Friday, February 16, 2007

There's No Business Like Snow Business...

Well, the Chinook wind has blown through Calgary, and with it the warm-fuzzy feeling that city planners hope will all but erase the feelings of outrage that many Calgarians had been simmering in for the week before that.

Calgary is a city of a million people, with 4,203 kilometers of paved roads, and is in Canada. Even a 10th-grade drop-out from Little Rock, Arkansas could tell you "it's probably gunna snow there, y'all". And snow it does. And the plows hit the road... after 3 days of non-stop snow. Why did it take 3 days?

"We send out the plows after 10 centimeters have fallen". So said the head of the snow removal crews, many times, this past week. Even though the city's own website says it's 5 centimeters that is the bench-mark, not 10. But, he says they start plowing at 10 cm.

Really? Where are the rulers, pray tell? Who's measuring this 10 cm? Is there a little old lady in Mount Royal with her yardstick, waiting for the snowfall to hit 4 inches so she can call city hall and tell them it's time to dispatch the plows? Because here at my house, by the time the first plow passed by (I'm on one of Calgary's secondary roads, not a major road like the Deerfoot or Glenmore, but close), there had been close to 22 cm of snow. Getting in and out of my place had become an absolute joke - and I'm not alone.

Now, the city claims that most Calgarians won't support a tax hike of $30 to $40 per year for improved snow removal. What they FAIL to mention, however, is that Calgarians as a rule get their taxes hiked by 3 to 5 percent EVERY YEAR, for nothing more substantial that what is vaguely referred to as "maintaining high levels of service". Well, DUH... if you hiked people's taxes and told them much of it was going to be because you had to hire 3 new communications specialists and buy 65 new computers for City Hall staffers, because the 2 year-old machines were obsolete, most Calgarians would tell you where to go, and how to get there. But you don't GET that specific, do you? You just say "maintaining service levels, 3 to 5 percent", and we swallow it. So, hike the taxes, plow the road, and we'll swallow it.

Will the Chinook inevitably come? Yes, it will. But, in this last winter storm, we had 850 collisions in this city. EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY. The Chinook hit only yesterday. The average amount of damage to vehicles in these collisions is estimated to be around $3000, and about half the collisions are single-vehicle crunchers. So we're looking at a cost to Calgarians of $3,825,000. During this ONE STORM. That doesn't factor in personal injury, or lost productivity or wages due to injury or traffic snarls. $3.8 Million. But it's through the insurance companies, so who cares, right?

Believe it or not, when most people get into an accident on a road covered with snow that they pay the city every year to clear, the first thing that pops into their head after they hear that sickening crunch is NOT "Thank god, the insurance company will pay for the damage".

Now, back to figures. You'll recall that the cost in pure damage to vehicles, for this one storm alone, will cost Calgarians (and their insurance companies) $3.8 Million. This city's snow removal budget, for the YEAR, is $17 million. Edmonton's budget is double. Makes sense, Edmonton gets more snow than Calgary, right? Wrong. According to Environment Canada, Calgary averages 5 cm more per year than Edmonton. But the Chinooks melt it all, right? Right. Eventually. But tell that to the people involved in the 850 collisions in less than a week, while the city sat on its hands, did a "Sun Dance", and prayed for warm weather so they wouldn't have to pay the plow operators overtime.

The Chinooks came. The furor will die down. But $3.8 Million is a heavy price to pay for the city's lack of foresight. And that's just for ONE storm like this. Calgary gets 2 or 3 of these storms, in an average year, with similar numbers of collisions.

Perhaps the insurance companies should send the bills to the city?

- ES

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although I think you make a solid point regarding the city's inability to prepare and react, 90% of the accidents occurred on the first day of the storm and therefore would not have been prevented by the plowing.