Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 21st, 2008

BC Government used 80c/litre in its Gateway forecast

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You have no idea how frustrated I have felt since Ben West told me this report was coming – but of course I could say nothing until it was released. So here is the whole press release and the sordid, but absolutely unsurprising story.

Confidential documents reveal BC government did not consider rising oil
prices for multi-billion dollar transportation project*
Gateways feasibility was based on gas prices of $0.80/litre!

Vancouver, BC

Freedom of Information documents provided to the Wilderness
Committee revealed that BC government officials failed to take into account
rapidly rising fuel costs when they were establishing the feasibility of the
proposed multi-billion dollar Gateway Project to expand highways, bridges
and port facilities around Metro Vancouver.

Transportation experts anticipate that rapidly increasing fuel prices will
reduce personal vehicle use and increase the demand for public
transportation. The BC governments analysis of the Gateway Projects and gas
prices was based on a forecast of gas at $0.80/Litre, but gas in Metro
Vancouver is currently selling at around $1.30/Litre, and is projected to
rise. The BC governments modeling is based on a 2003 Canadian Automobile
Association (CAA) study entitled “Driving Costs” which explores overall
operating expenses of vehicles.

“We are disturbed to see that the traffic modeling was based on such out of
date figures. At best these projections are shortsighted; at worst they are
could be construed as an attempt to justify spending billions of public
dollars on a project that will not serve the publics interest,” said Ben
West, Wilderness Committee Healthy Communities Campaigner.

Through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request the Wilderness Committee
uncovered an email conversation between government staff. One BC government
official justifies not taking into account rising fuel prices by commenting,
“What is important, is the relative cost of fuel/operating expenses
vis-a-vis other costs such as transit fares and the value of time, which are
also not escalated in the future model years.” If the price of transit was
in fact increasing by the same rate as a gasoline, a one-zone transit fare
today would be around $4.97: in fact it is only $2.50.

In recent months there has already been evidence the price of gas impacting
BC residents transportation choices. A poll conducted by the Hotel
Association of Canada says 22 % of those surveyed gave the price of gasoline
as a reason for travelling less. A recent BCAA survey shows that 49% of
those surveyed will not take road trips this summer because of increased gas
prices.

Earlier this month, a Goldman Sachs analyst predicted prices could hit
between $150 and 200 a barrel over the next two years. The current price of
gas at the pump is the result of the price of a barrel hovering around the
recent record highs of over a $125 dollars a barrel.

“The closer you look at the Gateway Program the worse it looks. If Gateway
were allowed to proceed, it would suck a massive amount of money away from
public transit at a time when expanded transit is needed more than ever
because of skyrocketing fuel costs. When we take into account Gateways
projected negative impacts on wildlife, Burns Bog, heritage buildings,
livable communities, pollution and associated health problems and climate
change, the more clear it becomes that under-estimating rising gas prices is
the BC governments latest attempt at putting lipstick on a pig. Gateway is
simply a dead end and must be reconsidered,” added West.

Now if you read here very much you will know that the forecasts for the Gateway projects like South Fraser Perimeter Road and Highway #1 leave a great deal to be desired. Basically the government just decided to ignore any effect that did not support the project. They used a technique that managed to avoid awkward questions about induced traffic and impact on land use.

But the most stunning revelation now is that the modellers did into even look at any possible future when gas might cost more, and the justification was that they also assumed that transit fares and the value of time would rise at exactly the same rate as gasoline!

I know some of the people who did this work. I have been defending them, since when we worked together at Translink they were very careful to ensure that we had reasonably good figures. Nothing is ever perfect, especially in forecasting. And the base data in this region for things like the overall demand for travel (based on a tiny 5,000 person sample – less than 0.04% of trips) and especially transit use (we had no idea of transit ridership as they had got rid of the ride checkers years ago in a fit of cost cutting) – well it leaves a lot to be desired. Everyone always makes assumptions. You have to. But, common sense suggests that you try to make the best assumptions you can and do hedge them around with “what if” scenarios.

Oil prices have shot up, but gas prices at the pumps, though they have risen, have not gone up at the same rate. Value of time is usually given as half the average wage rate. We know from recent StatsCan figures that wage rates have not kept pace with inflation: real incomes would have been falling if not for the way that government transfer payments (pensions and so on) have made up the difference. But I repeat VoT is based on wages.

Transit fares are a tricky one since they go up in 25c jumps once every two years or so. So the whole “keeping pace with inflation” argument is bedevilled by choice of dates. But it is also well understood that fuel costs are a small part of transit cost: wages, on the other hand, constitute about 80% of operating cost. So assumptions that gas would be the same price – and that VoT and fares would be equivalent – are quite breathtaking. The absence of a range of prices is frankly not good enough.

How much more can go wrong for Gateway? The shipping and trade forecasts were not even done properly – they were just wishful thinking and they have been shown to be overly optimistic. The costs were understated. The benefits exaggerated. The environmental impacts ignored – despite major issues identified, and doubts about methodologies raised by both Health Canada and Environment Canada.

And this government still wants to spend vast sums of money on projects which are not needed, and will not produce the effects claimed for them. As they are supposed to be P3’s, I confidently predict that no private sector corporation will be shouldering any of these risks. Which means the taxpayers will be back on the hook. But at the same time we will also be giving up the possibility that we could have a Livable and Sustainable Region.

Give it up, Gordo

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2008 at 7:16 pm

Posted in energy, Gateway

Putting pedestrians first

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Hat tip to Ron Richings

The City of Vancouver “CityPlan” says that priority will be given to pedestrains and cyclists over cars. (Transit comes third). While that may be what the plan says, the practice is quite different. In most situations, cars rule.

Now, what would putting pedestrians first actually look like? This 15 minute film shows what “pedestrian priority” means in Switzerland. Now the Swiss are very law abiding folk. So maybe their reactions are not going to be exactly replicated everywhere. BUT there is a very strong resemblance to the Hans Monderman approach – just take out all the signs, signals and painted lines and make them look out for each other. Canadians are supposedly polite, caring people. I would love to test that idea.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Cable Cars Over the Thames?

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The Guardian

Cable cars, like these in Singapore, are increasingly used for mass transit in cities around the world. Photograph: Reuters

The East London River Crossing has been a long running saga, and this proposal looks at way that you can meet the need to get people from on side of the river to the other without wrecking the environment.

The new study compares six alternative types of river crossing to the road bridge, which is presently locked in a second public inquiry. They include a rail-only bridge, a new river-ferry crossing, a walk and cycle-only bridge and a car bridge which is adapted to take more public transport.

All would be better than the road-only bridge, say the study authors, professors of transport at the Stockholm Environment Institute, University College London and the University of Wuppertal in Germany. But a cable car across the Thames would be the most sustainable. It would be significantly cheaper than a bridge, and would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage cycling and walking, and could be erected in time for the Olympics in 2012, they say.

Cable cars are increasingly used for mass transit in world cities and across rivers because they need little space, have virtually no waiting time, can run at over 20mph, and have very low emissions. They are already used in New York, Istanbul, Vancouver, Madrid, Caracas and Hamburg and other cities are planning systems. A cable car has crossed the Rhine in Cologne since 1957.

Of course we have them here too but only only ski hills (Grouse Mountain has a very big one) and tourist traps (Hells Gate Air Tram).

Air Trams at Hell's Gate

Neither has anything like the frequency proposed for London. But I can think of a number of locations where these would make sense. SFU for a start

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with ,

Paris – what do they know that we don’t?

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This story appears in Wired and carries the headline “Paris’ Metro Gets Bigger, Faster and Better”. But it is not about “metro”, it is about trams – or if you prefer American “Light Rail Transit”

Paris Tram line T3

Photo by Fanch on flickr

The €650 million ($1.02 billion US) project will include new 25 stations from Porte d’Ivry to Porte de la Chapelle, of which 13 will have transfers with a Metro or RER lines. The line will require 22 new train cars costing €67 million ($105 million US). The city will invest €137 million ($214 million US) in urban landscaping along the tram’s corridor.

The whole package that Wired describes costs half of the ridiculous Canada Line. The image shows a long tram running on a reserved right of way with grassed track. In other words what could have been put into the Arbutus Corridor easily and cheaply with no disruption to anyone. Certainly not one business would have needed to close. And the length of the trams and the frequency of service can be readily adjusted to meet needs. The Canada Line has short trains which cannot be lengthened without rebuilding all the stations, most of which are underground. Its frequency will be restricted to the time it takes a train to negotiate the last half mile of track (Lansdowne to Brighouse) unload, reload and then run back. That’s what cheaping out on single track gets you. And of course both branches will have to interleave service adding more delays and lowering service standards as the people of Surrey discovered when the Millennium Line opened.

As as Malcolm keeps repeating, this system and systems like it have been around for years, and are in use in cities of all shapes and sizes all over Europe and other parts of the world that understand concepts like “value for money”, “convenience” and “urbanity”

Some 155,000 daily passengers are expected to use the extension alone, which means some 255,000 passengers will use the T3 line each day

The Canada Line forecasts that peak hour loads will be 5,300 northbound and 3,400 southbound through Cambie Street in 2021. Or around 90,000 daily passengers. Less than half the ridership for twice the cost. (source: RAVP Final Report on Ridership and Revenues 2003

But of course when we need to carry a fraction of what the Parisian trams carry,  our provincial government thinks it makes sense to put yet another tunnelled system through Point Grey at a cost of over $2bn!

I hope a resident of the west side of Vancouver or along the new Evergreen line will give me one good reason – and the need to transfer is not an overwhelmingly convincing one – why a system like the one illustrated above is not acceptable in their area. I would also like someone to defend the idea that we cannot even consider a system like this for the Fraser Valley for another thirty years!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2008 at 9:49 am