Toronto Deputy Mayor Says Downtown Isn't for Families

So apparently Toronto’s Deputy Mayor feel’s the only place children ought to be raised are picket fenced cul-du-sac’s, and that the downtown urban life are not for children. For this reason, the Deputy Mayor does not want to approve a policy that requires condo developers to provide home buyers with 3 bedroom condo option’s.

http://goo.gl/Rk6H0

If we do even a bit of research, we will find that this claim is simply wrong. Nate Berg, the Los Angeles-based writer on the Atlantic Monthly didn’t even need to set foot in Toronto to identify the fact that the specific condo in question is located within a few walking blocks to 5 different parks thanks to Google Maps. A recent Pembina study, which was sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, suggests that the majority of residents in the Greater Toronto Area prefer walk-able, transit friendly mixed-use neighborhoods that fit a similar profile to Downtown Toronto. But lets not let facts get in the way of sound public policy…

Over the past three decades, the greatest challenge facing transit in Canadian cities is the lack of an on-going source of funds for new capital projects. Each time a transit need is identified, the inevitable debate ensues on how the project ought to be funded, and how much the province is willing to contribute. The ad-hoc nature of funding has slowed progress to a crawl. Here in Ottawa, the debate for the LRT dragged on for over 20 years, partially due to the uncertainty of available funding.

Other jurisdictions in North American have found innovative solutions to fund transit. In Los Angeles, the county introduced Measure R, a half-cent sales tax, with 35% of the revenue going towards new rail and bus-rapid-transit (BRT) projects.

It seems Ottawa’s provincial cousins down the 401 seem to have also found an innovative solution. This may set a precedent for Ottawa moving forward.  Councillor Karen Stintz, the Chair of the City of Toronto’s Transit Commission has proposed One City, an ambitious $30 billion plan that will add 6 new subway lines and 10 new LRT lines over 30 years. Some of the lines are already under construction, while the other lines were already introduced to City Council in previous transit plans that never panned out.

These types of ambitious plans seem to be a dim a dozen in Toronto.  What makes this plan unique is that it includes both a forecasted expense projection and a long term funding solution. With respect to funding from the province, One City is designed to be consistent with Ontario’s Big Move, which has already earmarked funding for transit in Toronto.

How will the city fund such an ambitious project?

While funding for this project will come out of property tax, the property tax rate (%) will NOT increase. Instead, Councillor Karen Stintz has proposed funding this project through the Current Value Assessment (CVA) Up-lift. The CVA is an assessment conducted every four years that estimate the value of each real estate property. In Toronto, property value is projected to increase at a rate of 4.7% each year, this is known as the Up-lift. Under normal circumstances, this mechanism would not provide the city with additional revenue thanks to a provincial requirement that the CVA Up-lift remain revenue-neutral.

What this means is that the tax rate (%) on property value is actually reduced, so that the property owners do not see an increase in the actual tax paid to the City. To illustrate this point, the municipal residential tax rate was 0.562% in 2011. Assuming property value increases by 4.7%, the tax rate would actually reduce to 0.537% (0.025% decrease). The end result is that the actual tax for the average home owner whose home value increased by 4.7% should remain unchanged, as long as Council didn’t approve a separate property tax increase.

What Councillor Stintz wants to do is to seek an exemption from the Province on the revenue-neutral clause, so that the City can capture 40% of this up-lift in property value. For the average home owner in Toronto who sees an increase in property value, this will effectively increase actual tax paid to the city by 1.9% in each of the next four years. Since only 40% of the up-lift is being captured, the property tax rate (%) will still be reduced from 0.547% (0.015% decrease).

The McGuinty Liberal’s have given every indication to the City that they are willing to cooperate with Council to help Toronto fund transit. This is consistent with his pledge to work with Mayor Rob Ford on what to do with the Provinces $8.2 billion investment through the Big Move led by Metrolinks. However, the Ontario Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli had indicated that the Province is not supportive of the One City Plan. Councillor Stintz will continue to seek support from City Council. If approved, the Province may find their position at odds with previous commits they have made to the City of Toronto and we may see a change of heart.

What are the consequences?

Opponents of the One City plan, including the Mayor have expressed concerns about the affordability of the CVA up-lift. Of particular concern are senior citizens who live on fixed income, many of whom have been in there homes for decades. This plan can have significant consequences, especially with more people retiring in the coming decade. In 1966, the average cost of a home was $21,360. By June 2011, the average price of a home was a whopping $512,879. That’s 24 times the cost of a home 45 years ago. If property tax was tied to the cost of a home during that 45 year period, families would not be able to afford the property tax and would literally be taxed out of their homes.

However, the One City plan will only capture 40% of the CVA up-lift and the increase will only occur once. That is, we will not have a scenario where the City collects more taxes each time the CVA is conducted. The 1.9% might be difficult to swallow for some low-income Seniors, yet, the benefits of public transit are particularly important for this demographic.

As seniors age, their ability to drive will slowly erode. The only way seniors in Toronto can travel around the city, after they lose their ability to drive, is through public transit. A strong transit system that includes a network of accessible subways and LRT’s will ensure that this growing demographic can maintain their independence as long as possible in the different corners of the city.

What makes this plan more practical than any other?

Unlike previous iteration of Toronto’s transit plan, this plan provides a realistic funding road map. The uplift is expected to generate approximately a third of the total cost of the One City Transit Plan. Whether this revenue stream is approved or morphs into another revenue generator, such as road tolls or other funding proposals is not necessarily the point. The credibility of this particular plan is in its recognition that the city would need a long-term mechanism to fund transit infrastructure.

While $30 billion capital funding seems like a lot of money, it is money stretched over three decades with an on-going source of funds. The remainder of funds may come from senior levels of government. On the other hand, with a significant chunk of money committed by the city, the private-sector would be in a much better position to help design/build/finance/maintain the remaining short-fall. This is in stark contrast to Rob Ford’s plan to involve the private sector, with little up-front investment from Government, very little investor confidence would be generated.

It is also in contrast to Mayor Miller’s Transit City, which relied heavily on funding from senior levels of government, all while the cities share of funding was uncertain. The current Mayor has already indicated that he does not support this plan. However, Councillor Stintz has support from the Transit Commission. If Council approves this plan and gains support from the Province, the Mayor’s opinion of the matter is nothing more than a formality.

As far as buy-in from the Public, an Angus Reid poll commissioned by the Toronto Star demonstrated that 80% of Toronto residents support One City. Perhaps more important, 68% of Toronto residents who voted for Mayor Rob Ford (who ran on an anti-tax, anti-LRT platform) support the One City Transit Plan.

In Part 2, I explored the various options available for Canadian cord-cutters to access the same television content they had through their Canadian cable or satellite provider, for little to no long-term costs. While cord-cutters can now access content through the websites of major Canadian broadcasters, this still leaves another problem that is unique to Canadians. One of the major complaints among Canadian television viewers is our selection of content. In a nutshell, the selection is poor. While Canadian’s have access to some of the most popular American content through our major broadcasters, their are a lot of high quality programs that either never make it to Canada or are behind by a few seasons. One such example is the hit British television series Misfits, which is available in the United States exclusively on Hulu.

For cord cutter’s, this is particularly frustrating. Canadians are typically geo-blocked from accessing television content online through American broadcasters such as CBS and the CW, or through online streaming services such as Hulu. In practice, this means that Canadians are typically met with arrogant black screens, that often includes a message such as “The video you have requested is not available in your geographical region”. This diagram demonstrates our limitations.

Of course, we have a way around this. A tool called the Virtual Private Network (VPN).  Simply put, a VPN creates a tunnel between your computer and a server in another location (e.g: the US). Once logged on, you can surf the web as if your a computer based in the United States. I am currently working out of my computer here in Ottawa, but with my VPN the internet basically thinks that I am based out of Manhattan, New York, which is the location of my VPN server. This opens up a whole new world for cord cutters who stream content online, as the diagram below demonstrates.For anybody who has subscribed to Netflix Canada, its no secret that the selection of content for Canadian’s is disappointing, unless of course your a fan of indie films or B-horror. For those who have not given Netflix Canada a try, here is a short review. Have a short attention span? Here is a witty 25 sec video review. A VPN connection gives you access to the better stocked Netflix US.

It also gives you access to Hulu, which is basically a one-shop-stop for all your television viewing content. It doesn’t have the same movie selection as Netflix, but it has deals with nearly all the major US networks. It also carries exclusive content such as Misfits. For $7.99, you can upgrade to Hulu Plus, which gives you access to entire seasons and even entire series (such as the all 6 seasons of Lost) as well as HD content. Alternately, for fans of British drama such as the EastEnders, a VPN IP based in the UK will give you access to the BBC iPlayer.

Sports fans, you can use the VPN to get around local blackout restrictions on your online streaming subscription. Just make sure that the use of the VPN doesn’t violate the terms and conditions of your subscription and\or the league.

How-to-steps:

1) To get started with a VPN, first Find a VPN service provider that providers a US-based server. I currently use StrongVPN.com and pay approximately $55 annually. You can buy a three month package to try for approximately $7 per month. As stated in Part 1, I encourage you to shop around for other service providers. I’d stick with the most reputable providers to prevent blackouts. I’ve had my current service for 6 months and have had no problems. Another reputable company is Hide My Ass!

2) Once you’ve subscribed, your VPN service provider should provide you with three pieces of information

  • Host Name – This could be an IP address such as 192.168.0.1 or a server name such as wnxx.reliablehosting.com
  • Username – Typically the user name used to set up your account.
  • Password – Typically the password used to set up your account.

3) Once you have all your information in order, setting it up is fairly simple. StrongVPN actually provides step-by-step instructions on how to set it up. It should be as easy as connecting your computer to a Wi-Fi network at a coffee shop.

Here are the screen-by-screen instructions by Operating System:

The single most important objective for prospective cord cutters is to be able to view the same content we would on cable/satellite, except without cable/satellite and on as many platforms as possible (e.g. HDTV, Tablet, Smartphone, Computer etc.). The purpose of this article is to describe the tools you will need and steps you will take to access television content with out cable. I will discuss three important tools, a Digital Antenna, a home wireless internet connection and a mini PC or laptop. But first I want to make clear that the term “cord” in “cord cutting” really means a cable cord for the purpose of accessing television content, typically through one of the major cable or satellite service providers, such as Rogers, Bell, Shaw or Videotron (Comcast if your from the United States). If you use internet using cable or DSL from the big telcos, this is an issue I will address in part 4.

Digital Antenna

Most cable or satellite service providers typically sell far more channels than their customers would typically watch. In Canada, customers who want access to a small variety of channels are often forced to absorb the additional cost of channels that the customer may not watch. For example, if a package included 57 channels, with only 11 channels in which customers can select their specific programming, that’s 46 channels that customers have no control over what programming are included.

However, since the CRTC required major Canadian broadcasters to transition to a digital signal by August 31, 2011, Canadians living in urban centres now have an opportunity to access the most popular content through a digital antenna at no cost. Digital over-the-air (OTA) television channels are different from traditional bunny ears which often have mixed results with respect to quality of broadcast. Digital OTA typically broadcasts in the highest quality the TV can support. Broadcasters such as the CBC-Radio Canada, CTV or TVA broadcast on OTA in HD. Digital OTA does not have the “snow effect” typically found using bunny ears. Content on digital OTA either airs in perfect quality or it does not air at all.

Majority of Canadians now live within a short drive to a major urban centre, which means that most Canadians should have access to content through a digital antenna. Here in Ottawa, folks have reported receiving up to 8 or 9 channels, many in HD quality, including people with outdoor roof top antennas. Ottawa is some distance from the nearest US urban centre so unfortunately, we only have access to 8 digital channels from Ontario and Quebec.
I personally use the Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna, which is a digital antenna that has received positive reviews on web forums. Others have had success by building their own digital antennas using coat hangers and a piece of wood. If your like me, you probably aren’t very handy, the only retail store in Canada that carries the Terk HDTVa appears to be The Source, which sells the antenna for about $50. You can probably get better prices online such as on Amazon or eBay.

I personally receive about 8 channels including CBC-Radio Canada, CTV, CTV2, OMNI (Multicultural television), TVA (French), TVO (Ontario), and the Christian Television Network. Larger cities such such as Toronto and Montreal have reported receiving up to 40 digital channels, including both Canadian and American television channels using both an indoor and outdoor digital antennas. For most people, an antenna alone should be sufficient to start viewing digital OTA television for free, but if you have an older television, you may require an ATSC tuner. Most HD TVs should support digital antennas without a tuner. However, for those who require one, an ATSC tuner costs about $70 in Canada and can sometimes be found at The Source. I cant seem to find it anywhere else. ATSC tuners are widely available in electronic stores in the United States and have a tendency to be much cheaper, so if you happen to be doing some cross border shopping or are travelling in the United States, pick one up. The other option is to treat yourself to a brand new HDTV. With the savings you’ll achieve as a cord cutter, you’ll pay it off within a few months.

Wireless Internet Connection

In an era of the digital video recorder (DVR), the challenge with viewing television content exclusively over the-air is that you have no control over when to watch specific programming. However, more and more broadcasters in Canada, including Global, CTV, the CBC, City TV and others have begun streaming content online and on-demand. So if you missed your favorite television show OTA, you can catch up by simply viewing online. Over time, the quality of online streaming television has improved significantly.

Online streaming began as a grey market industry with overseas broadcasters illegally streaming popular American television content online free of charge. Broadcasters and major content providers fought hard to end illegal streaming, but eventually broadcasters started to negotiate with producers for the rights to stream online legally. The demand for online streaming grew when over-the-top broadcasters such as Netflix entered the market and began selling low-cost $8.99 monthly subscriptions for online access to HD quality blockbusters. These new over-the-top competitors fast tracked the major broadcasting industries delivery of streaming content supported by advertising.

Today, legal online streaming television is not limited to the major broadcasters. Specialty channels such as Food TV or HGTV also stream limited content online. For Mac users, iTunes has started selling content on an a la cart basis, again allowing consumers to save money since you only purchase specific content you want to watch. For Android users, the new Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market) now sells content a la cart to Android users. YouTube,  has also began renting on-line streaming blockbusters on an a la carte basis. Streaming websites such as Youtube and Vimeo has increasingly produced better quality content not found on traditional cable or satellite subscriptions.

For Sports fans, most North American leagues provide online subscription to games, including NHL, MLS, Major League Baseball or the NFL.  Often the cost of these subscriptions are significantly less than the total cost of a cable/satellite subscription because 1) your paying for what you want and 2) your only paying for the season, and not the off-season.

Mini-PC

When watching television, most people are more comfortable sitting on their couch relaxing after a long days work. Sitting in an office chair watching television on a 15 inch screen isn’t every bodies idea of home entertainment. However, if you have an HDTV, their are many options out there for folks that want to watch streaming television on their television, even without an expensive smart TV. This is where the mini-PC comes in. While optional, it is highly recommended if you want to replicate your cable television viewing habits as a cord-cutter.

Their are many options out there, streaming television on your HDTV can be as simple as plugging your laptop into the television through an HDMI cable, if your laptop supports HDMI. More permanent solutions are also available such as box-tops. The most popular box-top is the Apple TV. However, with an Apple TV you are limited in the type of content you can stream, since the box top revolves around content available on iTunes. Other alternatives to the Apple TV include the Roku or the Google TV, but again, these solutions are limited in the type of content you can stream.

The best solution is the solution I use, and that’s the use of a Mini-PC. As you see in the photo, the Mini-PC is essentially a PC except its small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Here is the equipment I used to access streaming television on my HDTV:

  1. HDMI Cables, which allows me to plug my Android Tablet, laptop and mini-PC into my HD television. ($30)
  2. A Mini-PC. (Approximately $450)
  3. A wireless USB keyboard/mouse which I use lieu of a remote control. ($79)

The Mini-PC device uses the same eco-friendly components found in laptops in order to keep the device small. Mini-PC’s also use far less energy, which negates the need for a fan that takes up space. When looking for a Mini-PC, be sure that it has the following components:

  1. Support for HDMI cable to plug into your TV
  2. Supports a Wi-Fi
  3. Support for USB in order for your wireless keyboard and mouse to plug in
  4. Windows 7, you may need to purchase this separately. You should be able to install windows using a USB stick. Alternatively if your comfortable with Linux, Ubuntu is a great operating system that supports HD streaming. Best of all, its free.

As I stated in Part 1, I encourage my readers to shop around, but for me, I felt the Zotac Zbox was the best solution. Other manufacturers such as Asus also produce a Mini-PC. At $450, the Mini-PC is about the price of a Digital Video Recorder, something you’d rent or purchase anyways, if you had cable or satellite. The Mini-PC works like any computer, and so whatever you typically stream on your home computer, such as Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo or your favorite television shows, you’ll be able to stream it directly onto your TV.

Hi, my name is Ken and I am a Cord Cutter! Its been 68 days since I last had cable television. There was some growing pains, but as soon as we found alternative (legal) ways to access our favorite content, we haven’t missed a beat. Here in Canada, approximately 200,000 Canadians are expected to cord cut by the end of 2012. This may seem like a lot, but with 11.7 million unique cable subscribers, this represents only 1.7%. Given how easy it was for me to cut my cable, you really don’t need to be a tech nut to enjoy quality programming, including sports, drama and film without a subscription to cable.

Let me explain why I cancelled my cable subscription with Rogers (The largest cable provider in Canada). In order to access all of the content that my girlfriend and I enjoy, we had to get the Rogers VIP package, at a cost of over $70. On top of this, we needed a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), which costed us $24.99 per month to rent. This gave us access to the basic cable package, in addition to other channels we frequently watch, including the Food Network, HGTV, Discovery and a suite of sports related programming. The package also provided us with hundreds of television channels, vast majority of which we do not watch, but are forced to purchase due to bundling (More on bundling in Part 2). Once you include Ontario’s 13% harmonized sales tax, our total monthly bill was approximately $110. In other words, we were paying $1320 per year on television. That’s a lot of two-fours!

In a four-part series, I will describe my ongoing experience as a cord cutter. I will describe a number of products in this series, however, this is in no way my endorsement of these specific products. I always encourage my readers to do further research in order to find the best value-for-money. Here is a synopsis of the series:

One thing that cord cutters need to consider include access to content. Take the time to sit down, and seriously look at the type of content you tend to access day-by-day. Try to look at it from the perspective of an entire calendar year. Some of the items you should consider are the channels in which you would typically access your favorite content.

Here is a sample of how I organize my television viewing habits:

  • Modern Family on CityTV (ABC in the US)
  • MLS Soccer on TSN (NBC Sport in the US)
  • NHL Hockey on CBC/TSN (Versus in the US)

Once you have an inventory of the type of programming you want to watch, next you will want to consider how to access these programs through alternative methods. Part 2 of this series will describe the steps I took to gain access all my favorite content. For content on the CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global or TVA, you can access these channels through a digital antenna. Part 2 will also describe how to access your favourite content online.

In Canada, the ability to access some content online can be restrictive. Outside a handful of Canadian produced content, the vast majority of content that Canadians like to view are produced in the United States, not all of which are available to Canadians online. For American content that are not easily accessible to Canadians online (both television and film), a virtual private network (VPN) would be a useful tool. Part 3 will describe how non-US residents can legally access “geo-blocked” US programming through over-the-top service such as Hulu or US Netflix and content directly from American broadcasters (CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox or CW).

Finally, with all this content coming through the internet, you’ll find that you’ll be using a lot more bandwidth than ever before. My current internet package provided by my internet service provider (Rogers Communication) currently has a bandwidth limit of only 60GB per month. Prior to cord cutting, I rarely used more than 30GB. However, since cord cutting, my internet use has nearly doubled. Part 4 will explore some of the research I did in search of a better deal. You will come to find that the restrictive data-caps from Canada’s big-telcos is not the end of the road and that we indeed have better options.

By the end of the series, you should be able to break the shackles of the cord, and join the 1.7% of Canadian cable subscribers that will become Cord Cutters by the end of 2012.

So the City has proposed a series of service cuts effecting 47 bus routes across town to save a meagre $3 million. This marks the second winter in a row that the patients of riders are being tested. Riders will remember that at the same point-in-time last year, Ottawa was in the middle of the longest transit strike in the cities history. These service cuts couldn’t come at a worst time. The City has already proposed a property tax hike of 3.9%. Just to top it off, they are also proposing to hike transit fares by 7.5%.

Riders and taxpayers are basically being asked to pay more for less. In the long-term, these service cuts will hurt the cities transit ambitions. City Councillor Alex Cullen, the Chair of the cities Transit Committee has estimated that these cuts can potentially cost OC Transpo 597 000 riders. Nearly all proposed service cuts will significantly impact the rush-hour commuter crowd. For example, the express route 69 is used extensively during the morning commute and the proposed cut of the 66 will completely remove service on Moodie Drive between Bells Corners and the Nortel campus.

As residents continue to debate the $2.1 billion Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan, the City ought to consider the impact of potentially losing half-a-million riders, riders that could feed the proposed LRT system. By cutting these routes, riders impacted would be forced to find alternative solutions (ie: purchase a vehicle). Transit riders tend to be creatures of habit. Once these riders get out of the habit of using transit, they will not likely return, regardless of whether the LRT is built or not.

For a complete list of the proposed service cuts: http://www.alexcullen.ca/PDF/Proposed_OC_Transpo_Service_Cuts-revised.pdf

After much doubt, the Province has announced that it is willing to pay its share of the $2.1 billion LRT in Ottawa, including the underground portion downtown. The Federal Government has already pledged to provide its share, with the caveat that the Province must be on board. Assuming that the 1\3rd funding rule applies, the three levels of government should be able to raise a total of $1.8 billion.

That would be $300 million short of the proposed budget. While the city can scale back the project or come up with the money through tax revenues, a third option exist. A consortium of local entrepreneurs can be the fourth financing partner. Of course, private sector financing can come in various forms, and with shared risk comes shared reward. Public Private Partnerships  come in various forms, for Ottawa’s needs, the following proposals maybe feasible

NCC Real Estate & Rail - Some of the land that the LRT is expected to cross are National Capital Commission (NCC) owned. Assuming that the city can work with the NCC (which may prove to be difficult), private financing can include an agreement whereby unused NCC land can be leased to the consortium partners. In return for financing the LRT project, the NCC\City can sign a rent-free lease agreement with consortium partners on NCC land for a set period of time, with an option to extend the lease agreement at market rate.

The benefit of the land agreement for the private consortium, would be the value of the land. Based on lessons learned from other major cities in Canada, the LRT would help raise the profile of land along its corridor, particularly near LRT stations. The value of commercial real estate near the LRT line would increase which allows the private consortium to profit off of favorable sub-lease agreements.

Sell Ad Space -  The primary challenge of the lease agreement is the involvement of the NCC. As is the case with planning the LRT and the Lansdown projects, the City and NCC do not always work well with each other. Yet, the ad space on trains and LRT stations are property controled by the City. In an effort to raise the additional funds needed for the LRT project, the City can sell permanant ad space to a private consortium. The City can set aside 50% of the ads on trains and LRT stations for the purpose of selling to the private consortium on a permanant basis. This would be the primary benefit to the private consortium , in that, they would be able to use the ad space to rent them out to generate a profit. The City would continue to own the other 50% of ad space.

Reference

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Province+kicks+600M+Ottawa+light+rail+project/2356367/story.html