Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 2007

And now for something completely different

leave a comment »

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

with 3 comments

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

leave a comment »

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”

with 3 comments

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

Dissenting from Highway Expansion

leave a comment »

The SFU Urban Studies Program presents the following public forum:

Dissenting from Highway Expansion: Reflecting on Citizen Activism at Eagleridge Bluffs
Panelists: Ned Jacobs, Betty Krawczyk, and Barbara Pettit
Moderator: Frances Bula, Urban Issues Reporter, The Vancouver Sun
Monday, December 3, 2007
SFU Vancouver, 515 W. Hastings Street, Room 1700


To reserve a seat, please email or call 778.782.7914

This public forum on December 3rd, presented by the SFU Urban Studies Program, coincides with increasing talk about the possibility of direct action by citizens opposed to Gateway projects. Principal speakers are mayoral candidate Betty Krawczyk, Eagleridge defender Barbara Petit (a city planner), and Yours Truly. Each of us became involved at different stages in the Eagleridge battle; two of us committed peaceful civil disobedience and were arrested. Betty, of course, served a jail term.

The forum will reflect on the Eagleridge battle with a view to lessons from it that might be applied to Gateway or other highway expansions. There will be an opportunity for concerned citizens to ask questions and express viewpoints.

Sun reporter Frances Bula will moderate.

Ned Jacobs

Written by Stephen Rees

November 25, 2007 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Gateway

Mayors go to Victoria seeking transit promises

with 8 comments

Vancouver Sun

I suppose on the assumption that Bill 43 will get through, they are all in there trying to get something for their cities. Kevin’s response

“There’s no doubt that we can’t do everything all at once. And we need to make decisions that are thoughtful.”

Now that would be a novelty. Does the decision to install gates on SkyTrain meet that definition? In fact, is Bill 43 itself the result of actual thought? Or are both simply off the cuff, instant sound bite type decisions?

He also insists that the new TransLink board structure the province is creating will take the politics out of decisions and ensure the wisest transportation choices are made from an overall regional perspective.

Like the Canada Line – the decision that was rammed down the region’s throat and gave rise to Bill 43 (which, of course, came with a promise to build the Evergreen Line at the same time and construction is nowhere near even now). Or the twinning of the highway that will increase traffic and greenhouse gas emissions and lock the South of Fraser area into car dependence for another generation? And of course there is nothing political about the Gateway is there: it is just the best advice that self interested “professionals” could come up with.

Here is a useful check list to go back to once the announcements start rolling. Expect the rate of announcements and the size of commitments to increase as the date of the next election approaches.


– Vancouver wants:

An extension of the Millennium Line from where it ends now, Clark Drive, out to the University of B.C.

Length of line: 12 kilometres.

Approximate cost: $1 billion to $2 billion.

Commitment so far: $2 million from the city for planning; $1 million from TransLink for planning; nothing for construction.

Earliest completion date possible: 2016.

– The northeast sector wants:

The Evergreen light-rail line from where the Millennium Line ends now, Lougheed Centre, out to Coquitlam Centre.

Length of line: 11 kilometres.

Approximate cost: $1 billion.

Commitment so far: $400 million from TransLink for construction; $170 million from the province for construction.

Earliest completion date possible: late 2010, early 2011.

– The south of Fraser sector wants:

The same level of transit service that Vancouver and Burnaby have — 2.42 hours per capita per year, instead of the .6 they now get — well before 2031.

Also, rapid-bus service on 200th, King George, 104th and 152nd.

Also, rapid-transit along the Fraser Highway from the King George SkyTrain station to Langley town centre.

Approximate cost: Unknown.

Commitment so far: TransLink has committed to a King George rapid bus by 2013, frequent service (every 15 minutes) from Langley centre to Golden Ears Bridge by 2021, and Vancouver-level service for all of the south-of-Fraser region by 2031.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Posted in transit

Calgarians of two minds about new LRT line

with one comment

CanWest News Service

Typical shoddy reporting and knee jerk sub editor making up a misleading strap line.

The story should be positive – but you must not be positive about transit if you work for CanWest. So in this story, because they have found one little old lady who will have to move – and will, of course, be compensated – from this they generalize to the entire population of the metropolis. And, of course, the lazy swine at the Sun who can no longer fill a West Coast News section with West Coast News just cut and paste something from the corporate feed trough.

And the preceding paragraph was equally unfair – deliberately. I am going to claim it needs to be in the name of “balance”.

To be newsworthy a story must have conflict. Even if the conflict has to be invented, or grossly exaggerated. The lack of West Coast content in the case of the Sun is because, like most media outlets here, they have reduced the size of their news room to keep the corporate profits high.


Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Posted in transit

All-night runs to clear trolley lines

with 4 comments

Vancouver Sun

Another one of those stories that demonstrates that new technology actually makes us more vulnerable.

Stan Sierpina, vice-president of customer service for Coast Mountain Bus, which operates TransLink’s buses, blamed the breakdown on “unique weather circumstances” that left an accumulation of ice and frost along the 314 kilometres of trolley wire.

The ice acted as insulation against the new trolleys’ sensors, which lose their connections to the overhead wires if they can’t sense a power link, Sierpina said.

Well at least he didn’t make the mistake that a hapless British railways official made the year winter stopped a new fleet of expensive new trains. “It was the wrong kind of snow” has now entered the annals of things not to say to the press.

When I first got on a bus in Richmond, it actually had trolley poles on it. It was a diesel bus, but it had been converted from a trolley. They just took the motor out and replaced it with a diesel engine. They were even called “triesels” by the staff. A couple of them retained their poles for just the task of keeping the wires frost free overnight.

UPDATE Pete McMartin wants somebody’s head to stick on a pike over this issue – he didn’t get one

Written by Stephen Rees

November 23, 2007 at 9:24 am

Posted in transit

More service key to transit use, poll finds

with 2 comments

Toronto Star

Well, what an amazing finding, who’d a thunk it, eh?

Sorry but it just amazes me that transit agencies pay polling firms to find out what it is blindingly obvious. The reason people continue to drive despite the cost, and fear of road rage and collisions, and the inability to do anything much more than just sit there and listen to talk radio, is that taking transit is even worse. Waiting for the bus is bad enough: you do don’t know for sure it is coming – it could be late – or worse have run early and its already gone. Will you be able to get on or is this another day of pass ups? The chance of getting a seat depends on how near the end of the line you live. And then there’s the transfers – will you make the connections?

“Faster travel times, frequent service and less crowding, those were the things that would motivate (drivers) to get out of their cars onto transit,” said Jacquie Menezes.

When I worked for transit operators, I would get very impatient with talk about marketing. Forget that – think about the product you are selling. It is a service, but it is not a good service. What can we do to make the service better? Service quality was always my first choice for getting more riders. Frankly I do not give a rats about the name of the service or the colour of the bus. Are the seats dry, clean and comfortable? Is the bus warm and bright inside? Does the user feel safe and confident that the bus will deliver them to their destination?

One of my happier memories is being on one of the first new buses delivered that was going to be on the new 98 B Line. It was on show at the PNE. And the one thing that everyone noticed was the fabric covered seats. Uncut moquette from a firm in Bradford who have been upholstering trains and buses for years, and know their stuff.  Clean, bright and hardwearing – but comfortable. Something hitherto unknown on Vancouver Transit. Everyone asked me if it would be vandal resistant and possible to keep clean. They were so used to split plastic held together with duct tape.

The other lesson I learned from deregulation in Britain was that the new operators all went for new minibuses. They were cheap, but it meant that they could put on unheard of service frequencies from day one.  If you go to a bus stop, you tend to look down the road. If you see a bus coming there’s a good chance you will get on it. If there is no prospect of a bus any time soon, you will find another way to get where you are going.  For reasons that I do not understand, bus service planners in Vancouver think a bus every fifteen minutes is “frequent”! Well the guys who started operating competitive commercial bus services didn’t think that – and for very good reason.

We are seeing more people use transit here – but that is because there are more people! The share of the transport market has hardly changed. Transit has not kept up – and it was not very good in the first place. (Did you follow those links in one of the comments to the old cartoons about transit of the fifties and sixties?) Translink now admits that in order for us to achieve the premier’s new greenhouse gas reductions the size of the bus fleet must double. What I do not see in Bill 43 is anything like a commitment to the sort of resources that will require.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 22, 2007 at 11:14 pm

Posted in transit

High Speed Rail

with 6 comments

I have just been watching “The Nature of Things” on CBC Newsworld

Rail Renaissance, our lead story, is a 20-minute segment that takes audiences to Europe where they’ll witness the exciting lead up to the launch of the new High Speed One service out of St. Pancras Station, in London. The launch signifies the end of a multi-billion dollar restoration to the rail lines between London and Paris, and to St. Pancras, the station that will be the new home of High Speed One. Along with the physical restoration, many communities along the rail line have been given a lifeline because of the new rail service. This colossal engineering project incorporates 60 kilometres of tunnel, over 150 bridges and 3 major viaducts. It has brought with it signs of newfound prosperity for east London and Southeast England, areas that have largely been neglected. This segment is hosted by the well-known urban affairs critic for The Toronto Star, Christopher Hume. The key question that this segment poses is, if high-speed rail is happening all over Europe, why isn’t it happening here, in Canada?

This was one of those serendipitous things. The furnace went out, so I had to go and find out how to get the pilot light on. But first I had to do my gig on CITR. So supper was late and I missed the news. So I turned to Newsworld to catch up and there was St Pancras in all its restored glory. Now I did mention here the record breaking run on High Speed One, and that has brought a lot of new readers to this blog. The opening of regular service on November 14 also brought me a lot of traffic.


There was discussion about London – and how it could not accommodate cars, so the motorway box was cancelled. More importantly no new car parking has been opened since the sixties. I didn’t know that. In fact when I was at the Department of Transport (as it was called then) the Thatcher government wanted to see “free market” solutions to everything – including parking. As the Economic Adviser, I was supposed to come up with ways to make the free market in parking supply come alive. What I did was point out that no-one would pay to park if they thought they could do it for free on street. So the wheels were set in motion for the toughest ever crack down on illegal parking. It included the introduction of wheel clamps. And it worked to clear out the illegal on street parkers. But, so far as I know, no-one actually wanted to build commercial car parks since there was a lot more money to made from offices and high end residential developments. And it turned out they didn’t. Since then the political wind has shifted, even though some will say that Tony Blair owed more to Thatcher than Nye Bevan. But the outcome has been startling.

Christopher Hume (the reporter on this segment) compared St Pancras to Toronto Union. He compared the Eurostar between London and Paris to VIA Rail between Toronto and Montreal. He thinks we are at least twenty years behind the times. And he blames CN. I think he should actually be looking at Ottawa. VIA Rail has been a patronage issue more than anything else. A way to reward the Liberal faithful with a sinecure. No-one takes long distance, intercity passenger rail travel seriously. It’s all cars and planes here. But it cannot go on like that for much longer.

What had to happen in Britain was that the government had to break out of the dogmatic Thatcherite straight jacket. She hated trains – and during her reign, never rode in one. She refused public funds to the Channel Tunnel and its link to London – so for the previous twenty years, the high speed trains that emerged from the tunnel were forced to slow to the pace of the London suburban services and essentially Victorian infrastructure. Well OK the Southern did bring things a bit more up to date in the thirties – but the speeds remained unremarkable. Blair, to his credit, figured out how to use upgrading the infrastructure to revitalise the run down areas through which the new line runs. Kings Cross and St Pancras will now be the centre of massive redevelopment. So will Stratford. There was much talk of “leverage” – but the reality is that London has become a major European and World centre because of its financial expertise. The real shift in my lifetime has been the change from London as major centre for manufacturing to a service economy – just as Toronto has also been transformed. The biggest change that I saw in my time was the closure of the docks and the transformation of East London that followed. Of course it was a painful process, with some notably violent clashes between the dockers and the police. Perhaps that is one reason why I find it so hard to understand why opening new port facilities here is supposed to be so terrific and forward looking.

What has been different in Britain is that the government came to realise that railways were essential. That modern trains would provide an alternative to driving and flying. That alternative would be a lot lighter on the environment – fewer emissions of both local air pollutants and greenhouse gases. One 400 meter long Eurostar is the equivalent of seven B737s in people moving capacity. Flying to Paris produces ten times the CO2 of taking the train. And those people are a lot more comfortable and happy – and get to their destinations more easily and with less hassle than flying or sitting in a jam on a “freeway”. Britain now spends three times the amount of money (in real terms) on supporting the railways than it did in the age of Thatcher. Fortunately, some of that money goes into new infrastructure, not just the pockets of private sector spivs.

Canada must start spending money – public money – on improving intercity rail travel, starting with city pairs like Edmonton-Calgary, Vancouver-Seattle, and the corridor Chicago-Detroit-Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal. It is no good expecting CN CP or Amtrak to change their ways. We need dedicated, high speed, direct rights of way with electrification from day 1. It will cost a fortune – but we are one of the richest countries in the world and we have, for now, the oil and coal revenues to make this happen. We have to invest the profits from fossil fuel into becoming independent of fossil fuels. We start with a carbon tax, and we use the revenues to build carbon free infrastructure. Paying off the national debt in an era of low interest rates must be seen as a lower priority than creating a sustainable future.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 22, 2007 at 8:12 pm