construction on the Weston tunnel to “install tracks between the Weston GO Station at Lawrence Ave. W. and the Weston Road Bridge.” The construction will last until late November.

Ballast mats are being installed to reduce train vibration in the Weston Tunnel.

From Metrolinx

The announcement of the new construction schedule seems to have been done on the down-low, with no notification given to residents and no mention made at the most recent community meeting, according to Mike Sullivan. I didn’t receive any notice of it either, and I receive many emails from them about construction. The new plans were revealed in the middle of a long email to all Torontonians, and YHC, for one, totally missed it.

Sullivan said in an open letter to Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx, that the construction schedule is “totally unacceptable”.

Local residents, who have endured so much for so long, will now be dealing with construction noise 24/7 for at least 90 days. Surely you and your project management team can come up with reasonable alternatives.

 

City Council votes for low fares

Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx, wrote on Wednesday that we should expect unaffordable fares for the UP Express.

The UP Express was modelled after London’s Heathrow Express, Tokyo’s Narita Express and the Arlanda Express in Stockholm — all dedicated air links and offered at prices ranging from $26-$41 (all figures Canadian).

 

McCuaig is cherry-picking expensive (and far-flung) airport links for comparison. (Also, Narita’s airport link is actually $15 leaving the airport and an hour-long trip, far longer than the UP Express trip.)

By way of comparison:

  • Vancouver’s line is $9.
  • New York’s is $8.
  • Sydney’s, $8.
  • Calgary’s, $8.50.
  • Paris, $14.
  • Berlin is $5.

You get the idea. High fares (and, to be fair, super-deluxe service) are the exceptions, not the norm.

Yesterday, Toronto City Council voted symbolically in favour of motions by Frances Nunziata and Josh Mattlow for affordable fares.

Rob Ford, Shelley Carroll, Josh Colle, Mike Del Grande, John Parker, Gord Perks, and David Shiner voted against the motion.

McCuaig said it wasn’t going to happen:

UP Express is a dedicated airport express train, and not a commuter service…. [His emphasis] [u]nlike mass transit services that happen to include an airport stop.

 

Albanese calls for “fare” pricing

In a remarkable open letter to the Minister of Transportation, Laura Albanese calls for a “fare policy” for the UP Express. She says

I would ask that our government revisit the perspective that the UP Express is somehow only a special or premium service, primarily serving airport customers.

Albanese notes that the mandate of the train has changed since its conception. She says it “has evolved to be much more” than a “rail to connect Toronto’s Union Station to the Pearson Airport”.

The line will serve commuters and “taxpayers would be penalized by paying a high fare, including local residents”. These fares should not have to cover the costs of the train, since neither the TTC nor GO have to cover their costs with ticket sales.

Albanese says that the fare policy should consider

  1. Different fare schedules for seniors and students, typical of fare policies relating to other public transit services.
  2. Pro-rated fares for commuters accessing the services at stops, including Weston and Bloor West.
  3. Considerable public input as to whether the fare should be set to re-coup the cost of construction (as opposed to operating costs) and if so within what timeframe. In addition, any consideration to re-coup construction costs must, at the same time, clarify whether fare rates will drop once costs are recovered.
  4. The 2010 decisions of Metrolinx to compensate the airport for lost parking should undergo a review.