Stephen Rees's blog

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

What should we be building?

with 9 comments

The current provincial government is saying that we should proceed with their Gateway projects becuase it will provide economic stimulus for an econmy battered by the world wide economic crisis. The projects, they say, are “shovel ready” and thus should get new federal funding. Now these projects are exactly the same ones that were being promoted during the boom times as being essential to relieve the  congestion that was supposedly reducing our competitiveness and thus causing us to miss out on opportunities to win more trade through the port.

The impact of the credit crunch was felt much earlier in the US – and there is in fact a great deal of spare capacity in West Coast ports. Our competitors do not need to spend very much to win new trade – they already have the ability to undercut Vancouver just to get some business. If only there were some to be had.

The economic stimulus argument also needs to be re-examined. And Todd Litman has done some work on this topic

“Smart Transportation Economic Stimulation: Infrastructure Investments That Support Strategic Planning Objectives Provide True Economic Development”
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This timely new report discusses factors to consider when evaluating transportation economic stimulation strategies. Transportation investments can have large long-term economic, social and environmental impacts. Expanding urban highways tends to stimulate motor vehicle travel and sprawl, exacerbating future transport problems and threatening future economic productivity. Improving alternative modes (walking and cycling conditions, and public transit service quality) tends to reduce total motor vehicle traffic and associated costs, providing additional long-term economic savings and benefits. Increasing transport system efficiency tends to create far more jobs than those created directly by infrastructure investments. Domestic automobile industry subsidies are ineffective at stimulating employment or economic development. Public policies intended to support domestic automobile sales could be economically harmful in the long-term.

Many types of public investments can stimulate short-term employment and economic activity but some are better overall because they also support other strategic goals. Smart economic stimulation responds to future demands and helps achieve various economic, social and environmental objectives. This study indicates that highway rehabilitation and safety programs are economically beneficial, but urban highway expansion tends to stimulate more driving and sprawl, exacerbating transportation problems. Demographic and economic trends reduce highway expansion benefits and increase demand for high quality alternatives. Investments that improve alternative modes tend to provide greater total benefits.

Increasing transport system efficiency is particularly important for long-term economic development. Vehicle and fuel purchases generate fewer domestic jobs and less economic activity than most other consumer expenditures. Each million dollar shifted from purchasing fuel to a typical bundle of consumer goods adds 4.5 U.S. jobs, and this is likely to increase significantly in the long run as international oil prices rise and domestic production declines. Each million shifted from general motor vehicle expenditures (purchase of vehicles, servicing, insurance, etc.) adds about 3.6 U.S. jobs. Public transit operations create a particularly large number of jobs.

A reasonable scenario of aggressive fuel economy targets, investments in alternative modes and supportive land use policies can reduce U.S. fuel consumption 20-40%, saving future consumers $150-350 billion annually in fuel and vehicle expenses, providing economic benefits from reduced fuel import costs of similar magnitude, producing additional economic, social and environmental benefits, and generating 1 to 2 million additional annual domestic jobs. This equals the total (not annual) jobs created by $30 to $60 billion of infrastructure expenditures and is five to ten times greater than the jobs provided by domestic vehicle manufactures.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 3, 2009 at 9:47 am

Posted in Economics, Gateway

9 Responses

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  1. I am a social activist that has been resident in Britannia Beach for twenty five years. It amazes me that the Sea to Sky Corridor never pursued expansion of transportation along the existing rail lines and opted instead for a $700 millions highway that will need another $2 billion to service over the next 25 years. (Add to that the losses fueled by the expansion of Highway 99 to the regional real estate bubble, and the folly becomes reprehensible.) The price of neglecting regional growth strategy is staggering, it just never comes in one bill!

    Ralph Fulber

    February 3, 2009 at 11:30 am

  2. The “study” which looked at the Sea to Sky corridor was deliberately biased. The rail option was rejected as “too expensive” – because they tacked on the requirement for a new rail only tunnel under the Burrard Inlet. It was said to be “essential” that train services served downtown Vancouver. Of course soon afterwards we learned that Gordon Campbell had broken his pre-election promise not to sell BC Rail. And the criminal trial that arose out of that deal has yet to get court. Jack Poole is a developer. Jack and Gordo’s friends are developers. They have long wanted to turn this corridor into a highway oriented ribbon development – which is precisely what they are doing now. It is not about the Olympics – it is about changing land value. For many years the regional strategy for Squamish Lillooet was to avoid becoming a bedroom community of commuters to Vancouver. That has also been overridden – but without any pretence at process.

    Stephen Rees

    February 3, 2009 at 11:38 am

  3. At least they’ve worked out that they need a new excuse. We’ve just had a road widening scheme announced as ‘absolutely essential because of growth’ yeah, right. Or as one commentator put it “Mercedes Drivers rejoice: the Government has given in to the lobbyists again!”

    Andy in Germany

    February 4, 2009 at 8:37 am

  4. The worse thing is that Gordo and his developer buddies aren’t devils who spend their nights dancing naked in the woods around a cauldron and plotting dastardly deeds. It just that the idea of mass transit, rail travel etc. never even occurred to them. Many years ago a guy in Japan was interested in real estate outside Osaka, in a sparsely populated valley between low mountains. He built a private railway line there, and in neighbouring valleys, and soon lots of people were buying lots and cities expended along the lines. To better serve “his” commuters he built a department store by the Osaka terminal of his railway. Today that rail company (with 3 relatively short main lines and several branches) serve nearly 2 millions passengers A DAY. Thanks to that railway company he was able to build a huge conglomerate. Investing into mass transportation CAN be a capitalist dream but B.C. movers and shakers can only dream about playing with cars.

    Red frog

    February 4, 2009 at 10:18 am

  5. That’s Hankyu right? Used to ride them to work, from Sannomiya to Kurakuenguchi on the Koyo Line.

    Just imagine if BC Electric had continuously improved their services and rolling stock from the 1950s instead of tearing everything out and burning the cars. We would have something similar to Hankyu’s system, since they’ve been doing just that since the company formed!

    I don’t think it’s just Gordo & Co. either; many of the planners I speak with around the Lower Mainland have no conception of rail other than their 2 week holiday in Europe, and they don’t seem to be able to transfer that idea conceptually back home. I think you have to use great train systems on a daily basis for commuting as well as pleasure to recognize the benefits of systems like Hankyu’s.

    Skytrain is pretty sad in comparison, and had the people who decided to go with that technology any experience riding Japan’s rail system on a daily basis, I have no doubt that we would have a very different system today.


    February 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm

  6. Came across a picture of the Koyo Line (an derailment on it actually.)


    Look at the beautiful rolling stock! Could you imagine riding that around through Vancouver and the Lower Mainland?

    And to anyone who says at-grade rail through dense urban areas doesn’t work, look at the city behind the trains – that is one of the nicest areas of the city, as the rail line runs along a river and linear park surrounded by homes, schools and quiet streets.

    Hope you don’t mind me posting the link Stephen.


    February 4, 2009 at 2:57 pm

  7. Glad he mentioned cycling. The British Columbia Cycling Coalition recommended cycling stimulus to the BC Government:

    Click to access BCCC_Budget_Submission_2008.pdf

    I’ve posted a blog entry on the subject:

    And we made a presentation to some Vancouver councillors yesterday on cycling stimulus.


    February 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm

  8. Corey: sorry for the delay..yes I was talking about Hankyu railway. Small world indeed! I have friends in Kobe and go there quite often. For those of you in the Lower Mainland who read this, Hankyu rail is one of 5 regional private railway companies (each company has its own territory) serving the Kansai region of Japan, centered on Osaka. In addition of these 5 local companies there is JR West, the local”branch” of the Japan Railways group that run trains from one end of the country to the other. One smart card, the Icoca, can be used on all 6 companies.

    Red frog

    February 7, 2009 at 11:28 pm

  9. […] What should we be building? « Stephen Rees’s blog […]

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