Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for September 9th, 2008

Road trip – report 2

with 3 comments

I left Hope and headed up the Coquihalla.The south end of the route is parallel to the old KVR so the place names reflect Shakespeare – Othello, Lear, Juliet. Then it gets real wild and wooly, climbing steeply over the passes with an avalanche shed and many warnings on painted signs about how nasty this route can be in winter.

Pine Beetle Damage

Pine Beetle Damage

And that is not lovely fall colours – that is evidence of the damage the mountain pine beetle is doing. It is one thing to read about it, it is quite something else to see the damage like a graph of red in the dark green across the mountain sides.

By the time I got to Merritt I was low on gas. Now in the US the intersection of 97C and 5 would be a mess of gas stations, motels and fast food outlets. In BC we make you drive three kms into town. And the signs show that three gas stations that were here have closed, and Supersave is the only option, with prices only a few cents lower than Langley. The Coquihalla and the Okanagan connector were built through wilderness and not much has changed since. There is almost nowhere to stop and admire the scenery – and certainly no facilities other than places for trucks to chain up or check their brakes. So I was really pleased to see the the tourist information sign and find a bathroom, as well as maps and leaflets. But by now I was almost in Westbank.

This is a place that has been carved out of the mountainside. But all that has been achieved is the sort of nowhere that could be anywhere North America. Take a pristine landscape on the shore of the lake and turn it into a replica of Sandusky or Butte. The signs at the side of the road offer fruit, tires and condos. All just commodities.

I picked a motel on the basis of free internet and probably the ability to bring the bike into the room if necessary. I was bit depressed by the proximity of IHOP and White Spot but just across the street is a fantastic sushi place – O-ZEKI. The menu is familiar but the execution is flawless and somehow the sushi-chefs manage to keep up an incredible work rate and a stream of banter – in Japanese and English. If you are on your own, a sushi bar is a good place to eat supper. What better entertainment is there than watching people work? The guy sitting next to me had just fixed the waitress’s Subaru, and somehow light hearted banter seemed to flow easily. Perhaps two large Kirin had something to do with that.

Domo Obrigado

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Transportation

Road Trip – report 1

with 3 comments

Hope – The Blue Moose

My favourite restaurant here was kitty corner to this one but is closed. Note to travellers – even if there is no sign saying “free wifi” it doesn’t hurt to ask. Especially when they do not have an open connection and you need a password to log in. And just becuase there is a line up does not means it is necessarily especially good. In this case it means that there are two bus loads of English lawn bowlers ahead of you. But the Blue Moose is OK even if the bowlers seem to have cleared much of the pre-prepared food.

Mount Baker

Mount Baker

The skies were overcast with a steady drizzle all the way to Abbotsford, when a thin stream of sun burst through and I got a shot of Mount Baker. My first stop was near Chilliwack where I learned about the drained lake which explains why the interurban route is not as direct as it could be. When it was built it had to go around – not straight across as the freeway does.

Sumas Lake

Sumas Lake

I am also beginning to see why people will pay for satellite radio

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

Turn your car into public transportation

leave a comment »

A decidedly jaded look at a new car sharing scheme called Avego from Mashable.

Avego lays out some great arguments for using their product, including:

-85% of cars travel with just one driver in a five seat car. That’s simply an inefficient use of our resources

-It saves gas and reduces the cost of rides
-No more public transportation-related stress

-Your commute becomes faster

-It’s environmental

-You make money by splitting the cost of the ride

And of course, this is aimed at Americans. Here such schemes have been tried in various forms and soon fall foul of our regulatory mechanisms once they start getting well known. A number of such ideas have fallen to legal actions brought by taxi and longer distance (private) bus firms.

Actually I am not against the idea of more car sharing – and I think the schemes that are promoted by the public sector – such as Translink’s rideshare – could probably be enhanced by a savvy IT firm. It is also a good intermediate step for areas which currently have very poor transit service, and little prospect of improvements any time soon. As usual, the best is often the enemy of the good. We stop people from ride sharing but fail to provide a better alternative, and in the suburbs and exurbs, smaller vehicles than bsuse are needed to better match the many to many trip matrix. It is also the case that ridesharing was the sector at UBC which was hardest hit by UPass. Ride share can also work as a feeder to rapid transit. Van and car pools should be getting the best spots reserved for them at the Park and Ride.

Unfortunately, our regulatory frameworks date back to the years when transit had to be protected from competition from unregulated jitneys and the beneficiaries of that protection are obviously very reluctant to give up that privileged position.  But we need to review these rules and regulations to make sure the public interest is protected, and in general the need for reducing gas consumption and all that goes with single occupant car use trumps the benefits of safeguarding bus and taxi operators.  Although they may need some other form of support in the transition to prevent undue hardship. The invisible hand of the market not being especially wise in terms of social (and other external) costs.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2008 at 9:59 am

Posted in cars, Transportation

Tagged with , , ,

Wall Street’s Next Target: Roads and Bridges

with one comment

David Bollier, Posted September 9, 2008.

The article is a response to a New York Times piece in favour of more road (and bridge) privatisation. And it seems to be mostly about how biased that article was. He does produce a neat summary of why privatisation may not be such a great idea – as a counter balance to the Times. But it does not say anything about recent developments, which have taken the shine off this t wheeze for making money at the public expense.

The first one is the decline in car miles travelled – which is better documented in the US than here. The slumping economy and the steep spike in gas prices have reduced traffic and increased demand for transit. At the same time, transit systems are seeing thier costs rise and their revenue sources reduced. US transit systems rely on sources like gas tax and salkes tax to cover what fares don’t, and many are actually proposing service cuts at the same time as demand is rising. So having a toll road or bridge is not necessarily the license to print momey it once was.

The second one is that the credit crunch has hit the companies that have been working hardest in this field. Investors are increasingly skittish, but also many of these firms have a lot of asset backed paper in their portfolios which is now hard, of not impossible, to value. This means it is harder to raise the funds needed to bring of these deals, which often require a huge up front investment for a very long term pay back. When the market gets jittery, longer term funds get much more expensive and harder to find.

And of course, some of the earliest adopters of privatisation are rubbing their wounds and seriously looking at taking back assets under their own control and getting rid of their “partners”. The French privatised water 100 years ago – but that does not mean they liked what happened and are now ending those deals. Transport for London had to bale out of the Undergound privatisation – and has also taken back the Croydon Tramlink, a deal which was working but was still found to be much more expensive than an inhouse operation. This is not to say that no contract has ever worked – or cannot be made to work – but P3s are not of themeselves a panacea for every ill. And the mantra “private good, government bad” is mindless.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2008 at 8:15 am

Posted in privatisation

Political Savvy Meter

leave a comment »

I like Rafe Mair. He is, like me getting increasing green and radical as he ages. We are both grumpy old men. The Tyee’s Monday Headlines did not hit my inbox until after I had shut down yesterday evening (I wanted to watch “The Murder of Jesse James …” before I left for work if only for the steam train) so I have only just come across this gem

On the assumption that political columnists ought to declare their colours, I hereby disclose that I will vote Green. Under the Elections Act, the Greens will get $1.75 per vote cast and that, to me, is a better election return that anything the others promise.

The fact that the other parties have conspired to supress the Greens and refused to participate in the tv leaders debates if the Green Party was allowed in was another good reason for me to vote Green this time too. But I also like the Tyee as a source of news and comment, as they are not part of a media conglomerate – and their selection of stories “reported elsewhere” is often food for thought and blog posts.

I am heading out of town again this week. I want to take advanatge of the last week of summer sunshine. I remember from my school days that early September weather was always much better than that during the summer holidays – and of course venues like the Myra Canyon trestles should be much quieter than they were last month. The last time I travelled through that area, it was the summer when the whole province seemed to be burning. Our road trip had to be cut short in Canmore as I could not breathe due to the heavy pall of smoke everywhere. So we missed out on that section of the former Kettle Valley railway. The trestles have been rebuilt – and it has taken me some time to get orgainsed enough to get back there. Hopefully wifi access and a notebook computer will keep me in touch, and I will try harder to keep posting here. My summer holiday seems to have caused a considerable drop off in page views.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 9, 2008 at 7:48 am