Transcript: Toronto's top transit priority | May 03, 2018


>> I'm John Michael McGrath and
this is the
Agenda on Politics.

If there's one thing
Torontonians seem to complain
about the most, it's the TTC.
There are the political battles,
like whether or not to build a
subway over an LRT in
Scarborough, and then there are
the everyday frustrations we
all deal with, from service
disruptions to the crush of
people at Bloor-Yonge station
during rush hour.
If you've been there, you'll
know the feeling of seeing
hundreds of people lined up
along the subway platform,
perilously close to the edge.

>> ANDY: You'll never get
politics completely out of
transit planning, but I think
more weight has to be given to
processes that are in place.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: That's Andy
Manahan, Executive Director of
the Residential and Civil
Construction Alliance of
Ontario, or RCCAO for short.
Their newest campaign asks "will
someone be hurt or killed before
Toronto builds the relief line?"
Andy's going to tell us in a
moment why that's not alarmist.
I've known Andy for a few years.
He's advised governments, and is
a frequent public speaker and
writer on transit and
infrastructure issues.
We dive into the relief line,
high speed rail, and transit
politics in general.
And for those of you asking why
we're so Toronto-centric today,
we also get into the reasons
transit priorities in Ontario's
capital city are so urgent for
the rest of the province.

Andy Manahan, welcome to the
podcast.

>> ANDY: Great to be here, thank
you.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Let's start off
with the basics, give me the
RCCAO's pitch for why the
downtown relief line should be
the number one priority in this
election.

>> ANDY: Okay, sure.
Well, the relief line has been
on the drawing board for over a
century in various forms, and
it's one of those projects that
due to, perhaps, you know,
recessions in the 1930s and, you
know, economic slowdowns in the
1990s for example, it has tended
to slip down the ladder.
I think with the growth we're
seeing in the downtown core, not
only office buildings, but a lot
of people living downtown,
and certainly high-rise
developments, the need is even
more urgent right now for a
relief line to take pressure
off, actually, the entire
network of the TTC.
What we saw in late January was
a situation, due to a number of
circumstances, where safety was
a major concern.
If someone had been pushed over
the edge, for example, there
could have been a serious injury
or a fatality.
Um, so this isn't the only
reason for the relief line, but
I think it brought into crystal
focus that there is an urgent
need to try to expedite
construction of the relief line.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: We're currently
discussing two phases, there's
the relief line south, which
would go from roughly the centre
of the city at around Queen and
Yonge, Queen and Bay, uh, would
travel east, and then go north
to Pape station.
And then there is the northern
segment from there, which would
go from Pape station, at least
to Eglinton, and perhaps--

>> ANDY: Eglinton and perhaps
beyond to Sheppard.
> JOHN MICHAEL: Yeah,
traditional thinking has been to
really focus on that southern
segment, because that's where
you get, sort of, the most
passengers for the least money.
But I think some of the recent
work at Metrolinx has suggested
that they would really like to
prioritize going even further
north.
Do you have any thoughts on
that?

>> ANDY: That is a relief to see
that, if I can use that pun.
Because really, in the past, the
small U, eastern U has been
talked about, and we need the
bigger extended arm U, really
going up to Sheppard,
eventually, but going to
Eglinton would, again, take
pressure off the Eglinton
crosstown line, and also have
the network benefits for the
Yonge line, as well as,
obviously, the Bloor-Danforth
line.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: And in the
politics of this city, it
may be easier to build a ten
billion dollar subway line that
goes to Sheppard than a five
billion dollar subway line that
just goes to Danforth.

>> ANDY: I hope so!

>> JOHN MICHAEL: In my question,
I called it the "downtown relief
line," you are, I think,
deliberately referring to it as
the "relief line," dropping the
"downtown."
Is that deliberate?

>> ANDY: Uh, it is deliberate.
People like Ed Levy a number of
years ago were using the phrase
"regional relief line," because
that, um, connotated that this
was something that would benefit
the whole network.
I think there is a perception,
and it's probably one of the
reasons why the relief line has
slipped down the priority
ladder, so to speak, is because
when you use the phrase
"downtown relief line," there is
a perception that it's only
going to benefit riders that
live somewhat in the core, and
really, um, even if you live in
the downtown and you never took
the relief line, it would
benefit suburban transit riders
more so than those living
downtown, and I think that's one
of those misperceptions that
we're trying to clarify.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: So you
mentioned Ed Levy there, let me
back you up a little bit.
Tell me about Ed Levy and what
he has written.

>> ANDY: Ed Levy wrote a book a
few years ago, I think it came
out in 2015.
It was originally sponsored by
the Neptis Foundation, entitled
Rapid Transit In Toronto:
A Century Of Plans, Projects,
Politics, and Paralysis,
and it
basically started around 1910
and ended in 2010, the year that
Rob Ford became mayor of
Toronto, and of course, that was
a whole other chapter that he
didn't want to get into, kind of
mid-stream.
But this particular book has a
section on the so-called
"regional relief line," and it
talks about plans that were put
forward back around 1909, 1910.
One of the reasons for
"streetcar subways," as they
were then known, was because the
transit system in Toronto was
owned privately, and those
owners had rights to all surface
routes, the streetcars that we
had, so eventually, the system
that we saw starting in the
early 1950s, with the Yonge
line, basically from Union
station up to Eglinton, where we
are right now, uh, was done as a
subway because that would get
away from that kind of private
sector hold that the-- that was
held.
The book does talk about some
original designs, it was
referred to then as the Queen
Street subway-- it was, again, a
streetcar subway, which would
have run under Queen Street.
There are different plans that
have come forward over the
decades, but it was basically
going to be another U, similar
to the Yonge-University line,
but a larger U, and there was
various alignments that have
been proposed over that period
of time.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: The headline on
your website for this campaign,
uh, trying to make this a
provincial priority in this
election says "Will there be a
serious injury or fatality
before transit riders get some
relief?"
Are you being alarmist?

>> ANDY: I provided a-- uh, an
advance of the first ad that we
put in the paper in February, to
mayor John Tory's office, and
they assured me that this was a
project that was on the radar
for the city of Toronto and TTC,
and particularly, of course,
Metrolinx, in the province.
Um, I provided a second add that
appeared in the
Star Metro
several weeks ago, just to give
the mayor's office a heads up,
and I won't say who in the
mayor's office said this, but
they advised me that this was
somewhat inflammatory.
Whether it's alarmist or not, I
think is besides the point, it
is an issue that John Lorinc
from
Spacing
magazine had raised
basically the day after that
particular incident where people
were toes over the edge and
couldn't move on the elevators,
and it was a near-crisis
situation, so I don't think we
were being alarmist.
The
Toronto Star,
their legal
staff did take a second look at
it just to make sure--
(Both laughing)
--that we weren't being too over
the top, but in the end, we got
the go-ahead with that
particular heading that we used,
and the hashtag that we have is
#GimmeRelief, which, if you're a
music fan, is kinda like "Gimme
Shelter," Rolling Stones, so we
tried to be catchy on it.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Are there other
solutions in the works, or that
we should be doing before the
relief line comes online?

>> ANDY: According to the
transit gurus such as Ed Levy,
Dick Silverman, Dave Crowley,
the folks that I am relying on,
because I am not what you would
call a "transit expert," we're a
construction association, we
like to build things, and
whatever the politicians decide,
eventually we'll end up
building, or our members will
end up building, but all of
these folks have indicated to me
very strongly that this is the
number one priority for a
variety of reasons.
Safety is obviously one.
Redundancy is an often-
overlooked issue that's
extremely important.
If we're bottlenecked like we
were in late January with
respect with the Bloor-Yonge
station, or other stations,
basically we are not moving.
And our economy and people come
to a standstill, so we have both
overcrowding on the Yonge subway
line, as well as the
Bloor-Danforth line, and we've
all heard stories where people
who may be getting on at Yonge
and Eglinton can't get on until
the fourth train goes by.
And some people, in fact, will
go northbound and get on at
Sheppard, for example, and come
south, just because it is so
overcrowded.
So that kind of overcrowding is
untenable.
I do know that some documents
that Viva has put forward with
respect to the extension of the
Yonge subway north have said
that by 2031, the Yonge line
will be overcrowded.
In fact, it's overcrowded right
now, and other options that have
been looked at, and certainly,
that are part of our transit
video series that we put out
four years ago, have talked
about solutions such as
providing relief through GO
lines.
So, for example, York Region
residents can get downtown from
the Stouffville line to Union
station, so that's one option.
Other people have talked about
creating an express subway along
the Yonge street route.
According to Ed Levy and others,
there is some engineering and
operational constraints.
The Bloor-Yonge station, for
example, is nearly impossible to
expand any further, so that's a
real bottleneck right there in
terms of what can be done.
Um, and the redundancy aspect,
as I was alluding to earlier, so
if line one shuts down, you can
still move people around and get
downtown.
So what we're seeing right now
is the Eglinton crosstown LRT,
light rail transit, is being
constructed right now.
Whether that opens 2021 or 2022,
I guess, is debatable right now,
but that will load more people
onto the Yonge line.
So we already have an
overcrowded system, it's gonna
get more overcrowded by the
early 2020s, and with the growth
of the downtown and elsewhere in
the city, uh, it's only going to
get worse, so this is why this
particular project is a critical
one right now.


>> JOHN MICHAEL: Hi, everybody.
We're just breaking into our
conversation with Andy Manahan,
to speak with Liane Kotler, one
of the producers on
The Agenda
with Steve Paikin.
Liane, welcome.

>> LIANE: Hi there.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Who do you have
on the show tonight?

>> LIANE: We have Don Drummond
on.
For those of you who don't know
who he is, he is the rock star
of the economics world.
Dalton McGuinty commissioned him
to write a report that is called
the Drummond Report about how we
can make Ontario economically
viable and sustainable in the
public sector.
And that was in-- way back in
2012, so six years later, what
happened to the report?
So we ask the author himself,
how much did the Liberal
government follow his
recommendations, how much did
they not, and the questions we
put towards him are "are we on
track to be economically
sustainable," given that the
budget has what many people are
calling "so many freebies."
So really, what is the economic
temperature of Ontario?
Is it as healthy as Kathleen
Wynne might suggest?
Is it a disaster, as Doug Ford
might suggest?
So heading into the election, we
give people the lay of the land
so they can make an informed
decision, come June.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Well, I think
our listeners would like to see
that, and it will be online
later tonight, and they will be
able to watch, of course, at 8
o'clock, on
The Agenda.
Liane, thanks so much for your
time.

>> LIANE: No problem.


>> JOHN MICHAEL: I just want to
focus on one thing you said
there, the crosstown-- you know,
the government announced funding
for that in 2010, if I remember
correctly.
Um, it will not open until 2021,
2022.
The crosstown, I think,
arguably, is a less complex
transit project than the relief
line is going to be.
The relief line is going to be
tunnelling through some of the
oldest and densest part of the
city, if it-- if we build it.
There's no way that even if we
had money on the table today,
it's 2018, there's no way a
relief line would open before
2028, realistically.

>> ANDY: Correct.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Um...
(Laughing)

>> ANDY: So, what do we do?

>> JOHN MICHAEL: And like, no
party has-- sorry, I should say,
the New Democrats have put the
relief line in their platform.
I suspect it's going to feature
in the Liberal platform, but it
wasn't in their most recent
budget.
Are we looking at a crisis in
the 2020s, one way or another,
even if we could build the
relief line today?

>> ANDY: There are certain short
term improvements that can be
made, certain station platforms
can be widened... so there are,
you know, ways to alleviate some
of the pressure, but it's only
going to get worse.
Whether you want to call it a
crisis or, you know, words that
may be conceived as-- perceived
as inflammatory, you know,
that's possible.
Some of the public meetings that
have been taking place already
with respect to the relief lines
south have talked about having
to go very deep into bedrock for
this particular subway project,
so you would avoid the
utilities.
That's a benefit, because most
of the projects, like the
Sheppard subway, were basically
cut and cover.
It was light sand.
So it will be a different kind
of tunnel boring than was done
in the past.
I am encouraged by folks like
Elon Musk, that are looking at
new technologies for tunnel
boring, that may speed the
process up, and one of the
things that our organization was
doing last year as the Labour
Management Alliance, was asking
universities whether they could
investigate for us what other
jurisdictions were doing with
respect to new technologies,
to try to accelerate and speed
up the process.
Um, we spoke to U of T and
Ryerson, McMaster, and some
others.
Uh, we wanted to create a
competition of it, but it ended
up being a little bit too
bureaucratic.
Initially we were saying, you
know, would consulting engineers
do that, but they really
wouldn't want to get involved
with that kind of competition,
unless there was some guarantee
that they would get the work at
the end of the day.
So we kind of put that one
aside, and decided in 2018,
let's start a marketing
campaign, which we have done
with the ads, and social media,
with the #GimmeRelief tag and so
forth.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: In terms of
some of the other alternatives
that have been proposed...
I mean, what we are really
talking about is a peak load
problem-- you know, the morning
rush hour, and for a relatively
narrow span, like 15,30 minutes
at Bloor-Yonge station is the
most dangerous time.
Other people have simply
proposed giving discounted or
free fares at off-peak times, to
get people to commute at
different times.
Would that either delay or
reduce the need for the relief
line?

>> ANDY: There are lots of
little things that can be done.
Certainly encouraging seniors
who don't have to be, you know,
at a work place, let's say,
first thing in the morning, you
know, to ride mid-mornings or
mid-afternoons is one way that
would help.
Reduced fares potentially, you
know, depending on who your
clientele is, but I believe
seniors already have discounted
passes.
Mayor Tory did provide for free
transit for those under 12, and
that's, in essence, been a good
thing arguably, but it's also
created a problem with respect
to the revenue that's generated,
because there has been some
slippage with respect to "does
that person look 12, 13, 14,
15," kind of a thing.
So there are always going to be
some side effects with programs
that are related to fares.
I think, you know, we are
looking at an integrated fare
system right now, with respect
to trying to link TTC with GO,
and I think those sorts of
initiatives will be helpful.
If you can have a reduced fare
on the GO system, that will
encourage some people who might
only ride the TTC because the GO
fares are too expensive to
consider GO as an alternate way
to get in.
So lots of little things are
going to help in the long run,
but the bottom line is, we
really do need to build this
subway project.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: I wanted to
pull out just a little bit and
talk about what's going on in
the region.
We've got the crosstown being
built, as you say, just, you
know-- there's a giant pit just
a few hundred metres from us.
(Laughing)
Um, the mayor has committed to
SmartTrack, the folks at Pearson
want to develop the airport into
more of a regional transit hub.
Are we biting off more than we
can chew?
Does the city have too many
transit projects going on at the
moment?

>> ANDY: There is a history in
Toronto of not being able to
deliver a number of projects at
the same time, but our more
recent experience has been that
we can do two projects at the
same time, so last December, the
Spadina subway extension was
opened, and we're working on the
Eglinton crosstown at the very
same time, so, you know, maybe
we shouldn't be doing five
projects at the same time, like
Madrid might be able to do, you
know, that continuous program.
But there are things that we
need to be thinking about long
term.
So there are obviously
consultations right now about
relief line north, and I was
just tracking social media based
on the meeting last night, and
one person said "okay, so
you're talking about going
roughly from the financial core
up to Pape and Danforth, but if
you have tunnel boring machines
in the ground, why don't you
keep going, going north?"
So those kind of operational
things need to be thought a
little better, I think, in the
future, and that's maybe been a
challenge that we had in the
past.
Like Sheppard, whether that
should have been Sheppard east
into Scarborough, like a subway
or an LRT, that can be debated,
but we should have been doing
something to have a more
continuous expansion program.
That should be a fundamental
principle that other
jurisdictions have been able to
do, and we, kind of, have a
stop-start philosophy.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: We were
talking-- I interrupted the flow
here a bit, but we were talking
about some of these other
regional projects.
Why won't they deliver the
relief that the relief line
will?
Pardon the pun.

>> ANDY: Well, there are lots of
other regional projects.
You know, Mississauga is looking
at Hurontario, and that was to
go all the way to the downtown
part of Brampton.
Hamilton is having its share of
politics with respect to the
LRT, and I notice Doug Ford said
"if you councillors can't figure
out what to do there, you're
going to get the billion dollars
and you can spend it any way you
like."
Um, you know, again, kind of a
political intervention statement
which may not be the best for
long term planning.
Um, Ottawa, I don't want to get
into the history, but there's a
lot of debate and going back and
forth vis a vis east-west,
north-south, kind of alignments.
But the BRT in Ottawa was very
successful, and I think that's a
good model, we're going to see a
similar BRT project in London,
Ontario.
And then, of course, last but
not least, is Kitchener-
Waterloo area, is building the
ION as an LRT, and I think the
next phase after this will be a
BRT connecting to Cambridge.
So lots of really good regional
projects across the province
right now.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: But none of
them serve the purpose of
relieving the TTC system.

>> ANDY: No, no, and I should
say that, again, the gurus that
I've spoken to, some of the
projects that seem to be
politically motivated, such as
high-speed rail, uh...
are really pipe dreams, I think,
designed to buy votes in south-
western Ontario.
But really not to address where
the real transit ridership needs
are right now, today.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: I mean, the
high-speed rail line was the
single largest announcement in
the most recent government
budget.
It was the Liberal government
committing to $11 billion.
They are not spending all of
that money in a hurry, as it
turns out, but that to you, I
would take, that $11 billion
would be better spent on the
relief line.

>> ANDY: It should be
re-allocated, definitely, to the
relief line.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Why does the
smooth-running transit system in
the city of Toronto, why does
that matter to a voter in, let's
say, Windsor?
You could understand somebody
saying "well, I like the idea of
a fast train to--" maybe not to
Toronto or London, I don't know
what a Windsor resident wants to
travel on, but a fast train for
them is going to be more useful
than a relief line.
Why does it matter to a voter
outside of Toronto that our
subway system works?

>> ANDY: I think the Toronto
Board of Trade used this phrase
about fifteen years ago, and
Toronto is basically the golden
goose.
And, uh... even if other cities
across the province, you know,
don't like Toronto, I think they
would admit that Toronto is the
economic engine of Canada, and
if we're not globally
competitive, and we're not
attracting people like we've
seen-- you know, there's been a
lot of buzz about, you know,
Amazon, and the project that
Sidewalk Labs-- Toronto is doing
in the waterfront area...
If we're not leading-edge and
attracting the kind of new
industry, we're not going to be
part of the game.
And of course major companies
are looking to ensure that
certain things are in place,
like housing is, you know,
reasonably affordable, that
people can get around, whether
it's through transit systems, or
new mobility and those sorts of
things.
So really, unless you don't
really care about Canada being
on the global stage and
performing well economically,
um, you know, then sure, go
ahead and say you want to build
high-speed rail, but otherwise,
those are misguided kinds of
projects.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: I'd like to
talk a bit about some of the
party plans generally if we
could, like, let's start with--
I mean, the NDP have the most
clearly spelled out platform, as
I mentioned already.
They have a commitment to the
relief line.
Is there anything else that you
see in their platform that you
like on the transit file?

>> ANDY: Well, there wasn't a
lot of detail with respect to
the relief line, other than it
was identified as a priority.
So, you know, in terms of
transit, I know that, um, Andrea
Horvath and her transportation
critic, in terms of things like
road-pricing, have called that
"Lexus Lanes" in the past.
Um, I think that's unfortunate,
because one of the best ways to
alleviate congestion in a region
such as ours is through
measures, whether it be high-
occupancy toll lanes, like we
see right now on the QEW, and of
course, road-tolling was talked
about by mayor Tory, and that
plan got shot down by the
premier a little over a year
ago.
So, you know, you don't always
have to build transit, there are
other ways to manage the kind of
vehicular volumes that we have
in this region.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Right, we
mentioned that Doug Ford
weighing in on the LRT issue in
Hamilton... uh, it's not quite
clear to what extent the party
is-- the Progressive
Conservative party is bound by
the old People's Guarantee, but
there was language in that
document about uploading
subways, and the Liberal
government also had some
language in the most recent
budget about potentially
uploading subways.
Do you think that's worth
exploring?

>> ANDY: It's worth talking
about, and, you know, again, the
Board of Trade talked about the
Superlinx concept that would be
even larger than the current
market area of Metrolinx.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Yeah, we had
Jan DaSilva on the podcast last
week.

>> ANDY: Okay, uh, the view, I
guess, of the RCCA board is, at
least at this stage, is that,
you know, the current Metrolinx
boundaries are in place.
The more you tinker with
governance, probably the more
delays you're going to have.
So our view, at least from the
governance standpoint, is stick
with Metrolinx.
The ties between Metrolinx and
Queens Park seem to be pretty
strong, and we've seen some
problems in the past, with
respect to Queens Park
inappropriately intervening on
certain issues, like the Kirby
and Lawrence East GO stations.
That, um, if Metrolinx firmly
believes, in its business case
analysis, I think it has to
stand up and say, you know,
"these are the merits of these
particular projects, and this is
why we've chosen this project,
or why we haven't considered
these stations or these lines."
So I think, again, with respect
to the transit interference from
the political realm, we have to
be very careful that we do have
an evidence-based approach,
rather than a decision-based
evidence-making approach.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Let's talk a
little bit more about that,
because we want to have a more
evidence-based discussion about
transit planning.
How do you actually get the
politics out of transit
planning?

>> ANDY: You'll never get
politics completely out of
transit planning, but I think
more weight has to be given to
processes that are in place.
So I mentioned earlier about
the Big Move, regional
transportation plan document
from 2008, the Metrolinx board
just in March passed its 2041
regional transportation plan.
And I think there's some good
concepts in there, uh, that try
to reinforce that you do need a
business case approach.
You do need, kind of, a
collaborative regional approach
when you're talking about
priorities, so it can't just be
politicians in York saying, you
know, "we need the Yonge Street
extension before the relief
line."
Again, relief line, higher
priority than any other
extension into the 905 or
elsewhere right now.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: Is there some
concrete step that you would
recommend, some kind of brass
tacks reform, to, I don't know,
the Metrolinx board or something
like that, to try and
de-politicize it?

>> ANDY: I think Phil Verster,
who is the CEO of Metrolinx
right now stated last year, when
he first got on the job last
fall of 2017, that his focus,
for example, was going to be on
the RER, the Regional
Electrification Project.
And I thought that was good,
because there as some sabre-
rattling at the time, where the
province was saying, you know,
we need to look at, um, the
basic new concept of, you know,
hydrogen-based power.
And from what I understand,
there had been some testing of
that concept on light rail in
Germany, but it had never been
attempted on a heavy rail system
like we have.
And so, although we've often
talked about made-in-Ontario
solutions, and doing things
first, I think when you're
talking about multi billions of
dollars and long range
planning, you probably don't
want to be the first in terms of
new concepts, unless it's been--
kinda, tried and true elsewhere.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: And on our last
question, tell me about
Transport Futures.

>> ANDY: Okay, RCCAO has been a
sponsor of Transport Futures
since 2008, there is usually two
events per year.
A number of them have related to
mobility pricing, where we bring
in speakers from both Canada and
internationally, and they talk
about what they've done to
improve mobility, such as
funding, governance, all those
sorts of really good issues.
Because this is an election year
and the province is going to the
polls on June the 7th, Transport
Futures will be having a debate
with all four parties on May the
14th, and that will be taking
place at Innis College, U of T.
And really pleased that the
moderator for that event will be
TVO's own Steve Paikin, of
The
Agenda.

>> JOHN MICHAEL: All right, on
that note, Andy Manahan, thank
you so much for coming in today.

>> ANDY: Thank you so much for
the airtime!


>> JOHN MICHAEL: Thank you for
joining us for
The Agenda on
Politics.
I'm your host, John Michael
McGrath.
This podcast is produced by Tim
Alamenciak, Colin Ellis, and me,
with technical production by
Matthew O'Mara.
Our podcast manager is Hannah
Sung.
You can email us at
onpolitics@tvo.org, and follow
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Remember to rate and review us
on iTunes, it really helps get
the word out.
Ontarians head to the polls on
June 7th, 2018, and we have a
lot to talk about between now
and then.

Watch: Toronto's top transit priority