Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for June 22nd, 2010

The Live Undergound Train Map

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Ok this is just a bit of transit fan geekery – at least it is for now – I am sure that we can turn it into a debate about what we should be doing here.

I learned from the Guardian that

you can now see a fascinating animated Google Map (requires Javascript) showing where London Underground trains are – live. Built by Matthew Somerville of MySociety at Science Hack Day over the weekend, it uses the new Transport for London API (via the London Datastore) – combining the train predictions service plus “a bit of maths and magic..

It is far from perfect – indeed one of the fun things is watching one of the “trains” whizz up a street that has no underground route underneath it. If that is your idea of fun.

It is all due to the new “open” architecture – in this case an API. Which I only know about because I use an application that tracks my flickr photos using their API (whatever that is).

One (outside) developer I’ve spoken to says that for years TfL has been “a black box that the Greater London Authority pours money into which generates outputs, but nobody can see inside”.

It looks like that is changing, though, and one has to say that the efforts of Emer Coleman, head of London’s Data Store have been instrumental in getting TfL to open up its data in this way.

Now that sounds familiar. Firstly because the City of Vancouver has a commitment to open data – Andrea Reimer is the name that pops into my mind when I think about this but I am sure there are staff involved too. Secondly, transportation data was supposed to have become not only much more plentiful but also more accessible under Translink. That’s when I picked up that usage of “architecture”: there was one guy who seemed to talk about nothing else back in the day. Except, of course, nothing seems to have come from it. There is more data around now – passenger counters, GPS on buses and even the Alcatel system that tracks trains on SkyTrain and the Canada Line. And “real time” displays at some stations and stops – and even on board the new Mark II trains I am told. But nothing like this yet – as far as I know.

And my cell phone resolutely refuses to look up the next bus scheduled data by bus stop number – let alone the realtime stuff

Richmond Centre BLine  disabled=

Richmond Centre B Line Real Time Display Disabled

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Posted in transit

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No good work goes unpunished

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WTA 822

WTA bus unloading at Bellingham

I must admit I was not aware of what a good job Whatcom County transit has been doing. But then I had also never heard of either – “News of the Great Nearby”.

the Federal Transportation Administration hailed WTA as the bus service with the highest ridership increase in the United States — up 32 percent in 2007-2008. Last year, its buses managed nearly 5 million passenger trips in a service area of only 196,000 people. It carries more riders per dollar than any other communitywide transit system in the state.

The title I chose comes directly from the article. My father used that aphorism frequently, only he said “No good deed goes unpunished”. I had of course heard about the effect that HST would have on cross border shoppers from here to there. Indeed, I do not think most of us in this region think about Whatcom County except in terms of cross border shopping. I did once supervise a project that tried to establish a cross border transit service for the large numbers of people who work on one side of the border but live on the other. That went nowhere – mainly due to inter-governmental bureacracies. A bit like the cock up over the second Amtrak train.

The whole thing turns on an administrative decision at state level that says the HST is not a “sales tax” but rather a “value added tax”. Which seems to me to be a fine bit of legal sophistry.

The exemption is one the state legislature created 45 years ago, for residents of states and provinces with a sales tax lower than 3 percent. Oregon, Idaho, Alberta, and Alaska qualified.

But Alberta doesn’t have a sales tax! Alaska gets in there because of the direct ferry service between the two states: visitors do not have to set foot on Canadian soil.

But I digress. The is no way that the WTA can challenge the ruling in court, because it was not the result of a case but rather the result of a ruling by the state Department of Revenue.

Gov. Gregoire and Director Holmstrom have told border community leaders. B.C. shoppers will get a free pass from Washington sales tax on purchases they buy to take back to Canada.

So no hope of a political decision by the state legislature either – since retailers expect a big boost in sales from the exemption.

Some Bellingham stores do as much as 40 percent of their business with B.C. shoppers. They sniff a bonanza, as the tax-free bargains draw Canadians by the thousands. It may also be bit of a paperwork nuisance.

Based on my own unscientific parking lot surveys at Bellis Fair Mall I would have guessed an even higher  figure. But then how do they measure these things? After all, the people who go cross border shopping are not especially open about their purchases. The exemption does not apply to day trippers. But then neither do the Canadian exemptions. In theory Canadians are supposed to declare everything they buy – no matter how long they are away – and then calculate how much exemption they are entitled to based on the amount of time they have been out of the country. I suppose these days there could easily be a number plate matching program on the computer in front of the border agent. But I rather think that most agents go by other “tells” – and are less concerned about small sums of sales tax than drugs, guns and illegal immigration. If you have to pay for an overnight stay (or two) to get the exemption, then you probably have to spend quite a bit before the trip breaks even.

At one time I used to take advantage of travel exemptions to bring back things like booze and cigarettes – but I stopped smoking many years ago, and decided that having a collection of single malts was not exactly a high priority. And I have always avoided buying consumer durables from places that would be difficult to get to if I needed to return something. So I have no personal axe to grind here. I do teach a course at Whatcom County Community College – and (sometimes) they even pay me!

I do begin to wonder when it will become apparent to politicians and bureaucrats in general that public transportation is something that they have to consider as being something worth spending taxes on  – like they now see defence or prisons.

WTA 827

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Posted in silly, transit

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