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.

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