Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Latest construction project

Last year I undertook the rather simple project of raccoon-proofing the bird-feeders. This spring the task was Herculean by comparison - building a critter-proof enclosure for the lovely green-bin - as well as hiding all of the other debris.

Hurray - perhaps I'll finally be able to sit on the front porch - $250 dollars and 20 hours of work later. Sighhhh!

Raccoon (and probably bear proof!) garbage and recycle box Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A BIG Toronto story

It seems that Howard Moscoe will have some stiff competition on the race for the civic incompetence prize. The Bowmanville Zoo has been acquitted of the charge of illegally showing an elephant on the streets of Toronto.

Toronto Star - May 18 2006

It seems that the by-law officer filing the charge failed to take notes about what was on a placard near the animal. Since zoos are allowed to bring animals to the city of educational purposes, the by-law officers lapse sunk the case. As The Star reports:

In his final decision Justice of the Peace Kevin Madigan reprimanded the city's solicitor for bringing the case forward, suggesting it was a "serious inconvenience" to the defendants and the court system.

The ruling came after Geoff Uyeno, the prosecutor from the City Solicitor's office, surprised Madigan by asking that the defendant be acquitted of all charges because testimony gave proof of a bona fide educational program.

hmm - goes to prove the elephantine stupidity rampant at city hall.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Herbicides no - Urbicide Yes

The Globe & Mail's Margaret Wente describes the all too litter strewn state of the City all too accurately in her column today.

Reports Wente on the experience of a couple from a recent visit:

The other day, someone from out of town e-mailed me in a state of shock. He and his wife had just ventured downtown for the first time in a couple of years. They were horrified at the mess. They thought we were having a garbage strike.

Well, I don't go downtown myself very often anymore. The litter, the panhandlers and the general lack of interesting retail add up to me either shopping at home in The Beach - or zipping down the Gardiner to Sherway Gardens.

However, even in the glorious Beach, there are cracks. Likely due to a combination of the the City's decision to discontinue the use of pesticides - and the super-sized wages it pays - our parks have turned into fields of weeds.

Filth, muck and weeds do not a liveable city make. Herbicides have been deemed safe by Health Canada. In contrast, David Miller's regime seems to be successfully committing 'urbicide' against this city.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Steve Munro's comment and discussion

Steve Munro was kind enough to comment on this blog's recent commentary on a post in his blog. Writes Steve:

The last time I went to the Gladstone, I waited for the Dufferin Bus southbound at Bloor for 20 minutes in the afternoon rush hour. Eventually, I got a ride from a friend who passed by in her car. So much for the reliability of bus service.

J. Albert - I'll agree that schedule reliability is low on the TTC. Both Bus and streetcar languish in the 55-65% range last time I checked the CGM reports. In contrast, the STM (Montreal's transit provider) achieves roughly 80% adherence - with performance improving from 78.9% in 2001 to 82.6% in 2004. (It should be noted that the STM uses a tighter tolerance: -1 min, + 3 min, compared with the +/- 3 minutes used for the TTC metrics.)

However, there is a distinction between TTC bus and streetcar service. The TTC actually tries to alleviate bunching problems by short turning cars. It's questionable whether - on the whole - this practice improves the service offering. You can just as easily customers by booting them off a vehicle as you can by making them wait. Yet the short turn is the only real tool the TTC has for adjusting service on streetcar routes.

Bus service can be more easily adjusted by allowing buses on busy routes to play 'hopscoth'. The STM has done this for years - allowing emptier buses to pass full ones on the same route. I've never seen this on the TTC - not to say that it doesn't happen.

It would be interesting to see statistics on more extreme deviations from schedule. How many times is it out by 5, 7, 10 minutes?

The problem with a lot of the streetcar service is that there isn't enough of it and what there is is poorly managed. Moreover, the streetcar routes took a disproportionate hit back in the 1990s during the system-wide cutbacks, and it's no surprise that people think bus routes are more reliable.

J. Albert - As a rider, I can't say that I wouldn't like more service. However, it seems to me that the economics dictate against a 'frequent service' model for streetcar/LRT service - both immediately, and long term. There's some debate about how much true spare factor the TTC has with the existing fleet. During PM rush, the streetcar yards on Queen E. are pretty sparse - but the garage is usually pretty full. Is the TTC holding back - or is it simply the case that the vehicles are in the shop?

In the longer term, the price tab for CLRV replacement appears to be about $4 million a pop ($3 million from earlier estimate + $1 million estimated for TTC required modifications. In contrast, the STM is acquiring buses (2003-2007 contract) at about $460,000 each. Like it or not, buses are mass produced and inexpensive - especially when very large orders are placed - wheras LRT vehicles are not.

When the TTC replaces streetcars with buses, there are always far more buses at closer headways than the streetcars they replaced. This is related to my concern about new larger streetcars where we may see headways stretched even further. It's the wait and the uncertainty that drives riders mad, and you can do that with buses as easily as with streetcars.

J. Albert - As I alluded to above, its plain economics that will push the TTC to longer headways with larger vehicles. My take is that the TTC should:

- decide which existing streetcar routes can be succesfully transitioned to be LRT routes
- this would involve realignment and lengthening of some routes and conversion to buses for others. Perhaps the TTC could swap some of its property to help make property acquisition more economical.
- an important objective of the realignment would be to allow the TTC to run standard LRT cars without major modifications. (The savings here would also provide a source of funding to pay for property aquisition.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Munro let's cat out of bag

I don't normally reference other writer's blogs. Today, I thought I'd make an exception by highlighting a recent post on Steve Munro's blog. In case you've never heard of Mr. Munro, he's the person most directly responsible for 'saving' Toronto's streetcars. Munro convinced the TTC to keep streetcars in service because they provide greater capacity than buses.

Now I don't believe that assertion has been borne out. All the evidence points to buses providing equal or perhaps slightly better capacity - all other factors being equal.

Well - in a recent post:

Service Quality: What tax cuts don't give us

Munro points out the service failings of the the streetcar system.

"...I arrived at Queen and Spadina on a southbound 510 just in time to see not one, not two, but three 501 Queen cars leave westbound. Hmmm. Not a good sign. As things turned out, the next 501 (actually two of them) did not show up for 25 minutes, and the first car was going only to Roncesvalles. Fortunately for me, the Gladstone is not in Long Branch."

Well - not lucky for other people.

"...On the trip home, a bit after midnight, the eastbound 501 showed up reasonably promptly and the trip across Queen was uneventful. We pulled up to Broadview just behind a 504 King car, the one that should have taken me home. Did it wait for transfer passengers from the 501? No. At least the following 504, about 10 minutes later, was not short turned (this happens regularly late at night when I attempt this route home)..."

This happens all the time - rather than being isolated incidents.

Munro admits:

Service on the Dufferin bus seemed to be running smoothly any time I peeked out the door or window from the bar at the Gladstone [please note how this demonstrates my commitment to monitoring the TTC, and the places I will lurk to do so].

This is the experience of many TTC riders - bus service is more reliable and faster. I've talked to a number of people who ride on St. Clair West. During the (all too) brief period during which the TTC was running buses, service was more reliable and way faster than on the normal streetcar service.

Munro is truly dedicated to transit. I admire the time he's devoted to the issue. He seems far more knowledgeable that many of those actually running the system. However, Munro's made his intellectual bed by adviocating streetcars (and now "LRT") before other options. It would be difficult to climb down from the position given the history.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Bus vs LRT - The winner is the bus!

The WWW has more than its share of information polution from the light-rail lobby. One doesn't have to look far to see LRT advocates' Pavlovian slobbering over the latest LRT news. LRT will move the world and is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

These sites and posts often include pictures - and otfen a good dollup of anti-bus/BRT propaganda as well.

I've put together a quick comparison of real-world bus and LRT performance. This compares the performance of the top performing transit agency in North America - Montreal's STM - and prominent LRT and streetcar systems. This compares the boardings per route/KM for different services for weekday service.

The comparison reveals that Montreal's busiest bus routes are outperforming LRT and streetcars. Only Calgary's C-Train system is comparable in attracting passengers - and that system is on the cusp between being an LRT in terms of a street-railway - and a mini-subway.

Transit effectiveness comparison Posted by Picasa

The route lengths for the STM and TTC streetcar routes were estimated from route maps. (Note - the TTC's streetcar track network is actually about 150 km - but much of that is not directly used in revenue service - but for moving cars to active routes and short turning cars. All US statistics are from the APTA website.