Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cauchon squeals

OK - perhaps it's some of the Liberal faithful who are squealing over Martin Cauchon's comments on health care and the fiscal imbalance:

TheStar.com - Ex-justice minister gores Liberal sacred cows

The Star chose to use a bovine metaphor - where a porcine metaphor is more appropriate.

Monday, February 27, 2006

More on St. Clair

It look as if the City's judge-shopping tactics have made the go ahead for the dedicated lanes for the St. Clair streetcar more or less likely. Exactly how the city obtained such agreeable judges when the last set were unanimous in opposition will likely remain a mystery. The SOS case appears to have been built on the City and TTC not having conducted a proper EA. However, the exact arguments used appear to have been rather esoteric points of law.

Perhaps that is in accordance will the may the law on appeals is written. To me, the bigger issue is the city's and TTC's gross dishonesty in the EA process. Can an EA be complete if it is based on falsehoods? Consider the following examples:

In my estimation, not only did the City and TTC fail to do a complete Environmental Assessment, they almost certainly allowed/encouraged/engineered the EA to proceed based on an evaluation of alternatives that they knew was not only biased, but also inaccurate. For me the telling document is Section 8 - Evaluation of Alternative Solutions:

If one looks at the key criteria applied in examining the different alternatives, it's clear that not only is the 'preferred alternative' given preferential treatment but also that the assumptions and calculations are at variance with facts in possession of the City/TTC during the course of the EA. I will divide these by subject area:

Service Attractiveness
In the evaluation of alternatives, switching to bus service (i.e. alternative #7) it is deemed that:

Buses would degrade attractiveness - future growth would be difficult

This statement is at variance with figures in an study conducted for the TTC comparing its performance on key measures to other public transit agencies. The report - prepared by IBI Group for city staff - is titled 'Review of TTC Key Performance Figures' (dated Feb 18 2003, available in the Urban Affairs Library)

Page 8 of the report report compares the number of boardings per hour for TTC buses vs. TTC streetcars. As of 2001, the numbers are:

Bus: 76 boardings/hour
Streetcar: 81 boardings/hour

The streetcar number is but slightly higher - even though the figure includes the larger ALRVs and CLRVS. If the number of prorated for the CLRVs only, it's clear that the boardings per hour for the standard streetcar (CLRV) is no greater and likely less than for buses. If the statement "buses would degrade attractiveness" were true, we should see a noticible advantage in boardings per hour for the streetcars. This is not borne out in real numbers of riders. It appears that riders give a slight edge to bus service.

Cost - operating

The comparison states that under alternative #7:
Transit operating costs would increase significantly, due to the need for more vehicles and maintenance.

This assertion is at odds with:
1. The IBI report (as alluded to above)
On page A.2, the report shows the hourly operatng costs of difefrent modes of transit in different systems. The numbers (2001) are:

TTC buses: $85.98 per hour
TTC streetcars: $133.78 per hour

Given that the TTC is achieving roughly equal boardings/hour for streetcars and buses, the numbers required to serve the route should be close. Hence, the operating cost for the bus alternative is far lower!

2. Statements by TTC official Mitch Stambler

It's not as is the operating cost issue is unknown to the TTC either. In the Globe and Mail report discussing the lack of effectiveness of the Spadina line, Mr. Stambler is quoted:

"We never argued that the that streetcars don't cost more to operate than buses"

(If you look back at the final EA report for the Spadina, you'll see that his statement is false. The economics in that report were jigged to make the LRT option look favourable vs bus service - so such a claim was indeed made by the city and TTC.)

Cost - capital

The alternatives comparson ascribes certain costs to the bus alternative:

Cost of buses $18-25 million
Cost for garage $8 million
Cost for road rebuild $13 million

yet no similar analysis is made for the streetcar ROW option.

There is an imminent need to replace (or refurbish) the CLRVs. The refurbishment of the CLRVs will cost about $1.1 million each, while replacement will cost $3-5 million. At a mininmum, $25 million or so should have been listed under alternative #6 to cover these.
I should hardly need to mention that the capital costs assumed under #6 have turned out to be incorrect - even without the vehicle replacement/refurbishment costs.

(Similar tricks were used in the Spadina assessment. The EA estimated the cost at around $70 million - including acquisition of ALRVs. The actual project cost was $140 million - and no vehicle were acquired!)


In the comparson of alternatives, various claims are made as to the capacity advantages of streetcars. These claims are not new - however, they cannot be reconciled with:

1. The overall measure of 'boardings per hour' (as above) which show that TTC buses and streetcars are attracting and handling roughly the same number of passengers/service hour.
2. Figures for bus services offered in Montreal on HOV lanes which seem to indicate similar capacity as on the Spadina LRT line in terms of boardings per hour:

(STM [Montreal's transit system] figures state that the 535/80/165 combined route uses 53 buses as three minute intervals during peak (3 hours) - which supports 18,000 riders. This works out to about 113 boardings per hour during peak - which I believe is comparable to the Spadina LRT line - about 120/ hour. The Montreal route is much longer too - so the average length of trip is longer than on the Spadina line. )

It should be noted that the EA report uses copious white space touting other LRT systems. Most or all of these are inapplicable as points of comparison. No discussion is included as to the success of bus services in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver - which should be the first points of comparison in such an analysis. Montreal and Ottawa are especially important to compare - given the similarity in weather.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Letter in Globe

This writer's letter in today Globe & Mail is well-written and right on the mark:

Globeandmail.com : Speaking of gall - Feb 23 2006

(if I say so myself:-)

If you are interested in getting a letter in the Globe, here's my advice - based on my experiences getting published:

1. Keep it short. The Star and the Financial Post will sometime accomodate longer letters - but not the G&M.
2. Consider a play on words - they seem to like that
3. Don't be scornful - especially about editorials.
4. It's easier to get a letter published in response to another letter. The paper doesn't seem to alot much space for letters responding to editorials and columnists.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

David Miller, are you listening?

This writer's experience:

David Miller, are you listening?

with David Miller's listening skills mirrors those who witnessed Miller's wandering attention during the public deputations on the St. Clair Streetcar Right-of-Way.

Yes, Miller actually walked out rather than listen to possible ways the city could save money.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

TheStar.com - Support building new power plant

Well this letter to The Star is rich in wisdom - I wonder who wrote it.

TheStar.com - Support building new power plant

Here for posterity are the key points:

1. There has been no real alternative proposed:

... the alternative touted by Mayor David Miller and local councillors, which relies on a smaller power plant, distributed generating capacity and conservation measures.
While it contains a number of plausible, if not laudable suggestions, the document provides neither expected timelines for these initiatives, nor any indication of the costs.
Many of the items indicate "energy calculation unavailable." Hence it's a stretch to call it a "plan."

2. The proposed plant doesn't take up extra space:

The Hearn site on which a smaller plant would sit is not substantively different in size than the proposed site of the larger plant. Hence, there is no credence to the claim that the alternative would preserve precious land.

FYI - I'm still waiting for a response from M. Bussin or her EA as to why she is opposing the Province's plan.

Miller fumes at budget input

As reported by The Star's Royson James:

TheStar.com - How to lose a business friend - Feb 17 2006

and The Sun's Sue-Ann Levy:

Mayor Miller Fouls Out - Feb 19 2006

Toronto Mayor David Miller rhetorically roughed-up Toronto Board of Trade CEO Gen Grunwald for suggesting that the City should take steps to get its own financial health in order before expecting help from the Province.

Grunwald was stating the obvious truth - i.e. obvious to anyone who has actually looked at the numbers. He was likely still overly deferential towards Miller. His reward: a series of low-brow, sophomoric insults from the Mayor.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More of Ms. Bussin

I sent Councillor Bussin my concerns about her position on the power plant plan.

Her assistant emailed me back indicating that I had some good points. He stated that Ms. Bussin's position was that there should be no further industrial uses on the waterfront.

In response, I pointed out the both plans involve a power plant on the waterfront. Furthermore, the new site and the Hearn site are roughly the same size. Since the Hearn site would become available if it were not used to house a power station, the whole point is moot.

So far no response to my query.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bussin's Power Failure - Grey Matter

The latest NDP propaganda campaign in this neck of the woods is a 'protest movement' against the construction of a natural gas-fired power plant on some derelict land next to the abandoned Hearn power plant at the eastern end of Toronto's port.

There seems to be some confusion as to the exact location of the Portlands Energy Center. The map in The Star shows it as 6 Leslie - while the P.E.C. website shows it on Unwin. Regardless, it about the same size as the site on which the shell of the Hearn power plant sits.

What isn't at all confusing is the nature of the NDP position - pure propaganda. Let's consider but a few points.

Characterization of the 550 MW proposal as a "monster power plant"

Well - NDP propagandists have been hard at work on labels for the plant - some of these are 'monster', and 'super-sized'. Well, let's be real, 550 MW is not an atypical size for a new N.G. power plant. In fact, a World Bank study indicates that most plants being being are in the 300 MW to 600 MW range.

So it's hard to see how the planned 550 MW plant is a monster.

The 'clean green plan'

The NDPites are pushing a 'green' plan where the size of the new plant is reduced to 250 MW. The difference is made up using a combination of:

- energy conservation projects
- various small generation projects

The biggest problem with the NDP 'plan' is that most of the big ticket items that will replace the 300 MW would take many years to implement. The 'plan' isn't really a plan because it:

- gives no time frame for each of the items AND
- a number of items are documented with the caveat "energy calculation unavailable"

Take for example the expected energy savings from Deep Water Lake Cooling. Well, using deep lake water is great - but it is capital intensive and time consuming to implement.

At Cornell University, the Lake Source Cooling project took seven years from study through construction completion. This would seem to be a best case scenario - as Cornell is a contiguous space under one adminstration. Cornell is full of large buildings - many of which were already hooked up to a somewhat integrated cooling system. [40% of campus was already hooked up to a central cooling system. ]

Here in Toronto, hooking up large buildings to the LSC system is more challenging - just look at how long the construction at Roy Thompson Hall has been going on.

If this plan were software, we'd call it vapourware.

What is being saved?

Of course the biggest slight of hand in this all too ovbious political card trick is to claim that precious lakre front land would be saved.

This is complete poppycock. The 'green' plan has the smaller plant (i.e. 250 MW) located on the current site of the Hearn power station - whereas the P.E.C. would be directly adjacent. From everything I can tell, the two pieces of land are about the same size. If the P.E.C. goes ahead, the Hearn site could be cleared and made available for other uses.

Regardless, the transmission lines along Commissioners would need to remain in place.

What about the official plan?

We're constantly bombarded without other propaganda about the 1 million new residents we can expect in Toronto over the next few decades. Even if some or all of the 'green' plan elements were implemented, there is still continuing upward pressure on the demand side. A 250 MW plant would likely tide us over for a short period. After that, we'd be back to an impending crisis.

Let's not forget that the capital costs for the larger plant will be proportionally smaller per unit of output - as there are many fixed costs associated with the construction of a plant.

Methinks that the biggest power failer is actually in Sandra Bussin's grey matter.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

OMERS - Oh My!

I'm not sure why the McGuinty crew at Queen's Park are pushing so hard on the reform to the municipal workers pension scheme - known as OMERS

TheStar.com - Province digs heels in as strike threatened

It seems that the main point of contention is that the reforms in the planned legislation will give preferential treatment to emergency workers (fire, paramedics etc.) - that will allow those workers to retire early with a full pension.

There is some indication that this is a payback to those employees for supporting McGuinty in the last election. I have no idea if that's true or not.

My question is why the Fiberals are risking a large public sector wildcat strike over this. The Harris government endured the power-grab inspired illegal strike by teachers over reforms to the provinces primary and secondary education systems.

However, in the Harris case, there was a clear need: the Royal Commission of Education commissioned by the Rae NDP goverment had identfied serious problems with education in Ontario. Further more, our students were bringing up the rear in comparison to other provinces - despite Ontario being tops in spending.

As far as I know there is no pressing need to reform OMERS - or did I miss something? Regardless, the unions appear hell-bent on putting the public through the same type of outrageous service withdrawals.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gruntings from John Barber - NDP windbag

John Barber's assessment of Jane Pitfield is telling. If one of the NDP's semi-official press agents is already feeling the need to take shots at a rival mayoral candidate - by my calculation we are ten months from away from the municipal elections - they may in fact be worried.

I for one will prefer a candidate who demands fresh thinking instead of just demanding money. Pitfield indeed has point about the TTC. In comparison to Montreal's transit agency (the STM), which from 1994 to 2004 held its operating cost per passenger to an 11.6% gain, the same measure for the TTC rose 28.9%.

Had the TTC managed the same 'fresh thinking' as has the Montreal system, it would have saved over $124 million in 2004 alone. Hence the $16.5 million in savings suggested by Councillor Pitflield and others should be easily achievable.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

All's rising that fares at the TTC

The unfortunately inept group of city councillors who've ended up as our TTC Commissioners have raised just about all fares - cash, token, Metropass to pay for this year's bump up in costs.

Again they are whining about it being the Province's fault - this despite the increased provincial funding for operations over the last four or five year. It seems that it's never enough. Well, of course it's never enough if you are not managing costs.

hmm - I wonder if windbag TTC Chair Howard Moscoe regrets telegraphing what the TTC was willing to grant in wage increases during collective bargaining last fall. Of course not - it isn't his money.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

High quality regulated day care - bien sur!

This is what can happen at those supposedely wonderful regulated, state-run day-cares.

CANOE -- CNEWS - Canada: Baby left outside Quebec day care

Read it here - it won't be picked up in The Star!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Can the City win with the Conservatives?

It's no surprise that the 416 elected no Conservative MPs. In my view, the bulk of the Liberal supporters are those without any interest or knowledge in politics. In my neighourhood there were few red lawn signs in support Maria Minna, and I've never heard anyone say anything positiive about her. However, the automaton voters held sway and sent her back to Ottawa.

A more important topic is the possible impact of the election results on the "urban agenda" and the 'New Deal for Cities". In my view, the Conservatives stated policies - and those that might arise out of a fiscal rebalancing - are very beneficial to urbanites.

Take for example the proposed child care allowance. While the leftists have long pushed for state run day care - centralized, socialized and unionized - this is hardly the best choice for many parents. It is especially not suitable for a growing number of families in Toronto who run home-based businesses and do not have car. For many of these families, getting a child to and from a day care outside of walking distance is out of the question. For this growing segment, the $1200 per annum allowance is a far better solution.

The second plank of the Conservative child care platform will encourage employers to establish day-care facilities at the work place. For those who work full-time (with a commute either by car or transit), this option is better than having to drop their child off at another location.

So who then benefits from the Liberal/NDP day car plan? Oh yes - CUPE.

On the overall fiscal front, cities and municipailties may benefit from the fiscal rebalancing. This may occur indirectly - in the form of allowing the provinces more financial breathing room. It may also occur directly if the Conservaties choose to use tax measures to take pressure of municipal finances. There are two ways this could occur:

1. Exempt munipcal debt tax exempt for the bond holders.
2. Institute a broad income tax deduction for municipal taxes.

Either measure is preferable to the negotiated handout method that had been the practice of the Liberal government.