Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for August 15th, 2008

Pub Goers Trade Home Grown Produce for Beer to Beat Credit Crunch

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Barter is alive and well and at work in Norfolk.

Pub manager and brain child of the popular scheme, Cloe Wasey, enthused “We find the home-grown stuff is often much better than what we can get from the suppliers. When we get the good stuff, and it gets on to the specials board, it’s brilliant.”

Odd turn of phrase that – I think they meant that is was her idea. But I would love to see somethign similar start here. Though I bet the needle nosers from Revenue Canada would have something to say about it.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2008 at 4:32 pm

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Gridlock or gold medal?

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Mike Harcourt in the Globe and Mail

Mike has a long shopping list of projects that he says are needed in time for the 2010 Games. Just one  quibble I have – and actually it is kind of significant – it is too late now for most of this. There is not nearly enough time to do any of this. For example

1. Hundreds more buses purchased by TransLink, with federal and provincial funding assistance. Make sure they’re electric or low-emission buses.

Absolutely – spot on as the number one choice. But they would not start to be delivered for two years. All the North American manufacturers have no spare capacity right now as cities across the continent are experiencing sudden surges of demand for transit.Even if we went for imports – which might be expensive given how our dollar is being dragged down with the US dollar – there would be significant lead time just to get over the Transport Canada bureaucrats who have been holding back electric vehicles for so long already. And the last surge of bus imports from Hungary in the early 1990s turned out to be a bit of poor choice.

And apart from our current trolley fleet – what electric buses can he be thinking of?  Hundreds of buses would need several more operating centres and lots of new operators. CMBC is having trouble filling vacancies now.

3. Start a free bus-pass program in downtown Vancouver.

Why? Downtown Vancouver already has the best transit service in the region and is one of the most walkable places around. Buses are well used – and even the Bus Riders’ Union thinks free fares are a non starter. And given the numbers of people who currently walk and cycle, why will getting them onto a bus make things any better? Free transit is a silly idea in a region with excess demand for transit already – we need better service, and especially better service in low density suburbs like Maple Ridge.

Delta Port expansion, the $150-million Delta, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford rail overpass/underpass project, the Golden Ears Bridge, North/South Perimeter Roads, a SMART twinning of the Port Mann Bridge (with rapid transit, HOV and tolled lanes) and a new Fraser River rail bridge that could accommodate a fast-rail service from Portland, Seattle to Abbotsford and Vancouver – all are essential to improve mobility and decrease congestion.

Mike has drunk the Gateway KoolAid, alright. Actually dropping off the projects already underway (the Golden Ears will be open, and has nothing whatever to do with port traffic) it is still the case that the rail projects are significant and necessary but the roads are not. Virtually all of the port traffic to and from places outside Greater Vancouver is already on rail. Trucks are for local traffic. And the congestion is created by bad terminal management and customers who insist on delivery in normal working hours. Co-ordinate drop off and pick up to halve the number of truck trips and organise around a 24/7 schedule and things will start working smoothly with no new capacity needed. The water transport people (tugs and barges manily) already work like this – why can’t trucks? But again, this has precious little to do with the Olympics.

The Chinese for the Biejing Games invested heavily – in electric trains. Three subways and a High Speed Rail line. BC just continued with its obsession with roads. And it is too late now to change in time for 2010. Not that we shouldn’t scrap the stupid Broadway tube – and 5 LRT lines would certinaly be a better way to go. But we need to do that becuase it is what the region always planned to do. In fact Gordon Campbell actually wrote the plan in 1995!

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Compost bug offers hope for biofuel industry

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The Guardian

A detritus-loving bug found in garden compost heaps has been genetically ‘turbo-charged’ to help it break down tough plant matter at speed, a process that could be about to transform the way the world makes biofuels

The problem with “second generation ” biofuels is that it is not easy to break down cellulose. So biofuel at present is made from material that has a better use – food. This British development will at first just make that process more efficient. Which in itself is not a bad thing, since the invetsment has already been made in the ethanol plants and they will continue to produce for some years until that investment is paid off. They use tremendous amounts of energy too, so just cutting back on that bill is also a good thing.

But you cannot please some people

Some environmental campaigners remain unconvinced, however. A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, which campaigns against biofuels, says that so-called second generation technologies are not the answer.

“Sustainable second generation biofuels are a PR promise, not a commercial reality – and are a distraction from real green transport solutions, like more fuel efficient cars, better public transport and safer routes for walking and cycling,” she said.

Well yes, but why do we let the best become the enemy of the good? Certainly I would argue for an end to subsidies and mandates for grain based ethanol. And the quite daft marketing of minivans in BC with a “flex fuel vehicle” badge when E85 is not sold here. After all it had to be adapted to meet Canadian standards – so why is that badge still there? But, the present fleet of internal combustion cars and trucks is going to be around for a while, so getting cleaner fuel for them is still necessary. Corn based ethanol fails to meet that criteria because it is not carbon neutral – yet. “A distraction” possibly – but not enough of one to be a plausible alternative to all the other good things, and anyway we should be doing all of those even if the planet wasn’t heating up. “More fuel efficient cars, better public transport and safer routes for walking and cycling” are all Good Things in and of themselves, and consequent reduction in GHGs simply a bonus!

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2008 at 9:07 am