Wednesday, April 30, 2008

“Rent Bank Runs out of Money”

What’s this have to do with city politics, you ask?

A lot, I say. But it shouldn’t.

In the 2003 provincial election campaign Dalton "The Promiser" McGuinty’s said that he wouldn’t raise taxes. He was going to roll back highway 407 tolls and cancel P-3 hospitals. He wasn’t going to allow building on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

All these promises were broken … and more.

He actually did keep some - well, one that I can think of - and that was to create a provincial rent bank program. Good for him.

Ontario Rent Bank Program

The program, which rolled out within months of the election, provides money so that low-income tenants may apply to receive financial assistance to address short-term rent arrears. This small program was passed over to 42 service managers (municipalities ) to run which kept the provincial government somewhat immune to any criticism. (In some cases the municipalities contracted with agencies to actually operate the program.) Most of these local programs provide grants, but some operate by providing interest free loans.

According to today's Toronto Star the future of this program is in doubt.

The Future of Rent Banks

Up until last year I had many years direct involvement with housing emergency loan programs and with this particular program as well.

The province created an administrative nightmare for those operating rent banks. Fortunately, however, rent banks do help those they are intended to help - people with serious housing emergencies.

The whole concept is rather a stopgap approach to the serious issue of poverty. A parallel could be drawn with food banks. In 1983 the first was created in Edmonton as a temporary measure. Food banks are still with us. Here is hoping they will go away. Rent banks too.

In the meantime, while I hope that monies are made available to assist those with housing emergencies; the fact is the government can’t be let off the hook in addressing the big picture issue here:

Many of our fellow citizens do not have enough income to find and maintain adequate housing.

And that is something the province must take responsibility for and leadership on. Local government can be involved but the province must lead.

Rent banks do help but they are a very small part of the solution.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


There was an error in my last posting.

I said that a Burlington Transit bus - Route #2 Brant North - had an average weekday boarding rate of 11 riders per hour. That number was wrong. In fact, 21.5 people board the #2 buses every hour on a weekday.

While your blogger was never much good at math, the ability to offer sincere apologies is considered to be a strength.

So, I am truly sorry.

I imagine that many of you loyal readers use insights gained from this blog at various cocktail parties around town. We can only imagine because we don’t go to these cocktail parties. In fact, we don’t get invited to these parties.

However, as compensation for any embarrassment that you may have suffered here are nine more or lessinteresting facts that you can insert into any conversation about Burlington Transit at a cocktail party, in a bar, when talking to a loved one or over the backyard fence.

Burlington Transit (BT) by the Numbers

480 Number of hours BT runs each day
8639 Average daily boardings
17.9 Average boardings per hour
1/3 According to Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor the average # of riders per hour on BT buses.
12 Number of main BT routes
8 Number of routes carrying more than 10 people per/hr
70 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per kilometer by a bus carrying 18 passengers
220 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per km. by an automobile carrying one person (sourceSIKA, Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis, 2006)
25.5, 21.9 21.5 Weekday boardings per hour for #1 Fairview Plains, #10 New Maple, #2 Brant routes

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I spoke at Burlington Council on April 7th. After hearing again - from one councillor anyway - that our buses are riding around empty - I thought I should really get my facts straight.

I’ve tried. I wrote to all members of Council on March 27th seeking clarification on “data” given by that same member of Council at a March 26th public meeting.

After the Council meeting I again sought clarification in writing from staff. No response yet, so nothing else to do, I guess, but get on the buses. Since they are apparently as empty as a city hall office between Christmas and New Years, I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding a seat.

Friday April 11

Hopping on yet another 23 year-old bus, #7005-85, (see previous posts) #2 Brant North bus departs the downtown terminal at 7:15 a.m.

The bus heads up Brant, meanders through north urban Burlington, over to Guelph Line, and then back on Cavendish to Upper Middle Road where it heads east. At MM Robinson the bus (which has now become the #3 Guelph Line South) turns right heading back down to the Lakeshore eventually to the Terminal.

In its one-hour circuit I’m joined by thirty-six (36) other riders. The nine passengers on the early part of the route are making connections to trains or other buses at the Fairview GO station. (Wonder when that new parking garage will be ready? Can’t ever really have enough parking spots?)

The bulk of the other passengers appear to be students heading to MMR, Rolling Meadows PS, or connections downtown.

After a full circuit I disembark, but the bus keeps running. In fact, the #2 Brant North leaves the terminal 48 times on any given weekday. The Brant South route does the same. The most recent statistics show 1,055 riders board over the course of the day - an average of 11 riders on each of the 96 runs – making the Councillor’s “one-third a rider per hour” projection about as accurate as George W. Bush’s pre-invasion assessment of Iraqi nuclear capabilities.

Other routes are similar and will be documented in an upcoming posting.

A Suburban Myth

It is a myth that empty buses ramble around our suburban streets.

In fact, a lot of people currently ride these buses. Many of these riders have no other choice in getting on with day to day living than to take the bus. Besides our environmental imperatives dictate that we must find ways to get drivers out of their cars and onto public transit.

The cost containment exercise the city has embarked on needs to keep this in mind.

(My presentation to Council is available by e-mailing me at

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waiting for a Pardigm Shift?

Last December Gord Miller, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, released his annual report. Entitled Reconciling our Priorities, it called for a “paradigm shift” in how we do planning in Ontario.

For those of you not inclined to do much shifting or have simply forgotten what a paradigm shift is, well it is a pretty big deal - a change from one way of thinking to another, a revolution, a transformation. Ptolemy’s view that everything orbited around the earth changing to Copernicus revelation that we orbited the sun is a good example.

When the report came out I was going to comment on it. With nothing encouraging to say, I thought I give it a few months and wait for the “paradigm shifters” to wade in.

Today I did an internet search (reconciling our priorities and gord miller) and, to my surprise, found my Feb 16th posting (observing that the report was too depressing, so I wasn’t commenting) near the top of the hit list.

Miller has been travelling the province but I wonder if any real dialogue is occurring.

Some Excerpts from the Report

*The Provincial strategy to manage growth (the GGH) actually “reverses the sustainable development process.” (p 26)

*“The lack of progress to date in shifting away from a car culture calls into question the efficacy of GGH Plan ‘s density targets in promoting the hoped for mobility changes in the future.” (p 32)

*There is no effective regulatory protection for wetlands and the province has actually “retreated” from earlier prohibitions on development by “changing the definition of ‘“development.’” (p 39)

*Significant changes have occurred in land use policies which mean that aggregate extraction is considered an interim land use. (p 45)

(See the full report at

Conflicts Everywhere

We have significant conflicts all over the place.

Provincial policy as reflected in the 2005 Provincial Policy statements (PPS) says “preserving wetlands, woodlands and agricultural lands are priorities but it also asserts that the construction of highways, the removal of aggregates, and the building of pipelines for water supply are priorities.”

There is nothing in place to “reconcile these conflicting land uses.”

Miller goes on to say that municipalities are required to dedicate increasing resources to resolve these irreconcilable priorities. His analysis notes that planning processes are now “weighted in favour of extractive and destructive uses of the land over those that conserve natural or agricultural use.”

These processes have become “intellectually dishonest” because no upfront “a priori” discussion of the real need for any project can happen.


I am waiting for that paradigm shift. Some think such shifts in thinking are advanced by agents of change. We wonder if any such agents are out there?