Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 5th, 2008

How much is clean air worth?

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Our Premier was ever so proud of signing his “hydrogen highway” pact with Governor Schwarzenegger.

But at least one transit operator in California is having second thoughts about hydrogen buses

According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, the Valley Transportation Authority is now reporting that the operating cost of the each hydrogen bus is $51.66 per mile compared to $1.61 for a comparable diesel bus.

They break down much more frequently, and replacement parts are next to impossible to order, according to the report.

Which sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Translink had to park its entire fleet of CNG buses for very similar reasons. In that case most of the problems could be traced to an unsuccessful attempt to convert the new style of diesel engine to use CNG fuel. While sold as an “original equipment manufacturer” engine, its conversion turned out to have been contracted out to a specialist company.

Public transit is no place to test out new technology. There simply is not enough money in transit budgets to cover R&D for unproven systems. Not only that but the big problems we face – greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution – come from car use. There simply are not enough enough buses to make much difference. But what does make a difference is reducing the number of cars on the road. And the only way we can start to tackle that issue is by increasing the amount of transit service. Wasting Spending money on leading edge demonstration projects may well come from someone’s R&D budget, but that money would be much better spent on buying conventional buses. For we know that per passenger kilometre travelled, transit performs much better than single occupant vehicles – for both ghg and common air contaminants.

Here the hydrogen buses will be operated by BC Transit in Whistler.

If a zero emission bus is thought worthwhile, we already know how to do that. It’s called an electric trolleybus and it only costs twice as much as a diesel bus to buy.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 5, 2008 at 6:18 pm

More commuters take transit

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Jeff Nagel, Black Press

Metro Vancouver workers don’t commute quite as far as they used to and they take transit more often, new findings from the 2006 census show.

The median commuting distance shrank about three per cent to 7.4 kilometres within the region, bucking a trend toward longer commutes in Toronto and Montreal.

The car is still king – 75 per cent of Metro Vancouver commuters said they travel in private vehicles and 60 per cent are lone drivers in single-occupant vehicles.

But 16.5 per cent of the region’s commuters told census-takers they mainly take transit – up from 14.3 per cent a decade earlier in the 1996 census.

This is just about the journey to work of course, so the location of employment is key, and there are a number of trends that tend to cancel each other out. Vancouver downtown no longer dominates the commute like it once did: more people live in Vancouver and work in Richmond than the other way round and that has been true for ten years. Jobs have been dispersing to office parks, but they are not usually in walking distance of anything. But work has also been changing, and more people work out of their homes – or their cars. Of course, the much lauded lucky few who can walk to work in downtown Vancouver – or Metrotown come to that – have had an effect, and car trips into Vancouver at the morning peak are down. So it is a small overall gain, which is good, but not nearly good enough yet. But better than elsewhere.

The main message I take from this is we need to do much more, and to stop now plans that will inexorably reverse this trend

Long-distance commuters made up nearly 38 per cent of all commuters in the Squamish area, 18.1 per cent in and around Abbotsford, 17.4 per cent in Chilliwack and 4.3 per cent in Metro Vancouver.

And Squamish will see that percentage rise as the development of homes prompted by the Sea to Sky “improvement” come onto the market in an area with few employment opportunities. As will Abbotsford and Chilliwack if Highway #1 is widened.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 5, 2008 at 11:19 am

Translink mulls property tax hike

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Jeff Nagel Black Press

TransLink’s unelected board will deliberate in secret on whether to raise residential property taxes to help businesses shoulder the burden of an expected tax hit.

At issue is how to raise an extra $18 million each year that TransLink no longer gets since the province eliminated its ability to levy a parking stall tax that the business community fiercely opposed.

Kevin Falcon scrapped the parking stall tax as part of his Translink makeover. The question now is how to replace that revenue – and if it comes from property tax does that apply to all property or just businesses. The new board was of course selected because it represents business. And the business groups get to speak to the new board in private. Everyone else has to wait for the limited opeings of that the Board allows for public submissions.

The battle over property tax for transit is a long running saga here – and across BC for that matter. Property tax is the only one that municipalities can access. The province does not decide how high that can be – local voters do – but it mostly makes its contributions to transit conditional upon local contributions. (One long running sidelight argument is about the gas tax: if it is only raised locally but by the provincial government, does that make it a local or a provincial contribution?)

Mayors do not like hitting voters with property tax increases. For a long time that meant they went after businesses since they do not have votes as businesses, though of course business can and does turn out the vote and pays for electioneering. There is also a limit on how high you can jack up property tax before businesses start to relocate. And most councils are controlled by business friendly parties and non-parties.

Of course the first question to be asked is why Translink “needs” this money since it has a substantial cash cushion at present. Secondly, it has to be noted that Kevin Falcon has also tied raising the gas tax to raising property tax. And he is also refusing to look at changing the provincial policy on tolls to permits road user charges on existing roads.

 Any plan by TransLink’s board to increase taxes will still require the approval of the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation.

But is that real or merely a set of words on some legislation? It seems to me that the province has the upper hand, since it can simply put off any of the much needed and desired transit expansions in its so called “plan” by saying, ‘only if you raise property tax’.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 5, 2008 at 11:03 am

Posted in regional government, transit

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