UP Express: tipping point

With Premier Wynne putting the pain on Metrolinx, your correspondent feels like we have reached a tipping point. The UPX is bleeding money. It is far from reaching its ridership targets, and miles from paying for itself. Something must be done. But what?

RidershipScratch public transit as usually defined; the trains cannot be used elsewhere in the city, and will (for now at least) have only four stops. A train to the airport should be defended, too; it is a fine idea even in the Über age.

It also only makes sense to now maintain the premium service. With cash haemorrhaging, Ontarians need to get as many moneyed “elite business travellers” on board as we can. We need at the same time, though, to get the rabble on, and to get them paying the bills.

How can this be done?

Metrolinx knows the answer: price discrimination. Charge the rich more, the poor less, and fill those trains up!

There are many ways to do it. Trips to Pearson could cost much more than trips between Union, Bloor, Weston, and the projected Mount Dennis station. A trip from Weston to downtown should cost about $10; this is more than the GO ($6), but much less than $22 charged now. Going to Pearson? Tough noogies: $25.

Is this unfair? No more unfair than airport improvement fees, fuel surcharges, or the jerk who stuffs a suitcase into carry-on. Travel is full of indignities; one more won’t hurt much.

This might seem to discourage local travellers from taking the train to Pearson, but savvy ones could manage. Advance or Presto purchases could be discounted (more than they currently are, however), or tickets could be sold in a discounted bundle of 5. Locals would catch wind and plan trips out.

Would it bother the haughty to rub with the hoi polloi? Then don’t let them! Borrow an idea from the golden age of rail (but lose the stupid uniforms from the same era): travel classes. Put Pearson travellers in one train car (where all 14 of them¹ would fit with room to spare). Put local travellers in the other car. We won’t let them know that we’re having more fun in the back.

This plan could even save face for Metrolinx. They could maintain that they’ve met their objective: a pampering service for that elusive elite business traveller². Now, though, as a gesture of good will, they are opening access to all Torontonians. They could brand it as ‘ride sharing’, because, you know, the sharing economy thing is cool. Like MSN.

But instead of doing the smart thing, or the right thing, Metrolinx is the same, dumb thing: giving free rides for a little while, under the mistaken belief that if people just tried it, they would like the UP Express.
Metrolinx: people won’t. Nobody wants to spend their weekend riding your train just to see what it’s like. They want to spend it with their families or sweethearts. And dear, dear Metrolinx, a word? Use economics instead of branding. If your model was ever good,³ the market changed while you were building. Über increased the supply of transit; that lowered prices. Time marched on.

Time marched on, but the uniforms didn’t. I’m itchy just looking at the them. Were they made from Soviet blankets?

This could be a time for change: the UPX—which caused so much disruption, pollution, expense, and waste in Weston—could, at long last, be put to good use.
If only we could get Metrolinx to listen.

¹ Yes, that’s how many people take the train.
² The elite business traveller without an Über app on her smartphone.
³ It wasn’t.

Sullivan: The Weston Cultural Hub

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that are being published over a four day period. The first topic was Fallout from the election.

The second issue that we discussed is the Weston Cultural Hub.

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

On the Hub itself and the political processes involved:

I’m of two minds (about the Hub).

There are several things that make me nervous about it. One is the extent that the councillor is trying to get local buy-in from community organizations. There are secret meetings between community organizations and the developer and they’re happening outside the public eye. The essence of what I can gather from this scheme is that Rockport gets to build a 30 storey tower without a parking garage so it’s significantly cheaper for them on city land that they’re essentially being given; and they’re getting money.

On the neglect of this corner of Toronto:

The current and former municipal administrations have not paid a whole lot of attention to Weston and Mount Dennis.

This part of the City of Toronto has very few if any city services such as community centres such as city offices -anything that is a community service.

In response to those who claim that the York Community Centre being built on Black Creek and Eglinton will meet Weston’s needs, Sullivan points out its remote and car oriented location.

The York Community Centre

The soon to be opened York Community Centre

The new community centre is not here (in Weston) – that’s a regional recreation centre – you have to have a car to get there – you can’t get there as a pedestrian.

There’s nothing up here and there hasn’t been and there needs to be. There are 10,000 people already who live in the various buildings along Weston road who have no city facilities and we’re going to add another thousand people or more to that already under-serviced group. Where are the city services that come along with this? We’re getting 8000 square feet of community space but what will be its purpose? We don’t know and it will be gone after 50 years.

Sullivan calls 33 King, ‘Weston’s long-term eyesore’ and says that it should never have been put where it was.

“(33 King) is getting the $10million in benefit – they’re getting to make their ground floor into public storage which was never said until late into the game – it is not an appropriate use for a residential neighbourhood despite what Jennifer Keesmaat says. In addition to getting redevelopment of live-work spaces paid for by somebody else that they’ll collect the rent on and city officials are bending over backwards to make it happen. There is absolutely no resistance from any city department or organization despite many perceived and real flaws in this project.”

Sullivan also worries about the increased levels of traffic produced by an extra thousand people who will live in the new 30-storey tower. Residents will park in the existing parking garage that empties onto King Street. He claims that traffic studies of the new Hub ignore the fact that a new 650 student school will be built nearby.

I asked (at the meeting) how it was that transportation services accepted completely without question (the report) provided by the developer which ignored an entire school. St John The Evangelist School apparently no longer exists according to that traffic study. So the answer that came from Transportation Services parroted the report from the developer which was that 33 King has the right to that many vehicles and ignored that there will be 650 kids where before there used to be 200 who will be coming and going at rush hour. …the ramp empties directly onto the street with no signalling whatsoever. I hate to say this but it’s only a matter of time before some young person  is injured or killed because of the dramatic increase in traffic that will come as the result of 370 units having parking in that building that they didn’t have before.

He is concerned that while John Street has been designated a place for Farmers Market vehicles to be parked, it is also a designated fire route.

(at the public meeting) I asked what’s going to happen to the Farmers market vehicles because Frances’ (Councillor Nunziata) plan is to turn the Farmers Market into a street market and so that the vehicles will be on John Street. But in one of the newest incarnations of the site plan, John Street will become a fire route. And therefore you cannot park vehicles on the fire route and that question’s not answered.

Another important issue for Sullivan is the lack of an easement to guarantee that pedestrian access will not be cut off by the owners of 33 King Street.

…the city is planning to make the laneways on the east side of 33 King into a pedestrian passageway. (Dan Harris asked) on several occasions if (the city) would require that to be an easement and the answer from the city is that the owners of 33 King will not give us that – well we’re giving the owners of 33 King $10 million – you’d think you could get an easement out of that, which would then make that walkway a permanent feature. But f they wanted to, the owners could put a fence up and block access at certain times of day. So there needs to be an easement and a re-think of whether we need 30 storeys.

Sullivan is also concerned about the precedent of such a tall building causing other, similar applications that will use a token ‘community benefit‘ to justify breaking the City’s planning controls.

Already other developers have put in feelers to the city about raising their proposed buildings to 30 storeys – Cruickshank apparently started asking the city about 30 storeys and and the owners  at 1775 and 1765 Weston Road who were talking about building low rise commercial in the front are now asking about 30 storey towers. Ms Keesmaat claimed that there would be no precedent as a result of the public amenities that were being provided – you can bet your boots that every developer worth his salt is going to say, “I want 30 storeys too”.  We’re going to have another 4 or 5, 30-storey towers with no services. I’m not opposed to the notion that an art community might be an interesting concept but I think you don’t sell your soul to get it. But I’m afraid that this notion of the 30 storey building and the loss of the Farmers Market is like selling our soul.

Tomorrow: Sullivan comments on Metrolinx

Sullivan: I’m (probably) back.

Now that the dust has settled after October’s Federal Election, I was curious as to how former York South-Weston Member of Parliament, Mike Sullivan was adjusting to the new reality of being a regular citizen once more. He agreed to an in-depth interview and we sat down last Friday over coffees in a busy Perfect Blend Bakery. We touched on four main topics that we will roll out over the next four days;

1. Fallout from the election

2. The Weston Cultural Hub

3. Metrolinx

4. The Church Street, former Humber River Regional Hospital Site.

Mike Sullivan in April 2013 as an MP campaigning for protection of the Humber.

Mike Sullivan in April 2013 as an MP campaigning for protection of the Humber.

1. Fallout from the election

We started with his experiences during the last election. Sullivan claims that he would not have done anything differently during the campaign that was the longest in modern history. He believes that the shifting of votes away from the New Democratic Party happened very suddenly during the last weekend of the campaign.

“People in the riding weren’t paying attention to the local situation They were also voting against Harper and choosing Liberals to be the ones to beat him. None of the Toronto area NDP MPs were re-elected as the Liberals captured all 25 Toronto seats. I lost a lot of friends in other ridings (who were also Toronto area MPs). It’s politics though and if you can’t take that, don’t run. You can kick yourself afterwards over things we should and shouldn’t have done but I don’t think we did anything wrong locally.”

It’s not all bad though; Sullivan is now able to see a lot more of his five beloved grandchildren, three of whom live in Mississauga and the other two in Edmonton. Last year, Sullivan and his wife spent Christmas in Edmonton and this year there will be celebrations in his home in Toronto and in Mississauga. The Sullivan family’s holiday fare is traditional and includes lots of turkey and ham.

I asked if he was thinking about staying in politics and setting himself up as the opposition to the new MP. He pondered that for a minute, smiled and said,

“Probably. Time will tell how long it will last. It’s (the next election) four years away and I’m not necessarily setting myself up in opposition to the local MP but when I see something that is unfair or not helpful then I’ll be unafraid of saying it.”

Remembering that Sullivan had a constituency office on South Station Road, and not being able to find much information about Mr. Hussen’s constituency office, I asked Sullivan if he knew where it was. Sullivan replied that it is not set up yet but that it will be in the same vicinity as MPP Laura Albanese’s. He suggested that having an office in an industrial area is, “Not helpful”.

The complex where MPP Laura Albanese has her constituency office.

The complex where MPP Laura Albanese has her constituency office.

On Monday, I checked the address, 85 Ingram Drive from where Mr Hussen will be operating. There was nothing to indicate that he has a presence in that building although a sign on a sports equipment store in the same building seemed to indicate that a number of people have been trying to contact the new MP.

IMG_0997

MPP Laura Albanese and Councillor Frank DiGiorgio already have offices in that same complex. The location may not be handy for constituents who walk but perhaps communications between those particular politicians will be made somewhat easier.

To ensure that he stays in the public consciousness, Sullivan has begun writing about issues of concern to York South-Weston residents once more. His first since the election deals with the Liberal tax cut plans.

Postscript: I had a call this afternoon from Christine Whitten who will be working in Ahmed Hussen’s constituency office. She explained the delay in setting up new parliamentary offices because, for example incoming MPs inherit their furniture from the previous incumbent. In addition, the furniture, previously used in Mike Sullivan’s Constituency Office could not move directly but had to be delivered to a storage location before being forwarded to the new MP. Things like internet and phone lines likewise cannot be arranged directly but have to be ordered through the House of Commons. Christine says that as soon as the office opens (hopefully early in the New Year), Mr. Hussen will be holding an open house so that constituents can drop by and meet their new M.P. In the meantime, York South-Weston residents are invited to contact Ms. Whitten at 416-432-2974 should they require further information or assistance.

Tomorrow: Sullivan’s thoughts on the Weston Cultural Hub.

Why I’m voting Sullivan.

I’m endorsing Mike Sullivan, NDP, as our federal candidate. I do so cautiously.

The five federal candidates are

  • Stephen Lepone, Libertarian
  • James Robinson, Conservative
  • John Johnson, Green
  • Ahmed Hussen, Liberal
  • Mike Sullivan, NDP

I won’t vote for Lepone. He’s a libertarian.

Robinson does not respond to my emails, had an extremely unusual education, and does not debate. He’s out.

John Johnson, bless the man, mounted a campaign and worked tirelessly. He seems honest and decent. But, and this might be a compliment, he’s not a political creature. He doesn’t have a head for policy or wonk. I don’t think he’s suitable for a career on The Hill.

That leaves Hussen and Sullivan, the Liberals and the NDP. We face the same decision as all right-thinking Canadians who want to end Harper’s governance.

There is a good argument for voting Liberal, which I owe to a regular reader: if the Liberals hold power, then we might benefit from federal pork0barrel spending, and god knows we could use some. Also, Hussen does seem like a smart, accomplished man.

He still won’t get my vote.

First, Hussen didn’t debate in front of his electors because, the organizers allege, he thought the debate was organized by NDP partisans.

This is dead wrong. The organizers were outraged he would suggest so. Alan Tonks, our former Liberal MP was there, as was Liberal MPP Laura Albanese. The questioner, Jules Jose Kerlinger, is a former Liberal nominee, for Pete’s sake.

But who cares? If Hussen wins, more than half of the residents will not have voted for him. Will he refuse to hear their ideas? Will he refuse to engage with them? Explain himself? Challenge or be challenged? It bodes poorly that he will not face his public—even if he believes, wrongly, that they are partisan—now, when he needs votes. He competes, after all, to win them, not gather them.

Is this a weakness? I think so. Hussen does seem to run rather cool; he has certainly not courted this site with prompt and polite communication.

Debating on TV is an unacceptable substitute. Hussen does not live in the riding—nor, I presume, does the television questioner. He missed his only opportunity to face a heterogenous local audience and their questions about the particular issues that matter to them. He also missed his only chance to challenge Sullivan’s failures to his constituents.

So he is out.

That leaves Sullivan.

Sullivan is a capable MP, no less. He and his staff seem to do a good job in the riding, helping constituents with their problems. He is interested—perhaps overly—with local problems.

And though the intervening years have been a little fallow, Sullivan had a substantial early success on the national stage, creating a cell-phone registry that cut phone thefts, which had plagued Weston, among other places. He’s active in committees, speaks in the House now and then, and has taken an leadership position on railcar safety, a serious issue with local implications.

Still, I’m not thrilled about my endorsement. I don’t feel like Sullivan wakes up every morning excited to be our advocate.

Perhaps its too much to ask that an opposition MP brings real change, real money, and real jobs to the riding. It is hard, I’m sure, to get federal money here for infrastructure, a department, a museum, or a federal building. I remain saddened that we haven’t seen more of our federal tax dollars returned to our riding.

I certainly don’t think it’s too much to ask our representatives to publicize, promote, and defend Weston’s interests. Sullivan does this half-heartedly.

Under Harper, for instance, the Humber River had its environmental protection gutted. Sullivan, to his credit, tried to mitigate the damage in 2013. And then…. What?

It’s been two years. Nothing happened, as far as I know. Was Bill C-502, which he introduced, only a token gesture? If not, why hasn’t it been reintroduced? Has he lost interest? 

I stand corrected. The bill was winding its way through parliament. My apologies. 

Then there is his view of our riding. When he speaks in Ottawa, it is almost always with despair about York South Weston.

  • In June, he said that many of us are poor and “scared”  and that “the biggest problem is my riding is unemployment”
  • Yet in May, he said “In fact, the problem in my riding is the preponderance of handguns, particularly among young people.”
  • He also said are many trains, filled with explosive crude, going through town.
  • And even when news is good, it is bad: “While the success of the Hammer Heads program is something to celebrate, the grip of poverty in my riding shows that we have much more work to do.”

You can read his speeches yourself or watch the Rogers’ debate. Sullivan appears worn down by our misfortune, not convinced of our potential. His frustration is too close to abdication.

In the next four years, I want to see Mike Sullivan energized by our latent power, advocating for us, not only because we have needs, but because we have capacities.

We have problems. Some are serious. But we have much to offer, too.

Vote – Canada depends on you.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Every four years or so voters get a chance to make their collective wishes known. It’s a privilege that the people of many other countries don’t share. Some citizens may think that their vote makes a difference but for example, in the United States and Cuba (to name but two), the choice is limited to a very narrow field and even a turnover of personnel often makes little difference to government policies and actions.

In York South-Weston we have two candidates from parties with a chance to unseat the current Conservative government – or the Harper Government as it likes to be known. Mike Sullivan is the NDP incumbent and Ahmed Hussen the Liberal challenger. Other parties are running but it is more than likely that one of these candidates will be elected.

Anyone with an impartial eye could probably see that over the past few years, the Conservatives have brought real change to the Canadian political process. It’s not just the nastier tone but a willingness to cheat and upset the democratic process far beyond anything that has happened in the past. Readers with the desire to read the gory details may read this long but excellent summation in The Guardian. Good luck staying calm after that article.

Along with the cheating goes a whole other raft of divisiveness and fear mongering but t’s the cheating that has allowed the Conservatives to be insensitive to voter reaction so it remains (in the minds of many) their most egregious behaviour.

There is, therefore only one possible action for citizens of this country and that is to get out and vote. You have a choice of two parties that, should they gain power, will not cheat you out of your future hard won votes. Whether the Liberals or New Democrats form a government after this election, we can be reasonably assured that politics will be conducted in a more equitable fashion. The same, unfortunately cannot be said if the Conservatives win.

It’s time for the citizens of York South-Weston (and indeed ridings all across this great country) to let the the Conservative Party, its members and even its volunteers know that cheating will not be tolerated by Canadians. The best way to do this is to deliver an overwhelming mandate to as many non-Conservative candidates as possible.

Get out and vote – it’s never been more important.

That’s all folks

The vision from way back. Some slight changes made along the way...

The vision from way back. Some slight changes made along the way…

The last community consultation over the Weston Hub was held Wednesday night and it seemed to be designed as a bit of a cheerleading session in the form of a snoozefest. Members of the Weston Village Residents’ Association (which has supported the project from day 1) seemed to make up a good number of the audience of about 100. Audience members seemed split between total support, support but concerned by the negative aspects and those opposed. It’s fair to say that a fair number in attendance seemed ready to swallow the negatives of a 30-storey tower, townhomes and a storage facility as the price to be paid for 26 live-work spaces for artists and some space for community organizations. Refreshingly, no major surprises were unveiled and one or two minor tweaks were announced that will improve things but the bottom line seems to be that the project is now a ‘go’ and will be presented to the Etobicoke York Community Council for approval in November and then to City Council in December.

In the question period, in spite of Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat’s insistence that the majority of people are overwhelmingly in favour of the project, several people spoke against it, some having reservations about the 8-storey building limit being set aside. Dan Harris wondered what new rabbit (e.g. storage) was to be pulled out of the hat. Another interesting comment came when a resident asked if Affordable Housing would consider allowing low income tenants to occupy the rental building if the developer failed to secure enough tenants (he hoped they would consider it). Developer Jack Winberg responded that there is every indication that the building will be filled by market-rate tenants. The affordable housing rep said he would look into it if approached by the developer.

The latest tweaks:

  • The fire route will now be along King and John Streets rather than through the ‘community space’.
  • Seven more parking spaces have been found as a result of a remnant area from the Toronto Parking Authority
  • The townhouse base of buildings along John Street will be adaptable to commercial.

The bottom line:

There will be a 30-storey rental apartment building and large storage facility. According to Ms. Keesmaat, the rental tower was never negotiable. The Farmers Market space will be smaller than the space currently in use. The storage lockers won’t provide much employment but won’t produce much traffic either.

On the other hand, the site will be attractively landscaped with a small (but perfectly formed) public area and there is a possibility that the Artscape portion will work and be a roaring success. Ms Keesmaat claims that the project is a special opportunity for Weston and a special effort to bring re-investment into Weston.

Only time will tell how ‘special’ it will actually be.