Municipal authorities are not exactly known for being innovative in public transit provision. That’s what makes Innisfil, Ontario “revolutionary”, according to Ben Spurr’s article in the Toronto Star. But is its approach to serving low-density areas really that innovative?

Innisfil, population 36,000, recently partnered with Uber to deliver a service that combines the flexibility of ride-hailing with the public subsidies of municipal transit. The town subsidizes Uber for its residents, so they pay $2-$3 to travel to/from a list of common destinations like the Barrie South GO Station and the Innisfil Town Hall, or $5 to travel elsewhere in the town. They’re pooled with others using the UberPool service.

This is the first partnership of its kind in Canada, although Uber currently has 35 similar partnerships with public transit agencies around the world. It provides one solution to the pernicious problem of trying to provide viable transit service in low-density areas. Two bus routes would have cost the town $610,000 a year while the Uber partnership has cost the town $165,535 in its first eight months. The partnership provides a much more user-centered approach, like taxis and ride-hailing apps, than traditional transit where users have to adapt their travel patterns to fixed routes and infrastructure.

But is Innisfil’s Uber partnership really that innovative? There are lots of earlier models of public-private or public-cooperative partnerships: Montréal has been combining taxi services with public transit for many years, claiming they “deserve to be part of our transportation cocktail.” Société de transport de Montréal offers a shared taxibus option in low-density areas and integrates taxis for 88% of its paratransit trips. STM also gives transit card holders discounts with car sharing company Communauto and bike sharing organization Bixi. Dorina Pojani and Dominic Stead’s edited volume The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies (Springer, 2017) details many informal or private-sector transport services in places like Mexico (informal collectivos), Indonesia (Go-Jek), and Turkey (informal dolmus), some of which operated informally for many years before being adopted by the local transit authorities.

Critics warn that, like any public-private partnership, reliance on private companies to solve problems for public agencies can be problematic. Like other tech-centered approaches, there is the risk of municipalities becoming locked into a particular technology, product, or provider through contracts that specify them. Municipalities could be forced to pay ever-higher fees for a service, give up rights to any resulting data (e.g. on travel patterns), or continue with a partnership even if it ceases to yield benefits for them. And then there’s the more philosophical debate: does partnering with private sector companies allow transit authorities to pass the buck? Should they be essentially advertising the very same private sector transportation providers that many public authorities consider their competitors? Are private sector solutions “anathema”, as Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc (a TTC board member) would say? In Spurr’s article, Mihevc claims that “The ‘public’ in public transit is destroyed when public transit agencies start subsidizing private automobile use.” Indeed, a number of the authors in Pojani and Stead’s book seem to feel that any type of informal or private-sector transportation options are competing with public transit authorities for would-be public transit riders.

Integrating short-term pilot projects with contracts specifying the public benefits and evaluation methods before/after the pilot project ends could help. We’re in the era of the pilot project, with most municipalities unable to commit to long-term services without testing them first for economic viability and other factors like community acceptance. Studying existing partnerships STM’s long-term “transportation cocktail” will also provide useful insights for future partnerships aiming to serve areas or populations in a more user-centered way than they could before.

I’m live blogging today from the Dalhousie University SHIFT conference. This student-organized conference began Thursday March 1st and ends today.

On Thursday night, the conference opened with a talk from Tamika Butler on social justice and equity in planning. Ms. Butler, a lawyer with a background in civil rights, has worked to increase transportation options for low-income and minority communities. She spoke about ways in which we need to confront our own biases and address intersectionality (e.g. ways in which individuals’ gender, age, ethnic and other identities can mean they face multiple barriers) when planning services and addressing issues like gentrification. Friday’s keynote speakers were Vikas Mehta and Katrina Johnson-Zimmerman.

Today’s keynote speakers include Susan Holdsworth and Gerry Post, an advocate for accessibility and equity in Halifax. Mr. Post addressed the need for a shift in regional governance to address the rural-urban divide in the huge land area of the Halifax Regional Municipality; integrated regional service delivery (e.g. for transit, location of services like Access Nova Scotia); and simplifying density bonuses so that it’s a more fair, equitable, and transparent process. He also advocated for the ability of citizen/community groups to advise development, using the example of Planning Aid in England.

This afternoon there will be a couple of workshops on redesigning streets, along with our monthly Planning Social at the end of the conference. If you’re in town, come and join us at the East of Grafton at 5pm!

Today I attended a webinar on non-market initiatives to increase affordable housing through the Planning Institute of British Columbia. Given the fact that the National Housing Strategy is hot off the press, this was the third in a series of very timely webinars PIBC has hosted on the topic.

CMHC’s new National Housing Strategy prioritizes the idea that “housing rights are human rights”: 530,000 people will be removed from core housing need (they currently live in units that do not meet affordability, suitability, or adequacy). Lance Jakubec, Innovation Fund Consultant (and my former co-worker at CMHC!), explained that new legislation will require and the new national housing council will draw on perspectives from a range of people including those with lived experience in affordable housing. National Housing Co-Investment Fund will ensure that existing rental housing isn’t lost due to lack of upkeep: 15.9 billion will be allocated to accessibility, energy efficiency and affordability initiatives to preserve and repair existing units, and up to $200 million in federal lands will be transferred at low or no cost to build accessible, affordable housing in municipalities. $4.3 billion will be devoted to the resilient community housing sector (housing provided through co-operatives and non-profit providers) which will preserve over 300,000 affordable units across the country. As I reported last week, most initiatives will begin in April 2018 so we’ll expect to see more details on these in the new year. The CMHC Observer allows you to use the Census Program Data Viewer to assess core housing need down to the Census Tract level, generate graphs and reports.

Armin Amrolia, Executive Director of Development & Asset Strategies at BC Housing, noted that they recently added student housing into their housing continuum model. She discussed the impact of the new NHS on non-profits and co-operatives in BC: almost 30,000 units will expire by 2033 (15,000 by 2025 and 14,000 by 2033). Expiry means the end of government subsidy, the end of the requirement to make financial/administrative reports to BC Housing or CMHC, and the end of rental subsidies for tenants in many cases. There are about 21 active redevelopment projects (total 1,745 units) who have approached BC Housing about redeveloping their units as affordable housing now that their contracts have expired. BC Housing’s low-cost financing tool allows up to 100% financing on construction, with an interest rate of 1/16%, no loan insurance required, and a 1% loan fee. Take-out financing for non-profits allows 100% financing, a competitive bulk rate of 2.9% over a 10-year term, CMHC loan insurance of $75/unit (max $5000) and an amortization term of 35 years. These are extremely attractive rates for non-profits and developers.

  • Lynnhaven, Abbotsford: the society owned 40 detached units for low-income seniors. In 2010 the society approached BC Housing for a land swap that would allow them to build 64 bachelor units closer to amenities. The developer provided the up-front costs and the project funding came through the Community Partnership Initiative. The new units were built first so that the existing tenants could be rehoused before the older land was redeveloped. The project also received funding from CMHC, the City of Abbotsford, and the society used some of their own equity.
  • Kiwanis Court, Richmond: Richmond Kiwanis Seniors Citizens Housing Society owned a building with 122 units for low- to moderate-income seniors. Their partners were City of Richmond, Polygon Homes and BC Housing. The society retained about 1/3 of the property and 2/3 would go to the developer. The society retained the affordability they required, while the developer built a market rate project next to the affordable building. The unit number increased by 174 units. All of the tenants were rehoused during the redevelopment project and then relocated to the new building. Again, the society provided some equity, as well as the City providing some funding in their budget.
  • Pleasantvale, Kelowna: the Society of Hope operated a 50-unit building for low- to moderate-income seniors. They approached BC Housing and the City of Kelowna–the society was willing to put their site up for redevelpment and the City provided two adjoining plots to develop 50 one-bedroom units and 20 townhouses. Again, the tenants were all relocated during construction and then rehoused in the new project. The City provided some funding and a development charge credit as well.

Kaeley Wiseman, MCIP, RPP, Manager of Planning & Development at M’akola Development Service. M’akola Housing Society has 1,600 units on Vancouver Island. Their Development Service helps non-profits understand the complexity of housing development. M’akola is also working on a lot of redevelopment projects with the end of operating agreeements. Traditionally, their affordable housing concept included low-density (townhouses), small household sizes, isolated sites often removed from communities (often the only available parcel of land), often reliant on subsidies. This model describes most of the housing M’akola currently operates. The pro-initiative model includes higher density (mixed-use and taller buildings), serves more families and a diverse mix of residents, has lower utility costs for tenants, focuses on tenant education, focuses on affordability in construction, meets tenant needs through in-houses services/supports, has shared spaces (allowing non-profits more ownership of their building through commercial space), allows internal mobility/flexibility and is operationally sustainable (e.g. without subsidy). Kaeley emphasized the need for a clear vision and mission, the development of partnerships to help fund a redevelopment project, and early and ongoing communication with levels of government (municipalities/regions, province).

Juliet Van Vliet, Director of Lands, Public Works and Resources for Toquaht Nation (and SCARP alumni–shout-out!) noted that the Nations have something to teach municipal governments in accessing federal funding (and it seems, developing a clear vision/priority for affordable housing). Toquat Housing was in treaty negotiations from 1991-2011, which meant lack of clarity on housing tenure in 10 houses. There were also major issues with water quality and infrastructure (a waste water treatment facility and fiber optic network were completed in 2016). The Nation worked hard on developing a clear vision on housing, engaging residents as part of an Official Community Plan (2012-2015), establishing a home ownership program (2016-2018) and setting aside $320,000 towards rental housing in their 2016 budget, an identified need. This money (equity cash from the claim settlement) was used to leverage an additional $1 million from CMHC to build eight units in total). UBC students also supported the planning for new housing. The new units are to be affordable based on the needs of low-income residents ($587 average unit rent, with deep affordability available), will be Nation-owned on Toquat lands, and will include a gathering space which is also lacking in the community. Some of the materials used include local cedar which was milled in the community.

These projects are amazing illustrations of what has been possible even without the new funding the NHS will be providing. I’ll be sharing them with my students in housing policy.

Montréal is decidedly a different place after electing its first ever female mayor, Valérie Plante, on November 5th. Plante will take office during the city’s historic 375th year. Portraying herself as “l’homme de la situation”/the man for the job, Plante managed to unseat Denis Coderre (mayor since 2013 and elected six times as a federal MP) by focusing on everyday issues rather than ego-affirming projects like the $40 million Coderre spent to light up Jacques Cartier Bridge. Plante’s pedigree as a community organizer and activist is sure to change things up in the planning world, and someone described as “having no ego” is sure to excel in collaborating, forging partnerships, and facilitating action in areas like transportation planning and affordable housing.

Plante’s campaign promise for a new Metro line might take two terms to fulfil, but she’s already proposing that the Pink Line have stations named after women who have played roles in the city’s history. Whether the Pink Line will materialize will largely depend on available funding, considering the other mass transit priorities in the region. She’s also advocated for fare reductions for low-income residents and free transit for seniors and kids under 12. Improving safety for cyclists and increasing the number of dedicated bike lanes are also on the table.

Plante’s suggestion that businesses affected by construction be assisted with tax breaks from the city might resonate with Haligonians affected by the neverending Nova Centre construction and Argyle Street redesign. Inclusionary zoning, which would require builders to reserve 40% of their units for affordable and social housing, is also a priority for Plante as the traditionally affordable Montréal faces rising real estate prices.

Her win signals a desire for a change in leadership style. Projet Montréal, the municipal party Plante belongs to, also saw 11 borough mayors elected and have the majority with 65 seats on city council. With priorities on culture, sustainability, accessibility, democracy, and community, Projet Montréal was born out of community activism in 2004 and won 14 seats in the 2009 election and 28 seats in 2013.

Figure 5 from The Opportunity Equation in the GTA (Update report). Notice how the middle class has switched places with the low- and very low-income group. Some of the other regions in the GTA show an even more extreme transition

I’m part of a research grant on neighbourhood changes in Canadian cities, the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, which examines the ways in which our cities are changing in areas such as affordable housing, income inequality, and poverty. Our Principal Investigator is Dr. David Hulchanski at the University of Toronto, and there are research teams in Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. As a member of the Halifax team, I presented our research on rooming houses in a previous post.

Last week Dr. Hulchanski’s team and United Way Toronto and York Region released a report, The Opportunity Equation in the Greater Toronto Area: An Update on Neighbourhood Income Inequality and Polarization. Their first report, The Opportunity Equation, proposed a relationship:

Effort + Opportunity = Success

The research found that over half of people living in the Toronto area felt that factors like race and gender were a barrier to success, and that the next generation would be worse off. The researchers believed that increasing income inequality was threatening the Opportunity Equation.

The update to this report, released on November 1, 2017, updates the analysis with data from the 2016 Census and also looks at the trends in Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver. The main findings were that income inequality continues to grow in all of these cities, and is geographically dispersed across the Toronto region. A majority of Toronto neighbourhoods are now either high- or low-income, with middle-income neighbourhoods disappearing. In 1970, almost two thirds (64%) of neighbourhoods were middle-income, though only 42% were in 2015. In contrast, low- and very low-income neighbourhoods together made up about one-fifth (21%) of the Toronto CMA’s neighbourhoods in 1980. By 2015, they made up 39% of all neighbourhoods. High- and very high-income neighbourhoods grew from 15 % to 19%. The highest increase in income inequality in the Toronto region were in the City of Toronto and the lowest in Durham Region.

Based on the findings from the first report, the authors called on all partners and sectors to address three issues: providing young people with opportunities, helping develop a more stable, secure labour market, and helping ensure that background and circumstances are not barriers to opportunity. The United Way launched an Anchor Agency investment strategy, ensuring people have a broad range of services available close to their homes, a Youth Success Strategy to connect youth with multiple barriers to meaningful career opportunities, and continues to build on its Building Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy to tackle the lack of economic opportunities in many areas across the city.

The update report builds on this message and encourage more partners across various sectors to address the challenges.

 

It’s a bad week for chief planners. Following last Tuesday’s news that Halifax chief planner Bob Bjerke lost his job, Toronto’s chief planner announced yesterday that she’ll be stepping down. Jennifer Keesmaat has been chief planner and executive director of the city’s planning division since 2012 and will be vacating her position at the end of September.

In an interview with CBC, Keesmaat admitted that she always planned to review her career options after five years in the public service. Before working for the City in its highest-ranking planning job, she was a planning consultant. She is also very involved in the Canadian Institute of Planners, in recent years spearheading an effort to maintain the national organization rather than have just provincial/territorial licensing bodies. She is known for speaking her mind, even when that puts her at odds with Mayor John Tory. In particular, she championed a seven-stop LRT line to replace the aging Scarborough RT and advocated for the removal of the Gardiner East expressway. Many cite her as responsible for maintaining the agenda of sustainable planning in Toronto through the Ford and Tory regimes. Critics have said she’s too outspoken, too interested in stating her own opinion rather than giving more neutral advice, and takes to Twitter to engage in debates (we’ve seen a lot of this recently, but Keesmaat has been doing it since 2012).

Keesmaat certainly possesses many of the characteristics necessary for such a high-ranking position in Canada’s largest city: she’s media-savvy, determined, smart, engages the public in more transparent decision-making, and tackles issues that appeal to younger generations, such as sustainable transportation. She is the city’s first female chief planner and was just 42 years old when she got the job (it was a young administration–Mayor Rob Ford was only 43 at the time). Christopher Hume portrayed her as a novice in the Toronto Star, writing that she “quickly found out that the chief planner’s role is to advise not decide”, but I’d argue that she already knew exactly how planning worked at a municipality the day she was hired. The fact that she obtained the position of chief planner despite her inexperience as a civil servant, and kept it despite disagreements with those in power, demonstrates her political savviness. As we know from Halifax and Vancouver, it’s not unusual for chief planners to be ousted when their vision for the city conflicts with those of other powerful figures.

Many have expressed their support for Keesmaat should she run for public office, but she seems to excel at planning. Let’s hope she brings more of her expertise to Toronto’s critical infrastructure projects.

On March 22, the federal budget was announced, including $2.2 billion over the next 11 years to cities for transit projects, part of $11.9 million that would be allocated to infrastructure. The Liberal government commited to 50% of the funding for municipal projects. This week, municipalities across the country announced how they would use the much-needed funding for public transit infrastructure.

In British Columbia, the federal announcement was matched by the Province’s commitment to contribute another $2.2 billion, allowing regional authority TransLink to move ahead with Phase 2 of a ten-year plan in Vancouver. Projects will include the Broadway subway, which TransLink has wanted to build for over 20 years, Surrey light rail transit, replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, expanding bus and HandyDART services, more railcars and upgrades to the roads, cycling and walking networks.

The big news in Hamilton and Niagara Falls was that they will get all-day GO Transit service, with a contribution of $1.7 billion. Both municipalities also received funding for their bus services. Niagara Falls Transit will use their $3.4 million in federal funding (which will be matched by the city) to develop a real-time “next bus” app, buy new buses, update a transit hub, update its fleet management software, buy and install new fare boxes and allow online booking and management for its specialized curb-to-curb transit system. Hamilton will use its $32 million in federal funding for 13 projects including a bus storage and maintenance facility, new buses, rehabilitation of transit shelters and bus stops, automatic passenger counters, transit priority measures, and improvements at the Mountain Transit Centre.

In Guelph, $9.6 million federal funding will allow the municipality to buy new buses, replace fare boxes, upgrade bus stops, and upgrade the traffic control system. London’s proposed bus rapid transit system will get a boost, in addition to the transformation of Dundas Street in the core into a pedestrian-first “flex street”, replacement of all of London Transit’s bus shelters, and construction of protected bicycle lanes downtown.

Winnipeg announced 33 projects that will be jointly funded by the three levels of government including replacement buses, new bus shelters and handi-vans. The federal government’s 50% of the projects amounts to about $3.1 million, while the province will pay $1.5 million and municipalities will cover about $2 million.

Of the total $11.9 billion allocated for infrastructure, the federal budget sets out $2.2 billion for water and waste management in First Nations communities, $2 billion for the Clean Water and Wastewater fund, $1.5 billion for affordable housing, and $1.2 billion in social infrastructure for First Nations, Inuit, and northern communities. All this spending will come at a cost: the federal budget will not be balanced during the fourth year of the Liberal mandate as promised.

In experiential learning, students work on a real-world project, building the skills they will need after graduation and contributing their knowledge to a community organization, municipal department or other client. Experiential learning is a natural fit for the urban planning discipline, but has been used in fields as diverse as social work, biology, and computer engineering. At some universities, like the University of Oregon, the university partners with a different municipality each year, the municipality provides a list of projects they need help with, and different departments commit to developing workable solutions. It’s a win-win situation: students get the experience they need and often small municipalities or organizations without sufficient human resources are able to get projects completed.

As some of you know, last fall I taught my first urban design studio here in the Dalhousie University School of Planning. We focused on Mulgrave Park, a public housing community built in the north end of Halifax using federal-provincial funds in 1960. The students each  developed a small-scale proposal to improve the open and social spaces in Mulgrave Park. They included information for the client, the Mulgrave Park Caring and Learning Centre, on how such a proposal could be implemented and funded. One student, Justin Gosse, conducted an analysis of the retaining walls and their conditions on the steep site, suggesting ways in which they could be modified in the future. His project, in addition to other student work surveying the retaining walls, is informing Housing Nova Scotia as they proceed with detailed design and repair of the walls and infrastructure badly in need of repairs. As part of an effort to preserve social housing in Canada, the federal and provincial governments announced today that they will fund repairs to Mulgrave Park. The funding will pay for badly needed exterior building repairs, the restoration of crumbling retaining walls, and burying services. Construction will run from July 2017 until spring 2019.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 3.51.30 PM

MP Andy Fillmore announces the $5 million in improvements in front of the students’ posters

MP Andy Fillmore (second from left) and Elaine Williams (second from left), a lifelong Mulgrave Park resident, at the announcement

MP Andy Fillmore (second from left) and Elaine Williams (second from right), a lifelong Mulgrave Park resident and President of the Mulgrave Park Tenants’ Association, at the announcement

The work of other students, including Amy Greenberg (window boxes with flowering plants for residents), Mona Al-Sharari (second community garden and greenhouse), Leen Romaneh (perception of safety), and Yuedi (Martin) Zhan (lighting) is also being integrated into future improvements at Mulgrave Park.

Congratulations to these fourth-year Bachelor of Community Design students, and to the often-overlooked residents of Mulgrave Park, who will benefit from these improvements for years to come. Our client Crystal John, Director of the Caring and Learning Centre, is very excited to think about the improvements coming soon! Crystal grew up in the neighbourhood and like many others living there, is truly invested in improving the community; her sister Elaine Williams, pictured with Andy Fillmore at the announcement, has also done a lot of work to improve conditions in the neighbourhood. Metro News reported that Elaine was in tears at the announcement, having campaigned for improvements for many years.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 12.41.40 PMI’m pleased to announce this year’s planning conference organized by the Dalhousie School of Planning students. Their theme this year is public transit, and the guest speakers include transit experts from the US and Europe. Below is the students’ summary of the conference.
Dalhousie School of Planning SHIFT: In Transit Conference

Dalhousie School of Planning students invite you to share your thoughts on how to better shape our community at a two-day conference on the topic of community public transit, March 2-4. The event, which will take place in the Halifax Central Library and the Dalhousie Medjuck Building, will feature keynote speakers, workshops, and breakout sessions.

Topics include the current state of transit in the HRM and Nova Scotia, possibilities for the federal Green Infrastructure Fund, the Integrated Mobility Plan, transit equity, and the future of transit. Attendees can take part in visioning and design exercises and a short film festival. There will also be panels with local politicians from all levels of government. The event is free. Light food and refreshments will be provided.

Keynote speakers are Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Board Member with over a decade of experience working in transit in the Greater Boston Area; Andreas Rohl, with seven years as the Director of the Bicycle Programme in the City of Copenhagen and an associate for Gehl People; Kurt Luhrsen, the Vice President of Planning at Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County in Houston, Texas with twenty years experience working in transit and known for leading the overhaul of Houston’s transit system; and David Bragdon, a politician and civic leader who served under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration as the Director of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability and is now the Executive Director of TransitCenter, Inc., which does research and advocacy work for urban transportation.

“Imagine a Nova Scotia where public transit is the best option for everyone. Let’s start connecting communities today.”

More information can be found at:

Website: www.dalhousieplanningconference.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/dalshiftconference

Many cities offer free or discounted transit passes for the low-income population, which can include seniors and students. Vancouver’s TransLink offers seniors lower-priced travel in the evenings and on weekends. The very successful U-Pass (universal pass) program for university students: thirty Canadian universities offer students subsidized passes through partnerships with local transit providers. The University of Washington adopted the U-Pass in 1991, and currently offers students unlimited transit for just $84 per quarter (just $28 per month). Such programs show recognition that moving around the city is a right, not a privilege–and one that is often denied to those most in need of reliable transportation to access education or work opportunities.

Halifax Transit piloted a program in 2016 to offer discounted transit passes to 500 low-income riders. For half the price of a regular pass ($39/month), people who need the service the most were able to access it. Halifax Regional Municipality’s standing transportation committee agreed in late January to make the service permanent, and now the program needs the approval of the regional council. It is estimated that the program will cost the HRM about $160,000 per year. The program will provide discounted passes to 1,000 riders this year, targeting HRM residents with a gross household income of $33,000. The number of passes provided could increase in the future.

This is a far cry from TTC’s proposed Fair Pass program, which will cost $4.6 million in its first year and require a subsidy from the City. In December 2016, the TTC obtained Council approval to offer discounted Metro Passes to low-income residents; the program is expected to offer discounted fares to Toronto residents making up to 15% more than the low-income measure, beginning in 2018. Although the program will cost the TTC a lot in lost revenue, the report to council outlined that the cost of a Metropass had risen 30% since 2009, while minimum wage has only increased by 20%. Reports of residents walking miles so that they could make doctor’s appointments, job interviews, or pick up children from school are commonplace in Toronto, as the cost of tickets and passes has outstripped wages. Calgary, Waterloo, and Burlington are among other Canadian cities to offer discounted passes for low-income residents.