Friday, February 19, 2010

Toronto's streetlights

I posted an article this morning on google reader from the Toronto Star about how Toronto is to pay $420 million in rental fees for streetlights they just sold for $60 million. After I commented with distaste, Chris pointed out that maintenance fees weren't included in those numbers and weren't mentioned in the article at all. Basically, the numbers may just look a lot worse than they actually are. I did think about that initially, but a hot head reaction and post was later brought in by Chris' comment. SO, can we get closer to the real numbers here?

For the life of me, I can't find how much Toronto spends/spent on streetlight maintenance each year prior to their sale. I'm not surprised, but, that is going to be a problem. So, I'll try to work around that a bit. Below is a very rough numbers calculation based on old facts and unreliable figures.

Hamilton, who debated roughly the same topic in 2003, actually posted their discussions online without any attempted lawyer cover-up (how about that!), had about 35,000 streetlights in 2003 (link is a pdf).

By Toronto Hydro numbers, Toronto currently has about 150,000 streetlights.

So, roughly 5 times the population, and roughly 5 times the number of streetlights (by the numbers I saw.. ). Makes sense, downtown density aside.

Hamilton, in 2003 spent just under $500,000 for streetlight maintenance (in that pdf above). So, let's say there's an increased of about 20% from those numbers to 2010, and I'll concede an additional $100,000, just guesstimating. (For comparison, Toronto Hydro is just adjusting their 30 year fee with inflation.) That means that if I had to guess, Hamilton is spending about $600,000 a year on streetlight sustenance. Converting these numbers to Toronto (x5), streetlight upkeep should currently cost us about 3 million dollars a year.

That means that over the 30 year rental agreement with Toronto Hydro (estimated at about $14 million a year), we're in the hole about $11 million a year. For 30 years that's $330 million which we could have saved. Subtract from that the initial $60 million received, and we're in the hole $270 million over the length of the contract, give or take. Or, to put it another way, what would be costing us $90-100 million, is now costing us $420 million.

Now, maintenance doesn't include administration (turning lights on/off/handling complaints, etc...). I have no idea what the costs are, and I assume it's fairly automated, but seeing as it's Toronto, let's say another $2 million a year? That saves us another $60 million.

So, you're right; the hole isn't as bad as it was made out to be. And my numbers are really just coming from anywhere 15 minutes will allow. But, it does still seem ridiculous, significant, and inexcusable. Moreover, ownership does have its privileges, and incentives.

Given that Toronto is still paying for the hydro it uses for these streetlamps (I assume that's not in the deal - otherwise it would be pretty sweet), there is little incentive for Toronto Hydro to replace bulbs with high efficiency ones. Further, I doubt Toronto Hydro will put forth the initiative to proactively replace street lamps with something that Toronto citizens may want 10 years down the road. What I'm (poorly) trying to say is that it's just another example where Toronto is selling off its public assets and image for short term gain, and those numbers aren't yet included in the sell-off monetary shortfall.

As an aside, here's a slideshow of what San Francisco may be considering in their streetlight efforts (pdf again).


As another aside, didn't Toronto Hydro have some massive wi-fi plan it was supposed to implement on these streelamps? Is that what One Zone is? Well, that seems to have worked out pretty well for them...

1 comment:

  1. Private corporations are legally bound to pursue profit for their shareholders. Consequently, any private corporation would only buy Toronto's streetlights if they knew they would make money from the rental fee from the city. This is exactly why privatization is a huge scam to take money from taxpayers and give it to corporations.