Fire Trucks & Fridge Magnets


The Toronto Star reported the results of their investigation this morning in the paper.  The investigation took a look at the high response times of Toronto firefighters to fires within the city of Toronto.  Of course the City of Toronto officials weren’t that helpful in the investigation.   Toronto Fire chief, Bill Stewart, did provide some documentation and some statistical analysis.  But when the Star reporter asked a few more questions (i.e. the call time starts in the reports when the dispatcher first saved the call to the computer system, but what is the actual time when the call came in?) Stewart’s reply was “You as a reporter should not be looking at this information.”  That obviously smells that something is being covered up for either a purposeful reason (i.e. Toronto Fire has something to hide) or to avoid possible legal issues.  The only people to know this reside within the Toronto Fire department.   But this isn’t the only worrisome issue.

Further along in the same article the process of dispatching trucks is mentioned.  The average response time in North American standards is six minutes from when the call first comes in.  The standard breaks down that the 911 dispatcher takes and dispatches the call (1 minute), the firefighters get to their truck and onto the street (1 minute) and the time the truck has to get to the fire or emergency scene (4 minutes).   In terms of Toronto’s most recent largest fire, the fire at Sunrise Propane, Toronto fire took way longer than 6 minutes to arrive at the explosive fire scene. 

The breakdown of the sequence of events at Toronto Fire during the Sunrise Propane fire scene just boggles the mind.  The times provided by the City of Toronto and reported by the The Toronto Star makes a Toronto resident’s heart skip a beat.   The first dispatch time recorded by the Toronto Fire dispatcher’s computer is 3:49 A.M.  “It took close to two minutes for dispatch to notify and contact fire crews in several stations, all about 2.5 kilometres away.” (Toronto Star Article).  At the fire hall it took the crew of Pumper 145 two and half minutes to get onto the road to the fire.  Pumper 145 was the first on the scene 10 minutes after the first original call was recorded.  Let’s also keep in mind the travel time in Toronto of Pumper 145 wasn’t hampered by traffic on the way to the fire as fire occurred overnight on a Saturday to Sunday when traffic is virtually non-existant.   Which the Star reported: ” none of the these vehicles were more than a few minutes’ drive away.”

Perhaps one of the largest issues the Star found is the antiquated dispatch system Toronto Fire uses to dispatch their equipment to emergencies.  The equipment is tracked using magnets on a magnetic map of Toronto.  Each fire is recorded on the map and then the magnet of a dispatched piece of equipment is moved to it.  Apparently this is the system that has been in use since the amalgamation of Toronto in 1998.  So basically, Toronto Fire dispatchers keep track of location of their equipment with fridge magnets at all times.   Meanwhile over at the the city’s public transit department (TTC) each surface vehicle (e.g. streetcar, bus, etc.) is tracked by GPS units so that transit control knows exactly where each unit is.   Surely th Toronto Fire Department can create a dispatch system that uses this already in use GPS technology to track its vehicles, location of fire halls and situations on the go.  But there is no promise from the Toronto Star investigation that this is the case.

The City of Toronto needs to wake up and improved it’s dispatching system.  The evidence the Toronto Star uncovered may only be the the tip of the iceberg of issues at the fire department.  A complete review of the dispatch system first needs to be undertaken.  First an audit of the existing system needs to be completed to find  the deficiencies.  Second a review of other municipal fire systems in North American cities and suburbs should be looked at for best practices that could be included in a new Toronto Fire dispatch system.  Finally a plan needs to be put together for a new Toronto dispatch system from when the 911 call comes in to when the first fire truck is on the scene.    

But Fire Chief Bill Stewart needs to be told empatically by the Mayor and the citizens of Toronto that this statement will not suffice in terms of this new system (as the Toronto Star reported): “[Bill Stewart] As president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, he is backing a move to change the standard to allow firefighters longer to get out the door to a blaze [by 20 seconds].”   This is unacceptable as the current standard is one minute for the firefighters to get to their trucks and out the door.  When, as has been espoused to youngsters across Canada over and over by firefighters, ‘in a fire every second counts’ a request of just give them an extra twenty seconds is strictly unacceptable.   But then again, if the city of Toronto continues to a five year old’s fridge magnets to track their million dollar pieces of equipment then perhaps it will take firefighters that much longer to get to a fire.   What a sad state of affairs it is at Toronto fire when the City’s own transit system has a better dispatch and location program in place than the Toronto fire department does.

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Toronto Sells out for a Big Mac Meal


The City of Toronto owns a bunch of properties along the north side of Bloor Street near the corner of Avenue Road & Bloor Street. These properties the city has owned since the Bloor-Danforth Subway line was constructed. Following the construction of the subway line the city leased the properties along the north side of Bloor Street out.

The leases which were issued in the late 1970s were farely decent. However, since then this area has exploded with population and have turned into prime real estate. So the leases paid by companies like McDonald’s to the city for their restaurant opposite the Royal Ontario Museum now seem pretty paltry. McDonald’s now has a honey of a deal by paying a mear $15,500 annually ($1291 per month) for decent sized McDonald’s restaurant on prime land across from a major children’s attraction (the Royal Ontario Museum), easy subway access from the Museum Subway station and St. George Subway stations) and just down the street from the tony Yorkville. In fact I doubt that a Yorkville bought Gucci bag would sell for less than McDonald’s is paying for a monthly lease payment.

McDonald’s, eying the contract renewal within it’s 99 year lease with the city, made an offer of $3.38 million to purchase the property from the City of Toronto. The City had some options:

1. Accept the bid from McDonalds.

2. Reject the bid and propose a counteoffer to McDonald’s to purchase the property.

3. Negotiate with McDonald’s for a higher lease payment.

Option one would mean the City of Toronto would be basically giving the property to McDonald’s for peanuts without realizing that much of a return. This is because, as the Toronto Star noted in it’s article: “Some estimates had suggested the site could be worth $7 million to $9 million,…”

Option two would mean the city might be able get more money from McDonald’s for the property. However, the city is constrained by the 99 year lease with McDonald’s, so the city cannot put the property on the open market in order to get the best value. So really McDonald’s holds all the cards in this option.

Option three city staff proposed to raise the lease money to $195,000 per year ($16,250 per month). McDonald’s, however, would obviously want a lower lease payment and negotiations would, thus, drag on a for some time.

The city chose Option one and sold the property to McDonald’s $3.38 million for the property. Now considering all the constraints the original 99 year lease had placed on the city, one would think this deal was fairly good. Well the deal could eventually get much worse and leave the Toronto taxpayers feeling as bad as waking up the next morning after consuming one too many Big Mac’s.

McDonald’s, after closing the deal with the city, could turn around and sell the property for a much higher value to a developer who owns the surrounding properties. The developer could then merge all the properties acquired together and build a significant condo or business development on the prime land with a brand new McDonald’s restaurant on the ground floor. So in the end, McDonald’s would realize from the sale of this property by the city about six million dollars and a brand new modern restaurant facility. The developer, at the end of this deal, would be able to build the twenty something floor condo or business tower as well have a coveted ground floor tenant in McDonald’s who would be counted on for lease payments well into the future.

The City taxpayer, who has been milked for a 3.25% 2008 property tax increase and major user fee and other tax increases, would loose millions of dollars in what the property could have been sold for. City council for years has been begging for dollars from the provincial and federal governments as well as cutting services, letting infrastructure crumble and eying even more service cuts. However actions like selling out to McDonald’s instead of attempting to drive a hard bargain have cost the city millions of dollars. As it has been said by many of the more fiscally conservative councillors on Toronto city council, Toronto has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Except in this case, there does seem to be a revenue problem, the deal failed to get the revenue it should of before selling out to McDonald’s. So instead of city councillors getting the equivalent of steak to eat on this deal, they received a #3 Big Mac Meal with a fries and medium coke, no upsize please!

Honest Ed World Famous Never Duplicated


Many of our American readers will wonder why I am putting up a obituary for a discount store owner, but no Torontonian will even think twice about my reasoning.

Edwin Mirvish, AKA Honest Ed Mirvish is the worlds best example of a responsible capitalist.

Honest Ed, for years ran Honest Eds World Famous Never Duplicated Bargain House in Downtown Toronto. He was a Millionaire many times over but not just in money. Ed Mirvish was loved by everyone that worked for him everyone who knew him and anyone that loved the arts and theatre in Toronto. Mirvish not only kept his prices low enough so everyone could afford to buy his discount junk (yeh a lot of it was Junk) but he filtered a great amount of the profits back into the arts community in Toronto. He also invested wisely in Toronto and his investment in the people and the city paid off for him in many ways.

He helped those in need when he could with, free legal and immigrant services, he rented his properties to small businesses at rates below the going rate, he restored the Royal Alexandra theatre, the Old Vic in London and in 1993 Toronto’s Princess of Wales theatre. He even gave out free turkeys at Christmas. Sure he made money he was a businessman, but one that never forgot that his customers were human, not money dispensing machines. It seems his son David is also of this same type. If we must live in a capitalist world, let us have socially responsible capitalists like Honest Ed Mirvish and his son David.

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, Ch. 344
“It is a great mitzvah to properly eulogize the deceased. The mitzvah requires raising the voice to say things that break people’s hearts in order to increase the weeping and to remember his virtues. It is prohibited, however, to exaggerate excessively in praise of him. Instead, it is proper to mention his good qualities and to add just a little, as long as there is no exaggeration. If the deceased had no virtues at all, nothing should be said”.

Torontonians will agree even in calling Honest Ed the “worlds best example of a responsible capitalist” I have not exaggerate excessively in praise on him.

Goodbye Ed Mirvish

Funeral for ‘Honest Ed’ today
Last Updated: Friday, July 13, 2007 | 8:39 AM ET
CBC News

Thousands are expected today at the funeral of Ed Mirvish, Toronto’s beloved shopkeeper, theatre booster and generous man of the people.

The ceremony is at 11 a.m. ET at Beth Tzedec Synagogue, 1700 Bathurst St., south of Eglinton Avenue. Police are expecting heavy traffic in the area and possible road closures.

Ed Mirvish was known for his giveaways. He hands out turkeys at Christmas with his son David.
(CBC) Mirvish, better known as Honest Ed after his iconic department store at Bloor and Bathurst streets, died Wednesday at age 92.

Since his death, people from all walks of life have marvelled at the impact his life had on the city. Many remember his generosity, including holiday turkey giveaways and birthday celebrations at the store, but it’s his genuine concern for ordinary people that shines through.

Mirvish’s business career began suddenly when his father died and left the 15-year-old with a store to run. It grew into the enormous Honest Ed’s department store that still dominates its neighbourhood.

Inspired by his wife Anne, an artist and singer, Mirvish added theatres to his enterprise beginning in 1962 with the purchase of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto’s downtown. This saved the historic venue, which opened in 1907, from demolition.

In 1982, he purchased the Old Vic in London, England, acting without even visiting the building, but inspired by the many stories he had heard about the venerable stage from world-famous British actors who visited the Royal Alex. It has since been sold.

In 1993, Mirvish and son, David, added Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre to the empire.

TheStar.com – Unassigned – ACC Conversion


TheStar.com – Unassigned – ACC Conversion

Ever wondered how the Air Canada Centre in Toronto was converted from a Hockey Arena (home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs) to a Basketball Arena (home of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors)?

The tech gurus at the Toronto Star answered this question with this video feature.

Now if only they would answer Rogers Centre’s ability to transform from a Baseball Stadium (home of MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays) to a Football Stadium (Home of the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts). Perhaps in due time they will.

Sign, Sign….Everywhere a Sign…


Over at Torontoist blog, they take a look at the different aspects of effective election signage. The blog takes a close look at what makes a sign eye catching and what makes a sign “ho hum” boring. Of course the blog, Torontoist, uses Toronto city Council candidates as examples.

In the province of Ontario right now municipalities (i.e. towns and cities) are currently holding elections for their respective local councils.

As anyone knows elections usually brings forth a plethora of signs (as the above picture of Aurora council and mayoral candidates will show). At least the towns making up York Region all are able to recycle the plastic and paper signs in the recycling programs. So the chances of the above signs entering landfill in Michigan is far less likely. What does Aurora & Toronto have to do with garbage in Michigan? Thats where these two places send their trash!

True some council candidates try and go without using election signs claiming it damages the environment. I applaud these council candidates for trying to reduce the amount of paper and plastic being produced. But on the downside, the candidate’s names are not widely known because their names aren’t on signs that are seen repeatedly by prospective voters.

From past Aurora municipal elections I have found council candidates who do use signs and use them effectively tend to get elected. With the Torontoist blog taking a look a deep look at election sign design, lets take a look here at sign location.

As I have travelled around Aurora I have noticed two different places and two different times election signs are used:

The places:

1. Most council candidates first place the signs on the lawns or in windows where supporters reside or have their business. In Toronto, due to fact election signs are hard to pound into cement, businesses put election signs in their front windows. At residences these signs are easily placed on the lawns. The lawn and business signage is quite effective in the eyes of the candidate. This is because people going by will see their neighbour is supporting a certain candidate, so why not vote for them too? This type of thinking can be a voter loser in some cases if the homeowner is thought to be a nuisance or “local renegade”. Then perhaps the neighbours might dismiss the candidate’s name and vote for one of the competitors. Otherwise, they are usually pretty safe because these same signs are seen by everyone on the street at least once a day as neighbours walk or drive by one residence.

2. On public lawns like parks or boulevards. Today I noticed along one major road in Aurora that the signs look worse than dandelions in spring! There were signs near the trees, signs giving the curb of the road a challenge to stay in on place and a plethora of signs competing for space (even worse than the above photo). These can be effective if used in a repetitive fashion. I have found that the signs located on public lawns tend to multiply like rabbits the weekend before voters go to the polls. This is because candidates believe if they can just get their name stuck in the head of the voter just before they go to the poll then perhaps they may gain some additional votes. In Aurora this is especially so considering that each voter can elect up to ten positions (1 mayor, 8 councillors and 1 school trustee). So in Aurora’s case, keeping ten names straight can be hard to do for some voters. With this large number of candidates to vote for, in Aurora’s case, some voters might forget one council candidate’s name they originally intended to vote for. Instead, the voter might choose another candidate’s name because it was on a sign just before they got to the polls. Basically the signs planted on public lawns are meant to re-enforce the name of the candidate on the mind of the voter.

Timing:

1. Usually election signs start sprouting as election day draws to within one or two months. The signs located on residential lawns are the first to be placed. These lawns are usually the ones the candidate knows pretty well. In other words most of the first election signs are placed on family and friends lawns. Next the ones on public lawns in prime locations are placed. This is to stake out prime real estate like on corners at intersections of major roads. This ply for public lawn locations is because the candidate who gets the spot first, gets to leave their sign their for the entire campaign.

Also throughout the campaign candidates are knocking on doors and finding supporters. These supporters may request a lawn sign. The candidate, not wanting to upset a prospective voter, will usually oblige as it usually secures the vote of the property owner as well as helps to promote the candidate’s name in the neighbourhood (this is discussed above).

2. The weekend before the election day the signs start to grow even faster. This is because the final push is on in order to get the candidate’s name known. So public lawns usually start seeing signs multiply on them and challenge each other for space. Today in Aurora I walked along a major road for just over one kilometre and estimate I saw more than fifty to sixty signs. Most of the signs were for two mayoral candidates. I definately have her name on my mind. She claims to be for the environment but the over doing of the election signs on this particular street tells me differently!

Signs are generally seen as being a positive for candidates to get their names out there. However, what some candidates don’t see, that I have illustrated above, the signs can have negative effects. But nonetheless, it seems, signs are required to win an election. That is because for the most part those candidates that refuse to put up election signs don’t seem to be successfully elected.

York’s best Graduate


From the York University Excalibur:

Hamed Taghatti owed the university $10,775, which included a $15 administration fee, to cover 287 parking incidents that he had incurred over his years as a student at York. Sarah Miller Article.

As per York’s policy, his convocation privileges were withheld until he paid the balance in full.

Taghatti said he paid off the balance the day before convocation a few weeks ago, but he did not elaborate on how he paid it off.

He considered pursuing legal action against the university due to the occurrences but decided not to because it would drag things out for too long, and he needed his transcripts in order to get a job.

Despite that, he felt frustrated that York did not give him any notice as to the fact that he owed so much in fines before graduation.

“There’s no way they shouldn’t let you know after the first infraction. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t stop all your activities or something on the first month – that you’ve done such an infraction rather than do it five years later.

“This is just for profit because they know if they don’t give out these notices or if they make students think this is not serious stuff, they’ll just keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and then, in the end, they’re the ones who win,” Taghatti said. —

Should Taghatti even been allowed to A. Be allowed to hold a driver’s licence and B. Graduate?

Since Taghatti has received over 200 parking infractions at York University alone, why should he even be allowed to drive a car? His eye sight must be way out of wack because the parking restrictions at York University are well signed including the fines. Park in the VIVA bus cutout near York Lanes $200 fine. There are even no standing signs around the fire hydrants.

I would expect the average driver to probably have one or two tickets over their educational career at York University. These two tickets might accumulate through mistakenly not displaying the parking pass in the window or stopping in a No Standing zone. But 287 tickets? That seems more than excessive.

I would love to know how many parking tickets Taghatti has the rest of Toronto. Considering the York University campus size compared to the size of the overall city of Toronto, I would say over 1000 parking tickets. Where does this guy get the money to pay off these fines? He must work at McDonald’s nightly alone in order to pay off the parking tickets.

But what does 287 parking tickets at York University say about the legal officials? This guy should be pulled off the road as Taghatti cannot obviously legally park a motor vehicle let alone drive it. Further, Taghatti wanted notification that he owed so much in fines before graduating. MEMO: The parking ticket nicely tucked under your windshield wiper is the notice you owe chaching, buckos, sheckles, etc. Need more notice than the tickets? Then don’t drive because perhaps you might miss the STOP sign and kill a pedestrian. There are no second notices for STOP signs.

The Administration at York University need to get at a life here. I feel my teaching degree from York University has been cheapened by letting Taghatti graduate. Someone stupid enough to accumulate 287 parking tickets at your campus alone should be sent back to start university all over again and not graduate. Why should I, a graduate of York University, hold the same educational certification level as a guy who cannot simply park a car, as 287 parking tickets would prove, and then demands notice of the amount due from the university? It doesn’t seem right, not right at all.

Even worse, Taghatti believes York University is winning in handing out 287 tickets and that fact that believes that he owes a lot of money. How else to explain this quote from Taghatti: “This is just for profit because they know if they don’t give out these notices or if they make students think this is not serious stuff, they’ll just keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and then, in the end, they’re the ones who win.” Taghatti is wrong, the University is the ultimate loser in this situation. If they graduate a person this stupid, what does it say about the rest of the graduates and current students? That our certificates are mainly paid for parking tickets and do not show anything about our education. If this previous line isn’t true, then why did York University graduate Taghatti?

WARNING TO YORK STUDENTS: Stay off the sidewalks, your fellow York Students may be at the wheel trying to park!

talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to US Cities


talk talk talk: Let’s Compare the TTC to Canadian and American Cities

This blogger takes a look at the differences in cost between the TTC and other Canadian and American transit systems. Lets take two examples from his posting.

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Toronto: Fares, per token (cheaper than cash, the same as Metropass if you travel 10 times per week) are $2.00, going up to $2.10. Start stocking up! Revenues from fares are 80% (this is generally known and stated in many places, but according to my calculations from the TTC’s 2004 Annual Report, it’s 92.8%, unless you factor in their separate operating subsidy, which makes it 69.2% — can I just say the TTC’s annual report is the most amateurish piss-poor document I’ve seen.) . The city and advertising pays the rest of the TTC’s revenues. This year we will receive $132 million in gas tax from the province. That’s 13.3% of total expenses, zero percent of capital expenses. Wow!

New York City: This comprehensive transit system, the most equivalent to Toronto’s as it’s the biggest system in the US and ours is in Canada, gets 57% of operating expenses from fares, 17% from local, 20% from state; 71% and 29% of capital expenses from local and federal respectively.

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The blogger goes through percentages that the farebox contributes to the overall operating and capital costs in operating the respective transit system as well as a bunch of other figures. Looking at each transit system in terms of an accountant is all well and good.

However what this blogger fails to note is value for money. A businessman and customer understands the concept of value for money. A good businessman will provide a very good product or service at a highly competitive price. Customers see this everyday when they shop. Duracell is a well known company that provides well made batteries that a customer knows will last a respectable time length for the amount a customer pays for it. The customer could choose another battery, but Duracell has proven to be good value.

In terms of transit lets take a look at the two transit systems noted above.

TTC: Two main subway lines (Bloor-Danforth-Scarborough RT and Yonge-University-Spadina line) and one stub line (Sheppard Subway) that provides local service only. This system is complimented by overcrowded buses and streetcars running within mostly mixed traffic. Cash fare $2.50 Canadian (as of today).

Distance Travelled: Finch Subway to Union Station via Yonge-University-Spadina Line local service 30 minutes.

MTA New York City Transit: Several subway lines with both express and local service during the day. Also at least some local service operates 24 hours a day. This system has more trackage than all other transit systems in North America combined! This service is complimented by many buses that operate in mixed traffic. These buses, depending on their route, can be overcrowded in some areas depending on the time of day. Cash fare is $2.00 U.S. (far less than $2.50).

Distance travelled: Borough Hall (Brooklyn) to Times Square-42nd Street (Manhatten) via 2 Express Train (approx 20 kilometres) in 15 minutes.

As a transit rider that has experienced both Toronto’s and New York City’s transit systems, I much prefer New York’s for a couple of reasons:

1. New York system moves over 10 million people a day and makes it look effortlessly in most cases. This is probably perhaps you can go practically anywhere in the 5 boroughs (Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens & Staten Island) on one single ticket. Toronto, in contrast, requires you too walk for a couple of blocks in order find a bus or streetcar. Most of Toronto’s transit system tends to be servicing the downtown core with only a few routes, mainly on arterial roads, operating in the outer areas of the city.

2. New York’s train cars and buses are newer than Toronto’s. New York’s train cars, on some routes, even announce upcoming stops and other transit lines you can transfer too automatically in both audible and visual forms. Toronto’s transit cars now has conductors who announce upcoming stops. Toronto’s buses date from the late 1980s mostly while the New York buses date from the 1990s and onwards.

The value for money points towards New York’s system as being far superior in terms of miles of track (and thus speed to get to and more areas of the city served) in comparison to Toronto’s. Yet Toronto’s cash fare keeps increasing. New York’s fare does too but at least their is value for money being seen by the transit user in New York City in terms of renewal of infrastructure (e.g. track replacement, new train cars, etc.) which is in sharp contrast to Toronto. In Toronto, the TTC on a yearly basis cries out for more money just to maintain services it already has. The TTC is crying for money in order to keep the lumbering streetcars in mixed traffic and older overcrowded buses struggeling to stay on the road. Value for money? Sorry TTC you lose!