E-Buses: City Hall Culture Of Secrecy Continues: BENN

 

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It’s not what you know that will keep you awake at night.

It’s what you don’t know, but should.

That’s advice from a long-ago mentor, when I first took on the responsibility of being the chief financial officer of a publicly listed business. 


Accordingly, the current tempest at city hall involves the irony of having to use generators powered by fossil fuels to charge, from time-to-time (or otherwise) the to-be-purchased fleet of electric buses. The same fleet of buses that were purchased with the express purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, euphemistically referred to as Zero Emission Buses. Zero being the metric if one starts measuring at the lack of tail pipe on the vehicle. 

A while back, city council was put in the position of having to approve a $1-billion transaction for the aforementioned electric bus fleet, due to an artificial deadline imposed by a federal government funding program. Remember OC Transpo had not yet completed its due diligence. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about that. Shouldn’t there be a competitive bid on which brand of bus would be acquired? Don’t worry your pretty little heads about that.

Turns out that Hydro Ottawa does not currently have the infrastructure in place to provide sufficient electricity, even in the dead of the night, to charge the fleet of buses. At least not at the main bus yard on St. Laurent Boulevard.  And how much will that cost? Don’t worry your pretty little heads over that.

There is a pattern here. One that is consistent with so many other major projects undertaken by the city. Rushed approvals, based on incomplete information. Just a few to refresh your memories. The opening of the Confederation Line, even though, it turns out that the ready-for-service tests hadn’t been passed, so they retroactively changed the requirements. The awarding of the Trillium Line extension to a proponent that did not meet the technical requirements, twice. The approval of Lansdowne 2.0 prior to the city auditor general reviewing the optimistic (public accountant speak for unrealistic) financial projections.

Why is it that city staff regularly fails to provide councillors with sufficient information for council to make an informed decision? You know, to perform their statutory obligation of oversight. More importantly, why does city council accept this abuse of process? This is especially important when one recalls that the provincial LRT inquiry stated that senior managers and elected officials willfully withheld the information from council. Egregious malfeasance. Two words that should resonate down the halls on Laurier Avenue. And within council chambers.

And what has city council done about that culture of secrecy? Aside from nothing? Don’t worry your pretty little heads about these types of things. They will just keep you awake at night.

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

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7 Responses

  1. John Langstone says:

    That pretty much nails it. But something I’d like to emphasize are the words, “Shouldn’t there be a competitive bid on which brand of bus would be acquired? ” And why wasn’t there a competitive bid for the generators? And countless other sole source contracts let by the City. In my personal crystal ball, I can hear the City’s response to an incinerator at Trail Road being let as a sole source contract when the time comes. Had to be decided yesterday, before Council could review the documents indeed.

  2. Raymond Leury says:

    The buses were not sole sourced and claiming so is disingenuous at best. The city went way beyond what was needed – in fact they wasted two years – testing e-buses that were known to work based on what was found elsewhere. Why did they do this? Because they know that there are neophytes who haven’t done their research who claim that Ottawa is somehow special and that we need to re-confirm everything here when we know it works elsewhere. Case in point, Moscow, yes the one in Russia that loves promoting oil and gas, has over 1,000 e-buses on it’s roads.
    Unsubstantiated criticisms are one of the reasons that city hall is so slow to do anything. Ironically, those criticisms are usually coming from the same sources that criticise the city for being too slow.

  3. Ron Benn says:

    Raymond, was there a competitive bid for the e-bus fleet? Yes or no? Or, was the decision made by eliminating all but one provider? Was it established that the one surviving brand of e-bus met all of the pre-set requirements (pre-set being the operative term, as contrasted with the ever evolving criteria of the LRT testing) before the vote to order the fleet? To commit to the $1 billion project? You know, in an effort to stick to the facts.

    In contrast, it is my understanding that Toronto, that font of great governance (sarcasm alert) tested (and may still be testing) buses from four companies. You know, in an open and objective manner to determine if ANY of them meet the requirements.

    So, back to the theme of the column. The city structured its evaluation in a manner that precluded competitive bids. That council doesn’t care is something that should cause those of us who are concerned that decisions should be made in a fully informed manner. In short, it is cause for us to shake our pretty little heads.

    The righteousness of the cause does not absolve staff and council from doing their jobs properly. That is just a variant of the age old dilemma of accepting that the end justifies the means. And, to cut to the chase, it never should.

    Looking forward to your concise answers (one word for each will do, the menu being Yes or No) to the questions posed above.

  4. John Langstone says:

    This is a quote from a CBC report on the City auditor’s comments on the procurement of the e buses. “Toronto plans to award one or two contracts to supply its city with 40-foot electric buses. In the new plan, Ottawa would enter into a separate agreement with the same companies Toronto selects. ” With all due respect Raymond, is this what you consider a competitive bidding process?

  5. Ken Gray says:

    Raymond:

    I believe the power generation was sole-sourced.

    cheers

    kgray

  6. Ken Gray says:

    Raymond:

    Seeing that you appear to have been part of the process, is the power generation diesel or something else?

    cheers

    kgray

  7. Andrew says:

    I understand that 4 -5 years ago it was recommended since the ebus requires much less maintenance, to decentralize the charging sheds/points. The ebus is a new way of thinking. I have an EV, and in 6 years only the brakes have needed work (from lack of use, rust).

    So having a central depot is not efficient for ebus use. These buses can be parked in small numbers near the morning start point and charged there not overtaxing the existing infrastructure. That way large charging facilities we are discussing may not be needed.

    I hope this is a transition strategy, and not the province sliding in unwanted polluting gas plants that are contrary to common sense since renewable power is cheaper. These gas plants are being rejected everywhere except Napanee. Is this gas plant part of the provincial anti-renewable strategy that is being slid in under OC Transpo’s flag?

    Perhaps Raymond can validate the decentralized charging idea vs what is planned?

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