Friday, February 27, 2009

Toronto Transit Commission no longer the model

Having been a TTC commuter now for 3 months now I can truly say that it's the armpit of Toronto. In the last month there have been a number of shootings on trains and buses, and one instance of two youths being pushed in the path of an oncoming train.

Delays are are as common as trains are on time.  Escalators work about 50% of the time. For one week an escalator at one of Toronto's busiest stations King, was not working. So people leaving from and going to the platform were share a single narrow stairwell. This resulted in people not being able to get to onto a waiting train because they were all stuck upstairs trying to get down as people came up. Of course none of the TTC employees standing around could care less.

I could go on and on. But I think you get the message. By the way, did I mention those fat overpaid TTC workers are all rude and obviously don't like their job; despite getting a paid $80K for sitting on their duff dispensing tokens and talking on the phone all day. 

When I was a youth, the TTC was a model around the world for mass transportation. Now it's a complete joke. Look to Spain, France, Japan and London for example and you'll see mass transit as it should be.

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone is failing at his job. His youth and hence inexperience truly shows that he is out of his element. It doesn't matter how many languages this wiz kid can speak, the truth of the matter is that he cannot lead and does not have a vision for Toronto's transportation future. I really don't care about new services like, emailing or texting train delays. How about cell phone and Blackberry service underground. Who cares? Just get the trains to run on time. Those countries I mentioned all have well run and massively connected routes, Toronto has essentially only 3 subway lines and a bunch buses and can't get it right.
But not all the blame can go to Adam. There's no money, or maybe those at City Hall doesn't know how to ask.  And clearly transportation should not be at the municipal level, but instead provincially run.

I'm saving $400 per month by not having a car, but I wonder if it's really worth the hassle. And based on the number of drivers downtown I think they decided it's not worth it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Calories - Double Double etc.

Today's warm weather inspired me to restart regular running. Having recently recovered from a horrible cold and a brutal winter, I really wasn't being as physically active as in previous years.  The added responsibilitues at home and work doesn't help either, but I have to stop making excuses.  

I had written in a previous blog post that I was determined to drop 10lbs. That did happen but only because I got sick. It's not easy to loose 10lbs and keep it off, which brings me to the subject of this post- Calories. 

Being less active means that something has to give in order to maintain a healthy weight. It's pretty obvious that food is my main culprit. I eat out almost everyday.  But I never had I really taken an interest in counting calories until recently. Based on my age, weight and activity most calorie calculators says I need approximately 2400 calories to maintain my current weight. So theoretically if I consume less calories and increase my activity I should loose weight.

Each day I used to consume 2 large double-double coffees. According to the Tim Horton's nutritional calculator ( that works out to 230x2=460 calories in just coffee alone!!! I got smart about this a couple of month's ago and started getting 1 sugar and 2 cream 185x2=370.   If I go for mediums it works out to 115x2=230.   I've tried to convince my better half but all I get is a smug shrug of the shoulders. Muffins are BAD too, each blueberry muffin is 330 calories, delicious but pure evil. 

So what's the point? Only that, now that I'm 39 and not 29 I have to put in that extra effort to be kind to my body. Unfortunately I only have one body so I'd like to keep it for as long as I can. Looking forward to the days I go running with Aidan.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

End of GM Saturn?

Today US automakers are shamelessly asking for another $22 billion in bailouts in order to stay afloat. GM CEO and lifer, Rick Wagoner, says that the Saturn line will be phased out by 2012. I guess that means about zero chance of anyone walking into a Saturn dealer anytime soon to buy a spiffy new Aura or Vue.

Sadly, this year Saturn actually has a good line up of cars and with hybrid options too. I never really liked Saturns until recently. I hated the plastic body parts and the quirky doors but recently they're pretty decent. Too bad, because I actually considered buying an Astra for a commuter car. Did you know it's one of the top selling compact cars in Europe.

Perhaps GM should just stick to selling cars in Europe and stop asking US taxpayers to fulfill their bondholder and retiree Viagra prescription obligations. And Chrysler, should quit pandering for money too, we all know you've got "money bags" Cerebus Capital to prop you up.

I hate to sound pessimistic but I have to. I wouldn't bet the farm on GM's new electric vehicle the 'Volt'. If the batteries are anything like any rechargeable device out there it's going to be plagued with problems especially in the first year. Generally, what happens when your battery dies in your cell phone,PDA or cordless tool? You buy a new one, because it's cost prohibitive to repair. Does GM actually think they can sell a $40K car to the public with a unknown lifetime on the core part, the battery?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mutual Fund MERs are plain robbery

As of late we've all experienced incredible losses in our investment portfolios. Because of this I've paid a lot more attention to the details of the monthly transactions as executed within my portfolio. What I became aware of, and maybe I should have known anyways, is that the Management Expense Ratio (or MER) is approximately 2.5% of the total portfolio.

In this pathetic financial market, that essentially means:

1. Any contributions to my RSP are being eaten away by fees.
2. I'm actually paying people to loose money for me (I can do it myself for free).

This weekend I did some comparisons to gauge weather I'm being shafted by my investment advisor (figuratively and literally). Turns out that as Canadians we pay a hell of a lot in Mutual Fund management fees. US investors pay around .5% where Canadians pay anywhere between 1%-3% depending on the complexity or company managing the the fund. The government needs to regulate this.

I compared the ING Streetwise portfolio with mine, and although not exactly the same asset classes it's close:
a. It outperformed mine, i.e. lost less
b. management fees are under 1%

My group RSP is also outperforming my so called "managed porfolio".

I also fail to see what value I'm getting from my broker compared to my other RSP accounts. Not much difference except for a few personalized calls per year and an electronic retirement plan. I think I'd be better off going self directed if I can get $9 per trade.

Anyways, this weekend I'll be sending her a pretty terse email to start the ball rolling on changes for 2009.