DRESCHEL: Dixon’s departure plays to LRT doubts

Opinion May 25, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

It's a truism that no matter how valuable the employee, once he or she leaves the workplace, the water closes over so quickly it's almost as if they'd never been.

But there is always something to be said for the timing of a vanishing act.

And the surprise resignation of Dave Dixon, Hamilton's transit director, could hardly come at a worse time given his key role in LRT planning.

Dixon, the former chief operating officer for the Toronto Transit Commission who came to Hamilton in late 2014, has been intimately involved in the complex design plans, drawing on his expertise, offering problem-cracking suggestions.

The fact his departure is sure to have an impact on the project's bench strength and aggressive timeline is more than a little ironic.

After all, in the two years or so that Dixon has been leading Hamilton's transit, he's hardly positioned himself as the poster boy for LRT.

Consider:

When Premier Kathleen Wynne came to Hamilton almost exactly a year ago to announce the $1 billion in provincial funding, Dixon was noticeable by his absence from the throng of local cheerleaders who turned out at McMaster University.

Officially, nobody made a big deal of the fact that the head of transit was missing from the unprecedented transit funding announcement.

But among city hall politicos and staffers, it was widely assumed that, rightly or wrongly, Dixon's nose was out of joint by the unexpected windfall. It was felt he just couldn't bring himself to slavishly applaud a project which he basically considered a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Dixon had essentially made that case a couple of months earlier in March 2015, when he presented his 10-year transit strategy, which included asking the province for an additional $302 million on top of the long-standing funding request for LRT.

Dixon's plan blindsided and embarrassed Mayor Fred Eisenberger. Coming out of the blue so soon after Eisenberger had received an LRT funding promise from Wynne in a private meeting, the mayor worried it would muddy the waters.

Compounding the awkwardness, Dixon made it perfectly clear during his presentation to councillors that from his perspective, LRT must be fed by a strong local bus service for it to be successful.

Dixon said he was "very supportive" of LRT. But "first and foremost" local bus service needed major improvements, including better run times and bypass counts.

Dixon also rocked light rail fans when he said a chart in the city's "Rapid Ready" report, which shows that "Day 1" LRT ridership in Hamilton is within the range of most successful LRT systems, was "not accurate."

Pressed by LRT supporter Coun. Jason Farr, Dixon modified his comment, suggesting instead that Hamilton has to be "careful" about which LRT systems it compares itself to.

Nonetheless, he left the distinct impression that LRT is premature unless during the construction period the city is able to invest the $302 million in growing conventional transit, including building a $200-million bus storage facility.

It goes without saying that the province did not come though with the $302 million, a funding gap which councillors who don't support LRT, or who are unsure, are increasingly pointing to.

It also goes without saying that Dixon, who is leaving June 18 to accept an undisclosed unsolicited offer, is not exactly giving the city a lot of notice. For a senior manager, his haste verges on the indecent.

Dixon says he's not quitting because of the growing political conflict over LRT. But there's no question it will play into reanimated doubts about the project. As noted above, there is always something to be said for the timing of a vanishing act.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

adreschel@thespec.com | 905-526-3495 | @AndrewDreschel

DRESCHEL: Dixon’s departure plays to LRT doubts

Opinion May 25, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

It's a truism that no matter how valuable the employee, once he or she leaves the workplace, the water closes over so quickly it's almost as if they'd never been.

But there is always something to be said for the timing of a vanishing act.

And the surprise resignation of Dave Dixon, Hamilton's transit director, could hardly come at a worse time given his key role in LRT planning.

Dixon, the former chief operating officer for the Toronto Transit Commission who came to Hamilton in late 2014, has been intimately involved in the complex design plans, drawing on his expertise, offering problem-cracking suggestions.

The fact his departure is sure to have an impact on the project's bench strength and aggressive timeline is more than a little ironic.

After all, in the two years or so that Dixon has been leading Hamilton's transit, he's hardly positioned himself as the poster boy for LRT.

Consider:

When Premier Kathleen Wynne came to Hamilton almost exactly a year ago to announce the $1 billion in provincial funding, Dixon was noticeable by his absence from the throng of local cheerleaders who turned out at McMaster University.

Officially, nobody made a big deal of the fact that the head of transit was missing from the unprecedented transit funding announcement.

But among city hall politicos and staffers, it was widely assumed that, rightly or wrongly, Dixon's nose was out of joint by the unexpected windfall. It was felt he just couldn't bring himself to slavishly applaud a project which he basically considered a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Dixon had essentially made that case a couple of months earlier in March 2015, when he presented his 10-year transit strategy, which included asking the province for an additional $302 million on top of the long-standing funding request for LRT.

Dixon's plan blindsided and embarrassed Mayor Fred Eisenberger. Coming out of the blue so soon after Eisenberger had received an LRT funding promise from Wynne in a private meeting, the mayor worried it would muddy the waters.

Compounding the awkwardness, Dixon made it perfectly clear during his presentation to councillors that from his perspective, LRT must be fed by a strong local bus service for it to be successful.

Dixon said he was "very supportive" of LRT. But "first and foremost" local bus service needed major improvements, including better run times and bypass counts.

Dixon also rocked light rail fans when he said a chart in the city's "Rapid Ready" report, which shows that "Day 1" LRT ridership in Hamilton is within the range of most successful LRT systems, was "not accurate."

Pressed by LRT supporter Coun. Jason Farr, Dixon modified his comment, suggesting instead that Hamilton has to be "careful" about which LRT systems it compares itself to.

Nonetheless, he left the distinct impression that LRT is premature unless during the construction period the city is able to invest the $302 million in growing conventional transit, including building a $200-million bus storage facility.

It goes without saying that the province did not come though with the $302 million, a funding gap which councillors who don't support LRT, or who are unsure, are increasingly pointing to.

It also goes without saying that Dixon, who is leaving June 18 to accept an undisclosed unsolicited offer, is not exactly giving the city a lot of notice. For a senior manager, his haste verges on the indecent.

Dixon says he's not quitting because of the growing political conflict over LRT. But there's no question it will play into reanimated doubts about the project. As noted above, there is always something to be said for the timing of a vanishing act.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

adreschel@thespec.com | 905-526-3495 | @AndrewDreschel

DRESCHEL: Dixon’s departure plays to LRT doubts

Opinion May 25, 2016 by Andrew Dreschel The Hamilton Spectator

It's a truism that no matter how valuable the employee, once he or she leaves the workplace, the water closes over so quickly it's almost as if they'd never been.

But there is always something to be said for the timing of a vanishing act.

And the surprise resignation of Dave Dixon, Hamilton's transit director, could hardly come at a worse time given his key role in LRT planning.

Dixon, the former chief operating officer for the Toronto Transit Commission who came to Hamilton in late 2014, has been intimately involved in the complex design plans, drawing on his expertise, offering problem-cracking suggestions.

The fact his departure is sure to have an impact on the project's bench strength and aggressive timeline is more than a little ironic.

After all, in the two years or so that Dixon has been leading Hamilton's transit, he's hardly positioned himself as the poster boy for LRT.

Consider:

When Premier Kathleen Wynne came to Hamilton almost exactly a year ago to announce the $1 billion in provincial funding, Dixon was noticeable by his absence from the throng of local cheerleaders who turned out at McMaster University.

Officially, nobody made a big deal of the fact that the head of transit was missing from the unprecedented transit funding announcement.

But among city hall politicos and staffers, it was widely assumed that, rightly or wrongly, Dixon's nose was out of joint by the unexpected windfall. It was felt he just couldn't bring himself to slavishly applaud a project which he basically considered a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Dixon had essentially made that case a couple of months earlier in March 2015, when he presented his 10-year transit strategy, which included asking the province for an additional $302 million on top of the long-standing funding request for LRT.

Dixon's plan blindsided and embarrassed Mayor Fred Eisenberger. Coming out of the blue so soon after Eisenberger had received an LRT funding promise from Wynne in a private meeting, the mayor worried it would muddy the waters.

Compounding the awkwardness, Dixon made it perfectly clear during his presentation to councillors that from his perspective, LRT must be fed by a strong local bus service for it to be successful.

Dixon said he was "very supportive" of LRT. But "first and foremost" local bus service needed major improvements, including better run times and bypass counts.

Dixon also rocked light rail fans when he said a chart in the city's "Rapid Ready" report, which shows that "Day 1" LRT ridership in Hamilton is within the range of most successful LRT systems, was "not accurate."

Pressed by LRT supporter Coun. Jason Farr, Dixon modified his comment, suggesting instead that Hamilton has to be "careful" about which LRT systems it compares itself to.

Nonetheless, he left the distinct impression that LRT is premature unless during the construction period the city is able to invest the $302 million in growing conventional transit, including building a $200-million bus storage facility.

It goes without saying that the province did not come though with the $302 million, a funding gap which councillors who don't support LRT, or who are unsure, are increasingly pointing to.

It also goes without saying that Dixon, who is leaving June 18 to accept an undisclosed unsolicited offer, is not exactly giving the city a lot of notice. For a senior manager, his haste verges on the indecent.

Dixon says he's not quitting because of the growing political conflict over LRT. But there's no question it will play into reanimated doubts about the project. As noted above, there is always something to be said for the timing of a vanishing act.

Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

adreschel@thespec.com | 905-526-3495 | @AndrewDreschel