Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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Foward to world class, back to the future

REPORT #1,130: A report going to city council tonight argues the future of London would be best served by spending upwards of one billion dollars to install a rapid transit system that included light rail, as opposed to a system that used rapid bus technology alone. Light rail, the report says, has a more ‘world-class’ cachet. 

Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 – London Ontario

A single paragraph of 118 words out of almost 8,000 is used to justify why, in a report to city council to be discussed tonight, the civic administration is recommending a 300 per cent increase in the proposed cost of London’s rapid transit future.

LondonOntario, the report argues, doesn’t need fast buses to move people around the Forest City in the future. It needs fast streetcars – or light rail trains (LRTs) as they are henceforth to be known. 

The paragraph in question starts at the bottom of page 13 in the document you’ll find at the other end of this link and continues to the top of the following page. The two critical sentences are these:

“LRT can have a greater impact on the city’s image as a top tier city in North America,” the report states. And then, three sentences later, adds: “The city image benefits of LRT can also apply to our institutions, helping them to present a world-class image, being connected to one-another and our regional-provincial transportation hub by light rail.”

Well golly gee wilikers. Who knew? World-class. Us. Little ole LondonOntario. And for just a measly $1,000,000,000 (that’s one billion dollars for those afraid of so many zeroes). 

(Also it’s all our money, yours and mine, whether it comes through the city’s bank or those used by Queen’s Park or Parliament). 

(Also again, it’s a helluva lot of money, some $600,000,000 more – that’s six hundred million dollars more – than the projected cost of using fast buses (Bus Rapid Transit or BRT it’s called) which, whatever their alleged lack of cachet in the international marketplace, are equally as capable of getting people around the community quickly, perhaps more so).

There’s a lot that stretches credulity in the report council will discuss tonight, one that recommends without a moment’s hesitation that our elected leaders rise up immediately and support it, then begin three months of sophisticated brain-washing to convince the rest of us.

That LRT is the road to world-class, however, is at the top. It’s hard to know where to begin to refute the argument, perhaps because the term ‘world-class’ is so difficult to define. On the other hand, I feel on safe ground in proclaiming LondonOntario will not ever, in my lifetime nor yours, indeed not in the lifetime of my children and grandchildren nor yours, be regarded as a world-class city by anyone other perhaps than the mayor, some members of council and possibly some of the five people who signed this report. (1)

In 2009 Forbes magazine took a tongue-in-cheek try at answering the question of what makes a world-class city. Didn’t see LondonOntario as being likely to land anywhere on the list.

More recently the Stanford University Review took a run at it. What they decided was world-class we don’t want to be anyway.

Most commentaries seem to suggest size and economic clout are prerequisites. On that basis Canada has but one world-class city, near the bottom of the list. It ain’t us. 

Efficient transportation systems are certainly seen as important economic drivers for cities, world-class or wannabees. But does efficient mean LRT? 

That very question was raised in an analysis of 21 North American transit systems, including Ottawa, by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York. It made the point that rapid transit does not by default mean light rail, concluding bus rapid transit systems not only work well, but cost far less. 

“A growing number of American cities are promoting transit-oriented development in order to combat congestion and other problems associated with sprawling, car-dominated suburban growth,” the institute said. “Many are planning rail-based mass transit investments like light rail transit (LRT) and streetcars, hoping they will stimulate transit-oriented development, but are finding the costs to be crippling.

“Increasingly, cities in the U.S., finding themselves short of funds, are wondering whether BRT, a lower cost mass transit solution initially developed in Latin America and a relatively new form of mass transit in the U.S., could also be used here to leverage transit-oriented development investments.”

Ironically a link to the institute's report was circulated some months ago to his Twitter account followers by Ed Soldo, the city’s director of roads and transportation, and the very chap who penned the report going to council tonight. Every council member should read it before voting.

Admittedly, LondonOntario used to have streetcars, back in the day when the best of our historic buildings were still standing and the city has far more national clout than it has today, or probably ever will have again. 

So, one supposes, for our billion bucks we are proposing to bravely move toward world-class status by going back to the future. Good luck with that.

(1) The report, titled SHIFT Rapid Transit Update, was submitted by Ed Soldo, director of roads and transportation for London. It was reviewed and concurred by Kate Graham, director of community and economic innovation; John Braam, managing director, environmental and engineering services and city engineer; and John Fleming, managing director planning and city planner. It was recommended by Art Zuidema, the city manager, who therefore is ultimately the person at City Hall pushing this proposal. It is also recommended by Mayor Matt Brown. 



# Road-crawling old tech is sometimes false economyKeith E. Risler 2015-11-09 04:47
8 years ago I moved to Old South so I could be near major bus routes, near bikeways and the downtown, and drive less. It worked out. Except the bus part. Buses are loud ear-drum crushing cattle wagons, at least as this town buys them, and they are nothing to brag about for the City or as a comfort item for citizens. The thought of multiplying these inadequate machines en masse is horrifying to say the least. You'll have a hard time getting those who have cars on these road crawlers. If you want a system that works, pony up for quiet sleek fast and appealing trains or forget about it.
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# RE: Foward to world class, back to the futureGord Drimmie 2015-11-09 13:56
I know I'm showing my age....but what is wrong with being London? Why do we have to be Toronto? Or some European metrocentre? There is something to be said for smaller, slower, staid, and relaxing - as opposed to all of the opposites in vogue in Toronto. I could live with the hybrid system although I question its need. But a Billion Dollars for 100% LRT? Not a chance. The last time I heard about that white elephant train running from Pearson to Union Station, it was underused, overpriced, and just another abuse of taxpayer dollars. That should be a wake-up call and a focus of post-investment analysis before another dime is spent on LRT anywhere. But that won't happen - gotta get on the infrastructure train.
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# Yes, you are showing your age.Rob 2015-11-09 17:25
Building a great LRT system will not make us Toronto. Why do you think that if we have LRT, we will all of a sudden be Toronto? Please clarify as it makes no sense.
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# World ClassVicki Van Linden 2015-11-09 14:07
Thanks for this commentary,Phil .

We have no need to strive to be 'world class' and why some feel the need to do so is concerning. Toronto is far closer to being a world class city than London will ever be and it is just down the highway. For those who wish to play on such a world-class stage the higher cost of living, congested streets and higher crime rate is available nearby.

Many of us choose to live in London because it is a moderately-size d city that is still relatively affordable to live in while offering a good quality of life.

Instead of choosing expensive trains over buses we could spend some of that 'cachet' money on more and better buses that are on the road for longer hours so more people can get to and from their jobs.

Good quality buses, and more of them throughout the city running longer hours will serve us much better. And let's use more of that 'cachet' money to meet the genuine needs of Londoners.
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# Brains Not TrainsJ Gary Zavitz 2015-11-09 14:26
I authored the MSEC response to the 2010 TMP which presented BRT along the two major NS & EW corridors.

Maged Elmadhood, the key transportation mgr overseeing the report at the time was consulted. He told me the plan was an incremental approach whereby economically viable grade-separated bus throughways would first be introduced by 2030. They would be designed such that a typical gauge LRT could be overlaid on the existing system at a later date with a minimum of infrastructure overhaul.

Population growth was and still is based on 2% and an LRT system did not make sense (and be several dollars too much). Bus technology - likely a mix of high tech EV - will be cheaper to acquire, easier to maintain and be more mobile, intelligent and adept at getting through the harsh winters that London receives. With a sub half million population, an LRT won't economically scale to our size and likely incur greater acquisition and operational costs right out of the gate, more so than other larger regions.

Not a good use of future tax revenue.
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# Brains not TrainsCharmoose 2015-11-09 14:48
I agree with Zavitz that the population (or pocketbook) of London cannot support LRT. How about improving the bus system and introduce quiet, eco friendly buses. The technology is out there.
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# RE: Brains not TrainsRob 2015-11-09 16:06
Here's why we invest in LRT now: because every level of govt is offering huge financial support for it and that money will be gone one day. Remember how London dithered at building a highway in the 1970s and now we have nothing? This is that scenario all over again if we dither.
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# LRT is an investmentRob 2015-11-09 15:58
Sorry Phil. Maybe Shift London is not explaining it well, but there is a reason that Calgary and Edmonton invested in LRT 30 years ago when they were London's size. Do you think they regret that investment. The fact is that trains will get more people onto transit and also trains are cheaper to operate than buses. Why do you think Ottawa, Kitchener, Hamilton, Mississauga & Toronto are currently building LRT? What do you know that they don't? London finally has a plan to overhaul our transit system and make transit attractive and I hope our city council has the determination to get out fair share from other levels of government to build this. Maybe old people don't understand why this system will drastically change transportation in London.
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# Resident/taxpay erJohn Sawarin 2015-11-09 17:07
Implying that 'old people' cannot determine a concept such as what drastic transit system changes may or may not occur is quite presumptuous. The infrastructures of all the cities mentioned have the streets to
accommodate a rail system, i.e. wide streets, one way alternatives. If you want a good,unique example for core transportation, Chattanooga, TN. Light bus, electric, FREE. London does not have the potential for growth as did Calgary or Edmonton 30 years ago, or Ottawa etc.
A reality check has its merits. So does common sense. A world class city ? Really ? as compared to what city in the world ? Based on what potentials ?
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# More than just a TaxpayerRob 2015-11-09 17:22
Hi John, I am saying that old people probably do no understand how younger people will make transportation choices and what is important to them. The teen that's biggest goal was to buy a car at the age of 16 in the 1980's no longer exists. They now can't afford cars (mainly because of insurance). They travel by transit and their smartphone is their car. Transit will be much more important to these people. So yes, I don't think that older people understand how the younger generation makes choices so I hope the older people don't determine our transit investment. I don't care about world class or not world class, but I know that LRT will attract a heck of a lot more people than buses. Once again, the gov't is investing now so it is time that London got it's fair share like Waterloo and every single other Ontario city our size. And it's great that you are a taxpayer, so am I. I am more happy to see my taxes go to transit than expanding roads that are expensive to build and maintain and police.
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# RE: More than just a TaxpayerWyatt 2015-11-09 22:12
Just a quick +1 for what Rob had to say. Older generations have grown up with automobiles. Life and travel revolved around the family car. I'm 27 and have zero plans to obtain my full license. For younger crowds cars are seen as money pits that require more effort than they're worth.

Efficient high-level transit like LRT is what upcoming generations are going to want when we're in our later years. And I won't even get into the real benefits of Transit Oriented Development. These rapid transit corridors will receive the bulk of infill/intensif ication, and will do even more to subsidize London's suburbs.
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# World ClassJMAC 2015-11-09 17:37
World Class is the saddest phrase in our modern day vernacular.
If you have to proclaim it... generally it is not.People who are wealthy dont tell you and people who are powerful tend to stay in the shadows.
I lived both in Toronto and Vancouver but chose to return to London because it doesn't have all of the socioeconomic challenges that accompany world class.
But Council will move ahead with the next phase because they can spend the next year doing little but talking and hyperboling about it at public meetings,news conferences and a mirage of nonsense that looks important.
Money is always the reality check.
Talk to me in a year from now.
The Free Press blithers about already having the Prime Ministers approval. Ah... something yelled from a campaign bus counts for nothing when the formal applications are submitted. And we dont have a Cabinet Rep in Ottawa.
Hello real world.
Deb Matthews has already said Toronto is the primary funding site for Provincial Liberals. But then Council can blame somebody else when this heads south.
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# Is it a monorail for the sake of a monorail?doug rogers 2015-11-09 17:39
London has a history of shooting down any new idea that comes along. It's our small town brain that doesn't want to grow up, but thinks it can by doing whatever it did before because it worked then.

Stop sprawling. It's what we did, but it's expensive. Yes we need a better financed public transit system. Yes, we need a public transit system which provides better service.

But we don't need 'A Monorail' just because it's what world class cities have. We need a fast, effective, inexpensive-to- use, concentrated public transit system.

Is LRT that solution?
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# MonrailWalter 2015-11-10 00:55
That's exactly what we do need. Compact, fast,reliable,e fficient and when it comes down to road expansion, house expropriations, more affordable than an aging inefficient bus system.
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# transportation for a priceobserver 2015-11-09 19:45
The report also ignores the increase in operating costs that will not be paid by other levels of government. Already London's growth rate is not projected to be close to what Calgary and Edmonton had and its actual growth rate has been under the projected number for the last 20 or so. Ergo, the comparison to Calgary and Edmonton are bogus. And if you really want to be futuristic, self driving cars will obsolete transit because you can then have your own private "cab" to take you were you want to go, even fixed routes.
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# RE: Foward to world class, back to the futureGord Drimmie 2015-11-09 19:48
Seems like everyone has caught the "Money is Free" disease. Household debt is at record highs; our Provincial fraudsters spend money they don't have and burden the younger generation with debt that they can never repay; and now the feds think that running deficits is good because money is cheap. So sad. And what an example to set. I hope there are enough Councillors out there to recognize a wet dream they see one.
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# LRTWalter 2015-11-09 21:19
'Because its 2015"
We need to think like its 2015 and not 1915. We missed out on the Government funding to build an "E.C.Row Expressway" why, because city fathers said we will never need it. Well although we might not need it today as in Nov 09, 2015, although look at Wonderland Rd. and Hyde Park traffic, we will need this in 5-10 years. We might not need to be a World Class city but a 'Thinking Forward' city might fit better. Our road system will not expand much more or any wider we need to go up and over. At least this option is a start forward not stationary or backward.
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# Retirednikker 2015-11-10 00:54
Actually, the latest figure I heard for the entire Transportation Master Plan is: (Sit down) 1.3 Billion Dollars. Long before the first rail ever gets installed driverless electric vehicles will have replaced most of what we now call public transportation. 1.3 billion dollars is one hell of a gamble to prove this theory is wrong.
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# worriedTJ Smith 2015-11-10 01:41
For many Londoners having a car is not an option, but a necessity. The current LTC does not have the range or frequency to get Londoners to the jobs that we do have and home again. Check out the help wanted advertisements and see how many specify not on a bus route, or that own transportation is required.
I do not want to live in a World Class City. World Class City's have World Class problems. I want to live in a city that people want to live in. Opportunities for employment, education and recreation are on top of the list. London is becoming a increasingly dangerous and dysfunctional. Bureaucrats with delusions of grandeur, build it and they will come optimism and a penchant for fiddling amid the flames appall me.
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# Lots of LRT diarrheaTucker 2015-11-10 02:35
TJ Smith thank you, one of the very few intelligent comments.
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# Read the report Phil mentionscynic 2015-11-10 02:39
Very enlightening. Our soon to be paid more councillors should spend their time reading it rather than wasting their time at photo ops.
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# The unhappy ending for world class citiesLeila Paul 2015-11-10 16:45
World class cities are higher culture centres until there's no concept of responsible accounting for money to be spent. Absent a solid grasp of the finite nature of REAL MONEY, spending for an outdated fantasy in future - without certainty that income to meet the costs is assured - arises from deficit spending.

Building on speculation, and vague projections that money will follow, is negligent in the extreme. Campaign promises from the wealthy who've never had to struggle to balance a cheque book is as appealing to starry-eyed voters as those who make the vote-snaring promises.

Here's what's happening in some of Europe's world class cities to which the overused description usually applies

History has shown that famine often follows excessive indulgence of deficit spending without solid assurances money is the byproduct of building. World class always was a nebulous concept, built on flimsy dreams. Only tourists who visit world-class cities believe the hype. Residents know the harsher reality.
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# Well one thing is for sure...AnotherView 2015-11-10 19:26
By voting for the uber-expensive LRT hybrid option this Council want's to make a splash, and be remembered.
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# Ripe for the pickingTucker 2015-11-10 21:25
London’s string handlers want $$$$$ from dumb, docile, naïve suckers….as they ride the big wave.
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# City Hall is the Carnival aka DreamlandLeila Paul 2015-11-10 23:16
Watch "Dreamland" on NetFlix - a brilliant, hilarious series captures all the supercilious tail-chasing verbiage and jargon intended to delay concrete action until the next election. Plans, studies, reports, consultants, p.r. lies and huge expenditures all repeated to confuse and delay what is already known to be unnecessary or likely to fail.

Also, try to endure a full council meeting. Watch the live streaming but watch all the way through. Oct.27th council meeting, first time I watched, I missed Maureen Cassidy's scene-stealing while Phil Squire is speaking and she's self-consciousl y in the shot @ approx 3:42. Later, Cassidy offers an utterly superfluous and obsequious vow of subservience to Zuidema, as did Bill Armstrong whose body language screams boredom while his rambling monologues reveal a deep lack of language basics. Then, Phil Squire repeatedly denigrates council as a political body vs his stature as a lawyer. Squire neglects that judiciaries exist in corrupt dictatorships. Judiciaries are dependent upon legitimate transparent procedure-respe cting governments for their own integrity.
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# Opposing BeRT & LeRTyJ Gary Zavitz 2015-11-11 03:36
1 of 3
Reconsidered my original position and lo and behold am still opposed to the BeRT & LeRTy hybrid decision made by London city council.

Earlier TMP's recommended BRT primarily for the reason that London hadn't met the required half million threshold - and at 1-2% annual growth, it won't reach it for another 14-27 years.

As recently as 2013, the AECOM report, ‘A New Mobility Transportation Master Plan for London / 2030 Transportation Master Plan: SmartMoves’, generously sprinkled the term, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) throughout the report, factoring strongly in a 1-2% growth rate. LRT wasn’t mentioned as often, and is used comparatively and in future tense: ‘expanding the BRT network or upgrading parts of the system to Light Rail Transit (LRT).’

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# Opposing BeRT & LeRTy-2J Gary Zavitz 2015-11-11 03:47
2 of 3
A well-connected former politician this morning told me he was disappointed that council didn’t wait until the transit-friendl y federal government tipped its hand on what kind of funding would commence. Any good poker player knows you generally try to read your opponent’s intentions first before playing your hand.

The council decision also did not factor in a couple of things, the first being another rail system that regularly disrupts traffic. LRT traversing Richmond St. will still be stopped in traffic with no alternatives along with other vehicles by freight trains at the crossing near Piccadilly.

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# Opposing BeRT & LeRTy-3J Gary Zavitz 2015-11-11 04:20
3 of 3
Apple, Google, Tesla and others have plans to release production self-driving electric vehicles in the next 5-10 years. This could be a disruptive technology, given low carbon footprint, improvements in safety, traffic navigation and ability to traverse within a defined urban environment, while not needing tracks and complex signalling systems. It could turn out to be a very low cost personal transit vehicle.

Selecting the hybrid option will also be costly. In addition to London’s smaller LRT footprint, it will now need resources to manage and support two different types of transit systems, not just one, in addition to standard buses. Acquisition costs, operations & maintenance, resurfacing, signaling, storage, electricity/fue l, operations…all these will vary by transit modality. As with all major capital expenditures, there is better municipal buying power with larger purchases, not smaller ones.

And the comments about all those cities smaller than us with LRT’s? They don’t have the same severe winter climate, so snow removal isn’t as great a factor.
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# Another re-election ployLeila Paul 2015-11-11 19:21
Too few on past councils have respected reality, taxpayers' money and repeatedly fantasize over how to "save the planet". London is not going to destroy planet earth with car usage, nor starve the global populace by using farmland for development "sprawl". The real danger to earth is population growth.

Waste: I rarely pass a bicycle when driving and the few who use the bicycle lanes - especially in slushy, wintery ice and snow conditions - are being placed at high risk by the councillors who pushed through that absurd waste of asphalt. It was a vote-getting ploy that cost taxpayers additional waste.

Instead, we should long ago have bought smaller buses or even larger vans and used those to cover more area with increased bus schedules. That would be a cost-efficient and safer method. Bicyclers who are injured may well have a legitimate claim against city hall for encouraging a dangerous mode of transport in our climate.

As for this ridiculously needless LRT, the projected completion date of the project is after the next election. This is merely another re-election ploy.
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# smaller buses? wrongobserver 2015-11-11 20:58
The major expense of a transit system is the driver. More buses, regardless of size, the more costly the system. As your ridership grows, smaller buses get overcrowded and are no longer useful. Keep in mind, all buses/trains start and end a route empty.
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# Initial large bus costs,maintenan ce makes Uber even more appealingLeila Paul 2015-11-12 00:52
I am no expert, but the costs of fuel and the purchase/replac ement price of smaller buses might counterbalance the cost of additional drivers.

In any case, Uber ride-sharing should be encouraged as that enhances multiple methods of public transport. Uber drivers would have to pay their own insurance and maintenance and that would minimize the costs to taxpayers. Our roads are narrow and big buses create disadvantages that large, cumbersome buses present.
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# Guess which criminal mayor is coming to dinner in ParisLeila Paul 2015-11-12 04:35
A Brazilian senator, two-time governor and convicted criminal when mayor of a town in cattle country. He's on Brazil's environmental committee and he'll have clout at the conference on climate change this month in Paris. He's known as one of the "fathers of deforestation of the Amazon".

And we're wringing our hands and lamenting our carbon footprint and demand sacrifices that might mean more lost jobs. We try to eliminate cars and urban sprawl - such huge concepts for such a small amount of space and carbon emissions from little London. Here's the big dude and he can sway dialogue at the Paris conference:
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