Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 2007

Give them the finger

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The Times

A comment on a much earlier post on the annual death toll on North American roads prompted me to go back to this story which I saw yesterday. Then I thought that very few readers here will see it if it is buried that far back.

It is the latest road safety campaign and there is not a mangled body in sight. Australian safety campaigners have decided to hit boy racers where they are vulnerable.

The television campaign, designed to encourage drivers to respect speed limits, features young women wiggling their little fingers at passing speeders.


Written by Stephen Rees

June 28, 2007 at 7:21 am

Posted in Road safety

Researchers warn of ‘transport poverty’

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ABC News

By Jane Cowan

Posted Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:04am AEST

Petrol prices weigh on the mind of any motorist, but there are predictions that if the cost of fuel continues to rise, the poorest Australians will be forced to quit work because travelling to and from their jobs will be unaffordable.

Researchers are calling it transport poverty, and it is a concept that will be presented to a conference in Melbourne today.

Of course our ultra-conservative politicians already have an answer to this. They have made sure that there is no social safety net any longer. Leave work voluntarily – no pogey! Presumably in Australia the choice of not working is still realistic. Not here.

This concept is known as as “social exclusion” in Britain. If you live beyond the reach of public transport you can’t go shopping, or get to the post office, or even cash your social security cheque.

Can it happen here? Well, there are a lot of people who have chosen to live where housing costs are lower – and they tend to spend a lot of time commuting.

In the US the situation is reversed. “White flight” to the suburbs left poorer people behind who now need to commute to the exurbs – especially is they work in services or retail. Transit in the US really is regarded as a social service. And shortly after I posted this an article appeared in The Intelligencer of Wheeling Virginia

Lack of access to public or private transportation has caused a number of residents to lose or be denied employment locally, according to information gathered by WorkForce West Virginia.

In this region, people are moving ever further out – and to places beyond the reach of transit. The Sunshine Coast and Squamish for example.

It is a problem sustainability consultant and transport planner Peter Newman, from Murdoch University in Perth, says is worst in Melbourne, where only 3 per cent of jobs are reachable by public transport if you live outside the inner city.

Well its not that bad here yet. But then the dispersion of jobs is still happening – for example the HBC distribution centre which went to No 8 Road well beyond the reach of current transit service: most of its employees are on minimum wage. Can you run a car on $8 an hour?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2007 at 5:34 pm

SPEC to TransLink and Premier: Get it together

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Lower fares, better transit keys to fighting climate change

June 27, 2007

Vancouver- Today SPEC spoke out against a proposed transit fare hike at the TransLink meeting in downtown Vancouver and put forward a creative suggestion to raise funding for improved transit service. The GVTA is proposing an increase of up to 25%, creating a barrier to increased transit ridership.

“TransLink’s planned fare increase is incompatible with the province’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 33 per cent by 2020” said Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) Director Eric Doherty. “Studies tell us that for every one percent fare hike, there is a 0.6 to 0.9 per cent decrease in ridership. This means that the proposed 7.8 percent increase would result in a 4.7 to 7 per cent loss in ridership, with many riders getting back into their cars.”

Translink directors have been told that the proposed increases, which range from 4.2 to 25 percent, will result an average increase of 7.8%. The largest increases are cash fares for youth and seniors, which would increase between 16 and 25 per cent.

“Affordable transit fares are one of the most cost effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions because car owners are some of the most cost sensitive transit riders” said said SPEC Transportation Campaigner David Fields. “Global warming is now at a crisis point, we need to lower transit fares and improve bus service to help more people out of their cars and onto public transit.”

SPEC is asking the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, TransLink’s governing body, to put any planned fare increase on hold and to request an emergency meeting with Premier Gordon Campbell to appeal for funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

“Premier Campbell has stated that global warming is threatening life as we know it. And claimed that his government will take concerted action to reverse the growth in greenhouse gases this year” said Fields. “Translink Directors should request emergency funding to keep fares down and to get more buses on the road. Better and more affordable transit is one of the best ways to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

TransLink has said that in order to meet the Premier’s climate change target we must more than double transit ridership in the region.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2007 at 4:57 pm

Homelessness ‘chronic’ in Canada: study

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | 2:46 PM ET

In a report released Tuesday from the Calgary-based Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, journalist and author Gordon Laird argues homelessness is now chronic and is quickly becoming one of the country’s defining social issues. He makes a case for a national housing strategy and a more robust income security program.

The report criticizes Canada for trying to contain the growth of homelessness with temporary measures such as shelters and other crisis-based services. It cites studies that show the cost of emergency shelters is much greater than the cost of creating affordable housing and implementing rent supplements.

Laird says the former national affordable housing strategy, discontinued in 1993, created 650,000 units providing housing for more than two million Canadians.

I think that pretty much sums up the article, and is something I have been saying here for some time. Conservatives have attacked social programs at all levels of government. Basically what they have been saying is that giving tax payers money to poor people is bad for the economy and that giving it to rich people makes better sense. What this research shows is that statement is about as stupid as it sounds. What I do not understand is why it takes 15 years for the message to get through. Or probably longer since the only interest that Harper and Campbell have in this issue is the extent to which it might lead to some embarrassment when the world comes to call in 2010. As though the sight of beggars on the streets of downtown Vancouver does not already shock visitors from around the world.

And then I find this

A UN report released Wednesday predicts the biggest growth in Africa and Asia, where urban populations are expected to double between 2000 and 2030. By then, nearly five billion people worldwide will live in cities, according to the State of the World Population 2007 report.

In an addendum to the report, Vancouver is highlighted as an example of the dangers of urban population growth without proper planning. Booming real estate prices are contrasted with the city’s dilapidated Downtown Eastside, where HIV rates match Botswana’s at 30 per cent.

“This is the kind of price that a city — any city — will pay if it fails to support, plan for or house an expanding population of the urban poor,” the addendum said.

And while the downtown eastside is the most visible example, poverty and homelessness are not confined to that one area but exist across the region. It is just that Vancouver seems to attract the most attention. Most municipalities in the region are quite happy if their problem people relocate to Vancouver – and their inactivity seems to be designed to encourage that movement.

And I should acknowledge Gordon Scott whose posts to the lrc-general list brought these articles to my attention

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2007 at 11:49 am

Posted in housing

More Fare Ads from Translink

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More Fare Ads from Translink, originally uploaded by paradigm4.

Full page ads now in Metro and 24 hours

I found the image on the flickr page of a contact
but I am not sure he can reserve all rights on an ad posted in a paper

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2007 at 7:08 am

Posted in transit, Transportation

Canadian Transit Ridership Breaks All-Time Record Again In 2006

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Canadian transit ridership for 2006 set a fourth consecutive all-time record, again breaking the previous year’s high. Preliminary results indicate that a total of 1.7 billion transit trips were taken across Canada last year, representing a 3.2 percent increase over 2005, and a 15.8 percent increase over the five-year period since 2001. This marks another significant milestone, representing a trend towards continually increasing transit use.

Which means that I am wrong and more people are switching to transit.

Or does it?

For one thing notice that the data is only about ridership, not about market share. So the increase could be because there are more trips being made – a combination of more people living in urban areas, and growth in employment, which means not only more journeys to work but more journeys overall.

Association president Michael Roschlau says the upward trend is expected to continue partly due to Canadians’ concern about the environment.

Which again is neat: he doesn’t have to say why he thinks the trend has grown, and by putting the verb in the passive tense he is not claiming this opinion as his own. And no doubt we could find a recent poll somewhere that says more Canadians are concerned about the environment. But switching to transit from driving is usually driven by something much more tangible, like getting a tax break on your transit pass. Or seeing parking charges rise again, or your favourite convenient empty lot being developed for condos, so now you have to pay more and walk further.

I suspect the long term trend is because Canada is finally investing in more rapid transit. Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal all extended their systems. As did Vancouver, though here the UPass is probably the biggest influence. And there, the switch came mainly from students switching away from car sharing.

CP illustrated its story with some Toronto street cars. Tiny little pic and copyright too. So here’s one of mine

TTC 4127 on Queen Street at Yonge January 11, 2006

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2007 at 6:47 am

Posted in Transportation

Transit sucks

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I have always preferred public transport over private – for my own use and the community’s benefit. I always commuted by public transport in London, Toronto and Victoria – so count me as a transit fan for 50 years. As a visitor I have used many transit systems in many countries – but that is not the same as daily commuting.

Coming to Vancouver was a bit of a shock. For the first time I actually worked for the transit system and got a free pass. People from other cities in North America comment favourably on Vancouver’s system – but then if you are used to transit in say, Oklahoma City, that is, perhaps, not surprising. What took my breath away was the boosterism of the Transit staff. They even managed to award themselves “APTA Transit System of the Year” and put stickers on all the buses and SkyTrain cars – I still see them sometimes. I say “award theselves” becuase it is based on self nomination and that year there really wasn’t much competition. Anyway number one in a field that has few really densely populated cities with excellent systems is not really much of an achievement.

I wondered if my views were especially jaundiced, but it did seem to me that the Vancouver system was willfully blind to the quality of service that was actually being delivered. And of course, BC Transit then and now Translink has only very crude methods of measuring performance, and when I arrived, not even reliable ridership statistics.

Following the links to referring sites that people get to this blog from lead me to Jak’s View from Vancouver. And he has this to say about the new trolleybuses.

I do have to object to the awful new cattle-truck type buses that have been introduced on some routes. Riding a bus should be a pleasure, an oasis from the rest of the city. One should be warm and comfortably seated. That’s not an option on these trucks, where the few seats seem designed for discomfort and are separated by wide open standing spaces. These buses are more cavernous than a SkyTrain compartment.

Interior of new Vancouver trolleybus

Photo by Bucky C Arnold

I don’t know. Since I had to turn in my pass, I have had less and less reason to use transit. So I have not had a ride on a new trolleybus, not even out of curiosity. But I am prepared to take his word for it. I had a spell of working downtown, and used the “express buses” (491, 492, 488) – and found that though they had as many seats as possible, I could not sit in most of the seats comfortably – and I am only 5′ 9″. Not that getting a seat was usually the issue – finding space to stand comfortably was the usual mode. Trolleybuses were usually 1 + 2 anyway – suburban buses are 2 + 2 (seats each side of the centre aisle). And as I had to get around downtown a lot, I walked. It was quicker then the bus – even if there was one waiting at the stop for me.

Trolley Bus

Interior of old E902 trolleybus for comparison

photo by Markus on flickr  used with permission

I found that the corporate culture of Translink meant that criticism was not welcomed. We lacked the capacity for self examination. I do not know how a system can improve if everyone who works for it has to be brainwashed into thinking that they work for the best possible system. And that nothing should be changed except under the direst of external pressure – or the whim of one or two senior executives, who seemed to be remarkably ill informed. And when things went wrong, there was no responsibility taken. For example, the spectacular disaster of one schedule change which lead to open revolt in White Rock of all places. Or the inevitable overcrowding that followed the ill judged introduction of UPass. Or, very close to home, the effect of allowing Vancouver passengers onto Richmond buses (98 B Line) which was forecast, but ignored, and had to be put right at the next sheet change with those express services.

Many people have said to me that I need to be more positive about transit, but frankly I cannot be dishonest and tell people that they will enjoy the ride. I admire Jak who is willing to spend over two hours a day commuting from Vancouver to Richmond – something which would take about an hour by car, even when the Marpole end of Granville Street is plugged as it always is between 3 and 6 in the afternoon. Since he comes from Commercial he must be making one or two transfers, which means much of his commute time is actually spent at the bus stops, wondering when his connection will arrive, and if he can get on it when it does.

I actually do not like driving. It is expensive and highly stressful. Parking is horrendous. I have had a series of collisions since I came to Vancouver (with a blemish free driving record) only one of which was remotely my fault. Driving is not good for me. I need to walk or bike more, and a ride on a bus or a train that gave me the opportunity to catch up on my reading would actually be welcome. I used to arrive at my office in Central London having read the Guardian and had two brisk 15 minute walks. On the way home I usually had a book to read. Have you tried reading on a Translink bus? Back then I owned a car but I did not drive it except at weekends and one or two evenings. We certainly never thought of being a two car family. After several years of trying as many routes as possible, one of my colleagues persuaded me to car pool with him. Another one convinced me to ride my bike to work sometimes. Going back to the bus just got harder and harder even if it was free.

And Jak gets added to the blogroll.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 26, 2007 at 10:25 am

Posted in transit

The Economist Tories Loved, Then Silenced

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The Tyee June 25, 2007

Marc Jaccard has been studying what to do about greenhouse gas emissions for some time. His studies conclude that Canadian governments’ attempts to tackle them have been half hearted and ineffective. Not only is it now too late to meet our Kyoto commitments (which were probably too small to have any real effect on global warming anyway) but the Conservatives’ current plans will not even meet their own , more modest targets.

But the Conservatives do not want any news that looks like it is critical of Stephen Harper, so the parliamentary committee that Jaccard was going to address has been put into limbo.

Jaccard is a good economist and not partisan on this issue. Both Liberals and Conservatives are not doing enough, and do not seem likely to.

“The only effective policies are also the most difficult for finding political acceptance,” they write. “This explains why politicians have been reluctant to implement them, and it explains the policy failures of the last decade and a half.”

The only things that would work would be a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. Both are explained in the article – and they would not wreck the economy.

The Vancouver Sun picked up on this with an opinion piece by Dan Gardner in Thursday’s paper.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 25, 2007 at 6:56 pm

One-fare transit test launched

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Toronto Star June 25, 2007

Transportation officials are promising that the new green Presto fare smart card being rolled out in a test next month will revolutionize public transit in the Toronto region. Presto will be launched on Mississauga Transit, GO and the TTC, starting in mid-July, allowing riders to move across the three systems with only one fare card.

It is a stored value smart card, which deducts each trip from the card’s chip as the journeys are made. Cards like this have been around for a while and have been very successful in cities like Hong Kong (octopus) and London (oyster card) which have multiple operators.

Mississauga Transit will begin tomorrow recruiting about 500 regular riders on the Cooksville and Meadowvale shuttle buses, who transfer to GO and the TTC, to test the card and help work out any bugs.

By 2010 the card should be available from Hamilton to Durham Region. The TTC is the only area transit authority that still hasn’t officially signed on to the project.

Yeah, that sounds familiar. I once worked for two years to get Twin Pass going: the TTC people thought that their contribution should only be to bang the table and yell “A dollar ride for a dollar fare” (as though that meant anything) whenever it looked like things weren’t going their way.

UPDATE June 29

A few more details in the Hamilton Mountain News 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 25, 2007 at 6:21 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Bogota’s urban happiness movement

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“designing a city can be a very powerful means to generate happiness.”

This article starts with Car Free Day and then goes on from there. Inspiring stuff.

There is also this observation, which economists must take note of:

Proponents of hedonics, or happiness economics, have been gaining influence. London School of Economics professor Richard Layard, who wrote the seminal Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, was an adviser to Tony Blair’s first Labour government. Prof. Layard asserts that, contrary to the guiding principle of a century of economists, income is a poor measure of happiness. Economic growth in England and the U.S. in the past half-century hasn’t measurably increased life satisfaction.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 25, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Economics