Eglinton LRT: Trouble Brewing in Mt. Dennis (Update 2)

Updated February 17 at 11:00 pm:  At today’s TTC meeting, despite a very long series of deputations from residents of the Mt. Dennis area and a number of local political representatives, the Commission decided to proceed with the staff’s recommended alignment for the Eglinton LRT.

Although I have supported this project and Transit City, today’s meeting ranks among the worst travesties of “public participation” I have ever seen.  This fell on the same day as the launch of the TTC’s vaunted “Customer Service” project showing just how threadbare that scheme already is.

Deputations at the TTC are to begin at 2 pm, but there were many presentations early in the meeting, and the Eglinton item didn’t really get underway until nearly 3.  Staff began with a presentation that completely ignored the specifics of the objections raised by the community, and presented the situation as a choice between two options:

  1. An all-surface option with a station at the intersection of Black Creek Drive, and an island-platform station west of the Weston/Eglinton intersection.
  2. An all-underground option with a station under Eglinton west of Black Creek, and a station under Eglinton west of Weston Road.

One critical point about both designs is that they require a wide tunnel structure around Weston Station and the demolition of a row of houses at Pearen Road.  The TTC did not address the question of moving the station east of Weston Road to reduce or possibly eliminate conflict with the houses and to improve a future connection to GO Transit at the rail corridor.

After the deputations, during which Chair Giambrone had to be reminded by one speaker to pay attention to the public and stop playing with his Blackberry, came a brief discussion between Commissioners and staff.  A few amendments were proposed to the recommendations including a scheme to seek supplementary funding (this might be called the “faint hope clause” for transit projects), but these failed.

In his concluding remarks Giambrone told the assembled crowd, many of whom had been in the meeting room for well over four hours, that in fact the TTC could not change the selected alignment because it had already been approved by Council and was sitting at Queen’s Park for review.  In effect, Giambrone said that all of the public consultation since early December, 2009, when Council approved the Transit Project Assessment, was for naught because the decision had already been taken.

In fact, the TPA process includes an option for amendment, and the TTC plans to use this once they finalize the alignment at Pearson Airport.  Why isn’t this option available for a change elsewhere in the design?  Why was the TTC still holding public meetings on details of project design when there was no intention of entertaining changes?

Some speakers addressed the use of the Kodak lands for the proposed carhouse, and asked that alternative schemes be considered.  Part of this relates to a proposed “big box” development on the land.  However, Council approved the acquisition of this property, by expropriation if necessary, in December.

I could understand the TTC simply saying “look, Council has decided, there’s only enough money for the recommended option, sorry, but that’s how it’s going to be”.  At least that would be honest.  It would not string the community and their Councillors along with the idea that the design might be altered.

This is a classic abuse of process by a public organization, and shows all too clearly the problems introduced by the new “speedy” TPA.  Although there is an appeal mechanism, the grounds for an appeal are very limited.  This is not Transit City’s finest hour, and it damages the credibility of the TPA process generally.

Councillors would be well-advised to be less quick in granting approval to TPA reports lest they give away their last chance to modify a project proposal.

The earlier information in this article follows the break.

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City Finds Rabbit in Hat: Balances Budget and Funds TTC (Updated)

Updated February 17:

The City’s Budget Analyst report on the TTC is now available online.  I will comment on it in more detail when I have time, but a few points warrant immediate attention.

The big issue in TTC budgeting is always the ridership projection and the anticipated revenue from fares.  This number has been jumping around a bit.

In the February 15 Budget Presentation, the City shows increased fare revenue from the TTC as providing $50m reduction in the original estimate of the City’s shortfall (see page 15).  However, in the Analyst’s notes, a value of $48.4m is cited on page 29 as a gross number.  From this, the Analyst deducts a charge of $12.125m to account for fare revenue “lost” to Metropass users giving a net figure of $36.805m.

The reason for this is that the Analyst uses budget numbers, not real numbers.  Therefore, to get from 2009 to 2010, one must first remove the $12.125m from 2009 to get an adjusted base, and then add in whatever benefit a fare change will bring.

On page 3 of the Analyst’s report, we learn that the TTC’s preliminary year-end report showed that the 2009 revenue shortfall was almost exactly matched by underexpenditures due to lower energy costs and an accounting change in treatment of future accident claims.

Today, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone updated his Facebook page with this information:

It has just come up that ridership is up 1% over last year despite the fare increase in January. And we reviewed the point that TTC actually recorded a SURPLUS of $300,000…amazing especially that at one point we were $23 million behind. It took a lot of work, but we did it. [Posted at about noon on February 17]

The TTC has not yet published stats for December 2009, but based on strong results in January, one might expect that December was a good month also, relative to budget expectations. 

The 1% increase in ridership (which applies to the first three weeks of January) is quite different from the expected riding drop after the fare increase.  Whether this will be sustained through the year remains to be seen, but it is a pleasant sign.  Having said that, a sustained increase would give full year results of about 476m riders, not the budgeted 462m.  Whether the service budget based on the lower ridership can handle more riders will depend on where the increases come and whether they can be absorbed into the service actually operated.

On the budget side, 14m more rides than budget translates to a tidy pot of unexpected revenue.  We do not yet know how many of these new rides are full adult fares, increased use of passes or greater riding at concession rates (students, seniors, children).  By the end of April, when the City budget comes to Council, the TTC should be required to provide an updated projection of its ridership, revenue and funding needs so that the subsidy level can be adjusted accordingly.

When TTC staff proposed the fare increase last November, they projected that there would be a $106m shortfall in 2010 before any budget adjustements in the new year.  Various scenarios were presented, and the one recommended included a 25-cent adult fare increase (pro-rated to concession fares) and a two-trip increase in the Metropass multiple.  This scheme was projected to bring in $50m net of the effect of lost riding.  (see page 8.)

However, the Commission actually improved a 25-cent adult increase, but no change in the Metropass multiple.  This is clearly shown in the staff report as generating only $38.9m in revenue net of losses in ridership, and this does not include the cost of an adult student pass rate starting in September 2010. 

Neither of figures includes the net effect of the $12m in “lost” Metropass revenue.  The Budget Analyst has flagged this in the “Issues for Discussion”, but the City’s budget does not reflect the lower net figure for new revenue compared to the 2009 budget.

Much of the confusion arises from the comparison of budget-to-budget figures, rather than using probable actuals as a base reference, and of citing gross effects of proposed changes such as new fares rather than net effects.

In summary, the TTC (and the City) appear to be overstating the net revenue benefit of the fare increase at the budgetary level, but may be rescued from their errors by stronger than projected ridership.

The original February 16 article follows the break.

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