Vehicle kilometres travelled should added as measurement tool for future developments

New development proposals must adhere to planning and environmental policies and regulations before being approved.  As planning is moving towards multidisciplinary and holistic approaches, I am proposing a new tool – measuring vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT).

Image – Wikipedia

Currently traffic impact studies are done to mitigate the effects of new developments on existing and future conditions based on the level of service (LOS). As mentioned in an earlier post on LA Streetsblog, an update to current environmental regulations are proposed as their pertain to transportation impacts.  LOS would be replaced with VMT as a new measurement tool.

This change is intended to “measure whether or not a project contributes to other state goals, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing multimodal transportation, preserving open spaces, and promoting diverse land uses and infill development”. As the author’s of the blog state, VMT as a measurement is easier and faster to estimate and measures the project’s effectiveness on overall travel instead of focusing on delay at certain intersection.

I concur with the blog post developers use LOS to build to propose and build cheaper projects in suburban and rural areas.  This not only flies in the face of current environmental regulations, but also is on top of the perverse subsidies received by creating by new suburban development, as mentioned in Pamela Blais’ book Perverse Subsidies.

If proposed projects can show a decrease in VKTs while having less of an effect on climate change and public health, then approval should be easier.

In Ontario’s case, cities and regions would have to take a leadership role by applying for an Official Plan Amendment (OPA) and defend them at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). There would definitely be challenges made at the OMB by developers and possibly expert witnesses from the engineering profession. I cannot fathom the OMB denying such a request since it would meet the criteria of many, if not all planning policy and environmental regulations.

Many American cities have already taking a leadership role in this matter.  I don’t see why it shouldn’t be happening in Ontario’s municipalities.

Regional challenges must be reflected in Ontario municipal legislation update

Image – City of Markham

The Province of Ontario is currently conducting public consultation for the Municipal Legislation Review of the Municipal Act, City of Toronto Act and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.  While all three are important, including the latter of the three given recent incidences with former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, I will only touch upon the first two Acts as they are interrelated. More specifically the province is looking for comments on:

  • accountability and transparency;
  • financial sustainability,
  • flexible municipal government.

A common theme throughout my blog and on social media has been on the latter two.

Sustainable and predictable financing for municipalities

For the last 25 years, municipalities have been on the short end of the stick. The downloading of responsibilities from the federal government to the provinces to municipalities had some unintended consequences. In Ontario, since amalgamation, the financial tools municipalities can use are limited under both the City of Toronto Act and the Municipal Act. Subsequently, transit, health care/hospitals, education and infrastructure have been underfunded, causing financial stress.

Many large American cities like Los Angeles and Chicago can raise revenues.  Toronto under the City of Toronto Act can only raise revenues through such as property taxes, special levies (ie ones  subway extension and one being proposed for SmartTrack), and development charges.  Local or regional sales taxes are not allowed under the current legislation.  Who knows how much implementation of a 0.25% regional sales tax or congestion pricing could raise to fund infrastructure.

New York State denied New York City the ability to use congestion pricing.  The ability to use congestion pricing as a revenue tool would fall into what Ontario is looking for comments on with respect to climate change.

The ability for a minimal regional sales tax along with increases in development charges and congestion pricing are critical for long term financial sustainability.  But it still must be met with increased provincial and municipal funding.

Flexibility means regionalization

Images courtesy of Transit Toronto and Toronto Star
Images courtesy of Transit Toronto and Toronto Star

In a recent Boston Globe article written by Justin Clark “The City-State Returns” , he states cities are moving towards devolution of power.

Since the world financial crisis, government leaders have been increasingly talking about devolution, or the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level. And those conversations are increasingly moving from the theoretical to the practical.

This has already happened here. Revenue streams that some American cities have, through home rule legislation, has not been enjoyed in Ontario.  But in the case of Greater Toronto Area municipalities, challenges are regional in scope, as Carol Wilding, former Toronto Region Board of Trade President stated on several occasions.  As well these have been echoed in Metropolitan Revolution and If Mayors Ruled the World, as Clark mentioned.  I read those two books as well.

Regionalization has already occurred in transit (and more needs to be done), healthcare with Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and school boards.  Municipal regionalization would need to go further with the formation of a two-tiered governance system.

A new legislation is drawn up called the Metropolitan Toronto Act.  I suggest the elimination of Peel, Durham, York and Halton Regions and have a new two-tiered governance structure that has a boundary from Burlington to the west, north to Newmarket, and east to Bowmanville.  Hamilton should not be included in the new regional governance structure as from an economic development perspective, they are closer to Niagara Region.

Under this new structure, weighted voting shall take place where for example Toronto could get 5 votes, Mississauga and Brampton with 2 each, and the remainder get one each. Review of weighting and boundaries should occur every 10 years.  Under the responsibility of the new regional governance structure would be planning, transportation (including transit), health care, social services, environment, infrastructure and school boards.

With regionalization would come financial responsibility.  Municipalities and the province would determine how to divide financial and program purview for this new structure.

Plenty of research must be done, but also strong transformational leadership skills must be employed when such a endeavour is undertaken.  I will be researching and coming to a conclusion on this in the coming months.

Transit service standards – A policy rethink

Image courtesy of Michael Minn

After reading City Observatory’s recent post “Our old planning rules of thumb are all thumb”, it got me thinking about transit service standards as policy.

I admit I fell into that trap.  One of my initiatives in 2008 was to develop a transit service standards for Mississauga Transit.  It was never adopted due to a change of management and a lack of buy-in.

York Region Transit, Chicago Transit Authority and Edmonton Transit, are examples of transit agencies who adopted transit service standards between 2001 and 2009, when it was en vogue.  But there are many transit agencies who do not have such a policy in place, making this inconsistent across the board.

Extracting a couple of points from the article made me think about current trends:

  1. We should have a high level of service on our streets. Level of service is a measure that engineers use to determine how traffic flow should be.  Many of the transportation models that use level of service don’t account for transit.  The grading system for traffic is outdated.  Some transit performance standards, like at AC Transit in Oakland (see p 4-5) relate service provision to such a hierarchy.
  2. We should have a hierarchy of streets. As it pertains to transit service standards policies, there are typologies of services delivered.  More specifically, these are express – point-to-point or limited stop, local, community, etc.  There are certain internal thresholds to determine what kind of service is delivered.  When current and continued suburban and industrial area designs separate uses, transit operations are not conducive and become incongruent.  Therefore transit agencies are forced to have these hierarchies and becomes more difficult to deliver service to customers.

One of their new rules of thumb mention accessibility over mobility.  Not to pick on TTC, but I found this statement from their website about transit planning interesting:

The TTC has two major objectives in planning its transit services: to maximise mobility within the City of Toronto; to ensure that transit services are efficient and cost-effective.

There is no mention of accessibility in their statements. Accessibility refers to the vehicles.  Mobility refers to the speed of getting around.  Hard to do when transit is in constant competition with the private automobile.  Many transit service standard policies are designed around the types of vehicles used and the threshold of their capacity to determine comfort.  Should this really be a policy or a mission statement since it is more of an expectation?  For an agency that prides itself on customer service, as the TTC alludes to on their website, their messages are mixed.

Steve Munro in his 2013 blogpost (very long read) references the American Public Transit Association’s (APTA) Transit Service Quality Handbook.   In referring to the document, he states

…it spends a disproportionate amount of time on organizational, big-picture, issues and the managerial focus drifts a bit too far from day-to-day reality for my liking.

Munro prefers to see quantitative results. His post can be summarized in the saying “what gets measured, gets done.  He’s a number cruncher.  I concur to a certain extent.  Transit service standards for years have referred to its reporting solely on data that passengers/customers don’t care to know.  You need a mix of qualitative and quantitative results because in the end.  On time performance is relative to a customer.  It’s more about the experience from beginning to end from purchasing fare media to boarding and alighting vehicles. APTA’s Handbook is actually very useful, from a policy development perspective.

In the end, policies such as transit service standards, are meant to be evaluated within a certain amount of time and should be consistent with current trends. Transit service standards have outlasted their usefulness.  While performance standards and measures are good tools to incorporate when determining value for service, a redefinition of what gets measured and how service is measured should be consistent with customer needs.

The sharing economy is forcing transit to innovate

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign

Uber, Lyft and Bridj (the latter two are in the United States) are giving transit agencies and taxi companies a run for their money.   The sharing economy and social innovation are forcing the hands of public transit to innovate.   Hailo picked up and left North America and hardly anyone noticed.  Taxi companies and their operators worldwide feel threatened by the emergence of Uber.  Protests

Now public transit is being threatened.  The introduction of UberPool was meant as an alternative for single occupancy vehicle drivers who weren’t able to use the HOV lanes on local and provincial highways. Smart Commute has had a carpool program in place for several years.  Because Uber has been in the news of late, they took advantage of this publicity.  There have been no reports to date on how successful UberPool or Smart Commute’s initiatives were during the Pan Am games.

Meanwhile was UberPool directly, or indirectly, aimed at competing with transit?  Advertising for Lyft Line in San Francisco has taken direct aim at SF Muni with their Match Muni pilot project.  SF Muni single ride cash fares are $2.25.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?

Transit agencies in Atlanta and Dallas recently partnered with Uber.  Los Angeles covers Uber trips in their Guaranteed Ride Programs. Many of these programs address the “last mile” dilemma where demand is so low, transit does not serve these areas, especially in off-peak periods.  Conversely, many of these journeys are undesirable after they leave their transit trips so Uber fills in the gap.  Even Los Angeles introduced a pilot where they are placing cars in lower income communities where limited or no transit service is provided.  A common theme with the cities mentioned is trips are not conducive to direct high frequency transit service because older neighbourhoods and industrial land uses have been catered to autos and trucks.

This “microtransit” movement has some critics.  Jarrett Walker called UberPool another name for Dial-a ride or more formally called, demand response transit. Demand response transit service has been all but eliminated because low boardings did not justify providing such a service.  Therefore late night and weekend passengers have been isolated at transit stations and stops.

While Dallas believes in having a “partnership” with Uber, the reciprocal effect isn’t happening.

Our transportation system has a lot of modes. Unfortunately, they’re not talking and working with each other. – Tim Papandreou, Deputy Director, San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency

While Uber has withheld data on their ridership figures and how many cars are not collecting fares between passengers (deadheading in transit terminology), a partnership is still quite possible.

How should governments respond?

In a 2014 IPAC Toronto presentation I attended on innovation and the sharing economy, Paul Macmillan from Deloitte alluded to his book “The Solution Revolution”  where government slowly reacts to opportunities, there is an ever growing gap of serving the unmet needs and growing expectations of citizens.

Image – IPAC Toronto Region/ Paul Macmillan

While Macmillan mentions social markets such as education, health and social services, but transportation is equally affected as well.  Technology and innovation is meant to close this gap through various solutions.

Image – IPAC Toronto Region/ Paul Macmillan

With the advent of social media and emergence of big data comes personalization and customization of goods.  This is where Uber and Lyft play significant roles in filling the gap between what citizens expect from transit and what services are being delivered.

Macmillan outlines how governments should respond in order to provide effective and efficient service.

Courtesy of IPAC Toronto Region
Image – IPAC Toronto Region/ Paul Macmillan

Government, specifically transit, has only responded with only several of these characteristics of a solution economy.  For financing, the transit profession has very rarely used private, corporate and institutional investments.  These could be characterized as leveraging public-private partnerships for building large infrastructure projects like the Canada Line in Vancouver.

Transit agencies have been slow to respond to innovative service delivery. Progress has been made with    increased civic engagement exercises to determine how best to provide more effective and responsive transit service.  Some transit agencies are responding to developing innovative models by hiring more finance graduates and professionals who analyze and crunch the numbers.

For almost three decades, new public management has steered governments towards developing return on investments and measurement & reporting standards. Transit agencies use performance measurement among peer agencies as well as between internal departments as a way to gauge how public funds are being spent.

Finally, current policies and legislations need to be changed drastically to meet current needs and be proactive on future trends.  There is plenty of catching up to do.

This is a well needed disruption to force the hand of government to be innovative.  Transit for many years has resigned to the fact they are a money losing operation as they are averse or slow to respond to change, as Macmillan’s slides clearly indicate.  The sharing economy is forcing the hand of governments to respond.  Regulation will be necessary in order for governments to catch up.  Some will say this limits competition.  Instead it will lead to partnerships.  Times are changing and we must adjust.

HOT lanes is one necessary policy tool that must be implemented in the GTHA

Image Courtesy of Orange County Transportation Authority

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes will be coming in the near future.  It’s not the first time this has been discussed in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.  HOT lanes could generate up to $25 million annually for transportation infrastructure and up to $250 million by 2020 (Metrolinx, 77).

Toronto Star reporter Heather Mallick suggests HOT lanes are a bad idea.  Mallick while supportive of raising income taxes to fund transit, intimates that HOT lanes punishes low-income drivers and rewards those who can afford to pay.  While this “Lexus Lanes” argument is as old as time, it is still a choice with drivers of all incomes.  Transit passengers, carpools, taxis and motorcycle owners would all benefit from HOT lanes.  It is the single occupancy vehicle owners who are the free riders of our highways. These comments were echoed by another Toronto Star reporter Jim Kenzie when discussing the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes temporarily implemented during the Pan Am/Para Pan Am games.

HOT Lanes currently exist in several American cities such as Riverside and San Diego. A pilot project is currently in place in Los Angeles County (video courtesy of Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority).

Express lanes on Highways 401 and 427, which are currently free, are heavily congested during peak periods. Congestion management is necessary.  Highway widening is not the way to alleviate congestion because it is a temporary fix to a problem that will soon revert to the status quo.

HOT lanes must occur on these two highways where additional lanes exist.  Implementing a plan similar to the 91 Express Lanes or the Metro Express Lanes would be a great start to mitigating congestion.

GTHA residents, City of Toronto, and interest groups such as the CAA, Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) and the Ontario Trucking Association would have to be consulted prior to implementation. Required modifications to sections of the Highway Traffic Act and the City of Toronto Act are necessary as well.  If HOV lanes such as those currently instituted on Highway 403 are converted to HOT lanes, then the Municipal Act would be affected.

Implementing HOT lanes are a low hanging fruit that cities and the province cannot pass up.  With potential regionalization, something I have advocated for in previous posts in this blog, revenue generation to fund transportation infrastructure would be a no brainer.

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.