The problem with snow removal

English: Snow removal tractor in Germany.

Snow removal tractor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The City of Ottawa is known far and wide as one of the best cities in the world for snow removal. That does not mean that there isn’t room for improvement though.

Snow removal is an art, and an expensive one at that. If you have ever lived on a busy street you will know that. All sorts of hardware is needed to keep the streets and sidewalks pristine and safe for transportation. There are the trucks, the tractors, the snow blowers, the salt and gravel trailers…these things aren’t cheap. On a busy street, during an average snow fall, the plow trucks go by about 3 times and the sidewalk plows go by at least twice. Don’t get me wrong…these things are needed. We couldn’t do without them!

My whine today is about when enough is enough. Take the sidewalk snow plows for example They are critically important on busy streets to ensure that cars and pedestrians are isolated from each other and to ensure that pedestrians can walk safely without falling down.

My street, however, is a side-street , with only minimal traffic. My preference would be to have no sidewalk plowing because I find the sidewalks largely useless (they are always plowed days after the roads have been cleared so you spend a lot of time walking down the road anyway). But, and it is a big but, I have many neighbours that do not share my view, so lets just agree that the sidewalks do need to be plowed and put that argument to bed.

The trouble I have is the quality of the sidewalk plowing. I live on a curve in the road near a path to a park. I always try to keep the sidewalks near my house clean and clear for pedestrians because lots of people do use those sidewalks and I just feel better if they can walk there safely and in comfort.

When the city sends in its sidewalk plows, they do a fairly good job of the straight-a ways, but when they get to the curve near my house, they plows seem to be unable to keep the blades near the ground and they end up leaving a foot or more of hard packed snow all down the length of the curve (and on my driveway…but that is another matter). So what starts out as a clean and clear sidewalk ends up with a foot of bumpy, difficult to traverse snow when they finish. They also leave a pile of snow at the entrance to the path, which makes getting onto the path difficult and dangerous.

This path was clean before the plow arrived.  Not quite so clean now.

This path was clean before the plow arrived. Not quite so clean now.

My suggestion to the city is this. Instruct their staff that if the place they plow looks worse when they finish than it did when they began, stop and do it over, or just don’t do it in the first place.

Home Warrantee Problems – a short history

In my last post, I told you what I thought about Tarion corporation.  You may have wondered why I was so ticked with Tarion’s response.  Let me give you some background.

First, my family and I have been in our home for about 5 years.  We purchased the home partly because it was an “energy star” home.  We are interested in the environment and as our home is fairly large, we wanted to be able to lower our carbon footprint.  As a standard, Energy Star isn’t too far removed from R2000 and when we bought our home it was the best we could find (our builder started offering R2000 homes the year after we moved in). 

The home is fairly well-built, but like all new homes, it has had its problems.  Without going into the minutia, I can say that most of the problems have had nothing to do with the energy star certification.  But two problems have had an impact on how well the home retains its heat.  First, four of our low-E windows have had vapour leak into the evacuated area between the two panes of glass and have had to be replaced.  The first three were replaced on manufacturers warranty but as they leaked in year 3, the builder’s warranty was over and we had to pay the installation costs.  The fourth window has just now leaked and will likely have to be replaced at our cost.  When I called Tarion to enquire about their extended warrantee, they made it clear that leaks such as these not covered by the major structural defects warranty. 

The second problem that has had an impact on our ability to control our heating and cooling costs has been our front door.  My wife told me from day-one that the door was warped, but I couldn’t see it and never bothered to put it on my 1-month or my 1 or 2 year Tarion forms.  The door was always a bit difficult to close, but I always put it down to a tight fit to reduce leakage.  I was wrong.  As the years went by, the door became harder and harder to close … to the extent that it eventually broke the latch that keeps it closed.  In those days, we had to slam it so hard to close it that we eventually cracked the window. 

Given my earlier experience with Tarion, I didn’t even bother asking them about the warped door.  Rather, I just decided to have the door replaced by the original manufacturer at my cost.  After buying the door  from the original manufacturer and having it installed by his suggested installer, I was informed that not only was the door warped, but the frame was also warped and they could not get the new door to hang properly.  Even with the new door, our front entrance is still every bit as difficult to close as it was before.  So, I went to the local Home Depot to see what it would cost to replace the entire door and frame unit.  The quote, to simply replace what we have, was $8,000.  At that point, I decided that I needed to talk to Tarion again to see whether the door frame was covered. 

As you can tell from my earlier posting on the subject, I wasn’t satisfied with their response.  Tarion’s help desk told me that a warped door frame would never be covered by the Major Structural Defect warranty.  I told them that I could not find the warranty form on the forms page of their site and was informed that the form was not available on-line.  The agent was unable to tell me why, but when asked was able to send me a copy in the mail. 

So, the upshot is that I have to fight with the company that is supposed to be there to help me when I have a problem that definately affects my ability to use my home as it was meant to be used and my ability to take advantage of the energy savings options that I paid so dearly for when I bought my home.

 

Should Tarion be repurposed or eliminated entirely?

English: coat of arms of Ontario Crest: Upon a...

Image via Wikipedia

There are a few things about Tarion that really bug me and I want to let you know what they are.

First, Tarion is a builder-funded warrantee provider for new home buyers in Ontario.  Now, that doesn’t sound bad on the surface, but think about it…if a builder pays fees to Tarion, who do you suspect will end up really paying those fees in the end?  That’s right, the home buyer, just like we pay for all other mandated fees – in the price of our houses.  But if the fees are paid to Tarion by the builders, doesn’t it make sense that anything that they would have an inflated interest in keeping claims to a minimum.  After all, do you bite the hand that feeds you?  Far fetched you say…think back to the “triple A” ratings Standard and Poors gave to credit instruments in the run-up to the subprime mortgage fiasco – all the while being paid to provide the ratings by the credit issuers.  The means by which they are funded must be altered to make it more transparent and to eliminate even the hint of conflict of interest.

The second thing that bothers me is that Tarion effectively manages the warranty program on behalf of the provincial government.  If this is the case, then at a minimum Tarion should be interested in equality before the law that it enforces (the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act).  Given that builders are in the business (and thereby have more experience with the Act), and have far more access to legal advice and deeper pockets than the average home buyer, it would seem reasonable that Tarion would be required to do some advocacy on behalf of the home owner to level the playing field; it has been my experience that this they never do. 

Instead, Tarion makes it as difficult as possible for the consumer to make a claim against a builder.  Evidence of this is their policy (according to their telephone representatives) not to have the Major Structural Defect Form available on their web page.  Even if they do not advocate for the consumer, they should at the very least, register each and every complaint that is received and the results of the claim so that a report can be produced and published on the provincial government’s website indicating their effectiveness at providing service to the new home owners. 

Just for fun some day, give Tarion a call and ask them about policy.  The folks that answer the phones will tell you that they don’t make or explain a policy (like why they don’t post the Major Structural Defects form on their web-site), but ask them whether your major structural defect will be covered by the warranty and they can immediately tell you whether or not your claim is going to be covered.  Interesting eh?  They can’t speak about policy because, “their job is only to direct you to the correct spot on the web-site”, but they know enough by speaking to you on the phone to be able to tell you that a warped front door frame isn’t going to be covered.  All this, mind you, without ever registering your claim or doing any sort of investigation.  Almost smacks of clairvoyance.

This type of behavior is suspiciously like that of the insurance industry in years past when some companies made it a practice to ignore the first three contacts by a client with the full knowledge that many of the clients would just give up and go away.  Tarion should, at the very least, be required to register each and every complaint they receive, register how they dealt with the complaint, and have an independent poling firm do a post service client satisfaction survey with a random sample of their customers.  Being transparent by posting these figures annually (and prominently) on the Department of Consumer Affairs’ web-site would go a long way to making Tarion more trusted by home owners.

I will have more to say about Tarion in the future.  At the moment, I am working with the office of my Member of  the Provincial Parliament (MPP), Jack MacLaren, to see what can be done politically to repurpose or redirect Tarion’s activities to make them more responsive to Ontario Taxpayers.  As it stands now, my preference would be to scrap Tarion altogether and start over afresh, but I am hoping that with your help we can force sufficient change on Tarion to make them worth keeping.

In the meanwhile, how about letting me know what you think about Tarion by posting comments and by taking the surveys below (please refrain from any forms of slander or libel because I won’t be able to approve any comments that cross the line of propriety). 

Oh, OC…what were you thinking?

OC Transpo bus 9819

Image via Wikipedia

This is just a pet peeve, but it really bugs me and I wanted to get it off my chest.  

What was OC Transpo thinking when they established the rules for their “Express” Routes. These routes are “premium services” that go from a suburban endpoint through the Greenbelt around Ottawa, and end up in Downtown (in the evenings, they go the other direction).

So you ask yourselves, what is he complaining about … this seems just like a lot of express services elsewhere. What is the problem?

Well, my main problem is that Express busses on OC Transpo stop at just about every stop along the way between the two end-points. The end-points seem to be nothing more than turn-around points in their thinking.

So you might need to get on the only bus that services your neighbourhood and find that it is already filled to capacity with people who are getting off at some mid-point that is already serviced by dozens of other regular busses that service all the mid-points, but don’t go to your required end-point. So you stand in the cold and watch in frustration while your (infrequently running) express bus zooms by, full to capacity with people destined for the mid-points, while the regular busses that service the intermediate locations go by half-empty.

That really ticks me off. What do you think. Have your say in the survey below.

Copyright infringment and consumer rights to quality product

It’s funny, but I have never knowingly downloaded any software, video or song that I haven’t paid for. I just don’t like the feeling that I may be hurting the creators of the content. I use a lot of “free” software … the stuff with GNU licenses or the free versions of professional software, but only in the way allowed for by the license agreements.

But still, I get hassled the same way as people who do – and it bugs me. I’ll tell you why.

You see, the companies that are making the biggest fuss over copyright infringement are often the same ones that sell you shrink wrapped product that cannot be “tried” before it is purchased. This means that consumers are left buying a pig-in-a-poke. Sometimes we get gold, other times we get refuse … we paid for gold. I don’t see the makers of the refuse lining up to protect my rights to buy good quality music, videos or software.

When we buy movies from one of the big production houses we often get bad quality product. I just bought a new Blue-Ray version of “Cars II” and right out of the box, the audio for the movie is sketchy. At various places in the movie, the audio cuts out completely for minutes at a time. Now, this movie is brand new, so I can take it back to the store for an exchange, but what about when it is a month old, or two months old? I have dozens of disks around the house that have failed after a number of plays and no amount of cleaning or repair will make them usable again. What do I do then?

Well, some companies will ship you another disk (at your cost) once you pay to ship the defective disk back to them. What a pile of rubbish! Why should I pay again to get what i already paid for?

Why not allow for perpetual downloads of the data so long as the user has a license key? Or if we are concerned about rampant copying of the media, why not require all stores that sell your movies to take them back for exchange in perpetuity and agree to reimburse the stores for their costs?

My point is, you never see content creators clamoring to find ways to protect our rights to use the products we purchased from them, but let some little old lady post a picture of her granddaughter lip-synching to a copyrighted song and she gets whacked by the record industry.

This is a message to the various content creators … there are a lot of us out here that buy your products. We buy them because we believe in supporting the artists and we believe in fair compensation for fair use, but if you don’t start respecting our rights too, we will stop buying your products.

We may be old and grumpy, but we spend a pile of money on your stuff.

Don’t mess with us!