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

Archive for September 2nd, 2008

Exports jump at L.A., Long Beach ports but imports falter

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LA Times

This has been covered here fairly recently, but bolsters the argument that the Port expansion for import containers is simply unnecessary.

Woes on the waterfront

Imports have recorded sharp declines at major ports. Figures are for top West Coast ports from January through July, compared with the same period of 2007, for the equivalent of 20-foot cargo containers.

Los Angeles

* Imports: 2.4 million, -5.5%

* Exports: 1.1 million, +23%
* Empties*: 986,000, -24.2%

Long Beach

* Imports: 1.9 million, -12.7%
* Exports: 1.1 million, +23.2%
* Empties*: 849,000, -27.4%.


* Imports: 470,000, -5.3%
* Exports: 560,000, +8.8%
* Empties*: 172,000, -26.4%


* Imports: 376,000, -6.5%
* Exports: 304,000, +22.1%
* Empties*: 117,000, -22.1%


* Imports: 405,000, -13%
* Exports: 279,000, +1.6%
* Empties*: 91,000, -37.4%

Source: LA Times research

*Empty containers returned overseas

There are some other points worthy of note

the export boom overshadows a deep pullback in U.S. consumer spending.

Imports are down so much that the twin ports are on pace to record their second straight year of declines in overall international trade. That hasn’t happened in at least 30 years, despite a handful of national recessions along the way.

The slowdown has hit almost every harbor in North America.

Of the 10 busiest seaports that are tracked every month by the nation’s largest retailers for signs of congestion, only two are doing more business than last year. One is Vancouver, Canada, which is serving an economy much healthier than that of the U.S. The other is Savannah, Ga., which is winning market share as the first big East Coast stop for cargo headed north from the Panama Canal.

And Savannah will benefit a lot from the widening and deeepening of the new Panama Canal. There is also of course the long running story of Prince Rupert and its link to the US midwest, which involves a key seat in Chicago which straddles a short line called the EJ&E which CN wants to buy and use to avoid the congestion of Chicago’s rail hub, and where Presidential candidate Barack Obama has been making promises. Politicians in the US being concerned about citizen protests on the impact of freight through their neighbourhoods (at least prior to elections). Something not seen in this region.

Note too, as an aside, that Vancouver is not seen as serving the US market!

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Gateway, Transportation

Tagged with

Taking taxis not easy for visitors to Vancouver

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Vancouver Sun

Last year, Kevin Falcon was inconvenienced when a taxi refused to take him to Surrey. So he brought in the taxi passengers “charter of rights” which obliges taxi drivers to do what they have always been obliged to do under the law. Which has made not the slightest difference to anything.

Now Kevin seemingly has not had time to take a cruise this year, so presumably he is unaware of the two hour waits that those poor unfortunates have been forced to endure at the cruise ship terminals. So both (port CEO) Gordon Houston and (Mayor) Sam Sullivan are trying to put the pressure on the provincial Passenger Transport Board to increase the number of taxi licenses.

This is not a new issue by any means – at least ten years to my direct knowledge, and actually much longer as the records of the PTB and its predecessor the MCC will show. And there is no mention of that in this short piece. So there is no analysis here of why this situation has arisen or why it persists, or indeed what the impact is on people, who live here all the time and are not just passing through but have too much luggage to use an airport shuttle bus.

Taxis are actually used by people who cannot drive – often for a combination of physical as well as economic issues. They are very important to people with disabilities, who have to use them simply because handyDART is so inadequate. People on low incomes who cannot afford a car will often use a taxi to help bring home the weekly groceries. So taxis are not just the preserve of the wealthy, the business travellers at the airport or the late night drunks who are sufficiently compos mentis not to drive themselves home.

The reason why more licenses are not issued is that existing licences have a high market value – simply because they are in short supply. Often the license holder no longer needs to drive a taxi (an uncertain source of income at best) because they make so much from renting out their licences. And this group is very well connected politically, and the legislation under which taxis operate has always favoured them. Issuing more licences would devalue the existing ones, and that is an economic impact that the licensing scheme is designed to protect. And despite a long history of studies, nothing much is going to change, as long as some key constituencies depend on the ability of some groups to turn out the vote. That is a political reality that never gets mentioned in any of the reports produced on the topic, because it is too difficult for any politician to tackle head on.

There are a number of solutions – deregulation being the least likely and most disruptive. The one I favour and have argued for is the London solution. But because it is unique to London, no one else wants to try it. London black cabs are heavily regulated – but their numbers are not limited. Taxi drivers have to pass a very stiff test – it usually takes two years to qualify. And the taxis themselves have to meet very stringent standards. Fares are also regulated. But once you have a license and a licensed cab, you decide when you work. So the number on the street fluctuates, and after a while tends to reflect predictable changes in demand. It still means though that you cannot get a cab if it is raining or when the shifts change mid afternoon. And there is a now regulated but less stringent hire car license (also known as mini cabs) which tend to serve the suburbs, as wall as specific services for the disabled (although every back cab is also accessible).

Chances of something changing in time for the next cruise ship season? None. There is an election coming up which looks like it will be a close run thing. Not the time for basic reforms in politically sensitive areas. Maybe a few more licenses for vans – which while they look like they are for wheelchairs spend most of their time shuttling between the airport and the cruise ship terminal. The tips are better.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2008 at 12:17 pm

Posted in taxi

Tagged with

Transport Canada study puts price tag on social costs of cars, planes, trains

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Canadian Press

It has been a long time coming, and it is far from perfect but it is a lot better than nothing. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, it was slipped out without fanfare in August.

Other countries have been assessing social costs of transportation for much longer. Indeed, that was one reason why the Department of Transport (as it was called back then) hired economists, who spent lots of their time running cost benefit analyses of proposals. Again it did not mean that decisions were always based on the lowest social cost – but sometimes the rigour of the analysis did force unpopular decisions on our political (and management)  bosses. For instance, I showed that a bus full of old ladies going to play bingo really was more important that a limo with a chief executive in it being whisked to the airport. Things changed dramatically in Central London when the traffic computers stopped using “passenger car units” to count traffic, and instead used value of time. (In pcu terms a bus is the equivalent of 3.5 cars: in cost terms a bus in peak periods carries over 60 people, far more than the 5 people in the 3.5 cars, whatever value is placed on the persons’ time.)  There was also one major intersection that was goiung to be grade separated at huge cost of land acquisition (and negative CB), which was replaced by a simple traffic management scheme which had a positive CB ratio and “paid for itself” within a year.

My biggest concern is that “air, marine and rail modes accounted for just a fraction of these social cost” mostly becuase of the way that noise costs are estimated, for which air will have been the greatest beneficiary.

the estimated costs of transportation “noise” in Canada were much lower than in any other country, perhaps reflecting a less-dense population in Canada or differing methods of determining the cost, the authors said.

Noise costs were generally calculated as the damage to residential property values from the constant sound of vehicle traffic, trains and aircraft.

The method that was in use around airports in Britain was to base the cost on retrofitting homes with enough noise suppression (usually large air gap double glazing) to make them minimally habitable. The loss of not being able to enjoy your garden due to the constant roar of landing jets was said to ne “too dificult” to calculate then too. The point about house prices being a lot of people need somewhere to live in reasonable proximity to the large number of jobs at airports, which tend to be on very anti-social shift hours. If the property market is as unreasonably buoyant as Greater Vancouver has been in the last 20 years, comparisons of house prices and noise contours will probably be of little value.

What I do want to emphasize is the cost of loss of life due to road transport. Once again the lack of care that society devotes to this subject, in contrast to the excessive attention paid to the much lower death toll of plane, train and ferry “disasters” needs explanation. We do not accept the loss of two people when a ferry sinks – but the steady loss of much greater numbers of people every week has no “news value” and thus receives almost no attention, unless it can be shown that a driver was deliberately intent on causing death. Perhaps we should have a more stringent view about the motivation of people who drive vehicles capable of multiples of the maximum speed limit while their attention is distracted. That seems to me evidence of gross negligence at the very least.

The report

Written by Stephen Rees

September 2, 2008 at 11:33 am