Transformational Leadership and Transit Regionalization in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area



Transformational leadership is a theory more common within private sector organizations.  With mergers being more common in light of globalization, it is no wonder transformational leadership is prevalent in private organizations.  With the advent of New Public Management theories and concepts applied to public sector organizations over the last two decades, one would believe that transformational leadership would be easily transferable.  With municipal and public organization amalgamations occurring more frequently, especially in Ontario, in healthcare with the regionalization of hospitals, merging of school boards and even transit regionalization, transformational leadership theory could possibly apply.

In this paper, I will focus on the regionalization of local transit operators in Durham Region, one that I proposed for Peel and Halton Regions in the western part of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and one that is pre-amalgamation and commission formation currently being reviewed in the Edmonton area as part of the Capital Region Board.  There is an opportunity for transit regionalization to occur within the GTHA under the auspices of Metrolinx, but not under its current format as a local special purpose body without local representation.  Rather, transit regionalization in the GTHA should be a part of a regional governance structure.  It has already happened in smaller amalgamations within the GTHA but not on such a grand scale as being proposed.

There have been several articles in the early part of this decade that have discussed transformational leadership as they pertain to public sector organizations,  but many of these articles have concluded that more research must be done (Currie & Lockett, 2007).  In this paper, I will present and critique the present transformation leadership theory and how it pertains to public sector organizations.  I will then analyze how transformational leadership has a dilemma in public organizations in a public policy environment especially with respect to transit regionalization.  In the case of transit regionalization in Durham Region and with other mergers that have taken place, participatory and contingency leadership are the norm.  I will conclude by examining the direction and ramifications of where transformational leadership theory and practice is going with respect to transit regionalization in the GTHA.

Transformational Leadership in the Theoretical Context

Transformational leaders inspire followers to transcend their self-interests for the good of the organization, and can have an extraordinary effect on their followers (Langton, Robbins, & Judge, 2014). This can be achieved in four ways: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualized consideration (Langton et al, ibid) (Wright & Pandey, 2010).   Transformation leadership builds on transactional leadership and produces the level of follower efforts and performance that intend to go beyond what transactional leadership can do.  These result in “higher morale, higher organizational effectiveness and greater organizational adaptability” (Langton et al, p 278).   Leaders are more effective when all four behaviours are utilized.  They themselves are more effective because more creativity is established, and have the ability to encourage those who follow them to be creative too.  Managers have more propensity to take risks and there is usually more agreement about organizational goals, which leads to superior performance (Langton et al 2014).

On the downside, transformational leadership is less effective when leaders report to boards or deal with complex bureaucratic structures.  Wright & Pandey (2010) further posit that if flexibility and discretion is necessary for transformational leadership, scholars surprisingly suggest elaborate control systems associated with bureaucratic organizations hinder both its emergence and effectiveness.

The degree for stability, predictability, and equity in bureaucratic organizations results in a reliance on structural mechanisms to limit individual discretion and promote uniformity in how employees interpret and respond to work situations.  Structural characteristics associated with such strong situations include hierarchical distribution of authority, stringent formalization through rules and regulations, and a reliance on downward (and limited upward and/or lateral) communication (Wright and Pandey, p 78).

Formalization and centralization decreases the likelihood that organizational leaders will exhibit transformational behaviour.   Limited use of performance measurement and lack of managerial discretion needed to link rewards to performance would be key issues that require attention when trying to understand leadership in public organizations, such as local transit (Wright & Pandey, 2010).  Greater ambiguity arises in criteria for evaluating an organization’s performance and can support transformational leadership by providing leaders with greater latitude that allow objectives or measuring high performance.  As a result, the research shows there is a mixed reaction to transformational leadership principles.  Looking at how transformational leadership in public organizations in the realm of public policy becomes more challenging.

Transformational leadership in a public policy context

In the public policy realm, transformational leadership has mixed reviews.  In both Wright & Panday (2010) and Curry & Lockett (2007), they view communication as critical within public policy realms.  Although there is a greater reliance on hierarchical authority and weaker lateral or upward communications, as Wright & Panday attest (p 84-85), lower transformational leadership behaviours occur.  They partially support the need for flexibility while suggesting that the type or level of flexibility required maybe more within the purview of leaders of public sector organizations.  Furthermore, leaders should use a broad array of communications tools and empowerment practices within their organizations.

With Curry & Lockett (2007) they “delineate” transformation leadership in the policy context by calling it participatory or managerialist.  Participatory leadership involves users and the development and delivery of public services.  The other side conceives participative leadership as a type of collegiality that fits with professional bureaucracy settings where anyone appointed as leader is meritorious and expected to represent their colleagues in leadership activity (Curry & Lockett, 2007).  This participative leader is one of the behaviours related to path-goal theory, as will be discussed in the next paragraph.

Flexibility though is also mentioned with Curry & Lockett (2007) where contingent leadership approach should vary with organizational circumstances and problems faced by the leader.  Contingency theories, as Langton et al (2014) consider the degree of structure in the task being performed, the leader’s position power, clarity of employee’s role and information ability as examples.  One of the contingency theories that are closely or even a subset for transformational leadership is path-goal theory: determine the outcomes subordinates want; reward individuals with their desired outcomes; and, let individuals know what they need in order to receive rewards (Langton et al, p 273).  A lack of clear goal-reward contingencies can encourage leaders to rely on the person powers, rather than the related position, which then serve as the foundation of transformational leadership, according to Wright & Panday (2010).   There should be greater expectations and vision in ways that would best inspire their employees.

Given this flexibility of contingency leadership, leaders may enact limitless transformations and combinations of leadership.  With transit as an example, we might expect leaders to use their education, morals, values and philosophies along with their merited credibility to the profession (Currie & Lockett, 2007).  The contingency approach to leadership may sit well with those who are comfortable with the status quo long before they are afforded the opportunity of having leadership responsibilities beyond the transit profession, as an example.  Therefore, this adds to the problem of leadership in the public service.

Mergers and Transit Regionalization

With post-amalgamation of the cities and boroughs into the City of Toronto and the abolishment of two-tier government fresh in the mind of residents, many are still skeptical.   Amalgamation carried out by the Ontario provincial government under Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservatives in 1998 was a harsh reality given that cities are creatures of the province.

Reforming or replacing embedded ideas, processes, interests and institutions are difficult to bring about when conditions are stable.  Mergers as a strategy for problem solving appears in times of instability or crisis, when there are increased opportunities and incentives for reformers to contest embedded ideas, processes and boundaries (Tomblin, 2007).  A crisis that cannot be defined or resolved by existing processes and practice creates opportunities for sellers of new frameworks of interpretation and systems of governance (Tomblin, 2007).

One approach to transformation, as Tomblin (2007) writes involves gradually reforming the system from within by incrementally co-opting new ideas and frameworks.   York and Durham Region Transit and the proposal for Peel and Halton Regions (Darmanin, 2013) is an incremental approach that a transformational leader could ascribe to.   Civic leaders from the Capital Region Board in Edmonton began the process towards transit regionalization in 2012.

Regionalization can also reshape, mend and refocus culture by having a consistent mission and central role of employees when achieving this mission (Wright and Pandey, 2010).  Public transit amalgamations are classified as horizontal types of mergers so generally missions and values are similar in nature.  In other words, mergers appear to work better where there exists greater possibility of “integration and articulation between the goals and visions where missions and cultures are complementary (Harman & Harman, 2003).

  Transit Agencies
Transit planning Roles are more prescribed
Professional loyalties Loyalties are directed more to the transit operator and to their respective profession (ie P. Eng or MCIP)
Reward Structures Service to the profession the key criteria for promotion and recognition
Governance Structures more hierarchical and bureaucratic.

Table 1 – Chart modified from Harman and Harman (p 38)

The original chart (Table 1) from Harman and Harman (2003) outlined the differing loyalties and values of academic staff in universities and community colleges.  From my experience working in transit operations, I equate those who are loyal and ascribe to those values would be similar to those employees within community colleges.

Transit amalgamations occur when the lead transit agency wants to strengthen their market position.  In this case, regionalization would be inevitable to limit the competition for funding dollars from senior levels of government and to strengthen its position on the national scale.  Furthermore, amalgamations happen to enhance efficiency and have the opportunity to operate in more locations, as was the case with Durham Regional Transit when they amalgamated in 2010 (Durham Region Transit, 2004).

While reviewing the pre-merger documents for transit regionalization in Durham and Edmonton (2012 and 2014), much of what was outlined in Currie & Lockett still holds true.  The language for example in the Durham Region Business Case Analysis (2006) under organizational culture is as follows:

The regionalization of transit provides an opportunity to create a transit organization specifically structured to effectively deliver services that respond to the policies, goals and objectives of the Community Strategic Plan, Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan and the Transit Improvement Plan (Durham Region, p 155)

In the Capital Region Board Interim Report (Capital Region Board, 2012) and Intermunicipal Governance Study Report (Capital Region Board, 2014) little was mentioned about any type of leader that should be behind this transformation, because of the political process involved.  The lead on this project is in fact the Capital Region Transit Task Force Board Members who seek to amalgamate Edmonton Transit System with St. Albert Transit and Strathcona County Transit.  The consultants on the Interim report advised on setting up a governance structure related to a commission, yet the Governance Study did not reiterate the structure but only stuck with the technical and policy implications for such an amalgamation.

The impact of mergers on operating efficiency is of the public interest.  Issues related several policy to transit amalgamations in Ontario are:

  1. Relationship with provincial planning policies and legislations
  2. Service provision is heavily subsidized by central or regional governments, as is the case with Durham, York and Waterloo.
  3. Productivity and efficiency

Amalgamations are in a situation where all transit operators are subsidized and being informed of their operational performance during negotiations for subsidies with senior governments inspires competition in the transit sector (Odeck, 2008).  Acquiring properties through an amalgamation are based on economies of scale to improve on their efficiency.

Mergers in the private sector represent a very different organizational change process.  Top leaders must assume the role of chief architect of the change process.  Employees must be involved in the change process (Kavanaugh & Ashkanasy, 2006). Transformational leadership is the key to describing how organizational cultures are created and maintained.  As Kavanaugh & Ashkanasy (2006) refer to Avolio & Bass, they demonstrate sentimental reactions to transformational leader behaviours such as inspiring others and creating and communicating vision and direction.  Under the public policy framework, this is difficult to accomplish because of ingrained attitudes.  Leadership is essentially a process of social influence in which individuals want to feel included, supported and reinforced, especially during change (Kavanagh & Ashkanasy, 2006).  Transformation leaders must be able to select an appropriate approach, establish effective channels of communication, select willing partners and get buy-in from the more difficult partners (Kavanaugh & Ashkanasy 2006).  In a process where amalgamating larger transit properties would be taking over smaller properties in the GTHA, because it is a more difficult process, even with the policy context in play.  With smaller properties such as Oakville and Milton, they might not be willing partners in such a process because of the customer relationships or passenger value.  An incremental approach to transit regionalization such as one for Halton and Peel Regions could be much better visually to the public and for internal employees of those transit properties.  Currie and Lockett (2007) suggest this sensitive policy context and could be a satisfactory approach for all parties.


Although there is limited research available regarding transformational leadership in public organizations, in conclusion, the theory is very difficult to apply in practice.  An incremental approach to transit regionalization for the GTHA rather than a large scale transit regionalization by Metrolinx might be the best solution.  A transformational leader may arise when the public is more comfortable with the process of regional governance.  With Metrolinx being an agency of the province, a leader will not come from there and a top down approach to regionalization might not be the best option visually.  It might be best that someone shows contingency leadership where the leader is flexible in their approach and is able to communicate inside and outside the organization.

At this time, it is difficult to say whether a GTHA transit regionalization would be best served with a transformational leader.  If the market conditions are ripe for such a merger, a transformational leader will most likely come out of the final regional incremental merger that takes place. In public organizations, politicians delegate power and influence to the managers and technical staff.  The real power of public employees and leaders is restrictive by political interests. In private corporations, the main objective is profit, and profit is easier to quantify than public good.

Works Cited

Currie, G., & Lockett, A. (2007). A critique of transformation leadership: Moral, professional and contingent dimensions of leadership within public service organizations. Human Relations, 60(2), 341-370. Retrieved June 13, 2015

Darmanin, A. (2013, April 13). The Case for a Halton-Peel Regional Transit Authority. Retrieved from The Urban Strategist:

Durham Region Transit. (2004, October 27). Business Case Analysis for the Potential Transfer of Lower-Tier Municipal Transit Service to the Regional Municipality of Durham. Retrieved June 13, 2015, from Durham Region Transit:

Harman, G., & Harman, K. (2003, January). Institutional Mergers in Higher Education: Lessons from an International Experience. Tertiary Education and Management, 9(1), 29-44. Retrieved June 9, 2015

Langton, N., Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2014). Fundamentals of Organizational Behaviour, 5th Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson Education.

Odeck, J. (2008). The effect of mergers on efficiency and productivity of public transport services. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 42(4), 696-708. Retrieved June 9, 2015

Tomblin, S. G. (2007). Effecting change and transformation through regionalization: theory versus practice. Canadian Public Administration, 50(1), 1-20. Retrieved June 9, 2015

Wright, B. E., & Pandey, S. K. (2010). Transformational Leadership in the Public Sector: Does Structure Matter? Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 20(1), 75-89. Retrieved June 7, 2015, from

Amalgamation of Local Transit Systems in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area



Public transit is vital for the sustainability of citizens in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and, even further, the Greater Golden Horseshoe. It affects various subject areas such as economic development, the environment, public health and land use planning. Public transit is an integral part of municipal and regional Official Plans, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Places to Grow), the Provincial Policy Statement and the Greenbelt Act. At the same time, the transit network is fragmented and duplicative. There are seven local and two regional transit agencies within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region with several local transit routes overlapping neighbouring municipalities. Passengers utilizing the local transit networks are transferring multiple times within the region to get to their destinations. Meanwhile, these agencies continue to compete for piecemeal additional operating and capital funding from upper levels of government. From the user to the policy maker there are challenges within this broken framework. There continues to be calls for these transit agencies to amalgamate under the auspices of Metrolinx. This paper intends to look at the existing conditions and the necessary steps to take towards amalgamating the transit systems within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Current climate

As mentioned, there are several local and regional transit operators within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. They consist of York Region Transit, Durham Region Transit, and local transit agencies situated in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Milton, Oakville, Burlington and Hamilton. Many of these systems have transit routes operating within their neighbouring municipalities or stopping at municipal borders where they would transfer to other routes. One example of transit operation policy is in the case of Mississauga Transit. They operate a no pick up policy when routes travel into Toronto due to a disagreement with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) over distribution of fare revenues. Simultaneously, the TTC operates one route where passengers board and alight within municipal boundaries of Mississauga. While many suburban commuters utilize GO Transit to travel to and from downtown Toronto, many who reverse commute and cross commute to industrial and service sector jobs have the daunting task of transferring multiple times. The transfer times generally are not coordinated between other transit agencies and, especially during the off peak periods, the wait for the next bus could be extensive. The transit passengers’ primary focus is that they arrive at their destination on time, in the most cost efficient and timely way, and with minimal transfers between modes. When multiple transit agencies are at play, there is a frustration at the lowest level and that is the user. Some transit users eventually will become frustrated and purchase a car altogether, which does not do anything to curb congestion. This becomes counterintuitive to the goals of transportation, environmental and economic policies in municipalities and within the province.

Another problem within the current climate is the competition for capital and operating funding between municipalities. Despite the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and GO Transit having one of the highest ridership figures in North America and the highest revenue/cost ratios, many public transit operators in the region still rely on public subsidies, funding from the property tax, and a portion of provincial and federal gas taxes and fare revenues. In a survey of transit operators from across Canada, the current financial costs on transit infrastructure needs for rehabilitation and replacement plus expansion between in the period of 2012-16 total over $53 billion.

In many Canadian provinces, there is no sustainable and predictable transit funding from senior levels of government. Many municipalities compete for the same dollars not only among their neighbours, but also within the municipalities themselves. For example, in 2014, almost $372 of one’s property tax bill in Toronto goes to fund conventional and specialized transit, which second in behind police services funding. This was not always the case in Ontario. The province paid 75% of capital costs of transit improvement and it would pay 50% of a system’s net operating cost based on an expected cost-recovery target. This funding arrangement dissipated after the election of Mike Harris as Premier of Ontario in 1995. Municipalities have a difficult time predicting the amounts they would be receiving on a yearly basis. Even with the recent announcement from the Federal government for transit funding, it would have to wait until 2017.

Reliance on federal funding and the gas tax is what props up many of the transit systems in the United States. Farebox revenues to cost ratios in many American systems are quite low. Because many cities in the United States have home rule legislation, municipalities are able to fund many of their transit projects through other means such as special local ballot initiatives such a local or county sales tax.
One of the more successful campaigns was in Los Angeles County in 2009. Los Angeles County passed Measure R – a sales tax increase of 0.5% to fund transportation projects throughout the county, raising $40 billion dollars over the next 30 years. Subsequently in the years after the vote, Seattle was the only city to pass a sales tax measure to fund transportation. Cities like Atlanta and even in Los Angeles in its second go around failed to pass Measure J for additional funding. Metro Vancouver is the first Canadian city to put a ballot question to voters for a 0.5% sales tax to fund transportation projects throughout the region. Voting is set to end on May 29, 2015. With these issues in mind, how would an amalgamated transit system work to alleviate such problems?

The Case for Amalgamating Local Transit Systems

While this paper will be part of a series to determine if regional governance for the Greater Toronto Area would be feasible, it is worth determining it would be economically and politically feasible these local and regional authorities to be operated under Metrolinx. In order to understand the purpose of merging local transit systems into Metrolinx, there must be an understanding of how amalgamations happened in Ontario.

Amalgamation in the context of local government is when “two or more municipalities come together such that a territory of all of them is placed under the jurisdiction of a single municipality” (Sancton, 2015). In theory, amalgamations are a measure to improve efficiency and effectiveness in delivering local government services. The intentions of these municipal mergers are to realize economies of scale and improve service delivery coordination. An appropriate amalgamated structure should depend upon “efficiency, responsiveness, and accountability versus economies of scale, externalities, and the capacity to deliver and coordinate services (Slack & Bird, 3).

Governance for merging transit systems in the Greater Toronto Area is a hugely debated topic. Regional special purpose bodies tend to insulate the political and the bureaucratic sides of policy decisions at the regional level. Scott Sams attests to this:

Debate between fragmentation and consolidation of local government has focused on horizontal integration of municipalities, but largely neglects vertical coordination among orders of government and horizontal coordination of non-state factors

Because there are various levels of government to approve funding for such projects, it makes it difficult to gain consensus, especially when governments of the day do not align ideologically, or priorities differ, or both. A federal national transit strategy as proposed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities could help, but the next government in power may not see the benefit.

In 2013, Metrolinx released its Investment Strategy on how to fund further projects for the Big Move. Some of the recommendations included a regional gas tax of 5 cents per litre, 1% of the HST, Business Parking Levy and 15% increase in development charges all totalling $2 Billion annually (Metrolinx, 2013). Several months later, the Transit Investment Strategy panel visited various venues to discuss the “Six Hard Truths about Transit.” That same year, I wrote a blog post calling for leadership instead of the status quo. At last check, the Transit Panel website was subsequently removed. The Advisory Panel was an exercise in futility.

Metrolinx, as opposed to Translink, has provincial policy and funding direction. As mentioned, it is an agency of the Province of Ontario and the Ministry of Transportation. Although Metrolinx does reasonably well when it comes to public engagement for construction projects, it fails miserably in democratic accountability. Metrolinx and the province leaves democratic engagement to local governments, as discussion on transit during provincial elections does not entice citizens. During the recent municipal elections, Olivia Chow, John Tory and Doug Ford came out with their own transit plans, which engaged the local electorate. As an example in one opinion poll, transit was the most important issue in the mayoral elections. While in suburban municipalities like Brampton, transit was not an issue in their mayoral election. The challenge for amalgamation in a suburban city like Brampton if an amalgamation were to take place would definitely be engagement.

The Report of the GTA Task Force, better known as the Golden Report, suggested that while regional transit planning was beneficial, the group did not believe that there was an advantage in amalgamating the region’s transit operators into a single agency (p. 198). Since the report, several transit agencies within the region merged. York Region amalgamated five different transit authorities from Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Aurora and Newmarket. Durham Region Transit merged transit operators in Pickering-Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa and Clarington. Outside of the Greater Toronto Area, and a model for Durham and York Regions, was the formation of Grand River Transit in 2000.

Service organizations like Metrolinx and local transit agencies predominantly focus on clients and professional accountability because they concentrate on outputs and service delivery. In a consultant study done on behalf of the Regional Municipality of Durham, service standards, financial opportunities, asset transfer strategies, consideration of management, organizational and government structures; human resources issues; and, implementation strategies were common areas referenced. At the time of the study, the reason for integrating transit systems was to have fare integration and provide seamless connection to other communities within the Region. Whether travelling to different communities within the Region or travelling to Scarborough, jurisdictional boundaries are non-existent to passengers. Furthermore, as with most amalgamation arguments, there is a fear about taxes rising. There are not only institutional barriers to overcome, but political fiefdoms as well.

Planning and operations are critical to a transit system’s efficiency and effectiveness. Bellon uses a methodology whereby he compares the current system’s efficiencies based on various inputs (Bellon, 7). His approach is from a business context utilizing frontier analysis . With planning and operations of transit, many agencies use transit service standards to measure system performance and make adjustments where necessary. This is to ensure productivity, efficiency and effectiveness are meeting performance achievements. An example of performance measurements used are for the revenue/cost ratio, vehicle-kilometres travelled or vehicle service hours and passenger trips/kilometre. Advantages in operations within an amalgamated transit system would be consistent service standards throughout the regional system and fare integration. This could be achieved with a fare zone structure similar to GO Transit and TransLink.

Amalgamation of transit systems also could lead to better use of resources. One benefit could be the opportunity of contracting out underperforming routes if the route was slated to be terminated. As an example, in 2011, TTC Route 101 – Parc Downsview Park was one of several underperforming routes within the transit system but ended up only having weekday service cut. A shuttle bus operated privately would be a more feasible option for the 3 km route. Transit service is based on passenger demand. Public pressure can change the minds of the transit agency and routes such as these would be reinstated from budget cuts. The resources from saved routes could have been utilized on routes that have a greater demand. The disadvantage to such a process would be while routes could be redesigned or contracted out, suburban or rural areas might not have the service levels they once enjoyed or there would be a greater distance to board transit.

There is also a strong correlation between service area and technical efficiency (Bellon, 2010). When Bellon analyzed at transit systems of various sizes across Canada in 2003-2008, the most efficiently operated systems were Translink, TTC and Montreal. Only Grand River Transit fared moderately in his analysis of a transit system with a reasonable service area. The mid-sized transit systems such as London and Windsor decreased in their scores from 2003 to 2008.

Where Amalgamated Transit Systems Exist

In Canada, Greater Vancouver’s Translink, Grand River Transit in the Kitchener and Waterloo area, York Region Transit, Durham Region Transit and now the recent restructuring of AMT and CIT in Montreal. Under an amalgamated system for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, York and Durham’s regional transit systems would be eliminated. For the purpose of brevity, the focus will be on Translink and Durham Region Transit.

Translink is a special purpose body that has oversight of the transportation network – transit, roads, ferries and cycling. As opposed to Metrolinx, Translink handles the policy decision-making, planning and operations. Translink’s case budgetary decisions falls to the authority of the Mayor’s Council, even though the role of the Province is strong. Transit operations had been a focus of the Vancouver region since 1978 when it created the Urban Transit Authority. It was a mechanism for local governments to have a say in the decision making for transit funding and the operations. This agency has the ability to establish a transit department in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (Krawchenko, 130). Separate entities were formed. The Urban Transit Authority had control over the policy decisions, even though the Province had control. The Metro Transit Operating Company was a crown corporation responsible for buses, and the GVRD was responsible for the fares and collection of each of the local municipalities shares of the local subsidy (ibid). In 1982, BC Transit was formed and the UTA was renamed the Vancouver Regional Transit District. This allowed for BC Transit and the provincial government to prioritize transit investments, which is a similar set up to that of Metrolinx.

The province seemingly had a desire to move out of the transit planning and operations business for Greater Vancouver. There was already “adequate funding, increased planning capacity at the local and regional level, a need for local representation and more cohesive planning between transit and transportation functions” (Krawchenko, 139). In 1999, the province transferred responsibility of transit and transportation to the Greater Vancouver Regional District and was renamed Translink

The amalgamation of transit agencies in 2006 from Pickering –Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa and Clarington formed into Durham Region Transit (DRT), and became a transit commission. As with any amalgamation of transit services, overcoming societal and political biases was necessary. As mentioned in the previous section, attitudes about taxation, loss of transit service in the suburban and rural areas were the norm. There were lessons learned from the amalgamation of transit systems in York Region and the Kitchener-Waterloo Region. According to the consultants responsible for the Durham Region Business Case Analysis, the justification for amalgamation was to “build upon pre-existing local services, provide transit amenities to currently underserved areas and facilitate a development of a mode of transportation that could ultimately compete with the automobile for some trips within the community” (Durham Region Transit, p. 35).

Similar to York Region Transit, Durham Region Transit took over many of GO Transit’s regional routes including service along the Highway 2 corridor, which is was part of the first stage of their Pulse Rapid Transit limited stop network between University of Toronto’s Scarborough and Oshawa. DRT also expanded local service to underserved communities in Uxbridge and Port Perry while some maintenance of the regional GO service. This helped to achieve several of the goals outlined in the business case analysis.

The one negative of amalgamation from the transit operation side is the efficiency factor pre- and post-amalgamation. Bellon (2010) states amalgamation improves performance using a variety of factors, efficiency re: revenue/cost ratio seems to be a negative aspect of transit operations. In the cost- benefit analysis study, the consultants pointed out that while there were increases in ridership for Grand River Transit and York Region Transit, their revenue/cost ratios dropped. In the recent CUTA Conventional Transit Fact Book, Durham Region Transit’s R/C ratio dropped from 37% in 2012 to 34% in 2013 (Canadian Urban Transit Association, 2013, p. 87).


Amalgamation of any public service is a huge undertaking. There is currently no talk of any local transit merger at either Metrolinx or with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). In conversation with Philippe Bellon from Metrolinx:

Metrolinx (currently) has no position regarding merging transit systems. This is not part of our mandate and is outside our area of responsibility. We are striving to facilitate integration and joint projects, but have not been set-up per legislation to merge transit agencies or services in the GTHA. I can’t talk for MTO but currently there is nothing in the publically available budgets, plans or letters that would hint at MTO working on a merger.

Although this is the standard message, a change in policy direction from any cabinet minister, such as the Minister of Transportation, can change its governance structure. Also a minister can begin studies for Metrolinx to investigate amalgamating the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit systems. We learned that governments of the day dictate the policy direction based on priorities. The province may hold the purse strings for transportation funding, but amalgamating transit systems in the GTHA is a discussion worth having. Transit funding is one of the more critical issues facing the GTHA. This would provide for a stronger and more visible regional focus as an inter-municipal special purpose body with the ability to raise revenues for capital projects and operations. An amalgamated transit system for the GTHA would be beneficial to the region as well.

Local politicians will have a say in the matter. In 2013, in phone conversation with the Mayor of Oakville, Rob Burton reiterated his stance against amalgamation when asked of his thoughts for a larger amalgamation of GTHA transit agencies (Darmanin, 2013). As an economist, he referred to the megacity current problems that continue to occur in Toronto. Protecting Oakville’s interest instead of the benefits of merging a smaller transit operation into a regional authority was the basis of his argument. As mentioned in Durham Region’s Cost-Benefit Analysis study, this is a common occurrence. With proper stakeholder consultation and engagement, economic modeling and data analysis, these attitudes can be conquered.

Similar to Translink, planning, operations, fleet management and other functions of the newly amalgamated regionalized transit agency would occur. Negotiating deals for contracted transit operations, staffing requirements, strategic planning and other human resources functions would fall into this category. Although this paper is about Metrolinx as a regional transit agency operation, it is recommended at this level, other local transportation infrastructure projects and real estate functions are uploaded to this level. Metrolinx already has a role of planning such facilities as well as the construction of parking garages and bike parking at their GO Stations. As has been the case with sales tax initiatives in the United States (with Seattle being the exception), if Metrolinx were to solely focus on transit referendums, it would fail at the ballot box. GO Transit commuter rail would continue to operate as a separate entity within this format.

The province should relinquish its hold on Metrolinx and as part of a regional governance structure for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Such a set-up would be an improvement on what Translink has already done in terms of accountability, but would be similar in planning and operations. With population of almost 7 million people, it is time the cities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, hold their own destiny. There would definitely be backlash from the larger transit agencies such as TTC, Mississauga and Brampton. The financial burden of lower revenues from unproductive local routes would be a challenge, but there are plenty of opportunities to be had with transit regionalization within the GTHA.

Even with some hiccups, the future is bright for London – Ontario that is.


As my VIA train trip home was delayed, it gave me a chance to reflect on my time here in London.

The purpose of my visit to London was to attend a course on Advanced Local Government with Andy Sancton at the University of Western Ontario. Many of my followeres know I am in the Masters of Public Admin Local Government Program.  For those in political and public admin circles, I’m sure you’ve come across many of his journal articles.  If not, Google him and you will find a plethora of information about him.  I have nothing but praise for him and his passion on local government issues.

I stayed at a hotel on the southside and took transit to Western.  I wanted to view parts as a curious spectator with my former transit planning eyes.

Through some previous knowledge and research of London is that their downtown, Central London as it is called, is your proverbial “hole in the donut”. The suburbs have sucked the life out of downtown with big box retail and medium level chain restaurants like Earl’s and Jack Astor’s.  Moxie’s is the exception.

I Instagrammed a photo of the corner of Richmond and Dundas.   

Plenty of low end ground floor retail such as convenience stores as part of historic buildings.  Mark McAlllister from Global News commented on my photo:

Downtown was struggling when I lived there 20+ years ago. The garden market came in afterward and it didn’t seem to have much of an impact. Neither did the arena.

Further to this, plenty of parking lots.  What a way to invite people to downtown by a having a plethora of parking spots. The photos below were taken at 7:30 on a Friday night.   So nothing has really changed.

20150508_192224 20150508_19241920150508_192708

I was a bit skeptical of the transit service.  I wasn’t used to service in a mid-sized city.  I boarded Route 90 most days from White Oaks Mall and transferred downtown to connect to a University bound bus – either Routes 2 or 6.  Route 90 operates only during weekdays for 12 hours per day with a 20 minute headway, aka frequency.  It’s hard to justify an express route when its main destinations are hospitals, malls and downtown.  I don’t know the ridership during the school year, but I hope it would be better than what I experienced. The land use along the route doesn’t really justify an express route. Predominantly low rise housing and auto-oriented development.  Some ground floor retail north of downtown along Richmond Row – a trendy stretch with retail and restaurants.  But the alternative local routes 10 and 13 along Wonderland Road and Wellington Road respectively meander through several areas before they head to the University.

A second issue with the transit service was there was too much layover time.  I will use the example from Friday. The operator on Route 10 departed the University late after he got his coffee.  Downstream the driver layed over for about 10 minutes at the Westmount shopping mall.  It gets better. There were two subsequent stops outside of schools that were less than 500 metres apart.  Unless there is some rule with Westmount Mall, a transit terminal with multiple routes should have a walking distance of 750 metres.  If I were working as a planner or manager, I would conduct a stop audit as well as a review of layovers.  I’m sure there are savings to be realized.

A third issue were the electronic destination signs.  They are inconsistent.  Some of the routes have the number and route name.  Others have the destination included.  I get that they have automatic stop announcements including transfers to routes, including the one that passengers are currently on.  But .  Unless passengers are consulting a schedule and are already cognizant of the routes themselves, these signs should be modified.

Finally was their real time information.  While I commend them for having boards with arrival times at major transfer points like Richmond and Dundas, their information is not connected with any apps, like the Transit App.  I am unaware if London Transit officials have been approached by these app developers to collect the GPS tracking data or vice versa.  But hopefully an agreement is in place soon.

Good news is on the way.

Being the curious person that I am, I wanted to see what has been going on to rectify some of these planning problems.

In doing a search of downtown studies, a Dundas Place Vision Study completed in early 2015 by IBI Group .  The study uses the planning buzzwords like placemaking, reducing on street parking, complete streets, and mixed streets.  In referencing mixed streets, IBI’s recommendation was to remove transit altogether on Dundas and eliminate some on-street parking.  Glad to see London Transit come out and quash that idea.  As mentioned in my Instagram photo, a transit mall with protected bike lanes could be a possibility.

As of April 2015, a new Downtown Plan went before City Council for approval. Some of their strategic directions include a vibrant Dundas Street corridor, reconnection with the Thames River and economic development initiatives.

Dillon Consulting just completed the first draft of a route review for London Transit and went through public consultation recently.  The recommendations suggest some route design modifications, elimination of inefficient routes and new frequency.

With a progressive city council, I would hope they provide the policy and planning directions for staff to get the move forward in revitalizing and energizing the City .  There is a bright future for London.  I make a toast to that!

I Like Being Poached and I Cannot Lie


Like I said, this blog would be a little different.

One of my old coworkers posted an article on LinkedIn on the nature of the being poached or recruited in the present day employment market.  It rings true.

While I was employed in the transit planning profession, I was poached by more than a handful, but not quite two hands full of recruiters over the years compared to little success in landing an interview while responding on my own to a posting.  Most of the time while I was being poached, the jobs that were offered to me were lateral moves and in area of the profession I wasn’t interested in.

I will never forget I bit on one potential management opportunity in Niagara Falls several years ago.  As much as it was a wonderful stepping stone, in my gut I knew it wasn’t the right position for me.  I should have went with my gut and I made that two hour trek all for naught.

I knew in my mind while I was getting poached I wanted to do something different, but I wasn’t sure what it was.  I was of two minds – land use planning or policy.  I had never been recruited for a policy-related position and the conferences I attended, those I networked with were mainly in transportation or urban planning.  As one of my colleagues said, many transportation people are “gear heads”, and that I’m not.

Now that I’ve closed my consulting business, I decided to enter new waters and fully commit to making a career transition.  Networking can only get you so far especially when you’re breaking into a new field and no one knows who you are.  The article mentions 60% stayed within their own industry, compared with just 40% of active searchers and even less, 22% who get a job are searching.  

It’s easy to blame the human resources profession because of their reliance on keyword recognition for narrowing down hundreds of candidates to just a handful.  But many will rely on trust and referrals, sometimes they will go so far as to Google your name to see if you have made any disparaging remarks or find something negative about you.

Now that I am making a career transition towards GR & policy analysis in a very saturated market, it’s back to ground zero for me proving that 10 years of skills and experience are transferable into another profession.    I will continue to make myself known in my new network through school, social media and (inexpensive) conferences and seminars.

I liked being poached and I cannot lie.  I can’t wait to take my talents somewhere.

A lesson for transit agencies – think outside the box on affordable housing

In all the recent discussion in Toronto regarding revamping Section 37 in Ontario and providing proper allocation for affordable housing, especially along the Avenues, there is no talk on where these types of units will be located.

Sure there has been a recent trend in Toronto’s development industry towards building of new market-rate rental housing units instead of condominiums, but that still does not solve the problem of affordable housing.

Sure we will applaud Vancouver developer Westbank Corp to committing to rental housing at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor replacing the storied Honest Ed’s.  But these until will also be market-rate rental.

But therein lies the problem of providing appropriate levels of affordable housing along transit corridors where many of its riders are located.  University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski’s report “Three Cities within Toronto” much of the middle income will be all but gone and lower income residents will be located in the peripheries by 2025.  This is assuming that there will be no major policy changes that in the next 10 years, especially ones that lead to affordable housing and equitable income distribution according to the report (Hulchanski, 27).

The lack of affordable housing in cities has become a national crisis in cities on both sides of the border and action must be taken. Los Angeles Metro is being encouraged to get in the game.  In the Los Angeles Times editorial, they encourage Metro’s Board of Directors to vote yes on providing affordable housing along transit lines. 

On Thursday, Metro’s Board of Directors will consider setting a goal that 35% of all apartments and condos built on land no longer needed by Metro be set aside for low-income residents. To that end, the agency would, for the first time, offer its land for lease or sale at below-market cost for projects that include affordable units. In addition, Metro would kick in $10 million to a new trust fund that would provide seed money to developers to build low-income housing.

35% is a good starting point but it realistically might be whittled down to 25%-30%.  Those are aggressive targets that are not even encouraged within Ontario’s Section 37 guidelines.

TTC, for example, already has a Property Development Department.  The Property Acquisition Management Plan outlines criteria on takings for acquiring property which includes their Secondary Exit Strategy for subway stations.  Many of the other transit agencies resort to their city or region’s real estate departments for taking on rapid transit projects.

It already is a foregone conclusion that many residents of these newly built high rise condominium projects masked as transit-oriented development will use their cars more than using transit.  It is those lower and middle income residents who are captive or choice riders who use transit the most.  It makes good business sense for transit agencies to explore this opportunity.

It is essential that transit agencies across Canada look beyond its ridership numbers and operations and collaborate with other city departments to follow Los Angeles’ lead. It’s time cities be creative by thinking outside the box on affordable housing.

UPDATE: The Metro Board of Directors approved the Mayor’s initiative to have 35% of their properties developed as affordable units. Press release here.

Ambition personified – Regional Governance Research

Earlier today, I posted this photo over social media.

Chicken scratch aka Regional Governance notes

As followers of this blog and on social media channels know, I have been supportive of assembling a regional governance model for the Greater Toronto area, beyond the various special purpose bodies and regional groups that exist in the region.

As I set of on a journey towards completing courses within the Masters of Public Administration degree, this is the research I plan to embark on.

For those who cannot read my chicken scratch (I apologize to my future colleagues and professors in advance), here are the questions I hope to answer within my research:

  • How do we fend off the perception will be another level of government?
  • How do we not make the mistakes in the development of a Megacity/Unicity model of Toronto and Winnipeg?
  • How will this governance model encourage direct participation/engagement?
  • Manpower/human resources while avoiding duplication
  • What will be the financial benefits/costs to such a governance structure?
  • What to do with the current regional municipalities of Peel, Halton, Durham and York?
  • What will be the geographic boundaries?  Who stays and who goes?
  • What will be the makeup of political representation?
  • Planning, health, transportation, infrastructure, housing, water and environment should be the key areas within this structure?  Are there any others that should be included?
  • What will intergovernmental relations look like?  Funding, MOUs and grants
  • How could this model be different when it comes to developing an innovative culture.
  • Are there benefits of replicating the US model of metropolitan planning organizations like SCAG, SEMCOG, etc?
  • What will the relationship be with the federal and provincial governments?  Advocacy groups role for organizations like AMO and FCM?
  • Economic development and marketing of region – How will organizations like the GTMA and TRBOT play a role, if any?

Much of my research will be conducted utlilizing the professional knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years; knowledge through the courses I will be taking; and, secondary research and primary research from questions I ask to politicians in all levels of government and those in the advocacy organizations I mention.

I maybe well ahead of the game here, but it is definitely something I am looking forward to doing in the next few years.  I am sure there will be many other questions to be asked and answered. Maybe some of these questions will be modified.  By the time I begin this research, I may focus on one program or policy area specific to regional governance.  It is a start.

What do you think?  Am I missing anything?  Please post your comments.

Transition is almost complete.

I had been contemplating what to write about in my next blog post.  I had several drafts written but never completed them.  They were of course planning policy related.  But given my career transition, I wanted the blog post to be positive.  It is always easy to harp on the past – positive or negative.  It is about moving forward and learning from your experiences.  I even contemplated shutting this blog down altogether.  I trudge along.

So as an introduction to the re-born Urban Strategist blog, I wanted do a little storytelling.

Defense of the planning profession no more.

Several years removed from my second degree in urban planning, and jumping from job to job in the financial sector and co-op housing, I went to work for the Canadian Urban Transit Association in 2006.  This was not the first time I applied there.  I was rejected twice before but was subsequently given a third chance after the person they hired resigned.  Coincidentally, him and I met that same year at an event and had become friends ever since.

I was stubborn and wanted to be involved in land use planning.  Never received that opportunity in Canada so I took my talents to the Los Angeles where I worked in regional transportation planning.  In the 3 years, I learned enough about project management, policy analysis and development, grant application reviews, and regional governance.

For the next 7 years, I learned about transit service planning but I was not satisfied.  Some people enjoy that work, but I don’t.  It isn’t for me.  I definitely needed a change in direction.  During that time, I said to friends and colleagues I wanted to get back into what I enjoyed – regional governance and strategic thinking.

The last straw came in a leadership course I completed just before I resigned.  I was an angry person and was juggling things at home.  One thing was for certain – I needed a change.  Coaching, mentoring, strategic planning and change management on top of policy work were things I enjoyed.

Maybe all those organizations who rejected me was a sign that I should not be in planning profession altogether.  I’m not a technically sound individual.  It would sicken me to read posts utilizing planning verbiage. My mind doesn’t work like that.

After copious amounts of networking, attending and planning events surrounding the planning profession, and paying for a useless planning designation, that was it. It was time to do something else.  I had to remove myself from the industry, which meant even reinventing myself on LinkedIn and removing connections that I would no longer be associating myself with.

Summer of 2014 and the journey beyond

Various personal events clouded my judgement even further. I needed to get back on track.  I was desperate and needed something to happen fast.  The first was career counselling.  Plenty of introspection was involved.  One of the exercises was to think of which animal I represent.  I am a bear –  Tough on the outside and very sensitive on the inside.  Fast forward to several weeks ago, unbeknownst to me, I realized that I am a brown bear according to Native American astrology.  Funny how things work.

I volunteered and was very active on two local political campaigns.  I had been enticed to run on several occasions and was asked once while in Alberta.  In the end, I thought better of it and knew it wasn’t for me.  I still wanted to do behind the scenes policy work but receive recognition for it.

One of the bucket list items was for me to obtain a graduate degree.  On the third attempt, I will finally get that opportunity where I will be working towards a Master’s of Public Administration degree from Western.

I also revamped my resume to reflect my career transition into policy analysis and government relations.  Even with my research I intend to focus on governance.

Several weeks ago, completed the True Colours Test again.  Although I knew I was critical and analytical, what I didn’t realize was that I have a desire to analyze systems and I am drawn to technical occupations.  Then I thought about it, maybe it made sense.  While in my two transit planning positions, I always wanted to find ways to change the network or even the departmental structures, but again, I wanted to go in a different direction.  Earlier I said I detested technical work dealing with the mundane and repetition.  Maybe it had to do with the profession I chose?


Everyone has a direction in life and will have different paths to getting there.  I have taken the long winding journey. I learned plenty along the way.  I learned to overcome the challenges.  I was desperate for action but asking people who I didn’t know well enough to help me with that direction was not the answer.

This blog will now reflect discussions on policy and governance. I won’t be distraught by those who stop following this blog.  I look forward in building a new professional network and rebuilding my career.