Doug Ford bogged down our subway, but he could yet lead the way to the TTC’s ‘better way’

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To upload Toronto’s subway, or not to upload it, isn’t really the question.

For the answer is a foregone conclusion: Of course Ontario should do it.

Possessed of big pockets and the big picture, the province has long been better placed to own the TTC’s subway lines. Queen’s Park has the ability to bankroll — and borrow for — big capital projects, unlike Toronto’s restricted cash flow and perennial shortfalls.

The linkages in our interconnected megalopolis require us to expand subway planning beyond a Toronto-centric perspective. With the premier of the day directly accountable for subway expansion, he or she is more likely to fund a future relief line than plead poverty.

Opposition to this week’s move by the Progressive Conservative government — signing a framework with Toronto to figure out costs and benefits — shouldn’t blind us to the reality that it’s not just a PC idea.

“The province will begin discussions with the City of Toronto to determine whether provincial ownership of TTC subway lines could provide better transit services for residents in the GTHA, and allow for a better sharing of costs for transit expansion between the province and the City of Toronto.”

A perfectly sensible Liberal proposal. Premier Doug Ford couldn’t have put it any better this week, but he surely tried — promising to “cut through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster.”

If it was a good idea before — and I’ve long supported it — why isn’t it a good idea now? That’s a better question.

Can the Tories truly be trusted to do it the right way, not merely the right-wing way, to bolster the TTC’s “better way?” Can the party that once downloaded services to offload expenses now be trusted to upload services and own up to the costs?

Can PCs who sold off the Highway 407 toll system, for a song, now save the day? How, exactly, will Ford keep his word?

There’s a reason the Liberals took forever to follow through with an upload, or fulfil past transit promises: cash crunches.

Even when the Liberals found the funding for an ambitious Transit City network — promising LRT expansion tailored to Toronto’s population density — it soon bogged down: Then-premier Dalton McGuinty postponed $4 billion in cash flow when his 2010 budget deficit exploded amid an economic downturn.

Then-mayor Rob Ford, backed by his brother Doug on city council, turned the fully-funded Scarborough LRT upside down by burying it underground — delaying construction and raising Toronto taxes to pay the additional costs. Which takes some of the air out of our current premier’s airy rhetoric about it being time to “speed things up.”

Lest we forget, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (the trunk line of Transit City) is itself a model for this kind of co-operation, given that the TTC handles operations and the province holds ownership — precisely what is being proposed for the future. Either way, it’s all about the money, of which there’s never enough — not just for future capital spending but present-day operations and maintenance that is past-due.

There’s a reason Wynne’s last Liberal government went out on a limb (and jumped off it) by partially privatizing Hydro One, the much-reviled transmission utility that, in martyrdom, became a crown jewel. The Liberals didn’t do it out of ideology but necessity, convincing themselves that they needed the money for “asset-rotation” — selling off inanimate hydro lines to pay for badly-needed transit lines: copper wires for steel rails.

They sold off Hydro One because they also failed to sell the idea of road tolls to bankroll transit lines. The public wouldn’t buy it.

Where will Ford magically find the money to buy the subway from the city, while funding future maintenance that has piled up? He will surely borrow, but how shall he repay those loans while simultaneously vowing never to raise taxes (forgetting, for a moment, the Scarborough subway tax fobbed off on us by the Ford brothers)?

It’s the right question, but the premier has a dubious answer: The money will materialize out of thin air by selling off air rights to cash-rich property developers building new highrise towers.

Tories who style themselves prudent stewards of public finances have a mystical belief in the magic of no-money-down subway-building, bankrolled by future tax increments or perhaps present-day sell-offs. It’s a big, multi-billion-dollar gamble that not only risks massive shortfalls but massive delays in cobbling together the financing and breaking ground.

Conceptually, provincial ownership makes the most sense. In reality, the current provincial government rarely makes much sense

On balance, it is a balancing act. The best bet, for Torontonians and all Ontarians, is still for the province (no matter which party is in power) to proceed — with caution.

As for fears that a downtown relief line will be neglected by a government more focussed on the vote-rich suburbs, the opposite is surely true. We are long past the tipping point of subway congestion.

Any member of the PC cabinet who gets out of his or her chauffeured car to ride the rails knows that future subway expansion to the suburbs will be a dead end without a relief line in the big city to clear the way. Better that the provincial Tories learn this for themselves (or hear it from voters) — and be held accountable for it — than endlessly fobbing it off on Toronto city hall.

Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn

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Ontario, Toronto release framework for deal to upload city’s subway to Queen’s Park

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It sets the stage for the biggest subway transfer in the history of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Premier Doug Ford’s government on Tuesday released the terms of reference for the deal to “upload” the building and maintenance of new and existing TTC subway lines to the province from the City of Toronto.

Premier Doug Ford has released the terms of reference for the deal to upload the building and maintenance of new and existing TTC subway lines to the province from the City of Toronto.
Premier Doug Ford has released the terms of reference for the deal to upload the building and maintenance of new and existing TTC subway lines to the province from the City of Toronto.  (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

The plan, a cornerstone of the Progressive Conservatives’ election platform last June, would leave the TTC responsible for day-to-day operations of the subway while keeping fare box revenues.

Buses and streetcars would continue to be run by the city.

“With an upload, our government can cut through red tape to start new projects and finish construction faster,” Ford promised.

“Necessary maintenance and investment in the subway system has been put off for too long. We’ve also been waiting far too long for subway expansions. New subway construction has been stuck in red tape for years. It’s time to take action and speed things up,” the premier said.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said the “bold action” would speed up construction, making life easier for commuters from across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

“As a government, we are turning priorities into real projects and get the job done. We know that a lack of transit infrastructure and traffic congestion are costing money, jobs and time,” said Yurek as the framework was announced.

Read more:

Law to upload responsibility for Toronto subway to province coming in spring

“The signing of the terms of reference between the province of Ontario and the City of Toronto signals a shared interest to improve subway service, build more transit projects, to expand, and integrate the regional network and get people moving,” he said.

That means a push for more integrated fares and services between the TTC and regional transit systems, including GO.

“As we continue to work with the city and TTC, we will act in an open and transparent manner to get desperately needed transit built sooner and we will make every decision with … taxpayers and transit riders top of mind,” said Yurek.

As part of nine-page accord, Queen’s Park and the city will assess the value of the subway system, which carries 289 million people annually, and the price tag for deferred maintenance.

Sources told the Star that both sides are close to agreeing that the subway is worth between $8 billion and $9 billion, with about $5.6 billion required to maintain and upgrade existing equipment such as signals, tunnels, and track.

That suggests the city would have a one-time net gain on its bottom line of between $2.4 billion and $3.4 billion.

But according to a report published by the TTC last month, the subway network and stations will require roughly $22 billion in capital investment over the next 15 years, a figure that doesn’t include the cost of building the much-anticipated relief line or other expansion projects. More than $16 billion is unfunded.

The required work, which the TTC says is necessary to keep current levels of service and meet future demand, includes capacity improvements on Lines 1 and 2, installing the automatic train control signalling system, buying new trains, and expanding Bloor-Yonge station.

The terms of reference released Tuesday make clear that options on the table include ones that would fall short of a complete transfer of subway assets to the province. The city and province will also examine a model under which Ontario would only assume ownership and responsibilities of new transit expansion projects.

In December, Toronto council voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm its position that the subway should remain in the city’s hands. But at the same meeting of that largely symbolic decision, councillors also voted to enter talks with the province to set terms of reference for discussions about the upload.

Despite Mayor John Tory and the majority of councillors registering their disapproval of the upload proposal, many said they felt they had little choice but to sit down with the province, having received confidential legal advice that the city had no legislative authority to prevent Queen’s Park from taking over the rail network.

“Discussions between city staff and the province will continue now guided by the approved terms of reference and I expect a full report to council at the appropriate time,” Tory said Tuesday.

“I continue to firmly believe that any actions taken with regard to our subway system need to be in the best interests of the people of Toronto, including transit riders and employees, and that Toronto must be completely involved and fully consulted as Premier Ford previously indicated would be the case,” the mayor said.

“It is a good document that has been agreed upon by the two parties to now shape the discussion. The real decision time will come once those discussions have happened and whether or not they produce some kind of a deal or some kind of a change from the status quote that is good for employees, transit riders, taxpayers and anybody else who is a stakeholder from the city of Toronto,” he said.

“I can’t tell you if that’s going to be the case or not.”

At Queen’s Park, the opposition New Democrats said Toronto’s subways are “one step closer to being stolen by Doug Ford.”

“What Toronto’s subways need is the provincial investment they’re owed, not a complicated Doug Ford scheme to break subways apart from the TTC,” said MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale).

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was also not convinced.

“Centralizing power in the premier’s office is not a silver bullet for fixing transportation delays,” he said in a statement, calling for a downtown relief line as soon as possible.

“Given Ford’s well-documented distaste for above-ground public transit, I am skeptical about the ability of his government to make evidence-based decisions for the TTC,” Schreiner said.

“Putting the relief line on the back burner while Ford builds subways to the suburbs would be disastrous for the TTC and for anyone trying to travel in Toronto.”

The terms of reference released Tuesday lay out objectives that largely reflect council’s stated position from the December meeting that the framework for discussions should give consideration to guiding principles of good governance, fair allocation of financial obligations between the city and province, and an integrated transit system.

They also state the province and city will consult the public on the proposal, which council had also set out as a condition for talks in the December vote.

Under the framework, there would be more private-public partnerships to build infrastructure like the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, which is slated to open in 2021.

“The parties jointly recognize the need to pursue alternative approaches to the planning, funding, decision-making and delivery of transit in Toronto, and spanning the broader region,” stated the document signed by the province and the city on Monday.

This means the “accelerated implementation of priority transit projects,” better integration of TTC with Metrolinx and transit agencies in the 905, the “modernization and enhancement” of the existing subway system and a “long-term sustainable, predictable funding model” for transit.

However, there remains a lot of room for the deal to go off the rails.

Josh Matlow, the one member of council who voted against entering into talks with the province, said he took no comfort in the fact the terms state the two parties will consider options under which the city would retain ownership of existing subway assets while ceding new projects to the province.

“I think we’re being suckered,” said Matlow (Ward 12-St. Paul’s).

Citing past statements by the premier and the province’s recently announced strategy of using private development at station sites to fund transit, he charged the Ford government is dead set on taking over Toronto’s subway system wholesale and selling off land and air rights along the lines.

Matlow said councillors would be a “bunch of Pollyannas” to believe otherwise.

“Metaphorically, they’ve already announced that they want to take over your house and all the belongings in it. And to get you to the table to give them your keys and the number for your alarm they’ve said, oh yeah, we’ll also discuss some other options too. Maybe we’ll only take your furniture.”

Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10- Spadina-Fort York) slammed the upload talks as “a waste of time.”

Cressy said if Ontario was sincere about improving transit, it would increase its spending for the TTC instead of trying to take the subway system from the city.

“If the province truly wants to support the TTC and the movement of people and goods and services in this city, they should invest in it,” he said.

But proponents argue the province, which can borrow more money and run a deficit, will be better positioned to build and repair the subway network.

With files from David Rider

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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Experts call Scarborough subway funding proposal ‘far-fetched’

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The province’s new pitch to have developers pay for a large part of the Scarborough subway by offering them land is being described by four industry experts as unworkable and “far-fetched.”

The math suggests that in order for developers to cover the cost of building two additional stations for a three-stop subway rather than the planned one-stop extension, the province would need to allow those developers to build two of the largest private real-estate projects in Canada — eclipsing neighbourhoods largely made up of single-family homes.

The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a proposed station under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a proposed station under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

Those experts say there is simply no way that enough demand for that real estate would materialize in time to make those projects financially viable, leaving the province’s proposal dead on arrival.

What’s at stake is that Scarborough residents may be soon left without any rapid transit. The subway is meant to replace the aging Scarborough RT, widely considered to be at the end of its run.

Assessing the government’s plan, James McKellar, director of the Brookfield Centre for Real Estate and Infrastructure at Schulich School of Business, said “Someone must have bought some of that new green stuff … That won’t work.”

Details of how the province proposes that the development industry would recover the costs of building the transit infrastructure remains vague, but Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek earlier told the Globe and Mail it would involve offering developers land and air rights around and over the future subway stations. Yurek said this plan would “not be a cost to the taxpayer.”

Graham Haines, research manager at Ryerson University’s City Building Institute, looked at that plan by asking how much buildable square feet a developer would need to be offered, in order to offset the cost of building just one of the subway stops.

The city is currently moving forward with planning of a one-stop subway extension at the Scarborough Town Centre, which is estimated to cost at least $3.35 billion; a three-stop subway was last estimated to cost, as of July 2016, $4.6 billion. The additional stations would be at Lawrence Ave. and Sheppard Ave. along McCowan Rd. Building the northern Sheppard station would also involve connecting it to the line with an additional kilometre of tunnel.

It’s not clear how the additional $1 billion in costs breaks down between the two stations, so Haines started with the assumption of an even $500 million to build each station.

Market analysts Ben Myers, president of Bullpen Research & Consulting Inc., and Shaun Hildebrand, president of Urbanation, said the price of land per buildable square foot in Scarborough is between $30 to $50 per square foot.

The corner of Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

At that value, the scale of development required to offset the cost of building one station at $500 million would be in the magnitude of 10 million to 17 million square feet.

That amount of development is equivalent to between eight and 13 Aura towers — the 78-storey condo at Yonge and Gerrard Sts., which is for now the tallest residential building in Canada. Looking at it another way, the development required would be equal to 12 to 19 times the Honest Ed’s redevelopment site at Bloor and Bathurst Sts.

Based on typical condo development, that amount of development would be expected to produce some 11,000 to 19,000 condo units. By comparison, only 9,339 residential units were proposed in the fastest-growing part of Scarborough during the five years between 2013 and 2017, according to statistics from the city’s planning division.

Haines did calculations along the lines of Myers’ work, but assumed the land value around stations was much higher at $100 per buildable square foot. That scenario would allow the cost of building just one station to be offset by 5 million square feet of development, or the equivalent of four Aura towers.

That would produce some 5,500 units at just one site — by comparison, the entire CityPlace neighbourhood is expected to be about 7,500 units when completed downtown. Haines said even one of these projects in Scarborough would be one of the biggest development projects in Toronto.

McKellar said the province’s plan would require “the most exceptional demand for condos that ever existed in the City of Toronto” noting no transit station has ever drawn anywhere near that demand, including in the downtown core.

“Whether it’s five or 10 million (square feet), it doesn’t matter in that there isn’t the market for that kind of density,” McKellar said.

Myers noted that typically a developer is looking to make 15 to 20 per cent profit on their investment.

“It sounds really far-fetched,” Myers said of the province’s plan.

The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.
The corner of Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., site of a stations under the three-stop Scarborough subway plan.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

On Thursday, Mayor John Tory — who has long backed a subway plan, originally three stops and then the one-stop version pitched during his first term in office — said he was open to the province’s plan to pay for the additional stations with development assuming it was on “acceptable terms,” which he said “means any development that produced the money for that would have to be compatible with the city’s planning guidelines and with neighbourhoods that those transit stations are in.”

The province currently doesn’t own the land where the stations would go, meaning that property would have to be expropriated not only to build the station but also to accommodate the development at each site.

There is little room, for example, at Lawrence Ave. and McCowan Rd. where today there is the Scarborough Hospital campus, several apartment buildings and sprawling, leafy neighbourhoods.

A development of the scale calculated would also conflict with several planning principles in the largely lowrise area.

Hallbank Terrace, very near Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., where the province's proposal might place a new subway station, is filled with the sort of single-family homes and lowrise buildings that might soon exist adjacent huge real-estate developments.
Hallbank Terrace, very near Sheppard Ave. and McCowan Rd., where the province’s proposal might place a new subway station, is filled with the sort of single-family homes and lowrise buildings that might soon exist adjacent huge real-estate developments.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

In response to an email from the Star outlining these calculations, the concerns about feasibility and question about how their proposal would work, Yurek’s spokesperson Mike Winterburn reiterated past statements.

“Well-designed land value capture mechanisms, like the sale of air rights, provide ways for private sector builders to decrease the cost of building transit for taxpayers,” he said. “Our government is confident that private sector support will help secure funding that will allow for construction to begin sooner. We will be able to build better transit, faster for Ontarians.”

He said their government is currently working on options to “maximize the value achievable from transit-oriented development.”

The previous Liberal government earlier agreed to fully fund a seven-stop light rail line, completely separated from traffic, to replace the SRT. That project was cancelled under former mayor Rob Ford in favour of the more expensive subway, which is in part being funded through a special tax collected from all Toronto homeowners for the next 30 years.

The earliest a subway extension could be completed is mid-2026. If the LRT project had gone ahead as planned, it was expected to be in operation next year.

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Tory says subway relief line construction could be sped up by two years, open by 2029

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Mayor John Tory says city and TTC staff have found a way to speed up construction of the relief line subway by at least two years, meaning it would open by 2029.

But the expedited work would require adding an additional $162 million in this year’s TTC capital budget. According to transit agency staff, the total cost to speed up the work would be $325 million spread out over two years.

Mayor John Tory says city and TTC staff have found a way to speed up construction of the relief line subway by at least two years, meaning it would open by 2029.
Mayor John Tory says city and TTC staff have found a way to speed up construction of the relief line subway by at least two years, meaning it would open by 2029.  (David Rider / Toronto Star file photo)

“I know while the date that we’re talking about here in the late 2020s still sounds far away, the bottom line is that the faster you get on with these projects and everything you can do to speed them up, the sooner people are going to be able to ride on that transit, the sooner we’re going to have real relief that people have talked about for decades,” said Tory at an announcement Thursday at Pape subway station.

The relief line would connect the eastern end of Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) at Pape to Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) at Queen St. downtown, and is considered critical to relieving crowding pressure on the existing network. Early estimates indicate it would cost at least $6.8 billion. It is currently not funded.

Read more:

Editorial | Relief line must be the top priority for Toronto’s subway system

Opening relief line before Yonge subway extension ‘makes sense,’ Ontario transportation minister says

TTC Chair Jaye Robinson, who joined Tory at the event, said the completion of the subway could be sped up by accelerating design work, property acquisition, and utility relocation, and advancing the purchase of the machines and technology required to construct the line. TTC staff said construction could begin as early as 2020.

The mayor’s announcement came as the provincial Conservative government is moving ahead with plans to take over all future TTC subway construction, a development that could take the relief line out of the city and transit agency’s hands.

Tory, who backed a council decision to enter into talks with the province about the subway takeover, said it was “grossly premature” to assume any outcome of those talks and in the meantime the city has a responsibility to move ahead with building transit.

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

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Province’s push for private funding, additional stops puts Scarborough subway at risk of delays

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The Ontario government intends to rely on the private sector to help fill a more than $1-billion funding gap in its plan to build a three-stop Scarborough subway — a move that marks another twist for a controversial transit project and raises the possibility of construction delays that could leave Scarborough residents stuck taking the bus.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek revealed last week the province intends to enlist the private sector to help offset the cost of the more expensive three-stop plan, by striking deals that would offer developers public land or air rights above station sites in exchange for helping fund the transit infrastructure.

The TTC is trying to prolong the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, which was first build in 1985.
The TTC is trying to prolong the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, which was first build in 1985.  (Rene Johnston Toronto Star / Toronto Star)

The plan currently on the city’s books is to extend Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) to the Scarborough City Centre, which would cost an estimated $3.35 billion. Pending final approval, it’s projected to start construction next year with a completion date of 2026.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, who took power in June and have promised to table legislation to take ownership of the subway system from the city, wants to scrap the one-stop plan and build a three-stop version that would extend past the Scarborough Town Centre to Sheppard Ave. East, and have a stop at Lawrence Ave.

An earlier estimate for the city of a three-stop extension that was based on very little design work pegged the cost at $4.6 billion. That estimate was contingent on construction approval being given by council in 2016.

“The developer would pick up the cost of those stations … and it will not be a cost to the taxpayer,” Yurek told the Globe and Mail.

The market-driven approach to building Toronto transit projects has been floated before with little success. But in an email Monday, the minister’s spokesperson said under their government it will work.

“Unlike the last government … we have created an environment where private business can confidently invest in infrastructure projects,” said Mike Winterburn, Yurek’s director of communications.

As an example, he cited a potential agreement Metrolinx announced last fall that would see a developer partner with the transit agency to overhaul the Mimico GO Transit station.

“In future, more agreements will be reached to improve our transportation infrastructure while protecting taxpayers,” Winterburn said.

In November, Metrolinx, which is the most likely agency to take oversee the TTC subway if it’s uploaded to the province, announced it intends to use the market-driven strategy to fund future transit projects.

At the time it conceded that strategy would expose projects to risks associated with the fluctuating real estate market, which could delay transit construction. The agency said the approach could also speed up projects in some cases.

Any delay to opening the Scarborough subway extension could have major implications for transit riders who currently rely on the Scarborough RT, which was built in 1985 and is reaching the end of its service life.

The TTC is currently working to extend the life of critical components of the SRT train cars by at least another 10 years to keep the line running. Details of that plan remain secret despite formal requests from the Star. What information has been released suggest it’s possible to extend the operations of the SRT into 2026 — when the one-stop subway was earlier scheduled to be complete — but any safe operation beyond that date is in question.

If the SRT is shut down before a replacement is built, it could result in all commuters east of Victoria Park Ave. being stuck on the bus for an unknown period of time.

Councillor Josh Matlow, who has chiefly advocated for a network of LRTs in Scarborough, said pushing for a more-expensive subway will only cause more setbacks to delivering transit.

“(Premier) Doug Ford has always been more interested in merely promising subway stations than actually building rapid transit. The absurd suggestion that the private sector is going to cover a billion-dollar shortfall will only further delay delivering results,” Matlow said.

“We need to move forward now with an already approved and funded LRT network for Scarborough to ensure residents aren’t left on the bus.”

Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek signalled his Progressive Conservative government wants to enlist private funds to pay for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.
Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek signalled his Progressive Conservative government wants to enlist private funds to pay for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star File)

The proposed intervention from Yurek, who has cited council delays to transit projects as a main reason the province should take ownership of the subway system, comes as councillors were months away from a crucial vote on whether to proceed with the one-stop subway extension.

In April, the TTC plans to release a report, which had previously been expected this month, on the project reaching the 30 per cent design mark, including an updated cost estimate and construction schedule. Councillors would vote as early as April on whether to send the subway project to procurement.

By contrast, the three-stop plan the city had earlier considered was at less than 5 per cent design when it was abandoned in favour of the one-stop plan.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said he couldn’t speculate on how much of the design work the agency has done on the one-stop extension could be repurposed for a three-stop version.

Also, a 2016 business case prepared by city and TTC staff said stations on the three-stop version “were found to be much more complex” than “typical” stations. Due to difficult topography, the station at Lawrence East would have to be built at almost twice the depth as regular stations.

The stations would also require larger than normal bus terminals to accommodate the high number of Scarborough routes being diverted to feed the subway extension.

Winterburn said the government is “confident that private sector support will secure funding and help ensure that construction begins sooner.”

But he said in cases where partnering with private developers is “not applicable,” the province “can still explore traditional funding models for construction.”

Councillor Michael Thompson, whose Scarborough Centre ward would include part of the proposed subway extension, said he welcomed Yurek’s proposal to add stations by striking deals with developers. He said he has heard from residents in the run-up to October’s municipal election that they don’t want to stick with the one-stop plan.

“I would say a good 90 per cent of people I spoke to felt there was a need for additional stations to be included in the Bloor-Danforth expansion into Scarborough,” he said.

“Recognizing that the funding is always a challenge, if the province and the minister has additional ideas and so on, I think that’s something we should applaud.”

A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory — who has pushed a three-stop and then the one-stop subway plan — did not respond to specific questions from the Star about the province’s new plan.

“Mayor Tory is committed to building transit — that’s what he was elected and re-elected to do by Toronto voters,” a statement read.

This is not the first time the Fords have pitched to pay for a controversial, costly subway project by calling for private sector investment.

In 2012, city staff and an expert panel panned a plan by then mayor Rob Ford to have developers finance an extension of the Sheppard subway — a plan for which no private investors actually signed up.

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

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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New TTC chair Jaye Robinson says Toronto needs a permanent ‘seat at the table’ if province takes over the subway

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The new chair of the TTC says she’s “gravely concerned” with the province’s plans to take ownership of the subway network, arguing it’s critical the city retain control over its transit destiny.

In an interview Friday, Jaye Robinson, who was appointed by council on Dec. 13 to lead the transit agency’s board, spoke about the course she plans to chart for the TTC over the coming four-year term, including her desire to increase service and seek out another potential manufacturer for new streetcars.

The biggest looming challenge, she said, is the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s push to upload the subway system to the province.

Robinson said that while there remains a lot of uncertainty about the proposal, what she’s heard so far is troubling.

She noted the TTC’s subway, bus and streetcar lines are heavily integrated. “So to pluck one piece of the system out, I don’t think is going to serve anyone well,” she said.

Earlier this month, council voted to enter into talks with the province about the upload proposal, after receiving legal advice that the city has no legislative power to block the province’s plan.

Robinson said should an upload take place, the city needs to continue to have a say in subway planning in order to ensure the Relief Line is built before any other new projects. Critics of the upload plan worry that Queen’s Park would prioritize projects like a Line 1 extension to Richmond Hill instead.

“We need a seat at the table, not just now but forever,” Robinson said.

“The number one concern for me is influencing the future of transit in Toronto.”

Robinson’s Ward 15, Don Valley West is bounded on the west by the Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina) subway, and she said she’s heard clearly from constituents it’s already overcrowded.

Taking pressure off Line 1 by building the Relief Line, which would cost at least $6.8 billion, “has to be prioritized, or it’s going to cripple the city,” Robinson said.

A three-term councillor, Robinson said she rides the subway to work every day and is proud she doesn’t know the location of her allotted parking space at city hall.

Robinson’s political views lean centre-right, and she was a steady ally of Mayor John Tory last term, serving as a member of his hand-picked executive committee.

Tory recommended Robinson for the TTC role, which is something of a promotion for the councillor. She also had a high-profile job last term when she served as chair of the public works committee.

The councillor sided with the mayor on significant transit-related decisions at council meetings over the past four years, including voting to support the King St. pilot project, as well as to advance Tory’s SmartTrack plan and the contentious Scarborough subway extension.

In February, she voted with the majority of councillors to increase the TTC budget by $2 million to alleviate subway overcrowding.

The year before she sided with the mayor to help vote down a motion to spend $1.2 million to improve subway power and signal reliability.

She said Friday she couldn’t specifically remember what her reasoning was for opposing the spending, but asserted she’s committed to improving the subway signalling system.

Headed into the 2019 budget process, city staff, with the mayor’s blessing, have asked all agencies and departments to prepare spending plans that keep expenditures at 2018 levels. Council will finalize the budget in March.

Robinson said she wants to expand TTC service, but conceded “that would be tough to do” unless the transit agency gets more money.

The TTC already receives a lower per rider subsidy than other comparable transit agencies. This year the city provided an operating subsidy of about $578.8 million, while fare revenue made up the remainder of the TTC’s $1.8-billion operating budget.

“They are strapped for cash, there’s no question there,” Robinson said.

The cost of riding transit rose every year between 2011 and 2017, before the board implemented a freeze in 2018. The new chair said she hopes to avoid fare increases in 2019.

“I would hate to see the cost on transit riders go up, because they’re doing the city a favour by riding the system, quite frankly. It takes pressure off the roadways,” she said.

The TTC board will likely have to decide as early as next year on the thorny question of whether to pick up an option in the agency’s contract with Bombardier to buy additional streetcars from the company.

TTC staff say that in order to meet growing demand the agency could need another 60 vehicles on top of the 204 it’s already ordered, and despite the Quebec-based manufacturer’s well-publicized struggles to produce the first batch of cars on time, finding another supplier could take years longer and carry additional risks.

Although Bombardier has improved its rate of production recently, Robinson said she’s open to looking for another manufacturer.

“I think certainly we should look at alternatives and options down the road because it’s been far from ideal,” she said of the $1-billion Bombardier deal.

On the frequently glitchy Presto fare card program, Robinson vowed to “push harder” on Metrolinx, the provincial agency that owns Presto, to improve reliability.

The TTC board’s first meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.

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

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Canadian sentenced to 40 years for ISIS plot to attack Times Square, subway

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A Canadian who confessed to plotting terrorist attacks in New York City for the so-called Islamic State was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years’ imprisonment.

U.S. prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, who pleaded guilty to working with ISIS to attack Times Square and the New York subway system.

The defence, meanwhile, had asked for leniency, depicting the 20-year-old as an isolated, mentally ill addict who, with treatment, could “grow old in peace in Canada.”


READ MORE:
He plotted to bomb Times Square for ISIS. Records show he’s mentally ill. Is he a terrorist?

 

 

The case combined many of the themes of contemporary terrorism: through social media, an ISIS member in Syria worked with a mentally unstable recruit to plot mass killings in the West.

The plot spanned four countries but the FBI successfully infiltrated it and arrested El Banhasawy in New Jersey in May 2016 following an undercover operation.

While he pleaded guilty to seven counts of terrorism, his family and lawyers said he had been in an out of treatment centres and blamed the undercover agent for contributing to his radicalization.

WATCH: Parents of Canadian caught in ISIS terror probe describe son’s history of mental illness and drug addiction






El Bahnasawy was born in Kuwait and moved to Ontario with his parents as a child. Beginning at age 14, his parents sent him to drug treatment centres in Kuwait, Toronto and Egypt.

Following his release from an Egyptian treatment program in 2015, he returned to Canada and became fixated with online Islamist extremism.

From his bedroom in his parents’ suburban Toronto home, he began corresponding with Abu Saad al-Sudani, a “high-level ISIS recruiter and attack planner” in Syria, according to prosecutors.


READ MORE:
Intelligence watchdog calls for more CSIS resources to tackle mental health links to terrorism

“He was exceptionally vulnerable to ISIS messaging,” his lawyers argued. “Isolated, he found a friend in the undercover agent, who praised his worst ideas and was instrumental in bringing them closer to reality.”

Prosecutors said the portrayal of Banhasawy as a vulnerable, weak victim “could not be further from the truth” and called him “dangerous and calculating,” with a “steadfast desire to kill.”

His alleged co-conspirators, Talha Haroon and Russell Salic, were arrested in Pakistan and the Philippines, while Sudani was killed in an airstrike.

Stewart.Bell@GlobalNews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Two stations on new York subway extension among the least used on the TTC network

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One year after the six-stop Spadina subway extension opened, some of its stations are bustling, but two are among the least used on the entire TTC network.

The $3.2-billion extension of the TTC’s Line 1 went into service on Dec. 17, 2017. The extension, which has two stops in Vaughan in York Region, took the subway outside Toronto’s borders for the first time.

The Highway 407 station on the TTC’s Line 1 is one of the least-used subway stations on the network. The average daily usage of the TTC’s 75 stations is just over 34,000.
The Highway 407 station on the TTC’s Line 1 is one of the least-used subway stations on the network. The average daily usage of the TTC’s 75 stations is just over 34,000.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

Numbers collected by the TTC between October and November show the best performing station on the extension is York University, which has about 34,100 combined boardings and disembarkings every day.

That’s followed by Finch West, with 17,700, and Pioneer Village, which also serves the York campus, with 17,300. Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station at the end of the line has a daily usage of 14,800.

But two of the extension’s new stops have performed much worse. Highway 407 station is used by just 3,400 people a day, and Downsview Park by just 2,500.

Highway 407 and Downsview Park are both near the very bottom of the list, and are less-well used than most stops on the lower-capacity Scarborough RT.

TTC spokesperson Susan Sperling said that the agency is “pleased” with extension’s numbers however, because they already represent 94 per cent of the stations’ projected “mature state” ridership.

“Based on past experience with Line 4 (Sheppard), we expected that we would achieve 75 per cent of our projection in the first year, with projections fully realized approximately two to three years after opening,” she said.

Transit blogger Steve Munro said it’s no surprise York University is a major transit destination and the two stations that serve the campus are well trafficked. There are fewer obvious trip generators around the less busy stops, however.

Highway 407 station, which sits in a field to the southeast of an intersection between two provincial highways, “is only ever going to be an interchange station for bus service,” Munro predicted.

The stop is currently served by connections to GO Transit and York Region Transit bus routes. But in a decision that has angered students, next month GO will stop running buses directly to York campus, and will reroute them to Highway 407 station instead. That’s expected to boost the use of the TTC stop.

The immediate area around Downsview Park station is a federally owned urban park and is relatively underdeveloped, although there have long been plans to bring more employment and residential uses to the area.

Toronto’s secondary plan for Downsview suggests that there could eventually be 42,000 more residents and jobs near the stop, but they’ve yet to materialize.

According to Munro, it might have been wise to omit Downsview Park station from the extension, at least initially. The TTC could have left space for the stop and built it later once sufficient development occurred around the site.

The transit agency took that approach with North York Centre station, an “infill” stop that was completed in 1987, 13 years after the Yonge subway extension was built.

“The advantage basically being, you don’t have to actually build the station until there’s something there to serve,” Munro said.

Although Downsview Park and Highway 407 stations see few riders, those who do use the stops are grateful they were built.

Toronto’s subway system just grew. Check out this timeline of the TTC’s growth since 1954.

Standing on the near empty southbound platform at Highway 407 Friday afternoon, Sherry Marksman, 45, said the extension has dramatically reduced the time it takes her to commute between her packing job at a warehouse north of Highway 401 and her home in the St. Clair neighbourhood of Toronto.

Before it opened?

“Oh my goodness, chaos,” she said. She used to have to transfer between a bus and the subway at Sheppard West station, a trip that took 90 minutes. Now it takes about 25.

“Right now it’s 3:36 p.m. I guarantee you I’ll be home by about five to four, I’ll be in my house,” she said.

Downsview Park station and Highway 407 station are underused stations even on a Saturday afternoon, not long before Christmas.
Downsview Park station and Highway 407 station are underused stations even on a Saturday afternoon, not long before Christmas.  (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

The six cavernous stops each cost between $125 million and $404 million to build (subway tunnels are included in some of the costs). They’ve been praised for their architectural ambition, but also criticized for supposedly being overbuilt.

At a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade last month, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek depicted the stations as an example of government waste, saying they looked like they had been built to resemble “Taj Mahals, as opposed to being functional as they were required.”

“To me, to our government, that’s a serious problem,” said Yurek, the Ontario PC MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London. The extension was opened under the previous Liberal government.

The entire extension went well over budget. It was initially supposed to end near York University and cost only $1.5 billion, but delays and the decision to extend it to Vaughan centre dramatically increased the cost. The project was paid for by the City of Toronto, York Region, and the provincial and federal governments.

When the extension opened the TTC estimated it would cost the agency $25 million a year to operate. The TTC predicted the new stops would attract 1.2 million net new customers to the network each year, a fraction of the more than 530 million who used the transit agency in 2017.

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

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Council agrees to talks with province about TTC subway upload

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Councillors have voted to enter into discussions with Premier Doug Ford’s government about the province’s plan to take ownership of the TTC subway system, even though they registered their opposition to the plan.

At a meeting Thursday, council voted 24 to 1 to approve recommendations in a report from City Manager Chris Murray to start talks with the province on a potential “upload” of the subway to Queen’s Park.

But they also voted 23 to 2 to in favour of an amendment from Mayor John Tory to “reaffirm (council’s) support for keeping ownership of the Toronto Transit Commission in the City of Toronto.”

Council passed a similar motion in May, after the Ontario PCs floated the upload in their election platform.

In a speech to council, Tory expressed skepticism about the upload, saying the Ontario PCs have never fleshed out the plan in detail and suggesting the proposal was “a solution in search of a problem.”

The PCs say the city has a poor track record of building new lines, and the province is better positioned financially to create an efficient regional transit network.

But city staff were unable to answer questions raised by councillors Thursday about what the plan would mean for TTC service or the city’s ability to co-ordinate transit with land use planning.

I think, in the end, the best way to protect the transit system … is to go to the table and get answers to the questions,” said Tory.

Staunch opponents of the upload agreed it was best to talk with Queen’s Park, given the legislative authority the province has over the city.

“As the largest city in this country, as the economic engine of this province and country, our ability to own and operate the transit system is central to our success,” said Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York). He said he saw “zero benefit” to Ford’s government taking over the subway.

“I believe we should use absolutely every tool that we have, every tool at our disposal, to fight this. And that includes, based on our legislative framework, being at the table.”

The recommendations approved by council authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement with the province under which the city would share information about the subway system that could help facilitate the upload.

Staff are expected to report back to council early next year with an update.

In a letter to Tory last month, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said he wanted the city’s written commitment by no later than Thursday that it would participate in the information-sharing agreement.

The minister said the goal of the exercise is to assess the value of the subway assets, the maintenance backlog, and the operating costs of the network.

A confidential legal opinion attached to the city report warned council effectively has no legal power to prevent the upload.

The legal opinion, which was obtained by the Star, said Queen’s Park could unilaterally take ownership of the network without compensating the city financially, and even leave the municipality on the hook for the billions of dollars of debt it has accrued funding the system.

Although the city manager’s recommendations passed with almost unanimous support, some councillors vowed fierce pushback if the province actually takes concrete steps to upload the subway. Yurek has said the Ontario PC’s could introduce enabling legislation early next year.

Councillor Krystin Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) called the subway the “heart and the spine” of Toronto and argued it has to remain integrated with the bus and streetcar network in order to provide quality service. She urged council to block Ford’s plans.

“I think we’re about to get into the biggest fight in this term if (Ford) is successful in taking this away from us” she said.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Yurek said he was pleased with council’s decision.

“Our government was elected to get the people of Ontario moving and we are working towards that goal,” he said. Yurek claimed that the city “is not good at planning or building subways.”

He promised to carry out talks with the city “in good faith.”

In another significant transit decision Thursday, council voted 19 to 3 to extend the King St. streetcar pilot project until July 31, 2019. City transportation staff said they needed more time to collect and report on data from the pilot, which was set to expire on December 31. Their final report is expected by March, after which council will decide whether to make the project permanent.

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

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Toronto police evacuate King subway station after bomb threat

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Toronto police responded to a bomb threat near King Subway Station on Thursday. The threat was one of a number of bomb threats made in cities across North America.

King station was evacuated, according to police. Subway service was initially suspended between the Bloor-Yonge and Union stations, but has since resumed. Initially, the 504 King streetcar and bus route 97 diverted around the area, but they resumed normal service later.

In Calgary, police reported responding to multiple bomb threats, and said similar threats are being received across North America.
In Calgary, police reported responding to multiple bomb threats, and said similar threats are being received across North America.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star file photo)

Investigators are asking anyone with information to contact police.

In Calgary, police reported responding to multiple bomb threats, and said similar threats are being received across North America.

Police in New York said the threats they received were “sent electronically” to places across the city, and they linked these messages to the others reported across the country.

“We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau said in a message posted on Twitter. “These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide (and) are NOT considered credible at this time.”

As word of the threatening messages spread Thursday, the FBI said in a statement that it was “aware of the recent bomb threats made in cities around the country, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.”

Other law enforcement agencies and academic institutions echoed the message from the New York police. A spokesperson for the Chicago police said that city had received threats similar to the others, but he noted that there was “no elevated threat level” there.

In Washington, D.C., police said they received 11 emailed bomb threats between about 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. that law enforcement authorities attributed to the same situation echoing across the nation.

The San Francisco police said they responded to threats received at about 10 a.m. local time across the city, noting that there were “similar threats” in “several other cities across the United States.”

The police in Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second-largest city, said businesses there received “what appears to be a robo-email saying there is a bomb threat to their business unless they pay money in Bitcoins.” But, the department added, it “found no credible evidence any of these emails are authentic.”

News outlets also reported that they had to evacuate their buildings due to the threats. The Park Record building in Utah was evacuated after staffers received the message, the outlet reported, while the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C., also reported that it was forced to evacuate its building.

Academic institutions were not immune. A spokeswoman for Pennsylvania State University said the campus police, along with the FBI, were “investigating a message received by individuals in multiple locations on campus and across the state.” She said the message on campus was sent via email to eight buildings or facilities there.

“At this time, police say the threat appears to be part of a national hoax, however, an investigation is ongoing,” the spokeswoman said.

The University of Washington said it was “investigating threatening emails sent to individuals on campus” and swept buildings before the campus police “determined there is no safety concern.” The school said the FBI had “advised that the email is not a credible threat.”

—with files from The Washington Post

Stefanie Marotta is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @StefanieMarotta

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