Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 2009

Buses anyone?

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The comments section of this blog seems to be dominated by the almost theologically intense debate about trams v skytrain. So it comes as something of a relief to have another subject suggested. The Sightline Institute (formerly  North West EnviroWatch) has asked me to draw your attention to a post on their blog about buses.

The data is American, but favourably compares passenger miles per gallon between intercity bus, train and plane (in descending order of fuel efficiency). It would be nice if someone with time on their hands could dig out comparable Canadian data. Note that we are not talking about city buses – which spend such a lot of time starting and stopping that their fuel consumption is higher, and one reason why hybrids perform better in city traffic.

Intercity passenger trains do not do very well in a US comparison – since the type of service now provided is far inferior to most other advanced countries – and even some third world ones. There is little electrification or even decent speeds outside the North East corridor, and in most places trains use tracks designed for and dominated by freight trains. But of the choices now offered, a well filled bus is quite a good choice (apparently) if you want to reduce your carbon footprint.

Of course most people have other, more pressing concerns.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 31, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Air Canada: $50 Folding Bike Tax

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The following article was circulated to a couple of vancouver based cycling/transit lists. It originally comes from

but I am going to paste the whoile thing here. Not because I take folding bikes with me everywhere, but because it offends me that Air Canada has a stupid policy. And the more people point this out to them – especially if you quote your Aeroplan number to them – the more they are likely to reconsider.

by Larry Lagarde

Imagine Lloyd Alter’s surprise and rage when checking in recently for a flight on Air Canada. He checks a bag that’s well within Air Canada’s dimensional and weight limits for checked baggage; yet, he’s hit with a $50 surcharge because the bag contains a folding bike.

Lloyd’s a conscientious air traveler. When he flies, he buys carbon offsets but he wanted to do more. Thus, to further reduce his carbon footprint when traveling, Lloyd got a Strida folding bike to reduce his dependence on rental cars and taxis.

So why was Lloyd upset? Air Canada’s baggage policy makes no sense and is inconsistent.

Senseless Baggage Policy
Air Canada imposes a 50 lb weight limit and 62″ linear dimensional limit on each checked bag. Some items (such as standard sized bicycles) typically exceed Air Canada’s weight & dimensional limits and are obviously subject to an overage fee; yet, the Strida is NOT your typical bike.

When folded, the Strida is very compact, taking up less than a third of the space needed for a full size bike and certainly within Air Canada’s 62″ linear dimensional limit. Packed inside its padded custom carry bag, the Strida and bag combo weigh about half of Air Canada’s 50 lb. max weight limit for checked bags. There are no special handling requirements either; the Strida goes on the luggage belt just like every other checked bag.

Inconsistent Baggage Policy
According to Air Canada, every bike is subject to a surcharge because it would be too difficult for check-in personnel to determine which bikes meet the dimensional & weight requirements (I guess the scale and measuring tape works for everything but bikes). Air Canada also argues that they charge for folding bikes because other major airlines do too. Naturally, Air Canada conveniently forgot that Southwest, Alaska and other airlines DO NOT charge for folding bikes (you can even take certain folding bikes into the cabin on Southwest as a carry on).

Insult To Injury: Air Canada’s LeaveLess
Air Canada promotes itself as an airline striving for a greener world. As part of their LeaveLess “environmental initiative,” Air Canada brags how they’re cutting greenhouse gas emissions by converting some of their ground vehicles to propane, etc. If they were serious though, the airline’s policies would encourage fliers to use folding bikes. Instead, they charge a fee that discourages use.

Given that folding bikes like the Strida
– emit NO greenhouse gases…
– are ideal for use with buses, trains and subways…
– meet airline dimension & weight standards…
the only logical conclusion is that Air Canada’s policy towards folding bikes is simply a way to generate revenue.

Convincing Air Canada to change their policy is simple: take action & complain. With all the competition out there and the state of the economy, Air Canada would be crazy not to listen.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 31, 2009 at 7:34 am

Posted in Air Travel, bicycles

Earth Hour

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I know it is supposed to be symbolic. I also know that I did my bit – I promoted Earth Hour here and on flickr/facebook (one post does for both). But I noticed that my neighbours did not.

Overall power consumption dropped by 1.1% in BC – less than last year’s 2% – and Richmond was one of the worst performers at 0.3% which is not good news for Green Party candidates here.

But meanwhile the Vancouver Sun has found an angle on global warming that might catch popular attention. Forget about the forecast loss of coastline – and the effect on populations in low lying areas. Or the expected social upheaval caused by droughts and crop failures – the possible wars over shortages of fresh water – the vast movements of populations. Not much of this grabs the headlines of the major media here. But it might effect winter sports! (Shock!! horror!!!)

Canada’s $5-billion-a-year winter tourism industry, generating more than 110,000 jobs, is also vulnerable to the warmer temperatures that lie ahead unless the world takes concrete action now to arrest climate change.

Well if that’s the case we might actually have to do something!

Written by Stephen Rees

March 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Vancouver’s CanadaLine to open in September

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Ken Hardie tried to get this out early on Twitter but forgot to post a link to anything – and I am sorry but a “tweet” is not the same as a story. They had a media event and “Premier Gordon Campbell and other officials rode the entire length of the route for the first time on Friday morning, with reporters.” Once again Translink appears to have favoured conventional media over “social media” – which is understandable.

I love this quote from our Premier

Campbell said the line will provide the same transportation capacity as 10 lanes of roadway along the route, reduce the number of one-way vehicle trips per day by 200,000, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 11,000 to 14,000 tonnes a year.

So Mr Campbell, in that case why have you decided to build ten lanes of roadway across the Fraser? If the reduction of one way vehicle trips and greenhouse gas emissions are important on Cambie Street, why are they not important everywhere else in the Metro Vancouver region?

Actually, the Canada Line will not reduce vehicle trips for very long or by very much – if at all. The people who use the Canada Line will mostly be people who are currently riding buses. The shift from car to transit will be unnoticeable since the trips moved to transit will be more than offset by  new induced car trips. These will occur because more road space will be available due to the design of the project and the relative absence of buses on currently crowded streets. (Toronto traffic engineers noticed very early on that the opening of subways made traffic worse on the streets under which they run.)

Oddly enough this would not be the effect if the H1PMR replacement was cancelled and replaced by an equal investment in streetcars.  Firstly because road space would be taken away from cars and dedicated to transit – a much more efficient people moving system. This would produce the mode shift which you appear to recognise as desirable – but which will not happen by nearly as much as you say thanks to your current policies. Secondly the shape of development will not change very much in Vancouver – the dense parts are already about as dense as they are likely to get – the golf course and the park along much of the southern part of the Canada line will not be redeveloped. But if you had streetcars in Surrey and Langley just watch the pace of redevelopment along those arterials! The ranchers, bungalows and sidesplits would become townhouses and apartments over shops seemingly overnight.

The argument has always been about serving or shaping growth. The Canada Line serves an already well served area. Therefore not much change will happen. Changing the proposed transportation infrastructure in Langley and Surrey, on the other hand, will start to shift the transit mode share significantly – because it is only 4% now and has almost nowhere to go but up – given the right kind of system. Widen the freeway and the number of car trips will increase much faster and further than your model is capable of predicting. Because propensity to make trips – assumed fixed by your model – will increase.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness.

It is time we changed direction.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with

800,000 still not registered to vote

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The Province

This is a bit of a concern

It seems that the big issue is people moving and then forgetting to update their registration. You can still vote without being registered – as long as you are a Canadian citizen and have lived in BC for six months. But that involves lots of hassles at the poll. Much better to do it now and be ready

To get on the voter registry, check out, or phone 1-800-661-8683.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Posted in politics

Ontario Introduces Green Stimulus Funds

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New York Times

Ontario has a real Liberal government. BC currently has a government that has hijacked the Liberal brand but is in fact deeply conservative – in fact they are essentially a re-tread of the old Social Credit Party – or at least the right wing of that  party. They are still stuck in the old blacktop politics that both parties espouse.

In Ontario the provincial budget espoused a Green shift

“jurisdictions that embrace the shift to a low-carbon, sustainable economy — aligning environmental goals with economic ones — will see more robust growth, more jobs and higher wages.”

And part of that is $2.6bn for transit projects in Toronto. Note the difference. BC commits to spending $3bn on an expanded freeway – but it is not in the budget. It is an afterthought after an unfundable P3 collapses – thought the partners in that project still are in line to get the lion’s share of the profits they would have gathered under the P3, and without taking on any of the risk. It seems, like The Producers, sometimes promoting a flop can be more profitable than promoting a hit.

BC has not, of course, done anything very significant to shift to a low carbon, sustainable economy. The big headlines here are for the money being made from oil and gas licenses, the hugely profitable privatisation of power generation (mainly for export to California) and the Olympics. There has been very little emphasis on the carbon tax, as even though it is too small to make any difference is still a distinctly unpopular move in the “heartland” (another word we no longer hear as often). The hydrogen highway has not been forgotten – but probably should be as there are still hardly any hydrogen cars. There are promises of transit investment – but for many year hence, and are also not fundable as they need both federal and regional contributions. The region cannot even fund current transit operation – and the Minister of Transport has even said that he doubts Translink will get new funding sources.

Fortunately there is going to be an opportunity to change the government soon. The question in my mind is “Is the NDP different enough?” I thought the switch of policy to favour the highway widening was bad – but the most recent Vaughan Palmer story has Carol James offering tax cuts to the  B.C. Business Council. Both mainstream parties are busy fighting to grab hold of the centre – both being overly confident that they can hold their own side of the spectrum. I wonder about that. What I hear is that people are increasingly dissatisfied with both parties – and think it is time for some new ideas. I can understand those who say the only way to get rid of the Liberals is to hold your nose and vote for the NDP, but sadly they will take that as an endorsement for an approach which is not based on principles  but on opportunism.

We already know that you cannot trust Gordon Campbell. He ran on a promise not to sell off BC Rail and then he did exactly that. That process is still before the courts – but related material about Patrick Kinsella a well connected Liberal insider shows that it was far from honest or open. The fix was in – and it was a politically driven fix. CP withdrew and Omnitrax was only kept in by promises of a “consolation prize” – subsequently withdrawn. On his tv show last night Palmer was careful not to talk about matters that are sub judice – but pointed to those who were in court and are writing about it.

Carol James does not seem to be able to convince people that she could run the province – and appears to be doing what many left wing leaders do in those circumstance. She is trying to be “reasonable” – or, in other words, shift right. Tony Blair made a great electoral success out of that in Britain – and out Thatchered Thatcher. I worry that something similar could be on the cards here if she wins. Is there a real choice here?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2009 at 10:58 am

Posted in politics

Want One Port Mann Bridge, or a Light Rail Metropolis?

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The Tyee

When I spoke in Surrey recently at the NDP/ Bus drivers’ union transit forum, I did not use PowerPoint. But there was one image I wanted to use and this is it

 region could be transformed for $3.1 billion

region could be transformed for $3.1 billion

The diagram was created by Patrick Condon and Kari Dow, and it shows the amount of light rail system you could buy for the same price as the freeway widening and the replacement Port Mann Bridge. (By the way the province just gave itself an environmental certificate for that project on the grounds that “there will not likely be any  significant adverse effects”)

If half of the roughly 40 million annual trips anticipated for the new bridge were shifted to such a tram system, it would amount to a reduction of the roughly 10,000 metric tons of GHG per year, a reduction equivalent to taking more than 21,000 cars off Lower Mainland roads completely.

…while building a bigger Port Mann Bridge reinforced commuting patterns in the region, building a robust light rail network likely would change how development occurs in the region, eventually shortening commutes as businesses elect to locate at various new public transit nodes.

“The Port Mann project is propelled forward by assumptions that are 20 years out of date. Commuting patterns are changing rapidly. The commute from Surrey to downtown Vancouver is relatively rare and getting even rarer each day. Jobs continue to move closer to housing all across the eastern part of the metropolis. What is needed is a system that gets us out of the car and serves our emerging complete communities, not guts them,” said Condon.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 25, 2009 at 8:26 am

Posted in Gateway, Light Rail

BC Greens Election Platform Released

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Vancouver –BC Greens announced the release of their election platform, the Green Book 2009-2103.

“Our new Green Book details an ambitious, practical program to put BC on a path toward long-term economic stability,” said Jane Sterk, Leader of the Green Party of BC. “The Green Book contains over 500 specific measures to address social challenges, build a strong resilient economy, combat climate change and preserve our natural resources.”

“BC Greens advocate for the gradual weaning of our economy away from a dependence on growth toward a steady-state economy that provides opportunities to add value through means other than growth. A Green economy will create jobs that are long-term, increase the health and quality of life for future generations, and help create an economy resilient to sudden shock. Our plan promotes small businesses, ensures workers are treated fairly and offers more opportunity for local economies. We will reduce taxes on economic activities that are beneficial to society, while increasing taxes on harmful activities like pollution, smoking and junk food.

“To combat the threat of growing crime, BC Greens propose a new BC Police Service with Regional Units and an independent Police Commissioner to look into police complaints. These measures, in combination with our policy to end drug prohibition, will help to significantly reduce crime in BC.

“The Green Party stands apart from Liberals and the NDP by publicly supporting BC-STV, opposing salmon fish farms, encouraging local small-scale agriculture and a new value-added wood products industry, promoting clean and green energy, and steering clear of megaprojects for energy generation and transmission, roadways and oil and gas transportation across the province.

“This Green Book introduces some crucial changes to government including the formation of a new Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, the introduction of elected Regional Resource Management Boards and a re-balancing of health authorities across the province to improve local control.”

The Green Book is available on the BC Green Party’s website or can be ordered by calling toll-free 1-888-473-3686.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Posted in politics

Shall we repeat the same mistake?

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This video was made in 1996. Some things have changed since then. For one thing General Motors has been back in Washington again recently – this time lobbying for its very survival.

It is astonishing that the myths – and outright lies – that the conspirators of the last century spread, still have so much currency. The program which destroyed the US public transportation systems, wrecked most downtowns, ruined the air and created the Interstates has been shown to have been a corporate plot to drive up the profits of some companies at the expense of the public interest. There is nothing new here – but it is worth watching again. And then it worth wondering why it is that our government is pressing ahead with a freeway widening, but casting doubt upon the transit system’s ability to raise funds through innovative methods, and only promising transit expansion for the future – after the new roads have been built, not now – and indeed repeating all the same policies that the US followed from 1945 to 1996. We know what the outcome of that era was – and most places have reversed that trend.

And they did that before the crisis of climate change became such an immediate and pressing problem. There is no doubt that the reason North Americans produce so much ghg per capita is because they live in suburbs, in big houses well separated from jobs and services which they have to access by driving – and they use large gas guzzlers to do that. Canadians live in much the same way that Usonians do. And if Mr Falcon gets his way residents of the Fraser Valley will have to continue to live that way for the next forty years in a world that is rapidly running out of fossil fuel, and increasingly getting warmer. And he is ignoring all the evidence that this is the wrong choice – and one that not even the bankers on Wall Street will fund!

And if you are interested in the system that we tore up here at about the same time take a look at the Buzzer blog

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Amtrak gets federal funding for Cascades

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Railway Age magazine reports that $56.1m in US federal funding has been allocated to the Cascades passenger train service.

For fiscal year 2008, ended Sept. 30, Cascades service carried 760,323 riders, up 12.8% from the previous fiscal year. Four Cascades trains each way link Seattle with Portland, Ore.; two of those reach further south to originate and terminate in Eugene, Ore. One additional frequency runs between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia; the state of Washington, province of British Columbia, and Amtrak are in discussions to add a second cross-border train.

They have been “in discussion” for far too long. An extra passing loop was added in South Delta last spring but since then the second train has not been launched simply because a Canadian federal agency is seeking to extract extra revenue from it.  Border services want to be paid more because they say adding a second train to an existing service is a “new service”. If an airline adds an extra trip to an existing cross border service that does not attract any attention- neither do bus services that increase their frequencies. But Amtrak is somehow different. Of course the undoubted benefits that a second train would bring in reducing congestion and motor vehicle emissions at road boarder crossings do not figure in their calculations.

The Canadian government is indeed one of the worst offenders in foot dragging over simple changes that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Harper is much more concerned about the revenue streams to his pals in the Alberta oil patch. And the BC government is, of course, silent on the issue.

“Discussions” are not needed. All that has to happen is for someone in Ottawa to issue an edict to the BSA, or just give them a small amount in extra funding from some program or other to allow the train to start.   It would, of course, be nothing like the amount the US government has just given but it might give them some indication that we are interested in getting along with our neighbours.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2009 at 9:27 am

Posted in Railway