Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 26th, 2007

The real cost of privatisation

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This story comes from Britain, one of the pioneers of the Public Finance Initiative or “P3” as they are called here. The idea was that the private sector was so much more efficient than public sector organizations (seen as blundering bureaucrats) that bringing in companies to run public services would save taxpayers money. Well, on the whole, it cannot be said to have been a happy experience – although there is a pleasing symmetry to note that it is the public sector that is taking the blame. Because, it is said, they don’t know how to award contracts.

Just to whet you appetite here is the first para

The huge cost to the taxpayer of Labour’s commitment to the private finance initiative since it came to power a decade ago is revealed by the Treasury in a report by MPs published today. It shows that Gordon Brown has committed future governments to pay back £170bn by 2032 to banks, investors and private entrepreneurs for more than 800 schemes for new hospitals, schools and prisons.

Now in case you wonder why I am bringing this to your attention you should be aware that any project over $20m in BC gets the once over for a potential P3 – including municipal projects. And Jim Flaherty thinks the pension funds should help him to repair our crumbling infrastructure

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Posted in privatisation

And now for something completely different

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LONDON (Reuters Life!) – An official announcer for London’s Underground railway system has been sacked after making spoof messages mocking American tourists, peeping Toms and sweaty commuters.

Voiceover artist Emma Clarke, 36, recorded the announcements in the same smooth tones that have warned millions of passengers to “Mind The Gap” on the London underground system also known as the “Tube” and posted them on her Web site.

The messages include:

* “We would like to remind our American tourist friends that you are almost certainly talking too loudly.”

* “Would the passenger in the red shirt pretending to read the paper but who is actually staring at that woman’s chest please stop. You are not fooling anyone, you filthy pervert.”

* “Would passengers filling in answers on their Sudokus please accept that they are just crosswords for the unimaginative and are not in any way more impressive just because they contain numbers.”

* “Here we are crammed again into a sweaty Tube carriage … If you’re female smile at the bloke next to you and make his day. He’s probably not had sex for months.”

Clarke said it was “just a bit of a laugh.” But Tube operator Transport for London (TfL) failed to see the funny side and dropped her, after eight years.

“London Underground is sorry to have to announce that further contracts for Miss Clarke are experiencing severe delays,” a TfL spokesman told the Evening Standard on Monday.

Hear the Announcements

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Posted in transit

Brown: Britain’s prosperity depends on airport expansion

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The Guardian

The parallels with BC are clear – and horrible.

Gordon Brown today gave his unequivocal support for a third runway at Heathrow in an address to a conference of business leaders.

Speaking at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, the prime minister said that business was right to call for airport expansion and that Britain’s prosperity depended on it.

Brown and Campbell occupy the same segment of the political spectrum. The sitting in the middle, trying to be green but acknowledging who pays the bills.

Brown wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2025. Politicians of all stripes just love those targets. We’ve had one for years – and our ghg emissions have continued to grow at exactly the same rate as they did before the announcement of the target. Because, as Gordon Campbell himself said we need to think differently. But what he and Brown demonstrate every day is that they are incapable of thinking differently – or possibly, at all.

Global climate change is not a trivial issue – though all the western leaders seem to think that almost everything else is more important. They all dreadfully fell behind their commitments to help the poorest nations already feeling the impact of climate change. Billions of dollars promised – very few actually sent.

It is not a question of can we carve out ourselves a bigger chunk of the world’s economy. It is simply, will we have a world we can inhabit at all? We have already missed the opportunities to be first into the market with innovative technologies like higher efficiency wind and solar energy capture. We are still sitting on huge reserves of fossil fuel and we still think we can exploit them as we do now – with maybe the odd wrinkle of carbon capture. But any ideas of transformation to a sustainable economy are completely beyond Brown and Campbell. Because they have no idea of where we need to go, they are not capable of planning how to get there.

And interesting too that in both cases it is transport that is misleading them – for Brown it is airports, for Campbell it is freeways. Both forget that transport is a derived demand – and that technology has been coming up with ever more ways of replacing the need to travel. The fossil fuel 20th century has misled us into thinking that all that travel and transportation was a benefit – which while true needs to be weighed against its social and environmental costs.

One of the things that first encouraged people to get out of the city was the horrible quality of the urban environment. The railways and their cheap excursion tickets gave city dwellers a chance to get away from the smog and grime, into the fresh air and sunshine. It took us a long while to come to the conclusion that we actually needed to do something about the air quality of our urban areas – in London’s case after the deaths caused by the great smogs of the early 1950s. But our urban planning ideas are still in thrall to thinkers like Lewis Mumford. Except, like outdated economists’ ideas, these have now passed to the level of common acceptance. The same sort of people who think balanced budgets are a good idea also like land use separation by function.

The other side of Brown you need to recall is that he was previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer who presided over a personal tax system that has made London one of the favourite destinations for tax exiles. I think the two notions (tax exiles, air travel) are not unconnected.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2007 at 12:34 pm

Rich area of Fraser River in jeopardy

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Urgent action needed to preserve one of Canada’s most important ecosystems, report warns

The Fraser River at Hope BC

The area is the gravel reach between Hope and Mission. The greatest threat is human activity. The report is addressed to the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council.

The 111-page report, entitled Saving the Heart of the Fraser, said the reach represents “some of Canada’s most biologically significant riparian and aquatic ecosystems” and is under “extreme stress” from activities such as urban growth, agriculture, resource extraction and industrial development.

And pointed at this area like an arrow to its heart is Highway #1 . Despite what its proponents admit, the real reason for expanding the highway is to open up more land for development, and there is no doubt in my mind that the illusion of a faster drive into Metro will increase interest in this area for all kinds of development. And of course waterfront sites will carry the usual premium.

Also note that Kevin Falcon thinks that this area should be included in his new South Coast Transportation Authority that would replace Translink.

The one thing we know happens when you “improve” a freeway is that people start making longer distance trips than they did before. Increasing the amount of vehicle kilometres from the existing fleet is the first indication of induced traffic. The perception of distance has been changed, so the deterrence of the expected journey time has been reduced.

And we all know that another 1 million people are coming to this region in the next twenty years or so, and a lot of those are still wedded to the concept of a single family home with a two car garage. And a lot of people know that if they can get their hands on land with current low values due to land use restrictions which they can get lifted by their political buddies, they will make loads of money without doing anything else. Small wonder that the development industry collectively shovels more money at politicians than anyone else.

The test of how “green” this government is will be their response to this report. Maybe a few BC Liberals like to go fishing. I hope so. I don’t know if they will hear any other voices.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2007 at 11:12 am

Letters to the “Sun”

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Gateway project is all about the money
Published: Monday, November 26, 2007Re: Aiming to be the gateway to the Pacific Century, Gordon Campbell, Issues & Ideas, Nov. 20Would the real Gordon Campbell please stand up! Clearly, he speaks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to his “Gateway to the Pacific Century” and his “Climate Change Green Plan.”

Respected scientists (including the government’s own scientists), environmental advocates and politicians from all levels of government strongly oppose various aspects of Campbell’s plans. Drawing conclusions from fact-based studies, Gateway opponents recognize these plans will  damage our environment, destroy viable farmland, increase air pollution from Delta straight up the Fraser Valley, and will do absolutely nothing to reduce the unbearable congestion on Lower Mainland roadways. The following quote is from David Emerson, the federal minister in charge of the Pacific Gateway: “The freeway issue is that when you build new freeways they do attract new traffic and over time that accommodates more traffic and doesn’t take traffic off the road.”

Campbell can fool some of the people some of the time, but not this time. His Gateway plans are all about servicing the corporate business community with taxpayers’ money. There is nothing green about them. A recently published paper very cleverly named them as they should be: Gateway to Global Warming.

Liz Gough


Apparently, tripling our imports to Vancouver from environmental regulation-free China, shipped in on high-pollution trans-Pacific freighters, is sustainable because, as Gordon Campbell argues, it would produce less pollution than shipping those extra imports through Los Angeles. Of course, importing less unnecessary junk from the other side of the world would be even more sustainable, but who would make any money from that?

Kai Sheffield

West Vancouver

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2007 at 10:05 am

Posted in Gateway