Stephen Rees's blog

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

Equinox Full Moon Spring

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fullsizeoutput_291e

We are really lucky right now that the spell of dry weather is also accompanied by clear skies. We simply miss out on a lot of widely publicised astronomical events due to cloud cover. Not this week.

Sakura - blossom

The warmth has also started the blossom/pollen season
Sakura - blossom

Kits Beach spring break panorama

This stitched panorama is huge: it is worth clicking on the image to see it at the original size. It being spring break there were quite a few people out at Kits Beach.

Large seal

And the seals at Jericho

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

March 20, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Posted in photography

Not another award!

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The Daily Hive reports “Vancouver has been ranked as the second best city for public transit in Canada.”

While some residents (particularly transit users) may be surprised, the new ranking comes from Redfin, a tech-powered real estate brokerage.

You have to do a bit of digging but by following the links you do finally get the methodology of the transit score

“The value of a route is defined as the service level (frequency per week) multiplied by the mode weight (heavy/light rail is weighted 2X, ferry/cable car/other are 1.5X, and bus is 1X) multiplied by a distance penalty.”

So basically they use the schedule to determine frequency. Not actual performance.

Note too that even if you had a bus system that had exclusive right of way, or signal priority and lots of bus lanes, it would still score less than rail – no matter if that is grade separated or in mixed traffic. That’s how “modern streetcars” get such a good press, I guess. Just pay no attention to video shot from a bus in Boston whipping past congested traffic. Or to Jarrett Walker who is adamant that the choice of steel or rubber wheels is not really significant.

For the actual experience of using two of Translink’s “high frequency” routes – see the previous post.

The reason I groan at these awards is the effect they can have on Management. Far too often they did not want to hear anything that sounded like criticism – or the need for improvement. What they wanted staff to be were cheer leaders. “We’re Number 1” (in a contest that was no contest at all) was their mantra. I think there has been some change in recent years.

While I’m reposting video from Twitter take a look at this one from Brent Toderian. This is a modern light rail system in Nice, France crossing the Place Massena – and using its batteries. Elsewhere in the city it raises its pantograph to collect power, but what struck me about this delightful urban space is the total absence of overhead wires. While the trolleybuses we now have here can operate on their batteries, it is not an everyday occurrence because the bus is then much slower, has a short range and requires someone to lower and raise each pole individually. So to divert the #9, #14 and #16 during Millennium Line extension construction under Broadway new wire is now being strung along 12th Avenue. Hopefully the next batch of electric buses that get bought for Translink will have better off wire capabilities.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

March 11, 2019 at 1:55 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Report: Transit agencies need new data sources to reverse ridership decline

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The headline is taken from an article in SmartCitiesDive about a report by KPMG (which you can get as a PDF if you want) but the TL:DR version is

“By analyzing three cities — Denver, Houston and San Diego — KPMG found access to transit stops is not the problem. Instead, the report says “current fixed-route bus service has not kept up with consumer preferences or been responsive to shifts in value of time perceptions.”

Yes transit decline is a problem in US cities. Except that Seattle has done pretty well – by expanding its bus services.

More and better data is always a good idea – but in this case I am not convinced. Transit ridership here is doing better, mostly because Translink seems to have got over its funding difficulties. But that doesn’t mean we are really tackling  the fundamental problem – which is usually summarized as “transit sucks”. It takes us from where we aren’t to where we don’t really want to be, stopping frequently on the way.

Just as an example here is a trip that I have had to make by transit in recent history

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.23.56 PM
Straightforwardly transit nearly door to door – short walk each end – via the #16 and the #9 – both reasonably frequent trolleybus routes. These are the predicted travel times: the actual time of my recent trips was usually longer: 45 to 54 minutes. Because of the transfer I have stood at bus stops for at least 10 minutes – often longer. One day I managed to hit the operator changeover twice – so I was sitting on buses while the new operator went through all the necessary steps of setting mirrors, seat, log-in to multiple systems. During the journey there was the usual delay while encumbered passengers with luggage, strollers and powered wheelchairs negotiated getting on and off. Since these are such common experiences, I wonder that Google does not factor them into the predicted travel time. Getting on the #9 headed out to UBC yesterday afternoon, the operator told us to get on by the centre door as it would take someone extra time to get off (an unheard of procedure). The bus was so crowded I could not actually see why that might have been.

Here are the comparisons for driving, walking and cycling for the same trip

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.32.10 PM

Note that in this case Oak Street traffic is bad – at the time I did that query it was snowing.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.34.38 PM

Walking is more direct and not a great deal different to transit in travel time. Though that crossing of Granville Street midblock can be a scary experience.

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 12.36.32 PM

So cycling that way would be faster than the Greenway: I have no idea what bike parking is like at VGH – but coming back would be slower due to the change in elevation.

I think that it would be possible for transit to be improved in general simply by operating more frequent services, but also by making transit more reliable through well known traffic management techniques, to shift priorities away from moving and parking cars to more efficient modes. This is also known locally as political suicide. Actually I might withdraw that if the West Vancouver B Line gets approved. But as long as the car is one third of the trip time of transit, which would most people choose?  And do we actually need to hire KPMG to keep telling us that?

Postscripts

1     These maps came from Google. There is now academic research on how these time estimates compare to Uber data.

2     I recommend getting the Transit app for your phone. The latest version showed me that if I got the Canada Line from downtown and transferred to the #25 at King Ed I would get home much faster than waiting for the #16 (no transfer).

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Transportation

Guest Post from Rick Jelfs

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uber smartphone iphone app

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

The following is from an email that Rick sent around to members of TransportAction BC this week and is presented here for your information and in the hopes that we can attract a few more members locally.

Ride Hailing:

Another report has linked declining US transit ridership to ride hailing services. University of Kentucky researchers state that observed ridership declines are not just the results of service reductions, fare increases and cheaper gas. The engineers used a random-effects model accounting for 10 different variables. They conclude that transit ridership declines by 1.3% (heavy rail) and 1.7% (bus) for each year after Transportation Network Companies (ride hailing) enter a market. Potential solutions to the decline will require more that just increasing service, an expensive option not feasible for many cash-strapped agencies. Congestion pricing, re-allocation of street space to sustainable transportation modes and transit prioritisation are potential options for policy makers’ consideration.

An overview of the research is at https://www.businessinsider.com/uber-lyft-having-devastating-effect-on-public-transportation-study-2019-1 and the full report is at http://usa.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2019/01/19-04931-Transit-Trends.pdf.

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    City of Vancouver staff presented a report to Council (https://council.vancouver.ca/20190115/documents/rr1.pdf) on implementation principles and issues/concerns related to ride hailing service in Vancouver. The report is a response to the province’s request for input into its proposed ride hailing legislation. The provincial request limits input to 4 areas:  1) Criteria for establishing boundaries; 2) How to balance supply of service with consumer demand; 3) Criteria for establishing a price and fare regime; and 4) Driver’s licence class requirement. The City has established 6 principles to guide its input to the province: 1) Regional co-ordination; 2) Passenger safety; 3) Enhanced mobility; 4 ) Enhanced accessibility; 5) Reduced GHG emissions; and 6) Economic viability.

Within this framework, the City has concerns with the proposed provincial legislation. The legislation changes the Vancouver Charter to: 1) prevent the City from limiting the number of ride hailing vehicles operating in the City; 2) prevent the City from banning ride hailing services; and 3) prevent the City from setting ride hailing charges. Also of concern is that the legislation does not require the PTB (provincial ride hailing regulator) to consider regional issues in determining how many ride hailing licences it issue; removes the City’s ability to manage congestion arising from ride hailing services; and municipalities are not given access to trip data the PTB will collect from ride hailing services.

The City will bring these concerns forward in ongoing discussion with the province. Included in the discussion will be future opportunities to introduce congestion or per-trip fees to manage congestion and other municipal concerns such as curbside traffic management.

The Vancouver Sun‘s story (https://vancouversun.com/news/politics/dan-fumano-vancouver-wants-to-charge-uber-and-lyft-users-a-congestion-fee) on the report emphasized the possibility of congestion fees and discussed how other cities have dealt with charges to ride hailing services. The Uber/Lyft supported Ridesharing Now for BC group is not on board, though, stating “the no. 1 topic … is affordability”, although this is not mentioned on its web site. An Uber spokesman also brought up the affordability concern, which is disingenuous, given its surge pricing policies..

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Island Corridor Rail Service:

Capital Region mayors (https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/1.23626082)  asked the provincial government  get passenger rail service back on the E&N between Langford and Victoria. They have also requested funding for rapid bus lanes along Highway 1. The Mayors tout the benefits of congestion relief, reduced GHG emissions, economic development and more time with families (Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps).

Transport Minister Trevina stated that safety and seismic assessments are necessary to ensure current standards can be met. Apparently this work is being planned  (https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/island-corridor-foundation-e-n-rail-line-is-not-dead-yet-1.23570436?fbclid=IwAR3Iy-dkI5vmDknBZmEXWCyHirSCYN1v82Km9uCCcPiA1NY98MxGvSurl_s) and Minister Trevina expects it to take six months.

However, the previous Liberal government also made this promise and there appears to be little to show for it.  And no mention of who would be performing the assessment – an independent agency or the BC Safety Authority, which was accused of having a too close relationship with Southern Rail (2018-11-17 TABC:FYI:http://focusonline.ca/node/808?fbclid=IwAR1Y0UInpk_8a92mJmmOWIl8yeJBJJvRdNMpfD33Uv3Q3F1X8Nu_DtY6T5I)

Trevina also said First Nations issues are a crucial part of any decision on bringing service back to the E&N.

She did not address the Mayors’ suggested Highway 1 bus lanes but some Mayors pointed out that a recently opened 2.3 Km bus lane on Douglas Street in Victoria was saving peak hour transit users 10 minutes per trip.

As an a side, the Douglas Street bus lane project was delayed for several years because of cost issues (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/victoria-bus-lanes-delayed-1.4169563 ) but finally opened in Nov. 2018. Of interest to Vancouver transit users is the fact that segments of the bus lanes are 24/7 (https://bctransit.com/victoria/transit-future/victoria-bus-lane-douglas-hwy-1), unlike most of Vancouver’s transit only lanes.

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CN Rail Vancouver Double-tracking:

The federal government has given CN Rail permission to double-track its line from the Vancouver waterfront, through Strathcona and the Grandview Cut, to Nanaimo Street. No time line is given for the project but CN increased traffic on the route 2 years ago. The traffic increase causes delays at level crossings and has led to noise and pollution complaints. However, those issues seem far more serious on Clark Drive, which parallels part of the rail route, with its heavy and constant truck traffic.

https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/rail-expansion-through-port-of-vancouver-aimed-at-hiking-imports-from-asia?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Vancouver%20Sun%20Daily%20Headlines%202019-02-17&utm_term=VS_HeadlineNews

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Autonomous / Driverless Vehicles:

An opinion piece in the Globe and Mail argues that as vehicles become increasingly automated, we need to start considering the impact of this automation on drivers’ abilities and how driving skills will atrophy with increasing automation. How do we test and license vehicle operators in a world where most are tested once at a young age and are never tested again until old age sets in?

He uses the example of aircraft where much of a flight’s operation is handled by autopilot. The pilot’s abilities are increasingly marginal to to a flight, until something goes wrong. At that point the pilot’s skills are absolutely critical for a safe resolution of the incident.. The author calls this “the paradox of automation” – as a system becomes more automated and human input decreases, the importance of the human input increases – when it is needed.

Similarly, for vehicle automation, a driver’s abilities are not constantly being tested and improved by vehicle operation, as they are by non-automated vehicle operation. When a problem occurs in a [semi-]automated vehicle, the driver must be fully alert and cognizant of what efforts are needed to resolve the problem. How can society ensure that drivers maintain the skills needed for emergency situations?

The author’s solution is to consider airline pilot training methodologies for vehicle drivers. Regular simulation testing and licensing based on successful completion of the simulations. Failing a simulation means losing one’s license.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-long-dangerous-road-to-the-world-of-driverless-cars/

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Written by Stephen Rees

February 20, 2019 at 10:19 am

Posted in Transportation

Simulator Technology Helps Ease School Bus Problems

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A guest post by John Kearny

As the economy strengthens, it becomes harder and harder to maintain the nation’s force of school bus drivers. Simulator training can help school districts train much-needed new drivers quickly and effectively.

Shortly after the first of the year, a public school in Maine was forced to call off classes when too few of its school bus drivers reported to work. The unprecedented closing was a first for Kermit S. Nickerson Elementary, and school officials vowed not to allow it to recur. According to local reports, however, the district is experiencing a critical shortage of substitute drivers.1 This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a widespread—and worsening—shortage of school bus drivers across the US and in Canada.

According to a recent survey by School Bus Fleet Magazine, in fact, 22% of private bus contractors call the driver shortage “severe,” and five percent describe it as “desperate.” The director of transportation for Douglas County school district in Colorado, Donna Grattino, noted that bus driving is not as attractive an occupation as it might recently have been. “The economy’s better,” she says, “so people are going back to jobs they had previously, or they find the need to stay at home.”2

In addition to the economic recovery, a variety of other factors contribute to the school bus driver shortage, says Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association of Pupil Transportation. Drivers generally need a commercial driver’s license, which requires training, sometimes without pay—further restricting the flow of new applicants. Whatever is causing the shortage, its effects of the problem are being seen nationwide in the US:

  • In St. Paul, Minnesota, some students are arriving late to school because fill-in drivers are not familiar with the normal routes.
  • In Lincoln, Nebraska, some positions remain unfilled even after the local school district offered $1,000 signing bonuses for new hires.
  • In Hawaii last year, a driver shortage in Maui forced state officials to suspend bus  rides for some students and limit rides for others.3

In Texas, meanwhile, state government has turned to what is proving to be an at least partial solution to the problem. A group of prospective school bus drivers in the town of Atlanta, in the northeastern corner of the state, for example, are being trained behind the wheel of a state-of-the-art virtual training simulator, where they are taught how to handle—and recover from—a series of worst-case scenarios. The program was made possible by a $114,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation. “If we can save one child’s life,” says Texas Region 6 Education and Service Center Specialist Larry Thornton, “our goal has been accomplished.” Statewide, Thornton says, the program has reduced driver error accidents by 33%.4

As with the shortage of long-haul truck drivers, also a growing source of concern5, simulators offer an economical and highly effective approach to increasing the available supply of drivers for our nation’s schoolchildren. The technology can both reduce the cost of training and produce better, safer drivers.

About the Author:

John Kearney is CEO of Advanced Training Systems, a high-tech simulator technology and engineering firm that provides cutting-edge adaptive training systems to improve training and create safer drivers. He is called upon regularly by the media, such as Motley Fool, Fleet Owner, American Trucker, Tech.co, Super Market News and CBS, on the severe truck driver shortage and its effect on the economy, transportation logistics of goods and rising grocery prices.

 

  1. May, Ashley, “Bus driver shortage causes Maine elementary school to cancel classes,” USA Today, January 8, 2019.
  2. Osunsami, Steve, “School-bus driver shortage across the US sparks growing concern,” ABC News, August 15, 2017.
  3. Schulte, Grant, “School bus driver shortage creates headaches for districts,” Associated Press, December 26, 2018.
  4. “Atlanta ISD bus drivers learn from state-of-the-art training,” KTBS News, January 16, 2019.
  5. Long, Heather, “America has a massive truck driver shortage. Here’s why few want an $80,000 job,” Washington Post, May 28, 2018.

 


 

This post was offered to me by a PR firm. It covers an issue of which I had no knowledge. Originally it simply had US references, but some news items from Canada were added at my request. Since the blog has been a bit quiet lately I thought it would be a good idea to add some content from others, as the opportunities suggest themselves.

Please leave a comment below to indicate if you support or dislike this approach to content.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 4, 2019 at 10:43 am

Posted in Transportation

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 ,