Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 2008

Transit pass a ticket out of welfare

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Jessey Basi

Jessey Basi is a graduate of the master’s degree program in public policy at Simon Fraser University.

The piece he has written describes his research. Which like most social science restates the blindingly obvious. In BC welfare rates are well blow the poverty line. They do not allow anyone enough to find shelter and food. In other words, they cannot afford a transit pass. So all the programs and the requiremnts for welfare recipeints to find work cannot be effective.

If the beneficiary purchases a two-zone round-trip fare to attend a single job interview, that costs $7.50, nearly the entire day’s support allowance. How can anyone manage to live when spending almost 100 per cent of their daily finances on transportation alone?

BC is deliberately ignoring the evidence – and has been for years – that is punitive attitude to welfare recipients is self defeating. The poverty is used as a club to beat the poor – not a system to help people get back opn their feet. The biggest barriers that welfare recipients face to finding a job are not the opportunities, but simple things like daycare and a transit pass. And there are many other places that have abandoned this Victorian attitude and have found more effective and effcient ways of helping people find their place in society again.

This is nothing to do with the transit provider. They should not be expected to deliver social policies. They are simply not equipoped to do that. They have a hard enough job fighting theoir way through the car traffic. This problem should land squarely on the desk of the architect of the problem. Gordon Campbell.

I do not fault Jessey Basi either. But this sort of research should not be necessary. It should have been made redundant by a government willing to acknowledge when its poicies have failed. Yes, you are right Jessey, it DID need to be done. Becuase this is BC. “The Best Place on Earth”. If you are not poor, unemployed, mentally or physically ill or disabled.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2008 at 3:45 pm

The case for the Gateway is falling apart

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Today’s story in the Vancouver Sun is about the trans pacific airline business. And that is part of both the federal and provincial strategies, and the Airport is one of the key players in the Gateway Council.

The masterminds behind B.C.’s efforts to boost trade with the Asia-Pacific have long identified the need for more airlines offering more seats between Vancouver and Asia’s major cities.

This is still the overarching strategy. But, for the time being, high fuel costs have several carriers publicly — or sometimes discreetly — dropping flights, merging schedules and substituting planes to reduce capacity.

“for the time being” – don’t you just love that? As though somehow a fairy godmother will wave her magic wand and we can be wafted back to the days of cheap oil. You know what? It ain’t gonna happen.

As the CEO of American Airlines said “There was no game plan for $140 oil” – or whatever the three digits were when he said that. And as far as the producers are concerned as long as they can sell what they produce at that price, that’s fine with them.

Newer aircraft are more fuel efficient than they were in the past, and just flying a little slower, carryng less fresh water and only one set of pilot manuals are all being tried to cut the bills. But there is no sparkling new technology just around the corner to transform the business. And as the airlines shrink so do lots of other businesses.

My prediction is that the airlines will retreat from the mass market, and return to the days when they were an expensive luxury. They will pull out of the short distance markets too as more fuel efficient modes are already there in many parts of the world, and will be here before long, once the North American railways get their act together.

Unlike the Port of Vancouver, YVR has deferred its expansion until it was sure there was a market. So there is less of the overbuilding we are seeing at Roberts Bank. But even so, times will be tough, and other major international airports along the west coast are not going to sit idly by either.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2008 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Gateway

Two new additions to the blogroll this morning

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Thanks to Al (The Bokashiman) Pasternak there is a new link on the blogroll this morning to Public Transit in Vancouvera bog about “the trials and tribulations of public transit in BC’s Lower Mainland”. It deals with the more detailed operational side – a new bus route on 16th Avenue in Vancouver, the relocation of a bus stop in Surrey – but it is also the place I learned about Drew Sinder’s new blog. Vancouver On The Lines is said to be “Notes, observations and occasional rebuttals from the TransLink Media Relations types.” Since it started on June 9 only four posts have appeared, all by Drew Snider.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2008 at 7:12 am

Posted in transit

Put oil firm chiefs on trial, says leading climate change scientist

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The Guardian

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech to the US Congress – in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming – to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the “perfect storm” of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.

In an interview with the Guardian he said: “When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that’s a crime.”

I think he is right, but the legal nicety is that there is porbably no law on the books that they can be charged with. And then of course there is the whole buisness of jurisdiction. In the US no other courts are recognised as legitimate, since the US does not sign treaties that would allow its officials to be put on trial. Because, of course, for most of the Bush administration, the Vice President and President have been denying right along with the buddies from the oil patch.

And while the tobacco cmpanies have had to pay large sums to both smokers and state governments, so far as I am aware no tobacco company executuve has ever served any hard time for their crimes against humanity. (I would really like to be proved wrong about that.)

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Katzie heritage site being bulldozed for bridge

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Brian Lewis reports that a highly significant archaeological site is being bulldozed to allow for a new connector road to the Golden Ears Bridge.

Building the Abernathy Connector will destroy a recently discovered 3,600-year-old Katzie heritage site, which archeologists say is B.C.’s most significant find in years and one that’s capturing global scientific attention.

Unfortunately, due to the construction schedule, archeologists have only been able to recover about three per cent of the 91,000-square-metre site’s artifacts and even this small portion totals more than 200,000 items.

The 10-month excavation ended in April and some artifact types had never been previously encountered.

But its most extraordinary impact is the change in scientific perceptions of ancient native peoples who lived beside the lower Fraser River after the last ice age ended 12,000 years ago — they were not just hunter-gathers.

“Now we have evidence of gardening 3,600 years ago, which turns the whole definition of northwest coastal natives as hunter-gathers on its head,” says Simon Fraser University archeologist Dana Lepofsky, who has followed the “dig” closely.

“This is hugely significant, anthropologically.”

But of course in BC we do not value anything other than the ability to drive our cars, so this site will vanish and the irreplaceable evidence of this ancient way of life will be lost for ever.

It is going to be the same story along the South Fraser Perimeter Road. There are several known sites that will disappear as detailed in the technical report (large pdf file). The SFPR has yet to get its certificate of course, but as the H1PM2 process demonstrated that is merely a technicality. No matter that the demand forecast is known to be wrong and the impact on land use ignored. And that the changing reality of a world past peak oil and well into irreversible and terminal (for us) climate change makes the whole project a whoite elephant.

Simon Fraser University archeologist Dana Lepofsky says other countries go to greater lengths to protect archeological sites that lay in the path of development but that in B.C. we’re not even enforcing existing archeological laws.

“Here, we put a higher premium on pavement than 12,000 years of history that can only be recaptured through the archeological record,” she says.

Hat tip to Rick Green for bringing this to my attention.

Update June 23

There is a good article by Jeff Nagel on this issue in th e Surrey Leader

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Environment, Gateway

“the biggest crisis facing the world”

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The first two stories I read in this morning’s Obeserver leave me depressed.

Gordon Brown is in Jeddah trying to persuade OPEC to open the taps a bit more. And that is his quote I used for the headline. He thinks the oil price is the problem and that therefore more oil coming on to the market to meet rising demand will solve it. That is, lower the price.

The second story is that “the majority of the British public is still not convinced that climate change is caused by humans – and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem.”

So at least Gordon Brown is in step with his constituents. Although most of the analysis is what that means for his political future. Not,  what does this mean if the world does not have leadership that is prepared to tackle global warming. Brown was trying – unlike Bush and Harper.

There is a deal of debate about why the Brits are not convinced but the phrase “many people said they did not want to restrict their lifestyles” sums it up neatly for me. And that feeling is not confined to the British either. And the thing they like to do is point to Al Gore and ask how big his carbon footprint is, and though that somehow excuses them from actually dealing with the future that faces us all and in a much shorter time frame than was expected.

It is not as if any of this experience is actually new or different. Throughout my life there have been “end of the world as we know it” scares. The bomb, the hole in the ozone layer, DDT, the series of oil shocks, the rise of terrorism and so on.  Most of the world is poorer and sicker than us – and we have actually been cutting back on the aid we give them. The population explosion was always a problem but the religious convictions of a few US marginal seats mean we do not deal with that or AIDS/HIV in any way that might actually work. The tv screen fills with little naked black babies who are going to die on a regular basis – and floods and disasters seem to occur with monotonous regularity in all the poorest nations. Nothing is being done to help Haiti or the Sudan – or nothing effective anyway. It is no wonder that people in the rich countries turn their attention away after a while from huge problems that seem so intractable. And listen to pundits paid for by big business who will tell them comforting lies. And sell them a big screen tv to watch “reality”.

The biggest crisis facing the world is our own indifference to our fate – and the wickedness of a political leadership that will allow that to happen. The good thing about the credit crunch and the oil crisis is that both were long overdue and a correction to over consumption and wastefulness that had to occur if we are to have a planet we can continue to occupy. And I used to reflect on what I heard the elders say about how this will affect our grandchildren. But most of the people alive today will see the impact of changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, worsening shortages of basic necessities – food, fresh water, secure shelter – and sudden catastrophic events such as the floods currently devasting the American mid west. Becuase it is not only Bangladesh and all those islands in the Pacific that are at risk. We all are.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2008 at 8:30 am

Tsawwassen treaty takedown

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Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail talks to Bertha Williams and throws doubt at the treaty, but misses at one significant point.

“The government desperately needs land for a massive container port to expand our vital shipping trade to Asia.”

That one sentence shows that she really has not done her homework. The government doesn’t “need” the land – it has chosen to allow itself to be dragooned by the Gateway Council into a Port Strategy that was ill thought out in the first place and now seems bizarrely irrelevant. The decline of cross pacific container trade has been going on for two years now, and rising fuel costs, a declining US economy and a change in world trade patterns due to the collapse of the dollar all point to a reduction in the need for container terminal facilities. But like the treaty process, the Gateway has been rumbling on for many years and the original justification for it has long since passed.

“Vital” ? Who for? We really do not need to import so much of what we use. Manufacturing in North America is starting to pick up again as fuel costs and long lead times cut into margins. Asia is an important market for our exports – but not much of that moves in containers. It is mostly bulk cargo. It may be in future that we will start to make things here again. Instead of exporting raw logs, we could be making bookshelves for IKEA (they currently come from China) from some of our lumber. I can think of a number of mill towns that would love that opportunity.

I think she hits the nail on the head when she identifies the need for the BC Liberals to actually produce something out of the treaty process, even if it did mean outright vote buying. But that pressure to be “seen to be doing something” does not make it a good treaty or a wise land use and transportation plan for the region. In fact it is monumentally stupid to build something we don’t need, that will not do what it is said to do and is also costing us a fortune that could be better spent on meeting real needs. Both here and on the TFN reserve.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 21, 2008 at 9:27 am

Posted in Gateway

Everyone complains about gas prices

with 12 comments

but how many actually do much about it?

This is just based on personal observation, not on anything I have read. Although there have been a plethora of stories in the media about people who are switching to transit or using their bikes. What I have noticed is that as gas prices have risen steeply driving behaviour has not changed. Yet there is a direct link between fuel consumption and speed in urban areas. Because of the frequent starts and stops, a lot of fuel is used to get the vehicle moving from rest, but the same energy gets thrown away as heat in the brake pads. And the harder the acceleration, the sharper the braking. I live on Steveston Highway which has a posted speed of 50kph – but the times I see someone driving at or below that speed are very rare. The average speed on that road is 70kph – which means half of the vehicles are exceeding that speed. And that is not the only road where this can be observed. In general, moving traffic in Greater Vancouver is at least 10kph over the posted speed on arterial roads.

But everyone knows that rapid acceleration and hard braking wastes fuel and wears out cars. Yet nearly everyone does it anyway.

And I also notice that the number of brand new large trucks used as personal transport is a obvious as ever. In fact the trucks seem to me to be larger than ever. Yes, I also notice the number of Smart cars and hybrids – but they are greatly outnumbered in my unscientific observation than the SUVs “cross overs” and four seat pick ups – all shiny and new and quite a few jacked up with off road tires (another good way to increase rolling resistance and increase fuel use).

Yet all these people are bitching and complaining about how much gas costs and blaming the government and its carbon tax which has yet to be implemented. And Carol James, to her great disgrace, seems to support them.

This blog of course is mostly read by those who understand these issues. We do, every so often attract a comment from one of the dinosaurs but not often and it is even less a rational explanation – more usually an attack on those who they feel are trying to “socially engineer” them. And I have been one of the first and loudest to point out how poor some of the alternative still are after years of trying to get much needed improvements.

But what really surprised me recently was the way that the Chamber of Commerce people in Abbotsford are convinced that their airport is going to be an engine of growth. Is this the same sort of denial that is behind the choice of a brand new Hummer? Air Canada lays off thousands and cuts service. Small airlines go bust and cease operating. Others seek bankruptcy protection and start charging for sandwiches and tell their pilots to leave their manuals behind. These are not the indicators one looks for in a flourishing industry.

We know that oil production cannot keep pace with growing demand, especially as China and India are motorising at a phenomenal rate. China will soon replace Japan as the biggest consumer of oil. There isn’t any more cheap oil to find and the reserves we know about are often in places where drilling has been prevented due to environmental concerns. Like the coast of BC. Only people people like Dick Cheney and his puppet think that is a good idea.

But the fast and agressive driver seems not to make the link between his (or her – yes, there are increasing numbers of female drivers who forget their manners on the road too) behaviour and the effect at the pump. And I see no sudden increase in the number of parking spots available.

I can understand why people think they have no realistic alternative to driving if they live and work in the suburbs. What I do not understand is why they cannot drive in a way that reduces both acclerationand braking, allows for a much less stressful journey and cuts fuel consumption. And usually does not take any longer.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 21, 2008 at 8:17 am

Posted in energy, Transportation

Tagged with ,

Algae or air could fuel cars

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Gwynne Dyer – Georgia Straight

The algae I think I covered a while back. But the combination of CO2 and hydrogen to make octane is a new oner on me. This is a short piece and frustratingly short on detail. But as with most things timing is everything.

I think there wil be some way of keeping the internal combustion engine going – we have so many of them – but for now the best bet I think is not to be too concerned about alterntaive fuels. Let the inventors and venture capitalists do their thing and refuse to subsidize them. Governments need to get us out of car dependance which they have largely created by building freeways and the associated distributors in response to pressure from the auto makers, oil and concrete industries – not to mentiont he property developers.

As commenters herev point out frequently there are too many areas where there is very little alternative to cars – and that is a failure to invest in footways, cycle paths and transit. And that is what the BC government shoudl be doing. Not building Gateway or the Hydrogen Highway or giving tax concessions to some fuels or vehicles.

And Transport Canada should stop buggering about and allow slow speed EVs on the road. Good grief, back in the 1950’s that was how the milk was delivered and the recycling collected back where I lived then. What is the problem that takes 5 years (and counting) to deal with?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 20, 2008 at 10:52 am

From freeway to feeway: Road congestion and tolls

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Pete Wightman in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun

Pete Wightman is a graduate of the master’s degree program in public policy at Simon Fraser University.

In research on Metro Vancouver’s road congestion, I investigated whether pricing structures could reduce congestion and queuing in our most gridlocked areas.

By applying market mechanisms to the George Massey Tunnel and Alex Fraser, Pattullo and Port Mann bridges, I found that we can all waste less time in traffic and have more efficient roads.

It is well written and well thought out article. I will bet the the research document is worth looking for too, if you have time. I am  sorry that my recent relocation has reduced the amount of time I have available for this blog, so I missed this yesterday.

Of course, most people, including Kevin Falcon and Gordon Campbell know for a certianty that this would not work here, just as they know that barriers on SkyTrain will work. Having really thorough and objective research based on actual facts is not good enough to sway either argument – but nice try and I hope Mr Wightman does not become as cy niccal as the rest of us about public policy making.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2008 at 11:18 am

Posted in congestion, Economics

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