AG report blasts Metrolinx

Ontario’s Auditor General released a huge report yesterday that, among other things, tore Metrolinx to shreds. It’s impossible to tell whether the report was referring to what Weston went through–but it sure could be.

Weston was railroaded by Metrolinx for years, but even recently they

  • Messed up the concrete walls of the tunnel so that it couldn’t hold the sound barriers they were supposed to
  • Agreed to spend $62,000 on a fashion show for their Soviet-style uniforms
  • Delayed the opening of the John St bridge for no discernible reason
  • And continued to publish an in-ride magazine, of all the goddamned things, in the smartphone age, perhaps part of a $4,500,000 branding buy

The AG focused on construction and purchasing, not the smaller matters of litter-box magazines,  but she did expose a culture of unaccountability and money-wasting that jibes with what we’ve seen around here.

The AG said that “Metrolinx rarely takes action against contractors for not delivering on time”–vis the bridge, which opened years late.

Metrolinx also continues to work with incompetent contractors. The same dimwit who installed a bridge truss upside down in Pickering was given the contract for the Dundas UPX station.

Metrolinx also bought tracks from CN to build the GO line that runs through Weston. Yet Metrolinx does not:

know that it is getting what it pays for: it does not verify charged costs; it does not ensure that charged costs are reasonable… [and] it has also been paying excessively high mark-up rates charged by CN.

This isn’t the first time that Metrolinx has been in the Auditor General’s bad books. They wildly mispriced the UPX in the face of the AG’s withering criticism.

Auditor General says airport trains will lose money

The Auditor General of Ontario released a long report on Metrolinx today. The Presto fare cards have received most of the attention from the downtown press, but the report also had a few words about the Air Rail Link UP Express. It says, in short, that the UP Express is going to lose money: either Metrolinx can have the ridership it needs or the high fares it needs, but it will not have both.

Breaking even on the link “may prove to be a challenge for Metrolinx”, the report says. The math is quite simple: annual costs are expected to be about $55 million. Metrolinx thinks that 1.8 million people (about 10% of all Pearson fliers) will ride the Express if fares are $20. But $20 x 1.8 = $36 million—just enough to cover the lowest estimated costs, but very far indeed from covering estimates that include paying off the debt and paying for the GO track.

This is no surprise: The smart money (in the ‘Public-Private Partnership’)  jumped ship some time ago figuring that there was no way to turn a profit unless the province picked up the losses—at which the province, naturally, balked.

The Auditor says the break-even fare at Metrolinx’s ridership estimates is a steep $28. But it gets worse: Metrolinx’s ridership estimates are probably optimistic. Other North American links charge between $2 and $13 to get the same proportion of airport travellers as Metrolinx thinks it can get at $20. Those ridership estimates are downright implausible at $28. Surveys found that 75% of GTA residents said they wouldn’t take it if it cost even $22.50.

So Metrolinx is probably stuck: they have overestimated how many people will take the train and how much they are willing to pay. The Auditor says,

“Metrolinx should work with the Ministry of Transportation to clearly define the business model under which the Air Rail Link (ARL) should operate to ensure that the ARL will be a viable and sustainable operation.”

Your humble correspondent thinks that passage, translated from the tame, means something like “Metrolinx is about to lose a piss-whack of money unless they know something we don’t.” But your humble narrator is, as always, willing to be corrected.

The Auditor General included Metrolinx’s response:

Metrolinx advised us that it did take these factors into consideration but still concluded that its ridership projections at these premium fare levels would be achieved.

Metrolinx seemed to take at least some of the AG’s criticism to heart. They said in their reply that they

[agree] with the Auditor General on the importance of reliable ridership forecasts, and independent analysis has been obtained to create ridership projections.

… Metrolinx will continue to use best-in-class ridership information to guide our internal decision-making and to inform our business model, and we will continue working with the Ministry of Transportation to finalize the business model.