Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Globe and Mail: Shadowy deals loom on the waterfront

The Globe and Mail's John Barber whines about a 'shady' deal to develop part of Toronto's waterfront. According to the rumours, Canwest Global would move into a new building on a derilict part of the waterfront just east of the Redpath Sugar refinery.

This is a subscriber-only article - but if you aren't a subscriber - this and other Barber columns are surely no reason to plunk down your hard-earned $$$ to pay for access.

The Globe and Mail: Shadowy deals loom on the waterfront

The tone of the column reflects the typical Toronto-leftist mistrust of anything to do with the private sector. It doesn't occur to them that the city exists because of private enterprise. The leftist vision sees a Toronto of grand public buildings, public housing projects, and parks.

It doesn't occur to Barber and other leftists that:

1. A vibrant private economy is needed to fund all these goodies.
2. Private companies need to negotiate contracts in private.

Barber is not alone in complaining about the prospects of an office building/studio being constructed. A local residents association bemoaned that they would prefer an aquarium. (..Yes - please put the aquarium right there, and while your at it we'd like this type of landscaping...) Boy - I'd love to see these self-serving residents hit with a special assessment to pay for their wish list.

The real problem with the rumoured deal is that the city must subsidize the venture in order to make the site competitive with suburban locations. Given the city's astronomical commercial property taxes, this is the only way to retain jobs. (No these are not new jobs coming into the city - but rather jobs that will move from locations such as the Post's current premises on Don Mills.)

Monday, November 29, 2004 - Council to debate axing 3 managers

David Miller's infamous broom is set to sweep three more off the good ship Toronto's decks. - Council to debate axing 3 managers

Now while there is certainly room for improvment in the way the city operates, it's hard to envision that moving some of the higher level boxes around and drawing some lines will have a discernible impact. My take is that this is nothing more than a convenient way for the mayor to jettison staff he doesn't like.

Of course, the NDP cabal in council is backing the mayor:

...Dumping the commissioners would end the parochialism that has occurred between competing departments...

claims the inveterate nitwit Glenn De Baeremaeker. Really! If shuffling reporting lines and axing a few managers were a solution to departmental parochialism, such silos would have vanished in most organizations a long time ago.

Sunday, November 28, 2004 - TTC on board for smart fare card

Wow - what a difference a few weeks can make! The TTC is now 'fully behind' the implementation of a 'smart-card' based system for customer fares. This comes on the heels of council's decision to pay the city's share for GO Transit expansion. - TTC on board for smart fare card

It can't have been more than a month ago that we heard Mayor Miller castigate the provincial government over not giving enough money - and use this as a reason to refuse to fund the requested contribution to GO. The TTC has long been reluctant about/opposed to smart-cards and fare-integration.

It makes one wonder how the McGuinty & Co have suddenly found themselves with the luxury of this new maleability in the likes if Miller, Moscoe and Ashton??

Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - Reconsider expense accounts, Toronto trustees told

It is on the education front that the McGuinty Liberal's reach the zenith of hypocrisy. Today's news shows that they don't even understand how school boards are supposed to be managed. - Reconsider expense accounts, Toronto trustees told

Historically, school board trustees in Toronto did get paid on the basis that being a "trustee" was a full-time job. In reality, these people acted as full-time omsbudman - and not as trustees. The old Toronto school board - as a result - spent wildly and delivered little. In fact, before the Harris education reforms, Ontario schools were laggards. Quebec students learned more in 11 years than Ontarion students did in 13. Ontario education was the sizzle (swimming pools, field trips), without the academic steak.

There are still many in Toronto who believe that everything used to be so wonderful with the system. They pine for the days of high-spending and no standards. It doesn't seem to matter that Ontario was at or near the bottom in the SAIP tests. The teachers' unions are hell-bent on removing any useable metrics from the system. It is the unions' deep bias against the intellectual core of school life that has so many Ontarians looking for alternatives.

It is not the role of a Board of Trustees to pursue petty complaints. It is rather to oversee the strategic management of the school board, to:

- appoint and review the performance of senior leaders
- provide guidelines for policies and set the strategic direction
- approve the budget

TDSB trustees appear still to be complaint-chasers and have yet to assume to role of strategic oversight. In my view, TDSB trusrees shouldn't be paid at all. Trustees at a very successful educational instituation in Ithaca NY are not paid. They serve out of devotion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - The Beach's shifting landscape

Today's Toronto Star has an interesting article describing a very typical Toronto debate. - The Beach's shifting landscape

For those who don't know, The Beach (or The Beaches) is by far and away Toronto's best neighbourhood. It has the most people friendly/accessible stretch of Lake Ontario in the city, and streets lined with mature trees. It's home to a wonderful eclectic mix of retail establishments along Queen St - many of which open well into the evening.

It's also home to friendly dogs who save the city from harm. It's a hop, skip, and jump to downtown. Oh - yes, and it's my home.

Of course, as much as we would like to keep the area a secret - this is not practical. People have been buying up lots with undersized properties and building larger homes on them. The debate is whether these new homes should be required to somehow mesh with the existing architectural style.

My take is that:

1. The new homes people are building are huge improvement over what they replaced.
2. The Beaches has no one style. Every street is different - reflecting that this a mature neighbourhood that has seen development and redevelopment over its history. This is yet another endearing aspect of the neighbourhood.

Let's leave the concept of architectural contextualism for the grand public spaces and buildings.

Saturday, November 13, 2004 - TTC outlines budget plan

In case you haven't been keeping track, the TTC 10-year capital requirements 'bubble' has now jumped from $3.8 billion to $4.5 billion. - TTC outlines budget plan

Despite streetcar track rebuilding projects of recent years (Lakeshore West, King, Carleton, College etc.) there is still $270 million left to do. In fact, it never ends. Streetcar track is far more expensive to maintain that subway-track - or railway track on standard ballast. This is because it is set in the concrete. The rebuilding requires ripping up the concrete. The projects are not only expensive, but also very disruptive to people and businesses in those neighbourhoods effected.

Aside from keeping the ruinously expensive and ineffective streetcar system, the TTC's biggest problem has been the failure to set aside reserves. In the TTC's way of accounting, it only depreciates the net capital paid by the TTC itself. This is a very small amount - as 99% of the Commission's captital has been provided by the city and province. This approach has assumed that governments would show equal largesse in funding asset replacements as they did with the initital projects. In theory, the city could have (and should have) ensured the reserves existed. However, this has't been the history.

In comparison, Montreal's STM and Vancouver's Translink show debt, interest and sinking fund payments on their financial statements.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Miller's myopia

David Miller's comments - as reported by Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy:

Toronto Sun Columnist: Sue-Ann Levy - Miller does no wrong

remind me of Jean Drapeau's famous claim:

The Games can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby.

With the mayor in denial about the economic noose of high business taxes - and the City's rampaging hiring spree - I'm wondering whether I've misjudged Harvard University all along.

I always thought that Harvard was strong academically, but had a weak hockey team. Well - although I can't believe that I'm admitting to this in writing - Harvard has a very good hockey team. However, based on Harvard grad Miller's performance, its academics are looking questionable.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Richard Gwyn's muddled forgetfullness

I don't normally use this blog to comment on non-Toronto issues - but I found Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn's recent effort especially troubling.

Given that the US election is today, I've decided to make an exception.

In his column: - U.S. choice: Visionary or isolationist?

Gwyn does actually make some valid points:

1. That should Kerry win the election, only to find his overtures to countries such as France, Germany and Canada spurned, this will prove Bush correct. I have the latter (contingent) point as 8-1 odds on.

2. That the UN is a largely ineffective and often corrupt. Gywn - perhaps because he doesn't wish to upset the sensibilities of the average mindless left-wing Canadian UN lover - is way too kind.

However, as a whole, the column hoists itself by it's own petard.

Gwyn sets up two views of America - one being:

creative, generous, daring, visionary. It is exuberantly, at times naïvely, optimistic. It's the America that has been called, "the last, best hope of the world."

and the other one of :

...spurning of the rules of international law, from the jailing of prisoners without trial at Guantanamo, Cuba, to their torturing in Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq; to the racial profiling of tourists and visitors; by its commitment to the doctrine of a "preventive" attack on any country that might, perhaps, possibly, one day threaten it; and to the doctrine that "either you are with us, or you are against us," this America is the alternative candidate in this election

Gywn states that neither presidential candidiate embodies either of these two supposed 'sides' of the American nation - yet then states that 'this is what Tuesday's election is all about'!

Gwyn imbues the Kerry camp with a shiny crown adorned by vision and optimism, while according the Bush camp with the thorny crown of suspicion and isolationism. The problem here is that the isolationist forces in the US - on both the military side and the economic protectionism side - seem to line up squarely behind Senator Kerry. In other words, Gwyn has the picture completely reversed.

It is the Bush administration that has demonstrated vision and optimism - and perhaps naivete - in attempting to establish democracy in Iraq. It is the Bush administration that has attempted to help the UN retain any sense of meaning by delivering meaningful consequences to back Security Council resolutions.

It's true that the US has taken an awful black-eye by going ahead without the support of the likes of France and Germany. However, it was already taking a black eye for the UN embargo on Iraq - purportedly one of the 'reasons' behind the attacks on the WTC. Remember all the rhetoric about 'US sanctions' killing 500,000 Iraqi children.

Well - this morning, under cover of the election glare, the Sudanese Army and police have surrounded the refugee camps Darfur. God only knows what will happen next. Should the worst occur, perhaps at least the morally bankrupt leaders of France and Germany will at least begin to think.

Chong forgets history and abandons sense

GO Transit Chair Gordon Chong - usually one of the more reasoned voices in the transit 'community' in the GTA - is caught here railing against those terrible rail giants CP and CN. He charges - without giving supporting figures - that these companies are charging 'usurious' rates. - Let's clear tracks for commuters

Setting aside Chong's misuse of the term 'usurious' (CP and CN may charge high rates - albeit that no eveidence is offered - but they cannot be usurious as this term applies to the rate of interest on loans), his rant is full of distortions, misrepresentations and half-truths.

Chong charges:

The railway barons of today need to be told firmly that the old order has changed. It is time to put an end to the lopsided relationship between the railways (which have benefited from extravagant government largesse) and commuter rail authorities.

Well, both CP and CN are widely held public corporations. They are not owned by "barons" - they are owned by many average Canadians. In fact - as of latest filings - the largest shareholder in CPR is the Canada Pension Plan. No other ownership share exceeds 5%. CN is similarly widly-held - and is subject to a statutory upper limit of a 15% ownership stake.

He also states:

Imported, underpaid and exploited Chinese labourers from southern China were given the most dangerous jobs in its construction; in 1881, the officially incorporated Canada Pacific Railway Company was given massive cash subsidies, land grants and property tax exemptions;

Chong goes back over 100 years to find an argument to support a proposed current day theft from ordinary Canadian shareholders, mutual fund holders, and pensioners. What he forgot to mention is that for decades the Canadian government enforced below market rail rates on grain shipments from the Prairies (known as the the Crowsnest Pass Rate). The regulations held back necessary investment on the transcontinental routes.

Since the sunsetting of the regulations, Canadian Pacific has invested billions in upgrading the route through the Rockies. CN and CP are competing vigourously - and the routes are very busy with rail freight. I can attest that it is not possible to observe the Fraser and Thompson canyons for more than a few minutes without seeing a mile long freight train.

History and common sense show that it would be foolhardy to have the government mandate that the railways be forced to absorb lower rates. This would only lead the disinvestment on the routes.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

TTC blows away a cool $677 million

I've carried out a very basic comparison of the relative performance of the TTC and the transit system in Montreal - which I will refer to as the STM.

What I hope will be clear from the following graphs is that the STM has made great strides in efficiency over the last decade: operating costs per passenger have risen at a rate less than general inflation. During the same period, the TTC's cost per passenger have risen faster than inflation.

The first graph shows the per passenger operarting costs of the TTC and the STM. The blue line (in the middle) shows what the TTC's operating costs would have been had they attained the same ratio of productivity improvment (on a per passnger basis) as the STM over that period.

The second graph shows how much the TTC would have saved by attaining the STM's level of improvment - by year. This distiguishes between the initial cost difference ($1.73 vs $1.63) and the relative change during the decade.

The 3rd graph shows the cumulative impact. From 1994-2003, had the TTC achieved the same level of performacnce as the STM, Toronto and Torontians would have saved about $670 million!

The real degradation in the TTC's performance shows in 2000 and onwards. Was there perhaps a management change around that time? (Yes there was.)

Comparison of Costs per Passenger Posted by Hello

Impact of gap on overall TTC expenses Posted by Hello

Cumulative impact on total TTC expenses Posted by Hello - Suburban sprawl hits green wall

I haven't had a chance to analyse the details of this as yet.: - Suburban sprawl hits green wall

From the reports, the restrictions on new development leave a supply of land available for new homes and business for a number of years. "How many years" appears to be the question of debate. Regardless, the market will begin to factor in impending shortage of land quite quickly. The already high price of single family homes will see an additional upward boost quite quickly - as the land will fetch a premium.

The real problem - a few years down the road - will be the impact on the GTA's ability to attract and retain head office operations. The location of a company's head-office must be attractive to mid-level and senior professionals - who will continue to demand affordable dwellings suitable for their families - including chidren. A loft conversion at King and Jarvis will not cut it.

Companies will decide either the pay a wage premium for locating in the GTA - or pack and and move to Calgary or Montreal. Companies seeking industrial sites will move further afield: - up the escarpment to London, Guelph and Sarnia.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Toronto Sun Columnist: Sue-Ann Levy - It's never 'enough'

Sue-Ann Levy unerringly hones in on the reality of Toronto's budget woes:

Toronto Sun Columnist: Sue-Ann Levy - It's never 'enough'

Personally, those MPP's expecting a thank-you from our mayor and council should note that they no-one in this group has ever said thank-you for the $150 million or so a year Toronto receives from the 905-belt property owners under the GTA social services pooling arrangement.

Monday, October 25, 2004 - Mayor's strategy could backfire

The Star's Royson James gives a realistic assessment of the PR battle over the level of provincial subsidies to the TTC: - Mayor's strategy could backfire

I enjoy James' columns. Despite shackles that tie him to his newpaper's party line of 'hear no evil, see no evil' on the City of Toronto's and the TTC's spendthrift ways - at least he is realistic enough to grasp that there are limits to what the Province will be willing to listen to.

The McGuinty regime is going to be in tough trying to temper the demands of unions on its own negotiating front. Meanwhile, Mayor Miller and his cabal have already shot themselves in the foot by granting generous increases to the firefighters - 3.5% a year for three years PLUS 'recognition pay' bumps based on seniority that push the average increase to at least 5% a year.

(Did we have aproblem recognizing our firefighters?)

Our MPPs may not be the swiftest - but they will surely recognize that most of the gas tax money granted to the the City will end up in CUPE and other union members pay packets. I hope Miller ratchets up the rhetoric even more. This might spark the McGunity crew into finding the nerve to make a public issue of Toronto's spendthrift ways. Could this be step one towards the long path to fiscal sanity in this city? (I can be such an optimist at times!)

Friday, October 22, 2004

Christopher Hume babbles

I'm high-lighting this column in yesterday's Toronto Star because it typifies the rants we continually hear and read from so-called urban prophets and those who blindly follow them: - Toronto's poverty was no accident

This has just about all of the features and arguments from articles and editorials - from The Star and The Globe and Mail - over the last few years.

Toronto is short-changed on taxes:

The $9 billion in net outflow has been bandied about frequently. Undoubtedly, Toronto citizens pay more in taxes than we get back in services and transfers. What seems to escape the attention of those who use this figure is that this is a direct result of: 1. High-marginal tax rates
AND 2. Equalization payments between the provinces . In fact, the net outflow per capita from Toronto residents pales in comparison to the net outflow from Toronto's neighbours in the 905 region. Per figures calculated by Mark Mullins of the Fraser Institute:

Net outflow per householf byCounty/Area

Halton: ...$25,928
York: .........$23,056
Peel: ..........$13,918
Waterloo: .$10,891
Durham ....$10,861
Wellington: $10,034
Toronto: .....$9,497

Ontario average: $7,037

So yes - Toronto is shortchanged - but others are shortchanged by a much larger amount. Toronto is actually closer to the lower Ontario average than it is to the higher weighted average of the 905 communities. Yet 905 communities aren't crying poverty in the way Toronto is.

Mix and mismatch figures

Hume seemlessly executes the mix-and-mismatch slight of hand so typical of the 'new deal for cities' ranters. The figures on job growth are for the GTA - including Toronto and its 905 belt. The new-dealers like to tout Toronto as the engine of the Canadian economy. "Toronto" as the GTA does house the most important engine of the Canadian economy. However, "Toronto" as the city itself is the non-functioning cylinder that is dragging down the GTA's performance.

New-dealers like to include the 905 part of the GTA when touting how important the area is. However, when it comes to doling out $$$, they publicly scoff at funding projects in the 905 belt. In fact TTC chair Howard Moscoe has publicly derided funding York Region's busway-based project - calling the YRT a 'Mickey Mouse transit system' .

Blame the Harrisites

Hume and his fellow lefties at The Star can't pass up an opportinuty to excoriate former Ontario Premier Mike Harris. However, the figures on the economy and employment show that the damage was actually at the hands of fell0w-traveller Bob Rae and his NDP government. Rae's high-tax, high-regulation policies had Ontario's economy at death's door. Worst hit was Toronto - which lost over 150,000 jobs during the gloom of the Rae years.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Details of St. Clair W. ROW Decision

The City Clerk has been kind enough to send me a letter indicating where to find the details of Council's decision on the infamous St. Clair W. right-of-way. Here is the link:

Policy and Finance Committee Report 7, Clause 1

A few comments:

A recommended read - I would highly recommend reading the document. It is the product of our local democracy - for better of for worse - and will give you a more accurate view of the whole project than reading snippets in the newspapers.

Amendments explained (sort of) - The Star's report after the council vote referred to amendment with respect to:

a. The maintenance of parking spaces during the project AND
b. The establishment of bicycle lanes

It is not clear what binding force these have. The amendment on parking appears firmer - as the text covers specific measures and financing. The status of bicylce lanes is not as clear. In this case, there is only a request to study using narrower lanes (as on Queen St. W).

The benefits of participating - A number of elements in the amendment/decision do reflect some of the concerns and ideas that I raised in emails with committee members and in my deputation:

a. The TTC is being asked to report on the cost of replacing the aging streetcar fleet with respect to the 25 life span of the report.

This is an issue I raised in my deputation to the committees. Within the 25 -year horizon, the CLRVs will first need to be rebuilt ($1.1 million per CLRV between 2008-2012), and then replaced 10 or so years after that (estimate of $3 million). For 22 CLRVs, this works out to $90.2 million - enough to purchase 150 or so buses. The math just doesn't work - so the TTC suppressed it.

The purpose of this amendment is not clear. The estimated costs for rebuilding and replacing these units are well-known. The process should have mandated a full life-cycle costing of each alternative. In a private business, heads would be rolling on the basis of such an omission.

b. The TTC is being asked to consider giving up their short-turn loops to help defray the loss of parking.

This is something I suggested to Councillor Mihevc - and was raised in at least one other deputation. To me, this is a proof-of-the-pudding question. If the TTC thinks that the ROW will improve service reliability so much - then they should have voluntarily divested themselves of these loops, as they should no longer need them.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Green bin jitters

Tomorrow will be my first chance to drag my shiny new green-bin to the curb. I haven't yet made up my mind as to the overall merits of the program. In theory, it could reduce the City of Toronto's expenses - based on the hypothesis that fewer trash-laden trucks will need to be dispatched to Michigan.

However, the history of recycling programs has seen so many cases where dutiful citizens have been duped into spending chunks of free time separating their household waste - only to have the different streams recombined in a landfill due to a lack of market. Granted that the markets may develop in the long run - but in the long run we are all dead.

In the case of Toronto's green-bins, although there is a market for compost, there is not a infinite market. The market may be able to handle the amounts generated by Guelph - which instituted the wet-dry system a number of years ago. Can it absorb the quantities that will now be produced from Toronto? I'm all the more skeptical given that the city has been trucking sewage sludge to our aforementioned friends in the State of Michigan. This was supposed to have been peletized into fertilizer - a scheme for now derailed by a fire at the plant. This fact was kept under a fairly tight wrap until the last few weeks. I'll soon be checking the City's website to see if I can find actual statistics on the reduction in the 401 trash express.

If there is a shortage of compost, manure etc., it doesn't seem reflected in the prices of these. There are surely limits on how much fertilizer can be used by the agricultural sector. What will happen when the market tips into oversupply?
(If it is not already.)

Well - some of my neighbours already have their bins out at curbside. Given the burgeoning racoon population in my neighbourhood, I'm leaving this secured upright on my front porch until the morning. No racoon has yet attacked it. Perhaps this is because they have been so busy trying to empty my bird feeder.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Newsflash: The Star Discovers TO's job problem

Today's Toronto Star has a well-balanced story on Toronto's job loss over recent years.

Where have all the jobs gone?

Although this is hardly news - as the national press picked this up a while ago - it's good to see The Star perhaps a stepping away from complete denial over this trend. The article certainly suggests that high taxes on commercial and industrial estate are a large factor in the job exodus. While this should be obvious to anyone in contact with planet earth, the LL (loonie-left) in this city are in denial mode - as a result either of self-delusion, or an imposed muzzling. For an example, see Councilor Brian Ashton's remarks as reported in a column by Sue-Ann Levy of The Toronto Sun:

Toronto could be a tough sell - Mayor leads trade mission to Europe

who reports:

When I pointed out to Ashton that the city's high property taxes are driving businesses to the GTA and council is doing nothing to contain costs, he said that's "absolute nonsense" ..

The only problem I have with the article is that it reports only the job loss since 2000. It's true that the job loss since 2000 has been about 38,000 - a drop from roughly 1.29 million in 2000 to 1.25 in 2003.

What no-one has reported is that the job-loss from 1989 to 2003 has been about 110,000- from roughly 1.36 million to the most rcent survey at 1.25 million. This is not all the bad news - however. The city also surveys the split between full-time and part-time jobs. The numbers reported in article are the total of part and full time - without weighting.

The City's own reports show a large increase in the proportion of part-time employees in this overall numbers:

Toronto Employment Survey 2003

Assuming (generously) a part-time job is 0.6 of a full time job, the real job loss is roughly 150,000 FTEs (full-time equivalents).

(I guess Councillor Ashton still has these reports in his in-basket - perhaps when he returns from the junket to Europe, he might get around to reading them.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

TTC Streetcars - Part IIa - The capacity vanishes

Part I of this series reveals that TTC streetcars are not achieving their promised capacity advantage - and that the inexpensive, lowly bus is providing equal or even better performance.

In this installment, I begin to examine why the larger, more expensive-to- operate, and more capital intensive streetcar is not living up to its billing - (surely the Doug Wickenheiser of the transit world).

Some remarks on capacity

One needs to take care when using the term "capacity" in relation to elements of a public transportation system. There are many terms of capacity:

For the vehicles themselves:
Seating capacity
Planning capacity
Natural Capacity
Crush load capacity

For a given route:
Capacity over a whole route for a day
Peak capacity of a route in one direction
Rush hour capacity over the rush hour period

Those in the transit ‘business’ tend to use capacity arguments to bolster cases for their preferred technology. There is a long history of internecine strife between rail advocates and bus advocates - who use wildly differing assumptions on factors such as vehicle capacity and minimum headway (time between vehicles) to promote their favourites and dismiss the alternatives. These arguments are usually theoretical. Here we avoid the crossfire in this pseudo-religious war by using:

1. Real data - i.e. these are actual numbers from operating transit services
2. The boardings/service hour measure (rather than the intermediate measures listed above)
3. Some personal observations and measurements

So let us examine where the capacity vanishes:

1. Spare factors

A vehicle can even be available for one of those service hours when it is not undergoing maintenance. TTC streetcars require over 2.5 times the vehicle maintenance as do its buses. This means more time in the shop - and less time picking up, moving and dropping off passengers. Per the 2003 IBI Report ("Review of TTC Key Performance Measures - Feb 18th 2003), the spare ratios are (2001 figures):

Streetcar: 29.2 % VS Bus: 13.8 %

While the streetcar figure may reflect some inherent unused slack (i.e. truly spare), an analysis of the TTC routes by streetcar advocate Steve Munro ("Transit’s Lost Decade" - undated ca. 2002) shows that, based on 2001 figures, the TTC deployed only 189 streetcars out of 248 during the a.m. peak - or only 76.2% of the fleet. This suggests a ‘peak spare factor’ for streetcars of 23.8%. Given that streetcar vehicle maintenance requirements are so intense, a reasonable inference is that this results in the roughly 10% disadvantage (23.8% vs. 13.8%). [Note - the spare factor varies - based on the number of streetcars that are undergoing heavier maintenance procedures in the Harvey Shop. CLRVs appear to have higher normal availability - but require periodic replacement of underfloor piping, which is not the case for ALRVs.]

In effect, in comparing 100 CLRVs and ‘equivalent’ buses really means requires comparing 110 CLRVs vs. 100 buses.

2. Streetcar service cancellations

Streetcar service requires not only vehicles, it requires track. In cases, streetcars can operate during track maintenance. In many, however, the TTC must substitute use buses instead. This occurs during large track replacement projects - such as the current work on the 506 route, spot repairs, and non-TTC street maintenance that might preclude use of the tracks.
The frequency with whch the TTC must run buses in lieu of streetcars varies between years. Some years see more construction activity. Depending on the location of the construction, the TTC may:

- run buses on part/whole of the route (the latter forcing lucky passengers into yet one one transfer) - OR -
- divert streetcars and run shuttle buses to serve local residents (e.g. during the reconstruction of the Queen St. bridge over the Don River a couple of summers back.)

Regardless, the TTC requires a certain number of buses in order to continue to serve customers dependent on streetcar routes. The TTC Chief General Manager’s report (at least up until 2001) has figures on the number of service cancellations. For 2001, the numbers were:

Targeted cancellations: 140 Actual cancellations: 613

Now, the TTC has 11 streetcar routes - some of which are more heavily used than others. For example, the cancellation of the 506 during the ongoing construction requires many more buses than say for cancellations on the 502/503 routes that go up Kingston Road.

Taking a conservative approach to calculating the number of buses required to operate the streetcar system, we take the targeted number (140) divided by the number of routes (11). This gives 12.7 cancellations for each route annually - or 3.4% of the time. (One could argue that the TTC's target is unrealistic. Perhaps - but they are likely able to somewhat catch up on heavy vehicle maintenance on during the large construction projects. In other words, some of the track maintenance activity helps alleviate the spare factor problem.)

So, based on #1, we have 110 CLRVs being compared to 100 buses. To account for the needed 3.4% needed in buses, we adjust this to:

110 CLRVs + 3.4 buses compared to 100 buses
- OR -
113.9 CLRVs being compared to 100 buses

I haven’t even began to discuss why the streetcar fails in supplying capacity when it is actually operating, and we already need roughly 14 more of them. For 14 CLRVs at a replacement cost of $3 million, we could purchase 70 buses at $600 K!

Next installment - Part IIb - More on capacity

Monday, October 04, 2004

The 'MFP' Inquiry

The saga of city's 'MFP Inquiry' is reportedly nearing its final chapter. With the final cost of the inquiry expected to reach $17 million, it's questionable whether the poor Toronto taxpayer will get a good return on this.

In fact, the way the inquiry has been portrayed in the press - with, in my view, an overemphasis on the aggressive sales tactics used by MFP - may scare away potential bidders on request-for-proposals issued by the city. I'll grant that almost no-one in this city approves of Mr. Dash Domi's spare-no-expense sales approach. However, a salesman must adjust his sales approach to the rules, behaviours, and dynamics of his potential client's organization. It would be interesting to know whether MFP's competitors used similarly aggressive tactics in the initial bid process.

However, MFP's behaviour is not at the heart of the matter. They concluded a legal contract with the city. The inquiry was called to find out why and how the contract was extended in value and duration from the initial approved terms. All organizations of any size that enter into contracts to buy (or sell) goods and services have rules in place that cover what is generally called the 'delegation of authority'.

The delegation of authority is a set of guidelines on who in the organization must approve agreements. For example, a front-line departmental manager may have authority to approve purchase orders up to $5,000 - or enter into service agreements up to a certain value and duration. As the value and duration of agreements increase, the authority required to approve rises up the organizational ladder. In a private organization, contracts above the highest threshold will be subject to board approval, or even a to shareholder vote.

In the case of MFP's agreement with the city, surely the original audit must have been able to identify who was involved in somehow circumventing the City's rules on delegation of authority.

There is certainly value in examining how cultural factors within the City bureaucracy contributed to things going awry. There are severe organizational, and moreover cultural, problems in Toronto's City Hall. However, I question the $17 million price tag - and I'm doubtful that Mayor Miller and his cabal have the skills or inclination to tackle them.

I hope the learned judge presiding over this marathon will strongly emphasize the internal organizational and cultural problems. If not, these will get lost in the the glare.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Analysis of TTC Streetcars - Part I

Chart comparing transit performance

With the TTC whining so much about $$$ (specifically the lack thereof) why are they running streetcars? The TTC claims better capacity - but their own figures (from a report prepared for the TTC by the IBI Consulting group in 2003) show otherwise.

TTC Streetcar achieved capacity in boarding's per hour is 81 / hour - compared to 76 / hour for the TTC's buses. However, the streetcar figure includes the larger streetcars (ALRVs) that the TTC operates predominately on Queen St.

If we adjust the 81 boardings / hour for the total fleet of streetcars - based on the numbers of each in the fleet, and the relative planning capacitys used by the TTC:


Number in fleet: 196
Planning Capacity: 75
Weighted number of units: 174.36
Weighted achieved capacity: 73.7 Boardings / hour


Number in fleet: 52
Planning Capacity: 110
Weighted number of units: 69.37
Weighted achieved capacity: 108.1 Boardings / hour

In others words, on a prorated basis at least, the TTC achieves better capacity from its standard 40 ft buses (76 / hour) - that with the larger, more expensive standard streetcar.

Next installment - Where does the capacity go?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

IOL's departure - update

Per a report in The Star, Mayor Miller has chimed in on the departure of Imperial Oil's head-office to Calgary:

We can't offer subsidies but we would have liked to meet with Imperial Oil so see what their issues were and see what the city could have done to accommodate them...

Apparenty, IOL didn't take advantage of the Mayor's open door policy - but then again, this is understandable given the city administration's long history of indifference, neglect, and antagonism towards the business community. Despite the mayor's protestations about the City being proud of its head offices, the property tax structure in this city has helped push a succession of head offices out Toronto over the last few decades. Most of these have migrated to more nearby locations: Mississauga, Brampton, Markham and the like.

The Conservative government under Mike Harris helped stem the tide of jobs out of the city by capping Toronto's punitive taxes on commercial property. The McGuinty regime, however, caved in and allowed a one-time increase of 1.5% to commercial rates. Toronto council took but a blink-of-an-eye to exact this new pound of flesh from the business community. Imperial no doubt read the political tea leaves and decided that this was the start of a trend.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Miller fiddles while Toronto burns

Is IOL's departure the first casualty of St.Clair ROW?

Today's headlines underline the true nature of Toronto's problems. Imperial Oil has just announced that it will move its head office from Toronto to Calgary.

Meanwhile, our dear mayor David Miller is taking time to discuss defending the city against a lawsuit over the 'bridge to the airport island affair'. Our council will in all likelihood vote to keep streetcars running on St. Clair Avenue. The cost of this 'venture' is rising each time I read a news release - and the figures do not even include the needed rebuilding or potential replacement of the CLRV streetcar fleet. (The CLRV are the small streetcars.) The TTC's impending capital budget bubble specifies that these will need to be rebuilt in 2008. Rebuilding these dinosaurs will cost over $1,000,000 a pop. In the event that they cannot be rebuilt, replacements will cost $3,000,000 each - per TTC estimate.

This will push the cost - assuming 25 vehicles are needed to serve the St. Clair line - to between $90 million and $150 million. That's not all- however. The maintenance expenses on each of these vehicles is about $150,000 each year - compared with $50,000 for a bus. Over the 30 year planning horizon, this adds $75 million to the incremental costs - pushing the cost of this decision to between $165 million and $225 million over the 30 year life-span.

The TTC touts streetcars as providing greater capacity. Yet the TTC's own figures (as published in a study by the IBI group that the Commission undertook last year) show that the boardings per service hour on TTC streetcars are only about 7 percent higher than for its far less expensive buses (In 2002: Streetcars 81 boardings/hour - Buses 76 boardings/hour.) The streetcar figure includes the larger articulated vehicles (ALRV in TTC-speak) - so the CLRVs that the TTC operates on St. Clair offer very marginal, if any, capacity advantage over buses.

To be clear, St. Clair Avenue needs to be repaired - and bus service would require additional buses. However, even with a generous $12 million to rebuild the 6.5 km of road - and $36 million for a fleet of 30 buses for 30 years (30 buses at $600K replaced after 15 years) - the savings by using buses could be as large as $177 million over the 30 year lifespan.

Well - in Calgary, one needs to drive out to Drumheller to see the dinosaurs. In Toronto, one is stuck riding on one. Small wonder Imperial Oil is moving! Is it just a coincidence that Imperial's current HQ on St. Clair West is slap-dab in the middle of the proposed right-of-way?

Another head office departs - and our Mayor and Council fiddle with streetcars.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Montreal transit 6 - TTC 0

Please see the following link from today's Toronto Star explaining how Montreal's transit system is 'wupping' (how exactly is that spelled anyway?) the TTC in terms of efficiency.

TTC Attitude change needed

Friday, September 24, 2004

Who is smarter?

Legislators on both side of the border (i.e. the US- Canada border) are busy legislating to keep 'stuff' from the other side from seeping across. Down in Washington, elected representatives are working to keep Canadian garbage out of the States. Meanwhile, the McGuinty regime is working on emergency legislation to keep US medical services from being offered to residents in this province. Just who do you think is smarter?

DeBaeremaeker's folly

As reported in today's Toronto Star, Toronto Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker is quoted as complaining about potential development adjacent to the Rouge river reserve:

We have established the largest urban park in North America in the Rouge and developers are surrounding it

opines DeBaeremaeker. If memory serves correctly, this is the same Glenn DeBaeremaeker who voted against a Habitat for Humanity project in Scarborough. He apparently believes that not only should all land be reserved for parks, but that building housing should not even be allowed adjacent to these parks. Perhaps he thinks we should all live on the infield of Pearson Airport, or in boats floating on Lake Ontario.