Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for August 2006

YouTube – Steal This Bike

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Originally posted to the trans-action list serve

See also the related article in Willamette Week
My bike lock is one of those heavy U tube things – that can be easily opened with a Bic pen if you lose the key

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2006 at 11:03 am

Posted in cycling

Guardian Unlimited Business | | Last year’s model: Airfix goes bust

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Guardian Unlimited Business | | Last year’s model: Airfix goes bust

This is really sad. So much of my youth was spent with the heady smell of plastic solvent in my nostrils as I slaved over an Airfix kit. I really liked the Messerschmidt 262 – it was the first jet fighter, but because it had no props you could actually play with it! Most Airfix model planes had to be left on their stands – though they always fell off when Mum dusted. They never stayed as built for long. Bits snapped off too easily. I was never allowed to suspend the planes on strings from the ceiling. When I built the Liberator, Liberatormy Dad sid.jpgactually opened up about his war time experience in the RAF. A rare event. When I asked him which colour scheme I should use, he told me the following story (I will use the first person for his voice is still clear in my memory)

The one’s I saw were white, with red crosses. They were used to ferry released allied POWs back home from the camps in Burma and Singapore. They refuelled at Shaiba, where I was based. If the Arabian Gulf is the arsehole of the world, Shaiba is half way up it. I was a radio mechanic, and had to go on board to check the radios and change the crystal used to tune the VHF channel. The planes had been built as long range bombers but were now converted to transport stretchers. All the passengers were quiet but very happy to be going home at long last. They had obviously suffered. Hunger was the least of it. They were all very thin.

One day soon after VJ day, one of these planes, loaded with blokes going home, and full of fuel, failed to clear the perimeter fence on take off. I was in my radio truck, and was first on the scene. There is not much you – as an individual – can do about a loaded Liberator which is on fire.

After he told me this story, I tried using paint stripper to take off the RAF camouflage and paint it white. I think it was just as well that the paint stripper destroyed the model. I realise now (as I did not then) he did not enjoy revisiting that memory.

Airfix also took over the molds for a few 00 gauge (4mm scale) model railway items when the original manufacturer went belly up. There was an oil tank car, a guard’s van, a 4 wheel diesel railbus, an 0-4-0ST and, best of all, a BR standard 2-10-0. The two piece axles did not stand up to actual use but they made nice static backgrounds to the working trains, and were much cheaper.

There is now hardly any full sized railway manufacturing in Britain – the country that produced the first steam engines. Trains come from Germany, or Spain. Locos from Canada. Now there are no more models with Made in England on them either.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2006 at 10:13 am

BC Hydro: 18,000 Grow-ops suspected

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BC Hydro: 18,000 Grow-ops suspected

My letter to the editor

Your front page exclusive has me worried. Am I a suspect? Our average daily consumption is over 93 kWh for most of the winter. That’s because we do not have natural gas, or oil. We use baseboard heaters. And, when we are feeling really festive, we use an open hearth log fire, which makes a mess, smells nice, looks pretty and sends nearly all the heat up the chimney. But my real worry is the same set of consumption records shows that in July this year our consumption actually increased. Last year it was less than 10kWh, this year over 60! It is the record itself which I distrust as in reality power consumption was probably the same. We will never know because BC Hydro admitted that they “estimated” my meter reading and it would even out over the months when they actually read the meter.

Latest update – the letter was published on Friday Sptember 1, without the illustration or the picture of the author.

Addendum: the silliness of the proposal to check out those with high meter readings ignores the widespread practice in grow ops of bypassing the meter. The obvious dangers of interfering with live wires is supposedly one of the main reasons for cracking down on grow ops.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2006 at 9:28 am

Posted in energy

Mainstream mom tries giving up car – Grist Magazine –

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Mainstream mom tries giving up car – Grist Magazine –

Quite a good article, and mirrors my experience.

We lived in Victoria for nearly three years. We lived on a bus route which was reliable, and got me to and from work every day. I had an annual government employee bus pass paid for by monthly payroll deductions. It was mainly a matter of convenience as it was not massively discounted. One weekend I tried taking my son downtown, using the same service. It was a very different matter using the bus on Saturday midday than weekday peak hours. We stood a long time at the stop. The scheduled bus did not run. It began to rain. My son (then around 5) became distinctly fretful.After half an hour we gave up, and went home. Since we lived on the bus route, I tried to keep an eye that day on scheduled time keeping. “Hopeless” is the kindest adjective.

One evening I had to attend an evening meeting, on Blanshard Street (which does not have a bus service) at some kind of community hall. Once again it was raining – this time very heavily indeed, with strong winds that wrecked my umbrella. After slogging to Douglas Street to an unsheltered stop and not seeing any buses at all, I walked home – over three miles. No bus passed me in that time.

Then we moved to Richmond. I had now had a new job with BC Transit, which came with a free transit pass. I could have had one for my wife – but she refused it. I tried, no really, I really tried. First commuting by bus and Skytrain from Bridgeport and No 5 to Gateway in Surrey. Two years later from Williams and Gilbert to Metrotown. The fastest time I ever managed on either route was 90 minutes each way. Often much longer. I tried all the possible route combinations. Always at least two transfers. I was often left standing at a bus stop, especially in the early days of the 98B line, but also more recently, thanks to overcrowding when I once again tried bus commuting to downtown Vancouver. The clearest  memory I have is of is the feeling of uncertainty. I am waiting at a bus stop for an indefinite period because I have no idea if the scheduled bus has run early, or is missing. Or will be full when it arrives. And even if I get a seat I shall be so cramped I cannot comfortably read a newspaper. And in winter there will be no interior lights on anyway.

Many of my colleagues at Translink car pooled. And at Metrotown there is an  incentive in cheaper parking for car poolers. One of my car pool buddies persuaded me to join him, just because he could then get a cheaper parking spot. He had no intention of ever using transit, so I did not even have to share the cost of the parking spot or gas. I had to work to his work schedule which was rather different to mine, so to give myself some flexibility I eventually started using a bicycle on nice days. I found I could get home from Metrotown faster on the bike than the bus – and I am no Lance Armstrong!

I formed a very strong conviction. Having been a dedicated (train) commuter in the UK and Toronto, I am convinced that quality of service is far more important than price for choice transit users (as opposed to “captives”). And quality of transit service in Greater Vancouver is vastly inferior to London, Nottingham or Toronto, or, come that, peak hours in Victoria.

My wife uses a car for work.  She is a nurse who visits patients in their homes, and her work covers a very wide geographical area. When the family minivan was paid off, I decided to keep it, as the capital cost had been recovered through her expenses over the life of the vehicle. It is as reliable as any ten year old Chrysler product can  be expected to be (a cell phone and BCAA membership are recommended accessories). She drives a leased small sedan (she calls it her “zoom-zoom”). The minivan has room for my bike, and, when she was still alive, the family lab. Who, of course, was never allowed on a bus here. (Dogs were always welcomed on the bus in UK, as long as they rode on the top deck).

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2006 at 8:20 am

Posted in Transportation

TransLink puts fantasy buses on Broadway

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TransLink puts fantasy buses on Broadway

Jim Houlahan puts some perspective on TransLink’s recent announcement

“TransLink hopes to reduce severe congestion on overcrowded routes in the Broadway corridor this fall as more than 200 new buses are put into service.”

When you take out the buses yet to be delivered, the replacement buses, and the handyDART buses there actually won’t be much visible expansion. Community Shuttles will release some bigger buses where they are needed more, but as usual at this time of year, Translink’s spin doctors have been trying to get the good news out ahead of the inevitable complaints that will come on the first day of the new semester – and will continue through the first few weeks “until things settle down”. Which means until enough students give up trying to use their UPass at peak periods. Given that they have done this for the last several years, kudos goes to the Sun for printing something to counter the now familiar PR babble.

UPass was fundamentally flawed from the start. The policy of “revenue neutrality” has superficial appeal, but ignored the inevitable impact of rising cost of service provision on a bus system that was already under severe pressure. Translink has always been shy of tackling Coast Mountain Bus Company (its biggest subsidiary) over costs. They won the bus strike, but you wouldn’t know it, because the hard won argument about the ability to contract out was never ever put into practice. Coast Mountain remains the single source of service for most of the conventional buses – and now Community Shuttles too, thanks to some union concessions. But across BC, contracting out works in nearly every other community – except Victoria. And in Greater Vancouver all handyDART is competitively tendered. Comparisons with other bus operators made using data collected by CUTA show that Vancouver has a relatively expensive system. The planners will counter that is because it is a geographically large system, with relatively low population density. But there is very little data released into the public domain that would make possible realistic comparsions with similar places. And also ignores the success of other places which have used competitive tendering of carefully specified bus services a way toboth reduce costs and improve service – London (England) being the prime example.

I sympathise with Jim, who wants more work for his members, and thus more spent on buses. And it could be (and has been) argued that spending on improving bus services would do more to grow ridership than building yet more expensive rapid transit in parts of the region already well served. But that bus left the stop some time ago. Commitments made to hugely expensive capital projects seem likely to continue to starve the bus system for years to come. And Translink will continue to point to the need for other levels of government to contribute. Which neatly diverts the argument away from their own lack lustre performance in controlling costs.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 30, 2006 at 2:57 pm

Environment Unlimited | Energy | Engineers race to steal nature’s secrets

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Environment Unlimited | Energy | Engineers race to steal nature’s secrets

A very positive piece about where our energy is going to come from. Or rather, where it will come from in the UK. BC has lots of coal, and a “Liberal” government, is is far behind the rest of the 1st world in developing wind, tidal and wave power. As for saving fresh water and energy by desalination – not even on the radar. Just take a drive around Delta on any hot day to see the agricultural industry using irrigation methods that seemed designed to waste as much as possible. You are not allowed to sprinkle the lawn during the heat of the day, as the water simply evaporates. So why is it a good idea on corn fields?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 29, 2006 at 7:26 am

Posted in energy, Environment


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This is going to be a departure from the pattern of this blog to date. Not a comment upon something I’ve read but something I experienced yesterday.

I was driving around 5pm on a suburban street, approaching a signalsied intersection. I think it may have a “green wave” as I found the lights turning green for me as they had at previous intersections. I saw cars lined up in the left lane waiting for someone to turn, but the curb lane I was driving in was clear. So I didn’t even need to touch the brake pedal. As I entered the intersection, my car was struck by a large white van. The airbags deployed – filling the car with smell of explosive. The two vehicles, now locked together skidded into the cross road, striking a third vehicle waiting at the stop line for the red light to change.

I am not going to comment further on this collision, but red light running – and excessive speed – is now a regular occurance. While the photo radar program for speed was ended, there are a few – not nearly enough – red light cameras. This intersection – like many others – did not have one. I have seen several collisions – and the aftermath of many more – at this and similar cross roads. We have a grid of arterial roads so these occur every half mile.

Far too many drivers now drive above the posted speed. To some extent this is the fault of the way the photo radar rules were drafted. Everyone now “knows” that 10% above the posted speed is acceptable, no matter what the road conditions. Speeds are frequently much faster than that, with plenty of vehicles weaving from lane to lane and racing to beat yellow lights. And sometimes, too often, red ones.

In Britain, fixed photo radar has been widely deployed to reduce speeding. The cameras are the same as we use in BC to monitor red lights. BC should convert these cameras to catch speeders. Prominent camera boxes – painted bright yellow – should be installed at all major accident sites and especially on bridges – the Patullo should be the first. The radar should be sensitive to all motor vehicles, to ensure that motorcycles are detected. And people who whine about “another tax grab” should be told that the revenue will go solely into road safety measures and other traffic law enforcement measures. For instance, buying more unmarked patrol cars of all all kinds (I can spot a plain grey Ford Crown Vic a mile away!).

Update inserted September 28, 2006

In an interview with the Surrey Leader’’s Jeff Nagel,
Premier Gordon Campbell re-stated his government’s
refusal to allow the installation of speed cameras on the
Patullo Bridge, despite the requests of the TransLink
Board, City of Surrey, and local traffic safety activists.
Campbell told Nagel that the bridge should be policed for
speeding instead, and speed cameras would not amount
to effective enforcement. Campbell also indicated that if
policing proved ineffective, the government might be
willing to consider speed cameras.

The government claims that allowing speed cameras on
the bridge would amount to a reversal of its 2001
campaign promise, and subsequent order, to cancel
photo radar. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon initially
backed the proposal to introduce cameras on the bridge
as a means to slow traffic and reduce fatal accidents.
However, Solicitor General John Les, who is responsible
for the issue, has since said speed cameras are not on
the table.

Surrey Leader 

I am okay. I have a tiny chip in a front tooth that is nearly invisible, but my the tip of tongue detects as a chasm. I have odd twinges in my left shoulder, and a nasty graze on the inside of my wrist where the air bag abraided the skin. The other drivers seemed to be similarly shaken and banged about but no bones broken. The police, fire and ambulance services were on the scene in seconds and two people volunteered their information freely as witnesses. The car will probably be written off, but it performed as designed. Crumple zones absorbed energy – and look dreadful afterwards – but the cabin remained intact.

But this road is used by cyclists – and old people who drive their motorised “scooters” in the road (often in contraflow to the traffic) with nothing more than a small orange flag to indicate their presence.

Be careful out there.

Update: Thursday, August 31

Vehicle will be written off. Pictures added


Driver's side

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2006 at 9:34 am

Posted in Road safety

Guardian Unlimited | Science | Steve Boggan: The men who can produce limitless amounts of clean, free energy

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Guardian Unlimited | Science | Steve Boggan: The men who can produce limitless amounts of clean, free energy

This is exactly the same system that was described to me by its inventor. I did not keep a record of his name, but it occurred while I was a Policy Adviser at the BC Ministry of Energy in Victoria. I was there between 1994 and 1998.

One day a young man came in to our offices on Blanshard Street (the “pink palace”). He did not bring any documentation with him, but he had two small permanent magnets, and he described at length an apparatus that would hold a series of magnets in opposition to each other on a wheel. Once set spinning, the repulsion between two poles of the same orientation would keep the wheel spinning indefinitely.

He was vague about how the power would be taken off to be used. I am not a scientist but I am familiar with the basic laws of physics. I was also suspicious that he had not even thought about patenting his idea. The Guardian article points out why – something I was not aware of until now.

He wanted the idea to be developed but did not know how. Neither did I – and no-one I spoke to about it afterwards even suggested referring him elsewhere.

Maybe he would have been more believable if (as these gentlemen claim) he had actually built the machine – and had measurements to prove his contention.

It would also have helped if we did not regularly get visits from other people holding magnets and making claims – like the man who said that putting magnets on the fuel supply to an internal combustion engine would improve not only its efficiency but reduce pollution too. And the fact that we had files of similar claims – none of which stood up to examination. Someone once said to me that if we coupled together all the gas saving devices sold on the market we could have a car that produced rather than consumed fuel.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2006 at 10:08 am

Posted in energy

An exclusive preview of the worlds most exciting electric car

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Environment Unlimited | Travel and transport |

Important point to note: that the first hundred were sold before they were even built, so that’s the cash flow issue sorted. The big automakers are sniffing around: pray that they don’t succeed in buying the company. They’ll just shut it down like they did the EV1.

I worry about batteries. I now religiously turn off and unplug my wife’s laptop – which she tends to leave running all day, even though it is little used by the kids who both have access to desktops. It was that Dell story about Sony batteries bursting into flames that did it. This story refers to “liquid cooled” batteries like those in laptops. This seems like a waste of energy to me – unless it is being used for heating and/or cooling the car for the occupants, something that other electric vehicles found problematic.

Plus of course the usual issue (not mentioned here) of where the electricity will come from. In California, probably from more remote, oil and coal fired generating stations I’m afraid. Not zero emissions, just elsewhere emissions.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2006 at 4:24 pm

Major projects in B.C. hit $102 billion

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Major projects in B.C. hit $102 billion

And, of course, the worry is now that the construction industry is leading the provincial economy into “over heating”. Bizarre, isn’t it? This outcome was widely predicted – but nothing must ever stand in the way of building the buzz. After all, planning an economy has always failed, hasn’t it?

The trades people now needed are supposed to come from immigration. Which also seems a bit odd, given that there are many immigrants here already who cannot get into their professions thanks to overt protectionism. And would anyone in the right mind move to BC just to get dumped as soon as the boom turns to bust again as it surely will?

The days when governments tried to smooth out the inflationary cycle stopped when the current fad of monetarism took over in treasuries of the west. Hopefully, that will also go the way of other out dated fashions.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2006 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Economics