Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for February 26th, 2008

b. February 27th, 1949

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A day to celebrate. And perhaps take a break from blogging. Here, courtesy of an email from the Very Short List is an entirely appropriate video about banging the drum about how old you are.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

First Great Western close to losing its franchise

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The Guardian

Regular readers will know that I am, on the whole, against privatisation. That of British Railways was done very badly indeed, and has resulted in a huge increase in public expenditure, most of it being drained off to investor’s pockets, not spent to the benefit of the travelling public. But this story shows a feature of the contracting model that is worth noticing.

First Great Western has a really bad record. And now Ruth Kelly, the UK Transport Secretary, is going to do something about it

Transport secretary Ruth Kelly today ordered FGW to buy more carriages, increase passenger compensation payments and hire more staff or else the franchise will be terminated. The Department for Transport found that FGW, voted the worst service in Britain last month, misled passengers by under-reporting the number of service cancellations last year.

She added that instead of fining the franchise, which operates throughout the west country as well as the London-to-Cardiff route, she had imposed an improvements package including higher compensation for commuters affected by endemic punctuality problems.

“Any penalty would be paid to central Government. Having considered this carefully, and given that a penalty would not, itself, help passengers, I have opted instead for passengers to receive a better benefits package,” she said.

Now let’s imagine that Translink had been contracting out the delivery of services, instead of being required to give them to one of its single purpose subsidiary “companies”. And as a passenger you had been subject to pass ups, or cancellations due to staff shortages, or failure to provide an advertised service like bike racks after dark. Don’t you think that this model might have produced more satisfactory outcomes than press releases and soothing platitudes?

If FGW do not deliver what Secretary Kelly has told them to do, they will be booted, and someone else brought in to run the trains who can do a better job. Any chance of that happening here? If the Coast Mountain Bus Company fails to deliver adequate service, there is absolutely no penalty at all. Indeed it is usually made as difficult as possible for an outsider to determine whose responsibility it is to carry the can for many failures. And it is always easy to fall back on “circumstances beyond our control”.

Come to that, given another story in my local freebie this morning, have you ever heard of any of the contractors to Partnerships BC being required to do anything to smarten up? So far, as far as I can see, the fact that they deliver profits on time to their shareholders is all that matters. Clean hospitals? Fines or requirements to make up to those harmed? You must be kidding.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Posted in privatisation

Ethanol? You cannot be serious!

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updated Feb 29, 2008

There is quite an extraordinary letter today in the Richmond News.

I have of course written a letter to the editor which they printed uncut. Anyway I came across this rebuttal in of all places a site called the last item of the Google News search. It is called The Dark Side of Ethanol?

By the way though they provide a link to a Science article, it just goes to the front page, and only subscribers get the whole article, so to save you time here is the abstract

Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. Using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2008 at 11:54 am

The argument for density: Livable, affordable and kind to the climate

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Peter Busby, Special to the Sun

Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I think that we need to know what is tacked on the end first

Peter Busby is managing director of Busby Perkins + Will Architects Ltd. in Vancouver.

Now he is, no doubt, a Good Bloke. But he is hardly impartial, as he depends for his living on developers. Architects do not work for anyone else. And he makes some good arguments. But once again I have to repeat that calling people names is not a way to answer their legitimate concerns. And they are not necessarily NIMBYs, and as property owners would probably like to see the value of their investment rise. But they are right to be suspicious.

Fundamentally what is wrong with ecoDensity ® is that it is being proposed by Mayor Sam Sullivan. And the people of Vancouver do not trust him. Even people in his own “non party” do not trust him, and will not give him a clear run at the next election.

As always, the devil is in the details, and the City of Vancouver cannot deliver on one of the most important. The City of Vancouver gets better transit than the rest of the region already. To make increased density outside of the present dense areas work, there will need to be more transit – and it is not up to the City to deliver it. And municipalities outside of Vancouver are getting very fed up with being promised more transit only to see those promises broken – and more than once. And as long as the Province thinks that the Gateway and a tube tunnel under West Broadway are the most important priorities, there is not going to be more transit for the rest of the region – or more bus service for the currently low density areas of Vancouver.

UPDATE February 28

An op ed piece by Micheal Geller in today’s Sun continues to bang the drum for eco-density:

 We’re beginning to get the ‘Eco’ — but what’s Density?

It seems to be mainly about building height, as if that were the only concern. There is also this mnarvellous bit of throw away

Concerns about traffic and parking can be addressed through better transit, and creative off-site parking solutions.

If you do it properly, you can actually reduce the need for parking. Because walkable, multiple use dense development reduces the need for motorised trips. And it is much more than “off site parking”. But getting more transit has to be the crunch issue. And I would say that the chances of getting enough transit to even satisfy existing demand are pretty low, because once again a massive rail rapid transit project – designed mainly to get transit out of the way of the cars on Broadway – is the centre piece. Not better bus services.

He is of course using the word “get” to mean “understand” – because we are not “getting” any more “eco” in these proposals as far as I can see. When I worked on these issues a few years ago with what is now the Community Energy Association, the big issue was the restrictive municipal rules and regulations which tied developers to a building type which was actually contrary to best planning practices. And while we looked at the issue through the lens of energy consumption (which neatly converts to greenhouse gas emissions) we also pointed to the need to deal with issues like community safety (i.e the size of fire trucks) how you deal with waste – solid and liquid – drainage and so on.  Mandated single use of land doesn’t help either: mixed use and distributed retailing have to be added in. Not to mention parks and schools – which tend to be a bit of an afterthought (see current issues in downtown Vancouver with lack of primary schools and kindergartens.)

In fact, height may be the least of the problems with eco-density – or rather the current proposals in Vancouver. It has to be done right – and so far it hasn’t been.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2008 at 8:42 am

Langford to sue highway protesters

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Vancouver Sun

A Vancouver Island community plans to sue a group of protesters to recover the costs of their interference in construction of a new Trans-Canada Highway interchange, says its mayor.

“It’s trying to get money out of people who can’t rub two nickels together, but we have to go after some of them,” Langford Mayor Stew Young said Monday.

So as long as you are penniless you can protest with impunity. But if you have any assets, and dare to oppose people who you think are abusing a pretty thin excuse of a “process”, then expect to lose everything.

“You may not be criminal, but if you put masks on and you block our surveyors and impede us . . . then we can sue you for our costs. They may not be criminally charged by the RCMP, but we’re going to now go after damages,” Young said.

Which is exactly what Betty Krawczyk has been complaining about. The law is open to everyone – just like the Ritz Hotel. All kinds of torts go unpunished because the legal costs of getting redress are ludicrous. Indeed, if there is a low probability of recovery, maybe the citizens of Langford might ask their Mayor is he is not just throwing more money away. Maybe he might consider actually listening to what people have to say next time, instead of just allowing developers to do what they like. Why do people feel the need to protest? The media love to dismiss protesters and paint them as antisocial malcontents, but there is a real issue here. And the decision making process is far from adequate in terms of satisfying people that their legitimate concerns are being addressed. In general, elected municipal politicians are seen to be far too closely allied with developers. That perception may or may not be correct, but action like this does nothing to dispel it.

And the basic principles of freedom of speech, or the need to protect our environment, simply do not get a look in.

Young said he understands that people might think the municipality is trying to intimidate protesters, but that is not the case.

“You might think that. You might very well think that. I could not possibly comment.”

Written by Stephen Rees

February 26, 2008 at 8:13 am