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

Archive for January 2007

Why we wanted to live in the suburbs

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They were invented by the railways. In this case the poster was produced by the Underground Group, a private sector conglomerate at that time. The original tube lines did not make money as the capital cost of boring was huge, and for quick trips across Central London, a bus or taxi was still then faster – due to the time it took to get down to the platforms and back up again. Business got better when extensions into what was then open country started to be added around the turn of the century.

East Ham, where I grew up, developed very quickly between 1890 and 1910, and the District Line and London Tilbury and Southend Railway both benefitted by the huge increase in commuting that resulted. The row houses were all to the same pattern – developed in response to the 1875 Public Health Act which specified minimum standards for the first time. So the builders built to those standards and tried to keep the frontage as small as possible to limit the cost of the local taxation (known as “the rates” and calculated then on frontage). That is what is illustrated here and is what we wanted to get way from. To a house with a garden and some degree of separation from your neighbours. Single leaf brick walls between houses do very little to attenuate sound. And their view from their back windows was over our yard!

Typical East Ham house

In the interwar period, the Metropolitan Railway made more out of property development than from running trains. The London North Western wasn’t then interested in running commuter service – it was a Main Line (in fact it called itself “The Premier Line”) and was above such concerns. Which is why the Underground map has a bias to the North West still visible to this day.

The twenties and thirties were the era of the semi-detached. Every house had a garden front and back and towards the end of the thirties a garage too. This pattern was restarted in the fifties – at least for private sector development. But in Britain, facing a housing crisis, the public sector built more and faster and some of the outer estates are still the most desirable. Debden in Essex for example.underground111.jpg

Boxmoor is beyond the limits of growth set by the Green Belt – the edge that development had reached by 1939. The Town and Country Planning Act tried to stop the sprawl and “ribbon development” but it simply leapfrogged the belt and continued after the war. By then the Premier Line was BR Midland Region and electric trains were carrying commuters (like me) into Euston, with easy connections to the Bakerloo Line at places like Harrow and Wembley.

It is now of course the reverse that we are pushing – density is what it is all about now. And here in the suburbs of Vancouver, the side splits and bungalows are being pulled down long before they are life expired to build townhouses. And the gardens are fast disappearing as car parking seems to be much more important than roses, or lawns, or vegetables.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 21, 2007 at 3:06 pm

59 per cent of Quebecers say they’re racist: poll

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59 per cent of Quebecers say they’re racist: poll

There’s a lot of to and fro in the articles about how the survey questions are asked. But isn’t Quebec, as a national identity, based on the idea of there being a distinct society or a separate nation – or “les Quebecois pur laine” and is that not inherently based on chauvinism? Yes, I concede that for a long time the french minority in Canada were treated badly – and the correction of those wrongs was overdue. And I think people should be aware of – and proud of – their culture. But not to the exclusion of others and not to declare (implicitly or explicitly) that one nation or one race (whatever that means) is better than another. Nor that by knowing something of a person’s origins you therefore know something about their character. Stereotyping is a problem for all of us. The record of Quebec in recent years – the language police and all that, as well as the treatment of “allophones” – to say nothing of french speaking people who do not happen to have a personal history descent from of early Quebec settlers – is nothing to be proud of. Frankly, the confusion of religion (Jews and Muslims) with “race” shows how muddy these waters are. 9/11 does not explain – nor excuse anything. It has simply reinforced existing xenophobia.

When I am asked my race I reply “human” and refuse to be more specific. I have dual nationality – English and Canadian and from my understanding both are “mongrel breed” to those who care about such things. The English are celtic, nordic, germanic, french and sorts of others as well. Prior to the Normans there were waves of invaders who liked the land, and settled there and inter-married. That was a tradition that continued even though there were no more “invasions” but plenty of people who came to Britain and stayed. Personally I think a bit of hybrid vigour is a Good Thing. My children are even more mixed than I am – having a mother with both Irish and Bohemian ancestry.

We share 98% of our DNA with chimps – so the differences that racists are concerned with are so small to be literally insignificant.



Philip Authier, CanWest News Service

Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2007

MONTREAL – A new analysis of Statistics Canada data shows Quebec in 2006 likely incurred its worst single-year net-population loss since 2000 due to interprovincial migration.

The reasons for the losses varied — from students attending out-of-province universities, to economic opportunities to the perception of political instability.

Different age groups leave for different reasons but previous studies suggest historically anglophones are more likely to leave than francophones.

Maybe they leave because they feel unwelcome

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2007 at 4:29 pm

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Local cab fleet lacks vehicles for disabled | Vancouver

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Local cab fleet lacks vehicles for disabled | Vancouver

Charles Castonguay, general manager of Yellow Cab, told the Straight that the matter is up to the Passenger Transportation Board to determine. The board regulates passenger-directed vehicles and intercity buses in the province.

The PTB is the successor to the Motor Carrier Commission. It was they that commissioned the report on the number of taxis in the city and the need for more licences. Comparison with other cities is one of the commonest way to argue for “need” – but why Toronto may be thought to have it “right” is less hard to establish.

The problem is that quantity licencing as practiced nearly everywhere in North America nearly always results in a shortage of licences, which therefore acquire a market value far in excess of that the cities levy. Many taxi drivers have mortgaged their homes to get a share of a licence, and some days after paying for fuel and other costs are lucky if they make minimum wage. And there always many more drivers waiting to get in to the business – often relatives of cab drivers, and usually recent immigrants unlikely to get any other kind of employment. Not that they are not qualified in other fields, just that their qualifications are not recognised here. There are plenty of engineers and physicians driving cabs.

So the existing licence holders have a vested interest in keeping the market value of licences high and will object to any application for new licences. And the PTB (like the MCC) will have to take that into account.

As for disabled taxis, the real issue is the lack of HandiDART service, but since that is not going to solved – ever – taxis are essential to fill the gap.

he has seen wheelchair-accessible cabs waiting for tourists outside hotels when they should have been responding to calls from disabled or elderly people.

BUT taxi drivers do not like driving people who use Translink’s taxi vouchers – and they do not tip as well as cruise ship passengers. Those vans are very popular for hauling all the luggage that cruise passengers have. Some taxi drivers object to carrying guide dogs and drive straight past blind passengers, knowing they are unlikely to be caught. Few taxi drivers have had any training in meeting special needs – come to that any training at all! As for “should” who says so? It is nowhere in the regs that specialised cabs have to give priority to anyone.

taxi.jpgThe solution lies in adopting the system of licensing used in London since the 1850s. There is no limit on the number of “black cabs” or drivers. But both drivers and vehicles must pass strict quality control tests. It takes about 2 years to qualify as a driver. Most will point to “the knowledge” (a sort of encyclopedia of Inner London’s geography that drivers must memorise) but customer service is also a very important element. And all black cabs are inspected frequently must have very high levels of maintenance and all are now accessible. Taxi rates are regulated, so for the market to work, it must be hard – but not impossible – to enter, and easy to leave. (photo from

Converting to such a system would require compensation for existing licence holders who currently control market entry to keep the value of the re-saleable licences high. But other cities have got around this by grandfathering existing owner drivers, and issuing new non-trade-able licences – and that includes Toronto. The right wing knee jerk response to deregulate the whole business has been tried (for example in Seattle) and usually results in chaos. Taxis have to be regulated to ensure basic safety and minimum service levels which both suffer under cut throat competition.

What taxi licence holders do not understand is that they have shrunk the size of the taxi market by restricting its supply. When service gets bad, people give up on the idea of taking a cab. You certainly cannot just stick out your hand a hail a cab here as you can in Central London or Manhattan. New Yorkers don’t own cars because they don’t need them. They walk a lot more than most Americans, have the subway and there’s always lots of cabs. And in suburban London and much of the rest of New York there are alternatives – minicabs in the UK, gypsies in the US. Both a response to over restrictive licensing and lack of availability of service in these areas.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2007 at 10:19 am

Doubledecker Graveyard

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Doubledecker Graveyard, originally uploaded by Lightdancer747.

Copyright 2005 Graham Hill reproduced here by permission of the photographer.

At Errington, located between Parksville and Coombs, on Vancouver Island, these old British Buses used to be used to tours in Victoria. Apparently someone thought he could open a bus museum.


From left to right I recognise a London RT, RTL, another RT – the fourth one is tricky – maybe ex Southdown AEC, an ex St Helens Leyland but after that … a least a couple of Bristol Lodekkas

A very striking image found on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

January 11, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Transportation

New Trolleys on Broadway

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Translink 2135 on wb 9 Broadway Vancouver BC 2007_0108, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.


Seen on route 9 on Broadway westbound yesterday. These buses are now here in significant numbers and are appearing on a larger number of routes as a result. I suppose I should be recording the last days of the E902s, but I suspect that pressure of demand will keep some in service for a while longer (I hope so anyway).

Taking pictures of a moving bus in poor light in heavy traffic presents some interesting challenges and I am afraid that the Coolpix 4800 is not the best bit of equipment for dealing with them. This image is nowhere near as sharp as I would like.

{If someone knows anything about how flickr and WordPress interact, I would like to remove the top four lines of this post without removing the picture}

Written by Stephen Rees

January 9, 2007 at 10:05 am

Posted in Transportation

TransLink can’t lose accountability

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The Richmond Review editorial Jan 6, 2007

A regional authority that is effective is uncomfortable for governments at both the municipal and the provincial level. The GVRD and the GVTA are heartily disliked by both levels of government – even though they are actually controlled by the municipalities collectively. Municipalities bitterly resent their peers telling them what to do. The province in its sphere loves its sovereignty – the government can do anything it likes. But every so often the region threatens that (the Canada Line). Not that the province has ever given much thought to why the region might think it understands what is needed here better than a legislature that is dominated by the rest of BC (“the heartland” is so much more important than a simple majority of the electorate) .

This is not peculiar to BC – or even Canada. Mrs Thatcher hated the Greater London Council so much she abolished the entire level of regional metropolitan government. Ontario has always starved Toronto of provincial funding – especially for desperately needed transit service.

I don’t often agree with Black Press editorials, but this one almost gets it right. What is really needed is more accountability at the regional level. Clear distinctions between what is municipal and what is regional. Effective powers over such things as taxation and land use. Above all direct elections, and mandatory referenda for major capital projects. And real consultation on a regular basis for regional land use and transportation plans. Translink should be less concerned with service delivery (that’s the job of its subsidiaries who should be more independent and held accountable through service delivery contracts just like everywhere in BC outside of Vancouver and Victoria). The GVRD itself needs an overhaul too, so why not do the job properly and create effective, responsible and representative metropolitan government at the regional level?

Don’t worry. It’s not going to happen.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Most expensive in the world: London’s fares rise again

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Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

· Bus and tube cash prices in capital soar by 33%

· Rail firms announce 4.3% average increases

A recent article in the Guardian compares travel costs in London with other cities (but did not include any Canadian examples). Just for fun I thought I would see how they stack up against Vancouver, but in order to make it understandable I converted it to Canadian dollars and kilometres


Written by Stephen Rees

January 4, 2007 at 9:16 am

Little Chef ‘secures rescue deal’ | | Guardian Unlimited Business

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Little Chef ‘secures rescue deal’ | | Guardian Unlimited Business

Unusual for me to cover a story that affects only the UK and from the business section at that but if ever a business needs to be allowed to go bust it is “Little Chef”.

In fact the poll associated with the story is “would you miss it?” Amazingly there was a small majority who would.

I was surprised to learn that there were only 234 of these restaurants. They seem to be ubiquitous because they are strategically located all across the major road network, and often they will be the only choice as they open all hours and serve pretty much the same menu all day.

My son ate there once many years ago – and it still sticks in his memory. Whenever I comment on the service anywhere he will respond “But it’s still better than Little Chef“. The slowness of the service was proverbial and provided material for comedy shows and stand ups. The food was awful. Everything prepared off site in a factory and flash frozen. Or hermetically sealed in a bag to be boiled in. Not that much was actually boiled, except the coffee of course – which was left to evaporate for hours and looked like waste sump oil. Whenever you hear about how bad British food is, you can be sure that at the bottom of this perception is Little Chef (Lyons’ Corner Houses having closed years ago).

Please, would the new owners scrap the whole venture or at least be only interested in the sites and come up with a new formula. Like freshly made local food at reasonable prices and without an extra of snide in the side.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 3, 2007 at 11:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Huge toll in car fatalities in U.S. goes unnoticed

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reprinted from the Washington Post for the Toronto market – I doubt we will see it here in any of our papers – Wheels –

the number of people who die in car crashes in North America is staggering, even if it is absent from the agenda of most public officials and largely ignored by the public.

When all is said and done and the ball begins to drop on New Year’s Eve, 44,000 people, give or take several hundred, will have died in auto accidents in the United States this year.

In Canada, about 2,500 die in road fatalities.

For perspective, consider that:

* At the 2006 casualty rate of 800 soldiers a year, the United States would have to be in Iraq for more than 50 years to equal just one year of automobile deaths back home.
* In any five-year period, the total number of traffic deaths in the United States equals or exceeds the number of people who died in the horrific South Asian tsunami in December 2004. U.S. traffic deaths
amount to the equivalent of two tsunamis every 10 years.
* The National Safety Council says your chance of dying in an auto crash is one in 84 over your lifetime.

And every day I see someone driving as though they are not only indestructible but also exempt from every form of regulation.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 3, 2007 at 11:01 am

Posted in Road safety