Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 2009

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

Electric cars

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Better Place chief executive Shai Agassi talks to David Pogue of the New York Times about how his system of providing the infrastructure for electric cars is going to work.

This interview is for those who have not been paying attention since I know I have heard this before and blogged about it. Actually nearly a year ago.

Electric cars – with energy from renewable resources – are going to be one essential component of weaning the world off fossil fuels.  But just as every other solution, it will not be the magic bullet that solves every problem. The land use we now have was designed and built around mass car ownership – as was the transport infrastructure – and that will be with us for a long time after fossil fuel has become rare, expensive and socially unacceptable. There are going to be all sorts of bumps along that road – and in some places low density suburbs will be slums – or even deserted and torn down to be replaced with windfarms – or maybe even real farms.

Cars are also not going to be as welcome in urban environments – even if they are zero emission. Because cities are for people not their mobility devices. And since many of us still have legs that work (and of course we must make better provisions for those that don’t) we will be using those a lot more in future – because that will help us keep healthy and also produces a better social environment. There is no sociability in a traffic jam.

One of the current bumps in the Usonian road is that funding for transit is getting cut just at the time when more people have started using it. That might happen here too. All it takes is continuing inertia.

But what I think is really interesting about Agassi is the role that he has identified for himself

Well, I’m more of an integration guy. …  What I bring in is that understanding of complexity of both the technology and the economy. When you look at the problem mobility with a fresh set of eyes, sometimes you find solutions that the guys who are sort of locked in the inertia of day-to-day business–have missed.

It is because of his Usonian origins that he thinks of cars as the solution to mobility problems. But in fact cars are one of the least efficient systems we could have devised. They spend most of their time parked – empty and idle.  The space they take up is out of all proportion to their utility. They are inconsistent with nearly everything that makes city living desirable. Electric cars will be part of the solution for the suburbs. But we will also need lots of other solutions too – starting with places that are walkable and adding other transportation systems that are efficient and effective. This will not just be transit. Some of it will be the expansion of car provision that allows for much better mobility and utilisation by eliminating individual car ownership. Car co-ops, but also shared ride taxis and other innovations yet to be seen.

Electric cars will not help solve traffic congestion – and I doubt they will do much to reduce collisisons either. And neither of those are trivial issues. But this sort of thinking is a step in the right direction. And, boy, do we ever need more “integration guys” like him!

Written by Stephen Rees

March 19, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Posted in electric cars

$700/year for TransLink

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Abby News

Jeff Nagel calculates that

two-car family in Langley could soon be paying close to $700 a year more than their neighbours to the east in Abbotsford.

Due in part to the proposed vehicle levy. But also to the gas tax

Motorists already drive east out of Metro Vancouver to avoid the 12-cent gas tax that funds TransLink

But are gas prices 12c a litre cheaper? My recent experience suggests that the difference between GVRD gas pumps and Abbotsford is usually much less than 12 cents. But that of course is anecdotal so I checked on the gas price web page. They get gas prices from the – and the difference  when I looked was not 12c a litre but around 4c.

It seems to me – based on this unscientific survey – that gas stations in Abbotsford are doing very well out of the 12 c difference!

UPDATE March 30

I should have pointed this out when Ken Hardie posted a riposte. While Translink gets the product of 12c/litre from the gas tax, half of that is a transfer of the provincial collection. So the net effect is that gas tax is really 6c per litre higher inside Metro than most of the rest of BC

Written by Stephen Rees

March 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Posted in Transportation

Greens Nominate Stephen Rees as Candidate for Provincial Election in Richmond East

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Immediate Release

March 18, 2009

Greens Nominate Stephen Rees as Candidate for Provincial Election in Richmond East

Richmond, BC – Green Party of BC leader, Jane Sterk announced today that resident of Richmond East, Stephen Rees will be the Green Party candidate in the upcoming spring provincial election.

Stephen Rees has been involved at the community level in Greater Vancouver for five years as a member of the Livable Region Coalition, campaigning against the Gateway programme and in favour of Rail for the Valley. He was recently voted No 1 political blogger in BC (

“We are pleased to announce candidates of Stephen’s caliber,” said Green Part Leader, Jane Sterk. “Stephen will also be the Green Party of BC spokesperson on transportation issues.”

Trained as a Regional Planner at the London School of Economics, Stephen worked for the former Greater London Council and the UK Department of Transport. He came to Canada in 1988 and worked as a consultant economist in a number of Canadian cities as well as overseas. He arrived in BC in 1994 when he was recruited by the Ministry of Energy to work on transportation issues and BC’s first Greenhouse Gas Action Plan. He then went to BC Transit which became Translink, where he was Program Manager for Transportation Policy. He left Translink in 2004 and a few years later began his blog ( which is a critical examination of how we currently plan transport and land use in Metro Vancouver. He has appeared frequently on local radio and is often quoted by local media on transportation issues.

“The Green movement represents the world’s future, as without sustainability we have no future,” said Rees. “I know that I can be an active agent for change and am proud to represent a platform that wisely combines sustainability and environmental protection with economic reality. Integral to the comprehensive platform that I will be supporting will be much better planning of land use and transportation. If elected I will be visible, accessible and vocal on behalf of my constituents.”

“Stephen Rees represents a unique blend of social activist and environmental awareness,” says Green party leader, Jane Sterk. “The Green Party of BC believes that this riding is ready to approach the big questions with a view to long term sustainability and fiscal responsibility. Stephen Rees is a great candidate for the job and has the leadership skills and vision to carry us into the legislature.”


About the Green Party of BC The Green Party of BC is part of the global green movement for economic, social and ecological responsibility. As the third largest political party in the province, Greens have consistently polled as the preferred choice of one in six decided voters. Jane Sterk was elected leader of the BC Green Party in October 2007.

Further information at

Written by Stephen Rees

March 18, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Transportation

Ministers in court?

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The story of the Cambie Street merchants (covered here earlier) will be in court next week. And according to 24 hours so could some of the politicians responsible for the mess.

Former B.C. Finance Minister Carole Taylor may be compelled to testify in a court case brought by an ex-Cambie Street merchant seeking compensation for losses caused by Canada Line construction, a judge ruled yesterday.

Justice Ian Pitfield will decide this morning if Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon can be made to testify as a hostile witness.

When the RAV line – as it was then called – was originally approved it was supposed to be bored tube. This, it was claimed, would mean that there would none of the disruption associated with construction. Many places have experienced disruption when rapid transit is built – subsurface, surface or overhead all cause major issues. “Tube” construction is much more expensive but needs much less surface access. Cut and cover – the method chosen by the Canada line P3 is the most disruptive – but is cheaper for the builder if they do not have to compensate those inconvenienced.

The Canada Line has been built down to a price not up to a standard. This is not unusual for P3 fixed price contracts. They may come in “on time and on budget” but usually this can only be achieved by building much less than the original specification called for. In this case the plans changed once the P3 partner was chosen but of course by then the rush was on. While the proponents (the province of BC) claimed it was not an Olympic project they insisted that it had to be completed well before the games started. The fact that what was now to be built was materially different to what had been approved mattered not at all.  Equally, Translink’s approval had only be achieved by the suggestion that the Evergreen Green line would be built concurrently. Of course that was not a solemn and binding contract either – it was a pie crust promise – easily made, easily broken. The then Board of Translink was then replaced by a more compliant “professional” board more likely not to raise awkward questions in public.

I am not going to make any predictions since judges are notoriously fickle. This could go either way. But I do like the timing. It is just the sort of issue that needs to be raised immediately before a provincial election. Actually it would be much better resolved through the constitutional convention of ministerial responsibility – but of course that is thought to no longer apply in British Columbia, which is why people now resort to the courts.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2009 at 7:26 am

Posted in politics, transit

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