News | April 09, 2013

BY GORDON KENT, Edmonton Journal APRIL 8, 2013EDMONTON - A poll released Monday shows almost two-thirds of Edmonton residents don’t want a private company to run the southeast LRT.The federal government promised the city $250 million last month to help pay for the project as a public-private partnership, or P3, that a consortium would design, build, finance, operate and maintain.But a coalition of labour and public interest groups is fighting this plan, arguing service is likely to be worse and costs will be higher than if the city managed the line.“These negotiations need to be done with much more clarity, in public, and Edmontonians need to be assured we’re getting good value for our tax dollars,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta.An Environics poll commissioned by the group indicates 64 per cent of people surveyed disagree that turning over operations of the southeast LRT to a private corporation is the correct decision.As well, 61 per cent have a problem with the federal government “forcing” the city to privatize part of the LRT to get funding, and 71 per cent are concerned council decided behind closed doors to go this route.“This whole thing happened completely in private with no input from anyone,” Moore-Kilgannon said.The group has launched a website, ourlrt.ca, as part of a push to make the proposed P3 an issue in the October civic election.“Keep your councillors accountable,” said Stu Litwinowich, president of Local 569 Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Edmonton Transit workers.“Once this deal is done, future councils will have no power to make changes.”The telephone poll of 813 Edmonton adults was done between Feb. 27 and March 4, about two weeks before the federal P3 funding was announced.It’s considered accurate to within 3.4 percentage points 19 times out of 20.Councillors voted last May to use a P3 to build the line, but to qualify for the federal funding expanded the scope in August so a private company rather than Edmonton Transit will also maintain and operate the line.The city hopes to complete financing this year for the $1.8-billion low-floor LRT so construction can start in 2015.A 2010 PricewaterhouseCoopers study determined a P3 could build the entire LRT from Lewis Estates to Mill Woods, then run and maintain it for 30 years, for up to 10 per cent less than traditional methods, but opponents are skeptical.However, Coun. Dave Loken said he reluctantly supported a larger P3 because it’s the only way to receive all the federal money needed for the project.The city is already looking at a six-per-cent to eight-per-cent tax hike in 2014, and adding making local residents shoulder the federal portion of the LRT would push that increase into double digits, he said.“That’s just the southeast line. We have two other lines to complete (to Lewis Estates and St. Albert). We had to weigh all that into the decision, and it wasn’t easy,” Loken said.“I personally am nervous about P3s, but I also have to look at the big picture … The alternative is saying no to the P3, not getting the money and raising taxes substantially, and I don’t think that alternative is realistic.”Debate on the issue was kept private to avoid releasing financial information that could affect negotiations with companies bidding for the scheme, Loken said.While he remains concerned there are no Canadian P3s to study that have existed for the typical 30-year time frame, he said the city can write a contract that ensures proper service and maintenance standards.gkent@edmontonjournal.comRead the article at The Edmonton Journal 

Share