Metrolinx board meetings are fairly quiet affairs, devoid of controversy, let alone substance. These are pro forma efforts in public meetings by an organization that is doing all it can in private.
The agenda breakdown tells the story. This contrasts with the transparency required by legislation in municipal proceedings.
It’s not new. In pre-covid times I would attend meetings with a dwindling group of reporters from City Hall or Queen’s Park press galleries who eventually decided it wasn’t worth wasting their time unless that there is a burning issue where an interview ambush could yield a juicy quote.
For the past two years, board meetings have been online with all the technical glitches we’ve come to love thanks to Zoom and its kin. This month, in a big comeback, the Council met in person. It was almost as if the lights were back on Broadway.
Metrolinx loves telling everyone how wonderful they are, how everything is going so well. This time they even had a celebratory video.
The reunion video is available for those who simply need to watch it, though as a show it should have died in out-of-town tryouts.
There are two common themes:
- The focus is on marketing and communications with as much “good news” as possible.
- There is no discussion of politics. Any substantive items, if discussed by the Board, were dealt with in committee or in a private session of the Board.
I couldn’t help but think how beautiful “Here life is” in Cabaretor “Everything is beautiful in ballet” in A chorus line. Alas, Metrolinx hasn’t (yet) recruited the likes of Kander & Ebb, or Michael Bennett & Marvin Hamlisch to its burgeoning communications team.
Given years of debate over regional fare integration and the number of virtual trees felled for reporting on the subject, Metrolinx skips the complexities by simply offering a free transfer between GO and area transit systems 905. Toronto/TTC? No.
It’s hard to understand why we have atrocious debates about things like zone limits, time-based transfers, or different classes of service when the main agency, GO/Metrolinx, simply offers free transfers and larger discounts to encourage traffic. If a municipal system tried this, they would be pilloried for wasting precious tax dollars on people who are not motorists.
The debate over all fare systems is whether the marginal revenue is worth the complexity and cost of administration, although the latter is much simpler with fare cards rather than drivers and paper transfers.
Related context is that we learn in the 2021-2022 annual report that GO Transit’s operating subsidy has doubled to almost $1 billion due to the combined effect of ridership loss and continued, albeit reduced, scale of operation during the pandemic.
Operating expenses declined little, despite service cuts, during the pandemic era.
The operating subsidy, however, has increased due to the loss of fares and other revenue.
The degree of belt-tightening at Metrolinx will be an interesting contrast to what may be imposed on city agencies as special pandemic financial supports end.
There has been no public discussion on how this situation can be maintained in future years depending on the rate of ridership recovery.
The community relations report was particularly infuriating because it presented Metrolinx’s work as listening to communities as a positive contribution to projects. In fact, Metrolinx’s common strategy is to review their proposals and then “engage” the community to make the best of a bad situation with things like design contests for decorating unwanted new structures. . Even the duck on the parks expanding thanks to Metrolinx continues to ignore (a) the relatively small amount of land involved, and (b) the much larger effect the associated project has on a neighborhood.
The board enjoys it as if the staff are doing a wonderful job.
A journal of the meeting:
|0:00||Start of the video.|
|8:42||Start of broadcast.|
|8:53||Welcome. Recognition of Aboriginal History Month. Land recognition.|
|10:21||Moments of security. Video of a near miss with trespassers on the Milton Line’s Humber Bridge, and a presentation on level crossing work to improve protection.|
|14:40||Changes in the composition of the Board.|
|5:30 p.m.||Update from the CEO.
Return of the horsemen. Thank you to all the staff for the work during the covid era.
GO trains get longer as passengers return. Much more service on weekends by train and bus.
Increase in UPX traffic. The serve is back at 15′ peak, more to come.
Since last week, GO weekend ridership has returned to 100% of pre-covid levels.
At the end of June, overall ridership was 45% for GO and 56.6% for UPX.
The GO expansion consortium contract was signed in April and there are already proposals to improve the performance of the planned (unspecified) network.
Presto expanded contactless payment options will be launched on a pilot basis on UPX.
Free GO transfers with 7x 905 Brampton, Burlington, Durham, Hamilton, Miway, Oakville and YRT locations – a ‘big step towards fare integration’.
Rates reduced by 40% for youth and post-secondary students, up 23%.
All of this will stimulate traffic
The death of a construction worker at Cedarvale Station (now known as Eglinton West) was the only dark note in this presentation and provided a counterpoint to the overall safety message.
|25:00||Metrolinx participated in various events including Indigenous Peoples Day and Pride Month.
In March, Metrolinx and VIA staff provided life-saving assistance to a passenger.
Metrolinx’s legal team received an award for excellence in construction law.
|28:00||At this point we have seen the main dish, a video called “We’re back!” It takes about 2 minutes.|
Ridership is increasing steadily and has recovered to 51-60% depending on the corridor.
Weekend riding is driven by events and travel passes, as well as seasonal bus services.
Metrolinx advertises in multiple languages and with demographic focus such as the availability of a 40% discount for Gen Z riders and a “you don’t need a car” campaign.
As part of a return to work program, a $441 3-month pass is available for corporate partners to encourage return to work.
Metrolinx has participated in many community events and uses Presto Perks as another way to attract riders. Free transfer to 905 systems is growing 30% month over month.
Advertising returns as a source of revenue.
|40:56||Communications at the project level.
Community engagement teams “learn what matters most as we build more”:
· to note that “listening to residents translates into a better result for our projects”
“park spaces are important to residents and in some cases we are able to expand these park spaces”
“bringing the voice of the community into our process through design excellence competitions”
|46:45||Capital Projects Update:
A slideshow and quick overview of major projects.
Finch West is in the vehicle testing stage.
Preparation of the Ontario Line site for the tunnel boring machine is underway in Corktown. There will be provisions to “celebrate” archeology in the site (not specified). The “Civil South” (tunnels west of the Don) and “RSSOM” (rolling stock, operation and maintenance) contracts are currently being examined and will be awarded in the autumn.
GO’s expansion was exemplified by a new Bramalea parking structure.
Eglinton Crosstown stations are gaining decorative artwork, and most station sites will be back to “normal” by the end of the summer.
The first of two Crosstown West tunnel boring machines advanced 275m and construction of the tunnel will be completed in 2024.
A board member posed a soft question to staff about community engagement in green areas where the line will be above ground level.
Staff responded that they had held about 12 virtual open houses, met with community leaders, and sent flyers and postcards to the area. They claim they are not done with planning and designing this part of the project. A communications office will open soon in Scarlett Road, and there will be an in-person open house in July.
A Design Excellence Task Force has been established to ensure the line fits together seamlessly, and Metrolinx says they will ensure community concerns are considered in the project.
At the Davenport Diamond, trains will be able to travel on the new bridge by the end of the year with a planned service cut in early 2023. The public realm below the guideway was described as an opportunity to work with the community to ensure it adapts, and Metrolinx intends to have “deliberate community engagement”.
Metrolinx realized a surplus of $55 million which will be returned to the government. There was an operating savings of $180 million from business improvement plans. All good news here. The main discussion of this report took place within the audit committee, which was private.
|1:05:55||Presto open payments and credit card support on contactless readers require a policy change. It’s a matter of housekeeping.|
|1:07:50||Quarterly reports: all had been examined in committee.|
|1:08||End of video|