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More effects of “zero means zero”

October 11, 2008 @ 09:21 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, Environment

The mayor’s “zero means zero” policy has reared its ugly head again. Yesterday’s 24 hours, Sun Media’s free daily newspaper, had a front-page story with the headline “Fuel plan may cut OC service”.  Basically, the Eco-Driving Plan’s goal is to reduce the city’s consumption of fuel by 25%.  Since OC Transpo accounts for 76% of the total fuel consumption, they’re going to take the bulk of this cut.

The report is scheduled to be tabled at a meeting of the transportation committee next week.  It proposes massive cutbacks to OC Transpo, including an across-the-board 25% reduction in service and the elimination of 20 bus routes.  Even the core Transitway routes, the 95, 96 and 97, are going to subject to both regular- and peak-hour cutbacks.

Naturally, service cuts like this are going to affect the number of users and thus the revenues.

There would likely be decrease in public transit ridership of between 10% and 15%.  This would translate into a loss of 32,000 to 48,000 passengers per day. — the report

This plan, if enacted, will result a huge increase in the number of vehicles on the road, particularly as most people drive to work alone. More vehicles on the roads means more wear and tear to the roads, so they’ll have to be inspected and repaired more frequently. This is going to be a problem since the city recently decided not to increase the number of road inspectors.

And it begs to be asked how this plan is consistent with the four main goals of the City’s Environmental Strategy, which are:

  • To be a green city where greenspace is preserved and enhanced
  • Development in harmony with nature through better ecosystem planning and design
  • A focus on walking, cycling and transit to encourage sustainable transportation choices
  • Clean air, water and earth as resource use, waste, emissions and energy use are all reduced.

Clearly, more vehicles on the road is going to result in an increase in emissions and energy use and this plan can hardly be said to “encourage sustainable transportation”.  Expect air quality to decrease as the number of vehicles on the road increases.

But traffic and environmental problems won’t be the only result. It will also almost certainly increase unemployment in the city.  Fewer bus routes and a reduced level of service means they won’t need as many bus drivers.

Hopefully, this report is an extreme what-if scenario by city staff to drive the point home that the city cannot continue to operate under “zero means zero” cutbacks. I would question the suitability-to-lead of any councillor who would vote to support such an irresponsible plan.

7 Responses to “More effects of “zero means zero””


  1. Squid says:

    Of course, if they’d get serious with light rail, they could cut OC transpo AND the fuel bills… More correctly, if they had gotten serious years ago…

    I know you’re against 0 means 0, but the fact is, the people of Ottawa are a bit thick when it comes to paying for stuff. They want everything in the world, but don’t want to pay a dime. It’s well past time that someone showed them what not paying for stuff gets you.

    It also gives the opportunity for Ottawa citizens to think seriously about what we really do need to pay for, and what we do not.

    No matter how you shake it up, bus-only mass transit is not environmentally friendly, is not scalable for capacity, and is just not sustainable. That’s the core of the matter, and it won’t be fixed until city council ends its perverse love affair with buses.

    In fact, more cars and less buses on the road may well mean less wear and tear. A bus offers MUCH more wear and tear than a huge number of cars due to the extra weight, much in the same way trucks cause a disproportionate amount of wear and tear.

    So the question is… are the people of Ottawa prepared to open their pocketbooks and pay for this stuff. If not, then they better get used to cutbacks. Personally, I’m unwilling to pay for any transit plan that doesn’t seem to look sustainable and doesn’t also look forward – planning now for how things will be in 5, 10, 20 years. I’ll go further and say that I’m even willing to sacrifice transit now in favour of a better solution in a few years.

    I am *NOT* willing to pay so much as a penny for more buses, even if that means smog and congestion in the short term.

  2. gordon says:

    I’m not advocating an increase in the number of buses on the road — I’m saying we should not be lowering the level of service currently being offered. I agree with you: we are 5 to 10 years behind where we should be with respect to rail and this needs to be rectified immediately. (In fact, Larry O’Brien agreed we’re behind where we need to be when I said this to him at the light-rail open house in Barrhaven earlier this year.)

    The Office of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources Canada says that “Each year, a single city bus can take 40 vehicles off the road, save 10,646 litres of fuel, and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 25 tonnes.” 32,000 to 48,000 additional passenger trips a day by car is insane.

    The problem with 0 means 0 is that sooner or later we’re going to have a huge tax increase to get caught up because it’s not sustainable. Ottawa had a nice surplus when Larry O’Brien came into power. We don’t have it any more because he spent it to support 0 means 0 even though the experts in municipal fiscal affairs were all saying that was a bad idea. I recall a newspaper article or radio interview at the time in which he said something to the effect of “I know this is a bad thing to do, but I’m going to do it anyways. But I won’t do it next time we have a surplus.”

    I didn’t vote for him because I knew this sort of crap would happen. I do not need to be taught what not paying for stuff gets you.

  3. Squid says:

    YOU may not need to be taught, but after >20 years living in Ottawa, I can say with confidence that a good many of the citizens do, in fact, need to be taught. Everyone seems to want everyone else’s programs cut, but nobody wants their favourite service cut.

    Will we have a big tax increase? Oh yeah. It’s just a matter of time. We probably should have had it ages ago. The problem is that historically, city council has preferred to tax and spend like a drunken sailor on half-price hooker night. That’s the same city council (minus what, 2 new guys and the mayor) that’s sitting right now.

    The 0 means 0 has forced them to look at cuts. I have to admit, they’re not doing a very good job of that either… but it’s made them look. In the past they’d just jack the taxes and throw the money at whatever floated their boat. That’s largely why OC transpo is as messed up as it is.

    Ottawa still has just about the highest property taxes in the country… and what do we have to show for it?

  4. gordon says:

    0 means 0 may perhaps have been a good exercise to look at cuts, but their approach has been too extreme. Arbitrary cuts to critical services, basic infrastructure and public transit are not good for the short-term let alone the long-term. Skimp on things like this for too long and it’s going to cost more and take longer to fix them. As a taxpayer, this type of fiscal policy concerns me.

    Oh, and OC Transpo may be “messed up”, but Ottawa does have the highest percentage of people who travel to work by public transit of any city in Canada, so they must be doing something right.

  5. Squid says:

    I’ve heard that latter brag about ottawa a few times, but I’ve never seen it published in hard numbers by a reputable source. There are also mitigating factors – in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver, a sizeable chunk of the population can live downtown, right near their work, and not have to take any transportation. Also weather in Toronto and Vancouver is conducive to walking/biking all or most of the year, further reducing the need to take transit.

    In Canada, the only cities that would be fair to compare Ottawa to would be Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton… Maybe Quebec City as well. All other cities are too small to give a worthwhile comparison, I think.

    0 means 0 could have been a very good thing for Ottawa – it was/is an opportunity to clean the chaff out of the programs provided by city to reduce costs. Council, on the other hand, has taken to using it to cause the maximum pain possible. That reflects much more on them than the concept or the mayor (who is just a couple of votes out of 25).

    As taxpayers, we should be asking why the city is incapable of balancing its books without asking for more and more money. Until 0 means 0, increases were larger than inflation by a lot every year that I have owned a house, not counting increases due to revaluation of my house. That’s a problem that is worse than cuts from 0 means 0. And with an upward spiralling tax bill, what did we have? OCTranspo was messed up, light rail was in the works but messed up, schools were hurting, half the city complained that their little pet programs weren’t being funded well enough, roads were in rough shape, etc.

    In all honesty, I don’t see how the job being done now is substantially worse than what was being done before… and it costs less.

  6. Squid says:

    I started to look up some stats for transit use. This one places ottawa third, not first but uses 1991/1992 data:

    http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch6en/appl6en/ch6a2en.html

    This study, by StatsCan also places Ottawa third (2001 data): http://www.statcan.ca/english/research/89-613-MIE/89-613-MIE2005007.pdf (see table 3.2, also notes that a bus strike in BC at the time of the study may have impacted results)

    This quote from another StatsCan report: *** Commuters are particularly unlikely to take public transit when they live and work in the suburbs. Rather
    most choose to drive to work. For example, in Ottawa–Hull, suburb-to-suburb commuters accounted for
    41% of all commuting growth between 1996 and 2001. But only 7% to 8% of suburb-to-suburb commuters
    took public transit. *** – http://www.statcan.ca/english/research/89-613-MIE/89-613-MIE2005009.pdf

    So let’s not get grossly romanticized about how awesome OCTranspo has been.

  7. gordon says:

    There are figures available from 2006 which show Ottawa as being first.

    But my point is that we have a good uptake of public transit, at least when compared to the other major cities in Canada, and we shouldn’t be discouraging this by massive service cuts such as those being talked about.



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