Metrolinx Board Meeting of June 27, 2013

The Metrolinx Board met on June 27 with a full agenda.

There is a great deal of duplication between various reports, and I have consolidated information to keep like items together.  Some reports are omitted entirely from this article either because the important info is included elsewhere, or because they simply rehash status updates with no real news.  Metrolinx has a love for “good news” to the point that each manager stuffs their presentations with information that is already well known, or which parallels other presentations.

Among the more important items in these reports are the following:

  • Metrolinx is now conducting various studies all of which bear on the problem of north-south capacity into downtown Toronto.  This involves the (Downtown) Relief Line, the north-south GO corridors and the Richmond Hill subway expansion.  A related study involves fare and service integration across the GTHA.  It is refreshing to see Metrolinx taking a network approach to planning, rather than looking at projects in isolation, and recognizing that some of their own, existing routes can be part of an overall approach to solving this capacity problem.
  • The Metrolinx Five-Year Strategy includes dates for the beginning of service on various projects including the LRT replacement for the Scarborough RT.  Previous versions of these dates cited “by 2020”, and Metrolinx has indicated a desire for as short a construction/shutdown period of under three years.  However, the new strategy paper talks of an “in service date” of 2020.  Metrolinx is aiming for a three year shutdown at most, but the SRT might continue operating beyond the originally planned September 2015 date, possibly for one additional year.  This could lead to an earlier reopening than 2020.  (Correspondence from Metrolinx on this issue is included later in the article.)

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Smart Card Wars (Part III) (Update 1)

Update 1:  July 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm: Comments and clarifications by Ernie Wallace at Presto have been added to this article.

On July 26, I visited the folks at Presto and talked with Ernie Wallace, Executive Project Director, about the system and its plans.  Subsequently, I did some digging of my own, primarily on the Ontario government website.  The information below is organized to keep topics and the logical flow intact rather than to represent the sequence of the conversation.

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Privatization If Necessary?

David Cavlovic passed on to me an article by Ben Dachis in the Ottawa Citizen dated December 18.  The thrust of the article is that we can improve transit by avoiding strikes, and we can do that by encouraging competition among service providers.

One of the major stumbling blocks in the current negotiations has been the issue of outsourcing. However, outsourcing of transit operations and maintenance can be done in a way to improve public transit, preserve the jobs of workers and ensure that the city isn’t crippled by a strike.

Ottawa should consider modest relaxations over the transit monopoly that OC Transpo has in the region. Private companies could be permitted to operate a transit route on contract to the city.

If one transit operator went on strike, another could fill the service void. Ottawa can look to a suburb of Toronto, York Region, to see that in the case of a strike by one transit provider — Viva, operated by Veolia Transportation — the rest of the operations continued normally and most riders were not left waiting at the curb.

Competition between transit companies can ensure service delivery, reduce costs and improve service. The key to all of this is transit competition — not a transit monopoly.

This is utter nonsense.  The ability of one provider to take over for another assumes that there is sufficient capacity — buses and drivers — available to operate the fill-in service.  As was well-reported in York Region, the YRT buses could not cope with the riding displaced from VIVA.  Moreover, neither system carries riders on the scale of major urban systems like Toronto’s where the sheer size of operations would make any shift between providers a daunting one.

The classic example is the U.K. In London, controlled competition has led to cost savings and an increase in passenger trips.

In Ontario, privately operated transit systems had operating costs per hour of vehicle operation 20 per cent below publicly operated transit systems. The realized gains in efficiency come a number of ways, such as lower management costs.

London (and anywhere else in the U.K.) is probably the worst possible example regarding labour costs and service provision.  England is notorious for overly generous work arrangements for unionized staff, and the savings (such as they may be) achieved there do not transport across the pond to North America.

A related issue is that many schemes to privatize segments of systems eventually led to monopolies as the larger, better-financed operators systematically bought up the smaller ones.  The problem of a single operator’s shutdown taking the whole system becomes just as real in this situation with the added problem that the negotiating team is removed from public review.

Ontario cost comparisons need to be taken with several grains of salt.  First off, the most likely services to be privatized are those that are small enough for a private firm to take them on.  They are also likely to have much less demanding operating conditions (hours, riding levels, vehicle costs) and be candidates for part-time staff with lower total wages and benefits.  Major urban systems are different, and will automatically have “higher” costs due to their complexity, level of service and the need for a much larger organization to manage and operate their systems.

The unions can bid alongside private maintenance companies for the right to maintain OC Transpo vehicles, in what is known as managed competition. When this was done with U.S. government contracts, public unions won around 90 per cent of all work that was bid out, suggesting that they will not lose much work. In fact, in the U.K., local government employees have been successful at winning contracts for private-sector work in certain services.

If public workers are going to win about 90 percent of all work offered on tender, this implies that they are already competitive or close to it.  A more important question, however, is what proportion of work was actually offered on tender?  How many private companies now exist who repair large bus fleets or subway cars? It’s not as if there is an underutilized transit maintenance industry just sitting there waiting to do work on large transit systems.  The real agenda is likely the selloff of existing public assets to a private “operator” at fire-sale prices.  Think Highway 407.

Large systems already contract out some speciality work where it makes sense to do so, and large-scale capital projects are substantially built by private companies.  The last year has been a bonanza for private transit consulting firms, and there is a queue of construction firms ready to build new lines the moment the designs are finished and the funding is available.

The labour situation in Ottawa will not be helped by sabre-rattling on privatization.  This only fuels distrust at the bargaining table and suggests that the politicians are more interested in scoring debating points than in addressing contract issues.

Transit Service in Ottawa

For those who have been following my analyses of problems with TTC streetcar operations, David Cavlovic has sent along an article from today’s Ottawa Citizen

Toronto may have its problems, but Ottawa sounds even worse, including a lacklustre attitude by senior management.  At least here, there is a glimmer of recognition that service could be better.

One comment from the article struck a chord with me:

The company has spent a lot of money on a GPS system, but it lacks the software to analyse where service problems actually lie.

TTC’s signpost-based CIS has been in place for over two decades, but analysis of its data waited until I undertook it and started publishing results here.  CIS will be updated to use GPS information from vehicles where this is now available thanks to the stop announcement system, but we have yet to see whether the TTC will actually analyze its operations with all of the data at its disposal.

GO Ottawa? (Updated)

On July 27, David Cavlovic passed on another Ottawa Sun article in this thread.  He comments:

Well, NOW it’s getting really ridiculous.

That’s all we need. It’s not enough that resources are stretched in the GTA, let’s stretch it in other cities as well.

Toronto Transit CORPORATION. Oh dear. Harbinger of the future?

[The article’s author is not in touch with Toronto’s transit system as we saw yesterday.]

 Fortunately, there is a bit of good sense on Council:

River Coun. Maria McRae, who is also the chair of the city’s transportation committee, said there is no reason why GO Transit and OC Transpo can’t work together.

“We can do both,” said McRae. “We should pursue that GO model for outside the city, but not lose focus on Ottawa’s transit issues.”

[Original post follows] 

David Cavlovic passed on the following item of interest from the Ottawa Sun.

Ottawa could be moving from the O-Train to the GO Train.

With Mayor Larry O’Brien mapping out an ambitious inter-regional commuter transit plan for Eastern Ontario, the province’s biggest regional commuter carrier, GO Transit, is expressing interest in helping the city with its plan.

“It’s definitely something we would look at,” said Jamie Rilett, communications director for Ontario Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield, whose department operates the Government of Ontario (GO) network in the Greater Toronto Area.

“When it was first brought up to us and we discussed it with various mayors and members from the Ottawa area, it was made clear to them we would look at any proposal they had and if they were interested in having GO participate in whatever way then it’s definitely something we would consider,” said Rilett.

[The full article goes on to talk about how wonderful GO is, and manages to get some of the facts wrong.]

Amusingly, this is yet another situation where a comment comes not from the GTTA but from the Minister’s office.  At tomorrow’s GTTA meeting, maybe they can discuss a small eastward expansion of their territory.

More to the point, Ottawa has to decide whether it wants a commuter rail network providing relatively infrequent service oriented to peak demand, or a transit network.  These are two completely different things.