Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 7th, 2007

Green activism

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You will probably have seen the to and fro with the Bus Rider’s Union. Basically what it comes down to is how long do you try to work within the system, and when do you resort to direct action.

This article from the Observer focuses attention on “Plane Stupid” – a small group opposed to the expansion of a cheap flights industry that has seen very rapid growth in Britain in recent years

Their 150 or so members represent a new generation of green activists, many of whom grew up with one eye on the Reclaim the Streets anti-road movement of the Nineties, were involved in Iraq protests and believe direct action is now the only way forward. ‘Our members have become radicalised because they marched against Iraq and wrote letters and did all the things they were supposed to do, and it didn’t make any difference,’ says Garman. ‘We’re not going to let that happen with climate change. There’s the real sense that we’re the last generation – if we don’t do it, no one else will.’

In the great tradition of the British Sunday paper, this is a hefty article, from the magazine section. We simply do not get journalism like this here. The only paper on Sundays here is the Province! You should have time to read all of this.

I tend to agree that the rapid expansion of the airlines in Britain would not have happened if the UK government had followed a sensible transport policy. Blair did not reverse the disastrous privatisation of British Rail – probably because of fears of the cost of compensation to shareholders. But the contrast to France is stark. There the government promoted TGV (High Speed Trains) and the short haul airlines virtually shut down.

What is generating animosity towards the cheap airlines is their impact on climate change. This is now the number one issue. (Although, speaking only for myself, I feel that having lots of concerts all at once seems unlikely to have any effect. After all Live Aid was once a similar Big Deal but babies are still starving to death in Africa.) Will this small dedicated group change behaviour?

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2007 at 7:05 pm

Green light for HandyDART overhaul

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By Jeff Nagel
Black Press

Groups representing the disabled and other users of HandyDART are applauding TransLink’s move to overhaul the custom door-to-door transit service.

Right now the GVRD is carved up into eight zones, with eight different contractors running HandyDART service. Administration, dispatch and other functions are heavily duplicated and trips across zone boundaries can be complex to coordinate, with lengthy delays.

By 2009, a simplified three-zone system is to be in place that will operate much more like a single unified system.

A new office will offer a single point of contact for users to register, book trips and get information.

Shorter advance booking times and online booking are among the promised advantages.

“These improvements are like a dream come true,” said accessible transit advocate Laurie Hill.

The changes are mapped out in TransLink’s new Access Transit Plan, the culmination of a more than two-year process, which was approved last week.

Reform of handyDART is long overdue. The system has been overloaded for years, and many trips cannot be made. The system has not been able to cope, and the public health bureaucracy has taken advantage of its existence. People who find they cannot get a ride give up trying to book one, so the statistics for rejected rides are useless. Many people who use the service are frail and vulnerable, and many fear that if they complain, their requests for trips will be rejected. This belief may be founded in their experience of the institutions where they are – or were – housed, and have nothing to do with HandyDart at all, but it is a perception that is hard to change.

Since there were always more requests than capacity, so a system of rationing had to be devised. This was based on giving priority to regular trips – those needed by people who work, attend post secondary eduction or need to get medical treatment. It is this last category that has ballooned. Partly because the health system has been closing beds, and relying more heavily on “care in the community”. For the hospitals, getting long term patients out of acute care beds into care facilities has been a high priority, but the same people still need care – and often have to be transported from the facilities where they now live to where they can be treated. Centralization of care was often seen as a way of achieving economies of scale even when patient care actually suffered due to the arduous nature of the journeys patients had to make to get treatment. But the other reason for the growth in health related demand is that other trip purposes do not get priority – so if you want a trip to go shopping or get your hair done, hard luck. Smarter people make sure that their dentist or chiropractor is located in a mall and multi task on the priority trips they can book.

Nearly 70 per cent of the service is consumed by medical and social services trips.

And an estimated 12 per cent of all custom transit trips carry patients to local hospitals for kidney dialysis.

Margaret Birrell, executive director of the B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities, said area health authorities should contribute towards the cost of medical trips, estimated at $10 million per year.

I know where she is coming from, but this is not going to happen. The best parallel I can think of is the food bank. It was supposed to shame the Province into reversing its cuts to welfare. Didn’t work. Politicians have no shame. The food bank is still with us twenty years on, the welfare cuts are worse than ever but the food banks’ use increases and fewer people actually starve to death. The Province uses the food banks’ existence to avoid raising welfare rates. The Health Authorities have cut back on the transport provision (“Not part of our core remit”) because HandyDART picks up (some of) the slack.

And anyway, the high percentage of medical trips is the inevitable outcome of the priority rules. But that is not something that they can now get out of.

No one ever looks very hard at who is booking trips. Frankly, one view is that the service is so bad that no-one who had any other choice would want it and therefore it is self regulating. Other systems have used more rigorous eligibility criteria. Calgary looks at every trip and the options available, and will tell people to use conventional accessible transit if that can cover the trip for that individual. For one thing, this develops self reliance and confidence – but that is well, outside handyDART’s remit. (Calgary is an integrated local authority that provides both transit and social welfare services.) Basically the response up to now has been that eligibility is something that is too sensitive to take a chance on changing.

The introduction of low floor accessible trolleys will have helped quite a bit. This is removing the last major barrier to accessibility in terms of vehicles on the bus system. Of course, that is also one of the reason why the new buses have fewer seats. The low floor design means the wheel wells protrude – loss two seats each. Then the designated area for wheel chairs has tip up seats – and loses two or three seats when occupied. (The other big loss is at the back where perimeter seating is used to encourage people standing to move to the back.)

Community Shuttles should have helped too, but they have been used to provide fixed route small bus services, not the flexible “closer to your door” service originally anticipated. Their main function has been to release big buses for busier routes – and we have plenty of those now.

The taxi system is also supposed to be able to help – but this piece is long enough already. The sad story of the accessible cab business I will leave for another day.

Plenty of other barriers remain: lack of sidewalks, lack of curb cuts, no space at bus stops to deploy ramps, no shelters and so on. All these issues are outside Translink’s remit – they fall to the municipalities and performance there is variable – from dismal to non-existent.

Reorganising the number of contractors will help a bit, but the fundamental issues remain – and will continue to cause concern. One day, someone will have to grasp the nettle.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2007 at 1:53 pm

Will the tram make a port stop?

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By Matthew Hoekstra Staff Reporter
Richmond Review

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2007 at 1:15 pm

Posted in politics, transit

TransLink remake gets co-operation

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Richmond Review July 7, 2007

TransLink directors are preparing to co-operate with Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon’s plan to start naming a new TransLink board before reforms become law.

They’ve agreed to sit on a working group with area mayors to name a municipal representative to a five-member screening panel.

This is really sad. Translink directors cooperating with their own emasculation. There is no legislative authority yet for Kevin Falcon’s proposal. It did not make it to the floor of the house last session – and there are no guarantees there will be a fall session. This weak kneed, craven submission simply lends a flawed process credibility. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 7, 2007 at 1:03 pm