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TTC versus Metrolinx: can the Eglinton Crosstown be finished by 2020?

(Image: The City of Toronto)

The ongoing power struggle between the TTC and Metrolinx is ramping up over the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Backed up by a panel assembled by the American Public Transportation Association, the TTC says Metrolinx and provincial procurement agency Infrastructure Ontario won’t be able to deliver the Eglinton line by 2020 without huge headaches for residents (think 12 underground stations being dug out at once). TTC staff suggest that a 2022 or 2023 finish date would be more realistic—and that IO lacks transit-building experience. Given that IO is responsible for finding a private partner to design, finance, build and maintain the network while the TTC will simply operate it, it sounds like the latter is still bitter that it’s not the lead agency for the project. However, TTC chair Karen Stintz says the commission has accepted the loss of control and simply wants more information about how the province will deliver on the ambitious timeline. Still, we imagine the fact that Rob Ford remains enthusiastic about IO’s leadership on the project won’t help Stintz and the mayor improve their relationship. [Globe and Mail]

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The TTC hopes to increase service by summertime (fingers crossed) 

Despite cutting service last fall, the TTC is now looking to expand a few lines thanks to the likelihood that lots more people will ride the rocket. According to a new report, the system is designed to handle 503 million commuters, but the TTC will likely shuttle around 512 million (read: way too many) passengers this year. The transit agency wants to use part of the $9-million surplus it should collect in fare revenue as a result to increase its 2012 operating budget by $2.1 million. The money would go toward paying 44 new operators and 10 mechanics, with 79 routes potentially receiving increased service, including the uber-crowded 504 King streetcar (praise the Lord!). The TTC wants the recommendations approved this June so it can start training the new employees ASAP. We’d like that, too: there’s nothing worse than riding a jam-packed streetcar with no air conditioning in the dead of July. [Globe and Mail]

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The weirdest mayoralty ever—the inside story of Rob Ford’s city hall

Loyal councillors have defied him. His approval ratings have plummeted. And his powerful Conservative backers are nervous. How did it all go so wrong? The strange story of Rob Ford’s city hall

The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

On Newstalk 1010, the sly strains of the Hollies hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” offered the first clue. Then morning host Jerry Agar burst on the air with a surprise announcement: Rob Ford and his councillor sibling Doug were taking over the station’s Sunday afternoon talk-fest, The City. For the once-staid CFRB, landing the boisterous brother act that Margaret Atwood had puckishly dubbed the “twin Ford mayors” was clearly a coup, but that didn’t answer the more obvious question: why on earth would the Fords want to spend two more hours a week in front of an open microphone when they were hardly suffering from a lack of media exposure?

Rob Ford, after all, ranks as one of the most compelling and exhaustively chronicled figures in Canadian politics, adored and despised with equal gusto. His every pronouncement seems to turn into front-page fodder, his every grimace and belly scratch catalogued by rapt photographers. And who could forget the YouTube footage of comedian Mary Walsh arriving in his driveway, decked out with a velvet breastplate and a plastic sword?

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Prince Charles will tour Toronto in the most regal of vehicles: a TTC bus

(Image: Esther)

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are coming to Toronto later this month, and the prince will get to sample firsthand the joys of public transit in the city—without the public. The TTC has confirmed that on May 22, an empty bus will be Charles’s chariot for an afternoon: following a Distillery District shindig with Dalton McGuinty, the bus will transport the prince to the UforChange centre on Parliament Street in St. James Town (and he won’t have to fork over any tokens for the privilege). We’d argue that the shiny new subways, with their fancy lighted maps and futuristic announcement system, would be a flashier ride for a royal—and even the chiming streetcar would be a more pleasant experience. No wonder Camilla has opted out. [Toronto Star]

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Budget committee newbie James Pasternak promises a “floor fight” over cuts 

Since learning the city’s 2011 surplus (or “savings”) was $138 more than forecast, city councillors have, unsurprisingly, hoped to reverse some of the cuts made in January’s budget. At yesterday’s budget committee meeting, James Pasternak, the newest member of the committee and a part of the “mighty middle,” proposed using $1.7 million of the $292-million surplus to keep a slew of axed programs afloat until the end of the year. Also unsurprising: the budget committee’s decision to vote against most of the proposals, including money for the Hardship Fund, youth outreach workers, High Park Zoo and Faraway Farm. Frustrated-sounding budget chief Mike Del Grande insisted that the bulk of the surplus has been earmarked for streetcar purchases and that the budget can’t be reopened. Pasternak has other plans, promising a “floor fight” once his motion gets to council in June. Given the drama and “furious negotiations” over the budget last January, we think that’s an apt description of what’s to come. [Globe and Mail]

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TTC staff eat an impressive amount of doughnuts—but aren’t so good with submitting receipts

(Image: Bryan Ochalla)

Severe reprimands seem to be the trend this week at the Toronto Transit Commission; first came one from TTC chief exec Andy Byford, and now, a few more from the agency’s internal auditors. The auditors, who conducted their investigations over the past few years, slammed the TTC for poorly managing consultants, construction plans, overtime and staff reimbursements. But one of the oddest Timbits tidbits involved a safety program that rewards accident-free departments with refreshments like free doughnuts; it would seem in 2010, $9,786 in receipts for the sweet treats were never handed in. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker explained why that’s a big problem: “We deal with contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars, and some folks may laugh at us for chasing down a box of Timbits. But this is what drives the public crazy.” Good to know that, of all the TTC’s issues, it’s the doughnut receipts that drive people mad. [National Post]

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QUOTED: Rob Ford on what he’d like to do with road tolls

(Image: Christopher Drost)

I’m totally, 100 per cent opposed to toll roads. If they want to float it—I’m going to sink it.

Rob Ford, on how he’d respond to Josh Matlow’s contentious proposal to use road tolls to fund transit projects. Speaking at another city app unveiling, the mayor finally weighed in on what Doug Ford has called the “three attacks” on Toronto’s cars (that is, Matlow’s toll proposal, Metrolinx’s vote in favour of four LRT projects and the chief medical officer’s suggestion to lower speed limits). Despite the Metrolinx board’s approval of the LRT plans, Ford—predictably—said he wouldn’t stop fighting for subways because they’re “what the people want.” But the mayor saved his most eloquent response for the idea of making Toronto’s speed limit 40 km/h, an idea he called “nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts. No.” [CBC]

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Andy Byford writes an icy memo to TTC employees


The TTC has had a few customer service embarrassments over the last few years (workers texting on the road, leaving their routes to pick up snacks and so on) but two within a few days is pretty bad. Last week, a TTC driver was videoed using a cellphone while piloting a subway, then days later, another was caught reading a newspaper while driving a streetcar. TTC chief exec and tough-talking clean freak Andy Byford is not happy about the blunders and released a scathing memo to staff this morning, voicing his displeasure.

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Reaction Roundup: what the revival of Transit City could mean for Toronto (and Rob Ford)

The whole “war on cars” talking point feels so 2009 (and 2010… and 2011), but now that Metrolinx and city council have pushed through an LRT-based transit plan against Rob Ford’s wishes, it’s back in a big way. Some members of council (well, mostly Doug Ford) are already gnashing their teeth over what the plan means for drivers—especially since tolls could be on the table if Josh Matlow gets his way. Others are looking ahead to the 2014 election and how shifts in power could change the whole project once more.

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QUOTED: Josh Matlow on Doug Ford’s fairy-tale approach to transit funding

(Image: Rob Boudon)

I know that some councillors slip into the divisive rhetoric with promises of building subways and delivering unicorns to every child. I know it’s controversial … but I’m just tired of a false debate of ‘let’s build things!’

Councillor Josh Matlow, comparing the likelihood of building a subway without a transit expansion fund to that of gifting kids with creatures that don’t exist (amounting to a jab at Doug Ford, who strongly opposes levying new road tolls to pay for transit). Matlow, who’s backed by transit rogue TTC Chair Karen Stintz, wants to bring tolls and regional sales taxes to next month’s council agenda, with a view to creating a permanent fund to bankroll transit projects. This isn’t the first time the rookie councillor has floated the contentious idea, either—as the Globe and Mail points out, he failed to get council’s support for tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner last fall. However, Matlow believes this time will be different because “the appetite is much larger now to get real about funding.” That, or the city’s getting embarrassed for lagging behind notoriously gridlocked Los Angeles. [National Post]

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The 2014 election (or Doug Ford’s election to Queen’s Park) could kill Transit City again

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Rob Ford has been silent since Metrolinx resurrected the LRT-based transit plan he cancelled on his first day in office, but the mayor’s brother Doug (as usual) was less shy. Yesterday, Doug vowed to continue fighting for subways into the 2014 election—even though construction on the Sheppard LRT line is scheduled to start in the summer of 2014. “We are going to run on subways,” he told the Globe and Mail, saying that councillors who voted in favour of the LRT-based plan “are going to be held accountable in the next election” (we can just picture the construction-site press conferences). Moreover, if Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal minority topples before 2014, Doug said he would leave his brother’s side, run as an MPP and try to help direct the transit debate from Queen’s Park. Though that’s several steps off, Doug’s comments do serve as a reminder that this plan is only secure as long as the Liberals maintain their hold on Queen’s Park—the Progressive Conservatives’ Tim Hudak has already shown how much he supports subways. [Globe and Mail]

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Metrolinx’s proposed timeline for building LRTs is inconvenient for Rob Ford 

In a hotly anticipated report that will go to the Metrolinx board tomorrow, Metrolinx staff gives a thumbs-up to city council’s LRT-heavy transit plan. The agency’s staff is recommending that the provincial agency build a whole lot of transit by 2020, beginning with the Sheppard Avenue East LRT in 2014 (to be finished in 2018) and the Finch LRT in 2015 (to be finished by 2019). The report also gives timelines for construction of the Scarborough RT line replacement (finished by 2019) and the continuing work on the Eglinton-Scarborough Crosstown LRT, which will now run above ground east of Laird Avenue (finished by 2020). Given that Metrolinx had endorsed a virtually identical plan back in 2010, it’s not too surprising that council’s plan got the stamp of approval (though kind of annoying that Toronto took an extra two years to arrive at the same conclusion). Still, the timeline may come as a shock to Rob Ford. After city council reinstated a large chunk and then nearly all of David Miller’s Transit City plan (which Ford had killed during his first hours in office), the mayor vowed to make the fight for subways a central issue in the 2014 election. That might be more difficult, though, if construction has already started by then. [Globe and Mail]

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Now that council has stopped bickering, Metrolinx will finally speak up on Toronto transit 

Since the Sheppard showdown in March, we’ve had a break from transit-planning theatrics, but the next act is fast approaching. On April 25, Metrolinx (the provincial agency actually ponying up the dough for all this glorious transit) will reveal its plans (and we’re sure any number of councillors will weigh in once they do). According to the Toronto Star, the provincial agency will give detailed recommendations for transit on Eglinton, Sheppard East, Finch West and in Scarborough. Though it’ll still be some time before the new vehicles are up and running, it’s nice to see Toronto is starting to move from the angry yelling part of this process into the moving-forward-with-plans stage. Read the entire story [Toronto Star]

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Get a sneak peek at our May cover story: Rob Ford and the weirdest mayoralty in Toronto history

The incredible shrinking mayor

Below is an excerpt from our May cover story, “The Incredible Shrinking Mayor” by Marci McDonald. The full text is now available online. Click here for more »

On Newstalk 1010, the sly strains of the Hollies hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” offered the first clue. Then morning host Jerry Agar burst on the air with a surprise announcement: Rob Ford and his councillor sibling Doug were taking over the station’s Sunday afternoon talk-fest, The City. For the once-staid CFRB, landing the boisterous brother act that Margaret Atwood had puckishly dubbed the “twin Ford mayors” was clearly a coup, but that didn’t answer the more obvious question: why on earth would the Fords want to spend two more hours a week in front of an open microphone when they were hardly suffering from a lack of media exposure?

Rob Ford, after all, ranks as one of the most compelling and exhaustively chronicled figures in Canadian politics, adored and despised with equal gusto. His every pronouncement seems to turn into front-page fodder, his every grimace and belly scratch catalogued by rapt photographers. And who could forget the YouTube footage of comedian Mary Walsh arriving in his driveway, decked out with a velvet breastplate and a plastic sword?

But by the time Agar announced the show’s February 26 debut, the mayor was none too keen on his press clips, which aptly mirrored his increasingly bleak political fate. Ever since the new year, a small band of independent councillors had been leading an open revolt, dealing him a series of humiliating defeats, first on his budget, then on his cherished subway-building agenda. No matter how he tried to spin it, one conclusion was unavoidable: the mayor was increasingly isolated on his own council.

In Conservative backrooms across the city, there was undisguised consternation. Ford’s predecessors, David Miller and Mel Lastman, would never have allowed themselves to lose such key power struggles, especially so early in their first terms. Ford was becoming an embarrassment—one who could do lasting damage to the party as a whole. “There are only so many votes you can lose,” says a prominent Tory advisor who asked for anonymity, “and then you end up becoming sort of neutered.”

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Downtown relief line could make everything better for everyone (except Rob Ford)

A blissful and uncrowded transit future? (Image: Jay Woodworth)

One of the byproducts of the recent transit debates at city hall (aside from the planned light rail lines) is a discussion of a downtown relief line to ease crowding on the “close to bursting” Yonge subway. Despite the name, the line wouldn’t just be for elitist, latte-sipping downtowners—the Toronto Star reports that hordes of experts believe a DRL could better serve suburbanites than Rob Fords now-dead Sheppard subway, especially if it extends to Scarborough and Etobicoke. After all, many downtown residents live and work in their own neighbourhoods, while commuters from the suburbs have to cram themselves onto the Yonge subway every day. Still, experts acknowledge the line could be a hard sell given the downtown-versus-suburbs rift that the Ford brothers’ rhetoric has only fuelled. The University of Toronto’s Eric Miller thinks a new name could help—may we suggest the “Downtown-Suburban Harmony Line”? Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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