Frustration abounds and public support for future LRT projects in Edmonton is at risk

It has been made abundantly clear that LRT is a key priority for this Council. They reiterated that point again during Tuesday’s update on the delayed Metro Line LRT (the extension to NAIT) and they made it clear to Administration that they’re not happy about the delays, nor about being kept in the dark on progress. “This has been an embarrassment,” Councillor Esslinger complained. “It’s embarrassing to say the least,” added Councillor Sohi. Earlier this week, Councillor Nickel called it “a boondoggle” and Councillor Oshry described the project as “a s**t-show”.

Metro Line LRT

The Metro Line was supposed to open most recently on Sunday, July 5. That follows failed attempts to open on June 7, and May 31, both of which follow countless previous delays. “We are still not in a position to announce an opening date,” Transportation GM Dorian Wandzura told Council when pressed yesterday. The reason? According to the City, there are still issues with the signalling system and Thales is to blame.

Thales claims they’re not the hold up and feel that trains could be operating along the line. They’re still here working on the line, but say that further work consists only of “additional functionality that was not needed for initial revenue service.” We still don’t know why the City and Thales appear to be on such different wavelengths, but there’s speculation that this is all just posturing for a coming legal battle between the two.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, on Monday the Journal revealed that it had acquired a leaked report from 2013 that outlined a number of construction issues plaguing the Metro Line. The report prompted speculation that perhaps there was more to the delayed opening than the signalling system issues the City has consistently cited. Council hammered away at this report during Tuesday’s meeting, and it was clear they were caught off-guard and had not been kept apprised of the situation in previous private updates.

It turns out the leaked report is just one of 80 total reports commissioned by the City on the project. Of the dozen issues identified in that report, nine have been closed and four are live issues that are still outstanding. There’s no word on how many deficiencies were reported and are outstanding from the other 79 reports.

“There are always deficiencies,” Wandzura said. “It’s a normal process that some of those issues are not resolved on opening day, they are dealt with in the warranty period.” Trying to provide context, City Manager Simon Farbrother explained that “every single construction project going on in this city has deficiencies, and that’s normal.” Wandzura added, “if you had a construction project with zero deficiencies, I’d be very concerned.” He reiterated a couple of times that the issues identified in the leaked report “have been or are in the process of being resolved” and that they did not contribute to the delay in opening the line. The City still feels that Thales is to blame for that.

Despite all of this bad news, Brad Smid, project manager for the line, told the Journal that he thought “the project has gone very well.” Yes, he really said that.

Is the City really being made whole?

I get the point that there are always deficiencies. In my world, if you shipped a software product and didn’t find any bugs, that’d be a clear sign that your testing processes are broken. There are always bugs. Still, attempting to reassure Council and the public by explaining that every one of our multi-million dollar projects has problems may not have been the best strategy. It’s clear that not all deficiencies are created equal, but the ones identified in leaked report were discussed as if they were all critical.

“Our objective is to get what we pay for,” said Wandzura during Tuesday’s meeting, adding that the City takes actions “to make the City whole” when deficiencies are found. This could be accomplished by some sort of remediation, financial compensation, or in the worst case, litigation.

Councillor Caterina in particular hammered away at this, suggesting that the City has accepted lower quality work because of mistakes made by the contractors. Pipe that was a smaller gauge than originally specified may have been accepted in exchange for some form of financial compensation, for instance.

The problem with that is any financial amount rendered today is likely far less than what it’ll cost if any work needs to be done in the future. I can envision the news now at a future Council update. There will be some sort of project that a future Council wants to implement, maybe running new cable to take advantage of some future technology, and they’ll be shocked when the price tag comes in significantly higher than expected because this pipe needs to be replaced with the appropriate gauge.

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Photo by Bill Burris

On the signalling contract, the City is holding back some of the payment until the work is done. The contract with Thales states the City can hold back 40%, which is about $19.8 million. Currently 49% of the contract has been paid. Responding to comments from Council that the amount is small to a big company, Farbrother said that “perhaps it’s not seen as punitive, but they are in the press every day” taking heat for the delay.

What these approaches don’t take into account is the wider impact of deficiencies and delays. What about all of the students and staff at NAIT who still can’t take the train? What about the numerous pedestrian and vehicular closures and detours that have added time to commutes and caused endless frustrations? What about the shattered confidence of the public in a year where we’ve had delays with nearly every major public project?

There’s too much in-camera & too little communication

City Council was scheduled to get an in-private update on the Metro Line yesterday. Thankfully, Mayor Iveson requested that the item be discussed in public instead. He wrote:

“Frankly, hearing yet another discussion of yet another private report does nothing to give the public confidence that this city council is getting information and in turn the public is getting information that we all need to determine what is going on with this project.”

“Too much of the discussion around this has been in private so I would like a public report and an opportunity for members of council to ask questions of Administration at least pertaining to these latest issues of deficiencies on the line, so there may be an airing of what is going on. At least any issues that can be clearly communicated to the public there is an opportunity to do that.”

While we didn’t come away with any major revelations during the update (aside from perhaps the number of reports commissioned on the construction) I think it’s critical that the discussion took place in public. Council did have a private update with Administration later in the day, but there’s no reason that everything needs to be done behind closed doors.

For one thing, Council desperately needs to restore the public’s faith in this project and going in-camera is not going to accomplish that. “The trust is gone, let’s just be honest about it,” said Councillor Nickel. “We need to restore people’s confidence,” said Councillor Sohi.

Kingsway/Royal Alex Station
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

Unfortunately, it seems as though Administration’s first instinct is to go in-camera. For instance, when discussing the report on deficiencies, they attempted a few times to delay the discussion to the private session. “I’m a little disappointed that everything keeps getting reverted back to, ‘this is the normal course of construction’,” said Councillor Caterina. “At what point do we do something different?” asked Councillor Oshry, to which Administration replied, “That’s a perfect thing to discuss in private.”

This desire to go in-camera is a symptom of a much larger communications problem facing the City. Council was caught off-guard by Monday’s leaked report and is eager to prevent that from happening again. “Going forward, we’re going to want to know everything about everything,” Councillor Caterina told Administration.

To bring the discussion yesterday to a close, Mayor Iveson put forward a motion to have Administration “develop and immediately implement a public communication plan” and to prepare a report that outlines “any significant deficiencies with this project.”

“I want to be able to tell the public with confidence” that these issues “have been fully digested,” the mayor said. “The instinct to stop giving dates – we have to move past that, and just report on a regular basis,” he added. “We need to be zealous in our transparency and communication on this project.”

There doesn’t appear to be enough accountability

One thing lacking from the discussion yesterday was any accountability on the part of the City. Councillor McKeen and his colleagues did suggest a few times that the City and Council are ultimately responsible for public projects like this, but Administration seemed content to blame contractors. The public is calling for heads to roll, at least on Twitter, but there’s no sign that that is going to happen.

I’m reminded of that overused cliche about the definition of insanity. The Metro Line has been delayed again and again since December 2013, and yet the same people are in charge using the same contractors. If the inputs don’t change, how can we expect the outcomes to?

Clearly building an LRT line is a major endeavour and integrating it with an existing one has proven to be even more challenging. But it’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that so many other cities have successfully (from an outsider’s point-of-view) built even more complicated transit projects. That may not be a popular perspective within the city because it’s like comparing apples and oranges, but that’s absolutely what the public is thinking.

We’re 18 months past the first delay, and we still don’t have an opening date. How much farther down the current path do we go? We’ve heard from the City that changing contractors now and starting over on the signalling would be too costly, but that is beginning to sound an awful lot like the sunk cost fallacy. Maybe it would make more sense in the long-run to cut our losses and start over. We may not be paying Thales anything more, but we’re also not getting any closer to the end of the project.

I don’t think its wise to fire someone just to have a scapegoat, but it would go a long way toward restoring the public’s confidence in the City if some accountability measures were taken.

What impact does all of this have on the Valley Line LRT?

Understandably, Council had some questions yesterday about the impact of all of this on the Valley Line LRT. Councillor Sohi asked what, if anything, has been learned that could be applied to that project. The response? The importance of communication. Administration cited the establishment of five Citizen Working Groups as proof that things are improving with each project.

At one point, Wandzura tried to explain to Council that different procurement models result in different outcomes. The suggestion was that because the Valley Line will be built using a P3 model, we should expect things to be different. Different, yes. Better? Not necessarily. There are big concerns with the P3 model and the only reason we’re even going down that route is because it was the only way to secure federal funding. The Valley Line could very well turn out to be worse.

On the other hand, maybe expectations have been lowered so much with the Metro Line that the City will be able to exceed them with construction of the Valley Line.

When will we have an opening date for the Metro Line LRT?

Mayor Iveson asked yesterday if there’s any chance the line would be open by the start of school in the fall, to which Wandzura said he believed it would. Farbrother added that they didn’t want to suggest a date which could cause communications and public opinion to deteriorate even further. So the fall is City’s best guess, but at this point there’s no reason to have any faith in that time frame.

MacEwan Station & Rogers Place

As Paula Simons wrote, the stations and line look finished, yet they “just sit there, ghostly and pristine.” Right next door construction on Rogers Place continues, apparently on-time and on-budget. “Like a desert mirage, the promise of the NAIT LRT is always just out of reach,” Paula wrote. It’s looking increasingly likely that the new area will open before the Metro Line does.

In a private follow-up late yesterday afternoon, Council voted to hold a special meeting on the Metro Line LRT on August 17. They also made a private motion that “will move things forward” but of course we don’t know what that is just yet. An auditor’s report on the project is expected to be discussed by Council on August 24. That’s the most appropriate time for a retrospective, Farbrother suggested.

So for now we wait, with more questions than answers, and still without an opening date.

Metro Line LRT delayed again until Spring 2015, maybe, hopefully

The City held a press conference late this afternoon to provide an update on the Metro Line LRT extension to NAIT. They should have waited until February 2, because once again we learned that the opening of the new line has been delayed. The new target date is May 2015, more than a full year after the extension was originally slated to open.

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MacEwan LRT Station in December 2014, photo by Darren Kirby

Today’s news release thanked Edmontonians for their patience and used much more careful language than previous delay announcements:

“Based on the most recent testing schedule provided by Thales Rail Signalling Solutions Inc., the City of Edmonton is cautiously optimistic the Metro Line LRT will open to public service in spring 2015.”

Cautiously optimistic is a long way from confident. The reason for the delay is the same thing we’ve heard since the project was first delayed – the contractor is having problems with the signaling system:

“Thales appreciates the patience of everyone in Edmonton as we work to complete the signaling system for the Metro Line,” says Thales Vice President Mario Peloquin. “We understand how important this essential transportation infrastructure is for the people of Edmonton, and we remain committed to delivering an outstanding product that is safe, efficient and reliable, and that will serve the city for generations to come.”

The signaling system is responsible for controlling train traffic. It tracks train movements and keeps them on schedule. Part of the challenge is that with the Metro Line, the City is changing the signaling system from a traditional fixed block system to a more modern communications-based train control system, or CBTC. It’s this new signaling system that will enable trains on the Metro and Capital lines to share the same tracks.

Even though construction completed on time and $90 million under budget, the Metro Line still isn’t open. The project has been delayed numerous times over the last year or so:

  • In September 2013, everything seemed on track for an April 2014 opening.
  • In December 2013, the opening was delayed a few months until Spring 2014.
  • In the Spring of 2014, the opening was further delayed until the end of the year. That schedule was reaffirmed over the summer.
  • In October 2014, the opening was delayed again, with February 2015 identified as the earliest possible date.
  • Now, in January 2015, the opening has been delayed until May 2015.

Needless to say, there’s very little confidence in the latest target date.

New Edmonton Arena Construction
MacEwan LRT Station next to the new downtown arena, September 2014

It was in October 2014 that Mayor Iveson called the delays “unacceptable” and asked the City Auditor to review how the project had been managed. Since then, the City has held back $20 million from the $55 million contract with Thales, and the auditor has been investigating.

Now the City says that the latest schedule from Thales would have the handover of the signaling system take place by March 23, 2015. If by some miracle Thales is actually able to meet that date, the City would need approximately 6 weeks to evaluate the system and complete staff training.

“We are very concerned with the ongoing delay of the Metro Line and will continue doing everything we can to hold Thales to their new schedule. Our goal remains the same: to open the Metro Line for safe, reliable public service as quickly as possible.”

On the Metro Line LRT site, the City has made available a slide deck and an FAQ, both in PDF.

metro line delayed

The FAQ tries to explain what has happened and attempts to provide some confidence that the City is providing “increased” project oversight to ensure it gets done. After the number of delays this project has experienced, you have to wonder if sticking with Thales is the right approach, but that’s what the City is doing:

“At present, our best option is to continue supporting Thales to deliver the signaling system. Our expectation is that Thales will meet its commitments. The City has strict project oversight to ensure they do so. If they fail to meet a milestone or if testing does not proceed according to schedule, the City will hold Thales to account.”

Let’s hope the sunk cost fallacy isn’t at play here.

The City says they are “tracking milestones on a daily basis” and have increased resources on the project. “We’re working diligently to help Thales deliver the signaling system by March 23, 2015.” The FAQ even says the City has explored the option of using people to manage train movements in an effort to get the new line open more quickly, but they ultimately decided that approach did not meet requirements for cost, safety, reliability, or efficiency.

Curiously, the final question in the FAQ is, “are you feeling badly about the delay, City of Edmonton?” Here’s the answer:

“Everyone involved with the Metro Line project regrets the delay of this exciting transportation project. We ask for your patience and hope you’ll continue to bear with us as we work towards bringing the Metro Line into service in spring 2015.”

So we’ll have to wait until late March before we can be sure the Spring 2015 opening is actually going to happen. In the meantime, we’d better make sure the same problems aren’t going to plague the Valley Line LRT extension.

City Council approves a new transportation goal and outcomes for The Way Ahead

It’s no secret that LRT is City Council’s top infrastructure priority. They have repeatedly stressed the importance of expanding our LRT network, and scored a win recently with the Valley Line. LRT is part of a bigger transformation that Council hopes to realize, which is a shift away from the car-dominated transportation network we have today to a network that offers realistic choice through a range of travel options. At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, they approved a new goal for The Way We Move that makes this transformation clearer.

City Council Swearing In 2013-2017

In November last year, Edmonton’s new City Council took part in a series of strategic planning sessions. In addition to serving as a crash course on the City’s strategy and approach to long-term planning, the sessions were also a way to ensure the new Councillors were on board with the corporate outcomes, measures, and targets for each of the six 10-year goals identified in The Way Ahead. Among the key outcomes of those meetings were a desire by Council to review the goal statement for The Way We Move, as well as a desire to emphasize public engagement within The Ways.

The public engagement action is being handled through a new Council Initiative, and I think we’ll hear much more about that in the weeks ahead. I’m looking forward to it.

The goal for The Way We Move was reviewed and discussed at a couple of subsequent Council meetings, notably January 28 and March 11. Council wanted to stress the use of public transit, but they wanted to make it clear that Edmontonians would have choice. The goal they ultimately settled on reflects both of those desires and has led to a new set of outcomes too.

Current Goal: Shift Edmonton’s Transportation Mode

The current goal statement for The Way We Move is focused on “mode shift”, which is meant to convey that while the majority of Edmontonians get around the city using vehicles today, that should not always be the case. The reasons for needing a shift included changing our urban form to be more sustainable, accessibility, supporting active and healthy lifestyles, reducing the impact on the environment, and attracting business and talent to Edmonton.

Here’s the goal statement that accompanies the goal:

“Modes of transportation shift to “fit” Edmonton’s urban form and enhanced density while supporting the City’s planning, financial and environmental sustainability goals.”

Each goal also has an ‘elaboration’ associated with it. The current one for transportation reads:

“In shifting Edmonton’s transportation modes the City recognizes the importance of mobility shifts to contribute to the achievement of other related goals. To do so suggests the need to transform the mix of transport modes, with emphasis on road use for goods movement and transiting people and transit use for moving people. This goal reflects the need for a more integrated transportation network comprising of heavy rail, light rail, air and ground transport, and recognizes the important contribution that transportation makes to environmental goals.”

While the current wording attempts to connect with the other goals in The Way Ahead, it doesn’t as forcefully make the case for offering alternatives to single-occupant vehicles. The other challenge is that “mode shift” doesn’t mean anything to most of us, and sounds bureaucratic.

Perhaps more importantly, this was the only goal that was presented as if was worth doing solely to achieve the other goals. Surely a shift in how we move around the city should have benefits of its own!

New Goal: Enhance use of public transit and active modes of transportation

The new goal statement reads:

“Enhancing public transit and other alternatives to single-occupant vehicles will provide Edmonton with a well-maintained and integrated transportation network. Increased use of these options will maximize overall transportation system efficiency and support the City’s urban planning, livability, financial, economic and environmental sustainability goals.”

And the new elaboration reads:

“Through this goal, the City recognizes that a transportation system that is designed to support a range of travel options will increase the number of people and the amount of goods that can move efficiently around the city, while supporting the City’s goals for livability, urban form, financial, economic and environmental sustainability. Creating this 21st century sustainable and globally competitive city means offering choice. It will allow Edmontonians of all ages and abilities to safely walk, bike, ride transit, ride-share or drive to the places they need to go. The trade-offs needed to achieve this vision will create an integrated transportation system with greater travel choices for Edmontonians.”

The connection to the other goals is still present in the new wording, but not at the expense of highlighting the desire for alternatives to the car. There’s also the suggestion that trade-offs will need to be made in order to create a system that offers choice – we can’t have it all without making some hard decisions. The new goal is much more approachable now that “mode shift” is gone.

New Outcomes

Alongside this change, Council approved 12 new corporate outcomes, replacing the 20 that had previously been approved. Through their discussions, Council felt the outcomes should be specific and measurable, and provide a clarity of purpose. They wanted to simplify the approach. Here are the 12 outcomes they ended up with:

  1. Edmonton is attractive and compact
  2. The City of Edmonton has sustainable and accessible infrastructure
  3. Edmontonians use public transit and active modes of transportation
  4. Goods and services move efficiently
  5. Edmontonians are connected to the city in which they live, work, and play
  6. Edmontonians use facilities and services that promote healthy living
  7. Edmonton is a safe city
  8. The City of Edmonton’s operations are environmentally sustainable
  9. Edmonton is an environmentally sustainable and resilient city
  10. The City of Edmonton has a resilient financial position
  11. Edmonton has a globally competitive and entrepreneurial business climate
  12. Edmonton Region is a catalyst for industry and business growth

Gone are words like “minimized”, “supports”, or “strives”. The new language seems less open to interpretation, which is a good thing for determining progress. The next step is for Administration to prepare measures and targets based on these outcomes and to update The Way Ahead (there are currently 65 approved measures and 27 approved targets).

Results?

It’s great that Council wanted to strengthen the transportation goal and that they have simplified the outcomes. Most of this strategic planning was completed by previous Councils, so the exercise probably helped to ensure our current Councillors feel a sense of ownership. But the challenge remains: we need to implement the plans and see results. An annual report on progress will go to Council next year, based on the new outcomes, measures, and targets.

Edmonton’s Valley Line LRT moves forward with commitment from the Province

It was the announcement Edmonton was hoping for last Thursday when the Province unveiled its Budget 2014: money for southeast LRT extension to Mill Woods.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

Edmonton’s Valley Line LRT is moving forward after the Province today made a commitment to provide up to $600 million to help finance the project. In a prepared statement, Premier Alison Redford said:

“Alberta is preparing to welcome a million new residents over the next decade, many of whom will be choosing communities like Edmonton as their home. Our Building Alberta Plan is helping municipalities build public transit systems to accommodate growth and make it easier for Albertans of all ages and levels of mobility to get where they need to go.”

In stark contrast to his disappointment last Thursday, Mayor Don Iveson was understandably pleased with today’s result, calling it “a momentous occasion”:

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Today’s announcement was a bit over-the-top in my opinion, with Premier Redford, cabinet ministers, and MLAs arriving at Churchill Station via LRT. I think Mayor Iveson picked up on the pomp as well, joking that he hoped the ministers enjoyed their trip on the LRT.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

It was a good opportunity for Edmontonians to show support for LRT expansion however, with students from City Hall School holding up #yeg4lrt signs at the top of the escalator. There was a sizable crowd gathered and lots and lots of media on hand to capture the event. If you’d like to watch the announcement, you can see the raw footage here.

What the Province has committed to is:

  • up to $250 million under GreenTRIP over three years beginning in 2016-17 upon approval under the second call for GreenTRIP projects,
  • up to $150 million in matching provincial funding if the federal government approves this project under the new Building Canada Fund beginning in 2016-17, and
  • up to $200 million in an interest-free loan to be repaid by the city over 10 years, fully backed by the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (ACFA).

As Mayor Iveson noted today, only $400 million of that is new money. The interest-free $200 million loan is simply a creative way to bridge the gap.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

It is unusual though not unprecedented for the Province to offer interest-free loans to municipalities through the Alberta Capital Finance Authority (ACFA). For instance, a program known as “ME first!” launched in September 2003 and provided interest-free loans to encourage municipalities to achieve energy savings in their operations. It is common for the City to receive loans from ACFA for infrastructure projects, with typical interest rates ranging from 1.6% to 3.3%. Some projects that the City has previously borrowed for include the Whitemud Drive/Quesnell Bridge rehabilitation, the Walter Bridge replacement, and the NAIT LRT line. Any loans would be subject to the Municipal Government Act, which outlines debt limits and other restrictions. Edmonton is well within both the provincial debt limit and its own more strict limits.

Technically the money won’t start flowing until 2016, which perhaps not coincidentally happens to be the pre-election budget. It certainly did feel like a politically motivated announcement today. The Province received immense pressure from Edmontonians after last week’s budget and Mayor Iveson and his colleagues on Council did a good job of harnessing that to their advantage (the mayor even played along with the #SadDonIveson meme).

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As Dave noted today:

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Still, the assurance from the Province means that the City can keep the project moving forward, and that’s a win for Edmonton. We won’t lose a construction season, and the federal funding will likely be received without issue. Mayor Iveson confirmed:

“Knowing that we have a clear pathway to apply for those dollars allows City Council to consider moving ahead to the next step of this journey.”

The mayor thanked Council, our regional neighbours, and the ministers at the Province for working hard to get the deal done.

Valley Line LRT Funding Announcement

I know many people have been working on this for a long time, but I think Mayor Iveson deserves a lot of credit for making this happen. He expressed disappointment and frustration last week, but did not alienate the cabinet ministers he needed to work with to move things forward. He kept the lines of communication open, and clearly said the right things.

Today’s news, while positive for the Valley Line LRT, is not the long-term commitment that the mayor has been seeking, but it is another step in the right direction.

Valley Line LRT

Here’s a look at what the Valley Line LRT will look like from Mill Woods to 102 Avenue downtown (subject to change):

The City’s website has already been updated with details related to the funding:

“Thanks in part to timely commitments by our provincial and federal partners, the Valley Line will remain on schedule for a construction start of 2016, aiming to be open to the public by the end of 2020.”

The next step is a Request for Proposals to shortlist qualified consortia (groups of affiliated companies) that bid on the project. That stage is expected to take three months.

Keep up-to-date on the Valley Line LRT here or sign up for email updates.

Province to Edmonton’s City Council: “You’ll like the 2014 budget…just kidding!”

Things were looking up for LRT expansion in Edmonton. As recently as a few weeks ago, Mayor Iveson sounded optimistic that the Province was going to provide money for LRT. Other members of City Council had also received positive indications from the Province. But talk is cheap, and the Province didn’t follow through with today’s budget, as Mayor Iveson made clear:

“Not in a position to celebrate anything today at this point. Little bit of disappointment that yesterday’s message and really the message our Council has been consistent about since last year hasn’t quite gotten through yet.”

The Province unveiled its 2014 Budget this afternoon, saying it “delivers the core services Albertans expect, makes strategic investments in innovation to improve the lives of Albertans today and into the future, and strengthens new and existing infrastructure to address the demands of our growing province and economy.” Unfortunately, LRT was not deemed a priority as evidenced by the complete lack of commitment to funding its ongoing expansion in Edmonton and Calgary.

The original GreenTRIP fund of $2 billion, created by the Stelmach government in 2008, has not been increased. MSI funding increased slightly, but not nearly enough to fund the LRT expansion to Mill Woods. Besides, as Mayor Iveson again pointed out today, Edmonton has a need for LRT funding on top of all the things that MSI funding is used for in other municipalities – building libraries, recreation centres, etc. The lack of increase in GreenTRIP funding was especially disappointing to the mayor:

“My interpretation of long-term commitment to GreenTRIP isn’t just saying we’re going to roll out all the money we announced serveral years ago by 2019 and announce this year’s money like its new when its actually money that we’re putting into the NAIT line today because its money that was announced previously.”

He clarified yet again what a long-term commitment would look like:

“For me, a long-term commitment to transit would be an open-ended or ten year commitment to sustained levels of funding for rapid transit expansion in our province.”

The reaction from local leaders was disappointment, as expected. “There’s no new commitment to transit here,” Mayor Iveson said.

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There are two key risks the City faces by not receiving funding for LRT expansion from the Province. The first risk is that we miss yet another construction season, which could add around $65 million to the total cost of the project. The City has a deadline of April 30 to try to get all of the necessary funding in place. If that date isn’t met, then the completion of the Southeast LRT expansion by 2019 is in jeopardy.

The second risk is that the federal funding Edmonton has applied for under the P3 Canada program could be at risk if construction doesn’t begin by the end of 2015. “There is a timeline on the P3 grant,” Mayor Iveson said. “If we were to lose another year, then we would potentially begin to lose some of the federal funding, and then we’d really lose momentum.”

Mayor Don Iveson

But the biggest issue here is that the Province made noise about a long-term commitment to LRT, and simply hasn’t delivered. Mayor Iveson expressed his frustration with this:

“Frankly I received a lot of mixed messages from the Province over the last six to eight weeks, that we’d be happy, that we should manage our expectations, that we’d be satisfied, that we’re asking for too much, and often from the same people, so that is a frustration.”

Still he tried to remain optimistic, adding, “that just tells me that things are fluid still.”

You can listen to Mayor Iveson’s full remarks here:

If there wasn’t already a trust issue between City Council and the Province, there most certainly is now. Conversations can only be considered productive if they actually lead to an outcome that all sides are happy with. If the Province wasn’t prepared to make a commitment now, they should have made that clear to the mayor and the rest of Council.

Asked what he thought about his first provincial budget experience since taking office, Mayor Iveson sighed audibly. “That’s what I think,” he said. Ever the optimist, he said he remained dedicated to working with the Province to find a positive outcome for the city. “I think they’ve figured out in the last 24 hours that we really mean it, this is really important to us.”

You can read more about the Province’s Budget 2014 here.

Does high speed rail have a future in Alberta?

Last week I attended a public meeting on high speed rail in Alberta (which I typically abbreviate ABHSR). The issue is being considered by the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future, an all-party committee consisting of 18 MLAs. As part of the process, the committee has now heard from the public in Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton, and is encouraging additional written submissions by March 31. I hope at least a few Albertans take them up on that, because their “public” meeting was poorly publicized and required going past three security checkpoints.

Alberta High Speed Rail Public Meeting

Here’s the stimulus provided by the committee on the idea:

  • It could offer service between Edmonton and Calgary (including a stop in Red Deer) with a trip time of one to two hours at speeds of 200-500 km/h.
  • One-way ticket prices have been estimated at between $66 and $142.
  • Capital costs have been estimated at $2.5 to five billion, but could be significantly higher.
  • A route would be chosen and land would be acquired along the route for tracks and stations.
  • Overpasses or underpasses would likely have to be built to accommodate many of the road crossings or, alternatively, bridges above any roads the track would cross could be constructed.

Clearly the idea is intriguing. A hundred bucks to get to Calgary in less time than it would take to drive? Sign me up! Driving is stressful, I could read or do some work on the train, there are lots of positives, for sure. But is Alberta ready? Is this an investment we’re prepared to make now?

There were some interesting viewpoints put forward at the meeting. Some felt the time is right, and that a project like this could allow us to harness the talents of all the smart, creative, and innovative people we have throughout the province. Others expressed concern that our population isn’t big enough to warrant such a project. And still others argued that automated, driverless cars are coming and will make the entire idea irrelevant (as exciting as the work Google and others are doing in this area is, there are significant hurdles still to overcome, so I’m not holding my breath).

Technically, the project sounds feasible. A few speakers talked about Maglev technology that has been deployed in a number of other places, notably in Asia. One speaker, Deryck Webb, said Maglev combined with vacuum tubes was the way to go (what he described sounded very similar to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop). I think the key issues are financial and political, not technical.

Alberta High Speed Rail Public Meeting

The issue last came up in 2009, when a report was issued assessing the potential for service between Calgary and Edmonton. At the time I wrote:

“I personally think if the province is going to be spending money on transit, it should be on city and regional transit. Both Edmonton and Calgary could use the assistance to improve their respective transit systems…”

I still feel that way today. If we’re going to spend a few billion dollars, let’s spend it on LRT first.

This is the message our local leaders are sending to the Province. One of the written submissions the committee has received thus far was from the Edmonton International Airport. President and CEO Tom Ruth wrote the following:

“Given the lack of local networked options in the Edmonton Region, we agree with the position of the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) that the priority should be to ensure there are fully developed networks in advance of HSR; including Light Rapid Transit (LRT) service fully developed within the Edmonton Region, with connectivity to EIA. Until these intra-regional options are fully built out, the utility of HSR is severely limited.”

Maybe high speed rail is in Alberta’s future, but I hope it’s after we have developed the LRT networks in Calgary and Edmonton.

You can see the full transcript of last week’s public meeting here (or in PDF here). You might also be interested in the Reddit thread on the issue. If you’d like to submit something to the committee, send it to economicfuture.committee@assembly.ab.ca. The deadline is March 31, and all submissions and the identities of their authors will be made public.

A vision for the future of transportation in Alberta

The Province is currently working on a new long-term transportation strategy for Alberta. Over the last two months, public discussions have been held throughout Alberta and in the spring, an online survey will be released.

“This Strategy – which will focus on all forms of transportation, connections and ways to move people and products – provide an overarching vision for Alberta’s transportation system over the next 50 years. It will also help guide government decisions on transportation investments, policies and programs.”

That’s a big challenge. But it’s exciting to consider!

Since I missed the meeting here in Edmonton, I took a look at the feedback form. It includes a number of questions that aim to capture what the public thinks about the strategy. One of the first deals with the proposed vision for the Transportation Strategy for Alberta:

“A world-class transportation system that is safe, sustainable and innovative, and that supports Alberta’s economy and quality of life.”

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just seems rather bland, doesn’t it? It’s very expected. And phrases like “world-class” are just meaningless. The proposed vision is also incredibly similar to others. For instance, here is Transport Canada’s vision:

“A transportation system in Canada that is recognized worldwide as safe and secure, efficient and environmentally responsible.”

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the proposed vision. It doesn’t tell me anything about what transportation in Alberta will look like in the future, especially as you could credibly argue that it reflects the current state of Alberta’s transportation system.

welcome to alberta
Welcome to Alberta by Magalie

What could it be instead? Well let’s consider the context.

The shift from rural to urban has been dramatic in Alberta. According to the 2011 federal census, more than 56% of Albertans now live in population centres larger than 100,000 people in size, and 83% live in urban areas of any size (compared to 81% nationally). We’re an urban province now more than ever. The economic power of cities cannot be ignored.

We know that vehicles are dangerous. According to the World Health Organization, “road traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, and the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-29.” Here in Alberta, traffic fatalities have declined significantly from 2007 through 2011, but there are still too many of them. We also know that vehicles have a negative impact on the environment. They contribute to global warming, they contribute to smog, and they take up an incredible amount of land that could otherwise be used more productively.

There are lots of other factors to consider, but I think these are the two most important. Reducing our dependence on vehicles and recognizing the importance of cities should be central any vision of the future of transportation in our province. Unsurprisingly, the two biggest cities in Alberta have already recognized this.

Our neighbours to the south have the Calgary Transportation Plan, which says:

The decisions made today about where and what to build will affect Calgarians for 100 years or more – just as decisions made in the past affect us today. Going forward, the transportation system must perform a wide variety of roles and consider the context of surrounding land uses, be they natural or manufactured. It must provide more choice for Calgarians – realistic choices that are convenient, affordable and attractive. These choices include walking, cycling, transit, high occupancy vehicles (HOV or carpooling) and single-occupant vehicles (SOV).

Here in Edmonton, we have the Transportation Master Plan, The Way We Move. It is even more aggressive:

We are building a 21st century city, shaping an Edmonton that will meet the needs of our diverse and growing urban and regional population. Growing environmental concerns, acknowledgment of the ongoing investment needed to maintain our transportation infrastructure and the rapid growth of our city demand a shift in transportation priority setting. It is a shift from single passenger vehicle use to more public transit; from building outward to a compact urban form. From an auto oriented view of transportation to a more holistic view of an interconnected, multi-modal transportation system where citizens can walk, bike, bus and train efficiently and conveniently to their desired location.

I recognize that Calgary and Edmonton have a completely different context and set of challenges than the rest of the province does, but I think their transportation strategies are informative. Let me also say that I don’t think creating a vision statement is easy. I know a lot of hard work, thought, and difficult discussions are needed to come up with them. That said, I’ll take a stab at it.

Here’s my attempt at crafting a stronger vision for the future of transportation in Alberta:

An innovative and sustainable transportation system that emphasizes high occupancy vehicles and strengthens the global competitiveness of Alberta’s urban areas.

What do you think?

Another small step forward for Edmonton’s Southeast LRT extension

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today introduced the new Building Canada Plan, “the largest long-term infrastructure plan in Canadian history, providing stable funding for a 10-year period.” The highlight of the new plan is the $14 billion New Building Canada Fund, a potential source of funding for projects like Edmonton’s planned Southeast LRT extension.

valley line lrt

Known as the Valley Line, the Southeast to West LRT extension would run 27 km from Mill Woods to Lewis Farms. The City hopes to construct the expansion in phases, starting with a $1.8 billion leg from Mill Woods Town Centre to 102 Street downtown. The City has already committed $800 million to the project, and now needs the federal and provincial governments to contribute their share.

Despite some opposition, City Council approved the use of a public-private partnership to build the extension, enabling the City to access funding through P3 Canada. In March last year, P3 Canada awarded $250 million toward the project.

Mayor Don Iveson

Though many details about the new Building Canada Fund are still to come, Mayor Don Iveson held a press conference this afternoon to discuss how it might help the City with the LRT expansion. In the ideal case, the City would receive another $150 million for the project, taking the total federal contribution to $400 million. Mayor Iveson said:

“That shows the federal government is seriously committed to investing in transit, maybe to not the level that mayors across the country would like, but it’s an opening to further discussion about the importance of national investment in transit infrastructure.”

Though he praised the efforts of the federal government, he also shared his thoughts on what he’d like to see in the future:

“Long-term, I would like to see a dedicated federal investment in rapid transit, over and above these baseline Building Canada commitments.”

Here’s the audio from Mayor Iveson’s press conference today:

If the City were to receive the funding it hopes to from Building Canada, that would bring the funding gap down to $365 million (the City has $235 million left over from Stelmach’s fund for green transit that mostly went to the North LRT to NAIT). The Government of Alberta needs to come to the table, and Mayor Iveson sounded optimistic that could happen:

“We’ll keep on talking to ministers and MLAs and we’ve been having a lot of those conversations lately and they’re very receptive. They’re working within their own constraints, and their own competing priorities, but I believe they’re trying to find a way.”

I’m much less optimistic. Both Calgary and Edmonton have made it clear that rapid transit is their top priority, but Premier Alison Redford’s government has consistently avoided making any commitments. Sooner or later, the province is going to have to either come to the table on LRT funding, or as David Staples wrote last month, “we need to elect a government that can make it happen.”

If the funding were secured by the spring, construction on the Southeast LRT could begin as early as 2016 with the extension opening by 2020.

Edmonton’s Pedway: The Growth Years

This is the second part in a series of posts looking at the past, present, and future of Edmonton’s pedway network.

The pedway system we know today was largely built in the 1980s. According to the Edmonton Journal in 1990, projects with an estimated value of $679 million were completed between 1983 and 1989 downtown, including $20 million on Jasper Avenue, Rice Howard Way, and the pedway system.

One of the biggest projects was the extension of the LRT line, with construction on Bay and Corona stations beginning in 1980. Subterranean downtown Edmonton must have seemed like paradise in those days, because the LRT construction had an extremely large impact on downtown. Jasper Avenue was under construction for years, and that harmed businesses as much if not more than West Edmonton Mall (which first opened in 1981).

LRT Construction 1980s
Downtown construction, photo by ETS

It wasn’t just the LRT being built though. Of the roughly 40 buildings downtown connected to the pedway, half were built between 1974 and 1984. More buildings were constructed in Edmonton during the 70s than any other decade. It’s no surprise then that the pedway grew significantly during the latter part of this period and in the years immediately following it (as pedway construction tended to lag building construction).

Following the completion of Edmonton Centre in 1974, a series of office towers followed. TD Tower opened in 1976, with the Sutton Place Hotel (Four Seasons Hotel) and 101 Street Tower (Oxford Tower) following in 1978. All three had connections to the pedway built. The Citadel Theatre and Sun Life Place also opened in 1978, and the Stanley Milner Library, constructed in 1967, was first added to the pedway network that year. Canadian Western Bank Place, HSBC Place, and the Standard Life Building all opened in 1980. ATCO Centre and Enbridge Place opened in 1981, followed by Bell Tower and Scotia Place in 1982. Manulife Place and the Shaw Conference Centre opened in 1983. Canada Place capped off a busy period of construction in 1986.

Pedway connections were often added years after a building was first completed. Scotia Place was connected via an above-ground bridge in 1990 when Commerce Place (Olympia & York) opened (though it already had an below-ground connection). The Royal Bank Building, built in 1965, didn’t get a pedway connection until April 1993, one month after an above-ground pedway was built connecting Manulife Place and Edmonton City Centre (Eaton’s Centre). Construction of these connections did not always go smoothly. The bridge connecting City Centre and Manulife was delayed for a variety of reasons, but one was that the hallway from City Centre did not line up with existing “knock-out” panels that Manulife Place had for future pedway construction. That meant blasting through a wall that was not designed to be opened. Still, the bridge came in at a relatively inexpensive $200,000 (the typical above-ground bridge could cost up to $500,000 at the time).

Downtown Pedway c. 1980
Existing & Approved pedway connections, ~1980

Downtown wasn’t the only place pedway-like connections were being built. A $64 million renovation of the Alberta Legislature grounds took place from 1978 to 1982, and one of the key features was an extensive underground pedway system. In the spring of 1985, the Business Building opened on the University of Alberta campus with an above-ground connection to Tory and HUB Mall. It would eventually be connected to the larger system in August 1992 when the University LRT Station opened featuring a below-ground connection to the Dental-Pharmacy Centre and above-ground bridge to HUB Mall.

Though connections continue to be added today, many Edmontonians considered the pedway “complete” in 1990 after two key projects. The first was the extension of the LRT to Grandin Station in 1989, finally linking the downtown pedway network with the Legislature pedway network. The second was much more controversial.

The pedway linking Edmonton Centre and Churchill LRT Station was often called “the final link” in the pedway network. When the City first put the project out for tender, no bid came in at the budgeted amount of $4.9 million. The lowest bid was 14% higher, bringing the cost to $6.2 million. The original design called for a glass wall and an amphitheatre under Churchill Square, in addition to the removal of 16 elm trees. Council requested that the design be tweaked and re-tendered. That delayed the project, but the plan worked. The pedway we know today was designed by MB Engineering Ltd. and constructed by Chandros Construction Ltd., right on the original $4.9 million budget.

Edmonton Centre contributed $600,000 of the budget, and insisted on the skylights and planter boxes. Jim Charuk, Edmonton VP of Oxford Development Group, said at the time that anything less would have become a “people sewer.” The pedway connection first opened for Christmas shoppers on December 14, 1990. It closed during January 1991 so that finishing touches could be put on the project. The pedway officially opened to the public on February 18, 1991.

With the addition of City Hall in 1992, the Winspear Centre in 1997, and the Art Gallery of Alberta in 2010, the downtown pedway network has continued to grow. But today’s network was largely built in the 80s, and it shows.

P3, or not P3? That’s the question as we try to fund Edmonton’s future LRT

In October of last year, Council approved the use of a public-private partnership (P3) to fund the Southeast to West LRT project. The decision came just days after the new LRT Governance Board was established, but it was largely overshadowed by the downtown arena news that week. Today Mayor Mandel announced, along with Minister of Finance Ted Menzies and Minister of Public Works and Government Services Rona Ambrose, that PPP Canada will invest up to $250 million to support the construction of the new LRT extension. While the funding is welcome, it is $150 million less than the City was hoping to receive from the federal government (the rest may come from a future Federal Infrastructure Plan).

“The City of Edmonton welcomes this important funding announcement by the federal government,” said Mayor Stephen Mandel. “The Southeast to West LRT is a key part of our transportation infrastructure. It will connect communities in Mill Woods and southeast Edmonton to the central core and is essential to our plans for building a better, more accessible city.”

The decision to apply for funding through PPP Canada was not an easy one, but Council did not have much of a choice. The City simply cannot afford to build the LRT on its own – the provincial and federal governments must come to the table. Though it hasn’t been explicitly stated as such by those involved, it seems the only way the Government of Canada would provide funding was through the P3 Canada fund. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has been vocal about his concern around being cornered into a P3, saying “the real problem is that the only dedicated federal funding at this moment is through P3 Canada.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the very big issue that the federal government is essentially dictating how municipalities should build and maintain their infrastructure. If given a choice, would we pick a P3 to build our LRT network?

What is a P3?

A public-private partnership is basically an approach to delivering and optionally operating and/or maintaining a project. Here’s how PPP Canada defines a P3:

“P3s are a long-term performance-based approach for procuring public infrastructure where the private sector assumes a major share of the responsibility in terms of risk and financing for the delivery and the performance of the infrastructure, from design and structural planning, to long-term maintenance.”

In theory, a P3 can help to ensure projects are delivered on-time and on-budget. The idea is that having the expertise of the private sector can lead to better, more innovative solutions. Another benefit of a P3 is that the private sector takes on a share of the risk, which means that there is a profit motive to ensure the project is done well (at least in theory). This is often referred to as “pay for performance”.

The other thing that is important to know about the P3 approach is that there are a variety of different delivery models. With traditional procurement, the public sector is responsible for the design of an asset like a bridge or school, with construction being contracted out to the private sector through a competitive bidding process. After construction, the asset is handed back to the public sector for operation and maintenance. This model is known as Design-Build (DB).

Using a P3 for the procurement of new assets, there are three delivery models to consider:

  • Design-Build-Finance (DBF)
  • Design-Build-Finance-Maintain (DBFM)
  • Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain (DBFOM)

The level of private sector involvement goes up which each model. Under the DBF model, the private partner assumes the risk of financing the project until construction is complete and the asset is handed over to the public sector. With the DBFM model, the private sector also assumes the maintenance of the asset in exchange for payments throughout the operating period. And finally, the DBFOM model is used for projects that have long-term operation and maintenance handled by the private sector, such as roads.

The P3 model is relatively new (becoming popular in the 1980s) but is already used all around the world on a variety of different projects. PPP Canada was established in 2009 to oversee the $1.2 billion P3 Canada Fund, but that was certainly not the start of P3s here in Canada. From 1990 to 2001 more than 150 P3s were concluded throughout the country.

Can a P3 really work?

Here in Alberta, we’ve used P3s to build ring roads and schools in both Edmonton and Calgary, as well as a water treatment and wastewater treatment facility in Kananaskis (a project that EPCOR is the private partner on). It hasn’t been all smooth sailing however, as Godfrey Budd explains:

Although 18 Alberta elementary and elementary-junior high schools, built on the P3 model, opened in September, and another 10 such schools are going ahead as a P3, four high schools were dropped from what was to have been a 14-school package. In May 2009, the province, citing "the economic climate," announced that the four schools would instead go ahead on a design-build basis. Also, six months after a September 2008 provincial news release announcing the go-ahead for the 18-school package, one of the partners in the P3, Babcock and Brown, the project’s banker, collapsed under the weight of $3.8 billion of debt, and in August 2009 Deloitte was appointed liquidator.

Another issue has been the lack of transparency that seems to come with P3s – it’s not always clear whether the approach saves money or not. Some, such as Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, are convinced that P3s rarely work:

“P3s almost never work out in the public interest. Governments around the world have had experience with P3s, and in almost all cases they end up costing taxpayers more and creating enormous headaches down the line. It may look cheaper up front, but the experience with P3s is clear. The private developers are never satisfied with the amount of money the governments put on the table in the beginning, and come back asking for more.”

For its part, PPP Canada says that a P3 can work for larger public infrastructure projects, but notes that governments can borrow money at far lower rates than the private sector can. It says that “a detailed value for money analysis is required to assess whether the costs exceed the benefits.”

The case for a P3 to build the Southeast to West LRT

A couple of weeks after Council decided to pursue funding through the P3 Canada Fund, I sat down with Nat Alampi, the Program Manager for the Southeast to West LRT project. Nat has had experience on LRT projects in the past – he managed the preliminary engineering designs for the South LRT extension and the Northeast LRT extension to Gorman. I wanted to know why the City thought using a P3 was a good idea, given the risks that seem to go along with that decision. “Every project has its challenges, regardless of whether you use a P3 or not,” he rightly stated.

Nat explained that it was EXPO 2017 that initially caused the City of Edmonton to start exploring the use of a P3. That investigation led to the adoption of the City’s policy on P3s (C555) and an assessment of the entire LRT network. “We determined there would be a net savings to using a P3,” Nat said. In its presentation to Council last October, City Administration suggested that savings could be between 3% and 10% using the DBFOM model.

A private partner operating the LRT?! “Operating the train and maintaining the infrastructure so closely intertwined,” Nat explained, “that separating them carries significant risk.” While the City did assess the feasibility of retaining the operating portion of the project, it ultimately felt it would be better served by pursuing the DBFOM model. “Typically with a P3 just for build, you get a two-year warranty,” Nat told me. “In this case, we’re getting 30-year warranty.” Of course, any contract would have provisions to allow for an extension of the operations and maintenance period, further expansion of the line itself, and there would likely also be a handback condition. For transit users, the new line will still look and feel like an ETS line (though it will use low-floor technology). “We will still set the fares, the look, and deliver security,” Nat said. The City would also be able to prescribe the level of service required, to ensure it matches the rest of the system.

Nat suggested that procuring a P3 like this could take 12-14 months and would generally require having the necessary funding secured. If all goes well, a P3 contract could be in place by the end of the year, with utility relocation and other preliminary work taking place in 2014.

The case against P3s for Public Transit

When I first learned that Council was considering a P3 for the Southeast to West LRT, I immediately thought of Taras Grescoe’s latest book Straphanger. It’s a fantastic read for anyone interested in public transportation and the impact the automobile has had on our cities. Near the end of the book, Taras addresses the notion that the private sector can successfully build and operate public transit projects:

For transit to remain sustainable, we’re going to have to ignore the zealots who call for its complete privatization, which has proven such a disaster in Britain and Australia. There is a reason that the transit network of almost every major city in the developed world was municipalized at some point in its history: while private companies can do a creditable job of operating the busiest lines, time and again they have filed to manage complex transportation networks in the public interest. The lessons of history show that public agencies with regional scope and unified planning oversight do the best job of running public transport.

Taras graciously agreed to speak with me in October, and I asked him to elaborate on this point. “I’ve seen how private lines can be fantastic in a place like Toyko where they have the revenue and density,” he told me. “But I’m skeptical that private companies can get the return in a low-density place like Edmonton.”

In the book Taras talks about the Canada Line in Vancouver, built for the 2010 Winter Olympics:

The Canada Line to the airport…was the first major piece of transit infrastructure in North America to be built with a public-private partnership, an initiative many commentators say was plagued by corner-cutting. Three stations had to be eliminated from the planned route, and the station platforms that were built were too short to allow future expansion. Thanks to cost overruns, the provincial government will be compensating the private company that operates the line with payments up to $21 million a year until 2025.

While many now point to the project as an example of a successful P3, Taras disagrees. “You’re essentially entering another system when you get on the Canada line,” he told me. The line uses the same fare system as the rest of TransLink, but there are some exceptions (such as the $5 YVR AddFare).

Another well-known P3 transit project in Canada is in Waterloo, where officials are also looking at a 30-year DBFOM contract. Much has been written about the potential issues with that project, but this post does an excellent job of summarizing everything. A few highlights:

  • “Probably the biggest problem with a P3 arrangement for Waterloo Region’s LRT is that it would result in higher barriers to expansion of the system in various ways.”
  • “On the one hand, using private companies to build and operate the line ostensibly means that expertise can be brought in when needed, and only when needed. On the other hand, this means that expertise in LRT construction, operation, and efficiencies thereof will never be gained by Waterloo Region.”
  • “Private operation as a 30-year contract is problematic because it locks us into one operator who can make extension difficult, and a contract which may become uncompetitive ten years down the line.”

Those concerns align nicely with the final thought that Taras left me with: “Transit is not about one line, it’s about a network and making it work for everybody.”

Final Thoughts

The first thing Taras said to me when we chatted was that “any transit construction of this kind is better than none.” While I’m definitely excited to see our LRT network expand, I’m not convinced that a P3 is the way to go. History suggests we should tread very carefully indeed. The City has not yet built anything using a P3, and that lack of experience could be an issue. In theory we should be able to take advantage of the lessons learned in other places, but we all know that’s easier said than done.

So long as we can secure the balance of funding required, It would seem there’s no turning back now for the Southeast to West LRT line – Edmonton will soon embark on its first P3 project. Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be a costly mistake.