Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 2nd, 2010

Surprising uptick in PNW gasoline consumption

with 4 comments

Scarcely a day goes by without somebody sending me something in my in box they think I ought to blog about. Generally speaking these are PR flacks who have not read the blog itself – and who often have not noticed that it is intended to address a largely Canadian – or more specifically, Greater Vancouver, audience. (Of course if you reside elsewhere I am pleased you find this interesting, but mostly, when I started this blog, I wanted to get people here thinking differently.) An email yesterday from the Sightline Institute was different – but arriving on Canada Day when I had a full slate of other commitments meant I missed a scoop. Well, not really, since I am sure everyone else was busy too. And this morning I find that the same email – or one like it – must have gone to the Sun since they have the story this morning.

So what does that leave me to write about? Well, the reasons for the increase in fuel use are largely speculative. You can read the Sightline report here (pdf file) and it is worth looking at the last page of sources where all the links are. There are also data tables.  But I cannot say I am convinced that “economic activity preceding the 2010 Winter Olympics” might be a cause of increased driving.

Post hoc ergo propter hocLatin for “after this, therefore because of this”, is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) which states, “Since that event followed this one, that event must have been caused by this one.”

The US recession has hit harder and is persisting longer than in Canada – so it is not really surprising that BC shows an increase in driving last year that exceeds that of the US. The winter Olympics may, of course, just be the way the at the Institute likes to refer to a time period – the wording is careful but the implication …

I think that instead of looking at correlation and confusing it with causality, some sort of consumer survey data might have been a bit more supportive of the thesis. As I have said before, I was not here in the critical Olympic period, but those who were reported less driving and more transit use. So why do the Olympics now get the credit for increasing gas consumption? It is clear however that this government – given the soft ball questions in the Sun piece – loves the opportunity to spin its tax policies. Carbon tax in BC makes hardly any difference to gas prices which bounce around by more per litre every day than the carbon tax adds to prices, so the idea that it might influence car use is bizarre.

B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen said in an interview Wednesday that … he wasn’t aware of the increased gas consumption at the pump

Isn’t that an admission of incompetence?

Refusing to fund transit expansion in Greater Vancouver, wasting money on pointless projects like turnstiles and building a bigger freeway and a lot more roads will of course do nothing to shift modes. But then the BC Liberals do not actually give a fig for such things.  Gas consumption increased – and at the same time we saw more transit expansion – so they clearly were not doing enough then and even less now and in the future. If you do not provide attractive choices people will not change modes. If the politicians continue to do what they always have done, people will continue to do what they always have done. Expecting anything else is madness. There is no real commitment to fundamental change – and whatever the BC Liberals may say about climate change what they do shows their real intention. As did the recent summit of “world leaders”. Who all ignored the real issue – the one that threatens our survival as a species – in favour of short term distractions, like serving their paymasters – large corporations.

I am not surprised that gas consumption goes up when unemployment falls – as did gas prices. I am not surprised that BC  is doing better economically than the US north western states closest to us, but I would not call that a”binge”.

I agree that the future for this region in terms of increasing car dependency is grim – but that is nothing new. I do not think that the Sightline Institute has, on this occasion, provided very useful information. But maybe I am missing something.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 2, 2010 at 9:43 am