Light-Rail Costs Still A Mystery

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Seek and ye shall not find.

Last week Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans wanted to know about Phase 1 light-rail costs.

Deans thought an audit would be in order. For this the councillor took a great deal of grief.

Alta Vista Councillor Jean Cloutier told her if she wanted to know what the costs were for Phase 1, she should go down to the light-rail office and ask.

College Councillor Rick Chiarelli beat Deans to the punch. Chiarelli immediately took off to the light-rail office to ask them about costs.

The office wouldn’t tell him.

 

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13 thoughts on “Light-Rail Costs Still A Mystery

  1. So the councillors, who are guarding the public purse and who are footing the bill on behalf of the ratepayer, cannot see an accounting of expenses for LRT. What does that normally signify? Something to hide. Wonder if it will be a significant cost overrun or more sinister like why the multiple collapses of roadways? Or?

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  2. My first reaction to this story was that from time to time a smartass answer from a councillor comes back to bite him.

    My second reaction was to ask myself why Councillor Cloutier was responding to a question that most properly belongs to Councillor Egli, the Chair of the Transportation Committee. Councillor Cloutier is not even a member of that committee.

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    1. My impression is the Egli may be under the influence of Watson hence can will not ask what could be embarrassing questions related to transportation so I laud Cloutier for looking into LRT on behalf of the citizens of Ottawa. More councillors should ask questions and bark when answers are not properly given by staff.

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  3. Could we have an in-service training session for the staff at City Hall who seem to be under the impression that they are the folks in charge down there and they will decide what information councillors should have.
    That should be followed by a session for councillors that would review the legal responsibility that they have to be informed on the issues they are overseeing on our behalf. If a councillor doesn’t know and can’t find out what’s behind the recommendations and reports they get from staff, what right do they have to vote on the issue?
    I’d love to know if Cloutier was making that suggestion to draw attention to the staff control fetish over information that should be available and forming the basis for decision-making around the Council table.
    It’s very concerning to hear the reports of staff withholding information from individual councillors and from Council as a whole with the intention of influencing the outcome of Council deliberations. More concerning is the lack of consequences for those staff members when they are caught out. How much gets through undetected??

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  4. Not only is it important to know the full cost of this LRT project, but equally important is to understand how the city plans to pay for this project. What is the city’s funding model (for the amount that they are responsible for, i.e. excluding provincial and fed funding), and how successful is that model working? For example, what is the state of the city’s transit financial reserves? Or, how has the increased cost for the Presto card (city payments to Metrolinx) affected transit financial projections and the related “affordability model” (2.5-per-cent annual fare increases) to help pay for the new LRT system?

    Likewise, Councillor Diane Deans has repeatedly called for the Lansdowne redevelopment project to be audited. Here, too, Deans has been stonewalled. We know in that case that the funding model is the so-called “waterfall formula.” How will Ottawa taxpayers truly know whether this P3 project is proving to be a success without an audit? Mayor Jim Watson’s response to people critical of the Lansdowne redevelopment is that: “some people are never happy.”

    Furthermore, Mayor Jim Watson ran in the 2010 mayoral election with the call to: “Stop debating and dithering on Light Rail. Let’s move forward and ensure we keep costs under control.” How is it possible to keep costs under control when there is no acknowledgement of what those costs actually are?

    Some people are unhappy for a very good reason.

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  5. Given that this is a fixed price contract that the Rideau Transit Group is responsible for, there might be some justification in them not releasing the expenses to date. If they bring the LRT in under budget, they should be able to keep any surplus (nature of a fixed price contract). If there are cost overruns, however, the key is whether they were caused by the City or RTG; hence the requirement to know what originally caused the sinkhole and who has to pay for its mitigation.

    As such, while councillors are justified in asking for a breakdown of any city paid costs for the LRT, they are not necessarily justified in asking for RTG’s expenses to date. It is not until there are cost overruns and they are cost overruns for which it can be proved that the City is responsible will it be necessary to review all related expenses very closely. That being said, the City should be receiving periodic updates outlining the status of any cost overruns and the potential impact on the City.

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    1. Lorne:

      And hence the delay in revealing liability for the Sussex sinkhole.

      Has anyone noticed a line of lawyers at city hall?

      cheers

      kgray

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      1. Thanks Ken. I would note that Lansdowne is a different story because the City is a partner in the project receiving a share of profits not just rent so the City should be receiving all numbers for Lansdowne. Asking RTG to reveal its expenses in the absence of a overrun dispute is akin to asking community groups to reveal their expenses associated with rink grants. It is a fixed price contract so it is up to the contractor to control their costs within the contract parameters.

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          1. I think that Councillor Diane Deans is referring to changes made to the Phase 1 LRT plan after the $2.1-billion contract had been signed, as well as city money spent to support the implementation for Phase 1. Joanne Chianello (CBC Ottawa: “With 2 years to go, city has blown through 90 per cent of LRT contingency fund”) wrote about this issue, noting that: “Access to the contingency fund comes through senior management: the city manager, treasurer, and deputy city manager must all give their approval. Councillors often have no idea when the fund has been drawn upon.”

            In April (2016) a new federal infrastructure funding program came into effect, namely: the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. The City of Ottawa took immediate action to capitalize on this new program. However, city council did not have a chance to debate the projects that were chosen. Joanne Chianello (CBC Ottawa: “City’s wish list for federal infrastructure cash compiled without council’s consent”) reported on this money also being used for Phase 1 LRT:

            But 10 items on the list are included in Phase 1 of LRT, which presumably were already included in the $2.1-billion. How do they qualify? According to John Moser, a senior manager at the city, these projects are “enhancements to the existing contract and are additional to the $2.1-billion budget.”

            Some of these are multi-million-dollar head scratchers. Consider the $30 million to be spent on “Transportation Demand Management during LRT construction.” It’s to pay for transit detours during the construction of Phase 1. How is this an “enhancement?” Were we not planning for detours?

            Or what about $1.75 million for fare gate entrances at transitway stations, $2 million for customer waiting areas at major Confederation Line stations, $1.5 million for a transit operator crew room at Bayview and $3 million for a Tunney’s Pasture bus loop, which opened at the end of June?

            These are all projects that sure sound like they should be included in the $2.1-billion Phase 1 budget. If they weren’t included, why not? What sort of LRT system are we building that doesn’t already envision “customer waiting areas” at major stations?

            And lastly, as Ken noted, liability for the Rideau Street sinkhole is still in question.

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            1. Sheridan:

              I think I wrote on this some time ago wondering how the bus loop at Tunney’s wasn’t in the original $2.1 billion.

              Guess no one saw that coming.

              cheers

              kgray

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              1. Ken,

                Correct. I think that Councillor Diane Deans is trying to get a handle on these extra Phase 1 LRT costs so that city council is not surprised by the financial deficit this will cause. Deans is no doubt thinking something like: “I don’t want to have to consider cuts to snow removal just because we didn’t budget properly for the LRT construction.”

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