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Breakdown of Scarborough RT a grim reminder of what may be in store for transit riders

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Kamran Karim arrived at Kennedy station and waited 30 minutes for the RT to arrive before realizing it was out of service — again.

“There is no sign. There is no notice,” he said, pointing to a gate barring access to the the stairs leading up to Scarborough’s elevated rail transit system, which was working on and off in the days after the snowstorm that bore down on the city Monday.

Kamran Karim was among thousands of TTC riders whose commutes were disrupted after the snowstorm knocked the Scarborough RT out of service.
Kamran Karim was among thousands of TTC riders whose commutes were disrupted after the snowstorm knocked the Scarborough RT out of service.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

The record snowfall and the polar ice freeze that followed wreaked havoc on portions of Toronto’s transportation system, but in particular the aging and vulnerable elevated train service in Scarborough — dubbed the RT, the SRT, or more recently, Line 3 — that is supposed to connect residents of the suburb to the rest of the city to the southwest.

It was a grim reminder of what residents of Scarborough are in for as they wait for construction to begin on the Scarborough subway extension, a project that successive city, provincial, and federal governments have supported for years but whose ultimate design and completion date are uncertain.

Meanwhile the SRT is nearing the end of its useful life, raising the prospect that riders will be left taking the bus if a replacement isn’t built soon.

Residents of Scarborough are among the city’s super-commuters — spending an hour to two hours or more getting downtown to work or study — connecting by bus from their homes to the RT train service that brings them to Kennedy subway station, the eastern terminus of the Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) subway. From there it’s a long ride west on the subway and then south into the heart of Toronto.

About 35,000 people use the SRT’s six stations on a typical weekday.

Among them is Jackie Abrokwa, 25, who said it takes her about two and a half hours to get to Humber College’s lakeshore campus from her home in east Scarborough. The shuttle buses meant to replace the RT in recent days were much slower, and added another 30 to 45 minutes to her commute, she said.

“As someone who has been taking the TTC for a very long time, I am kind of over it,” said Abrokwa.

“In this weather it makes the whole thing really difficult,” said Joy Moro, who commutes from Scarborough to downtown Toronto for her tech job each day. “But if you don’t get to work, you don’t get paid, so you have to do what you have to do.”

The latest issues for the SRT started Monday, when the city was walloped with more than 20 centimetres of snow. The transit line went down at about 4 p.m., and though the TTC was able to get it up and running again for a few hours Wednesday, it was soon forced to shut it down again.

Regular service resumed Friday morning, but a mechanical problem forced one of the line’s six trains out of commission and the TTC had to supplement service with buses.

Although the SRT opened in 1985 and is nearing the end of its service life, TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the problems in recent days were “not a product of age, rather extreme weather conditions.”

He said the issue was high winds blowing loose packed snow onto the SRT’s traction rail, which powers the train. Snow on the line causes the vehicles to lose power.

“As quickly as we’re clearing it, another section gets covered,” Green said.

While the line was shut down the agency deployed between 15 and 20 shuttle buses as a replacement to SRT service.

Green couldn’t say if the service outage was the longest SRT users have been forced to endure, but said about seven years ago there was also a winter shutdown that lasted several days.

Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, who represents the ward of Scarborough—Rouge Park and also sits on the TTC board, said transit users from her part of the city are “tired of being left out in the cold.”

McKelvie, who is serving her first term at city hall, said the solution is building the Scarborough subway extension and Eglinton East LRT as soon as possible. She blamed previous terms of council for not getting a replacement for the SRT built quickly enough.

“For years we’ve been debating, revisiting, voting, revoting on Scarborough transit. It’s time that we get on with building the transit that Scarborough deserves,” she said.

Although council has voted several times about the specifics of the Scarborough subway extension, the subway option has been the official plan for six years, since Rob Ford was mayor.

Council approved a three-stop Scarborough subway extension in 2013, opting for that project over a cheaper seven-stop light rail line that at the time would have been fully funded by the provincial government.

The three-stop subway was initially projected to cost about $3 billion, but as costs ballooned council voted in 2016 to scale back the plan to a single stop at the Scarborough Town Centre, and to supplement the subway extension with a 17-stop Eglinton East LRT, which would run from Kennedy to U of T Scarborough.

Cost estimates for those two projects also soon exceeded the available $3.5-billion funding envelope, and the LRT is now unfunded.

City and TTC staff have spent the past three years planning the one-stop subway option, and council is set to receive an update as early as April that if approved would advance the project toward procurement. Construction would take six years, with a potential completion date of 2026.

However, subway supporters in government are set to change the plan again. As part of its plan to take ownership of the TTC subway network, the Ontario PC government wants to add two stops, at Lawrence and Sheppard, back to the extension. Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek has pledged to try to fund the additional stations using contributions from developers at no cost to taxpayers.

Experts warn the private-sector approach to funding two additional stops is “far-fetched,” and adding stations could require months if not years of additional design work that would delay construction.

Councillor McKelvie supports adding the additional stops, arguing it’s essential to have a station at the “important transit hub” at Lawrence, and to connect the line to future transit planned for Sheppard Ave. E. Asked when SRT users can expect the subway to be up and running, McKelvie couldn’t give a firm date.

“As long as we have the funds and we have the willpower hopefully we can get that transit built in Scarborough soon,” she said.

Minister Yurek’s spokesperson Mike Winterburn said the province’s plan to upload the subway system from the city “would be structured to build transit faster,” but he also couldn’t provide a clear timeline.

He said “it would be premature at this point to speculate on a timetable for building the Scarborough subway.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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