Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 2007

The TTC’s Past, Transit’s Future

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This is a really worthwhile article which looks at the history of the TTC to show how it arrived at the mess it is now in.

The TTC used to pay its own way – indeed the accumulated profits from the second world war paid for the first subway line. The financial rot started when Toronto was expanded to absorb the suburbs. Designed for cars, the transit routes there have always been money losers.

The contract to European and older North American cities is stark. The suburbs started to emerge with the electrification of the streetcars and the railways. This allowed the middle classes to travel much further in the same time. In London, the construction of the major London railway termini in the late nineteenth century, resulted in the destruction of the “rookeries” – huge multistorey slums where thousands of people lived close to their work in the City. The Great Eastern (the same company who later built what became BCRail), as part of the deal to pull down “The Jago”, an area to the east of Liverpool Street, was required to offer “workmen’s fares” on early morning trains to allow the displaced workers to move out to places like Hackney and Walthamstow.

The first underground railways in London lost money – especially the massively expensive deep level “tubes”. They were simply not long enough. The fare revenue was inadequate for the short trips being made to pay off their massive debts incurred by construction. What saved them was either building, or taking over, surface lines into what was then farm land which had provided fodder for the huge number of horses that had provided the motive power before the mechanisation of transport. In the general decline of agriculture in the interwar period, this land was incredibly cheap. Huge numbers of houses were thrown up quickly by companies set up to buy land and resell it as building lots to small builders. These companies were often owned by the same people who had invested in the railways. Not only were the transactions that converted agricultural land highly profitable, but they also provided a captive market of commuters, whose season tickets transformed the revenue profile of the Underground group of companies. It was an American entrepreneur who had pulled off the same trick in Chicago (and had been run out of town on a rail) that first saw the opportunity – Charles Tyson Yerkes.

The interwar houses did not, at first, have garages. And even when the commuters first started acquiring cars, they stayed parked for much of the week, and were mainly used for jaunts at weekends and holidays – because petrol has always been very expensive.

What has changed is that workplaces are no longer concentrated in the centre of cities. The pattern has become much more diffuse, which makes economic operation of mass transit much more difficult. And the density and layout of postwar development has been inimical to walking to the bus stop – let alone a train station. Suburbs are designed to keep out the through traffic (in cars) but the walkers and cyclists need straighter, shorter routes. Look at any field pattern and you will see that no matter how they are laid out, the people make their own paths – and they are nearly always (other things being equal) direct, straight lines.

Transit, under these circumstances, is not going to pay its way. And its quality of service will always be poorer than the single occupant car. So we have to find ways to make it work better, and make cars less attractive. That is called traffic management and it has been around for many years but is treated with deep suspicion here by engineers and city fathers alike. It means reallocating the most precious resource we have – street space – to people not cars. When you put people movement – passengers per hour per direction – into the formula instead of vehicles, streets begin to work much better and also start to look a lot more civilised. But is also means you can increase transit capacity incrementally, and economically, rather than blowing your entire wad on an underground railway line which then underperforms for years. Just like the Bloor and Sheppard subways in Toronto, and the Bakerloo and Central Lines in London and, yes, I am going to write a prediction, the Canada Line in Vancouver.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 31, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Follow up on free fares

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The Tyee

The Tyee publishes its summary of the responses to the Dave Olsen series. It pretty much repeats what I wrote here two weeks ago.  In general it has not worked well in larger cities that have tried it, and it is not appropriate for Vancouver which is both over loaded and strapped for cash, and unable to get its hands on other revenue sources.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 31, 2007 at 10:00 am

Posted in Economics, transit

Russia eyes Canada route

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Vancouver Sun Business section July 30, 2007

A large delegation of officials from Russia’s Far Eastern Irkutsk province has just been scouting Ontario’s northern cities of Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury as destinations for air cargo routes into North America.

The item starts off with a rare shot at the Gateway strategy: normally one expects the Sun to be with the cheerleaders.

This is a short piece, but in discussions with neighbours, I have heard a lot about both the widening of the Panama Canal and the opening of the North West passage. I stress that these are neighbours and not activists or people with an axe to grind. Just ordinary people who keep themselves informed and wonder why we are hell bent on building up port and airport facilities to try to attract more of the US bound pacific trade when better routes are opening up all around us. The much touted time savings that the Gateway project touts for this region are illusory. Price Rupert is a more strategically located port, and one that would be much cheaper to expand. The widened Panama Canal will allow much larger ships to access east coast ports that are much closer to the main centres of the US market. And as the North West passage is now ice free year round, expect traffic to the east coast to look at that route too, as it saves huge distances – for example between Japan and New York.

Direct flights from Vancouver to Europe already fly over Greenland. That’s because the airlines can operate two engine planes as they are not out of sight of land for very long – and that saves them fuel. As more fuel efficient and longer range planes take to the skies expect to see more non-stop routes, which are understandably more popular with passengers, then “bus stop” routes through several hubs.

I understand boosterism and the power of positive thinking. But markets work with economic realities and these are changing, as the climate changes and others seek to provide a better way too. I have much less faith in the ability of our political leaders to do strategic planning as I have worked in that business for too long to expect them to exercise either long term thinking or critical faculties

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2007 at 9:22 am

Two videos on Cambie Street

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I stole the idea for this post from the Livable Blog. You can click the links there or here.

The first video comes from a 24hrs podcast

and the second is from an independent videographer

Written by Stephen Rees

July 29, 2007 at 9:44 pm

Doing things differently

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I reproduce below untouched the press release from the GTTA. It seems that Ontario is going to change direction, following the lead set by the GVTA eight years ago. Sadly, in BC, that put the GVTA at odds with the Minster of Highways and Boosting Suburban Property Development. So he decided to reconfigure the GVTA in a way that would ensure that the regional authority does not find a spine and stand up to him again.

I would like to emphasize the commitment to public input (something the BC Liberals find distasteful and to be ignored when forced upon them) and to improving the environment.

UPDATE Sunday July 29

I was mislead by the name. I have been informed that it is, in fact, not a transportation authority (i.e. all modes) but merely a transit authority, and the province of Ontario is still hell bent on expanding its freeways.



Greater Toronto Transportation Authority on the Move

TORONTO, July 27 /CNW/ – The Board of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA) today gave the green light to focus its regional transportation plan on people, the environment and the economy.

“We will build our plan on three objectives for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) – improving people’s quality of life, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and ensuring the region’s global economic competitiveness,” said GTTA Chair Rob MacIsaac.

Broad public participation

The board also agreed that extensive public participation will help build a stronger plan. “Everyone living in the GTHA has an interest in travelling quicker and smarter – and they all have views from which this plan can benefit,” said MacIsaac.

Starting this fall, the GTTA will develop a regional transportation plan with support from technical groups from its network of government and transit partners. There will also be opportunities for input from the private-sector and the non-profit sector.

The board will also commission an advisory committee of community leaders from across the GTHA to provide ideas on how better transportation choices and investments can contribute to a healthier, more prosperous region.

Criteria for quick action

There was agreement by the GTTA board on criteria that will allow the GTTA and its municipal and transit partners to move ahead quickly with transit and transportation initiatives, as called for by Premier McGuinty’s MoveOntario 2020 vision, announced in June.

“We would like to achieve some early wins as we know how urgent it is to address the transportation problems in the GTHA,” said MacIsaac.

The board determined that projects will have priority if they make a tangible difference in the regional travel experience of the average commuter, can move ahead quickly, and if they do not prejudice future plans or projects. The board will review results of that analysis in August.

At the open meeting held at Toronto’s Metro Hall, presentations were made by the GTTA’s municipal and transit partners – from Durham, Toronto, York, Peel, Halton and Hamilton – as well as by GO Transit. The presentations focused on links to good land-use policy and how their plans relate to, and could advance, MoveOntario 2020.

“I was impressed by the calibre of their plans and proposals,” said MacIsaac. “Our municipal and local transit partners are clearly seeing transportation issues regionally, rather than just locally. That’s important, timely leadership.”

GTTA on the move

In an agenda packed with items, the board also received the GTTA’s $8.82m 2006/07 operating budget and authorized recruiting staff and consulting resources required to fulfill its transportation improvement mandate.

“We’re making great strides,” said MacIsaac. “Start-up organizations are always a challenge but with these decisions behind us, and with the GTTA’s recently announced responsibility for implementing the $17.5 B MoveOntario 2020 vision, the GTTA is clearly on the move.”


For more details go to


The Greater Toronto Transportation Act 2006 requires that the GTTA create a regional transportation plan. The creation of the plan will provide a strategic, long-term vision and guidance for investment decisions. Input from municipalities, operators, stakeholders and the public will shape the plan, to ensure it brings together the needs of the broader region.


The GTTA legislation charges the GTTA with the responsibility to create its regional transportation plan with input from the people who know transportation best – experts in the field and users. A board sub-committee has the responsibility for identifying and appointing a 12-member advisory committee. The four-person sub-committee, led by Chair Rob MacIsaac, will report back to the full board in August.


Representatives from the cities of Toronto and Hamilton, and the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham and GO Transit presented their transportation plans, highlighting their vision for improving transit and connecting their plans to MoveOntario 2020.


To complement the work being conducted on its regional transportation plan, the GTTA will move ahead – with its governmental and community partners – to enlist public and stakeholder input and support. In addition to staffing and operational costs, the budget covers development of a regional transportation plan, including project prioritization framework, transportation modelling, alternative financing and procurement models for operating and capital. Stakeholder and public engagement are key deliverables.

The GTTA will also be introducing a trip planner for the GTHA. All of these efforts have common goals: increase mobility by providing transportation choices, improve air quality and stimulate the GTHA economy.

The board received an $8.82 M budget to support these and other activities.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 29, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Transportation

Speeding ticket cameras touted for bridges

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Richmond Review July 28

Not on the web page. “A group of the region’s traffic police managers are recommending the BC Association of Chiefs of Police ask the provincial government to pass legislation to ‘facilitate the use of technology in traffic enforcement'” – they want cameras for “high volume bridges”. So that won’t actually benefit the Westham Island Bridge where the speed limit is 30kph and the wooden structure shows along its length the extent to which this speed limit is observed.

They favour the same technology that is used for red light cameras. Which is actually the wrong technology, as I have pointed out here before. What is needed is something that will slow traffic down along the length of the bridge not simply at the point where the camera is located. A red light violation is a point specific offense. Speeding occurs over a distance, so average speed cameras are much more effective.

And anyway John Les is still Solicitor General “who disputes their value and says the province won’t introduce photo radar”. Which demonstrates that he is not only ignorant, but willfully obstinate in the face of the evidence of human tragedy that speeding on bridges such as the Patullo cause on an almost daily basis.

2006 worst crash sites in GVRD

#3. Knight Street Bridge 257 crashes

#5. Lions Gate Bridge 217

#6. Alex Fraser Bridge 203

#10. Patullo Bridge 177

source: ICBC

Written by Stephen Rees

July 29, 2007 at 9:51 am

Posted in Road safety

Transit ridership in Greater Vancouver hit a fresh all-time record in June.

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By Jeff Nagel
Black Press

More than 26.5 million people boarded a bus, community shuttle, SkyTrain, SeaBus or West Coast Express that month, according to TransLink estimates.

That broke the old one-month record of 26.1 million set last November

But, as usual, there is no reference to the important statistic, market share. These numbers of riders mean nothing without the context. For one thing there are more people here now, and density has been increasing in some areas including those that have seen increased transit service frequencies. So of course the numbers have gone up. It would be very surprising if they didn’t. But have they gone up in pace with employment growth? Have the number of car trips increased by the same amount or faster? Is transit keeping pace with the size of its market and its increasing demands? Are people making more trips than they used to? There is no way to tell from this article. So all the talk about rising gas prices is just speculation. And anyway, haven’t you noticed that pump prices have already fallen back?

The average local price is 12.5 cents lower than the same time period in 2006 — and 21 cents lower than its record peak of $1.27 in May 2007 — according to Natural Resources Canada.


Written by Stephen Rees

July 28, 2007 at 8:25 pm

CCTV coming to a bus in your neighbourhood

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Straight Talk By Carlito Pablo

TransLink has approved a budget of almost $4 million to install “security cameras and video recording equipment” on the region’s bus fleet.

Andrew Pask , coordinator of the Vancouver Public Space Network , to1l0d the Straight that he’s concerned about the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on buses. “People should be able to use public spaces without having to be recorded, without having their movement tracked, their conversations taped, their actions videoed,” he said. “People should have that right. When you start infringing on it, you start inching ever closer to a police state.”

People should also have the right to be able to travel in safety at any time of day in any part of the city by public transport without the fear of being assaulted, or the victim of “steaming”, or witnessing an attack on a driver. Far too many dangerous incidents still occur despite the use of radio to summon assistance, and the presence of additional staff on key routes in bad areas late at night. Bus drivers should not be in fear of their personal safety while at work.

No one is going to be tracked or have their conversations recorded. There is going to be an immense amount of truly dull uneventful video, but hopefully when it is needed for evidence later it will be availble and of reasonable quality. Currently CCTV is in use on SkyTrain. The tape is rewound every hour, automatically, because of the limitations of old fashioned storage methods, so often key evidence is inadvertently wiped.

I think Mr Pask is being paranoid. But I also think that enough incidents have happened that it is overdue that the system take note and respond. Taxi drivers were being assaulted at work until the taxi companies installed cameras. The assaults stopped. Just as bait cars have cut auto theft.

If you don’t want to be recorded, then you don’t have to use the system. The people who do use the system, and who work on it, will be safer once the cameras are installed. You have no expectation of privacy on public transport, and the only people who benefit from not being recorded are those with something to hide. On the bus or the SkyTrain you are in a public place and being observed by other passengers. And many of them these days are carrying cell phones, cameras and other equipment capable of surveillance use. You may already be being followed and recorded and you have no idea who is doing it. And I am not talking about spy satellites either.

The way to prevent a police state is to have adequate oversight of the police by our elected representatives, and an investigation system whereby the police are subject to investigation by an independent, non-police authority.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 28, 2007 at 8:12 pm

Posted in criminality, transit

Who is using all that gas?

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This graph comes from The Economist. It goes a long way to explain why the world is currently as it is. And I cannot see it changing very much any time soon. And given the size of our population , we have nothing much to crow about either.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 28, 2007 at 10:57 am

Posted in energy, Transportation

“ooh, yuck!”

with 6 comments

I went to Garry Point in Steveston this afternoon. I had just received some new screw on lens attachments I wanted to try out. There were some people swimming but they objected when I pointed my camera at them. So I did not take the shot but walked over to talk to them.

Had they seen the signs? I asked

Sign 1

“No” they said. So I explained that they were two miles downstream of the Lulu Island Sewage works which pumps out human waste which is only “screened” not treated. I said I was surprised to see anyone swimming there, as I certainly wouldn’t, given the very high fecal coliform counts in the area. That was why I was going to take a picture. I had hoped that my new wide angle lens would be able to capture both them and the sign. Sadly it wouldn’t – the angle was wrong. But I had not taken a picture of them and I was sorry if I had spoiled their day.

Then I looked behind them, where we were standing talking. They hadn’t seen this sign either.

sign 2

As I walked back to the concession stand a mother and her children came into step with me. She had heard what I had said. She thought the signs warned about the current. So I explained why it concerns me to see people swimming around in diluted but untreated human waste. She thought that if it had said “human waste” on the sign people might have taken more notice.

Her little boy asked me if I meant that they had been swimming in pooh, and I said “Yes”

His reply is the headline

Written by Stephen Rees

July 25, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Environment, sewage