Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 12th, 2008

London mayor slaps £25 charge on gas guzzlers

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Another story from the Guardian I cannot resist

Drivers of high-powered sports cars and 4x4s will be hit by a new £25 charge every time they enter central London under plans to reduce congestion and cut pollution across the capital.

London mayor Ken Livingstone said today that around 30,000 of the worst-polluting vehicles would face a threefold price rise from October, while the most environmentally-friendly cars would be able enter the congestion charging zone free of charge.

“The CO2 charge will encourage people to switch to cleaner vehicles or public transport and ensure that those who choose to carry on driving the most polluting vehicles help pay for the environmental damage they cause,” Livingstone said.

“This is the polluter pays principle. At the same time, the 100% discount for the lowest CO2 emitting vehicles will give drivers an incentive to use the least polluting cars available.”

What a brilliant idea. No one needs a Hummer in a city. There is no good reason why so many pick up trucks are being used as personal transport: it is just so the major US manufacturers can get around the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards. And if one more rich, smug driver tells me they are safer in one of these things I shall scream. They do not stop any better than any other vehicle – and that is how collisions are reduced. But the sheer size and poor sightlines of these huge things – especially in school zones at 8am and 3pm almost guarantee that somebody’s child will get hit – and their chances of survival are much lower when struck and run over by a larger vehicle. And how often have we heard the excuse “I didn’t know he was there” when someone has been dragged for miles underneath one of these ridiculous monsters.

I think Ken has really stretched the notion of a “congestion charge” – but of course these large vehicles do take up more road space. Maybe a sliding scale would be fairer. But it certainly shows what you can do to send the right messages in the market place when you start charging for road space.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 7:12 pm

True scale of C02 emissions from shipping revealed

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Another day, another revelation that knocks the Gateway.

This one is reported in The Guardian.

The true scale of climate change emissions from shipping is almost three times higher than previously believed, according to a leaked UN study seen by the Guardian.

It calculates that annual emissions from the world’s merchant fleet have already reached 1.12bn tonnes of CO², or nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas.

(I will forgive the typesetter but that should be a subscript 2 not a superscript 2)

The first thing I thought was that if they got the CO2 wrong, they probably got the local air contaminants wrong too – since I think what is happening here is that they underestimated how much oil is being burned.

The UN report also reveals that other pollutants from shipping are rising even faster than CO² emissions. Sulphur and soot emissions, which give rise to lung cancers, acid rain and respiratory problems are expected to rise more than 30% over the next 12 years.

Again that would be called sulphur oxides and particulates here. And the California Air Resources Board has determined that diesel particulate is a human carcinogen

The health implications of shipping emissions are most acute for Britain and other countries bordering the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. A recent peer-reviewed study of shipping emissions found world shipping led directly to 60,000 deaths a year.

And of course the Fraser Valley, where the off shore breezes ensure that the soot and sulphur from the stacks of those freighters will waft up the valley and get trapped around Hope.

OOCL Malaysia Roberts Bank BC 2008_0102

I do not recall seeing any of the environmental assessment of the port expansion. I do recall hearing that it failed but proceeded anyway. Which, of course, is what you expect in business friendly BC. Much more important that we get some more containers diverted through here instead of Oakland or Seattle, than we reduce the risk of people who live here from diseases like asthma, emphysema, lung cancer or COPD. In fact as an economist I might even work out a few sums. How does the profit from a few more container ships stack up against the increased health care costs and loss of productive work time?

I find the economic arguments in favour of port expansion less than compelling. There actually is not really a lot of new employment or a great deal of new net revenue – and labour shortages here mean that we might think twice about a strategy that depends on finding new truck drivers – since there aren’t enough of those already. But the environmental balance sheet is only negative – even before this new information came to light. Do we really need to poison ourselves just so the Vancouver Port Authority senior staff and Board Members can have bigger pay packets?

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 6:49 pm

More traffic on Cambie Street

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Over on the Livable Blog Patrick Golier is drawing attention to the activity by the City of Vancouver Engineers who want to increase car traffic on Cambie now that construction of the Canada Line is nearing completion.

Now the first thing we need to note is that the Canada Line is supposed to have the capacity to shift 100,000 people per day – or the equivalent of ten lanes of single occupant vehicles. So why do they now need more car capacity than they had before? Of course there is no need for that much capacity so they have already reduced the number of trains, to stay within budget.

As I have written on here many times, if you go for cheap, surface light rail you can not only increase people carrying capacity you can also reduce car capacity. As Meredith Botta pointed out Copenhagen has long-standing policy of removing just 3% of the space allocated for cars every year. And that has worked very well to improve the liveability of the city and because of the gradualism that I advocate for changes in density, it is accepted becuase it is not really noticeable. So the City could have simply put back what was there before – or actually used the opportunity of all the people moving capacity underground to make Cambie less of a drag strip.

I have always been a bit wary of that “heritage boulevard” designation. I mean, yes it looks nice as you swish by, and it improves the view from the residents’ front windows – as they only see three lanes of moving traffic not six. But for a sizeable chunk of city real estate it does not seem to me to have much utility. Perhaps re-allocating space to produce a slower, 3 or 4 lanes of gp traffic – and use the rest for walking, cycling and recreation of various informal kinds might be more urbane. But then streets are the territory of the engineers, not the planners. And they don’t even speak the same language.

And the other thing that they should do is put back the trolleybuses, and also put in bus bulges at the stops. These bulges also make crossing the street easier, as the distance to get across is shorter. Why would you do this? To get in the way of the cars. Because what we need to do is build a place for people – not a place for automobiles!

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Traffic, transit

Local consultations

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Two stories in the Richmond News today show how much attention is paid to community input in Richmond.

On the north side of Lulu Island the stretch of land north of the railway and east of No 6 Road is pretty grim. Most of it is still zoned agricultural but there is a lot of other activity of other kins. And on the 16000 block of River Road most of it is illegal. Mainly vehicle and other commercial storage.

At an open house in October, the majority of respondents filling out feedback forms opposed the rezonings. Traffic safety issues resulting from increased truck traffic topped their list of concerns.

“Many respondents also questioned the performance record of property owners in the 16,000 block of River Road, which were undertaking activities in non-compliance with zoning regulations,” a staff report says.

The city wants to legitimize the businesses, but as a condition of rezoning, it wants some concessions, like road dedication for a future industrial road access.

Now the actual decision would have been made last night after the paper went to bed. But the principles here are worth thinking about. Zoning is supposed to achieve something that the market would not produce left to itself. The zoning of this land maybe should have been changed, but wasn’t. And now the city seems to be on the point of allowing a change in land use which will certainly increase the value of the land for the current owners. But may make the current nuisances that the neighbours complain of worse. And the owners do not appear to be doing much to meet the city’s perfectly reasonable requests to try and reduce traffic impacts of truck movements now and in the future. But staff are recommending that they be given approval anyway.


Meanwhile over at YVR – another one of those unaccountable, “professional” organizations, are trying to enlarge their fuel storage and have more of it shipped by barge. Which may or may not be a good idea: barges are certainly better in terms of diesel exhaust and ghg emissions than trucks. But then there is the risk of spills. So it is always going to be controversial. So YVR comes up with a way to deflect it. Would you like the tanks green or white?

The expansion was the subject of two open houses Jan. 31 and Feb. 2.

The Fraser River Coalition says the open houses were not well advertised and did not provide a forum for dialogue.

“This whole public input process is flawed,” coalition member Judy Williams told the media. “Why did they limit public input to two three-hour open houses without the benefit of a panel or an open mike so people could listen to other people’s concerns?”

[Member of the Richmond Advisory Committee on the Environment Gordon] Kibble said he was not even aware of the proposal and open houses. Neither were Councillors Harold Steves and Bill McNulty.

McNulty called the open houses “typical YVR consultation method.”

The deadline for public comment is February 15

Fans of the H2G2 will find a ring of familiarity about this.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 12:52 pm

Not much coverage

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I am doing a quick media scan in Blenz. The local press does not seem to have picked up on the LRC Press Release with the exception of

24hrs which has a whole column inch in the paper edition (Local News in Brief p4) but nothing on line


The Livable Region Coalition alleged yesterday the province failed to adequately investigate environmental impact of, and alternatives to, the Port Mann Bridge twinning. LRC has proposed public transit plans could alleviate traffic congestion.

No mention of the feds!

I hope that we do better in the local freesheets

The Province has a big editorial and lots of letters (as does the Sun) all angry about Translink Board pay. My prediction is that this will simply be ignored.

UPDATE February 13

Translink pay is also compared to other Boards by Jeff Nagel 

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 11:30 am

Animated urban development

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Purely for its entertainment value – this is the offering from the Very Short List for today

In this computer animation by graphic artist Nobuo Takahashi, a Japanese town metamorphoses from a tiny postwar village to a 21st-century urban behemoth, all in the time it takes you to make toast. Like an infinite set of super-realistic Legos put together by unseen hands, houses rise and fall in synchronized waves, giving way to high-rise apartments and office skyscrapers, which finally cluster together in a beastly superstructure of sprawl. For a moment, the city seems to have its own beating heart — and then it loses its soul. Probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 9:14 am

Posted in Urban Planning

COPE talks about Transit, Bikes and UPass

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COPE Talking on Transportation meeting at Our Town Cafe 12 February 2008

Last night I went to a COPE meeting in Vancouver that was to dicuss transportation. The meeting was held in the Our Town cafe which makes good cappuccino, and has a nice atmosphere but was not ideal for this kind of format. There were three presenters on the panel, and a short Q&A session. There was no amplification, and the cafe remained open. So conversations, milk frothing, and guitar tuning all continued throughout, making hearing what was being said a challenge. The meeting was also recorded on video, and I will be inserting links to that when it becomes available.

Councillor David Cadman

This region has a history of accommodating cars. We could have had light rail because we have plenty of existing track to use. Basically all we needed to do was buy rolling stock and put in some double track here and there. Bill VanderZlam wanted an unmanned system, mainly because of his fight with the transit operators union. Then Glen Clark overrode the professional recommendation for light rail on Broadway and went for SkyTrain for the Millennium Line. It was much less than was needed and therefore underperforms. Essentially bus riders subsidized the rapid transit system, although after 22 years the Expo Line is probably breaking even on operating costs. We are 800 buses behind where we need to be and that is without UPass for all students.

There are only three ways Translink can raise money: property tax, gas tax and fares. Gas tax increases underperform because people can find ways to reduce their gas consumption and also buy gas outside the region. Increasing fares does not pay because it drives down ridership.

In terms of goods movement we have been told to expect a four fold increase in the number of containers in the next five years, by which time emissions from ships will surpass that of cars. The great push from the port for more road space is simply because they work in the daytime only. We could have a very good system if trucks only moved at night.

He also referred to the recent scandal of the new Translink board pay scales.

The regional strategy says that we should plan for more walking, cycling and transit use in that order, cars coming a distant fourth but we don’t have the capital for these three modes. The expansion of the the airport is a massive investment in infrastructure that we had not anticipated.

We need a long term plan for transit and also distance based car insurance. It will be a hard process to get there – and we need the share of the gas tax that currently goes to Ottawa and Victoria. We need to do what Zurich has done. However the new Translink board is not pedestrian or bike oriented. We also need to be aware that to achieve the financial result required for the p3 contract, we will need 100,000 passengers to pay for the Canada Line. Diversion from existing bus services will only produce 43,000 – and no-one knows where the rest will come from.


Dr Fred Bass

“I was removed from the TransLink Board because I would not support the RAV line. I want to talk about cycling.” He then conducted an impromptu survey of the meeting’s bike use which showed that COPE is much more bike intensive than the rest of the region. “I sold my car in 2003and that has saved money, I use my wife’s car and a car co-op, bus and taxi. I have gained hard cash – $3,000 to $4,000 a year and I lost 15lbs – cycling is good exercise.”

While the priorities of the regions transportation plan are pedestrians, bikes, transit and cars in that order, the expense tell a different story. Transit riders pay over 50% of cost of their ride. There are 1.2m cars in the region but they do not pay their share of their costs. In 1996 the GVRD estimated that each car was subsidized by $2,800 a year (Todd Littman estimates it at $3,700 now.)

Bikes bring the community together, there is less air pollution, but the risk of injury is ten times that of a car driver, based on UK statistics. There should be compensation for using a bike. One city in the US uses a lottery to reward someone who has recycled properly. This idea could also apply to cyclists. He the went through a long list of cities that have higher rates for cycling than we do and concluded that we are not world class. “We need more bike routes and to get to a critical mass. I want to see the Burrard Bridge full of bikes.”

tiffany-kalanj.jpgTiffany Kalanj: Student Union of Vancouver Community College

Tiffany is a full time staff member of the Union and is determined to get UPass for VCC. The cost of transit at VCC is significant and there are students there, she said, who have to choose food or fares.

In 1990 the students started negotiations for UPass and in 1994 got FastTrax as the second prize. The decal gets a student a 3 zone ride for a 1 zone fare, but gives no discount to those who only ride within one zone. There is a large discrepancy compared with what UBC students now pay for their pass. In 2002 after UPass was successful in Ontario, Victoria and the University of Washington in Seattle, Translink returned to the negotiating table. Only SFU and UBC were accepted a part of the pilot program. In its first year UPass saw a 39% increase in transit ridership at SFU and 53% at UBC. A Translink report in 2005/6 proposed to expand UPass to nine community colleges but all nine had to agree. At the 2005 municipal election Sam Sullivan said, “I will make sure you get UPass even if Translink does not want to give it you.” Since then he does not return phone calls. The revenue neutral policy has not worked.

Buses are really overloaded. Under the proposed “all or nothing” deal the cost could have been $34 per month, but if it was VCC only it would be double UBC price. (Note that UBC does make a contribution towards the cost reflecting its savings on parking provison.) Some colleges are not interested, which makes the deal hard to complete.

VCC has 11,000 students and a high percentage are single parents. 33% are also working full time. There are a lot of low to moderate income single moms upgrading their qualifications in the hope of better employment.

The basic issue for the students is access to education. The ghg figures produced by the province and Translink don’t add up. A policy change is needed. It should no longer be revenue neutral and we need to get all colleges in the region on board.


Andrew Eisenberg said he liked the ideas he had heard but asked “how will you fund it?”

Fred Bass said that there are 1.2m cars in the region. They cost their owners $9,000 a year. That works out to around $11bn a year out of drivers pockets plus $5bn in subsidies. If you could redirect 10% of that to transit we could have a good system. He also pointed out that money spent on cars goes out of this region.

Tiffany Kalanj said that there is currently a $300m surplus at Translink, but they raise the fares and they increase their own pay. What about the poor? It is not that difficult: it is just a political decision.

Dale Laird noted that at present CN intermodal ships containers from the port to their Thornton rail yard by truck. He also noted that the only way that the Canada Line has stayed within its budget is by a reduced scope. Two train sets have been cancelled and the provision of storage for spare or damaged trains at the ends of the tracks have been eliminated. Lavalin has therefore also required the removal of its performance guarantee, as these measures make it impossible for them to meet their targets.

David Cadman concluded that transit should be a wedge issue in next election. We need to get the ped/bike/transit coalition as organised as the truckers. Cope is opposed to Gateway. He also noted that Sam Sullivan had promised to roll back the previous fare increase. While on the Translink Board he did nothing to bring this about

We must stop expansion of roads to absorb traffic from the freeway expansion but Bill 43 means TransLink can overide city council and insist on local road widenings to distribute increased traffic from the widened freeway.

Fred Bass said simply “We have been screwed on transportation. It has been a robbery of our democratic rights.”



Written by Stephen Rees

February 12, 2008 at 7:48 am