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

Archive for October 17th, 2007

That Treaty

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I was dismayed by Kim Baird’s speech to the House. But I was not sure how to respond. But now I have found Bill Tieleman’s response – and he says it better than I would have

Written by Stephen Rees

October 17, 2007 at 8:18 am

Posted in Gateway, land use

Should the speed limit be reduced?

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In Britain this is now a Big Question since an influential traffic safety group, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts), has released a report saying that the default speed limit in built-up areas should be reduced from 30mph to 20mph.

The reason the question is being raised is that the number of fatalities is not declining in Britain the way it is in other European countries. “The numbers of deaths resulting from drinking and driving, failure to wear a seat-belt, or driving too fast have shown little sign of falling.” And this is in a country that has lots of speed cameras. Acts is also suggesting that the current design of speed camera be replaced by the average speed cameras I have been advocating here.

It is worth comparing our collision data with the UK – we seem to see a similar trend or “flatlining” – things are not getting any better, at around 400 fatalities and 50,000 collisions a year. (source ICBC)

1996 – 2005

In Britain, one major consideration is the widespread opposition to speed cameras. They are seen to be simply methods of extracting more money from motorists. Now I do not expect law enforcement to be popular but most people seem to think that more of it – in general – woud be a Good Thing. In fact Stephen Harper is relying on this knee jerk response in the throne speech. If there is to be an election he wants it to be on Law and Order – not issues like the needless high budget surplus, the lack of spending on important priorities or our shameful environmental record. But of course that is because the package is directed at criminals – who people think get away lightly with serious crimes and make us feel unsafe. Except of course that crime (unlike traffic deaths) has been declining for a long time mainly due to demographics.

The response to those who object to speed cameras is “Why do you think you have a right to speed?” Observation of speed limits in BC is confined to those occasions when you see a marked police vehicle.

The top five most frequently reported contributing factors in
2005 fatal collisions (as a percentage of total fatal collisions)
were, in order of magnitude:
(1) Speeding (36.7%);
(2) Alcohol (27.1%);
(3) Driver inattentive (24.4%);
(4) Driver error/Confusion (14.8%);
(5) Driving on wrong side of road (12.3%).

We seem to have become desensitized to traffic fatalities – despite the growing practice of erecting road side shrines to collision victims. But if 400 people were killed in a plane crash or a train there would be an outcry, public enquiries and action would be taken. Of course, inappropriate responses are one of the big issues: the risk to children around school zones is not from abduction by a stranger – but being run down by a distracted Mom in a huge truck equipped with roo bars.

I do not see us reducing speed limits. The 30kph limit introduced on Columbia St in New Westminster is very unusual – and very poorly observed. I would settle for an effective 50kph limit on arterials – and much more hard landscaping to calm traffic in neighbourhoods. I would also like to see pedestrian refuges which make both the crossing distances shorter and prevent overtaking at crossings. But I would also like to see speed cameras – and maybe our concern about greenhouse gas emissions can be called in for support – since lower speeds also mean lower fuel consumption.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 17, 2007 at 8:00 am

Posted in Road safety

Tagged with

PAYD drives home the real cost of auto use

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Peter Ladner – the Vancouver Councillor and owner of Business in Vancouver posted this to the trans-action list serve. It is obviously an idea that he thinks should be widely known, so I am reposting it

Now that Premier Gordon Campbell has laid out his aggressive targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, the pressure for solutions is about to push some faltering ideas into the fast lane.

One that should get an immediate green light is a scheme I’ll call pay-as-you-drive (PAYD) hybrid pricing. It’s been hatched by a UBC team led by noted physicist Lorne Whitehead and associate planning professor Lawrence Frank. The purpose is to reduce automobile emissions, provide incentives to drive less and reward fuel-efficient vehicles.

Whitehead and Frank start with the common frustration that current vehicle registration and insurance schemes provide an all-you-can-eat temptation to even the most environmentally conscious driver. Once
you’ve paid for your insurance, there’s no additional cost no matter how much you drive. Frequent driving is a key factor in your chance of having an accident, so why should frequent drivers pay the same insurance as occasional drivers in the same insurance category? And if we want to encourage fuel-efficient vehicles, why charge the same registration for a gas-guzzler as a compact?

Research shows that PAYD pricing reduces average annual mileage by between 10% and 15%, which results in a comparable reduction in crashes, deaths and hospital costs. It also increases fairness, because your insurance premium more accurately reflects your claim costs. And it makes insurance – and car ownership – more affordable for those who don’t drive a lot: the less you drive, the more you save. Meanwhile it reduces traffic congestion, the costs of roads and parking lots and urban sprawl.

How would it work?

As Tod Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute describes it (, “the policy term begins and ends when a broker or service station performs an odometer audit, which involves recording odometer readings and checking for signs of tampering.

“This should take less than five minutes and cost less than $10, and could usually be performed during scheduled maintenance such as an oil change or emission inspection.

“Motorists would prepay for the kilometres they expect to drive during the policy term, and settle accounts at the end of the term. For example, a motorist who prepaid $1,000 for 20,000 kilometres would receive a $250 credit if they only drove 15,000, and owe $250 if they drove 25,000 kilometres, which must be paid to reregister the vehicle.”

It works out to around $0.07 per kilometer.

One major drawback to PAYD pricing is that it traps lower-income people who have to drive long distances because of where they live. Enter the hybrid solution, which adds a licence fee adjustment based
on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

If you can’t afford the increased insurance costs from being a frequent driver, you can bring down your costs by switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle, which is cheaper to register.

As Whitehead explains, “a person who owns a high fuel consumption car will not have to pay more than before, as long as they don’t drive much. And a person who drives a lot will not have to pay more than
before, as long as they drive a fuel-efficient car. But in both cases there would still be incentive to drive less and drive a more efficient car.”

Whitehead and Frank’s ad hoc team is pushing ICBC to do a pilot project with volunteer drivers. So far the insurance company isn’t biting, claiming it prefers to base insurance prices on risk rather than mileage. It also says it already has enough different insurance categories to reflect miles driven, and PAYD insurance is too
complicated to administer.

Given the simplicity, fairness and flexibility in this proposal, the aggressiveness of the premier’s targets and the urgency of dealing with traffic congestion, it’s time for ICBC to stretch a bit. ·

Written by Stephen Rees

October 17, 2007 at 6:54 am