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.

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