Thursday, October 26, 2006

This man doesn't know what he's talking about

It seems that NDP spokesman/propagandist John Barber (columnist in the Globe) has reached a new low. In a recent add he wrote (his column) for incumbent councillor Joe Mihevc, he criticized Mihevc opponent John Sewell for actions and policies that Sewell supposedly took while mayor. The only problem is that Barber confused John Sewell with another former mayor, Art Eggleton.

The G&M actually printed a letter from Sewell pointing this out. This is the first time I've seen a letter printed in that paper criticizing a Barber column. Barber is married to a senior editor at the paper - which is why such criticism is so rare.

Now the Globe is running a radio add in which a man is spouting nonsense. After a few statements, a voice is cut in saying: "This man doesn'y know what he's talking about.."

Well, the man who doesn't know what he's talking about is John Barber. In Barber's 'mind':

Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength
John Sewell is Art Eggleton and
David Miller is a good mayor.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mr. Moscoe, ridership levels and ...

ships and shoes and sealing wax.

OK - well maybe not the sealing wax.

I did notice the A- grade granted to TTC Chair Moscoe. I'll have to admit that I find it a bit generous. I do find the improved flexibility of the passes a positive. Since Moscoe is the chair - he is rightly due a check mark on this.

On the bus purchase question, for a transit agency the size of the TTC, purchasing 100 buses in a given year sounds about average. A can't grant Moscoe kudos on this. Did the TTC enter in pooled purchasing agreements with other transit agencies to gain economies of scale? Not that I'm aware. Did they learn from other transit agencies on the optimal seating arrangements of LF buses? No.

Let's look at ridership and ridership growth. First off, the drop in ridership from the heights in the 1989-1991 peak is mostly attributable to lower employment levels in the city. There are roughly 10% fewer jobs located in Toronto - and there are roughly 8.5% fewer riders than at the peak. So, ridership is actually slightly ahead in proportion to employment - likely due to better relative employment statistics for the downtown core.

I'm an RGS skeptic. Firstly, the TTC should always have a strategy that looks to attract more riders. However, that isn't the only element of a strategy. Attracting incremental ridership can be extremely expensive. While I appreciate some of the improved service - I now have later evening service on my local bus route - the fact is that consumer awareness of these types of changes is low. (I happened to be out for a walk a few evenings ago and noticed the 92 coming down the hill. I'd venture I'm one of the few on my street who knows.)

I'm glad Mr. Bow is open to the TTC looking for savings internally. $100 a year may sound like a lot - but I'll throw some number out from some analysis I did a couple of years ago. (Somewhere in the archives! - haven't thought about this stuff for a while.)

In 1994, when we compare the operating cost/rider of the Montreal transit system to Toronto, we see:

Montreal: $1.63 / rider vs. Toronto $1.73 / rider

==> Difference = $0.10 rider

In 2003

Montreal $1.68 / rider vs. Toronto $2.22 / rider

==> Difference = $0.54 / rider

So the difference in the difference ($0.54 less $0.10) - over the 10 year span = $0.44 / rider

If the TTC could make up but half that difference - i.e. $0.22 / rider - based on having 430 million riders, it would save $94 million a year. At 5.5% interest - a typical municipal debenture rate - the $94 million is equivalent to $1.72 billion in room for capital expenditure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Provincal election season

If you were looking for proof that fixed election dates create very long campaigns, then cast your eyes no further that the Ontario NDP's proposal to freeze property taxes ' until sale'.

Now the freezing of residential assessments over many decades in Toronto is one of the main reason why the tax rates in this city are so skewed. (The other reason is the $$$-grubbing socialisrts who've been running amok for a while.) This is a terrible idea.

Michael Prue - my MPP and point man for this mallarky - suggests this is to give home owners certainty. This is the Mr. Prue who has refused to reply to my query from about a year ago. Yep - my rep. Great!

Well, Mr. Prue. In the great Ontario quasi-Depression of 1991-1995, many Ontarians had to sell there homes because of the economic chaos caused by your party. People lost their home because they lost their jobs. Many couldn't afford the higher tax rates. Many - like me - just left because there was no d+mn future in Ontario. After what you people did to the Province - gosh almight, I have to keep this polite.

Is the NDP promising that people won't lose their homes because of these other reasons?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Tafelmusik - Thumbs up for Fresh Baroque

I've subscribed to Tafelmusk this year. Due to a combination of an agreeable mood on my part - and a very persuasive lady on the other end of the phone - I'm attending 11 concerts at Trinity St Paul in total.

The first concert - Jean Lamon's 25th anniversary celebration - didn't bowl me over. Well - I was tired. However, this past weeks concert - entitled Fresh Baroque - was one of the best that I can remember as TSP.

Particularly noteworthy was a Vivaldi bassoon concerto - and the concluding piece, a JS Bach concerto adapted for violins. (BWV 1064 - originally for three harpsichords.) Three new violinists shared the spotlight and delivered wonderfully.

(On a sour note, the litter around the area was appaling. Mayor Miller - u hu - where's your broom? Busy sweeping stuff under the rug I suppose.)

More on streetcars

Mr. James Bow has authored a thoughtful reply to yesterday's post. I thought I'd take a few minutes to pen a few thoughts.

Firstly, I appreciate the time Mr. Bow devotes to writing about Toronto. Mr. Bow and I had an interesting back-and-forth last year on a blog devoted to boycotting St. Clair Avenue W. (The blog was the creation of a student from Edmonton - studying in K-W at the time - with very little experience actually living in Toronto.)

As with all debates, the product is less to persuade one party or other to change positions - and more to expose those on the sidelines to the facts and arguments that lend support the opposing sides. For those such as myself, Mr. Bow, students from Waterloo etc, participating in these debates is a hobby. The time allocated to debates is always limited - true.

However, for those who live and conduct business on St. Clair, the debate is more than academic. How things turn out could make or break the neighbourhoods. Will Hillcrest Village - as an example - continue to thrive as it has over the past number of years? Will anchor businesses in Corso Italiana be able to stay in the neighbourhood? No one knows. The St. Clair project is playing Russian roulette with the economic viability of a large chunk of central Toronto.

I agree that a rail-based system on St. Clair has a chance to be effective if LRT-type equipment were to be used. In fact, I - yes yours truly - prepared the first discounted cash flow analysis that compared the economics of replacing the streetcar equipment with light rail equipment vs. refurbishment of the streetcar equipment. It was I who gave this analysis to Councillor/Commissioner Joe Mihevc. (It was more that a little bit disconcerting that no-one at the Commission had carried out such an analyis before the St. Clair EA started.)

However, we need to be clear - leaving aside the fact that we don't even have specifications for LRT equipment that could run on the existing surface track network - having the proper equipment is only one of the preconditions for a succesful LRT.

There must be adequate space for stations - and stations must be reasonably well-spaced. At grade crossings at major intersections may also need to be eliminated in order to justify the capital expense of the equipment. (If you look at the successful LRT systems - Calgary and St. Louis come to mind - you'll see few (if any) - at-grade crossing at major intersections.)

I also believe that concrete-based roadbed should be kept to an absolute minimum so that the service disruption caused by the periodic and lengthy rebuilding of concrete-encased track is not such an issue. There's a reason railways use gravel ballast as roadbed!

In my view, it will be at least a decade before we might see new equipment in service. None of these other issues have even been looked at. Where does this leave the residents and businesses on St. Clair West?

I have checked out Mr. Munro's blog. He is duly critical of a number of things the TTC is doing. What confuses me is that:

1. He continues to support TTC Chair Howard Moscoe (psst - this is the man in charge! When we look for acountability - this is where the buck stops!)
2. He complains about service reliability- but doesn't really offer any suggestions for improving it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Excellent reader input - Steetcar (non)-performance

I get a number of comments each week. All comments are welcome - although I won't post trashy comments.

Earlier this week, a reader forwarded me an analysis he had done on TTC ridership by route. I've done some of my own analysis of overall ridership (a while ago now)- but this was new to me.

The analysis show the TTC top bus and streetcar routes by ridership per service hour. I've inserted a table provided to me below.

It's clear that steetcars are providing any extra capacity. This is no surprise to me - go back to some of the earlier posts on this blog. Here we have it from the TTC's own statistics.

Interesting reader input Posted by Picasa

PS - The reader was posting on streetcar afficionado Steve Munro's website - until Mr. Munro apparently curtailed the discussion. Again, no surprise to moi. I was in a debate with streetcar fan James Bow last year. After a number of posts back and forth, Mr. Bow ran for cover. Transitheads aren't used to be presented with facts and figures they don't like! Thank-you to Mr. Clawson - keep up the good work.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

More on transit - Montreal Transit Priority Network

The National Post is covering the transportation issue in the GTA. The series started on Saturday with a pretty good spread showing how the expressways become - well non-expressways. On Tuesday, Andrew Coyne will be covering the TTC. Well, let's hope it's better than the piece in The Star by Kenneth Kidd a month or so ago.

Kenneth Kidd's 10-point blueprint on transit was an unfortunate rehash of oft-recycled ideas and material. As usual, the vital ingredient of practicality was left out.

It would be great if Toronto could slowly eliminate parking spacing along canals - as has Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we don't have canals along many of our major thoroughfares. This aside from the fact that Amsterdam - a much smaller city that Toronto - is busy building a new subway and a new expressway. It would be great if Toronto could devote more road space to transit without impacting commercial traffic. Unfortunately, many of our arteries already suffer congestion from truck traffic alone.

For ideas on practical transit improvements, we are better to look to Montreal. For example, Montreal is implementing advanced transit priority on most major bus routes. For an investment of $35 million, it anticipates a 10-20% reduction of transit time on 230 km of bus routes. The TTC, in contrast, is spending almost $100 million to derive a similar benefit on a mere 6.5 km stretch of St. Clair West.

See the following from the STM website:

230 km of preferential measures for busesMontréal gives the green light to one of theworld's largest transit priority networks

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Name that school board

Can you name this school board:

Clue #1:

has "a long-standing culture of approving new unfunded programs"

Clue #2:

In the face of declining enrolment, the board has cut classroom teachers, but maintained, if not increased, support staff levels in almost all areas

Clue #3:

is running up deficits largely because of "conscious board decisions" to spend money that it does not have

Well - if you haven't identified the suspect by now, you haven't been keeping up with local politics. The culprit is none other that the Toronto District School Board. Former Board supervisor Paul Christie was well-justified in asserting that the board is actually run by the janitors.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Now that's offensive - no it's pathetic

Someone has taken the time to create a weblog devoted to complaining about Globe & Mail columnist Margaret Wente. I won't grace this 'effort' with a link from my site. (Masochists may use web search tools to find it if they so choose.)

In the most recent post, the author complains about Ms. Wente's recent column on her experience using the TTC to get around for the better part of the week. The writer admits:

I only read the first third of the article (the only part outside the subscription firewall) but it's enough to get the gist.

This 'man' is devoting time to criticizing this writer - without even properly subscribing to be able to read her columns.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The row about the St. Clair ROW continues

The divisive row about the implementation of a streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair West is spilling into this years municipal elections. The Star's Royson James has an excellent right up in today's eddition:

Royson James - Oct 9th 2006

ROW proponent Councillor Joe Mihevc is facing two high profile challengers - former Toronto Mayor John Sewell, and former councillor John Adams.

James does a good job summing up the project:

Given the opportunity to create, almost from scratch, a spectacular street that redefines the boulevard into a pedestrian-friendly, transit-efficient and car-enabling street, the scheme has been compromised almost to the point of not satisfying anyone.

The best that can be said for streetcar travel is it will be reliable — not a small thing. But after tens of millions of dollars, travel along the route will only be marginally faster.

Cyclists and pedestrians don't get the sidewalk space and bike lanes that might have been anticipated. And the car loses a lane in many places.

With a price tag that will be about $100 million - even before the cost of refurbishing the existing streetcars - the average rider will save one minute of travel time. My belief is that the improved reliability will be less that advertised as well. Streetcars will still bunch up - the result of a natural stochastic process.

The poor payback of the project has been well known for a while. Numerous documents and reports have shown a 5-6 minute savings on a complete round trip is all that has been expected. Somehow this has come as a surprise to streetcar advocate Steve Munro. Writes Munro:

Er, didn’t this used to be a one-way saving? Did the writer get it wrong, or has the TTC backed down even further on the benefit of the exclusive lanes? Let’s be generous and say it’s one-way. This represents roughly a 15% improvement in running time. What does this do to the frequency of service (assuming we keep the same number of cars)?

Sorry Steve - check the original documents. [For example - TTC Report "Streetcar Rapid Transit on St. Clair" - December 9th 2002]

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Third Man

Actually, the third candidate of note has entered the mayoral race. His name - Stephen LeDrew - erstwhile chief cook and bottle washer in the Liberal Party of Canada.

The real question is 'Why is this man running?". Yes - the city is being run into the ground by the current mayor - but what could Mr. LeDrew do about it?

I'm going to play wait and see. However, seeing as this man was recently forced into bankrupty over back taxes, this campaign is not going very far very fast. This is the one time I'd actually have to agree with some of Mayor Miller's press release - i.e. John Barber's column in the Globe and Mail.