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

Archive for September 1st, 2008

Ray Lam Calls for a Sustainable Transportation Mix

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I may not be as famous as Rebecca Bollwit, but a lot of people I have never heard of do put things in my in box.

And in this case it looks like a young man who is running under the Vision banner in Vancouver has at least been thinking about what needs to be done to make alternatives to driving more attractive. Of course, for a Vancouver City Councilor to pontificate about these issues is not new. And as the current Mayor has discovered, there actually is very little the City can do in the area of transit (as Ray Lam acknowledges). But some of these ideas – like cutting down on on-street parking to make room for bus lanes or bike lanes seem very courageous. (You will no doubt recall Sir Humphrey saying to Jim Hacker, “Time for an Act of Political Courage, Minister!”)

It will be interesting to hear if any of the mainstream media pick up on this press release, and I trust you will understand if I put in a caveat. Just because I am giving this some space does not mean I endorse all or any of it. But I do like to see fresh ideas and young minds in this arena – of only because they have yet to become as jaded and cynical as I am.

For a reality check – the city does licence taxis (but taxis are regulated by the province too) controls bus shelters and other street furniture (and their current contractor also operates velolib in Paris in return for an exclusive on their billboards) and can do quite a lot about on street space (but has to listen to the DVBIA, the BoT, CofC, not to mention Linda Meinhardt) and the public realm in general. As for the rest – the Province has the power.

(VANCOUVER, BC) Ray Lam unveils his ideas to create sustainable transportation as a commitment to Vancouver.

A major concern in the city is the rapid increase of transit riders as a result of the UPass program at UBC and SFU, and a rising fear this coming fall is of the implications of its expansion to other post secondary institutes. Lam says “generating a larger ridership is brilliant if we have the infrastructure for it, but we don’t” pointing the finger at the over-crowded buses, and the large groups of people left behind at bus stops.

Even the most avid transit user has to admit that single occupancy vehicles (SOV) are sometimes necessary for day trips or large-volume shopping. Lam suggests that “the city needs to reevaluate what is considered ‘public transportation’” and calls for a more diverse “transportation-portfolio.”, making it easier for Vancouverites to give up their cars and commit to sustainable travel.

This is a bold plan requiring buy-in from the public and private stakeholders to ensure that we include residents with differing lifestyles.

A New Transportation Mix

The City of Vancouver has little to no say on issues such as busses or fares. Lam wants to see a broader transportation portfolio in Vancouver to compliment the transit system. “The city needs to investigate new methods of providing residents with options for sustainable travel” Lam wants to investigate a municipal mobility program to ensure that such amenities are extended to all residents. The goal is to create “a municipal program that expands on the one-zone bus pass [travel within Vancouver] to include access to bike and car co-ops, as well as preferential parking near transit arteries for car and van pools – to minimize SOV use.”

Currently, private businesses and corporations offer incentives for employees to travel sustainably – car and bicycle co-ops, carpooling, and transit discounts; these include UBC, which offers bicycle co-ops for students, preferential parking for HOVs, and discounted bus fares. “These proven sustainable transportation initiatives can’t stay trade-secrets of the corporate world” says Lam. “We need to ensure that what we know to work, works for our citizens”

Lam’s concept of the municipal program is inspired by the idea of pay-per-use bicycle programs in Paris, Lyon, and Dublin, as well as the TMoney pass in Seoul, Korea that includes subways, busses, taxis, and other transportation services. “I want a city that shows residents that we care about their lifestyles, encouraging them to seek means of sustainable transportation”. Lam wants to see “public services that serve everyone”, saying “if you need to get to work or school, take the bus; if you are a cyclist, use a pay-per-use bicycle; and if you need a vehicle just for the day, borrow one.” This multi-modal approach will have the broadest possible appeal, and unifying it under a single pass will make transitioning between services as seamless as possible.

In addition, Lam wants to investigate the reduction of road-side parking to create HOV and transit lanes to encourage carpooling, speed up transit, and create safer lanes for cyclists. Lam says “the trend of single occupancy vehicles is fading, and the city needs to be one step ahead to ensure that Vancouver’s infrastructure will support higher occupancy vehicles and bicycles”. Lam wants to tackle this early to ensure that the growing reliance on public transportation is not discouraged by slow busses crawling through traffic. “Vancouver and its services need to meet residents where they live and take them where they are going; we need to mould our services to complement the lives of Vancouverites, rather than asking them to change their lifestyles to accommodate the city’s inadequacies.”

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm

‘Conservative’ Alberta is wildly outspending everbody else

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Scott Hennig Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

So he gets a big slab of space in the Vancouver Sun to bleat on about the province’s next door’s spending. Well I suppose we should be grateful to have any newspaper at all on a public holiday – and I must admit I was surprised that anything at all appeared on Labour Day.

Alberta is debt free, and is awash with cash from the oil patch. Which be it noted is a “non-renewable resource revenue”. The comparisons with Latvia and Pakistan are bizzare. What is really shocking is that Alberta now spends more than BC (gasp!)

Mr Hennig does not note that this is a reversal of earlier policies. For years Alberta has had budget surpluses and not spent on essential infrastructure – or even badly needed social programs. Ralph Klein was very proud of being tight fisted when he didn’t have to be. But not a few people began to notice that sometimes this is self defeating. For example, the road north to the oil patch was only two lanes and in shocking disrepair,and under great stress. There were desperate problems of housing for workers in the oil patch.

Since Klein’s departure, the province has been playing catch up. Edmonton now has an almost entirely new bus fleet – and is even thinking of doing a major overhaul of some of its 30 year old light rail cars  (the optimum time for a mid life refit is 20 years). Benefits of having better, newer equipment – less breakdowns, lower operating costs, more reliable service. All well worth paying for.

The problem for the Taxpayers Federation is that they do not like any spending. They do not see government as providing essential services or that the taxpayer is entitled to see good quality services for their taxes, services which are effective as well as efficient.

Edmonton is tossing around cash like it will be pumped from the ground forever. This policy has already cost Albertans more than they will ever know.

Pure hyperbole. The oil and gas revenues are not going to stop for a while. “Forever” is never in any government’s mind. It is all they can do to think up to the next election. And of course Albertans will know -n because one of things they spend money on is the public accounts which the Federation will of course spend much time pouring over in search of profligacy.

Most people will not be suckered in for long by this nonsense. Government spending is not “bad” just becuase it is not private spending. And most people will appreciate better facilities. And more and better transit is just one of things that does not come from giving people tax refunds.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Economics

Metro Vancouver commuters ready, set, wait…

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Randy Shore in the Vancouver Sun

My last post was a blast at the media and I am afraid this one is going to be more of the same. A lot of people rely on the newspaper for their information. So when they read

“TransLink, recently saddled with Premier Gordon Campbell’s goal of increasing transit’s share of commuter trips from about 12 per cent to 17 per cent.”

they tend to believe it. But it is wrong. The share of commuter trips by transit is actually 16.5% (2006 census quoted by Metro Vancouver) so not far off the supposed “target”. But what I think Randy Shore meant to write was “share of all trips” which is actually “about 12%” and was supposed to have been 17% some time ago. (Interestingly a search for the term “Transport 2021” does not produce that document from Metro’s website. Going by my probably faulty memory I think we were supposed to have hit 17% by 2005.) So what ever number Campbell picked was not new, but then he may well have forgotten that was what he picked when he was Chair of the GVRD in 1995.

The reason why we do not have this mode share yet is that transit investment in this region has been inadequate and badly directed. Having made the choice of SkyTrain for Expo 86 we keep on repeating the same formula and spend too much on a rail system that feeds downtown Vancouver from the adjacent suburbs and thus fails to meet the needs of most of the region. Bus service is slow and infrequent but is all there is for many trips – so it is not an attractive choice. So most people continue to drive from the suburban homes to their workplaces in other suburbs. And many municipalities have jumped on the dispersal pattern of jobs and allowed or promoted office parks on the edges of town – usually sclose to a freeway exit – and failed to produce the compact urban region with complete communities – which was supposed to support a number of “regional town centres”, which are actually too expensive to attract workplaces as the condo developers have bid up the land prices too far.

I am not going to be sidetracked by the CUTA/FCM survey about the impact of gas prices. Yes people say they will use transit, but in this region many who try tommorrow will, once again, give up in disgust, as they wait for buses that have run early, or turn up late and packed to the doors. As one Translink marketing wiseguy pointed out to me early on in my career there “there is a lot of churn in this business”. Meaning the product we had to sell really did not appeal to those who have a choice. Though I do expect, as long as the weather stays nice, there will be more cyclists and walkers. Though again a couple of close shaves with a massive pick up truck or an SUV driven by a homicidal maniac or distracted Mom on a school run will deter many too.

The number of automobile commuters in the City of Vancouver went up 20 per cent between 1996 and 2006, according to census figures.

In hope he has got that figure right. Because we have been busy patting ourselves on the back for the decline in car use by citing the number of vehicles entering the downtown core in the peak period. And  both are right, and neither says anything about the region. And this story is apparently only part 1 of a series.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Posted in transit

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New Toronto tax on cars, motorbikes rolls out

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Globe and Mail

As of today, a new city tax takes effect for Toronto residents who own or lease a car or motorbike.

The charge of $60 a year for a car and $30 for a motorbike or moped will be added to the bill when residents apply to the province to renew their vehicle plates. Those who live outside the city do not pay the fee.

The new tax has flown under the radar, …

Now how does that happen? The new Toronto fee is only slightly less than the $75 vehicle levy that was proposed by the former GVTA and was swatted down by the Province (Ujjal Dosanjh actually) after a much furore and fuss. Both the GVTA and the GVRD approved it and they were elected local politicians. Ujjal was dead in the water anyway and a gesture like that did nothign whatever to reveive the sagging NDP support.

Maybe attention was diverted by the property transfer tax. Cities in BC can’t have that because the province got there first, and a worse tax is hard to imagine. But then housing affrdability here has only ever got token acknowledgement. No-one has actually done anything about it.  Or maybe it is becuase it goes to general city funds not directly to the TTC – though both desperately need more money.

Note also it is not a congestion tax. It is based on owenership not use, and of course all those commuters into Toronto frm the 905 area won’t be paying it. So it is not even a very defensible tax in terms of dealing with a problem.

And of course no-one can talk about a tax without calling it  “just a cash grab” as though public spending on essential services could somehow happen without taxes.

I suspect that it “flew under the radar” becuase the news rooms decided it was not worth spending any space or time on. There are not many major public concerns that are treated this way – but some get much more attention than others. Tolls on the Golden Ears and the Port Mann do not get much attention – but the Patullo may be different. We will even dig in to our own pockets for cash for kids (hospital) – or MRIs. These cannot apparently be bought out of taxes but we will cheerfully make tax deductible donations for them. That is not a cash grab, apparently. But is is also very good for the image of billionaire Liberal funders and media conglomerates.

Have you had enough yet?

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in Transportation