Stephen Rees's blog

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

Fighting the climate wreckers

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The article that I am going to point you to is concerned about the fight against fossil fuel companies in the United States.

“The Climate-Wrecking Industry—and How to Beat It” appears in Sierra Magazine copied from The Nation

While acknowledging that there is strength in numbers, some legal observers say the magic number for success is one: A single judgment against the oil companies would be enough to change their political calculus about the value of continued intransigence. “I think, in some respects, it’s less about how many cases are filed, [and more about] whether a judge rules in favor of a city or county or state. That will open the floodgates,” says Ann Carlson, a professor at the UCLA School of Law who has followed the climate-liability cases closely.

Well, we may just have seen that success here. The decision by The Federal Court of Appeal at long last recognises that the approval process for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was fundamentally flawed. The case did not, however, turn on climate change but on two other considerations – the failure to consult First Nations adequately and the impact of the project on the resident orcas of the Salish Sea. And it was not an American Company (Kinder Morgan) that lost, it was the governments of Canada and Alberta. In fact the Premier of Alberta was so angry that she withdrew her province from the federal climate plan. As though that makes any real difference.

Kinder Morgan of course is jubilant. Justin Trudeau bought their old, leaky pipeline and lumbered himself with the apparent obligation to complete an expansion which they long ago realised was not only very risky environmentally but also highly unlikely to be viable. They get pockets full of our cash and slide away from the liabilities.

Trudeau and Notley between them have both – in post decision speeches – announced their determination to proceed with pipeline expansion which immediately throws huge doubt on their ability to convince anyone that their subsequent commitments at the negotiations over First Nations rights and the long term survival of the orcas are being conducted in a fair or objective manner. It seems that they are adopting the negotiating tactic adopted by 45 over NAFTA known as Boulwarism. Whenever anyone sits down at the table to talk about the pipeline they will have to accept the precondition that the government has committed to seeing it built no matter what.

Sooner or later the realisation has to dawn in Edmonton and Ottawa that they are both wrong. There cannot be action climate change and tarsands expansion at the same time. The tarsands are one of the worst fuels in terms of emissions. Equally, just getting the dilbit to saltwater does not solve the issue of the low price that diluted bitumen achieves on the world market. There are plenty of other sources of petroleum that are easier to deal with and currently the market is over-supplied. In future the rapidly declining costs of solar and wind alone will make renewables even more attractive, and better technologies than burning liquid fuels are going to take over the transportation industry as well as many others. If other places do want heavy oils, there are better placed suppliers. After all, only relatively small vessels can load at Burnaby and get under the Second Narrows Bridge. The project plan was actually to tranship into larger vessels on the west coast somewhere – as though that were an attractive option for preserving fragile marine ecosystems.

Much of the current mainstream media is, of course, trying to play down the significance of the decision – and I am not going to point to any of it. The big players are all in the same game, and outlets like PostMedia recognise their dependence on big oil and the related organisations. These are the same people who maintain the fiction that we are dependant on fossil fuels.

the ultimate responsibility lies with the general public and its appetite for energy. The rhetorical sleight of hand perfectly captures the climate wreckers’ classic talking point: Since you can’t live without us, we’re innocent.

Actually we can live without you and many are already moving convincingly in that direction. It is sad that the Government of Canada has decided to invest so much in a pipeline that is not needed, but then governments both provincially and federally continue to subsidize fossil fuel production: we are just throwing good money after bad. Jack up the the royalties to the same level as Norway and insist on adequate protection of the sources of water that get destroyed by tailing ponds and fracking and the market would start to transform at a much faster pace. All that is happening right now is that North America is falling ever further behind the rest of the world (except Australia) which is showing us how we can tackle climate change.

We have had a terrible summer – and the fires are still mostly burning even if the local smoke has blown away for now. The ice is melting in places where we have never seen it melt before. The weather is getting worse faster than anyone predicted.  Even the oil companies themselves are asking government to commit to building dykes to protect the refineries which are actually creating the sea level rise they are worried about. Climate change is not a problem for the future, it is a major problem here, now. Yet we are currently committed to increases in greenhouse gas emissions – not the reductions we signed up for in Paris, which were anyway wholly inadequate to deal with the problem.

Perhaps the next court victory will actually deal with the broader issue of environmental protection rather than just the sorry state of the resident orcas. Because it seems clear that at the moment neither Notley nor Trudeau has a grasp on reality, and not only will the big fossil fuel companies be in court on these issues, but so will our governments.

Yes, that includes BC since we are still committed to Site C, which is designed mostly to promote LNG exports to Alberta to melt more tar.

The Answers for the “Skeptics”

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I am putting this here mainly for my own convenience.

I am getting tired of people who ask questions or keep requiring data who turn out to be after an argument about humans causing climate change. This is a thread that was on Twitter this morning that I turned into a blog post using Spooler

I also used Thread Reader App (belt and braces) since I had not experience of either.

I have put the word skeptics in quotation marks. I seriously doubt the motivation of most of these people since the real scientists have no longer any doubt that what we are experiencing has been caused by humans using fossil fuels. However, the fossil fuel industries have a lot at stake and since they can’t actually find any real facts to back them up, they are doing their best to sow uncertainty instead. This is exactly what the tobacco industry did – and it did not work for them in the long run.


A thread by Katharine Hayhoe

At the hearing for the deputy @NASA administrator today, nominee Jim Morhard was asked by @EdMarkey if he agrees with the scientific consensus that humans are the dominant influence on climate. He said he couldn’t say.

Well, I’m a scientist, and I can. Here’s why. (thread)

When we see climate changing, we don’t automatically jump on the human bandwagon, case closed. No, we rigorously examine and test all other reasons why climate could be changing: the sun, volcanoes, natural cycles, even something we don’t know yet: could they be responsible? .. Could it be the sun? No: the sun’s energy has been going down at the very time that the average temperature of the planet continues to rise. For more info, read: and no, even a Grand Minimum wouldn’t save us. See: (skepticalscience.com/solar-activity…)(realclimate.org/index.php/arch…)

Could it be volcanoes? No: though a big eruption emits a lot of soot and particulates, these temporarily cool the planet. On average, all geologic activity, put together, emits only about 10% of the heat-trapping gases that humans do. For more, read: (agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.102…)

Could it be orbital cycles? Are we just getting warmer after the last ice age? No: warming from the last ice age peaked 1000s of yrs ago, and the next event on our geologic calendar was another ice age: was, until the industrial revolution, that is. Read: (people.clas.ufl.edu/jetc/files/Tze…)

Could it be natural cycles internal to the climate system, like El Nino? No: those cycles simply move heat around the climate system, mostly back and forth between the atmosphere and ocean. They cannot CREATE heat. So if they were responsible for atmospheric warming, . … then the heat content of another part of the climate system wd have to be going down, while the heat content of the atmosphere was going up.

Is this what we see? No: heat content is increasing across the entire climate system, ocean most of all! See: (skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g…)

Could it be cosmic rays? No. See:

How about the magnetic pole moving? Planet Niribu? Geoengineering? No.

What about an unknown factor we don’t know about yet? Nope, covered that here: (skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g…) (journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.117…)

The bottom line is this: We’ve known since the work of John Tyndall in the 1850s that CO2 absorbs and re-radiates infrared energy, and Eunice Foote was the first to suggest that higher CO2 levels would lead to a warmer planet, in 1856. Read it here: (books.google.com/books?id=fjtSA…)

No one – NO ONE – has been able to explain how increasing levels of CO2, CH4 and other heat-trapping gases would NOT raise the temperature of the planet. Yet that must be done first, if we are to consider any other sources as “dominant”. Moreover, when @RasmusBenestad + I + others examined dozens of published papers (so much for the ‘we are suppressed like Galileo!’ myth) claiming to minimize or eliminate the human role in climate change, guess what we found? Errors in every single one. (theguardian.com/environment/cl…)

So in conclusion: if you don’t think humans are the dominant source of warming, you are making a statement that does not have a single factual or scientific leg to stand on. Yet leaders of science agencies are saying exactly that today. This is the world we live in.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan Amendments

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The image and text below is taken from the latest Arbutus Greenway Newsletter from the City. I would expect that if you are deeply concerned about the Greenway that you would already have signed up for, but I suspect there might be a wider audience who will find this information of interest.

The Greenway currently ends at Fir St. The former CP right of way ran beyond this point northwards to West 1st Avenue where it was joined by the line from Terminal Avenue (that became The Olympic Line) and then went over False Creek on a trestle. The Olympic Line terminated at Granville Island and the land between the station and West 2nd Avenue was used to build a Starbucks. If the proposed amendment goes forward non-transportation use of this land would be allowed, and the potential to re-establish a through route following the former Interurban line could be lost.

POSTSCRIPT

I have received that following information from the City

“The intention is to connect the former Olympic Line with the Arbutus line, and the Citywide streetcar network plan is considering routing options to do that. We are not using the Option Lands due to engineering and safety constraints.”

SECOND POSTSCRIPT August 31

Loonie deal: City of Vancouver may resell portions of Arbutus corridor for $1

In the Georgia Straight

“In the purchase agreement between the city and CPR, Article 11 stipulates that if these properties, which have a total combined area of 0.62 hectare, are removed from Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan, CPR will have the option to buy back the lands for $1.”

Arbutus map

In line with the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision and the Arbutus Greenway purchase agreement we have determined that the area between West 1st Ave and West 5th Ave is not required for future greenway purposes. Therefore, the City is proposing to:

Amending these bylaws will not change the current zoning of the properties.

The proposed changes are supported by the Arbutus Greenway Design Vision which has highlighted a number of safe and accessible alternatives for the proposed greenway extension routes to False Creek and Granville Island.

To learn more about the amendments please visit our website here. You can also read the July 24, 2018 Policy Report.

 

Share Your Thoughts with Council on the Arbutus Corridor ODP

Vancouver City Council will hold a Public Hearing on the Arbutus Corridor ODP Amendment on:

  • Date: Wednesday, September 5, 2018
  • Time: 6:00 pm
  • Place: Council Chamber, Third Floor, City Hall

There are two ways you can participate:

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2018 at 4:35 pm

ProVancouver party proposes flat fare and other transit discounts across Lower Mainland

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Faregates at King Edward

The title is that of an article in the Georgia Straight

The ProVancouver Party is one of several new entities that have popped up due to the upcoming city election all of which claim to be non-partisan (just like the flailing NPA) and different from the status quo.

The main difference is simply in the level of understanding of how local government in Vancouver works (or is supposed to) between those who have some experience and those with none at all. Many of the new candidates seriously think that their naivete is a qualification rather than a liability.

I am not going to bother with analysing any of these half baked proposals. I am simply going to point out that getting elected to Vancouver City council does not enable anyone to introduce any of these ideas. As the Straight points out these are regional measures, which means that they have to appeal to most of the other municipalities outside of the City of Vancouver. The only commonality among these municipalities is their utter contempt for Vancouver and all it stands for. For one thing they are all convinced that Vancouver benefits far more from transit than they do. Even when Burnaby has far more SkyTrain service than any other municipality. And if your identifier is ProVancouver, you are already setting yourself up for an argument. West Vancouver still thinks it would be better off if it left Translink altogether – though even they have to concede that it is really difficult to find any acceptable piece of land within West Vancouver that could be used as a bus storage and maintenance facility.  Places like Anmore and Belcarra even think that people from other municipalities should not be allowed park or even drive on their roads.   Especially in summer.

The key word that ProVancouver has latched onto is “affordable”.  Which you might think would translate into some kind of means tested subsidy for transit fares. But as usual in all such woolly thinking, the term itself is not defined – but has something to do with “families” even though most people now live in rather different households than the traditional Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids. What we do know from our experience with the referendum is people in general believe a lot of nonsense about Translink and think they pay quite enough in taxes to provide much better service than they currently get. And that second belief is equally strongly held everywhere – even in the best served parts of the region. If you are not going to collect enough at the farebox, then it has to come from somewhere else, and any proposal is always going to be met with the angry riposte “How are you going to pay for that?” (without waiting for the answer before stamping off).

One of the great weaknesses of the upcoming ballot is that it is going to be filled with a lot of names: most of them will be unfamiliar. And whoever gets elected is going to have spend a lot of time and effort getting up to speed on procedures, rules and regulations. To some extent that does mean the potential for more influence from the professionals who have mostly been doing this stuff as a full time career for many years. But sadly they will be fully occupied trying to persuade the newly elected councillors that they have to both listen and read attentively. There is no evidence at all that ProVancouver has the slightest intention of doing that before insisting that they are now in charge: heaven help us all if that is the case.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Book Review: Seaweed Chronicles

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Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 12.12.48 PM

I usually put book reviews on my other blog but in this case I think there is enough coherence with the ostensible reason for this blog to put it here.

I was offered the book to read – more than once – by email. What surprised me when I got the advanced reading copy to see on its back cover that I could have got it from NetGalley. As it was I was happy enough to curl up in a chair and spend a few hours with the hard copy. Unusually for me, I had a pen in my hand, as there were no page numbers shown in the table of contents, so I was writing them in as I read. I also found myself marking up the pages – in ink! – which is something I would never do with a book whether I had borrowed or bought it. One reason for that is that my copy also has no index, which makes going back to find stuff really time consuming. For instance, I was pretty sure she must have considered sea level rise, but it is going to take a while to thumb through to find the references.

While the author is based in Maine her coverage does range widely and one of the early chapters deals with the interrelationship of bull kelp, otters and orcas in the Pacific Northwest which I found fascinating. If a book doesn’t get your attention in the first chapter or two, you are unlikely to finish it. This one won me over early and kept me reading.

There is also quite a bit about Acadain Seaplants Limited of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia “the biggest seaweed harvesting, processing and research company in the world”. Naturally this company gets quite a lot of coverage not least because of its expansion into the waters off New England. It is quite often referred to as a Canadian company, and not just because of the alliteration. The book is very much about the people “who work and live at the shore”. Most of these communities started as fishers and whalers, and as those resources became exhausted worked their way down the food chain and the seaweed – being algae – is pretty much as low as you can get.

“As seaweed harvests take the place of lost fisheries in many areas of the world, they present some of the same issues we have here [Maine]: the growing desire of coastal people to take good care of what’s left, a need for more education and study, and an acknowledgement that the oceans in our lives are in trouble.”

This theme recurs throughout the book.

“the more we perfect our capacity to harvest wild nature, the closer we come to destroying what we seek.”

There is a great deal about the tragedies of the commons – and the framework of rules and sanctions for breaking those rules – that are essential to ensuring the commons continue.

“… our environmental history includes species that are gone forever: the passenger pigeons…,the Labrador duck, the sea mink, the great auk …the schools of cod once stretched from bays outward fifteen miles or more…they seemed limitless.”

And we are now looking at the extirpation of the resident orcas in the Salish Sea and the woodland caribou both victims of the indecent haste to get as much of the tar sands exploited while the subsidies last (they aren’t worth much without). And as long as we go on electing politicians like 45 and Ford – or Trudeau and Notley come to that – we look like “succeeding”.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book and felt I learned a lot: after all as is common to those educated in Britain in the 1950s and 60s we had to make a choice between arts and science in school. Ever since I have been conscious of the need to make up for my scientific ignorance – and how difficult that is when so many people resort to “Well, I’d explain it but you haven’t got the math.” This book is not like that. What did surprise me is how much of it is actually familiar. Yes, I know we need seaweed. I have learned how to read nutritional labels and I did know that there is a lot more than just sushi wrappers. I also realise that we need to come up with much better frameworks of regulation not just of the shoreline people but of the big corporations which seem to continue to escape every constraint placed upon them.

What must remain wild for the health of the planet, and what can we take, as we face climate change and diminishing natural resources?

 

Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge
by Susan Hand Shetterly
Algonquin Books
On sale August 7, 2018
ISBN 978 1 61620 574 4

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Environment

Ride-hailing

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IMG_8808

This post is prompted by the regular weekly update I get from the BC Green Party.

Under the Ride-hailing heading there is this paragraph

Adam expressed deep disappointment that the BC NDP has left everyone hanging on ride-hailing once again and discusses solutions.

Followed by two buttons each labelled “Read” which do not link, as you might expect, to a Green Party new release or position paper. One links to an article by Mike Smyth in The Province ten days ago and the other to one by Keith Baldrey in Burnaby Now. Neither is either fair or balanced, has any reliable data source but is mostly about slagging off the NDP.

The first one does not quote Adam: the second just has this

The B.C. Green party has been calling for ridesharing to come to B.C. for years now. Last week, B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen told me the rest of B.C. is “being held hostage” by the existing industry and those key swing ridings.

So no discussion of solutions there.

Smyth only talks to people who support Uber and Lyft and concludes

And rather than create “absolute chaos” on the streets, ride-hailing in other cities has actually reduced traffic congestion because people discover they can get around without a car.

Which is actually contrary to some genuine recent research. You could read about that in the Washington Post but I do have to warn you that you might hit their paywall, but never fear you can actually go to the source Mike Schaller a former deputy commissioner for traffic and planning at the New York City Department of Transportation. That link takes you to a useful summary and also to the pdf for the whole study.

But I think the Post gets the gist in these two paragraphs

“Shared rides add to traffic because most users switch from non-auto modes,” the report says. “In addition, there is added mileage between trips as drivers wait for the next dispatch and then drive to a pickup location. Finally, even in a shared ride, some of the trip involves just one passenger (e.g., between the first and second pickup).”

Schaller synthesizes data from surveys in eight cities and the state of California to conclude 60 percent of ride-hail users would have otherwise used transit, walked or biked, or stayed home were it not for the availability of services such as Uber and Lyft.

That has not been the only coverage of Uber last week: Uber and Lyft are facing a major crackdown in New York City was the headline from The Verge.

New York City officials are moving to restrict the number of Uber and Lyft vehicles allowed on the road as part of a move to contain the massive growth in the for-hire vehicle industry that has been blamed for worsening congestion and low wages for drivers.

Which even though it was reported widely seems to have escaped Mike Smyth.

There was also quite a lot about vomit fraud – in the Toronto Star and the Guardian 

And finally this tweet from BC Green Party Leader

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Which seems to ignore the availability of the Canada Line at 11pm – and Uber’s willingness to switch on surge pricing whenever there is a chance of a quick buck or two.

On the whole I wish there were much more emphasis on expanding transit and increasing the range of services that are on offer in BC. There are, of course, many local variations of ride hailing apps – many of which encourage the use of empty seats on vehicles already on the road. A sort of electronic version of hitch hiking – which, of course, remains illegal in BC. We don’t just need more buses – though that would help – we also need to give buses priority in traffic, recognizing their vastly superior carrying capacity – people per lane per hour – and also their ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the present vehicle fleet which remains almost entirely fuelled by fossil fuels. The Green Party also ought to be pushing hard for more intercity bus services, as well as light rail, and making better use of the existing rail networks by requiring more passenger trains and pushing more of the freight trains into overnight service.  That was, after all, the model successfully adopted in Ottawa when they ventured into local passenger train service.

Frankly I think the promises made by Uber and Lyft have been shown to have been as deceptive as those of the pipelines and LNG. Not to mention hyperloop.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2018 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Transportation

Buses for BC

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You may have seen some back and forth on twitter today. It started off with a tweet from iPolitics

Former federal budget watchdog Kevin Page will deliver a blunt message to premiers this week about the costs of a future national pharmacare program: if Canadians want one, taxes will have to go up.

To which I responded that it wasn’t actually necessary to raise taxes. All we have to do is stop subsidizing fossil fuels (something Canada does excessively and compulsively) and bailing out Kinder Morgan – which is also quite a needless waste of billions.

Then I got into a similar grouch with Bowinn Ma (who is actually one of the better ministers in the current BC government in my opinion) over the Auditor General’s scathing report on how we are doing in our attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, BC need not build Site C, nor do we need to subsidize LNG. The present plan to open up a new plant in Kitimat being no more economically viable than the earlier ones despite a slight firming in LNG prices.  The release of methane from fracking alone is reason enough to call a halt, but the lack of revenue and the paucity of employment in the new plant also make the whole idea look very odd for a province that is looking to cut its carbon footprint. If we were pursuing renewables and a distributed system – not trying to create a bigger grid and a dodgy megaproject, we could be enjoying the sort of benefits that California, Germany and even the UK are experiencing.

But the story that made me think I did need to start writing was a tweet I seem not have kept which cited Rob Shaw in The Sun about the demise of Greyhound here and what it means for BC. “Hold on to your wallets” was that message – I did a trawl of the hashtag and although I didn’t find the one I wanted there are plenty like it.

In fact Shaw is not opposed exactly

Likely, some sort of cash will need to be offered for remote routes where passengers are sparse but transportation is a vital matter of public safety. And why not? The province already subsidizes B.C. Transit in urban areas, TransLink in Metro Vancouver, B.C. Ferries on the coast and inland ferries elsewhere. Certainly, a case could be made to financially backstop rural bus service, too.

But of course he cannot resist slagging of the civil servants

Expanding government control of buses will easily cost tens of millions of dollars and further pressure the provincial budget. The drivers and workers will want to be unionized. A new fleet will need to be purchased. And don’t expect the provincial government to be as nimble, quick or innovative as the private sector. If you thought Greyhound was intransigent, wait till rural B.C. has to deal directly with the provincial bureaucracy for its bus schedule.

But actually we don’t do so badly with urban services: despite the lies that people like Jordan Bateman repeat, both BC Transit and Translink are doing quite well by North American standards. And there is no reason at all to think that the private sector would do any better. Just look at these letters to the Guardian about the mess the UK has fallen into with the privatization of its rural buses. Interesting how that popped up on the same day. I particularly like this quote

Between 1972, when cheap bus fares were introduced in Sheffield, and extended to the whole of South Yorkshire from 1974, and 1986 when our buses were privatised, we had an excellent and very well used bus service. Pauline Gaunt’s claim that bus use was declining before deregulation and privatisation is a travesty as far as this part of the UK is concerned.

Yes, the buses were subsidised, but all the fare money went into providing frequent, reliable and affordable services, not into the pockets of private companies, and our electors voted year after year to pay the extra rates for a service they valued.

It seems to me that people are not actually opposed to taxes. But they do question how comes there are always funds for idiotic things we definitely don’t need but never enough for essentials. It bugs the heck out of me that also today MoTI put out a request for bids to build “and finance” the replacement Patullo Bridge. Did we learn nothing from the last bridge financing fiasco?

And then at the end of the day comes a new piece from The Narwhal.

Mining companies are extracting billions of dollars worth of gold from Canada every year but are paying only a tiny fraction in taxes and royalties compared to operations in other countries,

I mean, yes I knew we were on the hook for the mine clean ups. What I did not realize is the entire country seems to be throwing away our irreplaceable resources for a pittance.

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I mean even Burkina Faso seems to strike a better bargain than we do.

So I am not going to listen to “budget watch dogs” who think that we ought to pay more in taxes for essential services like medical treatments or rural public transportation. It’s the corporations that should be paying. Just like the Norwegians get far more for their oil and gas than we do – and invest it better too. We need to be looking much harder at how resources are being extracted and how much of that flows back to the people. Not off shore to some tax haven for the benefit of 0.01% of them.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 16, 2018 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Transportation