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Ontario Government Considers Uploading TTC Subways

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Toronto’s ever twisting transit saga has seen numerous shocks, but few are larger than the ever-growing possibility that the TTC will be partially or entirely taken over by the provincial government. The initial proposal seems to focus on taking over the TTC subway, while leaving the buses and streetcars under the City’s aegis. Given the structure of Ontario governance, it’s certainly within the powers of the province to do so—remember that the province abolished the entire City of Toronto in 1998—but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right move either for the government’s finances or for Toronto’s transit riders.

Firstly, it’s worth emphasizing that the greatest strength of the TTC is its strong coordination between the bus network and the subway. Most TTC subway riders outside downtown get to the subway by feeder bus, which is why the TTC has easily the highest suburban subway ridership in North America. Separating the buses and the subways into entirely separate agencies run by different levels of government is a recipe for shattering what makes the city’s network successful. Dividing the system is also likely to bring about buck-passing and other political squabbling between levels of government, which isn’t going to do much to make Toronto transit better.

That’s been the story of transit in New York City. Decades ago, the city handed over its subways to an agency at the state level of government. It was believed that the state’s greater financial resources would enable it to better fund the system. It was also thought that weakening political accountability would make it easier to do things like raise fares. Instead of bringing about transit’s promised land, the state’s agencies presided over the subway’s decay into near total collapse. One of the constants of New York politics is the mayor blaming the governor (and vice versa) for the transit system’s state. New York City had additional issues that hopefully won’t be present in Toronto, but it certainly doesn’t seem like a model for emulation.

Right now, plans seem to suggest that operations will be retained by the TTC, while ownership and capital projects will be handled by the province—likely through public-private partnerships. They want to take control of projects like subway extensions and re-signalling, believing that private partnerships could do the job more cheaply. The trouble is, how do you separate operations from daily maintenance? And how do you separate daily maintenance from longer-term state-of-good repair? Will TTC operators who experience a maintenance problem have to contact a private contractor working for an agency of an entirely different level of government to get it fixed? What happens if the TTC is unhappy with the maintenance standards of the private company? Will the city have to beg Doug Ford to press the private contractor to change? Needless to say, that doesn’t sound like a process that will facilitate the quick response needed to keep trains running on time.

The impetus for all this is the belief that the TTC’s costs for things like construction are unreasonably high. That’s not untrue: Toronto’s transit capital construction costs are among the highest in the world. Paris is building its new Line 16 Metro line for about $97 million per kilometre. The Scarborough subway extension is forecast to cost about $577 million per kilometre, and it has far fewer stations, which are the most expensive part. Even if these figures are not perfectly comparable, it’s a striking difference.

The province’s proposed solution is to take over the subway and build using public-private partnerships. The problem is that, when they’ve been tried in Toronto, they haven’t had any better results at keeping costs low. The Crosstown LRT is budgeted at around $280 million per kilometre, and a third of it isn’t even underground and its capacity is considerably lower than a subway. That’s not even mentioning the recently highlighted cost overruns on the Crosstown project. Think of Paris, which has much lower construction costs than Toronto. Its subways are built by a public operator, as are those in Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, and Copenhagen, all of which build for a far lower cost per kilometre than Toronto. There are no simple, magical solutions to this problem. Privatization isn’t a panacea for construction costs. It’s not so simple.

Fixing the problem will require more focused attention on emulating construction methods that have been proven overseas, and looking at ways to build that are less expensive. For example, there’s no need to dig expensive tunnels in many low-density suburban areas. Most of the Spadina-York extension runs under empty government-owned land—there’s no reason it couldn’t have been built elevated. Vancouver, London, and Copenhagen can all show that modern elevated rail is entirely compatible with successful developments.

Copenhagen Metro in the Ørestad Neighbourhood, an area much like Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (Source: Greater Copenhagen Investments)

Another claimed benefit for public-private partnerships is the greater reliability of costs. A private company bids a fixed price, and they’re supposed to cover cost overruns. Trouble is, as the Crosstown problems demonstrate, the private partners manage to find all kinds of ways to demand additional payments whenever problems arise. If things get really bad, they might just repeat what happened in London: the private consortia who were supposed to rebuild the Tube just abandoned the project when it looked like there were too many problems for it to be profitable, and they left the transit agency holding the bag.

In the long term, it seems like the province is interested in moving toward the transit operating model of London. Transport for London is an agency that plans and administers all of the transit in the region, but most of the actual operations are contracted out to various private operators—amusingly, many of which are actually public transit agencies in other cities, like Paris’ RATP, which profit in London to subsidize their own riders. It’s not at all clear that such a change would bring any real benefits to Toronto transit riders or to government budgets. TfL still receives generous government subsidy and benefits from revenue from London’s congestion charge toll on all drivers in Central London. Its construction costs and operating costs are generally higher than those in continental Europe, and its Tube fares are among the highest in the world.

The truth is, contrary to popular belief, the TTC’s operations are quite efficient, even by world standards. Its fare recovery of over 70% is easily the highest in North America (New York’s MTA is under 50%), and higher than most European cities, while charging a relatively reasonable citywide flat fare. It’s very unlikely that a private operator could do any better, especially after taking a profit.

There’s no question that Greater Toronto needs better coordination between transit agencies. Carving out a chunk of the TTC and uploading it to the province isn’t going to solve the problems. A better approach would be a German-style “traffic union.” It’s an organization that coordinates between all the different agencies in a region, setting a shared fare policy and distributing revenues, allowing riders to access information from a common source, and coordinating schedules. At the same time, operations can remain locally controlled so that when riders have a problem with the bus or trains, they don’t have to complain to a distant state or provincial government to get things fixed.


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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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