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    “Buy local” is a common refrain in grocery store aisles and at farmers markets, and now construction companies are chiming in, as an industry group sounds the alarm over the bundling of light rail transit lines into a “mega-project” they say will exclude smaller Ontario firms and cost taxpayers an extra $500 million.

    Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario have combined the Eglinton Crosstown and Scarborough LRTs — including up to 32 stations and stops, tunnels, elevated sections, signals, and a storage facility — into a single project tender.

    It’s a move that pushed industry concern over the growing scope of infrastructure projects to the brink, says Clive Thurston, chair of Construction Design Alliance of Ontario — a coalition of industry groups representing engineers, architects and builders.

    “We started moving further and further away from good construction practices to simply making bigger and bigger projects so that the bankers and the financiers could make their profits,” says Mr. Thurston.

    Though Infrastructure Ontario has not issued an official estimate of the cost of the contract, Metrolinx puts the total capital costs for both lines at $6.7-billion. The CDAO independently estimates the total cost of “built out” elements, such as stations and the maintenance facility, at $4-billion.

    Mr. Thurston says the growing prevalence of bundling and public private partnerships has increased costs by adding layers of bureaucracy. “We’re paying for lawyers, accountants, and everything else. We’re not paying for more building,” he says.

    IO issued a request for qualified proponents to undertake the massive Eglinton and Scarborough LRT projects in Jan. 2013, and hopes to issue a request for proposals by fall.

    Darren Calabrese/National Post
    Darren Calabrese/National PostWorkers on the Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit tunnel in August.

    Though IO declined to say which companies have applied, Mr. Thurston’s sources say two consortia are in the running. One, mainly Canadian, includes Ellis Don, Aecon, and SNC-Lavalin. The other is more internationally-based, grouping Bechtel, Obrascón Huarte Lain and Kenaidan, partly owned by Obayashi Corp.

    City Council’s recent vote to replace the Scarborough RT with a subway has not affected the project as yet, says IO spokesperson Paulette den Elzen. She said IO is progressing with building light rail to Scarborough unless they hear otherwise from Metrolinx, “who will meet with the province to discuss next steps.”

    If the Scarborough LRT is scrapped, it could further prove the CDAO’s point. Mr. Thurston warns that in a bundled project, “if something goes wrong with one part it’s like throwing a stone in a pond: it ripples out and effects everything.”

    The CDAO is proposing the bundle be undone so stations and the maintenance facility can be tendered separately from more specialized project elements, such as tunnel and signal construction.

    They suggest increased competition could save half-a-billion-dollars and put shovels in the ground faster.


    But money savings is exactly why Infrastructure Ontario bundled the project, says Ms. den Elzen. Having one entity in charge of design, integration, and maintenance will also “optimize resources” and “allow for operational efficiencies,” she says.

    Barry Steinberg, chief executive of the Consulting Engineers of Ontario, questions that logic. “There’s a tendency for people to believe that the bigger a project is there’s an automatic economy of scale, and that is not the case,” says Mr. Steinberg.

    The Consulting Engineers of Ontario includes small and large firms, with representatives from Hatch Mott Macdonald, SNC-Lavalin, and Aecon sitting on its board of directors.

    Mr. Thurston concedes bundling projects can work, citing the recent construction of 18 OPP stations, bundled into one contract worth $292.7-million, according to Infrastructure Ontario’s website. But though local labourers might benefit, other construction elements are left out, says Mr. Thurston.

    “One police station could sustain the architects, sub-trades, and contractors in a small community for the whole year,” says Mr. Thurston.

    Darren Calabrese/National Post
    Darren Calabrese/National PostWorkers on the Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit tunnel Friday.

    Ms. den Elzen says up to 80% of labourers have been local in Infrastructure Ontario’s past experience, “and the majority of work is completed by local and regional contractors and suppliers. In our previous experience it’s the local market that’s doing the bulk of the work.”

    Architects would like to see the LRT projects unbundled to increase competition for station design, says Bill Birdsell, President of the Ontario Association of Architects, a member of the CDAO.

    The TTC’s $2.6-billion Spadina-York subway extension, currently under construction, spans seven stations, designed by four different architecture firms. Theoretically the LRT builders could hire many architects. Mr. Birdsell says that the client is simply bundling  the 32 station projects to simplify the job for the client. But he says parceling out the jobs would improve the final product.

    “[The LRT] is a wonderful project, it will be dramatic. It will connect communities along the line. If you involve local architects you can help ensure it will be positive change,” says Mr. Birdsell.

    Metrolinx declined to comment.

    National Post

    LRT-1Darren Calabrese/National PostmapDarren Calabrese/National PostLRT-1Darren Calabrese/National PostmapDarren Calabrese/National Post

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    In these dog days of summer, when news slows to a trickle, we learn of yet another complaint from Weston residents about the rail corridor near or next to which they chose to live: Dust, lots of it, from tunnel-digging related to Metrolinx’s corridor-expansion project. “It’s killing us,” one local resident told the Toronto Star of the dust and the construction traffic. She didn’t mean literally, but in the sense that “we can’t have people sitting on our front porch.”

    As complaints from Weston residents go, I have much more time for the dust than I do for the fact that Metrolinx is cutting down some trees, that some people don’t like or even want the noise fences Metrolinx has proposed to erect, that the airport train doesn’t stop eight times between Union Station and Pearson, that the line tragically slices their community in half, that diesel fumes will emanate from the tracks near or next to which they chose to live.

    The Grand Trunk Railway opened these tracks 160 years ago, before any of these people’s houses even existed. And the tunnel in question only exists because Weston demanded it and Metrolinx agreed to build it. The rigmarole and bending-over-backwards the city and province have been through trying to placate these fearsome NIMBYs doesn’t bode well for much-needed future developments that have no existing footprint — and is all too typical of our dysfunctional transit politics.

    The good news is, big things are finally happening. The corridor expansion means all-day return GO service on the Kitchener line. That’s huge. The airport train will run on diesel, be expensive and not all that quick, and only serve one of the two terminals directly — but it’s now reasonable to assume that in two short years, Toronto will finally join leading metropolises like Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis in offering steel-wheeled travel from the airport to downtown.

    In the future that service can be electrified or converted to subway or GO; we can add more stops; we can do whatever needs doing. Just getting the base infrastructure in place is a massive step, and the dust in Weston, as bothersome as it is, represents progress. So too will the noise and traffic gridlock — and dust, no doubt — that Eglinton Avenue will endure once LRT construction gets underway in earnest. (That’s optimistically assuming the next city council doesn’t tear up the plan again, at which point Metrolinx will presumably ask meekly for “clarity.”)

    These projects will be enormous gains for the city. But that’s where the optimism has to end, I’m afraid. Metrolinx has downed tools on the Scarborough LRT, because 28 city councillors, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak believe (in the latter’s words) that “world-class cities build underground.” Almost no-one is willing to make the case that world-class cities also build above ground where it makes sense — Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, all over the place — and that Sheppard and Finch Avenues, and especially the dedicated right of way in Scarborough, are places where it makes sense. As ever, almost no-one is willing to commit to a plan if it isn’t perfect, which no plan is. And too few are willing to admit, even now, that transit costs billions that will have to come out of citizens’ pockets.

    Metrolinx rolls over when ordered. Ms. Wynne and TTC Chair Karen Stintz hobbled their claims to reason by cynically backing the Scarborough subway. The Liberals still have their plan to raise billions in taxes for infrastructure investment — which is great, but the Scarborough debacle offers little hope of efficient, evidence-based execution. And the Liberals ought to be shown the door in the next election anyway, which would leave us with all the same dysfunction, all the same dreams and not a dime to pay for them. At least we would feel at home.

    National Post

    • Email: cselley@nationalpost.com | Twitter:


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    The province’s Scarborough subway proposal would offer “the best of both worlds,” Metrolinx chair Rob Prichard said Tuesday, as the regional transit agency released a preliminary feasibility study that green-lights the controversial route.

    Speaking after a board meeting where he confirmed Metrolinx’s support for the provincial plan, Mr. Prichard acknowledged further study — and another city council vote — are needed before the subway can proceed.

    “We look forward to working closely with our colleagues at the TTC and the city… to confirm the hypothesis that this is an excellent outcome that will serve more people, better, at a lower cost,” Mr. Prichard said, denying suggestions that the province forced Metrolinx’s hand.

    His comments come a week after Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray announced the province would fully fund a $1.4-billion Bloor-Danforth subway extension in place of the existing RT. The line would run from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Centre.

    The plan incensed some city councillors, who voted in July to move ahead with a longer, $3-billion subway extension funded by all three levels of government (though Ottawa has yet to make any funding commitment). Late last week, TTC chair Karen Stintz sent a letter to Metrolinx demanding to know where the agency stands.

    That clarity came Tuesday: “Metrolinx has consistently supported using the SRT corridor to bring rapid transit to Scarborough Town Centre and linking it to Kennedy Station,” Mr. Prichard stated in a return letter, noting compared to council’s proposed route, the provincial alignment would provide greater opportunities for economic growth, require “much less” tunnelling and serve more priority neighbourhoods once rapid transit was extended from the end of the line to Sheppard Avenue, as contemplated in the feasibility study.

    “If the feasibility can be confirmed, it gives us the best of both worlds,” Mr. Prichard told reporters at Metrolinx’s headquarters on Bay Street. “It gives us the right alignment with the technology that [is desired by] broad consensus in the city and provincially.”

    Although a previously approved master agreement between Metrolinx, the city and the TTC to build four LRT lines in Toronto — including a Scarborough LRT in place of the RT, roughly where the province’s proposed subway would go — the switch from LRT to subway technology would require another environmental assessment, Mr. Prichard said. As a material change to the master agreement, it would also require city council’s approval.

    A spokesman for Ms. Stintz, who was at a community council meeting Tuesday, said she was unavailable to comment but would address the matter Wednesday.

    TTC spokesman Brad Ross, meanwhile, said the transit commission “supports the decision of council in July,” but has not yet examined the provincial subway plan in detail.

    “If the TTC board so directs, we will, of course, study [it],” he said.

    Metrolinx’s feasibility study, commissioned by Mr. Murray shortly after council voted in July to move ahead with a subway instead of an LRT in the Scarborough corridor, deems the provincial proposal “technically feasible” but adds it “warrants further consideration and evaluation.” The study also warns of possible cost and scheduling risks to the adjacent Eglinton Crosstown LRT.

    National Post

    • Email: motoole@nationalpost.com | Twitter:


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    The head of the regional transit agency would prefer that light rail transit be used to replace the ageing Scarborough Rapid Transit line, but will bow to the preference among area politicians for a subway instead.

    In a letter to the city manager sent Tuesday, Bruce McCuaig said regardless which route is chosen for a Scarborough subway extension, the project will get $1.48-billion in provincial funding.

    Metrolinx is leaving it up to Toronto and the TTC to decide which subway alignment to build. There are two options: Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray’s proposed above-ground route that runs along the Scarborough RT alignment up to Scarborough Town Centre; and the underground extension running along McCowan up to Sheppard Avenue, approved by city council in July.

    There are pros and cons for both options, said Mr. McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx. On that issue the agency’s only condition is that all potential routes be considered during the environmental assessment. “We’re not trying to prejudge what is going to be the correct or appropriate answer in the end,” said Mr. McCuaig.

    His letter, which outlines an amendment of the Master Agreement between Metrolinx, the city and the TTC, comes a week before a city council meeting at which a potential tax increase will be debated to help pay for the McCowan extension, the TTC’s preferred route.

    City manager Joe Pennachetti has suggested that taxes should rise 1.6%, phased in over three or four years, to cover the city’s share of construction.

    Colin O'Connor for National Post
    Colin O'Connor for National PostMetrolinx President and CEO Bruce McCuaig addresses the media during a press conference at the construction site of the Eglington Cross Town LRT line near Black Creek Drive in Toronto on June 5, 2013.

    According to a TTC report on Sept. 25, the McCowan alignment is estimated to cost around $2.5-billion. Toronto is expected to foot $900-million of those costs. The province’s original offer of $1.8-billion towards the Scarborough LRT has been reduced to $1.48-billion for the subway plan, and Mr. McCuaig said it’s all the province is willing to give.

    “We are not prepared to spend more than this amount,” he said.

    Combining Ontario’s contribution with Ottawa’s pledge of $660-million, the city is still $500-million short for a potential Scarborough route. The city is still expected to reimburse Metrolinx $85-million for the sunk costs of the now defunct Scarborough Light Rail Transit project. On top of that, it will likely have to pay millions of dollars to transit manufacturer Bombardier, with whom they re-negotiated a contract for light rail vehicles.

    In the letter, Mr. McCuaig expresses that Metrolinx still believes that the LRT project would prove to be an effective and cheap solution to the rapid transit problem, but said, “Governments are the ultimate decision-makers in these matters and we must defer to the judgments that have been made.”

    Because the subway extension is part of the TTC, Mr. McCuaig said in his letter that it is the responsibility of the city, not Metrolinx, to oversee the project’s budget, schedule, and overall delivery.

    National Post

    Bruce McCuaig, Metrolinx President and CEO (left) speaks at Toronto's Bram and Bluma Appel Salon regarding the agencies plan to fund the Big Move Transportation Plan as Robert Prichard, Chair of the Metrolinx Board (right) looks on, Monday May 27, 2013Colin O'Connor for National PostBruce McCuaig, Metrolinx President and CEO (left) speaks at Toronto's Bram and Bluma Appel Salon regarding the agencies plan to fund the Big Move Transportation Plan as Robert Prichard, Chair of the Metrolinx Board (right) looks on, Monday May 27, 2013Colin O'Connor for National Post

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    Anne Golden recommended a three cent gas tax to rise to 10 cents in eight years, province wide as she released Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel report at the University of Toronto on Thursday morning.

    54 per cent of that cash will fund transit in GTHA and the other 46 per cent will fund infrastructure improvements in the rest of Ontario.

    “A driver in Timmins will not be paying for transit improvements in Toronto,” Ms. Golden, chair of the panel, told reporters at the University of Toronto.

    Ontario last raised gas taxes in 1992. The current 14.7¢ unleaded fuel tax raises about $2.4-billion per year. Metrolinx has said it would need $2-billion to fund various projects dubbed The Big Move.

    Postmedia News/Files
    Postmedia News/FilesAnne Golden, chair of the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel

    Paul Bedford, vice-chair of the panel, said the panel will recommend creation of a segregated fund into which all revenues from the new tax will flow. That cash can then only go to transit improvements, he said.

    “The number one issue is the lack of public trust in government,” Mr. Bedford said. “People were concerned about ‘How do we know the money is not going into general revenue?'”

    The solution is a trust fund for transit, he said. “An annual report will say how much went in, what went out, and what you got for it.”

    The panel also recommends financing new light rail, subway and other transit lines through borrowing, at a ratio of 2.5:1, which means Ontario could borrow $2.50 for every $1 it raises through new taxes.

    Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, struck the 13-member transit panel in September after spending several months reviewing a list of suggestions by Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency. Metrolinx, after its own exhaustive analysis of how to pay for improvements in public transit in greater Toronto, had suggested a 1 percentage point increase in the HST.

    Andy Manahan, executive director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario, said taxing travelers is a more direct means of funding transportation improvements, rather than just increasing the overall sales tax.

    “Hiking the HST was viewed by some at Queen’s Park as a third rail,” he said. “They didn’t want to go there.”

    The panel studied but rejected road tolls, because they are “too difficult to implement,” Mr. Manahan said. In the future, Ontario may be able to track toll road users by satellite or put transponders on cars using High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, he said.

    The report looks at flowing revenue from new sections of Highway 407, under construction east of Brock Road, to transit improvements. It also mentions increasing corporate taxes and “land-value capture,” a development charge that collects back some of the increase in the value of land that is near a new transit line.

    “Overall, it is a good report, it is a thoughtful report,” Mr. Manahan said.

    The province paid Ms. Golden $900 a day for her services, capped at $90,000 for the three-month study. Mr. Bedford also received a per diem, capped at $15,000.

    “Everyone else was limited to expense claims for transit or parking,” Mr. Manahan said. “I didn’t bother; the government needs the money more than we do.”

    National Post

    • Email: pkuitenbrouwer@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

    gas-taxPostmedia News/Filesgas-taxPostmedia News/Files

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    Metrolinx, the province’s transit agency, has told the company digging a tunnel under Eglinton Avenue for a new light rail line to leave two massive tunnel-boring machines in the ground at Yonge Street once it completes the job in 2016. In this occasional feature, Peter Kuitenbrouwer looks at Toronto’s halting, jerky history of underground transit construction and why the city keeps selling its tunnel-boring equipment for pennies on the dollar, and buying new equipment every time politicians vote to dig another tunnel.

    What’s this about leaving machines underground?

    First, the background: In 2010 Metrolinx bought four tunnel borers, each 81 metres long and weighing half a million kilograms, from Lovat Inc., a Toronto company, for $54-million. Last June a joint venture of four companies launched two machines, nicknamed Dennis and Lea, heading east from Black Creek Drive towards Yonge Street. As part of its $282-million contract with Metrolinx, the consortium digging the tunnels agreed to cut a hole at Yonge, 27 metres by 33 metres, to remove the machines. That would be a substantial, not to mention disruptive, opening at one of the busiest intersections in the city. But now Metrolinx has changed its mind. “We have told them to leave them there at the end of the contract,” said Jamie Robinson, a spokesman for Metrolinx.


    Leave them there? Forever?

    That depends on whom you ask. A source close to the project told the National Post that, “the two TBM’s are going to be left underground at Yonge St. because Metrolinx and TTC can’t come to terms on the interface of the two systems,” meaning the Crosstown LRT and the Yonge subway line. Brad Ross, a TTC spokesman, insisted that “we are working with Metrolinx on how those two stations interface.” Metrolinx, meanwhile, says its change of plan revolves around who removes the machines, not if. “It’s more of a scheduling issue, in order for them to complete the job on time,” said Mr. Robinson. Instead, Metrolinx will ask whoever builds the stations for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to remove the machines.

    So assuming they are removed, shouldn’t they be worth something?

    Used tunnel-boring machines, which weigh about the equivalent of 360 automobiles, don’t fetch much on the secondary market. In 1995 when Mike Harris’s new Tory government killed the Eglinton subway, the TTC kept two tunnel-boring machines, for which it had paid $18-million, and used them in 1997 to dig the Sheppard subway line. After completing the Sheppard dig, in 2001 TTC sold the machines to Russia for $2.5-million each, where workers used them to extend Moscow’s subway.

    How does one go about selling giant used tunneling equipment?

    Online, naturally. In December, the TTC bought a banner ad on the Tunnels & Tunneling International website, to list for sale four tunnel-boring machines it used to dig the 13.5-kilometre twin tunnels for the Spadina subway extension to York Region. The TTC had bought the machines in 2009 from Lovat for $58-million. Today the TTC has stored the machines at the Keele Valley landfill site. The machines are nearly good as new, the TTC says. “The TBMs are generally considered to have a useful life of tunneling of approximately 20 kilometres,” reads a TTC tender document. “At the completion of this project, they would have been used between 2.5 and 3.2 kilometres, or approximately 10-15% of their useful life. Accordingly, the TBMs will be capable of significant additional tunneling on other projects.” For those in the market, they come with ripper teeth, scraper teeth and a centre nose cutter.

    Tyler Anderson/National Post
    Tyler Anderson/National PostCrews worker near the base of tunnel boring machine as it excavates the Eglinton Crosstown tunnel during a media tour of the site in Toronto, Ontario, April 29, 2014.

    Since city council has voted to extend the Bloor-Danforth subway northeast from Kennedy Station into Scarborough, why not keep the Spadina machines and use them out east?

    “The question is how long before the next project comes underway,” says Joanna Kervin, a senior project director at the TTC. “How much time has elapsed and how much has the technology advanced? You have to store this equipment, as well.” So far the TTC has received one bid, $1.7-million for all four of the Spadina extension machines. It turned down the offer. In an email, Ms. Kervin said the TTC board “did not authorize the tender or request for bids for the TBMs. Rather they would authorize the sale if an acceptable bid was put before them.”

    TTC Request for Bids

    Tyler Anderson/National Post
    Tyler Anderson/National PostWorkers walk along a platform through the over 1km underground stretch towards the tunnel boring machine as it excavates the Eglinton Crosstown tunnel during a media tour of the site in Toronto, Ontario, April 29, 2014.

    National Post

    • Email: pkuitenbrouwer@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

    DC_Eglinton_LRT32.jpgNPTyler Anderson/National PostTyler Anderson/National PostDC_Eglinton_LRT32.jpgNPTyler Anderson/National PostTyler Anderson/National Post

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    GO Transit workers could vote to walk off the job as early as Monday, stranding more than 53,000 commuters, in what would be the first strike in GO’s 47 year history.

    GO Transit employees made up of bus drivers, station staff, and safety officers say they will walk off the job if Metrolinx, Ontario’s transit agency, does not reach a deal with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1587. The current three-year contract expires Saturday.

    Of 1,851 GO employees in the union, 805 are bus drivers. A strike would stop all GO bus service. GO buses presently make 2,061 trips per day.

    Non-unionized staff will take over stations and ticket sales in the event of a strike.

    “We’ve been working on a contingency plan for quite some time,” said GO spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins. “We have a plan in place so that stations will stay open and ticket-sellers will still be available.”

    Laura Pedersen/National Post
    Laura Pedersen/National PostGO Buses are lined up at the Union Station GO Bus Terminal in Toronto, Ontario, on May 30, 2014.

    GO trains would continue to run, because GO in the 1970s contracted train operation to Bombardier. However, a strike would mean that on weekends the trains will no longer serve stations further away from Toronto, such as Barrie and Niagara.

    “We have never had a strike in our entire history, so we’re very optimistic about the negotiations,” said Ms. Aikins. She refused to discuss the specifics of the negotiations.

    Union representatives did not return requests for comment.

    GO bus drivers make between $25.56 and $31.32 an hour. Ticket sellers make between $22.73 and $28.26 an hour, and safety officers make between $31.77 and $36.28 an hour.

    National Post

    GOBusLKP_001.JPGLaura Pedersen/National PostGOBusLKP_001.JPGLaura Pedersen/National Post

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    TORONTO — Ontario is partnering with a global real-estate company to build a new GO Bus terminal in downtown Toronto, which will become part of an integrated transport hub at Union Station.

    Ivanhoé Cambridge
    Ivanhoé Cambridge

    The province said Tuesday its regional transport agency Metrolinx will join Montreal-based Ivanhoe Cambridge to build the project, starting next spring.

    Once construction of the terminal is complete in three years, it will bring intercity bus services, GO Transit, Via Rail, Toronto transit service and the new Pearson airport express train to the hub.

    As part of the deal, Metrolinx has agreed to sell the current bus terminal on the north side of the tracks to Ivanhoe in exchange for a 99-year lease of the new bus terminal located at the base of a proposed office complex on the south side.

    The complex will have two towers with up to 250,000 square metres of office space and a landscaped, elevated sky park over the rail corridor. It will eventually connect to the PATH system.

    Ivanhoe will invest about $2 billion in the project, while Metrolinx will spend about $100 million. But both companies stressed that the figures are just initial estimates.

    Ivanhoé Cambridge
    Ivanhoé Cambridge

    “Today’s announcement of a new GO Bus terminal at Union Station with commercial space above it aligns perfectly with our government’s plan to create transit hubs integrated with sustainable employment developments,” said Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

    He added that the new terminal will provide more options for travellers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

    The Union Station is already the largest inter-regional and multi-modal transportation hub in Canada and serves twice as many passengers as Pearson airport, Del Duca added.


    “We want this project to be iconic for Toronto through inspired design and intelligent integration of public transit with green spaces,” said Ivanhoe CEO Daniel Fournier.

    In promoting the project, he also cited a global shift of people toward downtown areas.

    “More and more people, young and old want to be closer to the centre of the action. That affects urban transportation and it affects our long-term view of the office market.”

    Ivanhoé Cambridge
    Ivanhoé CambridgeAn artist's rendering of the interior of the Go bus terminal.

    According to the province, GO Transit carries about 66 million passengers per year.

    On a typical weekday, it is estimated that GO runs almost 250 train trips and more than 2,500 bus trips that carry about 250,000 passengers.

    A subsidiary of the Quebec pension fund Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Ivanhoe has more than $40 billion in assets mainly in Canada, the United States, Europe, Brazil and Asia.

    Ivanhoé Cambridge
    Ivanhoé Cambridge

    45-141_Bay_Street_01_aerial_webIvanhoé CambridgeIvanhoé CambridgeIvanhoé CambridgeIvanhoé Cambridge45-141_Bay_Street_01_aerial_webIvanhoé CambridgeIvanhoé CambridgeIvanhoé CambridgeIvanhoé Cambridge

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    Ontario is partnering with a global real-estate company to build a new GO Bus terminal in downtown Toronto that will become part of an integrated transport hub at Union Station and include a walkway and park over the rail corridor.

    Metrolinx, the province’s transit agency, will join Montreal-based Ivanhoe Cambridge to build the project, starting next spring.

    Once construction of the terminal is complete in three years, it will bring intercity bus services, GO Transit, Via Rail, Toronto transit service and the new Pearson airport express train to the hub.

    As part of the deal, Metrolinx has agreed to sell the current bus terminal on the north side of the tracks to Ivanhoe in exchange for a 99-year lease of the new bus terminal located at the base of a proposed office complex on the south side.

    The complex will have two towers with up to 250,000 square metres of office space and a landscaped, elevated sky park over the rail corridor. It will eventually connect to the PATH system.

    Ivanhoe will invest about $2-billion in the project, while Metrolinx will spend about $100-million. But both companies stressed that the figures are just initial estimates.

    Courtesy of Ivanhoe Cambridge
    Courtesy of Ivanhoe CambridgeArtist rendering of proposed buildings near Union Station.

    “Today’s announcement of a new GO Bus terminal at Union Station with commercial space above it aligns perfectly with our government’s plan to create transit hubs integrated with sustainable employment developments,” said Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

    Union Station is already the largest inter-regional and multi-modal transportation hub in Canada and serves twice as many passengers as Pearson airport, Mr. Del Duca added.

    “We want this project to be iconic for Toronto through inspired design and intelligent integration of public transit with green spaces,” said Ivanhoe CEO Daniel Fournier.

    As for the elevated park and walkway, Toronto is clearly at a point where building over the rail corridor “makes sense,” Ken Greenberg, a respected architect and urban planner, told the National Post in mid-August, when word of the development first leaked out.

    “Yes, it’s a tricky endeavour,” he said, but places like Tokyo have done it. “We have a whole virtual city arriving south of Union Station, south of the rail corridor, and few narrow, unpleasant passages to get there,” he said.

    “The tricky part is to make the transitions to get people up graceful and easy and accessible. That probably means escalators, it means generous ways to getting up,” said Mr. Greenberg, adding that before approving more piecemeal developments, there should be a serious expansion of the transit network to accommodate the influx of people.

    According to the province, GO Transit carries about 66 million passengers per year.

    On a typical weekday, it is estimated that GO runs almost 250 train trips and more than 2,500 bus trips that carry about 250,000 passengers.

    The Canadian Press, with files from National Post

    GO-1Courtesy of Ivanhoe CambridgeGO-1Courtesy of Ivanhoe Cambridge

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    Within seconds of John Tory’s Monday-night election victory the experts had declared Toronto a “divided city,” as if somehow the longest-running and deadliest mayoral campaign in history had exposed some great new gap in the foundations of Canada’s largest urban centre.

    If only that were true. Toronto’s political machine remains as united as ever, its power classes all too ready to embrace around an institutional structure that is fundamentally dysfunctional and often close to paralysis.

    A truly divided city would be locked in a battle over major reforms and restructuring. Instead, Toronto’s political operators are converging under Mr. Tory as they always have under previous administrations.

    His top staff officials and advisors are a selection of familiar faces from various constituencies and ideologies. Not one can be seen as a force for major change. Within weeks they will have settled into the old behaviour patterns, the alleged “divisions” becoming predictable squabbles.

    The best demonstration of the dysfunctional morass around which the players will now converge is transit, currently a mindless clash over lines on maps.

    There are no real economic or business studies behind any of the plans. It was all raw politics, with a few experts dragged in now and then to offer general comments about the likely impossibility of one plan or the potential feasibility of another.

    This is not to dismiss Mr. Tory’s SmartTrack. Maybe it contains good ideas, although it is half-baked at best. But under the current institutional setup no one can evaluate any one plan, least of all the maze of politician-controlled agencies and commissions with fingers in transit, from the Toronto Transit Commission to Metrolinx to the provincial government and the Toronto vote-hungry federal Conservatives.

    Take the Toronto Transit Commission. The board of directors is in the hands of city council members. The current chairman is Maria Augimeri, councillor for Ward 9, a social anthropologist and published poet. The world may need more published poets, but not at the head of a $7-billion business that is vital to the city.

    True reform at the TTC might begin by looking at turning the commission into a stand-alone corporation with a proper business-oriented board of directors — a Crown corporation, perhaps, with real directors and real top executives.

    That’s not going to happen under Mr. Tory, who will soon play a role parachuting preferred politicians onto the board, each meddling in petty and major ways with the operation of the city’s core transportation system.

    The TTC appears to be in the able hands of Andy Byford, but he will, as usual, have to scurry around doing the bidding of the latest batch of politicians, shifting priorities once again. Scrap yesterday’s downtown relief line, bring in tomorrow’s grand scheme.

    Nobody knows whether any plan makes sense. At City Hall and the TTC, planners may have to throw out the previously approved downtown relief line plans and launch a new series of what Toronto’s city planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, called “analysis and due diligence” on the impact of new alternatives.

    New sensible business ideas will continue to be dodged for political reasons. Subway lines will be promoted with an eye on where the voters are, not where the traffic is or, more importantly, will be. A Queen Street subway line, first proposed in the 1960s and supported today be some — including former Toronto transit executive Gordon Chong — will be ignored.

    Laura Pedersen/National Post
    Laura Pedersen/National PostJohn Tory's tenure

    Mr. Chong is among many who have imaginative plans to rethink the city’s transit system. Among his ideas — outlined in the National Post in August — are heavily expanded subway and rapid rail systems, including building a new subway hub at Queen and Yonge. Under the current institutional framework, however, we will never come to know whether any of these non-political ideas make sense.

    Instead, streetcars will continue to be touted. Fancy tax schemes will be proposed to offset the gross dis-economies built in by politicians as they follow their noses around City Hall.

    To raise money for big plans such as SmartTrack, tax increment financing (TIF) has been proposed. The Gardiner Expressway is to be grounded east of Jarvis so a developer can build a massive condo-office complex at the Unilever site. Taxes paid by the complex will go to fund SmartTrack or other plans. That means, however, taxes on other Torontonians will have to rise to make up for the lost revenue going to TIF transfers to fund transit.

    Would zone fares make sense? Nobody knows because that’s an untouchable subject. One-fare systems amount to a massive subsidy from downtown core users to long-haul commuters heading to Vaughan or Unionville.

    Meanwhile, traffic congestion (the alleged political reason for all this activity) will continue — perhaps inevitably, no matter who does what. No studies exist to prove otherwise.

    In the wake of the election of Mr. Tory, what we’ve seen in the past at Toronto City Hall is what we are going to get more of over the next four years. The city is united.

    National Post

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    StreetcarsLaura Pedersen/National PostStreetcarsLaura Pedersen/National Post

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    The provincial transit agency unveiled the proposed cost of riding UP Express, the rail link from Union Station downtown to Pearson airport Wednesday, pegging an adult one-way fare at $27.50, or $19 with a Presto card.

    Fares will be lower when distance and other discounts are applied, Bruce McCuaig, the Metrolinx president, said at a press conference Wednesday standing alongside Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

    As an example, he said a family of five will be able to travel on a one-way fare between Union Station and the airport for $55, while “qualified airport employees” can buy a $10 one-way fare, or a monthly pass that works out to $7.50 a ride if used five days a week.
    An adult fare from the Bloor subway station to the airport is recommended at $15.20, while Weston to Pearson has a regular fare of $16.50, or $11.40 with a Presto card.

    Presto is the electronic fare card used by GO Transit, which is being phased in on municipal transit systems.

    “I believe the UP Express fare is reasonable when compared to other options,” said Mr. McCuaig, who stressed the line is not meant to be a commuter service.

    “We are confident travellers will choose our service because it’s faster, it’s cheaper and more reliable than other airport to downtown modes of transportation.”

    Under the proposed fare structure, operating costs will be recovered within three to five years, he said.

    But the fare proposal has already met with criticism, with Toronto councillor Josh Matlow taking to Twitter to urge a fare that is affordable for the average person.

    The train linking the Newark, N.J, airport to Penn Station in New York costs $12.50 one way, while a one-way train trip from Vancouver’s airport to downtown Vancouver is $7.75 to $9 (it’s cheaper to travel from downtown Vancouver to the airport).

    “Torontonians waited decades for rapid transit to Pearson. We know now, despite UP Express being built with our money, it wasn’t built for us,” Mr. Matlow tweeted.

    Mayor John Tory said it seemed Metrolinx had done the “best they can” with the proposed fare.

    “They have a responsibility to make this thing economically viable and so I think we’re going to have to make sure as we go about all the transit planning for Toronto that there’s always a viable way for people to get to and from the airport on a cost-effective basis,” he said. “We’ll keep working on that.”

    Asked if he wants to the Toronto Transit Commission to continue running a bus to the airport, Mr. Tory said there has to be a method of travel that is affordable for families, preferably for the price of a TTC ticket.

    The rail link is on track for a ribbon cutting in the spring, before the 2015 Pan Am Games. Eighteen trains will run between Union Station and Pearson every 15 minutes on a ride that is 25 minutes long. The fare structure will be discussed at a Metrolinx board meeting Thursday.


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    A female GO Transit passenger died Wednesday night following a rollover crash involving a commuter bus on Highway 407 in Vaughan, northwest of Toronto.

    Ontario Provincial Police initially said the victim was male, but later confirmed it was an unidentified female who died in the crash at about 10 p.m. Wednesday (at Weston Road).

    Police say Brampton resident Radika Nankissoor, 56, was ejected from the vehicle and became trapped under the bus. She suffered fatal injuries and died at the scene.

    The accident marks the first time a passenger has been killed on a GO bus or train, the company’s president, Greg Percy, said at a press conference Thursday morning.

    “This is a tragic event for everybody,” he said.

    Victor Biro / THE CANADIAN PRESS
    Victor Biro / THE CANADIAN PRESSEmergency personnel attend the scene of a rollover crash in Vaughan, Ont. on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015.

    The bus, which left Hamilton at 8:30 p.m. and was headed to York University, went through a guardrail before rolling onto its side in a grassy median.

    Police say six people were on the bus at the time of the crash, including two other Toronto-area women, aged 22 and 23, and the bus driver, a 66-year-old man from Hamilton, who were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

    Two men on the bus, aged 18 and 23, also from the Greater Toronto Area, were uninjured.

    Dave Burk of Hedrich Blessing
    Dave Burk of Hedrich BlessingMembers' House

    Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said no other vehicles were involved and that it was too early in the investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

    He said the highway was in good condition at the time, so investigators were looking into whether mechanical or driver issues may have been factors.

    The driver has more than 15 years experience, and would have been familiar with the route, Percy said. The vehicle has been in service for eight years, and, mechanically, it was fine, he added.

    “Safety is the highest priority for GO Transit,” he said. “It would be premature to speak on the cause of this tragedy.”

    Dave Burk of Hedrich Blessing
    Dave Burk of Hedrich BlessingA Soho House "medium-plus" room, with signature chandelier and comfy couch.
    GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
    GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty ImagesSeattle's public library. If you think it's daunting from the outside, wait until you're looking over an empty auditorium on the inside.
    The Writers' Trust of Canada
    The Writers' Trust of CanadaHon. Hilary M. Weston presents the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction to Naomi Klein.

    With files from Aileen Donnelly, National Post


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    The City of Toronto is being asked to make a “significant payment” to the provincial transit agency for GO upgrades necessary for the rail link to Pearson airport, the city manager announced on Monday, amid revelations that the municipality is also fully on the hook for millions of dollars of cost overruns at Union Station.

    Metrolinx wants the city to pay almost $100 million for improvements to grade separations, road and rail bridge reconstruction, and other infrastructure on the Kitchener GO rail corridor — known as the Georgetown South Project — which was also required to make room for the link to the airport.

    “The total figure is $95,460,710 which will be paid out over several years,” said Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins.

    The proposed cost-sharing arrangement has big implications as the provincial transit agency embarks on an ambitious plan to electrify its commuter rail network.

    “There is a lot of money involved,” City Manager Joe Pennachetti said Monday, though he was not willing to reveal the precise numbers. “All the tracks will have these types of issues occurring, with grade separations, with water and sewer mains crossing the rail line, and we will be in partnership one way or the other with Metrolinx and the province. So this is just the start of many, many projects … for literally decades.”

    Peter J. Thompson/NP/Files
    Peter J. Thompson/NP/FilesCity Manager Joe Pennachetti: “This is just the start of many, many projects … for literally decades."

    In the case of Georgetown South, Mr. Pennachetti said five or six locations have had upgrades to existing grade separations or bridges, in addition to “millions of dollars of movement of our pipes, water and sewer.”

    Mayor John Tory said negotiations between the city and province are ongoing, but Mr. Pennachetti said staff discussions had pretty much concluded.

    A proposal was presented to the executive committee in a closed-door meeting on Monday.

    “It’s now council digesting a significant payment” and making a decision, Mr. Pennachetti said.

    Ms. Aikins said the money will go toward the $1.2-billion Georgetown South Project. The Union Pearson Express cost an additional $456-million.

    City staff also disclosed that attempts to get Queen’s Park to pitch in on $80 million in cost overruns at Union Station had failed. The federal government had already rejected a plea for $25 million, and now the province has officially said no to a $35-million request.

    Mr. Pennachetti told reporters it will not have an impact on the city’s 2015 budget, which won approval from Mr. Tory’s executive committee. It uses an unorthodox approach of borrowing from the city’s own coffers to plug an $86-million hole caused by lost provincial funding, but the method keeps property taxes below the rate of inflation. The city will still have to close that gap, either by raising revenue or cutting expenses, in future years.

    “This is not a sustainable budget, the property tax increase is too low,” warned Councillor Gord Perks.

    Mr. Tory maintained it was the right course of action and said he was undeterred by “doom-and-gloom” forecasts from financial staff that the city faces a $427-million funding shortfall next year.

    “Every year, almost without exception, there have been these dire reports of the imminent demise of the city financially and double-digit tax increases,” he said. “I have every expectation, every degree of optimism that [next year’s budget] will be resolved, too, just as in every previous year the budgets have been balanced. After a lot of hard work.”

    National Post

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    Lester-B-PearsonPeter J. Thompson/NP/FilesLester-B-PearsonPeter J. Thompson/NP/Files

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    As the crown jewel of southern Ontario’s GO Transit/Metrolinx transit empire, the Union-to-Pearson UP Express, prepares to finally rumble into existence, one’s mind turns to the question of when Ontario’s passenger rail provider will begin implementing features common among more advanced rail systems elsewhere in the world. A seeming lack of vision at Metrolinx, and creakingly slow adoption of modern rail technologies, realistically, and unfortunately, puts the answer at a decade or three in the future. Until then, Ontario’s commuters will, as always, have to make do with dated technology for the foreseeable future.

    The bellwether in terms of advanced rail technology is the extensive, ultra-modern and truly impressive transportation system enjoyed in Japan; unsurprising given their 22 billion annual passenger trips, and being home to 44 of the world’s 50 busiest train stations. A solid 15 years ahead of Ontario in that regard, their rail system provides a number of conveniences only dreamt of by GO Transit passengers, and sets the benchmark to which Metrolinx et al should aspire.


    Long day at work? Need a quick drink or snack from a station vending machine or café? If you’re in Ontario, you had better dig out the wallet and start counting change, or have a credit card ready. In Japan, however, the Tokyo’s Suica Card, the Japanese equivalent of Metrolinx’s Presto Pass, is fully integrated with surrounding businesses, restaurants, kiosks and vending machines for instant, cashless micro-transactions. Think Tap-and-Go payments, but made with your train card.

    Platform-mounted vending machines at Japanese train stations are as technologically advanced as they are ubiquitous. Apart from the ability to accept cashless payments, many are equipped with LCD touch-screens, motion activated lighting and smart energy consumption; a stark contrast to the machines common in Ontario that look as though they were purchased from a Soviet surplus shop.

    When will such marvels, which have been in place in Tokyo since 2003, come to Ontario? According to a Metrolinx spokesperson, not any time soon. At present, Metrolinx’s focus is on “the successful roll out of PRESTO fare payment technology on UP Express, TTC and third-party para-transit services.” Translation: We still need to make sure our fare cards can be used to pay train and bus fares before expanding their usage.

    Mobile fare payments

    Japan’s Suica system is not only limited to a physical card. Mobile Suica, a cellphone enabled app that links a user’s train card and utilizes Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology, allows for tap-and-go payments, including train fares, direct from one’s phone. With Apple finally joining the NFC bandwagon, and with Android phones having long under-utilized NFC capabilities, phone-based fare and micro-transactions would seem to be a natural next step for the Presto Card.

    As for Metrolinx, mobile payments are said to be high on their priority list, behind the aforementioned UP Express and TTC rollouts. While one is best advised not to hold their breath, it is at least heartening that Metrolinx has expressed greater enthusiasm for mobile payments than it has towards expanding Presto’s micro-transaction capabilities.

    Machine-based card charging

    Few GO Transit experiences are more disheartening than arriving at Union Station and discovering an online Presto pass top-up has yet to transfer, for then it is time to abandon all hope of catching one’s train home as the prospect of standing in line to manually add funds at an understaffed kiosk looms. The alternative is to bite the bullet and pay for a full-price paper fare at a ticket machine, entirely undermining the point of having a Presto card.

    The technology for ticket machines that charge Presto-style cards — cards that do not utilize traditional credit card-style chips or magnetic stripes — has been around for over a decade and are well-used in Japan. Experienced Tokyo commuters can add funds and be on their way in seconds, which, combined with plentiful machine charging stations, makes lineups all but unheard of, even in some of the world’s busiest train stations.

    Will Ontario commuters be given such convenience? To Metrolinx’s credit, yes, and soon. According to Metrolinx, Self-Serve Reload Stations are slated for rollout next month; a long overdue addition, but better late than never.


    While Metrolinx has a serviceable, if basic, app for displaying train schedules, track departure information for Union Station and delay information, much can be added. JR East, one of Japan’s largest rail conglomerates, recently launched an app that includes features such as real-time updates on train location, and even train cars’ arrival location relative to the station platform (handy for those needing to make a tight connection).

    Where the app really distinguishes itself, however, is its car-by-car information. By utilizing cars’ built-in wireless Access Points, real-time updates are provided on individual cars’ interior temperature and even passenger volume. For the office worker hoping to score a seat on a relatively uncrowded train, the app is a lifesaver.

    Metrolinx has a tough row to hoe ahead of it in terms of catching up to more technologically-advanced transit systems. As public transit becomes more popular in the province, however, with luck and forward-thinking on the part of Metrolinx brass, there is hope Ontario’s rail system no longer lags so far behind.

    National Post

    Allan Richarz is a privacy lawyer in Toronto, and previously spent two years living in Japan.


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    Commuters on Toronto’s overcrowded Yonge subway line should see some relief in the near future as projects — including the York-Spadina subway extension and automatic train control — come online, according to a new Metrolinx study.

    However, if the region doesn’t move forward with a long-considered plan for a downtown relief subway line, those gains will effectively disappear by 2031, the study concludes.

    The new report, set to be presented to the Metrolinx board this week, looks at various ideas for providing long-term relief in the Yonge corridor. The most effective option, the report concludes, would be a mostly underground subway line that travels south from Sheppard Avenue to Danforth before curling in toward Union Station.

    A fixed link along that route would reduce peak morning traffic on the Yonge line by more than a third by 2031, according to the study, while providing a 22-minute direct ride from Don Mills to Union Station — but it wouldn’t be cheap.

    The so-called “long relief line” would require extensive tunneling and as many as 14 new stations, at an estimated cost of $7.8 billion. The hefty price tag would be mitigated somewhat by the fact that, with so many riders using the new line, the city might no longer have to renovate the outdated Bloor-Yonge station.

    ‘There’s no need to panic that we’re going to run out of capacity in the next five years. We’re in pretty decent shape’

    A cheaper option, currently being considered by the City of Toronto, would see the relief line travel from Union up to Danforth. That option would reduce peak hour morning ridership on the Yonge line by 6,000, just over half the reduction pegged for the long line, while taking another 6,100 off the Bloor-Danforth line, about the same as the longer option.

    The “short relief line” would cost an estimated $3.5 billion, according to the Metrolinx study. It would also leave open the option of later extending the line north when more money became available.

    The Metrolinx Yonge Relief Network Study was launched in 2013. Its terms of reference were radically rejigged last year, though, when the province announced plans to rapidly improve regional express rail on the GO Train network.

    The report released Tuesday builds those improvements in to its long-term assumptions. If those and other scheduled projects go ahead as planned, crowding on the Yonge corridor will be manageable in the medium term, according to Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s chief planning officer.

    “There’s no need to panic that we’re going to run out of capacity in the next five years,” she said. “We’re in pretty decent shape in the next 10 to 15 years, provided that the investments that are currently committed stay on track.”

    Without a relief line though, all that work could be for naught in the long term.

    “If the population grows as projected and the ridership grows as projected, we’re essentially going to be where we are now by 2031, even if we get [regional express rail],” said City Councillor Josh Matlow, a longtime proponent of the downtown relief line.

    Matlow wants the city and the province to avoid what he calls “a very false debate” between improving regional rail service, including Mayor John Tory’s proposed SmartTrack line, and building a new subway to relieve the Yonge line. “Let’s move on both,” he said.

    To get a relief line built by 2031, the city needs to move now to plan a final route and line up funding, said transit advocate Steve Munro. “Saying we can basically go to sleep on this for 15 years is not a valid position,” he said. “We’ve got to know where it’s going to go.”

    The Metrolinx report considered two other options for a new relief line: a U-shaped subway travelling from Bloor West to Union Station and up to Danforth and an LRT going east from Union Station to Sheppard. Neither appeared practical in the report, however, for reasons of cost and impact respectively.

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    Tyler Anderson /  National Post
    Tyler Anderson / National PostGo Trains sit parked on the tracks between rush hours in Toronto, Wednesday April 29, 2015.

    TORONTO — Two men were in search of the perfect selfie with graffiti-tagged trains when transit security walked in on them.

    Hamilton police arrested the two men early Wednesday morning when they were caught taking selfies with tag-covered trains by security at a Metrolinx train storage facility in Hamilton.

    Anne Marie Aikins, a Metrolinx spokesperson, referred to the two men as “graffiti bandits” and said they sneaked into a layover facility where the provincial transportation agency’s trains are stored and maintained overnight disguised as painters.

    “They wore masks, they proceeded to deface our trains, and then they took selfies with our defaced trains,” Aikins said. “So I’m not sure if that’s the motivation…just to take a selfie.”

    One of the two men was detained by Metrolinx’s security officers, who Aikins said have the power to arrest, detain, and lay civil charges. Security called Hamilton police, who arrested the second man as he tried to run away.

    Anne Marie Aikins / Twitter
    Anne Marie Aikins / TwitterMetrolinx and police caught two "graffiti bandits" tagging trains on July 7, 2015.

    Hamilton police have not released the names of the two men or any information on potential charges.

    Aikins said the “facial recognition security cameras” developed by the IT department and the transit security officers were central to catching the two men in the act. The cameras take pictures of any trespassers and send them to transit security officers. The officers arrived at the facility within 20 minutes, Aikins said.

    Metrolinx infrastructure is often tagged with graffiti, Aikins said, in incidents that take place several times per month. Trains have to be taken out of commission and quickly repainted. She couldn’t say how much repainting the trains costs.

    “We are subjected to people defacing our infrastructure and we have a lot of it,” Aikins said. It’s an expense for everyone an unnecessary expense.”

    CJZK4T8WgAA1cRPTyler Anderson /  National PostAnne Marie Aikins / TwitterCJZK4T8WgAA1cRPTyler Anderson / National PostAnne Marie Aikins / Twitter

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    Say what you will about Ontario’s Liberal government: if it follows through on its infrastructure commitments, the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s (GTHA) public transit system will in a decade’s time be a reasonable approximation of what any comparable city would have demanded two decades ago. That’s a compliment.

    On Wednesday, the Metrolinx board heard presentations on major elements of this slow-brewing revolution.

    By 2024-ish, the Lakeshore East and West, Unionville, Barrie and Kitchener (partially) GO train lines will be electrified. That means lower operating costs, quieter trains, faster trips and vastly more of them.

    Staff presented four preliminary options to overlay Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack on those lines: more stations, and even higher frequencies — potentially every five minutes at rush hour — within the city. All options would provide regional express rail (RER) at least to Liberty Village, Gerrard and Carlaw, and the First Gulf development at the eastern foot of the Don Valley.

    Tory was surprisingly noncommittal when asked if these options would fulfill his SmartTrack vision, which has evolved considerably since the campaign. Notably, the always dubious western portion is likely to be served by an extension of the Eglinton Crosstown light rapid transit (LRT).

    “We haven’t really got to that stage of making a decision or forming an opinion on that,” he said. “If you take into account the stations that will be included on the LRT … the number of stations is such that it’s going to make a big difference to people.”

    Indeed. All this would.

    Moving on: every streetcar is now Presto card-enabled, as is every subway station to which streetcars connect. The entire Toronto Transit Commission is on schedule to be Presto-friendly by Christmas Day 2016. No more tokens, tickets, transfers or other mid-20th-century technology. Fare gates will replace turnstiles and jailhouse revolving bars.

    And then, maybe the boldest idea: “GTHA fare integration.” Armed with your Presto card, you could travel from Burlington to Markham, across several modes of transit operated by several different operators, and pay something logically defensible in a regional sense, instead of one fare when you hop on GO, another on the TTC, another on Viva.

    Metrolinx staff proposed three basic models: flat fares, zone-based fares and fares by distance. Add to that the idea of fares that differentiate by transit mode: if you’re willing to travel from A to B at 18 km/h on average, it might cost $X; at 40 km/h, perhaps $2X.

    This is a monumental undertaking. Imagine the political firestorm if the TTC decided to roll out something like that on its own. Rich Rosedalians get cheap rides downtown; poor Scarboroughites pay double, or ride the bus for cheap. Now imagine rolling it out collaboratively across all the GTHA’s jurisdictions.

    Fare integration in particular requires an unimpeachable, hyper-competent army of bureaucrats, free from political interference, whose expert advice will at least be accepted by stakeholders as dispassionate and trustworthy. So: is Metrolinx that army of bureaucrats?

    Darren Calabrese/National Post
    Darren Calabrese/National PostThe TTC announced recently that all users will soon have to use a Presto smart card to get on any transit vehicle, and when they exit any subway station.

    For the better part of a year, I have defended Metrolinx’s Union-Pearson Express against its crankiest and most small-minded critics. The fact it does not serve your neighbourhood is not a mark against it. Transit systems, like homes, have fixed coordinates. The fact you and your wife would rather spend $65 stuck in traffic in a Town Car than $38 on a train does not make the service misguided. It makes you misguided.

    But I’m sorry, the ridership numbers as presented to the board on Wednesday are no bloody good. It’s supposed to be 5,000 a day by June, and in November it was 2,186. That was considerably lower than in July and August, and for a service aimed at business travellers, that’s deeply worrying — especially since Metrolinx plausibly insists everyone who rides it loves it.

    Asked whether the price wasn’t simply too high — $19 for Presto card holders, $27.50 cash — Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig only conceded “we might need to take another look at the pricing” after saying Metrolinx had to build “awareness of the service,” “improve the wayfinding” at both ends and “change people’s ingrained habits.”

    Those are alarmingly basic concerns for a massive public transit operator to be invoking eight months after launch. It’s not the bureaucrats’ fault, necessarily: Metrolinx is not famous for its autonomy from political actors. But if Metrolinx and its political overseers manage to mess up a pretty simple airport train for which Torontonians have been begging for decades, how much faith should we have in the infinitely more complex items on the agenda?

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    UP-Express-1Darren Calabrese/National PostUP-Express-1Darren Calabrese/National Post

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    Even before it launched, the Union Pearson Express (UPX) was raising questions about how much faith we should put in Metrolinx, the ostensibly arm’s-length provincial body overseeing many billions worth of transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Before UPX fares were halved in February, the airport-to-downtown link was attracting half of its 12-month ridership targets, which were in turn well short of the break-even point.

    It was exactly what most people, expert and non-expert, had predicted. Now, thanks to documents released to media after a two-year battle, we know Metrolinx had several expert studies confirming it was simply too expensive. In future, taxpayers may be on the hook for subsidizing this service, which was designed specifically for people who can regularly afford airline tickets.

    It is a famous cock-up, but to be fair to Metrolinx staff, everyone knows it’s not just on them. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, the guy ostensibly at the other end of the arm, took it upon himself to announce the fare cut. We all know transit planning is filthy with politics. But that doesn’t make it any less of a problem.

    In June, Metrolinx will issue recommendations on a vastly more complex costing exercise: integrating public transit fares across the entire GTHA. In the near future there will be no more cash, tokens, Metropasses, paper transfers or stickers. One charge to your Presto card will take you from Hamilton east to Durham and north to York, with Toronto and the TTC in the middle.

    Laura Pedersen/National Post/File
    Laura Pedersen/National Post/FileThe Union-Pearson Express at Pearson airport.

    It is an unambiguously good idea. “We know that the fare structure is creating barriers for people,” says Leslie Woo, Metrolinx’s chief planning officer. “Trying to get to something that’s more simple and consistent across the region is the key objective.”

    But “the devil,” as TTC chairman Josh Colle says, “is in the details.” What will that single fare look like? How will it be calculated? How will each GTHA transit agency’s fare structures mesh with the others? This is easily the biggest Toronto transit issue we aren’t talking about, and the politics of it makes UPX look like a day at the beach.

    Metrolinx staff are considering three basic concepts; two are fraught with peril. One would carve up the GTHA into zones, as in London and many other cities: cross into a new zone, pay more. Another would differentiate fares by the type of ride. Fares for “rapid transit” (subway and LRTs) would increase by distance for “medium” journeys (seven to 15 kilometres) and “long” journeys (more than 15 km), while “local” transit options (buses and streetcars) would stay at a flat fare.

    There’d be riots in the street. You can’t do it.

    To policy wonks, either might sound reasonable: if you’re willing to make a journey by slow bus instead of fast train, shouldn’t you get a discount? But in the real world, it’s a bomb ready to go off in politicians’ faces. In Toronto specifically, it would mean the end of nearly half a century of flat-fare TTC service.

    “This opens a rat’s nest of issues,” says transit advocate Steve Munro. “The system was designed around a flat fare where once you get to the point where you need more capacity, you change the mode.”

    So imagine telling residents along Eglinton Avenue that the years of construction hell they’re enduring to replace buses with an LRT will come with a fare hike. Or imagine telling Scarborough residents that their hard-won subway will come with a 50 per cent fare increase to get downtown. The Kennedy-to-Scarborough Town Centre extension would be almost a “medium” journey on its own.

    “There’d be riots in the street,” says Scarborough Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker. “You can’t do it.”

    De Baeremaeker thinks the politics alone makes this a non-starter, and he might be right: Scarborough’s Liberal MPPs are nearly as heavily invested in that subway as its councillors. But it’s not inconceivable the scads of money Queen’s Park has poured into Toronto transit in recent years might come at a price.

    For Colle, the issue is that “Toronto is kept financially whole.” He notes other GTHA municipalities’ transit systems are subsidized far more heavily than the TTC. Asked if he has a “line in the sand,” he says the system “can’t be punitive financially for Toronto so that other jurisdictions’ fares can be artificially low.”

    Colle suggests a zone-based system might fly if all of Toronto is “Zone 1.” That could still facilitate regional transit. It’s plausible, if not necessarily fair, and there is no reason to think Metrolinx won’t recommend it. But another UPX-scale miscalculation could lead to a transit battle even more bitter than we’re used to.

    • Email: cselley@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

    TTC-1Laura Pedersen/National Post/FileTTC-1Laura Pedersen/National Post/File

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    Torontonians can be forgiven for feeling a little confused over their tangle of transit projects, the many light-rail lines proposed, killed and under construction across the city, or the six-year discussion over how to help transit-starved Scarborough.

    Two major projects, the Scarborough subway and the growing demand for a new line to relieve downtown crowding, saw major changes following a council vote Wednesday.

    City councillors greenlit a one-stop, subway express line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre, rejecting a seven-stop LRT line the province originally committed funds for in 2010 (Mayor Rob Ford later cancelled that LRT line). Council also voted for the first phase of a 7.5-kilometre subway relief line connecting Pape Station to the downtown core via Pape Avenue, Eastern Avenue and Queen Street.

    Where do the projects fit in the grand scheme of transit planning in the Greater Toronto Area? There are many projects that have undergone fits and starts in recent years. Here’s where they all currently stand:

    Funded and under construction

    Tyler Anderson / National Post
    Tyler Anderson / National PostA crew member at an entrance to the subway station being built at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Friday January 15, 2016

    York-Spadina subway extension (TTC)

    • To run from Downsview Station to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre at Hwy. 7 and Millway Ave.

    • Service expected to begin by end of 2017.

    Eglinton Crosstown LRT (Metrolinx)

    • To run from Mount Dennis (Weston Rd.) to Kennedy Station.

    • Estimated completion by 2021.

    Funded but not yet being built

    Scarborough subway extension (TTC)

    • $3.56 billion in funding from provincial and federal governments.

    • In January, the project morphed from three-stop to a one-stop express from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre.

    • On Tuesday, city council approved the much-discussed, express extension.

    • No date announced for the start of construction.


    Finch West LRT (Metrolinx)

    • To run from Humber College’s north campus to the new Finch West stop on the York-Spadina line (near Keele St.).

    • Construction to start mid-2017.

    Sheppard East LRT (Metrolinx)

    • To run from Don Mills subway station to east of Morningside Ave.

    • Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig acknowledged Finch West LRT will be built first, citing a limit on how many major projects can proceed at the same time.

    • Construction to start in 2021.

    Largely funded with approved plan

    Aaron Vincent Elkaim / National Post
    Aaron Vincent Elkaim / National PostA GO Train in Toronto

    GO Regional Express Rail (RER) expansion (Metrolinx)

    • Includes 12 new GO stations, eight within the GTA.

    • The province has agreed to put up $13.5 billion over 10 years.

    • Additional costs could mount for station construction.

    • Plans and estimates to be finalized Nov. 30.

    Funding and plans unclear

    Eglinton East LRT (Metrolinx)

    • To extend Crosstown LRT from Kennedy Station to University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and serve local areas missed by Scarborough Subway Extension.

    • Was to be funded with savings from shift to one-stop Scarborough subway. Subway escalations have since consumed most of that money.

    • No timeline.

    SmartTrack (Metrolinx)

    City of Toronto
    City of TorontoSeparate and parallel services of GO and SmartTrack

    • Originally a 22-stop surface rail transit system proposed by Tory as part of his election campaign.

    • To use existing GO lines to provide more frequent service within the GTA.

    • Has since shrunk to potentially 14 stations, including six new ones at locations shared with GO RER expansion.

    • Costs for new stations estimated between $700 million and $1.1 billion.

    • City of Toronto must commit to funding by Nov. 30 Metrolinx meeting.

    No funding and still being studied

    Yonge Relief Line subway (TTC)

    Stan Behal /Postmedia Network
    Stan Behal /Postmedia NetworkCommuters in the subway at Yonge and Bloor, on Thursday June 30, 2016

    • Received $150 million from province for engineering study.

    • Phase One route approved from Osgoode Station east underneath Queen St./Eastern Ave. and then north to Danforth Ave.

    • Mayor Tory estimated it would be completed by 2031.

    • Phase Two planned to connect with Sheppard Ave. by 2041.

    Eglinton West LRT (Metrolinx)

    • To extend Crosstown LRT from Mt. Dennis Station to Pearson Airport.

    • A business study for the line suggested construction could start by 2020, finishing up in 2024.

    Waterfront Reset (TTC)

    Laura Pedersen / National Post
    Laura Pedersen / National PostA view of condos construction south of the Gardiner Expressway, March 11, 2016.

    • Series of projects to connect waterfront communities from Long Branch GO station to Woodbine Ave. in the Beach.

    • Studies ongoing.

    Yonge St. extension to Richmond Hill (Metrolinx/TTC)

    • In June, Ontario pledged $55 million to advance the project’s design plans

    With files from Daniel McKenzie.

    ttcTyler Anderson / National PostMetrolinxAaron Vincent Elkaim / National PostCity of TorontoStan Behal /Postmedia NetworkLaura Pedersen / National PostttcTyler Anderson / National PostMetrolinxAaron Vincent Elkaim / National PostCity of TorontoStan Behal /Postmedia NetworkLaura Pedersen / National Post

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    Kathleen Wynne may be the country’s least popular premier; her party may be 10 points down to the Progressive Conservatives, as of threehundredeight.com’s weighted polling average at the end of September; and Metrolinx, the ostensibly arm’s-length agency charged with dragging the region’s public transit options into the 1980s — and perhaps even beyond — may be a “monster (that) is getting away from them,” as NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo put it last month amidst accusations that an as-yet-unreleased review of Metrolinx operations would whitewash problems.

    But for now, if nothing else, Wynne still has something pretty meaningful to offer voters in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area: $16 billion or so (of their money) to make it easier to navigate a rapidly growing region in a way that residents of many other comparable jurisdictions — Chicago and New York, to say nothing of European cities — take for granted.

    Projects planned and funded — many already under way — will be “nothing short of transformative … for this region,” Wynne told a friendly crowd at the Toronto Board of Trade Wednesday. It is difficult to argue. However you crunch the costs and benefits, frequent, two-way, all-day GO train service between downtown Toronto and Kitchener/Hamilton, plus further improvements on the Lakeshore East and Lakeshore West lines — already half-hour-or-better, both directions, all day — would offer millions of people all manner of professional and personal lifestyle improvements.

    Even if an out-of-control monster called Metrolinx is in charge, and even if the Liberals richly, decadently deserve defeat, many commuters may struggle to dismiss this pitch out of hand — especially since Wynne’s friend in the Prime Minister’s Office is similarly enamoured of infrastructure spending.

    “One year ago, we got the real federal partner that I had been calling for. And that is a very big deal. That alignment is extremely important,” the premier effused Wednesday.

    So there’s all that. And then there’s the city of Toronto.

    “We’re expecting that marvellous alignment with the government of Canada, the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario to help us with the capital (costs of projects),” Peter Wallace, the city’s plain-spoken general manager, said in a speech at the Munk School of Global Affairs Monday. “For sure, we’ll get some money out of that. But no other government has expressed the slightest interest in helping the city of Toronto with its operating (budget) challenge.”

    Indeed. And however much the city might get to put toward its staggering $23 billion in approved but unfunded capital projects, it will be a tiny fraction of $23 billion. Wallace has quite rightly been telling councillors, publicly, that they are to a significant extent running a model parliament: saying yes to the moon without so much as a space program, let alone a rocket. It is time, he says, for more earthly pursuits: find the money for what you’ve committed to or don’t commit to it. And don’t pretend even more largess from upstairs will bridge the gap, or use it as an excuse to commit to even more things.

    Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia/File
    Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia/FileCity Manager Peter Wallace has accused councillors of running a model parliament.

    “The province owes us that money, therefore the province should buy us that new (thing),” said Wallace, mimicking Toronto’s traditional thinking. “Like, it’s just not gonna happen. The province is dead flat broke. Forget it.” And while Wallace pledged a “race to the bottom” when it comes to finding efficiencies, he stressed that’s absolutely not sufficient to be a game-changer in the big picture. Given how big the big picture is, he is certainly correct.

    Mayor John Tory has taken some flak for his demand for a 2.6 per cent budget cut across the board, even as he pledges to commit to new taxes to fund his relatively ambitious platform. Is he a city builder or not? Toronto politics being what it is, however, one can understand the instinct to be seen guarding the public purse more zealously than ever when preparing to raid voters’ wallets. Tory remains committed to supporting new revenue sources for transit and housing, and getting them approved by city council by the end of the year — and not before time.

    He has been mayor for nearly two years. If his eventual commitment doesn’t suggest the possibility of transformative change in Toronto — on its own, not after months of consultations or once the province and the feds chip in their hypothetical third of the dough — it will be far more difficult to see in his administration the transformative potential that he promised.

    • Email: cselley@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

    transit-1Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia/Filetransit-1Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia/File


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