How Much Will It Cost To MoveOntario? (Updated)

Updated July 8:  Metrolinx has announced that the draft Regional Transportation Plan and Investment Strategy have been delayed until September.  You can read about this in The Star and in the official Metrolinx press release.

[The original post follows below.]

Those of you who have been following the proposals and plans from Metrolinx will know that there’s been a tiny bit of inflation in the projected cost of transit improvements for the GTAH.

About one year ago, Premier McGuinty announced MoveOntario2020, a plan to invest $17.5-billion (2/3 from Queen’s Park, the rest from Ottawa) in over 50 projects for the region.  For the moment, leave aside the fact that this was less of a plan than a grab bag of every proposal that was sitting on the table in every municipality.  At least it was a starting point to talk about investment in transit.

One big chunk of MoveOntario2020 is Transit City, and it accounted for about 1/3 of the total.

Many hurrahs!  Horns blared!  Gongs clanged!  Visions of a transit future danced through our heads.

Over the past year, the picture has changed quite a bit.  The most aggressive of Metrolinx plans, as described in their Preliminary Directions White Paper, requires an annual outlay of $3.8-billion for capital and another $3.8-billion for additional operating costs.  (Table E-1, page 63)  The least aggressive isn’t far behind.

That’s a huge jump from the investment that would take us out to 2020, and sticker shock may derail the whole thing.  It wouldn’t be the first time. Continue reading

End of the Road for Biofuels at TTC? (Update 2)

Update July 9:  The Star reports that Premier McGuinty is rethinking a commitment to 10% ethanol fuel requirements.

Update July 5:  The Guardian reports that an as-yet unpublished study by the World Bank concludes that the distortion of the world food market is a direct result of biofuels.

“Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” says the report. The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

[End of update]

The agenda for the Commission meeting on July 10 includes a report extending the upset dollar limit on the TTC’s current contract with Suncor Energy Products for Bio-Diesel fuel.  The TTC has locked in its current fuel price only until the end of December 2008, but the contract runs through 2009.

TTC staff is concerned that a price locked-in during the current market may be unreasonably high and that better pricing may be available on the spot market.  This sort of discussion is common in TTC fuel purchase arrangements, and staff juggles things around to ensure the best ongoing price for the system’s needs.

The current price paid by TTC is $0.8752 per litre while the market price today is $1.46 for 95% No. 1 Ultra Low Sulphur diesel plus 5% virgin vegetable oil (soybean).

The fascinating comment comes at the end of the report:

While the recommended amendment value is based on the purchase of bio-fuel, staff is currently reviewing the value of the continued use of bio-fuel in consideration of the $1.5M to $2.0M premium in the cost of bio-fuel versus the actual environmental benefits as well as the impact that the use of bio-fuel is having on food prices and availability. As a result, there is the possibility that the Commission may not purchase bio-fuel for 2009.

I may sound like an environmental curmudgeon, but I’ve always felt biofuels were designed more to comfort Agribusiness than have any real benefit for the environment.  Transit’s environmental impact comes from reducing the demand for auto travel and supporting an urban form with dense populations.

Recently, we have seen the controversy over the impact of biofuels on food prices.  Yes, there are different sources for the “bio” additive and some use products that would otherwise go to waste.  If only that were the criteron for “bio” fuel being truly green, then the issues would be much clearer.

Meanwhile, a TTC decision to move away from biofuels may not have much effect on the price of soybeans, but it’s a step in having transit concentrate on what it does best — get people out of their cars.