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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Investing in public transit a smart move

A healthy, vibrant city needs an efficient, modern transportation system. Like the water and wastewater system, failure to maintain and invest in it will mean greater costs in the long run, economically, socially and environmentally.

At its meeting on December 20, 2010 council directed staff to undertake a number of cost-cutting measures in order to get closer to its goal of a zero per cent levy increase in the 2011 budget. Included were a settlement with the inside and outside workers (that had been largely negotiated prior to the last election), a continued freeze on economic increases for non-union staff, and a freeze on rate increases for water and wastewater life cycle maintenance.

These are under the direct control of council. But the bulk of the budget, including police, libraries, public transit, public health, public housing and environmental conservation are overseen by independent boards, commissions and agencies, although they may rely heavily on the property tax levy for funding. Council directed those that had not come in at a zero increase to sharpen their pencils.

The Library Board, according to an internal email obtained by the London Free Press, was prepared to see what it could do, although most of its requested increase was to meet the operating costs of the new Stoneybrook branch on Sunningdale Road. The recession has also meant that that its services are in geater demand than ever for job searches and no cost education and entertainment.

The Police Association seemed to have little interest in settling for a wage increase that would be lower than that of surrounding communities. Additionally, the police chief pointed out that those recently hired are subsidized by federal and provincial grants. Lay them off and you lose the matched funding. And he also noted that London already has one of the lowest per capita policing costs in the province. Firefighters have traditionally followed the lead of police in wage demands.

Then there’s the London Transit Commission. In late November the LTC opened a satellite facility on Wonderland Road South that will add $1.2 million in operating costs. Even if the facility were to be mothballed for the next few years, some maintenance and operating costs and taxes would have to be covered and therefore the needed cut of $1.7M could not be achieved without cuts to service or fare increases or both.

Cuts to service and fare increases will not only put out of reach the LTC’s council-approved target of a transit modal share of 10 percent (i.e. one out of 10 trips during rush hour would be made by bus) by the year 2024, but would in all likelihood result in lowered ridership as happened after the cuts to transit in the 1980s and 1990s.

Since then there have been significant improvements in service and ridership resulting in a much healthier LTC to the benefit of all Londoners, transit riders or not.

  • A robust public transit system benefits our local economy by getting workers where they need to go when they are needed. Employers save money on land acquisition for parking and the maintenance that parking lots entail.
  • A reliable transit system means families don’t have to buy a second or third car to ferry various family members to school, work and play.
  • Public transit allows the young and the elderly and everyone in between the independence they need for mobility when they don’t have a licence or a private vehicle or money for a cab. At $81 per month (less for seniors and students), it’s a lot more economical than buying gas and paying for insurance and maintenance and repairs.
  • Public transit takes cars off the streets thereby reducing the wear and tear on the roads and the constant need for road widening and the additional snow clearing that entails. In London, cleaning and maintaining roads costs about $1,000 per km per lane every year.
  • Public transit reduces traffic congestion and road rage. And it can take impaired drivers off the road thereby improving our safety and reducing our health care costs.
  • London has one of the worst air qualities in Ontario to which the private automobile is a major contributor. More use of public transit can result in fewer emissions and less air pollution.
  • Finally, since the bus is not usually right at your doorstep, taking public transit means that riders also get a little fresh air and exercise. That’s not a small matter in a city and society in which obesity is our number 1 health problem.
I served on the LTC’s Long-Term Growth Committee for four years. We developed a plan, adopted by council, to make our public transit system efficient and user-friendly. The budget increase request of 8.1 per cent by LTC was adopted by the previous council in order to achieve that and to increase the ridership. If the new council fails to follow through, the gains in ridership that have been made will be lost, and the opportunities for savings on roads and tempers gone.

A healthy, vibrant city needs an efficient, modern transportation system. Like the water and wastewater system, failure to maintain and invest in it will mean greater costs in the long run, economically, socially and environmentally.


Mike Sloan said...

It's a shame that in order to achieve this 0% tax increase, good ideas are going to be deferred or tossed away. As we all know, there is no free lunch. We're going to pay a lofty price for this bit of political theatre.

fred said...

The LTC staff report is now online at http://www.ltconline.ca/agendas/011211viii1.pdf

It outlines some of the consequences of arbitrarily cutting the LTC budget, such as the snowballing of these cuts into decreased ridership and lower investment from other levels of government, causing a spiral into the 'dark days' of the 80's and 90's that you mention above.

It's a shame really, that this city seems to so despise what is, by the numbers, one of the most efficiently run transit properties in the country.

The focus seems to always be on building new parking garages downtown for the benefit of developers and single occupant vehicles, and the removal of the rabble bus riding public from in front of the Nash's and the Kingsmills' stores.