Take The Train... Please

Today's complaining on the CBC's Radio One program Ontario Today was about the cancellation of train service to northern Ontario.  This one particular line that was being cancelled cost $400 more per passenger than it recovered in revenues, to the tune of $24 million a year  (edit: according to the CBC website, it was the Northander, serving Toronto and Cochrane and points in between).

One caller called in to complain, hey, the British have committed $9 billion over five years to improve their rail services, why can't we do that?  And the in-studio guest was saying yeah, European and US governments are investing in rail and we're backing away from it and he doesn't understand why.

First of all, hello! The European situation is vastly different.  Europe as a whole has a population density that North America can only dream of -- 700 million people in an area only three times the size of Quebec.  You can't swing a cat in Europe without hitting a population center.

That leads to two consequences that drives rail in Europe:
  • There are way more people in any given area.  That gives you a far larger supply of potential passengers.
  • You don't have to carry them as far, because you can't physically go very far (when compared to Canada in general, and Northern Ontario in particular).  
This gives the conclusion that either
  • because of the population density, you'll have many more people interested in a given length of track -- rail is far more likely to be run profitably; and
  • your tax base is much deeper in any given area meaning the per-taxpayer costs of subsidizing the same rail line is much lower.
You can't compare European rail with Canadian rail.  It just isn't anywhere near the same proposition.

Second, even the States, where the in-studio guest claimed Obama was pushing rail investment, the guest neglected to add the important qualifier: between population centers.  The US land mass is slightly smaller than Canada, but since their population is ten times ours, they can approach the population densities in some areas to make rail a real possibility.

The only place in Canada where rail is growing, in terms of investment and ridership, is the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor -- in other words, in the only place in the country where population densities approach European values.  (Plus the spur to Ottawa.)

See how that works?

But getting back to the subject of subsidizing rail use -- the above-mentioned rail service costs the government $400 to move a person from one end to another of the line.

Where's the other number?  What's the cost to the government to supply roads and infrastructure in order for a private car to deliver a person from one end to the other of the now-abandoned rail line?

Government subsidies of this kind of rail service amount to a subsidy of a way of life, and frankly people are going to have to consider if we as a society can afford to continue those subsidies.  People seem to want all the amenities that come from a population density, but want to live out in the undeveloped northern areas -- and want other tax payers to pay the cost of the difference.


Gas and Dash

I was listening to the radio today and the CBC was interviewing extended family of the man who died as a result of a gas-and-dash on the weekend.  The interviewer was asking questions like "Why was he going out there over $112?" and "Why is management taking gas-and-dash losses from the employees?"

Well first, he's going out there after $112 A) because it is coming out of his pocket if he doesn't, and B) because frankly that's a lot of money, especially for some guy working in a gas station.  It is probably around two days after-tax take-home -- and that's important, since gas-and-dash losses are not tax deductible.  That thief was driving off with two days of his money, and he's not about to just sit there and watch it go.

I worked in a gas bar in the 1990s and it was the same thing.  You kept the binoculars close because unless you could get the cops involved in a gas-and-dash, that money was coming out of your pocket.

And while I don't think the people who steal this way really care one way or another, I don't think it is common knowledge that this money comes out of the employee's pocket.

You're not sticking it to "the man", you are sticking it to someone who probably can't afford to drive like you do.

As to why the gas stations do this -- well as I've shown, since at least 1990 it has always been that way.  But really I think most people don't know -- or have conveniently forgotten -- about this whole underclass of employment where the fundamental requirements are that you are required to stand upright and convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.  There's always a line up of more people like that, so management treats them like crap basically because they can replace fired/quitting employees at the drop of a hat.  They hate their employees because they're lazy and unmotivated and trying to rob the store blind -- and the employees hate management right back and remain unmotivated and feel entitled to "extras".  It is a vicious circle.

Not all employees are like this.  You get the intelligent and motivated people, but they're usually working their way up (where "up" means "out of here") and will be able to get a better job.  So they're gone too.  So why care?

And why would customers care?  Treating employees right costs money, and that translates into higher prices -- and when it comes to a commodity that is gasoline, service isn't worth anything.

So here we are -- we've raced to the bottom so fast we've bounced off it.

And some guy has died for $100.


See you next year when it happens again.


Glenn Hetrick is the highlight of Face/Off

One of the TV shows I watch with Jenn is the Syfy series Face/Off. (Wednesday on Space.)  It is a Survivor-meets-effects-makeup show where they start with a bunch of people and each week one of them gets sent off the island, until you are left with one "next great effects makeup artist".

One of the things which the series producers probably don't want to hear is that one of my favorite parts is watching head judge Glenn Hetrick interact with the contestants.  The highlight is always his initial greeting to the contestants on the reveal stage -- his "Good Evening" ranges from "we've never met, not even the ten weeks or so we've already been running" to "polite disinterest" to last week's new one "I've got a late dinner reservation so let's get this over with".  You could almost gamble on what Glenn's greeting is going to be like, and it always amuses me.

This week's show had some changes to Glenn's personality.  He was the celebrity surprise visit midway through their work processes, and he was unusually positive about almost everyone.  On the reveal stage, he greeted the contestants with a "Hello" which was a "hi guys you all know me I'm just friendly Glenn here" type greeting.

The absolute gem of the show Glenn-wise was after the first reveal, the unfortunate editing choice was to cut to a held shot of Glenn sitting there with a somewhat stunned look on his face that said "WTF is this thing you are offering me on my stage".

Personally my choices with regards to the offerings are almost always different than the judges.  There's an inherent conflict in many of the challenges which are orthogonal to the show's stated goal of showcasing effects make up tallent.  This week it was Chinese new-years dragons, and only one team produced something that looked like a new-years dragon.  And the judges said, do we reward the team that delivered to the challenge's spec, or a team which produced something really interesting?

One of the offerings this week they panned was a snake/rabbit head, and to me that was the only one that looked like a real creature to me.  Even the bright coloring worked, it said to me this is a creature that is painted and polished up brightly to wear some ceremonial garb, which was colored with the same bright colors.  And while the details were lost at a distance, I thought that hiding them that way worked, that you saw more the longer you looked at it.

I'm not big on these "bicker" shows that highlight the conflict between contestants, but there's enough here that I'll keep watching.

PS: Dear SyFy, rolling that spoiler-laden video promo for the show on every page for the show, every time the page is loaded, gets annoying really fast -- and I only loaded three pages.  Roll it once, if you have to, then post a damn cookie like every other site in the universe does so that it doesn't roll again for -- I'd say a week, but at least an hour.  If I want to watch it again, I know where to find it.  But I don't.  So stop it.  Love, me.


Mayor Ford's Defence

Mr Ford's mooted defenses:

  • He didn't do it.
  • But if he did do it, he didn't mean to do it.
  • But if he did do it, and he meant to do it, it wasn't illegal.
  • But if he did do it, and he meant to do it, and it was illegal, it isn't an offence sufficient enough to deserve the prescribed punishment.
It's just like Larry O'Brien.

Personally I think he (Ford) is going to get off with only being sternly told to repay the money he's already been told to repay.  But arguing that the punishment doesn't fit the crime (which he didn't mean to do anyways) isn't the answer.  If you have a problem with the law, change the law.  Don't ignore it (or encourage others to ignore it).

One way or another it is highly unlikely he'll find himself with the burden of elected again in Toronto.

Maybe he can collaborate on Mayor Larry's book.