Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for May 27th, 2008

More bad economic news from the US

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prices of U.S. single-family homes plunged a record 14.4 percent in March from a year earlier, while consumer confidence slumped to its lowest in 16 years in May as gasoline prices surged.

This is bad news for us as well. First the US is our biggest market. For BC we have already seen the effect on our lumber industry, but it is going to effect everything. Canada has had a wealthy neighbour to the south that has wanted – and paid for – our exports. For a long time we thought that had something to do with a weak loonie, but of course we don’t have that any longer. Although it looks a lot stronger against the dollar than it does against other major currencies.

But if course it is also very bad news indeed on the people who have been betting on Vancouver grabbing more of the US travel and transportation business. The port, airport and the tourism businesses who had been expecting that we could do well out of what had seemed an insatiable US appetite for consumer goods and services. Fortunately tourism could pick up from Europe and the pacific rim – but it will have to acknowledge higher airfares. For the all the stuff that has been packed into containers for the shelves of Target and Wal-Mart in China – well that was then, this is now.

And inflation is up too.

So if you had been planning for a major infrastructure project, that depended on growth in the US, now might be a good time to have second thoughts

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2008 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Economics, Gateway

Vancouver’s safe injection site can operate indefinitely

with 10 comments

Vancouver Sun

Supreme Court Judge Ian Pitfield has ruled that Vancouver’s supervised-injection site can operate indefinitely and that it is not bound by Canada’s narcotics laws.

This is an important victory. However, just because it can does not mean it will. That is because it has to secure adequate funding, and that is the issue over which we can expect the political games to continue.

The judge also makes it clear that Insite is part of the health care of drug addicts, and that clearly if people are going to inject it is better that they do it in a safe environment than an unsafe one. You would have thought that such a common sense approach need not require a major court case to be established, but that is the result of both politicians and police officers weighing in on issues that they have pre-judged, and who prefer to either ignore evidence that does not support them or carefully distort it. Insite has been the subject of far more uncertainty and spin than any other service I can recall. Though no doubt some moral dogmatists will also object to the service that provides sandwiches to the street prostitutes.

No-one has ever suggested that Insite was of itself the solution to a multifaceted problem – or even that “harm reduction” can stand alone. In fact all the advocacy that I have seen has been about living up to our commitments to a four legged stool – or whatever that homely metaphor was. But Mr Harper is much keener on the condemnation of sin (and punishment of the wicked) than he is on helping the sinners. I do not share his faith – or indeed any – but I cannot help but think he seems to have got the essential bit of the message twisted around.

Am I being overly optimistic in hoping that another judgment will also remove all the vagary around medical marijuana?

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Solar Powered Personal Rapid Transit

with 4 comments

Today we have had a bit too much of back to the future. Sailing ships and the horse and buggy need to be offset by some real Jetson’s style geewhizzery.

soalr prt

This image comes from a short item from Inhabitat which may I think refer to Abu Dhabi. No rails, and also the solar power must be collected and transmitted somehow – not collected on board. It’s part of a city plan for Masdar which will be waste free and zero emission. And of course they are not much troubled by dull wet days there.

I must also say that for a modern urban environment, this one looks a bit bleak to me. I think an old fashioned street with trams, bikes and pedestrains would look a lot more welcoming but then I am obviously a Luddite

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2008 at 9:55 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with

Oil prices raise transport costs, eroding advantages of globalization: CIBC

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Canadian Press

A short, pithy piece which once again points out the folly of our port managers, who have been pursuing a strategy based on cheap oil.

In fact it is so short I will let it speak for itself

The high price of energy is eroding the advantages of globalization by raising the costs of shipping materials around the world, says CIBC World Markets.

The bank says the cost of moving goods, not the burden of tariffs, is the largest barrier to global trade Tuesday.

In fact, the report says, the explosion in transportation costs caused by the record levels in the price of oil has effectively offset all the trade liberalization efforts of the past three decades.

In 2000, when oil was US$20 a barrel, the cost of transportation was the equivalent of a three per cent U.S. tariff rate, the bank says.

Now, transportation costs are equivalent to a nine per cent tariff, and at US$150 a barrel for oil they would amount to 11 per cent tariff, about the average of tariff rates in the 1970s.

China has been among the most adversely impacted, with steel exports to the U.S. falling by 20 per cent from a year ago, and other exports that carry a high freight cost component also showing declines.

Trade is based on the economic doctrine of “comparative advantage”, and the cost of transportation has always been a significant part of the calculation – trade figures are quoted as either CIF (including carriage, insurance and freight) or FOB (free on board, usually at the port of origin). And of course the huge size of modern freighters and the massive investment in containerization all helped to keep those costs down. But they have probably achieved all the economies possible and now fuel costs are rising and it will take some time for fuel saving technologies – such as the return of sailing ships – to get going. And before you imagine I mean tea clippers, there have been some very successful experiments in sail assisted ships in recent years.

Modern sail assisted ship

But it stll seems to me more likely that in our current planning horizon (the next twenty to thirty years) port expansion should not be a high priority.


There is a very similar opinion piece in the Sun today

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2008 at 9:40 am

our alternative transportation is …

with 4 comments

Mother Earth News

At the last meeting of the Inter-Regional Transportation Select Committee, Councillor Harris accused me of wanting to go back to the horse and buggy era. I think it was a fine rhetorical flourish, and I did not argue with her. And I now I am glad I didn’t. Because here is an article which tells you all you need to know about replacing your old station waggon with a horse and buggy. Now it really helps that in some parts of the north eastern US they are still a daily sight. And if you have Amish neighbours they will only be too pleased to help you.

So far as I know, there are not too many old order Amish around here – but in places like Abbotsford and Chilliwack – and indeed Richmond – horses are still kept, though mainly for saddle work, which, as the writer points out, is a bit different to harness work. But I took the image below in Chilliwack – so there are people out there who know how to mange the transition. And, by the way, I did see recently that a very successful undertaker in London has found that the use of a hearse drawn by a fine team of black Belgian horses is an increasingly popular option.

Pony and trap

Written by Stephen Rees

May 27, 2008 at 9:26 am