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Didn’t pay to ride the UP Express? Metrolinx isn’t allowed to fine you for evading fares

Nov 13, 2019 2:00:00 PM

main didnt pay to ride the up express metrolinx isnt allowed to fine you for evading fares 13 11 2019 gta news thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

Since the Union Pearson Express opened in 2015, Metrolinx hasn’t fined a single customer on the airport rail link for fare evasion.

That’s not because people who take UP Express are extraordinarily law-abiding. In fact, Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency that operates the service, estimates riders who skip out on paying their fare for the airport train cost it about $400,000 annually in lost revenue.

The dearth of tickets is instead a result of a legal loophole Metrolinx has known about for years but has yet to close: the UP Express has never been covered by the agency’s bylaws, which means the organization has no authority to impose rules specific to the service and fine riders who break them.

Metrolinx hasn’t publicized the loophole, but the agency’s lack of bylaw authority over the UP Express was revealed in internal documents the Star obtained through a freedom of information request.

The documents included a summary of a review conducted in April 2018 that flagged multiple challenges to collecting fares on the UP Express, and warned riders were taking advantage of them.

“One customer stated that he did not purchase, nor did he intend to purchase a fare,” the summary said.

The documents show the review recommended the UP Express, which carries about 4.5 million passengers a year, be brought under Metrolinx bylaws in order to improve fare collection.

Yet Metrolinx has allowed the troublesome technicality to persist, even as the organization announced a crackdown on fare evasion on its GO Transit commuter network. Fare evaders on GO are subject to an immediate $100 fine if caught by inspectors.

The TTC, which is a separate agency under the City of Toronto’s control, fines riders who don’t pay up to $425.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the agency takes a “zero tolerance approach to fare evasion for everyone on our system whether UP Express or GO Transit,” and said the agency has measures in place to enforce payment.

“We expect everyone to pay their fare,” she said.

Ontario NDP transit critic and MPP Jessica Bell said fining fare evaders on the TTC and GO but not on the UP Express, which was designed to cater to business travellers, is a “double standard” for the transit-riding public.

“At the very least Metrolinx should be explaining why they haven’t taken action on this,” said Bell (University-Rosedale).

The MPP, who has also criticized Metrolinx for designing the airport train to cater to business travellers rather than the local communities it runs through, described the fare evasion issue as “the latest error that Metrolinx has made with the Union Pearson Express.”

Aikins explained the loophole is a result of the fact the UP Express started as a public-private partnership with a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin. Because a private company was initially expected to operate the service, it was left out of the Metrolinx Act, the provincial legislation that allows the public agency to impose bylaws on its transit lines.

When negotiations with SNC-Lavalin failed in 2010, the Ontario Liberal government of the day directed Metrolinx take over the project. But the government didn’t amend the Metrolinx Act. It wasn’t until last year that the new Ontario Progressive Conservative government amended the legislation to officially include the UP Express in Metrolinx’s mandate.

Despite the legislative change, Metrolinx still hasn’t drafted bylaws for the UP Express that would allow it to issue fines for fare dodging and other violations.

Aikins said the agency recognizes the need to bring the UP Express under its bylaws and is working to do so, but it’s a complex legal task that will take time.

“It’s not as simple as it sounds,” she said.

Without the ability to issue routine fines, Aikins said Metrolinx has other ways of ensuring UP Express riders pay.

At the Union Station and Pearson International Airport terminal stations, where a majority of customers board, employees are supposed to validate riders’ payment before they get on the train.

Riders boarding at other stops are asked to show they’ve paid after they get on, according to Metrolinx policy. If a rider hasn’t paid, the employee directs them to buy a ticket on board. GO transit riders caught not paying their fare aren’t given that option, Aikins said, but Metrolinx is reviewing the practice to ensure fairness.

If customers refuse, the worker can call in Metrolinx special constables, who have the authority to lay general non-criminal offence charges such as trespassing. That charge comes with a $65 fine, Aikins said.

A UP employee can also call the police, who are able to lay criminal charges. Aikins said that would only be done in “extreme circumstances.”

The documents obtained by the Star include drafts of an internal Metrolinx memo that was presented to senior management in July 2018. The memo made recommendations for increasing revenue from the UP Express, one of which was to tackle fare evasion.

According to the memo, the April 2018 review determined roughly 2 per cent of UP Express customers don’t pay, which translated into about $400,000 a year in lost fare revenue.

Aikins said a 2 per cent evasion rate is in line with industry standards.

In addition to not being able to fine riders, a summary of the review included in the memo said each UP Express employee is tasked with “many train functions,” making it difficult for them to check whether every rider has paid.

Compounding the difficulty is that crowding has increased on the line since Metrolinx slashed fares in 2016, a decision that was made to boost ridership but has also attracted non-airport travellers.

About 25 per cent of UP Express customers are now local commuters, and during rush hour the trains are often over capacity.

When trains are full, “staff may not physically be able to get to the other end of the train” to check everyone’s proof of payment, the review summary noted.

It warned customers have become aware UP workers aren’t able to check everyone’s fares and “are taking advantage of it.”

Asked whether it was irresponsible of Metrolinx not to have a policy in place to allow it to fine riders who don’t pay, a spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the government is “confident that Metrolinx takes fare evasion very seriously and is taking steps to ensure that all customers pay their fares.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

Ontario axing 9 execs in bid to save money, increase efficiencies in health care

Nov 13, 2019 9:30:00 AM

christine elliott ontario axing 9 execs in bid to save money increase efficiencies in health care 13 11 2019 provincial politics thestar dam content www.thestar.com  https:

Nine chief executives of Ontario’s regional health agencies are getting pink slips and sharing $3 million in severance as the province revamps its health system in a bid to save money and improve efficiency.

The move to cut the number of Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) to five from 14 comes as organizations like Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario are transferred into a new “super agency” called Ontario Health effective Dec. 2, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced Wednesday.

Elliot said nothing will change for patients as the health system is streamlined to save $250 million this year, rising to $350 million next year, with the money being poured back into front-line care as the province’s population grows and ages.

“Patients continue to receive care in the same way they always have. This is really just back-office changes to find savings and to integrate patient care,” she said in an interview, noting functions like human resources and payroll for the many different agencies are being combined under the new Ontario Health to end unnecessary duplication.

A health ministry official said no one other than the heads of the LHINs, which provide local health care planning, are being laid off now and no offices are closing, but in future there will be “significant” savings as real estate assets are consolidated.

The Star reported in June that 416 administrative staff were cut at Cancer Care Ontario and other health organizations as Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government began the streamlining. A total of 825 positions were eliminated, of which 409 were vacant.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath described herself as “a skeptic” when asked if she believes the restructuring will improve health care for patients.

“While the government’s making all of these changes building their super-bureaucracy, we see hallway medicine getting worse and worse,” Horwath told reporters in a reference to overcrowded hospitals forced to treat patients in corridors because not enough rooms are available.

“This government has shown time and time again that their interest is in cutting costs, and the impacts of that be damned.”

Each of the five LHINs will now cover an expanded area covering western, eastern, central and northern Ontario, with Toronto as a separate region.

Elliott announced her vision for the new health system in February, saying the goal is to provide more “seamless” care by erasing bureaucratic barriers between hospitals, doctors, home care and dozens of other providers over the next three years.

Under the plan, between 30 and 50 “Ontario Health Teams” will form across the province to co-ordinate all levels of care, from doctor visits to hospitals stays and home care.

Each team is expected to serve about 300,000 people in a geographic area or a specific group of patients across the province, such as children with fragile medical conditions. Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government is relying on health-care providers — from hospitals to doctors, home-care agencies, mental health and addiction services, labs and more — to devise their own service models meeting provincial standards.

So far, the government has selected 31 of 150 agencies that have signalled an interest to form Ontario Health Teams and is putting them through an application process expected to be completed by the end of the year, Elliott said Wednesday.

Although Ford promised his efforts to balance the provincial budget would not cost any jobs — tweeting on May 27, 2018 that “Under our government, not a single person will lose their job” — Elliott maintained he meant “front-line jobs” only.

“That’s what we heard time and time again, that we need more people on the front line,” she said.

The health minister has spoken previously of problems patients can have navigating a “disconnected” health care system, with changes needed to make sure that patients discharged from hospital needing home care get it immediately to make sure they don’t end up back in emergency rooms with potentially dangerous and costly complications.

Elliott’s revamp is in part driven by the government’s promise to end “hallway health care,” in which about 1,200 patients a day receive treatment daily in hospital hallways because of overcrowding and more than 30,000 people on the waiting list for nursing home beds.

There are about 5,400 patients in hospitals who no longer need acute care but cannot get into long-term care. The government has committed to adding 15,000 nursing home beds within five years but the independent Financial Accountability Office has warned more are needed to cut wait times.

“In general, most large community and academic teaching hospitals are functioning at extremely high occupancy levels, essentially in a semi-permanent state of 100 per cent and higher. That’s been the trend the last three years,” said Anthony Dale, chief executive of the Ontario Hospital Association.

“It’s simple math — a growing population and an aging population.”

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

Watch live: Trump’s public impeachment hearings underway

Nov 13, 2019 2:53:27 PM

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WASHINGTON - Career U.S. diplomat William Taylor advanced fresh testimony tying President Donald Trump to efforts pressing Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals as House investigators launched historic public impeachment hearings Wednesday.

Republicans retorted that the Democrats still have no more than second- and third-hand knowledge of allegations that Trump held up millions of dollars in military aid from the Eastern European nation facing Russian aggression.

The hearing, the first on television for the nation to see, provided hours of partisan back-and-forth but so far no singular moment etched in the public consciousness as grounds for removing the 45th president from office.

“I’m too busy to watch it,” Trump said as he appeared at the White House with visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by his side. “It’s a witch hunt. It’s a hoax.”

His reelection campaign was busy, too, sending out an email blast: “FAKE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS HAVE BEGUN! ... I WANT TO RAISE 3 MILLION DOLLARS IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.”

The long day of testimony unfolded partly the way Democrats leading the inquiry wanted: in the sombre tones of career foreign service officers telling what they know about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine as the public decides whether they are, in fact, impeachable.

For the first time a top diplomat testified that Trump was overheard asking about “the investigations” he wanted Ukraine to pursue that are central to the impeachment inquiry.

Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said his staff recently told him they overheard Trump when they were meeting with another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant the day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with the new leader of Ukraine that sparked the impeachment investigation.

The staff explained that Sondland had called the president and they could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations.” The ambassador told the president the Ukrainians were ready to move forward, Taylor testified

The inquiry was launched after an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that Trump, in the July phone call, pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic foe Joe Biden and Biden’s son -- all while the U.S. was holding up U.S. military aid.

Despite Republican interjections and objections, the scene offered the credibility that Democrats wanted to set the stage and sway public opinions.

At the start, Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry -- whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.

“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” said Schiff of California. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”

Republicans lawmakers immediately pushed Democrats to hear in closed session from the anonymous whistleblower. Schiff denied the request at the time but said it would be considered later.

“We will do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity,” Schiff declared.

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said Trump had a “perfectly good reason” for wanting to investigate the role of Democrats in 2016 election interference, giving airtime to a theory that runs counter to mainstream U.S. intelligence which found that Russia intervened and favoured Trump.

Nunes accused the Democratic majority of conducting a “scorched earth” effort to take down the president after the special counsel’s Russia investigation into the 2016 election failed to spark impeachment proceedings.

“We’re supposed to take these people at face value when they trot out new allegations?” said Nunes, a top Trump ally.

Nunes called the Ukraine matter a “low rent” sequel to the Russia probe. “Democrats are advancing their impeachment sham,” he said.

Both Taylor and George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, defied White House instructions not to testify. They both received subpoenas to appear.

The veteran foreign service officers delivered heartfelt history lessons about Ukraine, a young and hopeful democracy, situated next to Russia but reaching out to the West.

Asked about a text message released earlier in the probe in which Taylor called it “crazy” to withhold the security aid to a foreign ally, he said, “It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.“

Kent, in his opening remarks, directly contradicted a core complaint against Joe Biden being raised by allies of the White House, saying he never heard any U.S. official try to shield a Ukraine company from investigations.

Kent acknowledged that he himself raised concerns in 2015 about the then vice-president’s son, Hunter Biden, being on the board of Burisma, a Ukraine gas company. He warned that it could give the “perception of a conflict of interest.” But Kent indicated no one from the U.S. was protecting the company from investigations in Ukraine as Republicans have implied.

“Let me be clear; however, I did not witness any efforts by any U.S. official to shield Burisma from scrutiny,” Kent said.

He did not go into detail about the issues central to the impeachment inquiry, but he voiced his concerns with them.

“I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective, politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power, because such selective actions undermine the rule of law regardless of the country,” he said.

So far, the narrative being unspooled in weeks of investigations for the inquiry is splitting Americans, mostly along the same lines as Trump’s unusual presidency. The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment, and there’s no consensus yet that Trump’s actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanours.”

At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he asked the Zelenskiy for “a favour.”

Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden.

The anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the phone call. The White House released a rough transcript of the conversation, with portions deleted.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. But she pressed ahead in September after the whistleblower’s complaint.

Over the past month, witness after witness has appeared behind closed doors to tell the investigators what they know.

Whether Wednesday’s proceedings begin to end a presidency or help secure Trump’s position, it was certain his chaotic term had finally arrived at a place he could not control and a force, the constitutional system of checks and balances, that he could not ignore.

Unlike the Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon, there is not yet a “cancer-on-the-presidency” moment galvanizing public opinion. Nor is there the national shrug, as happened when Bill Clinton’s impeachment ultimately didn’t result in his removal from office. It’s perhaps most like the partisanship-infused impeachment of Andrew Johnson after the Civil War.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Mike Balsamo, Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Alan Fram, Zeke J. Miller and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

CP24 News

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