Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It turns out that the political shenigans in Toronto is leading to discussion on transportation agency consolidation

"Always put passengers first and make sure you have a governance structure that enables the transit system to put passengers first."

    -- David Quarmby, transit consultant who is one of the creators of Transport for London

“Every bureaucracy has their own plans. There is a solution and it’s one transportation plan for Toronto. One system with all the pieces moving together in sync.”

    -- Karen Stintz, member of the Toronto City Council and candidate for mayor 

I hadn't been keeping up with the Toronto Star, so I didn't know that while I was writing the other pieces, there is major conversation right now in Greater Toronto about transportation agency consolidation.

Right now, the City of Toronto has streets/transportation and transit (the TTC) agencies, while Metrolinx, a regional-Provincial agency, does planning, runs roads and what not, and operates the railroad commuter service, which used to be provided by a different provincial agency.   (WMATA is going to use the PrestoCard transit media system created by Metrolinx.)

Cities and regions not within Toronto proper run their own transit agencies for local service and are considering various light rail schemes.  The Greater York Region has a highly touted bus rapid transit system, VIVA, which provides service into Toronto.

Toronto's previous administration under David Miller produced a transit plan called "Transit City," which proposed mostly light rail creation and had a great number of equity considerations, as one of the principles from the process was that no one should be disadvantaged by not owning a car.

But his successor, Rob Ford, a suburban councillor, ran on a Mayoral platform of reducing conflicts with motor vehicles and subway expansion, especially to suburban districts he represented (c.f. "Rob Ford wants to get rid of streetcars entirely " Toronto Globe and Mail; "Rob Ford defends $300K bike lane removal" National Post).   The problem with the subway expansion proposals is that they are expensive but also were directed to areas where the potential ridership does not justify that particular mode.

Once Ford was elected he junked the Transit City plan, although eventually it was determined he didn't have that authority.  He fired the TTC director when the TTC didn't sign off on his subway plan, and lack of consensus within the region on what to do made it impossible to create the right kinds of relationships with the Province and potentially the National Government (a conservative one, so not big on transit) for funding and financing.

The mobility agenda in the region has been "in flux" ever since.  One of the people running against him for mayor is Karen Stintz, who is the chair of the TTC board right now ("Mayoral candidate Karen Stintz wants umbrella transportation agency," Toronto Sun).  From the article:
Stintz would place the czar at the head of a new agency, Transportation for Toronto, that would be a combination of the TTC, transportation services, parking enforcement and taxi and licensing standards.
Toronto has multiple city bureaucracies, who all have their own plans - bike plans, parking plans, pedestrian plans, multi-year TTC plans, GO plans,” Stintz said in a statement Friday.  “But there’s nothing bringing all these plans together, looking at how all forms of transportation could be working together.”

Under her plan, Stintz would have the Transportation for Toronto department oversee all transportation infrastructure including roads, bridges, bike lanes and sidewalks. The department would lead transportation planning and funding strategies, oversee taxi regulation and parking enforcement and develop a “smart commuting” management system.
Metrolinx goes back and forth with the city's agenda (see the past blog entry "Metrolinx Toronto: 25 potential tools to fund transit-transportation infrastructure").

I used Toronto as an example of political b.s. and meddling making achieving excellent mobility policy very difficult.  But they are grappling with the problems and have even had David Quarmby, architect of the creation of the multi-modal Transport for London agency, come out to speak.

See "Lessons from London for transit on Toronto," "It's high time for some realism about transit: Hume," "Could Toronto use a central agency to rule roads and transit like London," and "Addressing Toronto's transit deficit" from the Toronto Star.   From the "high time" article:
Certainly, Toronto and the GTA suffer from lack of leadership. Without a shared vision, transit gets pushed in a different direction with each new regime. When elected, Ford killed Transit City, a fully planned and funded program. When Wynne loses, her successor could well decide to start from scratch. Let’s not forget, Hudak was a member of the Mike Harris cabinet when he killed the Eglinton subway in 1995 after construction had begun.
Clearly, transit needs as much distance as it can get from politics. The region has been poorly served by the sort of logic that leads officialdom to choose a Scarborough subway over the DRL [Downtown Relief Line, comparable to the proposal in DC for a separated blue line], diesel over electrification, ridership over capacity, etc. In every case, the city, province and their agencies have made the wrong choice.
And from the Toronto Globe & Mail,  "London transit expert supports Metrolinx oversight of TTC" and "Transit planning must have legal protection, London expert says." From the last article:
Lock politicians and experts in a room until they can agree on transit.  That’s the advice – only half in jest – of a transportation expert speaking in Toronto Wednesday morning. But even more important is the next step: set up a legal structure to stop the plans changing with every political cycle.

“The strength lies behind the systems that are in law,” said David Quarmby, one of the architects of Transport for London, the over-arching agency responsible for almost all forms of public transportation in the U.K. capital.  ...

“You need to have a decision-making system that is more consensual, that is based on a single governance [model], where all the parties are required by law to collaborate and arrive at plans, which are going to get delivered,” he said....
Transport for London was formed in 2000, part of the Labour governance reforms of 1997 that also gave the city a directly elected mayor. That mayor chairs the agency and appoints all of its board members, but that doesn’t mean each succeeding one has an entirely free hand. The mayor has to create land-use and transport plans that are written into law.
Which is something worthy of consideration in DC.

2.  WRT Toronto, things are a bit more complicated because of the tension between the metropolitan cities and regions and the City of Toronto, but better integration and coordination of transit and mobility planning and service is key.

Toronto residents are concerned that a TTC run by a regional agency with little public input would become further disconnected from the concerns of residents at the core, which now make up only 40% of the region's population.

But greater funding from the Provincial Government for the "local transit" service is likely in order, as it is done most everywhere else in North America, because of transit's link to economic competitiveness in the biggest metropolitan areas and the lack of financial capacity within the government of even the largest cities to fully invest what's necessary to maintain and expand transit.

3.  In any case, splitting up transportation agencies, as is proposed in DC, is a backwards, not a forward looking move.

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