The Fault, Dear Brutus

Look, I’m not going to shrug off some $400 million cost overruns in a $2.5 billion project. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money. moneymoneymoneyMoney, in tight budgetary times like ours, that could be put to better use. Another $400 million and those repairs on the Gardiner Expressway would be done in no time.

Nor am I going to defend the TTC’s oversight. Maybe as an organization they aren’t up to the task of managing major infrastructure builds like a subway. Hell, there are days the TTC doesn’t seem capable of simple route management, so yeah. Questions need to be asked about the role the TTC played.

But I’m not going to sit here and listen to easy solutions offered up about how all this could’ve been avoided, the budget blow throughs, the delayed completion time lines. “An entrenched culture of nonaccountability at city hall,” according to Mayor John Tory. You should’ve used an Alternative Financing and Procurement, Premier Kathleen Wynne said. Ahhh, P3s. Is there no problem they can’t solve?

Perhaps both are right. Each has an element that may’ve factored into the mess. Not only are the cost overruns and delays problematic but timely reporting on them seems to be lacking. Who knew what and when? fingerpointingDid the mayor and TTC chair Josh Colle only find out about them when the public did last week?

And as was pointed out by Trevor Heywood at Metroscapes, there is currently another transit project being done here in the city, the Union-Pearson rail link, using an AFP model with no talk of overruns or delays. Was an AFP contemplated for the Spadina subway extension? If so, why wasn’t it implemented? If not, why not?

Still, I don’t think either of these ideas fully explains what’s happened with the TTC and the Spadina subway extension. Both offer up easy explanations for what is clearly a complicated situation. Digging and building underground always will be fraught with unknowns and unexpected problems. You can work in contingencies (as contingencies are in budgeting big public work projects) but, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are known unknowns and then there are unknown unknowns.

In other words, shit happens, yo.

No, I think there are bigger questions and concerns to address with this, especially as we go forward to build more public transit.wantwhatnow

That this happened should really come as no surprise to anyone. The Spadina subway extension was a political transit decision from the outset. The province wanted it, the city less so. As lore has it, the subway was the price the city had to pay to get Queen’s Park to play ball with other transit projects it deemed more pressing. Without the Spadina subway extension, would there ever have been Transit City?

Certainly Toronto couldn’t have been all that happy about the extension of the extension, up 2 stops past York Univeristy into Vaughan. No question that York was in need of some form of rapid transit (whether or not it should be a subway is a good point of conjecture) but the decision to carry on, north past there wasn’t really in the city’s best interests. Yet, here we are.

If the city was so reluctant for this subway, forget the construction costs, concerns about the operational costs of it were present from the outset, how it was going to have to be subsidized like the Sheppard line, taking money from the rest the system to its detriment, why did it agree to build it? Was the option on the table for the city to step back and say to the province, Have at it? You want it? thanksnothanksYou use your precious AFPs to build it.

So was this miscalculation on the TTC’s part or coercion from the province? Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the political (rather than a transit) oriented nature of the Spadina subway extension created the opportunity for unpleasantly unexpected turn of events. A scenario we should acknowledge as we proceed down the profoundly political path of the Scarborough subway extension.

The larger concern, however, goes to what the mayor called ‘an entrenched culture of nonacountability at city hall.’ While we know who the target was in the mayor’s mind — city staff — I think we should try to cut a wider swath in this. Let’s call it, the nonaccountability of unrealistic expectations. You want a subway? I can get you subway. You want to pay how much for that subway? … Sure, I can get you a subway for that much money. No problem. Sure.

We elect politicians who tell us we can have the infrastructure of our dreams for no money down, no interest ever. The private sector will build it for us. lessonslearnedHave you ever heard of something called Tax Increment Financing? Seriously. It won’t cost you a dime.

The notion we could build a subway, first for $1.5, then $2.5 billion for what became 6 stops, 8.6 kilometres was never going to be a slam dunk. Even if it comes in at $2.9 billion, about $337+ million per kilometre, it wouldn’t be some grotesque outlier in terms of international costs for building subways. For every Barcelona, Helsinki and Sao Paulo, there’s New York’s 2nd Avenue subway or London or Amersterdam.

The Spadina subway extension is not out of whack in an international comparison. While we most certainly should examine ways it could have been completed less expensively, this indignant outburst at the news of cost overruns stems more from our entitled belief that cheaper is better and somebody else should pay for the things we want than it does any systemic failure on the part our public sector to be able to build infrastructure. cheapSure, let’s point out all the examples of cost overruns on projects throughout the city in addition to the Spadina subway extension. Nathan Phillipps Square. Union Station.

But in an environment where the bottom line often means the bottom dollar, the lowest bid, city staff must find themselves in the uncomfortable position of speaking forthright versus being painted as naysayers and no-can-doers. An extreme case would be former TTC CEO, Gary Webster, delivering an opinion on the LRT-subway debate that ran contrary to the administration and finding himself quickly relieved of duty. A politician gets elected telling voters this won’t hurt a bit and then expects city staff to conform to that way of doing things. It’s called a mandate.subwaystop

Maybe the problems start with voters who demand the impossible from politicians and the bureaucracy. If you want a great city, a former mayor once said, you have to pay for it. Seems we’ve chosen to go another route, insisting more on a OK-is-good-enough and can’t-somebody-else-foot-the-bill-for-us trajectory. When reality rears its ugly head, somebody’s got to pay. Again, not us. Somebody else.

money-for-nothingly submitted by Cityslikr

One Response to The Fault, Dear Brutus

  1. You mentioned Webster as standing up to be counted. Look what happened to him. How can the mayor (Rob Ford in this instance) just fire naysayers. Accountability goes both ways. Also the city clerk who not only issued Rob and Doug a permit on city property for their Ford Fest, but gave a presser to say her hands were tied because the permit said it was a “family event” even though other rules say no park permits are to be issued during the period of campaigning? Bet she knew enough not to rock the boat.

    Similarly Rossinni, who was brought in to city hall by Rob Ford specifically to find “savings” numbers for Rob to gloat over? He concoted “numbers” that have never ever ever been used before. And he is not subject to any professional rules of conduct for his misconduct. Accountability goes both ways here as well. Then Ford threw him under the buss on CNN and NBC and CBS saying “these numbers are not even mine…they are from Rosssinni and Penechetti”.

    Similarly the security guard who was threatened by Rob Ford. He stood up to be counted and was transferred to another job. Accountability be dammed.

    I hear what you are saying and I hope Tory makes important changes. Public sector mentality needs to be changed, They need to be rewarded for a good job and they need to be punished for bad jobs. That’s how it works in the privaate sector.

    I bet any changes Tory implements will be welcome by city staff. They too are tired of the dead wood floating around.

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