Friday, June 17, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
“Gridlock belongs on federal list,” May 6, 2011
I’m glad that the President of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities took my proposal to decentralize infrastructure spending seriously enough to respond. I’m also encouraged by the fact that he did not disagree in principle with the idea. However, I have two issues with his response.
First, he minimized the problem. His claim that half of infrastructure spending comes from municipalities is correct. But the debate over infrastructure spending has always been focused on capital spending, the majority of which comes from senior levels of government. In Alberta, it’s funded entirely by the province. As long as municipalities rely on higher levels of government, they’ll be forced to balance the needs of the city against political needs of senior governments. There’s no better example than Toronto’s Sheppard Subway line—a line from nowhere, to nowhere, and through nowhere. The province financed the tiny stub known as the Sheppard line by canceling the far more practical Eglinton line. Bad planning often makes good politics. Had the decision been left up to Toronto voters alone, this wouldn’t have happened.
Second, he said that if higher levels of government propose to give municipalities taxing power, the municipalities would be happy to sit down with them. The deferential tone is the problem. Unless municipalities are willing to forcefully make the case to the public that decentralization is essential, higher levels of government won’t bother with it. Federal and provincial politicians love controlling the purse strings. Having the ability to funnel money to politically important areas works out well for them. The FCM is a powerful lobby group, so there is no reason why they should hedge their bets by backing band aid solutions. The ball is in the FCMs court.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
With the very real prospect on an NDP lead Federal government, Canadians who have hitherto paid little attention to the details of the party’s economic plans are now scrambling to piece together the NDP’s vision for
Three specific policies championed by the aforementioned New Democrats come to mind. First, Peggy Nash, a current CAW employee and President of the New Democratic Party, has advocated for a partial nationalization of the Air Canada, and regulations that would hamstring discount carriers. Her rational is that discount carriers flood the market with supply in order to eat away at Air
The second worrisome policy is contained in Winnipeg MP Jim Maloway’s 2009 private member’s bill, which called for the creation of a “passenger’s bill of rights” for air travellers. This included such gems as compensation of $500 per hour (after the first hour) to customers experiencing flight delays, and up to $1200 for being bumped from a flight. The four largest airlines implemented a watered down version of this bill of rights. While the intention behind this legislation was reasonable, the impact would have been devastating to the airline industry, and bad for consumers. After all, if the cost associated with delays was rendered higher than the expected revenue from many flights, the industry would reduce the number of flights. This could be devastating for companies like Porter and WestJet, where a large percentage of flights are under $500. For instance, a quick search reveals that a flight from
The last policy that the NDP has to answer for is their opposition to expansion of the
If the New Democratic Party is serious about governing, they will have to explain their positions on important issues like airline regulations. One of the reasons why the Conservative Party has been able to build a competitive national party is that they dropped many of their most controversial policy ideas when they were within striking distance of power. Will the NDP make the same prudent decision, or will they govern like an opposition party? This is the question that Jack Layton will have to answer in the closing days of the campaign.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I've spent a good chunk of the last few months working on a study of Calgary's light rail transit (C-Train) system, which was released today by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. I've had a long standing interest in LRT systems, and spent the summer of 2009 working for the Cascade Policy Institute in
That first hand experience (which included riding the train every day), coupled with the empirical literature from light rail systems across North America, shattered my previous conviction that light rail transit can be an economical method of transit. For the record, I do believe that subways can be profitable in dense urban cores (even the badly managed TTC nearly breaks even), and buses already are profitable in many cases (especially inter-urban bus services, such as Greyhound and Megabus). Many proponents of LRT believe that it is a happy medium between subways and buses. If that were the case, it would be profitable. However, LRT combines the disadvantages of the two: it is slow, inflexible, and expensive. Numerous studies, in particular an authoritative study by the non-partisan United States Government Accountability Office, have demonstrated that on average, buses are a cheaper, faster, and more flexible than LRT for providing mass transit.
While I use many different metrics to demonstrate that the costs and benefits of LRT are wildly exaggerated, my favorite is that
Unsurprisingly, those last two findings proved controversial, though not as controversial as my assertion that the C-Train fails to help the urban poor. A columnist for the Calgary Herald wrote an angry response to my Herald article that accompanied the story (though doesn't seem to have read the study). She attempts to refute my arguments about urban sprawl, and the impact of the C-Train on the poor, while dismissing the study as "a cost-benefit analysis guaranteed to resonate with other right wingers who share the mantra of lower taxes above all else, including over the reality of everyday experience." I'm not clear on when cost-benefit analysis became a right wing concept, but I'll let that one go. I will, however, address her two criticisms in short order.
The idea that urban transit could worsen sprawl seems odd. The reason why it does so in
"In one respect, it should allow Calgary to be a more compact city, but what it's done is it's actually allowed Calgary to continue to develop outward because it was so easy to get to the LRT and then get other places," says Neil McKendrick, Calgary Transit's current planning manager."
While that comment is true for those who can afford to live by LRT stations (or to drive to them), it doesn't apply to the city's poorest. As it happens, LRT lines raise the cost of adjacent housing(though for proximate high end housing it lowers the value--hardly a concern for the poor)--by $1045 for every 100 feet closer to a rail station. This isn't a terribly complicated concept. If you spend a massive amount of money on a form of transit that is considered to luxurious, the price of housing goes up. This is exacerbated by the fact that diverting transit resources to those areas makes transit there comparatively better, making it that much more desirable comparatively for people who intend to use transit at all--even as just an occasional amenity, say for going downtown on weekends. LRT is great for people who can afford to live by the stations, but not so much for anyone else.
Unfortunately, for many, light rail transit has become a sacred cow. But if