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Recent entries

  1. A podcast with Michael Geist on technology and politics
  2. Next steps
  3. On what electoral reform reforms
  4. 2019 Fall campaign newsletter / infolettre campagne d'automne 2019
  5. 2019 Summer newsletter / infolettre été 2019
  6. 2019-07-15 SECU 171
  7. 2019-06-20 RNNR 140
  8. 2019-06-17 14:14 House intervention / intervention en chambre
  9. 2019-06-17 SECU 169
  10. 2019-06-13 PROC 162
  11. 2019-06-10 SECU 167
  12. 2019-06-06 PROC 160
  13. 2019-06-06 INDU 167
  14. 2019-06-05 23:27 House intervention / intervention en chambre
  15. 2019-06-05 15:11 House intervention / intervention en chambre
  16. older entries...

Latest comments

Michael D on Keeping Track - Bus system overhaul coming to Guelph while GO station might go to Lafarge after all
Steve Host on Keeping Track - Bus system overhaul coming to Guelph while GO station might go to Lafarge after all
G. T. on Abolish the Ontario Municipal Board
Anonymous on The myth of the wasted vote
fellow guelphite on Keeping Track - Rethinking the commute

Links of interest

  1. 2009-03-27: The Mother of All Rejection Letters
  2. 2009-02: Road Worriers
  3. 2008-12-29: Who should go to university?
  4. 2008-12-24: Tory aide tried to scuttle Hanukah event, school says
  5. 2008-11-07: You might not like Obama's promises
  6. 2008-09-19: Harper a threat to democracy: independent
  7. 2008-09-16: Tory dissenters 'idiots, turds'
  8. 2008-09-02: Canadians willing to ride bus, but transit systems are letting them down: survey
  9. 2008-08-19: Guelph transit riders happy with 20-minute bus service changes
  10. 2008=08-06: More people riding Edmonton buses, LRT
  11. 2008-08-01: U.S. border agents given power to seize travellers' laptops, cellphones
  12. 2008-07-14: Planning for new roads with a green blueprint
  13. 2008-07-12: Disappointed by Layton, former MPP likes `pretty solid' Dion
  14. 2008-07-11: Riders on the GO
  15. 2008-07-09: MPs took donations from firm in RCMP deal
  16. older links...

All stories filed under money...

  1. 2006-06-05: Natural resources, equalization, and the so-called fiscal imbalance
  2. 2006-06-07: Oops, the budget passed
  3. 2006-07-29: Excluding non-renewable resources from equalisation is patently absurd
  4. 2007-07-18: Hostile bid for CP Rail could start toppling railway acquisition dominos
  5. 2007-10-31: On cross border shopping and tax cuts
  6. 2008-02-26: The probability of deficit
  7. 2008-04-12: $15 million parking lot a curious approach to planning for the future
  8. 2008-04-18: More broken thinking on parking
  9. 2008-04-29: Guelph throws another $126,000 at free parking
  10. 2008-05-02: The March of the Hanlon Freeway
  11. 2008-05-04: MTO/Guelph Hanlon workshops show divisions, unity
  12. 2008-05-14: Final Hanlon workshop and related thoughts
  13. 2008-05-26: Every day should be Clean Air Day
  14. 2008-06-06: High Speed Rail link in Windsor-Quebec City corridor is premature
  15. 2008-07-09: Municipal tax revenue issue has been very badly framed
  16. 2008-09-26: Is the US bailout the largest heist in world history?
  17. 2008-10-24: Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways
  18. 2008-12-30: Auto bailout lacks vision, imagination

Displaying the most recent stories under money...

Auto bailout lacks vision, imagination

My column in today's Mercury addresses the strange circumstances we now find ourselves in with regards to spending about $360 per Ontarian on one of the most heavily subsidised industries in the world. To put it mildly, I am not impressed.

In one of the newscasts covering the US' debate on the auto industry bailout, a US congressman in debate asked if we should have bailed out the horse and carriage industry when the car was invented. It is mildly alliterative, but it makes the point.

There are plenty of successful auto manufacturers left in the world, many of them manufacturing their vehicles in North America while making cars that consumers actually want, instead of asking consumers to want the cars they are making*. Moreover, if we are going to bail out American auto manufacturers, what bang are we going to get for our buck? If we invest the roughly $17 billion in the US and $4 billion in Canada to keep them afloat, what will we accomplish? Will we remain world leaders in the construction of SUVs, or could we perhaps exercise just a little imagination and use these billions of taxpayer dollars that, in Canada alone, add up to around $10,000 per affected auto industry employee to become world leaders in something that needs a little leadership?

Through part of the fall, I saw one wind turbine head up Guelph's Highway 6 just about every weekday afternoon. They were offloaded in Hamilton harbour and sent north by truck. Why? Because they had to be imported from Europe; they are not manufactured in Canada.

During the Second World War, North America's industrial might was very quickly changed from the manufacture of consumer goods and vehicles to the manufacture of war machinery including trucks, tanks, aircraft, ships, weaponry, and ammunition. Is our failure of imagination so total that, in an age when technology allows us to contemplate a manned mission to another planet, we can not re-task our manufacturing sector to prepare us for a more sustainable future?

The whole process of bailouts has been broken from the outset. The US' $700 billion bailout package is largely being used to buy up bad credit from creditors so that they can once again lend money. Had the same money been used to pay off the huge consumer and mortgage debt in the US, consumer confidence would have returned in spades, the credit markets would have been re-invigorated, and millions of people would not have had their homes foreclosed. If we are going to spend taxpayer dollars to that phenomenal extent, we should at least be helping people live rather than only ensuring that bankers' profit margins are not hurt too badly.

The big concern for me is that the failure of imagination is so comprehensive that the current governing generation is taking a huge debt-load, and doubling it for my generation -- those of us born well after the war in Vietnam -- to pay off. Recent policy in Canada has been to "give back surplus tax dollars to Canadians" in the form of huge tax cuts, but only during boom times. All it serves to do is bankrupt the country so that proper, forward-thinking investment is impossible.

Canada has a long history of building itself up only to sell itself short. It is a cycle we need to break. From being world leaders in the aviation industry until the cancellation of the Avro Arrow, a crime for which I will never forgive Diefenbaker, to turning from the most prosperous country in the G8 to essentially bankrupt under another Conservative government, Canada has a long history of getting to the top of its game, and then backpedalling with apology to those that we had outshone. The bailout Canada and the province of Ontario are offering to the auto industry here, measured as a simple function of how much the US is offering in their bail out multiplied by the percentage of the industry that is in Canada, is yet another example of how we are failing where we should be leading.

The ideas are out there. A report in the Mercury a few days ago related a new study proposing a high speed rail network for the greater Toronto area, stretching from Waterloo to Orillia to Peterborough to Niagara Falls. According to the study, the network could cost as little as $4 billion -- the amount we are giving to the auto industry.

With the prospects for my generation being as dim as they are with what we are inheriting, I feel I have to call attention to the existence of the future to those currently in power, as nobody at the top seems capable of seeing beyond the tips of their own noses.

This lack of vision and foresight extends to Guelph, which at a recent council meeting voted unanimously to ask GO Transit to set up a single station in the downtown core, not setting aside any other land for use as a future station, and committing downtown to building vastly more and more expensive parking -- no doubt at the expense of further increased transit fares. To council's credit, only three members voted in favour of a motion calling on GO never to consider any additional stations in Guelph. While the "Stone Rd extension" right of way connecting one of the main east-west strips at the south end of the city with highway 24 has been set aside for generations, preparing our transit infrastructure even a few years in advance is beyond the capability of our politicians at any level. Why are we so chronically incapable of planning ahead? Is it too much to ask that we plan as far ahead for our transportation infrastructure as we do for our water usage? We do have abstract plans, but without action, it's essentially meaningless.

With that, here's today's column.

Bail-out places a second mortgage on my generation

My generation is in for the surprise of its life.

We have never endured a recession. Sure there was one in the early 1990s, but when your parents tell you at nine years old that they are on their last $20, your reaction is "that's more than I have!" So as we head into this period of economic uncertainty, what do we have to consider?

I am a firm believer in the role of government. For the economy, government's responsibility is to eliminate debt and build a reserve when times are good. When times are bad, taxes can then be lowered and we can rely on those reserves and short-term debt to invest in our national infrastructure, stimulating the economy.

Government's role is to reduce the peaks and troughs of the economic cycle. The bigger the boom, the bigger the bust, and by taxing the boom, we can mitigate the impact of the bust.

U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and president Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate system demonstrated this. Both took the economy out of recession through massive investment in the future. We almost had it figured out on this side of the border this time, too.

For 10 years we paid down the debt of the previous two recessions. We were making headway, but a new government came in and opted to cut taxes when the economy could actually afford the level of taxation we had.

Both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper brag about the amount they cut taxes: Martin by $120 billion, and Harper by another $200 billion. Between them, we could have almost completely paid off our debt and could have had the money to invest in public infrastructure during this recession without mortgaging my generation.

We pay in excess of $30 billion a year from the federal pot just for interest on the debt we have.

Without any debt that would be $30 billion more per year that the federal government would have to work with before going into deficit.

Our deficit is projected to be $30 billion in 2009, all of which will be borrowed to pay interest on what we have already borrowed.

The trouble is, we called our financial situation a "surplus." There is no such thing as a surplus as long as there is a debt.

Surplus is a bad word: it implies the government is taxing more than it needs.

That way of thinking considers only the here and now, it does not account for the spending done yesterday that we could not afford. Ultimately, it means we are measuring our government's financial health in terms of cash flow, not in consideration of the long term.

You and I would not reduce our income if we still have a mortgage to pay off and a retirement to plan for. Why should we do so collectively?

Government is not some mysterious institution that robs from us. It is our way, as a society, to manage ourselves and share communal costs and responsibilities.

If we, as a society, are spending more than we can afford, it is our collective responsibility to pay off the excess just as it would be for us to do personally. When governments at any level have a debt-target that is not zero per cent of GDP, we have a problem, just as much as if we abuse our credit card, or refinance our homes simply because we can, with the deliberate intention of carrying a debt that we could have paid off.

After having quickly squandered our reserves when times were good, the governments of both Canada and the United States are now preparing to give the American auto industry thousands of dollars per manufactured vehicle to keep their inefficient business models afloat. Meanwhile, their foreign competitors continue to clean up the market with better, more efficient vehicles, built for less money that cost less to maintain.

This bailout is wholly uninspired and does nothing to invest in our infrastructure or our future.

The $23 billion being spent by the governments on the two sides of the border could be put into our national infrastructure in a way that is truly meaningful while stimulating our economy.

Canada's $4 billion figure, just to bail out one industry in one province, along with all the other money governments around the world are giving to save dated business models, could instead have been invested in rethinking our approach to infrastructure.

Why are we not refocusing the industrial might of the auto sector on redefining how our cities are built, how we move around, and how we power it all?

Why are we not taking this opportunity to invest in becoming world leaders in sustainable technologies?

The auto industry has the potential to do it. We would be better served investing our billions of dollars to convert these failed manufacturers to the construction of technologies largely made elsewhere today including buses, passenger trains, wind turbines, solar panels and the like.

Purchasing the results would improve Canada's infrastructure. This would turn our automakers into world leaders in those fields, saving hundreds of thousands of jobs, and truly preparing us for the future. All it takes is vision.

Cars are not going anywhere, but they do not need to go everywhere.

Instead of paving over my generation with poorly considered short-term fiscal policies from unnecessarily emptied federal coffers, this recession could be our chance to invest wisely in our rapidly changing world.

At least then my surprised generation could contemplate a better future.

As an aside, Guelph spends a huge portion of its annual budget building and maintaining our 538 km of public roads. Mayor Farbridge's recent State of the City address confirmed this. 538 km represents approximately 4.5 metres or 14' 8" of road for each of Guelph's approximately 120,000 residents. It is 6.1 km of road per square km of city. All of those km are funded by the taxpayer and exclude the provincial highways in city limits, bridges, boulevards, traffic signals, and the other expenses we pay for to allow our cars to run. The level of subsidy for the automobile includes all these factors. By contrast, the City of Guelph turns an actual, real profit that is returned to city coffers on its railway operations. The subsidy for cars and trucks on our roads is so ingrained in our governing attitude that, in spite of the Guelph Junction Railway's profit, Guelph has, in the past, tried to convince its rail customers to switch to trucks. I suppose, given that, it is not that much of a surprise that we would seek to bail out the least profitable or visionary auto makers in the world.

* - Although I am unable to find a car I want to buy from any manufacturer to replace my venerable 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser 8-seat wagon as it approaches forced retirement. No car on the market today can seat more than five people aside from a fuel-thirsty Mercedes C350 7-seat wagon, which is a tad outside of my price range. Vehicles built on car frames rather than truck frames with a large capacity rather than the wasted space of a sedan, and bench seats up front allowing three occupants per row (something I use more than you'd think), simply do not exist any more from any manufacturer, with half-hearted attempts to correct a decade of SUV/Minivan obsession by building slightly smaller SUVs nicknamed "crossovers." Sorry folks, they're still SUVs.

columns environment money politics 2236 words - permanent link - comments: 3. Posted at 09:56 on December 30, 2008

Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways

Today is the 79th anniversary of Black Thursday, the first of three miserable days on the stock market that signalled the start of the Great Depression. With that, rules for the Liberal leadership race about to come forward, and new developments on the highway construction front, there's lots to talk about these days.

First off, let me say that, given the choice, I want this man to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party.

With that out of the way, down to business.

This week, Ontario posted a deficit of $500 million for the first time in a few years. I have never made any secret of my disdain for deficits, and when I see a provincial government spending more billions on building new highways than you can shake a stick at go into deficit, I really have to scratch my head.

As I have noted many times before, Guelph is currently subject of, or is close to, four major highway projects: new Highway 24 (Cambridge-Brantford), new Highway 7 (Guelph-Kitchener), new GTA West corridor (Guelph-Brampton), and realignment and upgrades to Highway 6, in four separate sections each with its own EA, from south of the 401 to north of Guelph city limits.

Last night was the 4th Public Information Centre for the first of the four sections of Highway 6 to be upgraded. I am disappointed to, again, see no consideration whatsoever for the need to connect the Hanlon industrial park to the nearby rail network, which would involve crossing the Hanlon near one of the interchanges being proposed and therefore would need at least some level of planning or preparation within this environmental assessment. The changes proposed in PIC #4 for the Hanlon in their latest "preferred plan" call for a two-way service road to run between Stone and Downey Rd on the west side of the Hanlon, connecting up to Woodland Glen Dr., and the associated construction of a large retaining wall through several back yards along Old Colony Trail.

From a traffic flow perspective, it's definitely an improvement over previous plans, but from an environmental and social perspective for that area, it's a definite setback. This never-ending balancing act is frustrating to me.

I maintain that the investment in highways is a colossal waste of money if we are not also investing to at least the same level in transit infrastructure, which here and now necessarily means rail. If the as-yet unbuilt Hanlon industrial park were to connect to rail, which could be accomplished for the cost of one or two interchanges on the highway, the highway improvements would have a net long term benefit. The rail access would allow businesses to come to this industrial park to get material out of their trucks and onto the tracks, not just move it between trucks. I am all for road infrastructure improvements that help people and businesses get off the roads, but against highways for the sake of highways. Similarly, if passenger service were restored to the line between Guelph and Hamilton, some of the car pressures on Highway 6, which runs parallel to the nearly unused tracks for the entire affected area, would be reduced.

I found out just yesterday that there is an environmental assessment public information centre on Tuesday the 28th from 5-8pm at the Springfield Golf and Country Club on Gordon discussing upgrades to Maltby Rd, which would be an ideal right of way to connect the Guelph Junction Railway to the Hanlon industrial parks with minimal cost or disruption. Tracks could easily run on the edge of the road within its right of way.

With the recession coming very much as I predicted a couple of years ago, dead-end highway projects like the Halon may finally be put on hold. Given half a moment of reflection, if we are going to go into deficit to finance infrastructure and create jobs, then we should be doing so in such a way as to have high capacity, low environmental impact, low cost transportation solutions running at the other end of the recession. It remains my belief that our existing road system would be adequate if we invested properly in rail transportation rather than heavily subsidising roads while leaving rail to fend for itself.

The reality is, though, that we will continue to rip up rails in Canada and build highways nearby. This week, work began in ripping out the Kinghorn subdivision, a 195-mile railway line that was abandoned in 2005 connecting Longlac to Thunder Bay. The track itself was primarily used as a detour route in the event of problems in northern Ontario, but its removal demonstrates that we, collectively, have still not learned our lesson in rail removal. While difficult to prove, I believe Canada remains one of the few countries, if not the only one, left in the entire world still ripping out more railway lines than we are putting in.

Earlier this week, the first federal leader of a party to meaningfully recognise this reality and put it in a platform, was pushed out of the leadership of his party in a victory of politics over policy. The Liberal platform this past election included huge sums for infrastructure, and a plan to ban the removal of railway lines like the Kinghorn sub. While this horse has largely left the barn, the Kinghorn sub demonstrates that it is never too late to close this barn door.

This leads me to my next point, which is about the leadership of the Liberal party.

We should have rules handed down soon about the structure and length of the third Liberal leadership race in recent years within a few days. While pithy, Jamie's assessment is bang on and I hope some of the suggestions in his post are reflected in the rules.

Personally, I would like to see 50% of all donations to each leadership campaign be handed over to the party in lieu of a deposit, and no spending cap coupled with a ban on coming out with any debt whatsoever. We need a leader capable of fundraising as much as any other skill, and that is one way to weed out poor fundraisers. The debt lesson is a hard learned one as some of the last round of leadership candidates still have not finished paying theirs off, and I would suggest that to enforce such a no debt requirement, any candidate who still has outstanding leadership debt by the time they reach the convention be excluded from the ballot.

And on the topic of enforcement, you can read my latest presentation, this one to the Guelph Police Services Board on Thursday the 16th on behalf of the Community Volunteer Patrol, an organisation you should get involved with.

And by the way, why do so many drivers not normally get winter tires that requiring them in one province could cause such a massive shortage?

elections environment guelph highways leadership money musings politics transit 1155 words - permanent link - comments: 3. Posted at 10:35 on October 24, 2008

Is the US bailout the largest heist in world history?

I'm baffled by the American reaction to a proposal to buy 5% of the country's entire GDP worth of privately held debt, drive the national debt to over ten trillion dollars -- that's $10^13, or about $1560 for every person on the planet -- and not help a single person that actually needs the help in the process.

With the US deficit already running at half a trillion dollars per year under Conservative-style mismanagement, this move will drive that number up dramatically. With Canada's GDP being about $1.3 trillion, the US deficit this year could well equal 100% of Canada's GDP. Anyone who claims at this point that who is in charge of the government has no bearing on the state of the economy needs to take a good long, hard look in the mirror.

While injecting $700 billion (plus or minus $700 billion) into the economy sounds great, one has to wonder where it will come from, and where it will go to. Near as I can tell, it will come from the people across the country who have lost their homes, and go to the people who took them. But don't worry: the trickle-down effect will save the economy!

Canada has gone from boom to bust in just two years of Conservative government, with only Alberta's oil boom keeping Canada out of a textbook recession. Just a month after taking office, CMHC under Conservative guidance started permitting longer mortgages that would drive Canadians deeper into debt. That has changed very recently, but it shows the mentality currently at the top in this country.

foreign money 275 words - permanent link - comments: 2. Posted at 11:02 on September 26, 2008

Municipal tax revenue issue has been very badly framed

If it were up to me, every politician in the country would be forced to read a copy of Warren Kinsella's book, "The War Room" before being allowed to seek office. Getting an accurate message out early and clearly is terribly important, lest your opponents define the issues for you. Locally, this is evidenced by a raging debate over a proposed 6.5% "tax increase" for 2009 in Guelph. As I argue in today's column, with ever rising propertly value and the end of MPAC's evaluation freeze, calling this a tax increase is at minimum a misnomer. Had it been phrased, far more accurately, as: "We anticipate that tax revenues will rise approximately 6.5% on rising property values, which is in line with our increased costs", the necessary rise in revenue would be logical rather than controversial.

I don't know my exact tax rate right now. My tax bill does not show my taxes as a percentage of property value, which is something that should be corrected. Based on my total tax bill (municipal + education) for this year, and my property evaluation, my effective tax rate for 2008 appears to be 1.36%. With MPAC's evaluation freeze gone, I can expect my house to rise as much in value on MPAC's rolls as it has on the open market. Based on that and a conservative estimate of what my house will be worth under this year's MPAC numbers, and a 6.5% increase in how much the municipality needs from me to provide me its services, my tax rate should drop to 1.21%.

You know what that is? It is a tax cut of 12% for 2009. And that's ignoring population (taxbase) growth, which would make that cut even more dramatic. If we had never had the evaluation freeze, our evaluations would have been rising at about the same speed as our tax revenue demands for the last few years, and that trend would be continuing. Is that not what sound fiscal management by our city leadership is?

There seems to be a feeling among some residents that tax revenue should never go up. Had we instituted such a policy, say, 30 years ago, what services could we still afford as a city? Our population was somewhere around half its current size and the city's tax revenue would be a fraction what it is today, but today's city would still have today's demands. Would we have a municipal water system, with our 30-year-old tax revenue freeze? Not likely, that's increasingly expensive as we overburden the water table that feeds us. How about a police force? Well, there's the provincial police nearby... Fire service? What's the point, we don't have any water. Trash collection? Forget it! Potholes? Leave them there, they're the best part of the roads that have not been upgraded since 1978! City Library? Well, we'd need to keep that so people could read about what the City was like before people got the idea that it could function without any tax revenue.

It seems to me that the people demanding no tax revenue increases whatsoever are the same people who complain bitterly when their city parks are not maintained, potholes are not filled, or community-damaging developments are not approved. There is this disconnect prevalent where people fail to understand that the purpose of a tax is to allow our city, and our society, to function. It is how we pool our ever increasing shared costs. Taxes are not a sinkhole into which our money falls, never to be seen again. Taxes, as unpleasant as they are to pay, are the grease that keeps our society moving. I pay my taxes with the same pride with which I use the services they provide me.

When people demand that the city "sharpen their pencils" and look for numerous small cuts to the budget, what they are really asking is for services to be cut. But ask which ones should be cut, and suddenly they go very very quiet. More importantly, even if we were to cut our services by, say, 10% this year, the cost for the remaining services will still rise by however many percent next year and we will be in the same place we are today, with fewer services to show for it.

The proposal from staff is to raise revenues by 6.5% to keep up with expenses rising at the same rate, they are not proposing to raise our tax rates.

Anyway, today's column.

Municipal tax a function of value

Are city staff proposing to raise taxes by 6.5 per cent, or are they proposing to raise revenue by 6.5 per cent? There is an important distinction.

As our property values continue to rise throughout Guelph, our taxes as a percentage of our property value may in fact be dropping. Federal and provincial tax revenues rise as the economy grows, yet no one claims that those taxes went up. Tax rates on income and spending remain the same, but the value of the economy rises, and so do the revenues and costs associated with providing tax-supported services.

Outside my home in south-end Guelph I have a passable road. It was kept clear of snow through the winter. It is equipped with a sewer system. My trash was collected last week and will be again tomorrow. Potable water flows into my home. Police patrol and firefighters respond to my neighbourhood.

There is a well-maintained public park across the street from me. City buses now pass three times per hour.

What do all these things have in common?

They all require the use of motor vehicles. All of those vehicles require fuel. All that fuel has to be paid for. And, of course, the cost of fuel has gone up as much for the municipal government as for the rest of us. Why, then, are some citizens upset at the city for proposing to increase tax revenue by 6.5 per cent for 2009 to keep up these services?

Have our personal expenses gone up any less? The price of fuel has more than doubled over the last few years while the price of crude has quadrupled. Food prices are flying. The cost of a home in Guelph has shot up dramatically, my own rising approximately 50 per cent in value since I bought it in 2002. Our expenses are rising faster than our income. We know this. It is the precursor of what may be a serious recession.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC)'s 2006 property evaluation freeze is now over. Our homes will be reassessed by MPAC and our 2009 taxes will be based on these new assessments. The assessed value of many of our homes will skyrocket. That may allow our tax rate to drop as a percentage of the value of our property. If expenses go up but our tax rate drops it could be argued that our council is actually remarkably fiscally responsible.

The newspapers illustrate annual tax numbers by showing a hypothetical dollar value rise for each resident, rather than showing those same numbers as a percentage of our ever-rising property values. Our federal and provincial tax revenues also rise in dollars, but their rates do not.

We should be measuring our municipal taxes on that same basis -- as a tax rate rather than as a dollar value.

If, after considering this real measure of our increased wealth and obligations, we still wish to lower our taxes, then we each have to do our own part. We cannot expect the municipal government do it all.

Rather than complain, we can do lots of little things to lower taxes by the honest measure of municipal taxes as a percentage of our city's value. Here are a few ideas:

For one, drive less. As a car owner, I am as tempted to use my car as anyone else, but have been disciplining myself to make more frequent use of city buses, VIA Rail, and my bicycle. Roads are the single biggest expense we have, a free service that costs a lot. Road and boulevard maintenance and construction alone amounts to around half of this year's budget increase, and accounts for some $40 million per year of the city's budget.

Use less water. This could reduce the number of new wells the city needs to drill, and the amount of water that needs to be treated on the way into and out of our homes.

Organize trash so that the trucks don't have to stop every 15 metres, saving time and fuel. We could perhaps have our recycling and compost collected only every second week, as our clear bags are.

Get involved constructively. Identify where you feel the city is spending too much and suggest alternatives.

If you do not want your property taxes to increase as fast as your other expenses, identify which city services and what city infrastructure you would rather do without, and see if others agree. This is something we can do together as citizens of Guelph.

Consider the true ramifications of tax revenues not keeping up with the services the City of Guelph provides.

The city's expenses are going up as fast as our own, and we need only look to ourselves for the solutions.

To paraphrase former U.S. president John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: ask not what your city can do for you -- ask what you can do for your city.

columns guelph leadership money 1580 words - permanent link - comments: 4. Posted at 09:32 on July 09, 2008

High Speed Rail link in Windsor-Quebec City corridor is premature

There has been a lot of talk lately about putting in a high speed passenger rail system in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, especially between Toronto and Montreal. Earlier this week, Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and Quebec premier Jean Charest held a joint news conference in Montreal at which McGuinty asked: should we be investing in the 401 or in high speed rail along that corridor? "I know what my kids would answer," he concluded. Their hearts are certainly in the right place, and I would not object to the successful completion of any such project, but I believe a high speed link in the corridor is premature and risks being a huge waste of money that sets rail transit back. My three main concerns are: 1) We have to walk before we can run. 2) Rail's primary competition is the automobile, not the airplane. 3) A major failure in this project could hobble passenger rail service improvements in Canada for yet another generation.

1) We have to walk before we can run.

Right now, Via rail is underfunded, overpriced, and hopelessly inadequate in most of the country. The lack of any rail service to some of Canada's largest cities is downright embarrassing for our country. The hub-and-spoke nature of the network means point to point service between Waterloo region and Brantford or Hamilton, Sarnia and Windsor, or outside the corridor between Calgary and Edmonton is non-existent, though freight tracks directly connect all of these. For example, to take a train from Guelph to Hamilton requires a transfer in Toronto, but there are no sensibly scheduled connections for the VIA-to-GO transfer required, though tracks exist that directly connect Guelph and Hamilton downtowns.

There are many trains running each day between Toronto and Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, and Ottawa and Montreal. Between the three routes, approximately 30 trains run each day. But a round trip from Guelph to Ottawa for one person, booked well in advance with "super-saver" discounts, costs $159.60, which is more than driving costs for one person. Make that a last minute booking or a whole family, and the cost for taking the train is astronomical.

2) Rail's primary competition is the automobile, not the airplane.

Is speed the biggest issue for travellers getting between the cities, or is cost, access, and frequency of service?

Between travel to the airport and delays inherent in flying, taking the train between Montreal and Toronto is already comparable in speed. It is also comparable in price. Some people take the train, some people take the plane. But the frequency of service favours the plane. The cost as noted above for taking either far exceeds that of driving, and that is what we should be striving to fix.

High speed rail, if implemented, will cut a few more minutes off the train trip and may even make it over-all faster than flying between the cities. What it will not do is make taking the train any more affordable or easy to take at the last minute. Concentrating on building a new high speed rail corridor between Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto assumes that everyone wants to get between those points and thus the only competition is between airplanes and trains.

The real adversary for the train, though, is the car. I would love, for example, to take the train to visit my family. I simply cannot. Trains get me most of the way there, stopping around 100 km short, cost more than twice as much as driving, take longer -- not because of the time between Toronto and Montreal, but because of the time from Guelph to Toronto, the transfer, and Montreal to the Laurentians, which has to be done by bus. It is not that rail service cannot go there. Like most of the country, the tracks spanning the Laurentians from Mont Laurier, 138.2 miles to the rest of the country's network at Ste-Thrse, near Montreal, were instrumental in developing the region. Rail service even ran there until about 25 years ago. But those tracks are now a biking trail, with an ever-improved freeway nearby. Commuter trains, as of recently, run from Montreal's Windsor Station to St-Jrme, but there is no logical connection from Montreal Central station, where Via trains converge, to Montreal Windsor station, where commuter trains converge. There is simply no rational way to take the train.

Old_Saybrook_31.08.07_7827.jpg
An Acela high speed train passes a Providence and Worcester freight train in Old Saybrook, Connecticut on August 31st, 2007. High speed rail exists in the US' most populous corridor from Boston to Washington, DC, sharing tracks with local freight companies along the way.
3) A major failure in this project could hobble passenger rail service improvements in Canada for yet another generation.

Let's say that we do start building this high speed rail project between Montreal and Toronto. Conventional wisdom is that you would need a new dedicated right of way. 300 km/h passenger trains and 80 km/h freight trains should probably not be sharing the same tracks, although the US east coast corridor Acela high speed system does run on active freight lines. The cost of building this high speed system would be in the many billions of dollars, would require extensive environmental assessments and massive expropriations. 300 km into the 600 km construction between Montreal and Toronto, I can see the project years delayed and billions of dollars over budget. A government will fall on the wasted money and the project will be shelved for an extended period of time. Once this happens, any time anyone brings up rail investment, this project will be brought up as an example of why it is not economical, and the current push for high speed rail will turn out to be one of the most devastating strikes against mass transit this country has ever faced.

But let's think positively for a second. The project goes ahead, only costs the projected $3 billion, is completed on time, and brings the Via trip between Montreal and Toronto from 4 hours to two-and-a-half. What will we have accomplished? Ticket prices will be far above what they are today for the Via trip, and we will have saved 90 minutes per trip. The new infrastructure and disrupted lives will have cost each and every Canadian in the area of a mere $100, a bargain compared to normal highway improvements. But for this, not one citizen anywhere in the country who does not already have rail service benefits in any way whatsoever.

Do we need to invest in our passenger rail network in Canada?

We sure do, but if we do not do it properly, it could set us back generations. Spending billions of dollars to make a slightly accelerated trip between Toronto and Montreal with this proposed high speed rail link does not drive anyone out of their cars. It does not make it easier for families to travel any great distance together without a car. It does not provide service to any places that need it but do not have it. It does not cut the cost of rail compared to road (or air). It really does not accomplish much of anything, and it frankly is not an efficient use of our tax-dollars.

Take those billions that this link would cost, give it all to Via rail for an increased capital and operating budget, and see what we can do. Maybe, just maybe, our rail service will actually improve and expand, and people who do not live in either Toronto or Montreal will be able to get places by train. Consider what Via already can do with the $170 million per year that it is provided as an operating subsidy and imagine what it could do with the minimum 17x that which a high speed corridor alone would cost to build.

What could they accomplish for that money? Consider how far an approximately $0.7 billion 5-year subsidy announced by David Collonette, cancelled by then Voyageur Colonial Bus Lines part-owner Paul Martin, and reinstated by Jim Flaherty, is getting us, albeit almost entirely in the corridor, according to wikipedia:

On October 11, 2007, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced federal government funding of $691.9 million over five years, of which $519 million is capital funding, and the remainder additional operating funding. The capital funding is earmarked to refurbish VIA's fleet of 54 F40 locomotives to meet new emissions standards and extend their service lives by 15-20 years, refurbish the interiors of the LRC coaches, reduce track capacity bottlenecks and speed restrictions in the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor, and make repairs to a number of stations across the network.

The technology to build higher speed rail on our existing infrastructure already exists and would cost a fraction the amount of a dedicated high speed corridor. The United Aircraft Corporation TurboTrain ran between Montreal and Toronto from 1968 to 1982, and although it ran at the same speed as today's Via trains on those tracks, it was proven to be capable of running significantly faster and ran faster than that era's other passenger trains. The UK's network is full of high speed passenger trains that operate on old, curvy, freight tracks without the need for separate corridors. The UK even has freight locomotives capable of going 125mph, faster than our fastest passenger trains, on their existing tracks. It is not necessary for us to invest in a new corridor when we can tweak the existing one for a much lower cost. If we are to build a new corridor, let it be somewhere that does not already have one.

As I put it to a friend of mine on the Bruce Peninsula, "I think rail investment is good, but $3 billion to save a few people a few minutes does not seem sensible when people like you barely remember what a train looks like." It is not the time to build a new high speed corridor to better service the best serviced rail corridor in the country. It is time to make the rail service we already have affordable, useful, efficient, expand it into the many regions of the country that no longer have it, and better service the ones that do. When it comes to rail, we really must learn to walk before we try to run.

money transit 1726 words - permanent link - comments: 4. Posted at 09:26 on June 06, 2008

Every day should be Clean Air Day

The biggest expenses we have in our private lives are, for the most part, our mortgages, our food, and our cars. Tax-wise, our biggest expenses are health-care, education, and roads. If we made our transit systems as free as our road systems, how much money would we each save in both our personal expenses and our taxes? I argue this point in today's column.

We are, generally, perfectly willing to spend as many tax dollars on our roads as we are willing to spend after-tax dollars to buy the cars to run on them. Highway 7 from Kitchener to Guelph will cost $22,000 per commuter. The new parking garages downtown will each cost $30,000 per parking space. The city roads to connect the two will cost several thousand more dollars per user. The emissions from all of the construction and vehicles will send hundreds of people to hospital and cost millions more of our tax dollars.

Real transit solutions will save us plenty of both tax and after-tax dollars. Cars will have their uses for a while yet, getting kids to the doctor and sports practice, buying groceries and large items, getting somewhere in that hurry we always seem to be in. However, if we can address commuting with transit solutions, the automobile's total cost to our society will drop considerably. We are a society that likes getting things for free and we're willing to pay a lot for the privilege.

Our roads are free, but we pay as much as half of our municipal and provincial taxes to build maintain them. Our health-care is free but we pay a significant portion of our federal taxes to fund that, too. We complain about our high taxes, but do nothing to lower our own use of those tax dollars. Making our transit systems free will address all of these.

Transit systems, whether rail, bus, community bicycles or communal cars and taxis, reduce the total number of vehicles on the roads, the total amount of roads needed to handle them, the total effect on air quality and our quality of life. It reduces our total costs at all levels of government, from road and parking maintenance, highway construction, and health-care costs. As we worry about our modal shares and concentrate on a modal shift away from the car, we must try something new. Free transit is better than $.25 transit or $2.00 transit because there is no requirement to have change, tickets, or a bus pass. A major psychological barrier to taking the bus is taken away.

Guelph is currently going in entirely the wrong direction. On July 6th, our bus frequency will increase to 20 minute service, incidentally the level of service we had in 1895, which is good, but our fares will rise by 12.5%, which is bad. At the same time, the city is acknowledging that lowering bus fares encourages ridership by actively encouraging the city's large employers to get bulk bus pass rates of 15% off for their employees. Why? To encourage ridership, decrease costs to the employers for parking, and the city for roads. We already admit that lowering transit fares will save us money, yet we continue to raise them to cover "operating costs". Roads have no such fees. And in case you're thinking it, no, gas taxes don't even come close.

While we're on the topic of increasing bus fares, I must again point out that the amount of revenue raised by increasing transit fares in Guelph will be roughly equivalent to the money the city is losing in revenue from making downtown's street parking free, on an annual basis. Why must we ask our transit riders to pay for downtown parking?

Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I realise that cars are one of the most destructive forces in the history of our society. I say that as a car owner and driver, as lazy as they come, barely willing to walk beyond the end of my own driveway, whose eyes have opened only recently. That's the crux of the issue, really. Why is it that the only place modern man is willing to walk is the gym? And I don't mean to get there.

The automobile has broken us. It is a device I am slowly weaning myself from. I haven't quite figured out how to do it cold turkey, and as the most heavily subsidised means of transit around, there's very little incentive to break away from it. Although neither I nor my wife use a car to get to work -- I work at home, and she takes the bus, we depend on it for everything else. This past weekend I finally bought myself a new bike to replace the one I've had since 10th grade, which has been sitting in my shed since -- you guessed it -- the day I got a car. My project over the next while is to use my bike to help eliminate the need to own a car, though I suspect the need to use it, with the help of short term car rentals, will be years yet to completely resolve.

If we make our transit systems free to use, my contention is that we will save money as taxpayers and as individuals in nearly every industry and aspect of life. The city of Guelph spends nearly 7x as many tax dollars on its roads as on its transit, and around 4x as many tax dollars on roads as Guelph Transit gets in ticket and advertising revenue. That is to say, Guelph spends 4 years of free transit on roads every year. One transit operator I proposed free transit to warned that busses would become full of homeless people, but could give no other arguments why it might be a bad idea. Making transit free is all about providing options for transit that are, quite simply, better than the options for driving.

We start this trend by addressing the most significant replaceable use of cars: commuting. While I believe that people have a moral obligation to live as close to work as practical, addressing the 10,000 people or so who pass each other to work next to each other's homes between Guelph and Waterloo region is a much longer term project. Transit is something we can implement in the short term.

We have already proven the viability and usefulness of making transit free. Every year, Guelph celebrates Clean Air Day by making its busses free for all to ride. That day is approaching. This year, it lands on Wednesday, June 4th, in the middle of our Commuter Challenge. If making transit free contributes to clean air on Clean Air Day, why wouldn't it year-round? Making transit free could make every day Clean Air Day.

Driving costs us. It costs us car ownership, maintenance, fuel, insurance, road construction, road repair, parking structure, land use, health concerns, accident recovery, and environmental impacts from particulate and emitted matter in the construction, delivery, and operation of our cars and our roads. I would estimate that 1/3 of every dollar you spend in your life will have something to do with driving. Transit pools all of these costs for all of us and reduces them all around. Really, moving away from the automobile is more an economic argument than an environmental one. Like businesses "going green" save money, so too will our society.

On a closely related issue, drive-thrus have recently surfaced as an important issue to local residents. Many residents swear by drive-thrus, stopping on their way to or from work for a coffee or burger fix, or at the drive-thru bank machine for cash. Many other residents warn of the environmental consequences of idling vehicles. But my perspective is different from both of these. I believe drive-thrus are a symptom of a problem rather than a problem in their own right. On her excellent new blog, Mayor Farbridge recently asked for feedback on this issue. I replied: "the only real difference between the pollution and emissions from a car idling in a drive-thru and one passing it on the road is the optics of it. On the whole, the one driving is the problem. Solve that and the one getting coffee resolves itself." That is, if these transit solutions are implemented, drive-thrus will be as obsolete as the cars that drive through them.

For those concerned about the loss of jobs in the auto sector with a shift toward transit, I would not worry too much about that: a transit-based society's only unemployed people will be auto industry lobbyists. The auto sector's employees will be needed in a big way to build and operate our transit infrastructure. Yes, infrastructure, not service.

Here, then, is my column on the topic from today's paper, which started its first draft as a "what changes would I try to push through if I were on city council". The half not about transit will become another post.

Public transit: if you love it, make it free

Is our public transit system a service or is it really an integral component of our infrastructure?

Without including provincial investment in such projects as the new Highway 7 or the Hanlon Expressway upgrades, Guelph currently spends nearly seven times as many tax dollars on road maintenance and parking as we do on our public transit network.

Road and parking construction and maintenance will cost Guelph taxpayers more than $46 million in 2008 alone. This is the true culprit behind our constant tax increases, like next year's projected 6.5 per cent rise.

It's not the fault of the paltry investment of a few hundred thousand extra dollars into our bus system.

Our city councillors can fix this disparity, but they have to know that we will not turf them and return the Reign of Error to office if they take bold, necessary, but hard-to-sell measures.

That means you and I have to make it clear that we are ready. The most bold measure Guelph should try - and it is not without precedent around the world - is to make Guelph Transit's buses free for residents to ride. As radical and simple as the idea sounds, it should save tax dollars in the long run.

Free transit would increase ridership and alleviate stress on our road network, eliminate the need for huge new parking structures, and encourage developments built around transit instead of around the car.

The one day that transit was free last year, on Clean Air Day, ridership rose to 22,000 from 15,000. That represents a lot of cars not driving on our roads.

Our transit system should be considered and treated as infrastructure rather than as a service. As infrastructure, extending our transit system to new developments would be a cost associated with development charges as is the case for road construction, sewer and water lines, and our power grid.

Funding transit expansion through development charges would encourage transit-friendly developments as developers seek ways to save money. Public transit is no less an integral part of our city's operations than any other aspect of our infrastructure.

If the Toronto Transit Commission's recent strike and Queen's Park's rapid response -- including a rare Sunday sitting and back-to-work legislation by the start of the next rush hour -- is anything to go by, public transit is clearly a form of infrastructure, not just a service.

Public transit is as important to our infrastructure as our electricity, our running water and our roads. All these elements together are what allow our community to function. We should declare public transit as part of our infrastructure, even if no one else has.

While we are getting that sorted out, we must focus on intercity transit and the importance of the former Lafarge property in any vision of our transit future.

City staff assured a business audience at the city's recent Transit Forum there is no legal reason we cannot run our city buses beyond city limits. Having our transit system connect to Waterloo's by bus, and eventually by light rail, is essential to the future viability of Guelph as an employment centre.

Highway 7 and the Hanlon upgrades from south of the 401 to north of Guelph will likely cost more than $600 million provincial tax-dollars over the next few years.

That huge sum does not even count the billions that the GTA West highway corridor proposal will cost, which proposes to connect the top of the Hanlon directly to the 407.

If we put that kind of money into inter-regional transit infrastructure, we would likely eliminate the need for those new highways altogether.

Guelph has to lead this charge, no one else will do it for us.

With GO Transit's recent announcement it's exploring a return of GO train service to Guelph that may not initially extend to Waterloo Region, the former Lafarge property will show itself to be essential as our transit terminal area for car connections, with the Carden Street transit hub for bus and pedestrian connections in and out of the city.

Securing this land, now in private hands, will take leadership, guts, and investment on the part of our city. It will require us to consider public transit as a critical part of our infrastructure rather than being viewed as little more than a service that other people use.

Making public transit free will ultimately reduce our taxes.

columns environment essays guelph money transit 2245 words - permanent link - comments: 3. Posted at 08:50 on May 26, 2008

Final Hanlon workshop and related thoughts

Last night marked the third and final MTO Hanlon workshop studying the proposed improvements to provincial Highway 6 through Guelph. I am a bit disappointed with the results, but happy that changes are likely to be made to the official plan. My position on the upgrades remains that if we had adequate investment in non-road infrastructure, road infrastructure wouldn't be in such dire need of upgrades, but I'll get to that.

The evening started at 6pm with the usual collection of sandwiches, drinks, and cookies piled up on a table at the end of the rather small room. In the initial and final socialising time I was playfully chastised by my several of my elders for my comment last week about being "far and away" the youngest person present. I welcome the news that so many of my peers are reading these entries, but I digress.

During the session, each of the four tables was provided with the plans that each of the four groups came up with last week and given some time to look over and comment on each of the other's proposals.

All four tables' proposals had two basic features in common: Stone Rd interchange was substantially reduced and turned into a single loop on the west side, and a diamond interchange on the east side of the Hanlon, and a service road of some form was present to Kortright/Downey. College Ave was not provided with an exit or service road on any of the proposals. My table's proposal of a roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright was coolly received by our peers though I believe it is the best approach, eliminating one set of traffic lights completely, and smoothening traffic flow at that interchange. Traffic there is mostly limited to local traffic, so getting used to a roundabout is not a significant problem, as some people believed, though it is more expensive than some other approaches as it requires a significant span over the interchange.

Ultimately a consensus formed between the tables and I predict that the resulting "preferred plan" will contain a two-way service road tacked onto the 90-degree curve on Woodland Glenn from Downey to a reduced interchange at Stone Rd. I am not sure whether we accomplished this as a workshop, or if MTO was planning this scale-back regardless. I don't expect ever to know the answer to that. At the start of workshops two weeks ago, we learned that the Stone Rd extension to Highway 24 has been nixed by the city, negating the need for a huge 6-lane overpass at Stone and full interchange. That change allows for Stone to not be diverted southward, and the interchange ramps to be fewer in number and smaller in scale. That in turn allows for the service road that was nearly universally desired.

I am not really satisfied with the results of the workshops, though I accept them as legitimate. Not everyone is going to be happy with such a process, but MTO can say, accurately, that the community was consulted and this is the result that they were given. I note that repeated questions throughout the workshops about air quality were never satisfactorily answered by the MTO. I am told that the city's air quality monitor is in Exhibition Park, a large park set well back from the Hanlon in a relatively low density part of the city, and that air quality baseline studies for the Hanlon have not been done to ascertain what effect the Hanlon changes will have on the air we breathe.

The biggest question for me remains: when is a highway finished? At what point will we look at this highway and say: it doesn't need any further work. One of the gentleman from the MTO at my table was politely annoyed by comments at another table that we needn't save room to eventually expand the Hanlon to 8 lanes, which would force MTO to look for a new corridor sooner. I challenged him on this point, saying more capacity would be necessary, but more highway capacity was not. Once we are done this upgrade, we are going to upgrade Clair to the 401, 401 to Freelton, Wellington to Woodlawn, and Woodlawn to highway 6 well north of town. 2 of those sections require entirely new rights of way to construct. When will we call it finished?

We are going to have to change our approach to highway construction to divert more travellers to mass transit sooner or later. To do that, we have to start somewhere, and the collective resistance to starting that process is troubling to me. We will never accomplish it by injecting millions of dollars into highways when the alternative solutions are a small fraction of the cost. GO Transit's recent announcement to work toward all-day service in Guelph is refreshing and definitely the right track, but the level of investment of that compared to the GTA West highway corridor proposal, Hanlon upgrades, new highway 7 and so forth is essentially insignificant.

My challenge, for the moment, to us is this: let's call transit "infrastructure" instead of a "service", and let's put one tax-dollar into transit for every tax-dollar we put into our roads, parking, and highway systems. In Guelph, from our city budget -- excluding these upgrades -- that looks something like this...

The 2008 operating budget of the City of Guelph is $143,454,237 net.

The 2008 capital budget of the City of Guelph is $32,464,901 net.

Of that $175,919,138, $7,840,051, or about 4.5%, is our net expenditure on transit in the city's budget.

Our net expenditure on roads and parking is more difficult to ascertain.

A chart in the city's capital budget suggests that we are spending $117,718,000 over 10 years on new road construction, mostly funded by developer charges, and $128,720,000 over ten years, entirely funded by the taxpayer on capital investment in current roads, for a total of $246,438,000 on capital road investments in that time period, of which $155,537,000 is directly funded by tax-dollars. The 2008 specific numbers with development charges removed show $8,680,000 tax-dollars for expansion and $12,870,000 for non-growth capital investment in Guelph roads. The parking budget shows a capital expenditure of $16,910,000 on parking in 2008. Together, our capital investment on roads and parking is $38,460,000 in 2008. The keen eye will note that that number exceeds 100% of the capital budget for the year. That is because the parking investment of $16,910,000 shows up as a capital expenditure in a separate document called the "user-pay" budget as opposed to the "capital" budget. I am no accountant so how all these things glue together is not entirely clear to me.

Our operating budget for roads consists of $3,740,800 in roadway maintenance, $1,621,300 in boulevard maintenance, $748,200 in roadway drainage, $2,010,000 of traffic signal maintenance, and $113,100 in traffic investigations which mostly consists of adult crossing guards and traffic counters. Our operating budget for roads and directly related expenses is thus $8,233,400 for 2008.

Therefore the total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for roads in 2008 is $46,693,400. The total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for transit in 2008 is $7,840,051. That doesn't count provincial road investment in Guelph, namely highways 6 and 7.

My bet is that road costs will drop faster than transit costs rise, if we start shifting where we spend our money. As such, aside from the environmental benefits, it should be possible to lower our taxes by raising our investment in public transit. By calling transit "infrastructure" rather than "service", new developments can and should be responsible for paying for the extension of transit systems into their development areas as part of the development charges. Having development charges provide for transit would also encourage transit-friendly development as that would be a way of minimising that cost for a developer.

So there you have it. I am happy that the community was able to come together on some kind of agreement for the Hanlon improvements at Kortright, Stone, and College, but I am disappointed that we are not, collectively, looking at the bigger picture and looking for ways to get us out of our cars rather than facilitating this addiction we nearly all have.

environment guelph highways money transit 1380 words - permanent link - comments: 4. Posted at 14:36 on May 14, 2008

MTO/Guelph Hanlon workshops show divisions, unity

Yesterday's MTO Hanlon workshop lasted around 7 and a half hours, which is a long time for any citizen to be locked up with any government ministry other than perhaps Correctional Services.

We started off by individually organising flash-cards into our orders of priority. They were, in no particular order: Applied Environment, Social Environment, Cultural Environment, Access, Traffic Flow, Cost, Constructibility, and Natural Environment. After extensive discussion and game-like activities, the whole room came to a sort of consensus that Social Environment, Natural Environment, Access, and Traffic Flow were the priorities, with Constructibility, Cost, Cultural Environment, and Applied Environment not being major considerations.

The sharpest division at my table in the early going was between making Natural Environment or Traffic Flow the highest priority. My preference was for the environment for the simple reason that roads are kind of irrelevant without a functional environment, and any changes to the MTO's plan has to take the environment as a key consideration. To that end, of course, I registered my objection to upgrading the Hanlon at all, when we have far more cost-effective alternatives. For the cost of these few interchanges, for example, we could more than double passenger rail service through Guelph, or make Guelph Transit free for half a decade, without counting the three other sections of the Hanlon that are being upgraded as part of this plan but not yet on the table for community feedback.

preferred plan
The current "preferred plan".
Red = new construction.
A gentleman at my table told me that he commuted to Waterloo for work for 20 years. If he had to take transit, he said, it would take 3 hours each way, while a car takes only about a half-hour. I told him that we have to build up the transit infrastructure so that businesses move closer to transit because that will be the best thing to do for their business. He replied that we have been doing it this way for fifty years and it will take a long time to undo the car culture we have. I agreed with him, and said to the effect: so let's get going! We have 50 years of car culture damage to undo, but we have to get started. My objection to these upgrades is that we are continuing this 50-year old way of thinking rather than even beginning to fix or undo it.

There seemed to me to be a lot of denial about the declining usefulness of the automobile at the workshop. There is a widespread belief that oil will be replaced by some sustainable alternative fuel and our car culture will be saved. While I think it is possible, if unlikely, I think it entirely misses the point. Even the cleanest cars will have serious emissions in their construction and initial transport. Importing a hybrid from Japan, for example, generates significant emissions from the bunker oil trans-oceanic ships use. The particulate from brake-shoes, tires, windshield washer fluid, and other components of vehicles will still be causing pollution as well.

Far more of a concern to me is the land use demands of a car-based culture. As our population continues to explode, we are eating up some of the best farmland around with the world's most profitable cash crop - single, detached houses, serviced by paved roads and accompanied by chemically dependent lawns. While single detached houses are very attractive to people, including myself, they are in no way sustainable with a growing population. The flip side to that is that if our population stopped growing completely, our existing way of life would probably be completely and permanently sustainable and at that point I would be perfectly willing to support highway improvements because they would not lend to increased traffic, only increased efficiency for the existing traffic.

Each new development brings with it more cars. More cars bring more demand to the highways. More demand to the highways bring us to more congestion. More congestion brings us to improved highway design. Improved highway design without any foresight brings us to these workshops. The Hanlon was built with 4 lanes and intersections at grade, with plans to build full interchanges and upgrade the highway to at least 6 lanes. The right of way itself is wide enough for quite a few more lanes than even that.

For myself and the few other members of the workshop who would actually admit it, how to go about suggesting highway improvements is a difficult balance. The balance is between being a driver, a local resident, and a thinker. As I have said in the past, as a driver, paving over the entire province to allow me to drive anywhere in a straight line has its appeal. As a resident, gut-reaction NIMBYism strikes where there is a desire to have fewer cars go through my backyard, as opposed to the thinking side of the balance, where there is an implicit understanding that highway construction as we currently do it must end. There must be fewer cars in all our back yards -- not just mine.

So as a participant in the workshops, what does one do to balance this?

For me it was fairly simple. I made it clear to the participants at my table, at least, that improving our highway will only serve to give us more cars. The improved highway will facilitate more transient traffic, obstructing Guelph residents' own ability to travel within the city. I noted, as I have many a time before, that the MTO, city staff, and other such planners do an excellent job within the parameters they are given by our political leadership, who in turn are given direction by you and me, the voter. Change away from these highway improvements and toward real improvements has to start with us telling our politicians to direct our planners accordingly. But I also conceded that this highway is likely to be upgraded and, with my objections on the record, I would do what I could to propose an alternative design for the highway beneficial to the goal of improving the highway.

In my view, if the highway is going to be improved anyway, the best thing we can do is:

1) Keep its speed down -- although as a driver that irks me. As another participant noted: how fast do you drive through other peoples' communities? Having an 80 km/h limit instead of a 100 km/h limit on our city's internal highway shortens exit ramps, and allows us the possibility of not cutting off as many parts of our community. It also allows improved fuel efficiency, something that is going to become a very serious issue in the short term, as it was shortly after this highway was originally built in the first Energy Crisis

2) Ensure access to all roads that currently connect to the Hanlon. The MTO's plans call for creating a commuter-only interchange at Kortright, that is, an interchange that only points away from the city, and cutting off College Avenue completely. While the right of way is large enough for a service road that would rectify this, there are no such plans to do so. The workshops gave us the opportunity to put those back on the table.

3) Minimise land use and the expropriation of peoples' homes. One resident of Old Hanlon Rd. whose house is scheduled to be expropriated and demolished to make way for an exit ramp was in attendance largely to get a sense of when his period of limbo would end, a position I cannot even begin to imagine myself in.

As each group presented draft plans, I was given a chance to present my idea, which differed, as it always seems to do, with that of everyone else present. But unlike the consensus plans reached in the room by day's end, which essentially looked like the MTO's preferred plan with two exit ramps removed and a service road added between Stone and Kortright, completely eliminated the Stone Parclo ("partial cloverleaf interchange") without endangering pedestrian crossings or cutting off any roads.

alternative plan
My approximate proposed alternative plan.
Green = new construction.
Red = existing Hanlon.
Blue = existing relevant roads.
My plan, seen here (click on the image to show the enlarged version), is to have an exit ramp between College and Stone heading southbound that either climbs over or dives under the Hanlon to cross over to the east side of the highway to meet up with the northbound on-ramp in a 4-way intersection on Stone. The ramp would continue as an entrance ramp onto the Hanlon by crossing back over the Hanlon south of Stone and re-merging on the west side, with the lane forking and connecting up to a grade-separated roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright. This construction would allow north-side access to and from Kortright, which would be eliminated under current MTO plans diverting a good deal of traffic over roads that can't handle it, have a traffic-light free flow allowing reduced sight lines and a smaller land use footprint at Kortright, and more importantly, would allow Old Hanlon Rd. to not only be not expropriated and overrun with a cloverleaf, but to be reopened at the Stone Rd. end to act as a service road to connect College Ave to the Stone Rd exit and take traffic off all the curvy residential streets in the area that would otherwise be getting the College Ave and Kortright local traffic. Stone Rd interchange would function essentially as it does today, without backing up the highway. As the Stone Rd extension to highway 24 has been nixed, there was general agreement at the workshops that the Stone Rd interchange could be simplified dramatically from the substantial Parclo A4 that had been planned.

The over/under concept for a service road exit ramp to the opposite side is not without precedent. The idea comes from the document "Protecting The Option For Future Interchanges And Grade Separation In The Hanlon Corridor City Of Guelph", Report #10 of the Guelph Transportation Plan of 1974. According to Plate 2 of this document, this exact setup was originally intended to create a service road between Speedvale and Woodlawn along Lewis Rd.

The only drawback to this plan is the construction of two additional single-lane overpasses or underpasses, which is expensive, but the reduced land use, improved pedestrian safety from altogether avoiding a Parclo, and the elimination of all residential expropriation, as well as allowing essentially full access to all three roads instead of only one, makes it an attractive solution to me, as both a driver and as a resident. If the highway remains the same and the minimum $50 million is put directly into undoing 50 years of damage from this type of construction in the first place, I will be just as happy. As far and away the youngest resident present, I suppose, I am concerned about a longer-range future.

My conclusion from this exercise is that the MTO and the city are concerned about the views of the residents along this corridor. These workshops must have cost the project, and by extension you and me, in the area of $150,000 between the staff time, document preparation, food and facilities, and other expenses. That they would spend that much time and money and not have some intention of listening is somewhat unlikely. Whether they will listen to the proposals, all of which scaled down their plans, demanded a lower speed limit on the highway, and opened access to Kortright, or they react by poking holes in all the proposals, will be clear on the 13th, when the third and final workshop session will take place.

The organisers have promised to take all of our proposals back to their offices and return them to us at that time, drawn to scale, with their assessments as to their feasibility. It took 34 years to get to this point, so I am not entirely sure how they can get that done in just 10 days, but I will be sure to let you know if and when I find out. Meanwhile, I hope the MTO staffers who told me yesterday that they read this blog "to see what the other side is saying" continue to enjoy the dialogue.

environment guelph highways money transit 2047 words - permanent link - comments: 5. Posted at 18:09 on May 04, 2008

The March of the Hanlon Freeway

Last night, I attended the first of three workshop sessions put on by MTO, Guelph city staff, and their design consultants on the topic of the building of interchanges on the Hanlon expressway.

The night was long but is nothing compared to how long tomorrow will be, when the two dozen residents and the planning staff spend the day locked in a room together to allow residents to propose alternatives to their plans for 7 hours. Whether we will be listened to or humoured through this process, only time will tell, but one attendee last night cautioned the organisers that he was not interested in participating in a "dog and pony show". While organisers emphatically denied that this is what it was, the "8 assumptions" put up on the screen at the end of the night seemed to suggest otherwise.

The Hanlon upgrades are most controversial because of the effect they will have of changing the Hanlon from an intra-Guelph highway to an inter-city highway. Of the three interchanges that we are being talked to about, only one and a half will remain under what the designers call their "preferred plan". Kortright Rd will have a commuter-only exit and entrance, facing south. College Ave will have no exit whatsoever and be converted into an underpass. The adjacent roads to the Hanlon expressway that are unable to handle significant traffic and were not designed for the purpose will have to handle the domestic Guelph traffic between the remaining interchange and the city streets that will be cut off.

The general consensus among the residents is that this is not necessary, that interchanges can be built without cutting off all the roads, and that noise levels and particulate levels can be reduced, if the speed limit on the highway remains 80km/h as it is today. There is also a feeling that as gas heads for $2 a litre, the highway upgrades should not be the priority so much as alternate modes of transportation.

In their three hour presentation, the staff told us that the province has put $3.4 billion into transit solutions in the province over the last few years, although they didn't mention how much is going into highways. $1.6 billion had been announced earlier in the day to build a 12 km stretch of highway in Windsor, half a billion dollars are about to be spent on highways in Guelph, and there are a lot more cities with a lot more highway projects throughout the province. Another staff member showed an (incomplete and not completely accurate) rail map of the region with GO lines depicted saying that we are investing in transit, which is true, but that it was a subject for another day, which is not.

A representative from the MTO asserted that there has been no modal shift away from the automobile, and none is projected. Therefore, he said, this highway is necessary. While I will concede that if there are more cars, there will be more roads to accommodate them, I will also note that as we have more roads to accommodate them, there will be more cars. The logic that because there will be more cars there needs to be more highways is both shortsighted and self-fulfilling.

The plans for the highway are not only about upgrading the section near where I live to remove my neighbours' access to it, but it is about extending the highway across the 401 to connect up to Highway 6 south of the 401, to connect it north of Woodlawn to highway 6 north of Guelph, and to connect it to a new divided Highway 7 and GTA West highway corridor at the top of the city. This will turn the expressway from a short highway that helps Guelph citizens get around and in and out of Guelph into a freeway designed to bypass the city. There is a growing sense in the community that the MTO and the province see Guelph as little more than a speed bump on the way to Waterloo region.

I have it on some authority that the organisers of these sessions did not want the press in attendance at this event. Naturally there is nothing more attractive to members of the press, and Magda Konieczna, the Mercury's intrepid city hall reporter, attended the event. At the start of the session, the organiser went around the room getting everyone to introduce themselves. At the end of the introductions, she announced rather unhappily that there was a reporter from the Guelph Mercury in the room. It sounded to me more like a warning to staff than any kind of introduction. About half of Guelph City Council were in attendance as well.

Over the course of the evening, questions were occasionally taken from the floor. The most critical question was about speed limits. There is a near-universal desire to keep the highway to 80 km/h (100 km/h design speeds) through Guelph as I mentioned a moment ago, to allow for more useful interchanges and less noise and air pollution. The question was asked: is lowering the speed limit on the table? Yes of course it is, assured the moderator, while being countermanded by the 5-pound briefing package we had been given and by MTO representatives who seemed to suggest that it was only on the table insofar as we would be told why it was not possible.

Why is it not possible? Well, according to one of the last presenters, it is not possible because drivers are too stupid to handle an 80 km/h speed limit. That's not how he phrased it, but that's essentially what he said. Drivers see a freeway, they expect a 100 km/h speed limit, and therefore that's what we will give them. And so they will continue to expect it. When I asked if the MTO would consider left-hand exits, the reaction was swift and decisive: it's too dangerous to have a left-hand exit. Drivers, I assume, are too stupid to handle those, too, notwithstanding the 403 eastbound to 6 northbound exit or the 40 eastbound to 15 northbound exits in Montreal, or any of the dozens of forks in highways all over the place, all of which are perfectly usable left-hand exits. If he is right and drivers are too stupid to handle our roads, why are we encouraging more of us to drive, anyway?

I also had the opportunity to ask last night when the Hanlon would be finished. That is, at what point will everyone be satisfied that the highway is big enough, long enough, fast enough, and sufficiently inaccessible that we can call it completely and totally done? My question was met with a blank stare. Indeed.

environment guelph highways money transit 1125 words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 08:42 on May 02, 2008

Guelph throws another $126,000 at free parking

This time it's in presumed lost revenue from parking tickets for parking overnight on city streets, if that's any comfort. A rough tally of what we're planning to spend on driving in and around Guelph over the next few years is now at a minimum of $481,312,500.00 of announced programs.

$400,000,000.00 - estimated cost of new Highway 7 between Guelph and Kitchener.
$50,000,000.00 - estimated minimum cost of Hanlon upgrades (only between Clair and Wellington, three other sections will be upgraded/built in the near future).
$30,000,000.00 - estimated minimum cost for two 500-stall parking garages downtown.
$686,500.00 - approximate lost revenue to the City from having free 2-hour parking downtown during business hours.
$126,000.00 - lost parking ticket revenue from allowing overnight parking without calling 836-PARK for permission, for the next six months, added to the list at last night's council meeting.

For reference, Guelph Transit has a budget of $18,155,960.00 this year, of which $10,315,909 is projected to come from fare and other revenue (such as on-bus advertising), for a net expense of $7,840,051 taxdollars this year (according to page 24 of the City's budget). All things being equal, our general subsidies into cars in Guelph and area (not counting things like existing road maintenance) over the next couple of years would allow the various levels of government that are currently preoccupied paving over the region to make riding the bus free by paying all of Guelph Transit's revenue -- for approximately 46 years. Incidentally, that's only slightly more than the number of years of monthly bus passes each parking space in the new parking lots will cost.

So effective is our road investment in Guelph that to attend the council meeting last night, in which Council agreed to give up our dependency on $126,000 of revenue from violating our parking laws, that I needed to drive the 6 km from my home to City Hall. I could have taken the bus, of course, but with Guelph's ingenious 40-minute peak-hour service, I'd have had to leave over an hour earlier than I did to arrive on time for council's sitting.

Canadian Auto-Workers Union, take note! Guelph is doing its part to ensure more cars get and stay on the road.

guelph money musings transit 378 words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 17:20 on April 29, 2008

More broken thinking on parking

Guelph's downtown parking system used to pay for itself, and be stable and sufficient. Last fall, a pilot project was introduced to provide free 2-hour parking (after which you have to leave, not pay) at most meters downtown. The city estimates it is losing $700,000 this year as a result.

There has been little mention of how this has impacted downtown business' bottom lines or the city's property tax revenue from the core, both of which would certainly be enlightening. We are feeding money into downtown. Are we getting a return on our investment?

The city's immediate reaction to the loss of $700,000 in parking revenue is two-fold. The first is a proposal to raise transit fares to increase revenue by around $500,000 per year. While the official reason is to keep transit fares as uncompetitive as those of our neighbours, it seems to be mostly off-setting the cost of free parking downtown. This free parking downtown means that more people are going to go by car than by bus, and we clearly need to fund this through increased transit fares.

The second reaction is to wonder what to do to create more parking spaces. The answer seems to be to build approximately 800 net new spots at a cost of $30,000,000, about $250 for every man, woman, and child in Guelph, in the form of 2 500-stall parking garages built on existing parking lots.

The City's parking pass fees have not gone up over the last several years either, while bus fares have risen from $1.50 to $2 per trip, an increase of 33%.

The City commissioned a study of residents' reaction to downtown's free parking and found that making parking for free is very popular. This isn't at all a surprise, and should not be used as an argument to make more parking free longer, as it only perpetuates the vicious circle we are in. The trouble, though, seems to be that our politicians still have to get elected, and unpopular decisions, even if they are the right thing to do, are very difficult to make.

Given all this, I have to ask, is Guelph ever going to start "Making a Difference"? Parking lots, low fees, and high bus fares certainly aren't any different from last century, but our City's official new motto says we're going to try. My challenge to Guelph is this: let's start "Making a Difference" by putting transit fares and parking fees on a level playing field. Shall we?

guelph money transit 420 words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 11:12 on April 18, 2008

$15 million parking lot a curious approach to planning for the future

My third crack at challenging our fundamental assumptions when it comes to travel and transit issues is in today's Guelph Mercury. My editorial board column comparing our parking investment to what it could do for transit is below, along with a whole lot more thoughts that did not make the cut into the version I submitted on account of space constraints.

First, I have a lot of respect for our current city council. In my view, they generally do the right thing. That is why I am so surprised that it would be this council that would drop a $30,000/stall parking lot in our laps. The mayor has explained her position on the Ward 2 councillors' blog. I highly recommend taking a read.

The way I see it, we are getting 500 parking spaces downtown -- at a cost of around $30,000 a stall -- at Baker St lot/housing/library regardless. I do not think we need 500 stalls much less 1,000 vertical parking spaces at that kind of price. Not to mention that those 1,000 spaces are not a net improvement in our parking situation - both Baker and Wilson St lots replace existing parking lots, so the total number of gained spots is closer to 700 between them, which substantially raises the price per stall in terms of cost per net new space, to well above the official numbers. Indeed, as a commenter on this site said a couple of weeks ago, I am not entirely sure why government is in the parking business in the first place. It is neither the most economical nor the most environmental solution for moving people.

I disagree that new parking garages are even a step in the direction of preparing to fight urban sprawl. Facilitating more cars does not discourage people from wanting single detached homes on what was the year before the site of a perfectly good forest or farm field at the outskirts of town. It makes those more attractive. If our goal is to encourage people to move into our downtown -- a laudable goal worth pursuing -- then we should seek creative new solutions that will encourage people to live downtown who will not own cars. If parking is not increased, but transit is made free, as I propose in my article, the type of people who will move to Guelph are the type of people who believe in transit and see leadership in this city, and their arrival would cause this effect to be self-perpetuating.

If I assume for a moment that the urgency of this parking garage is in reaction to my presentation last month warning of massive parking shortages for the pending transit hub and the need to set aside Lafarge lands for that purpose, there are two key points that need to be made. 1) 500 spots in a lot two blocks from the station will not last two months once GO trains arrive, and 2) If those parking spaces are to offset inter-regional transit parking demands, they will not be available for either downtown residents or downtown business. I am all for building parking to drive people out of their cars, but I do not believe that this lot will achieve that.

If we must have short term parking solutions, then we should make them short term. The city is already planning to turn one block of Carden St. into a one-way street to make way for angle parking. My question is: why not do this to the rest of downtown, as well? The other side of Carden St. until the arrival of the Transit Hub, Cork, Quebec, and Suffolk streets, could all be converted to one way with angle parking, each adding a significant number of parking spaces for minimal cost and maximal reversibility.

When the city's busses move from their current home at St. George's Square to the site of the Via station next year, if the plans go through, Wyndham could be switched to two lanes with angle parking for most of its length, including the large section in the downtown core where no parking exists at all today. This works for Macdonell.

That is all on the assumption that we want more parking downtown, which some people clearly do. But at the very least, going mostly one-way to make way for angle parking would cost a whole lot less than building apartment buildings designed to provide lodging for cars rather than for families.

What I would really like to see, though, is our bus system improved to the point that it can compete with cars. Will it cost a lot? That depends on what you compare it to. Compared to spending $30 million to build a pair of parking garages that will then need ongoing maintenance -- before inevitably being joined by two more in 20 years or less when we are, once again, completely out of parking and with this current very progressive council long gone, with their opportunity to Make a Difference missed -- transit is not so expensive.

What could we do to improve transit to the point that it is useful enough for, say, city councillors to use it to get to council meeting? Lots of things. Here are a few ideas, based on what would make me inclined to get out of my car and get on the bus.

1) Make riding it free or almost free.

A $58 per month pass for someone like me who telecommutes and only needs to leave the house occasionally, is a waste, but having to keep bus tickets on hand is annoying. The transfer given should be good for the day for any bus route, if we must charge a fare, so that it does not cost another $2 every time I stop to run my next errand on my tour. But there is no need to charge transit fares. The justification for it seems to be that our neighbours do, and not only must we charge fares, but our fares must be comparable to theirs. What we should try, instead, is subsidising our busses as well as we subsidise our roads and parking, and make transit fares free, or close to it.

In the same vein, the city has its free downtown parking pilot project, which, not surprisingly and in spite of excluding the parking meters around the farmers' market, is popular with Guelph's drivers, but I wonder about the wisdom of raising transit fares, as the City plans to do, by roughly the amount the City is losing on downtown's free parking. And I wonder if more people would go downtown if city busses were as free as the parking.

2) Make routes more frequent and direct.

The reality is that if I get on bus number 52, the outer limits of whose route I live on, and want to go downtown, it can take up to 30 minutes for the bus to arrive at the stop next to my house, while I either wait watching NextBus at my computer, or stand out in whatever weather at the sign post designating my stop. Then, it takes 20 more minutes to get to the university, and as much as 15 more minutes to get downtown. We are now almost 65 minutes into the journey, and I have just arrived downtown, a trip that takes about 8 minutes by car. And if I want to go somewhere other than downtown that is not directly on my own meandering, directionless bus route, it can take another half hour to get there.

We have routes designed for University students now that are quick, frequent, and efficient. I took route number 58, a seasonal, rush-hour only route, from my house to the University a couple of weeks ago, and was impressed that it a) came every 20 minutes, and b) only took 7 minutes door-to-door. Why? Because it went straight down Kortright, hung a left on Gordon, and went straight to the University.

3) Reduce the reliance on hub-and-spoke, and work toward point-to-point, bi-directional routes.

We are already on this track. We have the downtown transit hub proceeding, the bus terminal at the University Centre where 6 city bus platforms meet 3 GO bus platforms, the transfer point behind the mall, and the addition of our first bi-directional route, number 70. There are also plans to build new mini-hubs around the city at places like the West End Recreational Centre.

Over the long term, we could plan to further improve our bus system by complementing our existing system to take advantage of the long, skinny shape of Guelph, by running busses the length of Victoria, Gordon, Edinburgh, the Hanlon, and Imperial. We could eventually run an outer ring peripheral route along, roughly, Arkell, Gordon, Clair, Hanlon, Downey, Niska, Whitelaw, Elmira, Woodlawn, Victoria, Grange, Watson, Arkell that connects the ends of all the other routes, both north/south and east/west, call it bus number 360. With those and busses going east/west along major corridors such as Speedvale, Willow, Wellington, College, Stone, and Kortright, we will start getting toward a bus system that really can get anyone anywhere quickly.

If that all sounds expensive, it isn't really. It is more a question of priorities than of money. To calculate the economics of it, consider this: I am told busses each cost approximately $500,000 to buy, and $100,000 per year to operate. For reference, if we take one of the two $15 million parking garages and buy busses with that money, it will buy us 30 of them. Take the other one and we can operate all 30 of those busses for 5 years, without counting fare revenue. And that is before counting cost overruns and maintenance costs on the garage that would instead be diverted to the bus system. With each bus able to carry around 40 people at any given point on their trip, with a lot of trips per day, that should more than make up for the capacity of the lost parking spaces.

4) Connect our bus system to our neighbours.

Guelph's bus system is a decent bus system domestically, but you cannot get out of, or into, Guelph with it. We are on track to fix this, too, with the return of the Transit Hub, but there are other things we can do as well. First off, as I have proposed before, let's run a bus from Guelph's airport to Waterloo's airport via the transit hub, conditionally upon Grand River Transit also running express to Waterloo airport from its three downtowns. This would connect us to Waterloo region in a meaningful way, something that is going to have to happen sooner or later, not to mention that it would provide a transit route to the airports themselves. Canada is quite bad at connecting its airports to transit, a topic I briefly covered a few days ago. I would also eventually like to see that same route extended eastward all the way to Acton or Georgetown to connect to Brampton Transit, which would allow anyone to travel freely between anywhere in or near Guelph to contact points with the GTA. Right now, one can take city busses from Brampton to Oshawa or Stoney Creek, and such a connection would extend the westward limits of that massive transit network.

Ultimately what I would like is a transit system that allows me to give up my car because the transit system is a better option than driving. And we can all do it, if we make the collective decision that our infrastructure investment should be spent the best way possible. There is nothing economical about spending $30,000 per parking space in Guelph, more than the value of most of the cars that will park in it, and enough to buy over a hundred bicycles per stall. Knowing that that many years of my municipal tax-dollars are going to pay for that single parking space will only encourage me to use it.

Without further ado, here is the article.

Don't build parking at expense of transit

There is a parking crunch coming to downtown Guelph. There is no argument about this.

Local businesses are concerned about the loss of parking at the Via station with the construction of the transit hub, parking that is not public to begin with. There are other local trouble spots as well.

According to an article in this newspaper, 93 people are on a waiting list for a parking pass in downtown's parking lots. Our city leadership argues that we need more parking to help bring more people in to live downtown. It is more creative solutions and more leadership, not more parking, that we need to accomplish this.

The city agreed last month, in a surprise move, to spend $400,000 to plan a 500-stall parking garage on the site of the current Wilson Street parking lot, at a cost staff say will be $30,000 per stall. The surprise is that we are studying how to build it rather than whether to build it.

According to the 2006 Guelph-Wellington Transportation Study: "As redevelopment occurs in downtown without increased management of parking, the city will be required to invest in structured parking at $25,000 per stall. Experience elsewhere indicates that it is difficult to recover the money invested in construction and maintenance of a parking structure."

The same study notes a decline of 15 per cent in transit's share of Guelphites' travel, from 6.1 per cent in 1996 to 5.2 per cent in 2001, the years the study examined. In the same period, auto passengers dropped from 19 per cent to 17.1 per cent, with auto drivers picking up the entire difference from both transit and car passengers, rising from 63.3 per cent to 66.3 per cent of all travel within the city.

That approximately 15 per cent relative drop in public transit use between 1996 and 2001 is alarming.

In effect, it means that not only were 15 per cent fewer people taking public transit, but those people are moving to cars and increasing the total number of vehicles on the road, which block and slow down transit buses among their other effects. Where are the studies to explore this trend and its possible solutions?

If we are in need of more parking, it is not because we need more cars: it is because our public transit system is inadequate.

While the study points out that barely one in 20 trips in Guelph is made by bus, two out of three are made alone in a car.

It is time for us to be more creative than we have been over the last half century. It is time for Guelph to start "Making a Difference," as our city's new motto proclaims. If not now, when?

Is spending at least $15 million, the equivalent of the city's revenue from 258,620 adult bus passes, to temporarily accommodate our parking-pass waiting list the right way to go? Is it appropriate for us to fund public transit to the tune of 55 per cent, but parking at a rate of, or near, 100 per cent?

Why do our studies look at how to improve our roads rather than how to improve travel? Where are the studies to tell us why we need to sacrifice the equivalent of 43 years of adult bus passes per driver, spending $30,000 per parking stall, to help them park their cars?

Are we really making a difference by doing so, or are we just letting ourselves off the hook? Where are the studies that focus on public transit solutions?

If downtown business needs new parking spaces, is it not reasonable for downtown businesses to pay for their construction?

Stone Road Mall has more parking than all of downtown's public spaces put together, yet not only are none of those spots paid for by the taxpayer, but municipal taxes are paid on all of the mall's 2,600 parking spaces.

If we take the conservative estimate of $15 million that the Wilson Street parking garage will cost, and instead offer free and improved city bus service, we will soon see how many new parking spaces we actually need downtown.

Do we want to continue with 20th-century concrete solutions that no longer work, or look for 21st-century solutions that will make a difference?

We need to prepare for the transit future that we all know is coming. Building parking at the expense of public transit will not get us there.

columns essays guelph money transit 2762 words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 09:53 on April 12, 2008

The probability of deficit

While the finance minister from the party that has not left office with a budget surplus in over a century accuses the Liberal party of wanting a deficit, I have to ask: has Minister Flaherty got us back in the hole? There is some evidence to suggest that this may already be the case.

In October, the treasury posted a $2.7 billion deficit, down from a $500 million surplus the previous October, which means Flaherty has already given us a real, actual deficit, just not an annual one.

The month of November showed a meager $100 million surplus. Take out the $6 billion a year, or a $500 million/month revenue loss from cutting the GST another point this past January 1st, and you have a recipe for a serious and ongoing deficit.

For the party that has not on its own given us a budget surplus since before the First World War, saying that the Liberals would put us in deficit while the Conservatives have already given us one in October, and are on track to give us one that they would not likely admit to in tonight's budget, is more than a little bit rich. Especially given Jim Flaherty's track record of giving us a deficit of over $5 billion in Ontario.

The federal government may already be cooking the books. There is some suggestion that the federal government is selling Crown office space and leasing it back, feeding the sale money back into our federal numbers. Liquidating federal assets is one way of going into deficit without borrowing any money.

The likelihood that we are back in deficit is, in my estimation, extremely high.

money politics 280 words - permanent link - comments: 9. Posted at 10:24 on February 26, 2008

On cross border shopping and tax cuts

Where is the demand for lower salaries to match US salaries to match the demand for lower prices to match US prices? Why are we borrowing another $60B of interest payments against our future in tax cuts?

Our prices and our salaries are generally related; the money you are paid has to come from somewhere. In order for Canadians' demand that our prices be lowered to match US prices to be met, we will ultimately pay the price in lower Canadian salaries to match US salaries. While it is nice to get a better price by going south of the border, that money is directly leaving our economy and will also ultimately contribute to the lowering of Canadian income. If prices in Canada are lowered to match US prices too quickly and the US dollar recovers from its decline, we will be hurt again by having unaffordably low prices in Canada that consumers will not tolerate being raised. It sounds great in theory and I am not one to shun a better price, but there are greater ramifications to the national price match than just saving a few dollars at the checkout counter.

The one caveat though is if the much-feared SPP's plans include a currency integration, which I do not doubt, then the price and salary match will inevitably come sooner or later. With the dollar where it is at, if we as a country were to collectively convert all our currency to US $ at today's exchange rate as we integrate currencies, we would stand to do mighty well. But then we'd be stuck with an integrated currency, for better or for worse.

Which leads me to finance minister Flaherty's mini budget, which gives us, collectively, $60B more in tax cuts. That brings us to what, $200 billion in tax cuts in the last few years? What could we have done with $200 billion? If it were up to me, we'd have paid off 1/3 of our national debt and used the interest savings of another $10 or $15 billion a year to pay off more of the national debt. Once it's gone, then I'll take my tax cut. Until then, any tax cut is little more than borrowing against our future. Any dollar we don't put against our debt now will be two we have to pay later in interest payments and debt that remains.

When will the current governing generation stop borrowing from ours?

foreign money 415 words - permanent link - comments: 0. Posted at 10:24 on October 31, 2007

Hostile bid for CP Rail could start toppling railway acquisition dominos

Brookfield and Goldman Sachs are apparently preparing a hostile takeover bid for Canadian Pacific Railway, the second largest railway in Canada. If it does this, CP will have no choice but to open bidding to all interested purchasers, and there is one purchaser who will not be outbid. Its name is Union Pacific, the largest railway in the world. And from there, the dominos will fall.

Seven years ago, Canadian National tried to purchase Burlington Northern Santa Fe to make a railway called, simply, North American Railway. The bid was not blocked by the numbers, which worked, but by US regulators who flipped at the possibility of a Canadian railway owning the US' second largest railway. It resulted in Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific discussing a merger in reaction.

If CP is sold, it will almost certainly be sold to its major partner UP. From there, BNSF and CN will almost certainly merge, and the remaining three class 1 railways in the United States, Kansas City Southern, Chessie Seabord, and Norfolk Southern will almost certainly be absorbed by either of the two super-railways created by the other mergers.

From 7 major railways in North America, by this time next year we may have just two remaining. At a guess, a combination of CN-BNSF-CSX (North American Railway) competing with a combination of UP-CP-NS-KCS (Union Pacific).

The result of this is difficult to predict, but when Union Pacific absorbed Southern Pacific and Chicago North Western, the railway went into a near complete meltdown. Similarly, the acquisition by CN of BC Rail a few years ago and the subsequent spate of serious derailments shows that these operations are seldom smooth.

Legislators in both countries need to ask themselves if this is the scenario we want, as we are now on that road.

money 310 words - permanent link - comments: 6. Posted at 10:59 on July 18, 2007

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