Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 8th, 2008

US coal moving through Roberts Bank

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UP train of empty coal hoppers goes back home

Originally uploaded by Stephen Rees

In recent weeks there have been a number of coal trains unloading export coal at Roberts Bank. Most have come from the BNSF but today I caught the first Union Pacific train just as it was leaving Deltaport Way.

It did come as something of a surprise, that US coal shippers would use Vancouver, especially since our dollar is roughly the same as the US dollar. Presumably a longer train haul must be worth less than an extra day or so sailing. This tends to contradict what I had always understood about bulk traffic which was the general principle of getting it to tidewater by the shortest route possible, but maybe the terms of trade are different.

Anyway I was wrong. Vancouver has won some traffic that would previously have moved through US west coast ports – it’s coal not containers and it moves by train – but the point is conceded.

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June 8, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Transportation

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What do we want?

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The Council of Seniors Organizations of BC made a submission to the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging June 5th in Victoria. The following extract is taken from Gudrun Langolf’s speaking notes and deals with bicycles, transit and toilets. The submission did cover other issues childcare, food safety and water quality – among other things…but these had the greatest resonance with me.

Making it easy and habitual to keep fit includes reserving green spaces, allotment gardens, parks, physical games throughout school years, adequate and safe bicycle routes (for physically challenged or seniors, these should accommodate tricycles!), and hygiene stations with drinking water fountains and, very importantly, public toilet facilities both rare commodities in our region. I know of individuals who will not take their diuretic medication (for high blood pressure) on the days they travel or are away from home for fear of not having an accessible toilet even on transit stations. No need to talk about negative health consequences here. When I go for my bike rides, they are almost always designed to include ‘comfort stations’- not much spontaneity allowed… In Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, we can count public facilities on the fingers of one hand! Construction site Johnny-on-the-spots and accommodating restaurants fill the void. This is not acceptable in a civil society. Remove these not so obvious barriers to mobility. Of course, this is of benefit to all generations, not only the elders. For some reason they ran out of money and could not provide up & down escalators in our modern transit stations as well. Those and toilets ought to be standard for every transportation cost-sharing project.

I am 59 and sort of retired. I was being offered senior’s discounts 15 years ago (it’s been a tough life) but I do not think of myself as a “senior”. However, I do have the usual old men’s issues. Working on the census I was very glad of the biffies on construction sites. And on my other blog, the issue of the public convenience has been given quite a bit of space. And the removal of drinking fountains and their replacement by vending selling bottled municipal water at outrageous prices is a disgrace.

The issues I think have a common thread. Government has lost sight of what it is supposed to be for. It now behaves as though facilitating profitable enterprises is their only concern. Providing a decent, civilised public realm comes second to promoting the ability of business to extract yet more surplus from everyday activities. We seem to have forgotten that municipal government started with the very real concerns that the population needs healthy living conditions. I have to refer to England here since I do not know enough about the history of Canadian municipal government, but in the Victorian era it was the city councils that ensured there were clean streets, clean water, functioning sewers and sewage treatment, public baths, recreation of all kinds in parks and other facilities. And lots of public conveniences too. They also administered the Public Health Act, which among other things ensured that houses met certain minimum standards, whoever built them, as well as public housing for those who could not afford market rents. It was also the local councils that first built and operated tram services in most cities.

All we do now is try to find ways to limit spending on programs. But somehow municipal taxes rise much faster than inflation yet the quality of services has not improved very much, despite much of it being run by private sector companies that were supposed to be more efficient. And the projects municipalities do build are always justified by the amount of business they will bring to the town. So there is no money for a senior’s centre, but there is plenty for an Olympic skating facility that will be needed for exactly two weeks – and then has to be “repurposed”.

Anyway, good for you, Gudrun. Maybe the Senate might actually do something useful for a change. After all, it is in their own interest. Most of them are older than either of us.

[By the way, this just happens to be the 1,000th post on this blog]

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Another lobbyist fails to register

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I know I saw headlines like that last week and I did scan the story, but failed to see how much potential the story had.

First of all it was broken by a blogger – Sean Holman in 24 hours (one of those thin freesheets given out to commuters every weekday, and which I have had a hard time seeing as “real newspapers”). And also it came from an FOI request – not to the BC government but that of Washington State, who actually take FOI seriously and can produce complete sets of documents, unredacted, in days not months.

And that has lead to a piece by Michael Smyth in today’s Province which is unusually hard hitting.

[Patrick] Kinsella co-chaired the Liberal election campaign in 2001 and 2005. [Mark] Jiles was Campbell’s personal campaign manager in Vancouver-Point Grey.

Apparently this situated them perfectly to land lucrative government deals for their clients, Accenture being only one on a long list. [They got a big chunk of Hydro]

The Progressive Group — the company operated by Kinsella and Jiles — also helped Alcan land a sweet deal to expand its Kitimat smelter. It helped the B.C. Motion Picture Production Industry Association bag $65 million in provincial tax breaks. And on and on.

B.C. lobbyist registrar David Loukidelis is now investigating whether Kinsella and Jiles broke the rules by failing to publicly register as lobbyists while delivering all this government gravy to their undoubtedly delighted clients.

After several days of silence, the Progressive Group on Friday issued a written statement saying its activities did not constitute “lobbying” under the law in B.C.

Hmm. The dynamic duo brag in their resume that they were hired by the motion-picture association “to convince the provincial government to extend the foreign tax credits” to their clients.

If that’s not lobbying I’d like to know what is. I look forward to Loukidelis’s report.

Now we have already had a very similar case with former Translink CEO and Gordon Campbell’s go to guy, Ken Dobell, who managed to shrug off a finding that he had broken the law by insisting it was merely a technicality. An oversight.

The present case shows that this sense of entitlement to special favours seems to be endemic to BC Liberal insiders. And as Smyth reminds us

Campbell promised to end special deals for friends and insiders. He promised to run the most open and accountable government in Canada.

This case shows he has failed on both counts.

Which coming from the media group that has so far acted as Campbell’s cheering section is very refreshing indeed. The Liberals hold on power looks like it might be slipping. How many more of these scandals are going to surface before the election I wonder? Because something tells me that there are more to come, and a lot more journalists and bloggers are going to be hoping that they can emulate Sean Holman. The sharks can smell blood in the water.

Hat tip to Gudrun Langolf

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Posted in politics

Breaking news – Sam’s gone

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Peter Ladner has won the NPA nomination for Mayoral candidate.

Much more as this gets absorbed by the media – but I am pleased that Ladner won, even though I would not vote for the NPA even if I could.

The Province has him saying “I will go off into the sunset”  but on Global News this evening he was more upbeat saying he was looking forward to “having a life” again.

In Sunday’s vote by NPA members, Ladner outpolled Sullivan 1,066-986.

which is pretty close and not exactly what was expected – even by Ladner himself.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 6:34 pm

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L.A.’s commuters can’t even go nowhere fast

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Los Angeles Times

Today’s lesson, dearly beloved, comes from the book of LA. Take a look at the image and read the longish account of the people who live there, put up with this, and expect it to get worse, even though they know that gas prices are rising. And take note of the width of this freeway. It looks like six lanes in each direction. LA has been steadily widening them over the years. Last time I was down there we had plenty of time to study the techniques they use for freeway widening. We were stuck in traffic hoping to get the kids to Disneyland. Every time they widen the freeway the traffic gets worse. Even in LA they are giving up on that strategy now and are looking at HOT lanes. They do have a subway. It cost a lot to build – just like ours do – and carries less than its potential because it doesn’t get anywhere very much – another familiar story.

This story has been brought to you courtesy of Wayne Worden, who thought you might be interested.

It seems to me that this is the future that Gordon Campbell and Kevin  Falcon have planned for us. Precisely the one we knew about  twenty five years ago and decided we didn’t want, and which was rejected  in 1995 when the LRSP was adopted.  And actually compared to  most US cities LA is not that bad. Despite the heat and the need for air conditioning Angelenos have something like third place in the table of least greenhouse gas emissions per person in the US. New York of course is the most efficient.

And if we concentrate on new technologies and alternative fuels for cars, nothing will change except the emissions will not grow quite as fast.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 5:17 pm

“Technology revolution needed to save the planet”

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Speaking in Japan ahead of the G8 meeting of energy ministers there this weekend, International Energy Agency (IEA) executive director Nobuo Tanaka warned on Friday that a technological revolution is the only way to solve the problem of climate change [PDF link].

I suppose when you look at ther source of my story it is not surprising that it picked up on this technological angle.

Of course, it is not the planet that needs saving. The planet will adapt and continue. WE may not be able to survive but in planetary terms that really is of no concern at all. Earth has been around a lot longer than humans – and will still be here long after we have been eliminated. It is our survival that is at stake, not the planet’s.

The time horizon is interesting: 2050. Well I think that may be a bit too far. I think we have actually passed the point where technology will save us – and we need to make a start on those things that we know and understand will help us cut our use of fossil fuels. The market’s response in recent time is actually helping – and is far more dramatic than any carbon tax in use or proposed. Of course, the revenues are not flowing to those who want to preserve humanity.

Although much of the report focuses necessarily on the supply side of the energy equation – power generation, carbon capture and storage – IEA colleague Dolf Gielen addressed specific consumer technologies, particularly in transport.

He said: “Bio-fuels, battery/electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles each play a role. Cars account for about half of total transport sector fuel demand, [but] … we’re not able to say which [technology] will gain the dominant position.”

Notice that at least as far as this short news item is concerned, it is cars that need to change. I think less need to use cars is the starting point. For we know that we cannot cope with a car oriented society. The great experiment in recent years has shown that low density, car oriented development is not sustainable. We could never build enough roads to keep the traffic moving even if every single one of them was an electric smart car. Fortunately the technology we need we have had all along. Bicycles work well. So do shoes. And to those we can add a whole range of efficient transit modes from rickshaws to high speed trains. We just have to work out how to finance alternative modes, not alternative technologies. And apply appropriate technology to the transportation need.

Much of this in North America is going to be based on retrofitting human settlements – and there the crunch issues will be things like land ownership and vested interests

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2008 at 10:02 am