Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Free transit motion to be debated by Vancouver city councillors

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The headline is taken from a CBC News story and the motion will be debated tomorrow. It also provides a link to the motion as a pdf file. The motion asks Council to support the All on Board  campaign. Apparently there is going to be a “research report containing evidence” – but that is not ready yet. You might think that it would be a Good Idea to have had that ready in time for the discussion. Because there is remarkably little evidence on offer so far either in the motion’s “Whereas” section or the campaign website. Other than some people think it might be a Good Idea and other places have already tried it.

What needs to be considered is how much revenue is going to be lost from this proposal and how it might be replaced. The motion suggests that the Provincial Government will be approached for more funding. Presumably, the Province will also have to consider if this is something that needs to be applied province wide. If not, then you can expect the attention to switch to property taxes as that is about the only source that the municipalities can access. I would certainly expect that someone will actually do the necessary policy analysis, which, of course, is entirely absent so far. This would include some assessment of the costs to increase transit supply at peak periods – and also at times when young people are not in school and can be expected to be enjoying their new found freedom to ride transit as often and as far as they can go. I would also expect questions to be asked like why does this demographic get pushed to the front of the line when others – the aged, the disabled, the desperately poor adult population –  fail to get anything like such generous treatment?

I accept that for low income families even reduced fares for children can be inadequate to be affordable for many trips. At one time people who had transit passes could take their spouse and children with them at weekends for no extra charge. I forget now when that concession was withdrawn, but I would be willing to bet that cost was a concern.

It is true that giving children free rides will increase ridership – though the campaign has not made any forecast of that. Nor have they considered what other ways might also increase ridership and their comparative effectiveness. What we do know, and what is not mentioned anywhere in these materials, is how increasing service frequency and improving reliability (through traffic management measures) can offer much higher rates of return at lower levels of cost, and can be better targeted. For just as there are families that can’t afford transit, there are plenty for whom the fare is not the deterrent that inconvenience, unreliability and inadequate service undoubtedly are. Transit takes you from where you are not to a point at some distance from where you want to be. And for a lot of the trip will expect you to stand, or be crowded with others, or left at a bus stop wondering how long your wait will be. People who have invested heavily in a vehicle, and its insurance (which does not vary by distance driven) have a vested interest in getting as much use out of that expense as possible. And despite traffic congestion and the hassle of finding parking still get a better travel experience than transit riders for most trips. The car is at your convenience and takes you all the way without a transfer!

I do think that the province ought to be increasing what it spends on transit, I just think we need to be a bit more considered about how that money is spent. I also think that transit should not be considered as a social service or a redistributive device. If people are poor then giving them more money is far better than giving them scrip for approved expenditures. Free transit passes are as prescriptive as food stamps and both can be a stigma. Giving free rides to children whose parents are wealthy may not actually reduce car use all that much, if at all and is palpably wasteful.

And anyway, why are we focussed on transit and not asking why these kids are not walking more or using their bicycles? Might it be something to do with concerns about their safety?

 

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2019 at 2:04 pm

Geography and demographics perpetually conspire against Delta

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There is a piece by Justin McElroy of the CBC that discusses transit – or rather the lack of it – south of the Fraser and in particular – in Delta. As usual this is in the context of the Massey Tunnel. And I found myself irritated by McElroy’s journalistic attitude. Which is a shame since I generally enjoy reading his stuff.

He has got some data that he puts into Infograms – but the one thing that is very obviously missing is this map

screen shot 2019-01-11 at 10.27.31 am

The original is a pdf that you can get from metrovancouver. It is the second one in the list. Most of Delta is either agricultural or the protected area of Burns Bog. The only population centres are Ladner and “North Delta” – the bit of Surrey that flops over the municipal boundary in the northeast corner.

“Strip away the urban studies jargon,” says McElroy – which is frankly offensive. What Kevin Desmond says is simple and obvious. But what would have made it clearer is if the article had included this map. The relationship between transit service and residential density is very basic and very clear. Though what is a bit of a surprise is that Tsawwassen does not even show up on this map. It is not labelled but does show the “urban containment boundary” – and is still pale green , not the orange of the next density step up. I am not sure if the next census is going to be much different – or if it will show the Tsawwassen FN as a separate “municipality”. But then White Rock doesn’t get a label either though Semiahmoo does. But that is because the labels refer to “Regional and Municipal Centres”.

And actually the lack of transit in this region is nothing to do with geography or demographics. It is simply politics. For 16 years we had a provincial government that neglected transit except for a its pet megaprojects – and foisted an unnecessarily divisive referendum on transit funding which has held back service growth. That log jam has now been broken and things are getting better slowly, but clearly priority for new service has to go to where overcrowding is worst. The province is still fumbling over the need for better regional connections because MoTI is still run by traffic engineers keen to build more and bigger roads. Everyone else seems to understand induced traffic, and the only real argument seems to be over transit technology – which is actually much less important than transit priority.

And while I think there is improvement, we have by no means solved the underfunding of transit operations and maintenance. Senior governments only want to fund projects that have nice photo-ops for politicians, not the dull but essential everyday need to keep the fleet running. Which makes me even less tolerant of the people who keep pushing the idea of free transit, as though we did not already have enough issues of overcrowding and pass-ups. If we had lots of spare capacity and the ability to replace fare revenue from some other source I might be more receptive, but these never ever get mentioned by the free fare crowd. They seem to think that somehow not collecting fares actually saves money, which is not true here – and is only true is very small, underutilized systems – mostly in the US. If you really want public services to be free please concentrate on health and education – which are supposedly free but are not by a long way. When you do not need health insurance for any treatment, and anyone can go to post secondary education without needing loans or grants or scholarships, then I will accept that free transit can be next up. But recognize that means making wealthy people pay more taxes. As we have seen with property tax, you can expect pretty hard push back.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 11, 2019 at 10:52 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

Tagged with ,

Drawdown

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The last post of the year is going to be positive. And it will not, like every other message in my inbox, include a plea for you to donate. There are 80 solutions presented here – all of which are based on existing technologies, and all of them have benefits beyond reducing ghg emissions. The cost is moderate and the return on investment significant, so the old arguments about favouring the environment over the economy are simply wrong headed. We ought to be doing these things even if there was no convincing evidence of human caused climate change – which, of course, is not and has not been the case for many years.

The other 20 are emerging technologies – but you don’t need to worry about those.

You can also see the whole list on the website

Electric Vehicles #26

Ships #32

Mass transit #37

Trucks #40

Airplanes #43

Also the good news is that if you go to the TED site linked to the video there is a transcript, and sources, and a reading list.

I am pretty pessimistic right now about the state of BC, Canada and Britain. Having watched this video I am less pessimistic about our collective ability to address the biggest problem facing human civilisation.

Happy New Year

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2018 at 12:02 pm

A Guest Post from HMQ

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IMG_0183

This is the tree outside our window. It has once again not just survived but grown. Wind storms have shaken it and a long hot dry spell was followed by more rain in a week than I can remember. There are lots of pine cones now. Every so often different types of birds and always the squirrels. We don’t cut down trees and I don’t need a river to skate away on. And even the annual Queen’s message seems meaningful.

Merry Christmas!!

Here is the full text of the Queen’s Christmas Day message:

“For many, the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, is when Christmas begins. Listened to by millions of people around the world, it starts with a chorister singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City.

“The priest who introduced this service to King’s College chapel, exactly one hundred years ago, was Eric Milner-White. He had served as a military chaplain in the First World War. Just six weeks after the Armistice, he wanted a new kind of service which, with its message of peace and goodwill, spoke to the needs of the times.

“Twenty eighteen has been a year of centenaries. The Royal Air Force celebrated its 100th anniversary with a memorable fly-past demonstrating a thrilling unity of purpose and execution. We owe them and all our Armed Services our deepest gratitude.

“My father served in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He was a midshipman in HMS Collingwood at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The British fleet lost 14 ships and 6,000 men in that engagement. My father wrote in a letter: ‘How and why we were not hit beats me’. Like others, he lost friends in the war.

“At Christmas, we become keenly aware of loved ones who have died, whatever the circumstances. But, of course, we would not grieve if we did not love.

“Closer to home, it’s been a busy year for my family, with two weddings and two babies, and another child expected soon. It helps to keep a grandmother well occupied. We have had other celebrations too, including the 70th birthday of The Prince of Wales.

“Some cultures believe a long life brings wisdom. I’d like to think so. Perhaps part of that wisdom is to recognise some of life’s baffling paradoxes, such as the way human beings have a huge propensity for good, and yet a capacity for evil. Even the power of faith, which frequently inspires great generosity and self-sacrifice, can fall victim to tribalism.

“But through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family and friendship have been not only a constant for me but a source of personal comfort and reassurance.

“In April, the Commonwealth Heads of Government met in London. My father welcomed just eight countries to the first such meeting in 1948. Now the Commonwealth includes 53 countries with 2.4 billion people, a third of the world’s population.

“Its strength lies in the bonds of affection it promotes, and a common desire to live in a better, more peaceful world. Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.

“Indeed, the Commonwealth Games, held this year on Australia’s Gold Coast, are known universally as the Friendly Games because of their emphasis on goodwill and mutual respect.

“The Christmas story retains its appeal since it doesn’t provide theoretical explanations for the puzzles of life. Instead it’s about the birth of a child and the hope that birth 2,000 years ago brought to the world. Only a few people acknowledged Jesus when he was born. Now billions follow him.

“I believe his message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone; it’s needed as much as ever.

“A very happy Christmas to you all.”

Written by Stephen Rees

December 25, 2018 at 11:04 am

Posted in personal thoughts

Why I want to stay here

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Merry Christmas.

On Christmas Eve it was not raining, the wind had also dropped and it was not really cold at all. So a really good day to go for a walk from Locarno to Spanish Bank and back.

SM Samarinda

Snow on the mountains, clouds over the inlet

Snow on the mountains, clouds over the inlet

Snow on the mountains, clouds over the inlet

This is an immature Horned Grebe that was fishing off Spanish Bank

Immature Horned Grebe

And then this evening, as the sun went down, a last flash of sunlight bathed Grouse Mountain in pink lightIMG_1383

Written by Stephen Rees

December 24, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Transportation

Why people migrate

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Men are generally too much attached to their native countries to leave it and dissolve all their connexions, unless they are driven to it by necessity.

That is a quote from Alexander Hamilton, that I happened to have on Simplenote. I was testing the ability to post from the latest Android app version to WordPress. Might be useful the next time you hear someone vapouring about refugees – or immigrants, come to that.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

December 21, 2018 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

Massey Tunnel

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I think one of the biggest takeaways from this morning’s Government Announcement is that you should not summon the press to a briefing and stage an announcement when you have nothing to announce. The incoming NDP government was quick to announce the cancellation of the previous government’s massive new bridge proposal. They also appointed Stan Cowdell P Eng to conduct a review. He submitted a substantial report this summer and today there was a briefing for the press with a summary of that report. At the time of writing only the Province has anything of substance on that, though I expect more will be available once they all get back to their desks.

I wish that I had been wiser than to agree to go on the CBC call in program. At least there did seem to be more understanding of the need for transit. The point I was trying to get over was that after all this time just promising to have more consultations and a decision by the end of 2020 wasn’t enough. They could have had something to say if they had a greater commitment to transit. Claire Trevenna was able to talk about the immediate spending of $40m on the intersections at each end of the tunnel, improvements to lighting, signs and road surface. All things that highway engineers at MoTI care about. And there was a brief reference to Translink – but nothing of substance.

In the longer term the options are still more general purpose traffic lanes – instead of a 10 lane bridge, 6 or 8 lanes might be considered – or the same in new immersed tubes and possibly a different alignment. But consideration of transit was vague and ill defined – and according to The Province

The review also recommends that the province consider eliminating HOV or transit provisions at the bridge median in favour of lower-cost alternatives.

Which is not at all what I wanted to read!

There are double decker buses on order. Translink is increasing services in general. It has run into opposition in West Vancouver for a bus lane and cross municipal boundary B Line for the North Shore, and is scrambling to revise its work program to meet the changed priorities for Surrey – which also includes more rapid buses. It is a “feature” of our system that it is the region that will bear the brunt of increasing bus service – the MoTI has probably done most of what can be in the way of bus lanes along Highway #99. I will once again re-iterate that buses are now 1% of the vehicles but carry 26% of the people. It is a real shame that there wasn’t more said about what can be done to increase that market share in the very near future while we are waiting to find out how many more lanes MoTI engineers will get to build – which is all they care about!

(One thing that did occur to me was that no-one talked about the “need” to remove the tunnel identified by the Port!)

Here is the pdf of the complete review

George-Massey-Crossing_Independent-Technical-Review_FINAL

Or you could go to the MoTI web page if you prefer

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Transportation