Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Norm Kelly on Eglinton-Crosstown

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Update: the interview mentioned here is available on Newstalk 1010’s website by downloading the February 2 Jerry Agar show. To save you going through the whole show, I have a copy of just the interview by clicking here (this is 5.2 MB).

This morning, Councillor Norm Kelly was on the Jerry Agar show on Newstalk 1010 speaking on why the Eglinton-Crosstown line should be underground for the entire route. He outlined five factors that are looked at to decide whether something should be underground or at grade. For a councillor who is in his second term on the TTC commission, he quite clearly doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, but what do you expect from the city’s number one flip-flopper?

Allow me to go through he points he made:

  1. Speed. He claimed that the underground option is 70% faster.I don’t know where he gets this figure from, none of our other subway lines have an average speed that is 70% faster than the expected average speed of the original plan for the LRT on Eglinton. Perhaps he is comparing the average speed of the original plan with the top speed the vehicles are capable of doing. Top speed means nothing if you have to stop to pick up passengers, something that is rather important for a mass transit system.More importantly, speed of the line itself means nothing without the bigger picture of what the typical commuter’s average travel time will be. The underground option will eliminate a number of stops on the line, which helps increase the average speed of the line, but dramatically increases the average amount of time the typical commuter takes to get to where they are going as they now need extra time to get to a stop that is farther away from where they are coming from or where they are going.
  2. Capacity. Underground can carry more people than a road median surface alignment. Yes and no. Underground, we could easily run five-car trains, but the practical upper limit to train length for a road median alignment is only three cars. The trouble is, the underground stations are being designed for only a three-car length. There is a “utility” section at each end that will likely still have level track, so it is conceivable that the stations could be expanded for four-car trains, but that is it.The underground section can move faster with the use of ATO, but one must consider just how much capacity is needed where. The central core that was to be mostly underground in the Transit City plan needs higher capacity capabilities for future needs, but does that mean the expense of that capacity should be spent for the entire line. One of the big advantages of LRT is the ability to move from an area of high capacity in a dedicated right of way, to a reserved median or side-of-the-road right of way, to even a mixed with traffic operation. This latter example is not part of any of the Transit City plans, but is a viable way of extending a line further out in the suburbs at a lower cost where the need warrants.
  3. Building for Today or for Tomorrow. This is always a biggie, particularly with arguments for full subway. The claim that need for the line will outgrow capacity at some point. This often ignores that there is a significant amount of overlap in capacity between different modes. Just because we need to justify 10,000 ppdph to say that a full subway is needed today does not mean that LRT falls apart the day the needs reach that figure.Furthermore, the lower cost of building at-grade LRT allows us to meet the needs of today and for a significant time in the future economically while allowing the construction of parallel LRT services on other corridors to cover future growing capacity. Instead of spending X dollars on a single line that has a huge capacity that will not be needed for some time (or maybe not ever), spend X/3 dollars to build a line that meets today’s needs and the needs for the next couple of decades. During that time, another X/3 dollars can be spent to build a parallel line 4 km away on another main corridor to double the capacity AND be more convenient to people closer to the other corridor. The bonus is that WHEN a problem shuts down a line, there is a back-up available for commuters.
  4. Impact. A median right-of-way has a significant impact on the street.Sure it does, but this is sometimes a good thing. Certainly at Yonge and Eglinton, it would be a bad thing, but Transit City recognized that and placed the line underground there. Out in Scarborough, Eglinton was designed as a major artery with a minimum 7-lane road allowance. Median right of way has a very positive impact in this environment, and it is often overlooked that the elimination of buses taking up road space improves this impact even more. An underground line with longer station spacings will still require buses to clog up traffic.
  5. Cost. Underground costs more, but Kelly claims that operational savings will outweigh this in the long run.What operational savings? There may be some when it comes to station maintenance, since there will be fewer stations to maintain. Longer trains does reduce operational cost, since more people can be carried with a single operator, but don’t forget the underground stations will only be three cars long.Does Kelly expect the east end of the line to grow in capacity to the point that the masses will cry to have it put underground? The money to put this part of the line underground should be used to provide rapid service to other parts of the city that need it now.

The Transit City plan for Eglinton-Crosstown was not perfect. The TTC was very pig-headed about some issues, such as ballasted tie construction at the side of the road where practical. It is true that there are very few places in Toronto where this is practical, but parts of the Eglinton-Crosstown route are ideal for it. From the east portal of the underground section to Don Mills, the line should be built along the south side of Eglinton and not down the middle. Don Mills station was to be underground, and the line may remain underground to just east of the Don Valley Parkway. Between there and Victoria Park, it is possible to place it on the north side of the road and have it move to the middle of the road on an elevated structure at VP.

What Ford Says, Goes: Frank Klees

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

This morning on CBC Radio 1’s Metro Morning, the question of what each party will do about transit was asked of Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, the NDP urban transportation critic Cheri DiNovo, and the Conservatives’ transportation critic Frank Klees.

Wynne highlighted the 8 billion committed to the Eglinton Scarborough Crosstown line that Ford wants entirely underground. DiNovo was pushing the idea that Transit City was fatally wounded by McGuinty cutting funding well before Ford arrived and dealt the final wound, which Wynne argued did not involve any cut, just a cash flow delay.

When first asked, Klees was rather vague indicating that his part was committing $35 billion to transit and transportation without getting into any specifics for Toronto. When to state what their party would like to make as a priority for transit in the city, Klees said, “We will respect the decision that they made when they elected Rob Ford as mayor on his platform.” He went on to say, “We want to take the lead from the city of Toronto, from the leadership of Toronto, work with them, work with their priorities, and ensure that we work together in partnership to deliver an efficient and effective transit system.”

Never mind that Ford’s platform was only to cut gravy. His transit plan was conceived and presented in an amatuer YouTube video released late at night, while every single appearance and interview he did always had him direct the discussion to the “Gravy Train”. Sure, there were plenty of voters along Sheppard Avenue East who picked up on his plan to extend the Sheppard subway and said, “Yea, I want that for sure!” Trouble is, only a small number of them live west of Kennedy Road which is where the subway’s alignment would depart from Sheppard. Everyone east of Kennedy bought into a Sheppard subway just like one woman who was interviewed during the election who looked forward to not having to wait for a bus at McCowan and Sheppard. She’ll have a better chance catching a flying pig.

The full interview can be heard here.

On a related note (Ford’s fixation on the Sheppard subway), Chris Selly has a good article in Posted Toronto.

An Investment in Public Transit?

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Today, an announcement was made about the service guarantee that GO Transit will offer for its train passengers starting in 2012. The announcementon GO’s website has the headline “McGuinty Government Investing In Public Transit.”

The guarantee will be that GO train riders will get a refund if their train is more than 15 minutes late, down from the previously announced 20 minutes. The exceptions to this will be delays caused by extreme weather, police investigations, accidents and medical emergencies.

So what makes this an Investment in Public Transit? That’s right, McGuinty will use your tax dollars to pay out these refunds when they occur. Some investment!

Operation of GO Trains is contracted out to Bombardier Transportation (with the exception of the Milton service, which is operated by CP Rail). Since the exceptions, quite fairly, involve situations that are beyond the control of the operator, why isn’t the cost of the refund being borne by Bombardier when their contract is renewed? Bombardier has a five year contract to operate the trains that started in June 2008, so there is still two years before another contract would be in effect. The current contract with Bombardier has penalties, but only when a train does not run due to crew shortages.

It may be understandable that the province might foot the bill for a service guarantee in order to have it in place sooner than the contract renewal, but there is no word of transferring this cost to the operator with the next contract.

In Melbourne, the operation of trams (Yarra Trams) and trains (Metro Trains) are contracted out and the contracts require a performance target for punctuality and reliability to be maintained. Instead of refunds for passengers of a specific train, the performance is measured monthly and if the standard is not reached, the operator must pay compensation to all eligible passengers. To be eligible, a customer must use a monthly, six-monthly, or yearly Metcard, or use the myki card (their version of Presto) that was valid for at least 28 days and was used on at least 10 days in the compensation month. Compensation is in one-day fare units. Metcard users receive a day pass for their same zone for each unit and myki users receive an uploaded credit for the value of a day pass for their same zone for each unit.

For instance, Metro Trains is required to run 98% of their trains and maintain 88% on time. If either of these are not met, eligible passengers will receive a one-day fare unit. If the delivery is less than 95%, two units must be provided for compensation and the same goes if the punctuality is below 84%. If service is bad enough, each eligible passenger would receive 4 one-day fare units!

In May 2011, their delivery was 98.8%, but punctuality was only 82.2%. I should add that a train is considered on time if it arrives at its destination between 59 seconds earlier than and four minutes and 59 seconds later than its scheduled time. 

Given that GO Transit claims 95% of their trains are on time, and I assume that is the percentages of actual trains that run, they already exceed the standard set in Melbourne.

Transit Service: Essential Service or Not?

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

 Queen’s Park is currently faced with a bill to make the TTC an essential service and the debate of whether this is a good thing or not has been and will be discussed. For the most part, I am in favour of it for a few reasons, some specific to the TTC and some as a general matter of principle where it comes to the public sector.

In the case of the TTC specifically, I simply do not accept the “it will cost more” argument against it. The premise of this argument is that essential service designation means that disputes will go to binding arbitration and that almost always favours the union position that in turn results in more costly settlements. Aside from the sequence of assumptions with this line of thinking, the reason I don’t accept the argument is that all disputes in recent history have ended with back-to-work legislation that involved binding arbitration. If we assume the premise that binding arbitration costs us more, then why should the public be subjected to the inconvenience of strike action and that extra cost? If that cost is inevitable, should we not at least have the benefit of being free from strikes and the stress of wondering if arrangements may have to be made in case of a strike?

In the more general sense of public service employees as a whole, I personally believe that right to strike should not be available to the public service. That is not saying they should not have the right to bargain collectively, only that they should not be able to withhold their services as a bargaining “tool”. The reason for this is simple: that “tool” does not have a direct effect on the employer the way it does in the private sector. If a company that makes widgets has its employees go out on strike, it has a direct effect on their ability to make sales. When public service employees go on strike, the government continues to collect taxes.

Does this mean that the entire public sector is an “Essential Service”? Perhaps it does, but perhaps it means that government should take a closer look at what services it provides. There are many services that should be managed by the government, but could be best delivered by the private sector. Government provided services by definition are essential, and anything else should be contracted out.

Contracting out brings us back to the issue of strikes. As much as I believe that the public sector should not have the right to strike, I also believe that private sector unions should have that right. Contracting out services to the private sector brings back the possibility of strikes, but only if the politicians and the bureaucrats are not doing their job. For instance, take the yahoos who make their living off the tax payers in York Region who signed a five-year contract with Veolia Transportation to operate southwestern bus routes for YRT. No contract should ever be signed that has a duration longer than any collective agreement in place between that company and its employees. To be fair, perhaps the contract has the provision that would allow termination of the contract in the case of a strike, but I have my doubts such a provision is in place.

Finally, there is one other issue when it comes to making the entire public service subjected to binding arbitration. I would not want to see this done without addressing the issue of what binding arbitration entails. There should be legislated guidelines in place, including some for of a labour court, regarding how binding arbitration should take place. The aim should be to encourage negotiated settlements, but would provide some form of means-testing for demands from either side of the dispute to determine who should prevail.

Mississauga says, “We’ll take the money for LRT!”

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

In a previous posting, I quipped, “Perhaps if anything is not going to go ahead, Metrolinx could shift the funding to build VIVA Phase 3 (LRT lines) at this time in York Region!”

Well, it seems York Region is snoozing because the Toronto Star is reporting that Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion is saying that if Toronto Mayor Rob Ford doesn’t want the funding for Transit City, Mississauga will be only too happy to take the province’s money to build light rail transit.

One thing in the article that should be noted is this: “Above ground LRT costs about a third as much as subways — the TTC estimates about $100 million per kilometre compared to about $300 million for tunneling.” That is a bit of an overstatement of the costs of LRT construction that includes a fair bit of over-engineering in the Transit City plan, necessary or otherwise, including the underground part of the Eglinton line and the underground connection with the Sheppard subway on the Sheppard East line. Transit City’s own costs for median construction is only just over half that at about $50 million per kilometre, but Mississauga has the benefit of being able to use more side-of-the-road alignments that can use ballasted tie construction to bring that cost down to only $30-35 million per kilometre.