Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 2007

Debit-card skimming

leave a comment »

Vancouver Sun

One has to wonder why this rates front page news . After all it has been going on for years, and both debit and credit card double swiping has been an issue. Chip and pin cards are common in Europe – as the story points out. So why the long delay in getting them here? Because the banks are making huge amounts of money, and “absorb” the costs of these frauds – which actually means we all collectively are paying for them. Only one credit card company that I know of offers to put a photo on a credit card – which would be a good start if the technological issues are delaying chip and pin – but that would simply be a matter of agreement between a few large players, who already have such agreements in other parts of the world.

And do not the bank have cameras on the ATMs?  Is this footage being passed to the police – or is it the usual story that they just engage in “not our jurisdiction” games?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2007 at 10:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Giving electronic tax-filers a break would save money, environment: Layton

with one comment – National News Article

Layton suggests $10 for this year. However, just buying the software – even for preparation on web page – costs more than double that. If you are a business, you can deduct the cost of preparing a return. Not for personal tax payers. And anyway, why is the tax system so ridiculously complicated that we need software – or companies like H & R Block?

For individuals and families the system of assessing and collecting tax needs to be drastically simplified, and explained in plain language. There should be no need for ordinary people to give up a chunk of their tax rebate to commercial operations which would not exist if only the revenue collectors did their job properly.

Because that is why Jack’s idea is not going to be adopted. The government that gives away free tax form preparation software puts several commercial software companies out of a very lucrative business, which was only created as a business opportunity in the first place by the government.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2007 at 10:00 am

Posted in politics

Triumphant Gore brings message back to Washington

leave a comment »

| The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited

I saw his performance on the CBC news last night. And enjoyed the sight of the new Democrat Chairperson of the Committee reminding Republican Senator James Inhofe (the committee’s recent past chairman) who is in charge now.

Gore would have been, there is no doubt, a much better President than Bush. Heck, Bugs Bunny would have been a better president! And, of course, the feeling remains that Gore did not actually lose so much as had the election stolen from him. And the Republicans just love that law and order ticket, even though when in power they show no respect for the law themselves. The present bunch seem to be as cavalier as Tricky Dicky’s crew. And also Gore was ill advised. Much better to run as who you are rather than who you think the people want you to be. Though why on earth Americans want a fake Texan good ol’ boy as their Chief Executive is beyond me.

Now we can only hope that the Democrats understand that Gore is going to be much better than either Obama or Mrs Clinton: not that the election result is now in any doubt. It is a question of who will be the best Democrat president of the three. Obama lacks the experience. Clinton has way too much baggage. And I am sorry but now is not the time for gesture politics. Yes it would be nice to have a woman or a “person of colour” in this job, but right now the world needs Gore.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2007 at 8:55 am

Posted in Environment, politics

Last stop for B-Line bills

with 3 comments

Last stop for B-Line bills

Mar 17 2007

Richmond Review EDITORIAL

News flash: The digital bus arrival signs at B-Line stops don’t work.

Well, this is hardly news to the many thousands of commuters who take the rapid bus service into Vancouver and back every day.

The signs were part of a system that would let passengers know how soon the next bus would be arriving. A nice service no doubt, but perhaps good old printed transit schedules will do the trick. After all, more than $30 million has been spent on the system.

This is the latest in a long list of waste in the B-Line system.

Disabled information display

Oddly enough the news story that this opinion piece is linked to does not appear on the Review’s web site – but then that is an awkward beast at best. And the whole point about the Siemens GPS system was that it was supposed to provide information to a route controller about how the service was operating. Real time information to bus passengers was a (welcome) bonus. And no, schedule information is not the same thing at all.

ScheduleProviding passengers with real time information has value, even if the service frequency or regularity does not improve.

UPDATE (May 2) Todd Littman has recently produced a new report on this issue (among others) go to the section marked “Valuing Transit Passenger Information Improvements” in Valuing Transit Service Quality Improvements

Knowing how long you will have to wait allows you to make a decision: is it worth waiting for this next bus or have I time to go get a coffee, for example. The first system of my experience was installed on the Northern Line of London Underground, which is wonderfully complex with two distinct routes and two northern branches producing a byzantine service pattern, easily disrupted by everyday events like someone putting a foot in the way of a closing door. When trains are supposed to run at combined 2 minute frequencies with little room for variation, small disruptions quickly escalate. Passengers on Northern Line platforms cannot actually do anything else but wait for the train – except in some cases change a route in favour of more transfers – but just knowing how long they had to wait improved their perception of the service, which had not changed at all.

As one of BC Transit’s planners pointed out me at the time, knowing where the buses are at any particular moment is not the same as being able to do anything about it. And it is intervention that is key to service improvement. It is quite a common experience in London to be asked to get off the bus and get one behind to allow the one you are on to be “short turned”. Disruption in Central London due to a demo against Trident really screwed up the bus service between Trafalgar Square and Abbey Road last month. But good information meant minor inconvenience – we lost the best seats at the top of the front deck – but the people waiting to get somewhere south of Baker Street undoubtedly benefitted from not having all the buses bunched at the southern end of the route.

Bunching occurs even when there is no interference from other traffic. On exclusive tram rights of way in Amsterdam for example. The drivers like to play cards at the terminals: driving a tram can get lonely at times. Dealing with bunching requires good information and a co-operative work force as well as some pre-arranged tactics to deal with common problems. What my colleague was referring to was BC Transit’s inability to manage its bus routes. And I don’t see it getting any better. Technology can help – but it cannot do much in the face of poor management. Information is only as valuable as your ability to do something about it.

When the Richmond Rapid Bus (as it was then known) was being planned, Glen Clark was prepared to spend quite a bit on it “because they are never going to get light rail in Richmond”. The later decision to build the RAV line ignored sunk costs. In fact it pretty well ignored any proper assessment of cost since the decision was made to build a (bored tube) tunnel along Cambie long before any studies were done. And, essentially, this kind of decision is political. Richmond was not supposed to grow like it has – building on a flood plain in a seismically unstable area is (at the very least) short sighted. But it has grown and somehow the airport and the Olympics seemed to be more important than integrated land use and transportation planning (such a dull, dry concern).

By the way the $30 million quoted is not just for the GPS system as you might infer from the Review’s sloppy journalism. Most of that was for the new fleet of artic buses – which will still be desperately needed elsewhere once the “Canada Line” opens. Some was wasted on bus shelters and the road works – but don’t blame Translink or BC Transit for that. Blame the Province of BC which as usual (fast ferries, the Island Highway, The Coquihalla etc) disregards professional transportation planning at our cost.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 19, 2007 at 10:23 am

TransLink’s new direction

with 6 comments

TransLinks new direction

Unsurprisingly Kevin Falcon does not like the GVTA. After all it had been showing dangerous signs of independent thought. It questioned the Canada Line – and was less than enthusiastic about the “Gateway” – which proposes to widen the region’s major east west freeway and blow the regional strategy (which the GVTA is obliged by its legislation to support) to kingdom come.

The proposals that are discussed in the article are contained in a report from the “independent three member panel” dated January 26 and released along with a bunch of other stuff late on Friday, when the provincial government hopes that it can avoid too much attention. This is a fairly common and not very clever trick.

The panel (Marlene Grinnell (Chair), Dan Doyle and Wayne Duzita) were hardly likely to depart much from the party line that the GVTA needed to be reformed. Sadly, the so called reforms are not only a mess but will make the region much worse – if they are implemented. But I also suspect that Falcon is worried. Why so long between getting the report and releasing it? Why such a low key approach? Perhaps they expect the whole thing to go down in flames and be forgotten about – which is what it deserves.

The proposal to give the new authority the ability to both review municipal land use decisions and, at the same time, promote developments around stations shows that no-one here actually understands how things should work. Is the new body supposed to be part of the regional government – or is it a service delivery agency? A similar confusion is apparent in the two proposed boards – one of all the mayors to control strategy and another of tame provincial appointees to actually run the thing – as well as a Commissioner to make sure they both do as they are told. Expanding the size of the board guarantees more talking and less decision making. And adding communities outside of the GVRD waters down the influence of Vancouver (“we have a Charter, we’re bigger and more powerful”) and Burnaby (“we vote NDP”).

The report states

The TransLink Board should be comprised of seasoned individuals who bring
a range of appropriate management, financial and other functional expertise
(e.g., experience in accounting and finance, legal, transportation, marketing,
tourism, human resources and labour relations, community relations and First
Nations, and property development).

which sounds all right at first blush – although putting transportation third in the list is not encouraging – but the fear I have is that this is based on YVR, which runs as a business, and therefore seems immune to any other concerns than running the airport. This means it does not have to worry about mundane matters such as the environment or local opinion. The inclusion of expertise in First Nations is an interesting innovation. Is this just a bit of pc “nodding in the right direction” or an acknowledgment that in future they will be very significant players in land use decisions – as they have been a in Deltaport and the Richmond DoD lands?

I think what this all means is that the Liberals in Victoria have decided that the Livable Region as a concept is dead. They are determined that sprawl is going up the valley and the coast – because that is what the property developers want – and the hell with the consequences. As long as everyone is making money hand over fist everything must be ok. What is really sad is that the Livable Region was the pride and joy of the Chairman of the GVRD at the time – Gordon Campbell. It also means that the provincial government is determined that it – and no local politician – is going to determine what happens in the province’s largest metropolitan area. So the idea that local people and their elected representatives have an effective voice in the direction that the region takes is also cast aside.

I cannot see many local politicians liking this idea very much – even the ones that dislike the present GVTA might well prefer something they can actually effect rather than this odd amorphous thing that seems to be designed to be ineffective at policy making so the Ministry of Highways can continue in its long term strategy of covering as much of Beautiful BC in concrete as quickly as possible.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 10, 2007 at 2:09 pm

They do (some) things better here

with 3 comments

I will be coming home on Friday, but right now I am laid low with a nasty cold, so I don’t feel up to the heavy work of house clearing. But the blog calls.

Living on my own means that I buy a lot of convenience meals – and these are much better here than I can buy in Richmond BC. Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer both have an extensive range of packaged meals which can be simply reheated. They are not frozen and have a very limited shelf life but are clearly very popular and with good reason. There is also a company called Cooks which makes nothing else – though they do seem to rely heavily on freezers. And they are not cheap. My old Mum used to buy loads of frozen stuff from the Eisman delivery service and even stuff which is still within its sell by date is of fairly poor quality – but similar to the Swansons and similar meals sold in North American supermarkets. You don’t have to be a hungry man to eat these – simply desperate and with no taste buds.

I like roundabouts – which are everywhere – and generally work well, though increasingly they incorporate traffic lights as well. This seems to be to allow traffic from minor roads to have some chance of crossing the major road traffic flow. British road signs are also very clear and reliable. I would not advise anyone to rely on Canadian or US road signs, especially off the major highways. But traffic on this small island is generally abysmal and seems to get worse every time I come back. Especially in older towns and villages with narrow, winding roads. Car ownership in UK continues to rise rapidly so what was a bad parking situation when I worked here twenty years ago is now simply dreadful. Enforcement seems to be very patchy in urban Essex – and everywhere people can be seen parking with two wheels on the sidewalk no matter what the restrictions posted might be. People also park every which way and not, as we do, in the same direction as the traffic – which to my eyes now seems wrong, though I used to accept it unquestioningly once.

Public transport is better – especially London Buses – but rural transport is still a huge issue. They now seem to be considering abandoning the conventional country bus and looking at something closer to a shared taxi – an idea I have long promoted for low density exurbia in Canada.

This trip I am using a rental car (much cheaper when hired locally and not at the airport – or through an airline web portal. Those apparent “deals” turn out to be pretty poor when you shop locally.) I have done a lot of long distance driving mostly to places which have either no or very poor local train service (thank you Dr Beeching) and often hauling lots of clobber – to charity shops and the dump. While “Happy Eater” have been mostly boarded up, new US style service areas now seem ubiquitous. The site layouts are nearly identical – motel, gas station, foodcourt – and the fast food (McDs, Pizza Hut, KFC) predictable. The familiar sense of lack of place is depressingly reminiscent of the midwest road trip. The coffee shops seem acceptable but again tend to be either the usual chains, or barely competent. There does not yet seem to be the “artisanal” coffee houses here, which seem to thrive within the Starbucks catchment areas at home.

The British press is far better than the Canadian with real competition; several quality papers striving for readership everywhere. This produces offers not seen at home such as free DVDs in papers. I have been catching up on movies I missed – “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Bagdad Cafe” were both given away by the Guardian since my last trip.

But undoubtedly the best thing is that in the month I have been here absolutely nothing newsworthy (in UK media terms) has happened in Canada!

Written by Stephen Rees

March 7, 2007 at 9:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized