Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for October 10th, 2008

Transit riders less satisfied

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It is time for me to apologize to you, my readers. I made an assertion that turns out not to be true. Translink, I said, could not absorb an increase in ridership due to the recent spike in gas prices, because it had no spare capacity. It turns out, according to this story, that they managed to cram on some more riders.

The transportation authority’s second-quarter report for 2008, released this week, shows a ridership increase of 2.6 per cent, almost a full percentage point higher than the 2008 target.

The transit authority is taking no credit for this

Spokesman Ken Hardie said the new riders coming to the system might have had “very high expectations.”

“Adding capacity is probably the main thing we can do,” said Hardie

That is because “satisfaction levels slipped in all services.” So the increase in ridership is largely because people literally sucked it in and shoved themselves onto services that were already full. The calculation of “crush loading” varies – mostly by reference to geography. Only Japan (as far as I know) has white gloved pushers literally shoving people into the cars as the door close.

In some cities, like New York and Chicago, crowding increased to the extent that the transit authorities have introduced trains without any seats. We are not at that point yet. But ever since I came to Vancouver ten years ago, I have seen a transit system that was overstretched at peak periods, with not enough capacity, and a high “churn” in ridership of people who try the system and simply cannot put up with it for very long. But when gas prices hit $1.50 a litre, people really had very little choice. The recent drop in gas prices (suspended – of course – for the long weekend, despite another drop in the price of crude) has probably meant that some people have gone back to driving.

Of course people switching modes have “high expectations” compared to those who have no choice but to put up with unreliable and overcrowded services. “Choice riders” always do. And for the last ten years at least, to my direct experience, nothing has happened that has changed those expectations – or Translink’s failure to meet them.

Which is why you will meet so many people here who say “Transit sucks”

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in transit

Rising Seas and Powerful Storms Threaten Global Security

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Janet Larsen

Standing before the United Nations General Assembly in October 1987, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Maldives, made an appeal representing “an endangered nation.” That year for the first time, “unusual high waves” in the Indian Ocean inundated a quarter of the urban area on the capital island of Male’, flooded farms, and washed away reclaimed land. Gayoom cited scientific evidence that human activities were releasing greenhouse gases that warm the planet, ultimately raising global sea level as glaciers melt and warmer water expands. The trouble extended beyond small islands; studies showed that rising seas would wreak havoc on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the Netherlands, and the river deltas of Egypt and Bangladesh.

Fast-forward through two decades of swelling seas and more powerful storms and the call has moved from the need to study global warming to the necessity of dramatic action to stabilize climate. With small island nations in peril, these days President Gayoom evokes the vision of a United Nations where “name plates are gone; seats are empty.” He does not speak alone: this fall, some 50 countries, including a number of small island nations along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the European Union, are planning to put a resolution before the U.N. General Assembly requesting that the U.N. Security Council address “the threat posed by climate change to international peace and security.” As Ambassador Stuart Beck of Palau has asked, “Would any nation facing an invading army not do the same?”

I cannot understand the mindset that turns its back on a problem like this. We have known about this problem for at least twenty years, yet have done nothing about it. And currently, we are so obsessed with the way that financial markets are falling apart, we are more worried about our RRSP statements than the loss of entire countries.

one out of every 10 people on the planet lives in a coastal zone less than 33 feet above sea level.

As one of those people – indeed I think I probably live below high tide level most of the time – I regard this issue as a very pressing problem. But not just because it could impact me – and my distrust of the smugness of our local politicians on this issue. It is a clear and present danger to all of us.

In fact, reducing emissions will not now be enough, as it might have been 20 years ago, simply becuase our production of ghg is now exceeding the planet’s capacity to absorb it. And no this is not a statement based on my “belief ” – it is well documented.

In BC we live in a fault line in a geologically active area “overdue for the big one”. Yet we still educate our children in old schools that have not been seismically upgraded. Becuase our government cares more about cutting taxes. So denial of the inevitable is not exactly new or different. And this morning both the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun are telling their readers to vote for the one man on the international stage who has been standing in the way of an effective agreement on ghg emissions. On the grounds that he is supposed to be the “steady hand on the tiller” even though it was his ideaology that created the financial situation we are now in. He himself would have supported Phil Gram and the “less government” mantra that lead to the inevitable crash. Quite how this makes him qualified for anything other than a quiet retirement and sympathetic therapy is beyond me.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Environment, politics

Global credit crisis spells uncertain future for B.C. infrastructure

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It looks like Jeff Nagel’s original story now has “legs”. Larry Blain is still “comfortable”, but won’t talk about the PM/H1 project becuase they are still negotiating. The SFPR will not be ready to go to contract until the New Year

“Hopefully things will have stabilized by then and we won’t be facing higher debt charges,” he said.

“I expect that as things stabilize, money will continue to move towards quality,” he added, predicting lenders will be attracted to the stability of B.C.’s triple-A credit rating.

Now that last sentence is a bit of a puzzle to me. Why is our credit rating an issue? The whole notion of a P3 was that it was the private partners who would raise most of the money – if not all of it. While the ostensible reason for P3s was the supposed efficiency of the private sector, that related to the people designing, building and operating the thing. (Whatever that might be – road, bridge, railway, hospital). Now some things do not have streams of revenue to hand over to the private sector operator – for example, untolled roads, so in that case there is a “shadow toll” – a revenue stream that is related to use. Of course, shadow tolls do nto have any impact on users so all of the real benefits of road pricing in terms of reducing congestion are lost.

The idea of the P3 is sold on the “transfer of risk”. If the project does not work out as promised the private sector partner is the one who has to make up the shortfall. But of course, to no-one’s surprise, when most P3s go sideways the “special purpose vehicle” (usually a limited liability company created just for the project) can go broke, leaving its creators in the clear (usually after pocketing their fees and bonuses) and the government in the lurch. So again, the private sector should be indifferent to the credit worthiness of the government since it is not supposed to be government funds they are working with but money directly from us, the users.

Indeed this is where the shell game gets exposed. In the end, there is only one person who pays. And it doesn’t matter where the project is a P3 or not. We pay, they profit. It si called “late capitalism” and it is supposed to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions any day now. But then Karl Marx never imagined W in the White House.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2008 at 8:29 am