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Bad weather is bad news for Ottawa LRT trains, city told – Ottawa Citizen



“The vehicles appear to be more prone to these failures during wet or inclement weather.”

Ottawa LRT in winter

Jean Levac / Postmedia News

International rail experts hired by Rideau Transit Group are being treated to a fine example of Ottawa’s current LRT mess as the city’s contractor started another week with a serious shortage of trains for the busiest times of day.

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The gurus from JBA Corp. come on board this week with news that the Alstom Citadis Spirit trains don’t like bad weather.

The city reported that several trains suddenly stopped during the snowy, wet weekend because their circuit breakers tripped.

The problems continued Monday when only nine trains operated during the busy morning and afternoon transit commutes.

Monday night, a transit user tweeted that there was no westbound service past Lyon Station.

There should be 13 trains during peak-hour service. Wait times for trains hit six minutes, two minutes longer than what people have been used to when LRT is working properly.

OC Transpo said in a release late Monday that Tuesday service would again operate with nine trains in the morning and afternoon peak periods, supplemented by special morning bus service to downtown from Tunney’s Pasture, Hurdman and Blair stations and from downtown to Tunney’s, Hurdman and Blair in the afternoon. 

As many as 50 bus trips on higher-frequency routes would be cancelled in the morning peak and up to 75 in the afternoon peak.

Experts from JBA are expected to examine a dozen issues flagged by the city about LRT maintenance. The consultants have been helping the City of Ottawa’s transportation department figure out if RTG is off track with the maintenance program, and now RTG, which is a partnership of ACS Infrastructure, EllisDon and SNC-Lavalin, has hired the consultants to fix troubles related to LRT upkeep.

JBA has experience with Alstom trains and infrastructure.

Everything about RTG’s maintenance program, which is overseen by affiliate Rideau Transit Maintenance, appears to be open to scrutiny.

Someone will obviously have to look into the power problems with the trains.

John Manconi, the city’s transportation general manager, told council and transit commission members on Monday that the loss of power to the vehicle motors has to do with problems with the electrical equipment on top of the vehicles.

“The vehicles appear to be more prone to these failures during wet or inclement weather,” Manconi told members.

The root cause is under investigation.

According to Manconi’s note, safety systems monitoring the flow of electricity will cut power using a rooftop circuit breaker and the train might come to a stop. Other on board systems, like the lighting, still work when the breaker trips.

“Customers may hear a bang or see sparks where the train contacts the overhead power wires. This may be startling but does not pose a risk to the safety of passengers in the train or on the platform,” Manconi said in his email to members.

When a train loses power, a technician must investigate and reset the system. Workers remove the train for inspection and maintenance.

The reason why there’s such a shortage of trains this week is because some of the repairs require time to complete, Manconi said.

OC Transpo strategically pulled buses from routes across the city to fill a supplemental bus service along the LRT route. The transit agency published 138 bus trips on Monday that were cancelled so buses could instead help move customers in and out of downtown.

A supplemental bus service will run on streets parallel to the LRT line until at least Friday.

It seems that as soon as RTG started getting a handle on some problems, like the buggy computer systems and the malfunctioning doors, new problems started to emerge.

The list of problems grew over the weekend when some trains conked out because of the power problems.

RTG was just making progress on rounding out steel wheels that have developed flat spots. There was a backlog of maintenance — up to 13 trains at one point had flat spots on wheels — and the company couldn’t roll out the necessary number of trains to provide full service.

Over the past four weeks, RTG reported some occurrences of electrical arcing above the trains.

Then there was that train that pulled down an overhead wire near St. Laurent Station.

Track switches have been a problem, too, as RTG figures out a maintenance strategy for heavy snow and ice.

For each separate problem, RTG has assembled a task force to investigate the root causes.

During a transit commission meeting last week, Peter Lauch, chief executive of RTG’s maintenance arm, said the company has been consumed with reacting to problems rather than studying day-to-day operational issues.

RTG was the top-ranked consortia during the Stage 1 procurement, both on the technical side and financial side. The consortium’s maintenance and rehabilitation plan scored 80 per cent during the technical evaluation, leading to the group’s winning the $2.1-billion LRT construction contract. The group has a 30-year maintenance deal with the city, which is withholding monthly payments during the service problems.


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Consumer debt tops $2.36 trillion in third quarter, up 7.3 per cent from last year – BNN Bloomberg



Equifax Canada says an increase in borrowers helped push total consumer debt to $2.36 trillion in the third quarter for a 7.3 per cent rise from last year, even as mortgage volumes decline. 

It says average non-mortgage debt rose to $21,183 for the highest level since the second quarter of 2020, with early signs of strain starting to show in auto loans and credit cards.

Overall non-mortgage debt came in at $599.9 billion for a 5.3 per cent climb from last year, and up 1.9 per cent from the third quarter of 2019, as the number of borrowers rose by 3.1 per cent.

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Rebecca Oakes, Equifax Canada’s head of advanced analytics, says the rising debt stems from a combination of growth from immigration, pent-up spending, as well as increased borrowing as consumers feel the strain of higher living costs.

Credit card spending in the quarter was up 17.3 per cent from last year to an all-time high for the time period. 

Average spending put on credit cards was almost $2,447, a 21.8 per cent jump from the third quarter of 2019.

There’s been an increase in credit card spending and new cards issued across all consumer segments, including the sub-prime segments, said Oakes in a statement.

She said there are some signs that borrowers are starting to have trouble covering the bills, with average payment rates for those who carry a balance down from a year ago, she said. 

“Consumers have been making strong payments, but we are starting to see a shift in payment behaviour especially for credit card revolvers — those who carry a balance on their card and don’t pay it off in full each month.”

Delinquencies on auto loans have also started to trend up, especially those opened since late 2021, she said. 

The overall rate of more than 90 day delinquencies for non-mortgage debt was 0.93 per cent, up from 0.87 last year, though insolvencies are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

New mortgage volume dropped 22.7 per cent in the quarter compared with last year and by 14.9 per cent compared with the third quarter of 2019. First-time home buyers are paying over $500 more for almost the same loan amounts as first-time buyers last year. 

Overall insolvency rates are up from a year ago but from a relatively low starting point, and there are some areas of concern including a rise in consumer proposals by seniors, said Oakes.

“The true impact of interest rate hikes could be visible by the end of 2023.” 

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Trudeau, Ford mark opening of Canada's first full-scale electric vehicle plant – CP24



The Canadian Press

Published Monday, December 5, 2022 5:06AM EST

Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2022 1:17PM EST

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are celebrating the opening today of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant.

Trudeau says electric delivery vans have started rolling off the line today at the General Motors CAMI production plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which has been retooled to build the company’s BrightDrop all-electric vehicle brand.

The prime minister was joined by Ford and the province’s Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli to mark the milestone.

The provincial and federal governments each invested $259 million toward GM’s $2-billion plan to transform its Ingersoll plant and overhaul its Oshawa, Ont., plant to make it EV-ready.

The federal government says the Ingersoll plant is expected to manufacture 50,000 electric vehicles by 2025.

Canada intends to bar the sale of new internal-combustion engines in passenger vehicles by 2035.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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Food prices in Canada: Families to pay $1,065 more in 2023 – CTV News




Canadians won’t escape food inflation any time soon.

Food prices in Canada will continue to escalate in the new year, with grocery costs forecast to rise up to seven per cent in 2023, new research predicts.

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For a family of four, the total annual grocery bill is expected to be $16,288 — $1,065 more than it was this year, the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday said.

A single woman in her 40s — the average age in Canada — will pay about $3,740 for groceries next year while a single man the same age would pay $4,168, according to the report and Statistics Canada.

Food inflation is set to remain stubbornly high in the first half of 2023 before it starts to ease, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report and Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy.

“When you look at the current food inflation cycle we’re in right now, we’re probably in the seventh-inning stretch,” he said in an interview. “The first part of 2023 will remain challenging … but we’re starting to see the end of this.”

Multiple factors could influence food prices next year, including climate change, geopolitical conflicts, rising energy costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the report said.

Currency fluctuations could also play a role in food prices. A weaker Canadian dollar could make importing goods like lettuce more expensive, for example.

Earlier this year the loonie was worth more than 80 cents US, but it then dropped to a low of 72.17 cents US in October amid a strengthening U.S. dollar. It has hovered near the 74 cent mark in recent weeks, ending Friday at 74.25 cents US.

“The produce section is going to be the wild card,” Charlebois said. “Currency is one of the key things that could throw things off early in the winter and that’s why produce is the highest category.”

Vegetables could see the biggest price spikes, with estimates pegging cost increases will rise as high as eight per cent, the report said.

In addition to currency risks, much of the produce sold in Canada comes from the United States, which has been struggling with extremely dry conditions.

“The western U.S., particularly California, has seen strong El Nino weather patterns and droughts and bacterial contaminations, and that’s impacted our fruit and vegetable suppliers and prices,” said Simon Somogyi, campus lead at the University of Guelph and professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

“The drought is making the production of lettuce more expensive,” he said. “It’s reducing the crop size but it’s also causing bacterial contamination, which is lessening the supply in the marketplace.”

Prices in other key food categories like meat, dairy and bakery are predicted to soar up to seven per cent, the researchers found.

The Canadian Dairy Commission has approved a farm gate milk price increase of about 2.2 per cent, or just under two cents per litre, for Feb. 1, 2023.

“The increase for February is reasonable but it comes after the unprecedented increases in 2022, which are continuing to work their way through the supply chain,” Charlebois said of the two price hikes of nearly 11 per cent combined in 2022.

Meanwhile, seafood is expected to increase up to six per cent, while fruit could increase up to five per cent, the report said.

Restaurant costs are expected to increase four to six per cent, less than supermarket prices, the report said.

Rising prices will push food security and affordability even further out of reach of Canadians a year after food bank use reached a record high, the report said.

The increasing reliance on food banks is expected to continue, with 20 per cent of Canadians reporting they will likely turn to community organizations in 2023 for help feeding their families, a survey included in the report found.

Use of weekly flyers, coupons, bulk buying and food rescuing apps also ticked up this year and is expected to continue growing in 2023, the report said.

“We’re in the era now of the smart shopper,” said Somogyi, also the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food.

“For certain generations, it’s the first time that they’ve had to make a list, not impulse buy, read the weekly flyers, use coupons, buy in volume and freeze what they don’t use.”

Last year’s report predicted food prices would increase five to seven per cent in 2022 — the biggest jump ever predicted by the annual food price report.

Food costs actually far exceeded that forecast. Grocery prices were up 11 per cent in October compared with a year before while overall food costs were up 10.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

“We were called alarmists,” Charlebois said of the prediction that food prices could rise seven per cent in 2022. Critics called the report an “exaggeration,” he said.

“You’re always one crisis away from throwing everything out the window,” Charlebois said. “We didn’t predict the war in Ukraine, and that really affected markets.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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