Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for December 17th, 2007

Hydrogen Dream Not Adding Up

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BC’s new buses aren’t ‘zero-emission solution’ as claimed.

By Andrew MacLeod Published: December 14, 2007

Hydrogen buses are devilishly expensive. Any new technology is going to cost a lot because the first vehicles adapted to use have a lot of components that are not mass produced. As anyone who has bought an armchair will testify, you get a much better price if you buy one from IKEA than if you get one custom made. And the only thing that you care about is, is it comfortable?

If you have to bring the hydrogen from Quebec by diesel trucks (why they can’t put it on a train is not explained) it no longer is the best bet in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions either

B.C. Transit did what are called “well-to-wheel” calculations, [B.C. Transit’s manager for the fuel cell project, Bruce] Rothwell says, looking at the total greenhouse gas emissions involved in getting either hydrogen buses or standard diesel buses on the road. The hydrogen buses do better.

To power a diesel bus, he says, generates the equivalent of 2,000 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. Using hydrogen, he says, even when it is shipped across the continent, emits 800 grams per kilometre. About 65 per cent of those emissions are from transporting the fuel.

“It’s a 60 per cent reduction from diesel,” he says.

That may be, says the David Suzuki Foundation’s climate change specialist, Ian Bruce, but there are better options. Hybrid diesel-electric buses for instance, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 per cent, according to Translink’s website, and they are much cheaper.

The Tyee appears to think that it may be something to do with Campbell wanting to demonstrate confidence in Ballard – the BC company that has been developing fuel cells but has recently backed out of the automotive market.

That may be true, but I think a more simple explanation is pure pig headedness. Campbell has bought into ghg reduction in a big way but really does not seem to capable of understanding simple arithmetic. You cannot reduce ghg if you insist on widening freeways – or bringing hydrogen here from Quebec. You can easily reduce ghg emissions and do it while saving money. Many techniques will pay for themselves really quickly now that oil is close to $100 a barrel. All you have to do is dig out all the old reports commissioned by previous governments. After all, that is what Stephen Harper is doing.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Posted in greenhouse gas reduction, transit

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Translink Hijacked

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Regular readers will know that I was very much against the creation of SoCoBritCa, and I even cast aspersions on the new board before it was selected . That prompted a “pounce” from Ken Hardie – who thought I was not being fair. Since then I have reported on the views of Mayor Derek Corrigan, who, in his inimitable fashion, was much less retsrained than I was. And now in the Tyee, Rafe Mair has a go.

It is worth reading the whole thing but here is a clip to give you the flavour

Nine members of the business community all approved in advance by Premier Campbell to represent the needs of two million Vancouverites.

To hell with citizens

How do you feel about this TransLink if you live in a part of Metro Vancouver who doesn’t vote right?

These men and women with no mandate from taxpayers will decide how hundreds of millions of your taxes will be spent. When the argument is made that they were approved by the mayors, remember that the only discretion the mayors had was to pick nine names from Campbell’s list of 15 friends of his government.

We’ve seen it before

All of this, of course, fits into a well established mode of operation by the Campbell government. Let’s revisit a couple of projects where local mayors, councils and citizens have been shut out of the process — unless you consider being consulted after the deal is done due process.

There’s the expansion, upgrading and dramatic changing of the Sea-to-Sky highway.

There is no question that this is a dangerous highway but were it not for the 2010 Olympics, much could have been done to make it much safer by modest changes and much better policing.

What now will happen is a series of developments along the highway and considerable expansion of Squamish with the public only consulted after the decision was made. On the axiom “Build it and they will come,” it will not be long before the new four lane highway will be no better at handling the traffic than the present one.

Another obvious area which will be similarly impacted is the Municipality of Delta, one of the oldest, if not the oldest farming community in British Columbia. The South Fraser Perimeter Road will have a substantial impact on sensitive environmental areas and, as “progress” continues, more people will arrive and roads and other infrastructures will need more expanding and upgrading.

Cruel farce

Government environmental impact studies are a cruel farce. By the time the government orders them the deal has already been done. Consultations with the public are about as fair as “show trials” used to be behind the Iron Curtain.

What happens when Victoria wants to do something against the wishes of a local council?

The Campbell government does it anyway and to hell with letting citizens and their councils into the project before it’s a done deal. The politicians closest to you, your municipal councils, can do nothing because Victoria in the person of Gordon Campbell has stripped away its rights.

Now as I think you may recall I am currently reading Jane Jacobs’ “Dark Age Ahead” and she has some pertinent observations

Susidiarity is the principle that government works best – most responsibly and responsively – when it is closest to the people it serves and the need it addresses. Fiscal accountability is the principle that institutions collecting and disbursing taxes work most responsibly when they are transparent to those providing the money.

As I think I have made clear before, the old GVTA was somewhat lacking in responsiveness. People felt that it was remote from them. They also blamed the GVTA for decisions that were actually being taken in Victoria (the route and construction method of The Canada Line, the lack of an Evergreen Line and so on) . So I do not say that the GVTA could not have been improved. But it is also very clear that the new SoCoBritCA violates these two important principles in a far more significant way than the GVTA did. Jane Jacobs goes to describe what happened historically to cities which followed the two principles – they grew and were successful – and those that don’t – they decline. And the real ire of her Chapter “Dumbed Down Taxes” is directed at the position of Canadian municipalities that cannot succeed no matter what they do thanks to our adherence to “principles” that are said to be constitutional but really are just provincial politicians who are greedy for power and refuse to give up any control. Sound like a premier we know?

So on the one hand we have Gordon Campbell, Kevin Falcon and Ken Hardie.

And on the other we have Derek Corrigan, Rafe Mair and Jane Jacobs.

Who would you rather trust with the care of your wallet? Or your transit system?

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 5:49 pm

104 years ago today

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Chuck Davis
Vancouver Sun

When Vancouver’s first streetcars went into service in 1890, the electricity required to run the system was generated by a little steam powerhouse on what is now Union Street (a block south of Georgia, east of Main.)

As the city and the service grew, more power was needed. So the B.C. Electric Railway Co. started looking for a spot near the city where hydroelectric power could be generated. They found it at what was then called Trout Lake (or Beautiful Lake), just east of Port Moody, and built a tunnel to carry water there from Coquitlam Lake. The difference in water levels between the two lakes — Coquitlam was nearly 10 metres higher — would provide the motive force to generate the power. An annual rainfall of about 3.7 metres didn’t hurt.

The BCER’s general manager, Johannes Buntzen, a Dane, supervised the construction of the system, the first hydroelectric powerhouse on the mainland, and it went into operation Dec. 17, 1903 — 104 years ago today.

Buntzen’s work didn’t end there: he went before Vancouver city council and urged them to attract new industry that could use this new source of power. He’s been called the “grandfather” of electricity here.

Everyone was so pleased with the results, they renamed the lake for Buntzen.

For more local history:

© The Vancouver Sun 2007

Written by Stephen Rees

December 17, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Posted in transit