The Meddling Public Sector

August 26, 2015

While governments at every level and of every political stripe spend our money like it’s theirs, threatening to send all us hardworking taxpayers to the proverbial poorhouse, it is the private sector, the merchants of free enterprise, muckingupthewordswho keep the ship of state upright, generating the wealth which floats all our boats. With a laser-like approach to finding efficiencies, customer service and competitive pricing, the profit motive greases the wheels of a functioning society, pretty much as God and Milton Friedman proclaimed. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan crowed, “government is the problem.”

Allow me to introduce exhibit A.

Right now in Toronto, City Hall sits guilty of stifling not one, but two heroic businesses, trying their best to make this city a better place to live for all of us. lucyBack in 2009, city council demanded to pay Bombardier nearly a billion dollars in return for 204 new streetcars. Clearly, it was an unreasonable 10 year delivery timeline with 37 of the vehicles expected on the road by the end of 2014, 60 by the time 2016 rolled around. To date, only 8 are up and running along the streets of Toronto.

Obviously the only reasonable explanation for such a delay and overwhelming under-performance on the part of Bombardier is the intrusion of government into the sphere of the private sector. The company has also been forced to delay orders of new subway cars to New York City and Montreal. What’s the common factor in that equation? (Aside from the delays, that is.) Ethrowingmoneyaroundxactly. Cities, and government.

Where the hell are all these public pension bloated fat cats with their hands out full of money, offering to buy planes from Bombardier? Because of this stingy, public transit-oriented attitude of municipal officials, the company’s aviation arm has been hindered in its honest pursuit of an honest day’s capitalism. Reduced to near ‘penny-stock status’, according to the Globe and Mail, Bombardier sits helplessly on its stock of beautiful C-series flying technology, waiting for somebody, anybody, from the public sector to step up and perform as it was meant to do. Write big fat cheques to private companies with as few strings attached as possible.

Here’s the kicker.

Rather than sit around complaining about how Bombardier isn’t living up to its streetcar contract, Toronto city council could be channeling that negative energy into something positive. greasethewheelsSuch as, for example, bulldozing ahead with approval of the island airport expansion. This would allow another valiant private company, Porter Airlines, now obstructed by a pernicious officialdom, bureaucratically hung up on ‘proper environmental assessments’, ‘public input’, ‘people oriented waterfront development’ and other make-work, nonsensical jargon, to green light its order of Bombardier CS-100 whisper jets and expand its reach and, fingers crossed, bottom line.

In turn, flush with cash, Bombardier could ramp up its street and subway car assembly lines, delivering to the politicians what they’re really in the business of: vote getting. That’s what they call, out here in the real world, a win-win-win for everyone. Government keeps spending money in order for the private sector to make money. Wealth is then spread accordingly in the immutable law of Economics 101. lenderoflastresortAs it should be.

We elect our representatives to pay up, step back and observe the miracle of commerce. Nothing more. Until we learn to do that, and that only, we will continue to hinder the real engine of our well-being, leaving us empty-handed with fingers pointed in blame at the wrong people for delays, cost overruns, contract breaches and an underwater tunnel taking too few people to too few places.

If that comes to pass, who will be left holding the bag? In the end, somebody’s got to pay. That’s just the way of the world. Governments need to accept that responsibility, their responsibility, and fall into line, knowing it is always better to be the payer of first resort than it is the lender of last resort.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr


Leadership Starts From The Ground Up

July 25, 2014

4 out of 4 transit experts agree. Toronto needs to start building the [fill in your preferred first name here] Relief Line now yesterday! expertsagreeWhile we can, should talk about other transit modes i.e. GO electrification, the only one that is going to take pressure off our already too tightly squeezed subway system is another subway line moving people to and from the downtown core, “… the fastest growing part of the entire GTA.”

There’s a reason we’ve been talking about a relief line for 30 years now. The necessity for it has been known for that long. It’s not new or news.

The problem is, it will be a messy, disruptive, expensive undertaking. Building a “new subway through the core — underground and with truly urban station frequency” can’t be anything but. subwayconstructionEven if crews started digging today, many of us wouldn’t be around to see the fruits of the labour and money. And, of course, it will be a project assailed on all fronts by parochial interests, convinced that downtowners, once more, are getting more than their fair share of public money and attention.

Despite all that, a Relief Line remains, in the words of our subway loving mayor, a Need to Have rather than a Nice to Have. Unlike say, the Scarborough subway extension?

A couple weeks ago in CityLab, this article headline appeared: “NYC Can’t Afford to Build the Second Avenue Subway, and It Can’t Afford Not To”. Read through the article and replace 2nd Avenue subway with DRL and Toronto and New York are pretty much having the same conversation right except for the fact, New York has at least started building their vital subway.

And yet, the Second Avenue line DRL has become a beacon for New York Toronto’s future and a symbol of the numerous challenges facing a global city that must, in light of massive costs and slow build-outs, expand its transit network to stay competitive. Ask anyone who has to ride the 4, 5, or 6 trains into Manhattan south of 60th Street Yonge Street line during a morning rush hour, and the need for a Second Avenue line DRL becomes clear. These trains aren’t just crowded, they’re packed to the gills. Very often, riders standing on a subway platform…have to let multiple trains go by before they can squeeze on board.

Even the cowering reaction by New York politicians to the enormity of building a needed subway has familiar echoes of leaders here in Toronto and at Queen’s Park.

As a knee-jerk reaction to the issues, leaders have begun to think small. They propose ferries, with ridership that tops a few hundred per day, as opposed to a few hundred thousand per day for a full-length Second Avenue subway. They urge bus rapid transit as a lower-cost option, without discussing how lower costs inevitably lead to lower capacity. Only subway lines can sustain New York’s projected growth, but New York can’t sustain multi-billion-dollar subway lines.

Ringing any bells? Ferries? Where did I hear about ferries recently?

“Thinking big — building more than 750 miles of track in five boroughs,” the CityLab article concludes, 2ndavenuesubway“made this city great, and to keep it great, New Yorkers will have to remember how to think big.”

And in Toronto’s case, ‘thinking big’ doesn’t just mean big projects like a subway. It means planning beyond simply local asks or demands, and looking at the proverbial bigger picture. The city in its entirety. The GTA region as a whole.

Unfortunately, we’re not seeing much of that from our elected officials. The non-political make-up of the regional transit planning body, Metrolinx, has been hijacked for political purposes by the Liberal government. The only major mayoral candidate really talking serious nuts-and-bolts about transit so far in this campaign is David Soknacki, and he remains stuck in single digit numbers of voter preference.fullfinchbus

So we remain crammed onto subway and streetcars, buses and on the roads while the best possible solutions are picked clean to the bones by opportunistic and do-nothing politicians, driven by their own agendas and the tax-and-spend aversion that has gripped residents.

The end result is not at all surprising.

Allow me a metaphor to point how this all winds up, if indeed it is a metaphor. I’ll have to confirm it with Doug Ford and get back to you.

“Faulty towers: The hidden dangers of low condo maintenance fees” is the headline for a Globe and Mail real estate article back from 2011.

The lack of interest [in a condo unit up for sale] has nothing to do with market conditions, and everything to do with a 30-year history of indifference by the residents who were content to keep condo fees low at the expense of necessary maintenance.

Hmmm. Do go on, Mr. Ladurantaye.

“This is a coming crisis that nobody is talking about”, said Chris Jaglowitz, a lawyer who specializes in condo law for Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and a member of the Condominium Managers of Ontario. “You have all of these older buildings, and someone needs to pay for long-neglected repairs. And many people won’t be able to cover their share.”

That’s because condo buildings are owned collectively by the residents, and all repair bills are shared equally. Condo boards are able to levy special assessments in addition to condo fees to pay for projects. But the boards are made up of residents, who are sometimes motivated to keep fees low. And they serve short terms, which means long-term planning is often difficult.

Not just condos, is my point here.

thinkbigInfrastructure, transit, the city as a whole, all left in a serious state of disrepair and neglect because we residents, to paraphrase the article, have been content to keep our taxes low at the expense of necessary maintenance and needed expansion to keep up with the continued growth of the population. We’ve come to expect easy (and cheap) solutions to complex (and expensive) problems, succeeding only in making the solutions more complex, more expensive.

But hey. Not on us. Not on our dime.

That’s how you get an infrastructure deficit. That’s how, years, decades later, we find ourselves precipitously and willfully under-served by even the most basic of the necessary amenities. Housing, roads, public transit, all inadequate in dealing with the ever increasing numbers of people choosing to live here.headinsand

That’s the legacy we’ve already passed on to our kids with little expectation it won’t be even worse for our grandchildren. Unless we choose to step up right now and say, enough is enough. It’s time to start accepting a little responsibility and stop clutching our pocket books and narrow self-interest and leaving future generations to make even tougher decisions.

buck stoppingly submitted by Cityslikr