Federal Funds for Streetcar Contract

The big issue with the streetcar funding that is being announced today is that the federal government is not there to chip in one third of the total. Toronto applied for this money under the federal Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, and the feds are saying that this project does not qualify (see this Globe and Mail article for more details).

Should the federal government contribute? Yes. Should it be under the stimulus fund? No.

The federal government has a vested interest in a contract like this going to a Canadian company over a foreign company. Furthermore, the economic benefits of this contract will reach into Manitoba and Quebec, giving it a scope that is beyond the province.

That said, the city applied through the stimulus fund for this money. There were clear rules about the type of projects it was intended for, particularly for the creation of jobs in the area of the applicant. While there will be some jobs in the GTA that come directly and indirectly from this project, the overwhelming majority are not in the GTA. That is enough to disqualify the application.

There is another argument about timeline that I don’t buy. The streetcar order will continue to 2018, which is well beyond the two-year timeline of the stimulus program. I don’t accept this argument because these cars will have some special engineering work that is needed to meet the specifications of Toronto’s legacy network. It does not take much creative accounting to show that one-third of the entire cost will go into this, and this will be completed well within the two-year deadline. So, I believe this argument is bogus, but the first argument is more than enough to disqualify Toronto’s application.

There are three reasons, all relating to fairness, as to why the feds cannot bend the rules for Toronto.

The first is that 2,700 municipalities followed the rules in their application. A number of these municipalities have projects they would like to have funded but knew they did not qualify, so their applications had to exclude such projects.

The second is that anyone that has ever had to deal with Toronto City Hall over some issue, from applying for an on-street parking permit to applying for a park usage permit, knows that Toronto practically wrote the book on how to make applicants jump through hoops. If there is one little thing wrong with your application, Toronto will reject it. Why should Toronto be exempt from following others’ rules?

The third is that the federal government has offered a suggestion and a bending of one rule to them. It has been suggested that Toronto take a look at projects they were planning on spending money on in three or four years and move them up and use them to apply for stimulus funding. Then the city can use the money that they would have spent in three or four years’ time on the streetcar purchase. The federal government will allow Toronto to make this change to their application even though the May 1 deadline has passed. That seems to me to be a good way to get federal funding for the streetcar purchase.

One Response to “Federal Funds for Streetcar Contract”

  1. zweisystem Says:

    The following email is from noted American transit specialist, Gerald Fox and has been widely circulated out West for over a year. TransLink has yet to refute it.

    One must question the current Conservative government’s reluctance to fund the Toronto streetcar project, yet they are spending (strangely) $400 million on the questionable Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension in Vancouver. Lot’s of Conservatives in Vancouver’s metro region, I guess!

    At best, the Evergreen Line will cater to traffic flows of about 2,000 persons per hour per direction!

    Gerald Fox shreds TransLink’s Evergreen Line’s business case…………

    The Evergreen Line Report made me curious as to how TransLink could justify continuing to expand SkyTrain, when the rest of the world is building LRT. So I went back and read the alleged “Business Case” (BC) report in a little more detail.

    I found several instances where the analysis had made assumptions that were inaccurate, or had been manipulated to make the case for SkyTrain. If the underlying assumptions are inaccurate, the conclusions may be so too.

    Capacity. A combination of train size and headway. For instance, TriMet’s new “Type 4″ Low floor LRVs, arriving later this year, have a rated capacity of 232 per car, or 464 for a 2- car train. (Of course one must also be sure to use the same standee density when comparing car capacity. I don’t know if that was done here). In Portland we operate a frequency of 3
    minutes downtown in the peak hour, giving a one way peak hour capacity of 9,280. By next year we will have two routes through downtown, which will eventually load both ways, giving a theoretical peak hour rail capacity of 37,000 into or out of downtown. Of course we also run a lot of buses.

    The new Seattle LRT system which opens next year, is designed for 4-car trains, and thus have a peak hour capacity of 18,560. (but doesn’t need this yet, and so shares the tunnel with buses). The Business Case analysis assumes a capacity of 4,080 for LRT, on the Evergreen Line which it states is not enough, and compares it to SkyTrain capacity of

    Speed. The analysis states the maximum LRT speed is 60 kph. (which would be correct for the street sections) But most LRVs are actually designed for 90 kph. On the Evergreen Line, LRT could operate at up to 90 where conditions permit, such as in the tunnels, and on protected ROW. Most LRT systems pre-empt most intersections, and so experience little delay at grade crossings. (Our policy is that the trains stop only at stations, and seldom experience traffic delays. It seems to work fine, and has little effect on traffic.) There is another element of speed, which is
    station access time. At-grade stations have less access time. This was overlooked in the analysis.

    Also, on the NW alignment, the SkyTrain proposal uses a different, faster, less-costly alignment to LRT proposal. And has 8 rather than 12 stations. If LRT was compared on the alignment now proposed for SkyTrain, it would go faster, and cost less than the Business Case report states !

    Cost. Here again, there seems to be some hidden biases. As mentioned above, on the NW Corridor, LRT is costed on a different alignment, with more stations. The cost difference between LRT and SkyTrain presented in the Business Case report is therefore misleading. If they were compared on identical alignments, with the same number of stations, and designed to optimize each mode, the cost advantage of LRT would be far greater. I also suspect that the basic LRT design has been rendered more costly by requirements for tunnels and general design that would not be found on more cost-sensitive LRT projects

    Then there are the car costs. Last time I looked, the cost per unit of capacity was far higher for SkyTrain. Also,it takes about 2 SkyTrain cars to match the capacity of one LRV. And the grade-separated SkyTrain stations are far most costly and complex than LRT stations. Comparing 8 SkyTrain stations with 12 LRT stations also helps blur the distinction.

    Ridership. Is a function of many factors. The Business Case report would have you believe that type of rail mode alone, makes a difference (It does in the bus vs rail comparison, according to the latest US federal guidelines). But, on the Evergreen Line, I doubt it. What makes a
    difference is speed, frequency (but not so much when headways get to 5 minutes), station spacing and amenity etc.

    Since the speed, frequency and capacity assumptions used in the Business Case are clearly inaccurate, the ridership estimates cannot be correct either. There would be some advantage if SkyTrain could avoid a transfer. If the connecting system has capacity for the extra trains. But the
    case is way overstated. And nowhere is it addressed whether the Evergreen Line, at the extremity of the system, has the demand for so much capacity and, if it does, what that would mean on the rest of
    the system if feeds into?

    Innuedos about safety, and traffic impacts, seem to be a big issue for SkyTrain proponents, but are solved by the numerous systems that operate new LRT systems (i.e., they can’t be as bad as the SkyTrain folk would like you to believe). I’ve no desire to get drawn into the Vancouver transit wars, and, anyway, most of the rest of the world has moved on. To
    be fair, there are clear advantages in keeping with one kind of rail technology, and in through-routing service at Lougheed. But, eventually, Vancouver will need to adopt lower-cost LRT in its lesser corridors, or else limit the extent of its rail system. And that seems to make some TransLink
    people very nervous.

    It is interesting how TransLink has used this cunning method of manipulating analysis to justify SkyTrain in corridor after corridor, and has thus succeeded in keeping its proprietary rail system expanding. In the US, all new transit projects that seek federal support are now subjected to
    scrutiny by a panel of transit peers, selected and monitored by the federal government, to ensure that projects are analysed honestly, and the taxpayers’ interests are protected.

    No SkyTrain project has ever passed this scrutiny in the US.