City Hall’s MO? Ready, Fire, Aim: BENN




From time-to-time case studies just land in your lap. Such is the case with the evolving tempest of the e-bus fleet.

The modus operandi for the City of Ottawa is to approve projects, plans, what have you, with incomplete information.  For example, the Official Plan has always been approved, with supporting bylaws passed, in advance of the supporting master transportation plan, the master transit plan and the master infrastructure plan. Once the Official Plan is approved, the city will eventually determine whether it can be supported, and at what cost. The city will have no choice but to implement the various supporting plans, irrespective of the costs. Why? Because the failure to do so will create no end of problems. Insufficient water pressure to meet the needs of the forest of 40ish-storey towers. Public transit incapable of meeting the needs of the residents in the intensified neighbourhoods. Gridlock on the roads, which will extend the time it takes for emergency vehicles to get to the site of the emergency. Minor details to be worked out with a cheque book that might or might not have the funds in the account.

Why? Because that is how they have always done it. And how has that worked out? Don’t care.

Let’s examine the e-bus fleet program, to see if it fits the same pattern.

Staff winnowed down a list of e-bus manufacturers to a short list of one. Produced a back of the envelope estimate of $1 billion to implement the program. Presented the case to council for immediate approval, notwithstanding the acknowledgement that they had not completed their due diligence. Why the hurry? A federal government funding program needed an answer ASAP.

Just a few open issues to resolve. It turns out that there is insufficient capacity within the Hydro Ottawa managed grid in the vicinity of OC Transpo’s St. Laurent depot. After committing to the purchase of the fleet of e-buses, staff are working with Hydro Ottawa to see if there is a solution to this “minor” infrastructure challenge. In the event that a solution is found (note that this remains an issue), the cost of the upgrade will be determined. As to the timing of this upgrade, well it might be subject to capacity allocations from the provincial grid.

A component of the e-bus program is to ensure that, in the event that there is a shortage of power to the St. Laurent depot, the city will purchase two generators, which operate by burning fossil fuels. Back up generators are a vital component of the infrastructure. If there is a power outage of any duration (ice storm of 1998, tornados of 2018, derecho of 2022), there needs to be an onsite source of power. That these generators might need to be put into primary use before Hydro Ottawa can upgrade its infrastructure, at whatever cost? That is a maybe, can’t confirm at this time.

Back to the costs. Remember when then-mayor Jim Watson insisted on seeking provincial and federal funding for his back of the envelope LRT budget of $1.8 billion? Then found out that it was more like $2.1 billion? The city had to absorb the extra $300 million because they applied for the matching grants before they had a firm understanding of the actual costs. Turns out that Stage 1 of the LRT is now expected to cost no less than $2.2 billion.  Could be another $300 million once the dust settles on the Rideau Street sinkhole.

All of which is to say that the e-bus program, notwithstanding the merits of converting the existing diesel burning fleet to a zero emissions fleet, is but a case study for the bigger picture problems down on Laurier Avenue. The culture remains one of ready, fire, aim. Approve big-picture, big-dollar decisions and figure out the details and costs later. Why? Because that is the way they have always done it. As for the track record on that pattern? No desire to look at past performance, for fear of learning from it.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.


New City Top Brass Wears E-Bus Scandal: BENN

Dirty Generators Not In E-Bus Approval Report To Council

Welcome To Ottawa City Hall, Graham Richardson

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2 Responses

  1. The Voter says:

    Unfortunately, they too often skip even the ‘ready’ step. “Fools rush in … ” is a proverb that might have been written with Ottawa City Hall in mind. Certainly there’s no shortage of those who qualify.

  2. sisco farraro says:

    In the Bulldog the question as to whether councilors should be allowed to serve more than 8 years on council has arisen on a number of occasions. In light of this article, it’s sad to think that those those who have served for two terms or more haven’t learned the error of their ways and are unable to provide better council to newer members at the table. Perhaps there’s something wrong with the drinking water at 110 Laurier Ave West.

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