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

Archive for April 2011

CAR2GO Press Conference

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Line up of Cars 2 GO

The line up of cars at the Salt Building - my photo

I was quite delighted to be invited to the Car2Go press conference today in the Salt Building at what used to be the Olympic Village. There was a lot of press and tv in attendance – and the Vancouver Sun had a story this morning.   Just to be extra careful, I must make clear that the programme is not launched yet – in the sense of being able to take out a car. They have opened registrations but the cars themselves will not be available until June 18. However it is worth pre-registering now – but you will have to read the rest to get the promo code.

What makes this program different from the car share programs currently operating here (like Modo or zipcar) is that you do not have to return the car from where you got it. Like some of the new bike sharing programs, you can make one way trips. The car can be left at any designated spot in the business area, or any free on street legal in the residential area – including designated residential parking spaces. The special Smart cars are the only type available, but have advanced telematics so that they can be tracked and their location will be available to users when you have finished with it, and to the office to let them know when it needs attention. For that reason the “operating area” in the map appears to be very restrictive: the shore of the inlet to the north, south as far as 41st east to Nanaimo Street west to Dunbar. In fact you can take the car away from that – for instance for a trip to Stanley Park or UBC, you just cannot end the rental until you return to the operating area.

CAR2GO Operating Area

CAR2GO Operating Area

CAR2GO Dedicated Parking spots

CAR2GO Dedicated Parking spots

City of Vancouver Car-Share decal

City of Vancouver Car-Share decal - my photo

If you are not familiar with residential parking permit areas the City of Vancouver has a set of pdf maps showing the areas concerned.

I spoke to Bernice Paul the Marketing Director of Modo – the car co-op. She said that they feel that CAR2GO does not compete directly with them but will be seen as “competition for taxis”. They later released their own statement which says (in part)

Modo The Car Co-op, Metro Vancouver’s premier and only local car sharing organization, is curious about how this method of transportation will work.

“CAR2GO here in Vancouver is the first time we’ve seen a one-way service launch in a city with a combination of established car sharing, taxis, metered parking, and plans for bike sharing.” notes Tanya Paz, Modo’s Business Development Director. “We’re interested to learn if Car2Go will actually help reduce the number of individually owned cars on the road.”

Modo has been in operation since 1997 and as a founding member of the international Car Sharing Association, adheres to its Code of Ethics. As a transit-oriented car co-op, Modo prioritizes walking, cycling and public transit before the use of cars for transport.

Han Tjan, the  Head of Corporate Communications for Daimler in North America opened the proceedings with the usual welcomes. He said that the area selected in Vancouver is walkable, bikeable and transit served  [just like the city of Ulm where the program was launched and the city of Amsterdam where there will be 300 electric Smart cars]. Based on its success in Germany, Vancouver is the first city in Canada to have Car2GO

CAR2GO is perfectly suited for Vancouver. Daimler will open a fuel cell production facility in Vancouver [eventually the current internal combustion cars will be supplemented and probably replaced by electric cars]. These are the right answers in urban areas. The idea is innovative and successful. The idea came up in 2007 in Ulm where the  first pilot phase of 50 cars was used by Daimler employees, who are the most demanding customers. Together with Austin there are now 35,000 regular members in the two cities.

Nicholas Cole CEO of Car2Go Canada 

Vancouver is not just the first Canadian market, the company will be headquartered here and is proud to call Vancouver home. Car sharing is already working here. They will be opening with 225 low emission vehicles on June 18. At present there is no registration fee on-line at or at the office 45 Water Street in Gastown.

The Concept is based on the Smart Car that has been specifically designed for car sharing with a solar panel on the roof. It was sourced through the local Mercedes-Benz Canada retailers. It offers another easy and affordable option for the  dense urban area: it is designed for the city and enhances bus and walk trips. It is  part of the solution: an on demand alternative to vehicle ownership. It is available 24 hours a day,  7 days a week and may be used spontaneously or reserved 24 hours in advance.

CAR2GO reader

CAR2GO reader - my photo

Renting is a 6 step process –

  • find a car using the smart phone app or on the web:
  • use your membership card to gain access using the reader stuck to the windshield – see my photo above
  • enter PIN and answer two questions about the state of the vehicle:
  • you may the use the key provided to start the car; there is no need to book the usage period. There is a discount for daily use, and no requirement to return the car – you can park it and  hold on to the key if you want to. And users can always check their account on-line.
  • at the end of the rental you use the telematics system to say that you are finished
  • put the key back into the console – the car is locked using the membership card again

He said that CAR2GO is part of the new movement to collaborative consumption – share and rent to reduce waste. He acknowledged support from City of Vancouver and said that last year’s test period showed that it would be a good fit here.

There is a mandatory $2 fee for the special ICBC car sharing insurance  but that they will donate  that $2 fee for next 12 months to Canuck Place. They are also waiving the $35 membership fee for an introductory period (see below).

Gregor Robertson

said that the Salt Building was the “athletes living room” [It is to become a restaurant and this is the last event that will be allowed to used the building in its present form.] The city has the goal of becoming the greenest city and a full range of transportation options is essential to that. He also insists on maintaining the city’s livability. People in the city already walk, cycle and take transit in record numbers and were also early adopters of car sharing. There is a compelling environmental case in terms of the overall ecological footprint of car sharing. He said he was also excited to see that the company is to have its Canadian headquarters here, which fits with Vancouver’s desire to be at the centre of the  global green economy.

In answer to my question about the role of the telematics – it knows when it leaves the operating area – Mr Cole said that you are free to leave that area but you have to bring it back to end the rental period.

Bernice Paul asked if they had any information on the reduction in car use in the other cities. Nicholas Cole said that they were “just starting to collect that data and will do that going forward.”

He also said that “after we get operating we will look at the number of cars and the size of the operating area”.

Christopher Gaze – Artistic Director of Bard on the Beach one of the users in last year’s trial here said  “We had thought of getting another car. We now won’t.” In an interview with me later he clarified that:  his household has no intention of giving up their Jag, but they would not need a second car now. He currently commutes from his home in Kits to the Bard on his bicycle. Mostly.

I also spoke to Juliane Muehling, the Corporate Communications Manager for CAR2GO. She told me that Austin, Texas was quite different to Ulm – and Vancouver – but they were very keen to get the first American operation there, mainly due to the inadequacies of their transit system. They have had no problem with vandalism – as happens with the Velib bike share system in Paris. The cars stay in communication which means that they get fuel and servicing at need. There is a fuelling card in the car: users may use to refill the tank – and if they do so get some free minutes on their rental. They intend to be a small company and use local vendors and services – for example Bashir Auto is doing the cleaning. The City concession on allowing parking in residential zones is common to all car shares not just CAR2GO.

I did take the car on a short test drive and found the process to be easy. There are two videos on the web site if you feel you need more teaching. I was pleased to note that the radio is tuned to CBC Radio 2 by default – though that could change in response to user demands. The telematics system includes a hands free cell phone.

You might also be interested to know that the system was developed with (W)right ON Communications wave front services: they are a federal government funded “wireless accelerator”, a non-profit designed to promote technology.

UPDATE November 2, 2011

I have already registered myself, and have now used the cars several times

If you decide to do so enter the promo code SUSTAINABLE and you will get free registration and 30 free minutes of drive time.

CAR2GO with a bus - CAR2GO supplied image

The following links are to pdf files provided by Daimler/CAR2GO

car2go Press Release Vancouver Announcement

car2go Extra Sheet Vancouver Announcement

car2go Graphic: Success Story

Written by Stephen Rees

April 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Posted in car sharing

Tagged with ,

Will Megabus kill High Speed Rail?

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Van Hool double decker megabuses

MegaBuses at their Washington DC terminal - my photo

The short answer is No.

The slightly longer answer is that while new, innovative bus services on some routes in the United States are winning new customers to long distance buses, they will pose little threat once there are true high speed railway services to compete with. They will probably be price competitive, but speed and service quality of the kind now enjoyed in France, Germany, Japan – and even across the English Channel will secure a much larger chunk of what is now airline travel.

I was a bit taken aback by the tone of the Economist article until I realised that it was not a newspaper article in the Economist’s usual style but a blog post where “our correspondents inform and entertain business travellers with news, views and reviews that help them make the most of life on the road” . So not much analysis or data. Indeed there is not a great deal more in the Business Week article that inspired the blog post.

What is significant is the history of MegaBus and why they are so successful. “Megabus and Coach USA are owned by the British company Stagecoach Group, and they have fundamentally changed the way Americans—especially the young—travel.”

Much of the recent success of the curbside business derives from its nimbleness. … the bus simply uses existing roads, requiring no policy debates, government funding, or land management studies. It needs only a curb and a sign. Bus companies are also able to gauge demand quickly, gather rider input online, then alter pickup locations or routes just by posting changes to their websites. … numerous requests on transit blogs for new service from Chicago to Memphis … A couple of weeks later he has the buses up and running.

While Business Week compares that the uphill struggle that Obama is having trying to get his high speed rail legislation through Congress, I do not agree that this poses much of a threat to high speed rail – though it does make for snappy copy. And the advantages of high speed rail have been discussed on this blog often enough .

Bolt Bus 0822

Bolt Bus in New York - my photo

So the thing that I really want to comment on is why we don’t see services like Bolt Bus and Megabus here. And the answer is the Passenger Transport Board. This really is a bit of an anachronism and it surprises me a little that it has survived the long run of the BC Liberals – especially with archconservative Kevin Falcon as Minister of Transport and of deregulation during that time. The PTB is the successor to the Motor Carrier Commission who I have also looked at a while ago. Then I was on about taxis but so far as I can see I have not said much about the inter city bus business.

No-one can operate an intercity bus in BC without a licence from the PTB, and they have to determine the fares and the schedules. In fact the process is lengthy and clumsy leading to complaints but no changes. And the key to the results the process produces is in a section of the Passenger Transport Act

28 (1) The board may approve an application forwarded to it under section 26 (1) if the board considers that

(a) there is a public need for the service the applicant proposes to provide under any special authorization,
(b) the applicant is a fit and proper person to provide that service and is capable of providing that service, and
(c) the application, if granted, would promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia.

I have underlined what I see as the key phrase. What that means is the PTB continues the philosophy of the MCC – its purpose is to protect the established operators. There is no taxpayer subsidy for long distance buses as there is with transit. But there are equivalent challenges: basically the hope is that companies will cross subsidize low ridership routes to remote communities with the profits from better patronised services. Of course, those are the ones that attract other operators, who if allowed to “cream” the best business, will lower the profitability of the established operators and lead to cuts in service on the low profit routes.

Actually it does not seem to be working like this either, since there is no way the Board can compel an operator to continue to provide an unprofitable service as the Island case I cited above shows.

So given that we have a very poor level of intercity bus service in BC and many communities that would like better service, why has this regulator survived? I think apart from inertia, there must also be an understanding of the political power of those who currently hold licences. This is most obvious in the taxi business. Presumably, no-one important enough has ever wanted to get into our intercity bus market. It is simply not big enough to attract Stagecoach and the like. There have been innovators – the specialized services aimed at skiers to Whistler and surfers to Tofino testify to that. But we have yet to see anything significant to develop  elsewhere. Yet I would bet that the same conditions that make for a good market in the US – high gas prices, rising air fares, slow lines at airport security checks – apply here.

Tofino Bus

Tofino Bus at Tofino - my photo

The key to MegaBus success has been its ability to adapt fares and schedules to demand. That is simply not possible here under PTB rules. If you believe the rhetoric of the market driven BC Liberals, then getting rid of the regulations – at least as far as services and prices are concerned (clearly safety must remain a paramount concern) would see all kinds of people who understand their local market getting into the intercity transportation business. And to the extent that cuts into the current need for many people to continue to own a car in case they need to make such a trip, that would actually be good for the environment. A well loaded bus is a pretty good way of reducing emissions per passenger kilometre travelled.

PCL 3007

PCL bus at the Tsawassen Ferry terminal - my photo

There has actually been a steady increase in competition on some important routes like Vancouver – Victoria. The PCL bus still is first on, first off the ferry, but more people now use transit at each end – and walk on and off the ferry. The Quick shuttle bus to Seattle now offers wifi – and, as the CBC recently noted, there are still lower costs flying from SeaTac than YVR. The Amtrak train service is also often a bus – you have to read that schedule carefully – and even when it is a train, it is very slow. We have to hope that the proposal for high speed rail on this route survives better than the one in Florida.

Meanwhile, I would like to suggest that if we must keep regulation in place for intercity bus services, we do so in the public interest and not solely in the interests of the licensees.

Greyhound 1015 Hope BC 2007_0828

Greyhound Hope BC 2007 - my photo

Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with

Victoria firm develops renewable fuel

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The Times Colonist has a story about alt fuels this morning – their headline adds ” with fraction of the emissions from gasoline”. Apparently it comes from renewable sources – but what exactly is not specified – and can be mixed with regular fuel and used in current engines without modification. So since they mention renewables that presumably means less net greenhouse gas emissions than a fossil fuel, which a Good Thing. And the route they have chosen to go avoids the major pitfalls of most alt fuels which require either modified engines or different fuel dispensing systems – and, frequently, both.

Much will depend on price of course – and the, so far, mysterious source. There are many other toiling in this field  – algae being popular and a better choice than grains otherwise used as food. Fortunately gasoline is going to continue to get more expensive – as the market is betting that way now too even though there are no actual shortages at present. So that means that even the big oil companies are starting to look around for ways to make what they have go further and last longer.

But – yes there is always a but – the problem of the car is not just what you put in its tank. Indeed, I begin to think that is the least of our immediate concerns, since car dependency has brought so much misery in its wake. We were persuaded to drive everywhere and told this was the ultimate freedom only to find we had lost most of the other choices in the process, and become sick, lost many to collisions and seen the places where we live transformed into parking lots. The real choice now is we either ween ourselves off the automobile by creating walkable places – or we continue to pursue the impossible dream that we have never realized in the last sixty or more years.

Alt fuels like this one may not actually help very much – because they allow us to continue with the illusion that auto mobility can be made sustainable. Yet it is clear that in places that have tried to make it possible to drive everywhere end up choking themselves on traffic.

We know that when people have a choice, they will begin to turn away from cars and auto oriented places. Indeed some say that is already observable with the success of downtown Vancouver. The new urbanists are showing that there can be a wider variety of placemaking – it does not have to be high rises around subway stations. Though we always knew that worked because every major world city already had that  – though many took a while before they realized that mixed land use in their central places was a Really Good Idea too. The cities that had the sense to hold to streetcars – or to put them back – found success too. As did the places that developed bike lanes and concentrated on pedestrian safety and places to people watch. Not exactly a complicated paradigm to get ahold of – but one which entrenched commercial interests are still doing their best to resist.

Suburbs are a challenge – but were commonplace long before widespread car ownership. Retrofits now underway across the US are starting to show  what can work commercially as well as offer hope for a more sustainable future.

For the record I want to re-iterate that while I know that we need to develop transit – and actually I think the more types of transit (local shuttles, bus, rapid bus, lrt, metro, commuter rail) the better – there will still be cars. New models of operation like car sharing and car pooling are developing – and there have been a few false starts. The velib/bixi model works with bikes – if someone picks up the tab for our bad behaviour – and will probably work better with car share schemes – I look forward to learning more about that next week. We already know that people who belong to car coops use transit and ride bikes more than those who own vehicles. That may say more about the demographic and location of early adopters. Car sharing is not yet main stream – and seems to be stuck in the city centres where there are plenty of other options already and any car use should be curtailed, if we are to avoid living in a place that works like Granville Island. It has train tracks but no trains. And the nearest transit service is nowhere near where people want to be.

Granville Island


At the very least, the suburban American malls (like Bellingham) that put the bus stop at the building entrance – and not way out beyond the limits of the parking lot  – show they know what has to be done.

WTA 844 Bellingham WA 2008_1003

Vancouver, New Westminster, the City of North Vancouver  seem to be determined to say “no more” to the car – they simply do not have the space. Surrey obviously wants to do something different now to what is has been doing and poor old Coquitlam and Port Moody have been desperate to get on the bandwagon but are stuck waiting for SkyTrain. Meanwhile highway #1 is being widened and the SFPR is taking over the bog and the farmland – protest today. I doubt the elite will even notice. Everywhere else is car oriented now and has little hope of anything more than marginal change when radical action is needed.

We do not live in a society that embraces planning. We like to think that somehow the market sorts out optimum solutions. Nonsense of course, but one which still seems to attract the voters. We have been social engineering for years – and mostly for the benefit of a few large corporations, who did their best to persuade us that this was also good for us – even though it was always manifest that it was anything but. And I do not expect any of our governments to get any better at picking winners – or even make much effort when there is so much else to distract us. The present fleet of cars will be around for at least another twenty years – and the current short terms supply problems from Japan will doubtless be sorted out and provide a short window of opportunity for other, less skilled auto makers and sellers. The turnover rate for our built environment is even slower. I know it seems to be rapid but that is an illusion. We just tend to notice the new bits more.

So two cheers for Novaera. And hope that a few more pols will notice how many people are looking for REAL change – and have not been voting very much recently.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm

CAR2GO – new car share program

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I took this picture on April 14th when I was around Science World getting pictures of the viaducts and the Olympic Village. This was just one of those “never heard of that before” moments – and, frankly, I forgot all about it until scanning through the backlog looking for stuff to put on flickr. Rather than just put up a picture I googled car2go and found a bit on wikipedia which intrigued me. And since there seemed to be some sort of mystery I tweeted and facebooked too. Ah the power of social media. This morning I get an invitation to a press conference on Wednesday with Mayor Roberston. They tell me:

car2go is an innovative mobility solution redefining individual transportation in urban areas. A subsidiary of Daimler, it provides an innovative mode of “on-demand” transportation which compliments existing public transportation alternatives by bridging the gaps commonly associated with the “first and last mile” of a public transit commute. car2go offers an extensive fleet of environment-friendly smart “car2go edition” vehicles with solar roof for rent. Unlike traditional carsharing programs, car2go vehicles can be accessed “on-demand,” and members may use the vehicle for as long as they like, without committing to a specific location or time to return the vehicle. Charges are based on minutes used and include fuel, insurance, parking and maintenance.

After launching the program in the city of Ulm, Germany as a pilot project in 2008, Austin, Texas was the first US city launched in November 2009 followed by the German city of Hamburg in April 2011.

To date, car2go has reached more than 20.000 customers in Ulm and 15,000 registered members in Austin and is set to undergo significant expansion in North America in 2011.

Seems like there is to be a new car sharing service in town – expect more as soon as I can get something on line on Wednesday. If only I had posted the picture when I had taken it I could have claimed a scoop. I beat wikipedia by a day in getting the image.

UPDATE April 25, 2011

I have been informed that there was a limited trial assessment running in Vancouver last year.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

Posted in car sharing

Tagged with

Study Links Ozone Hole to Climate Change

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Text of a Press Release copied below. This does seem important to me – even if it is not exactly about transport and planning in Greater Vancouver. I have left comments and pingbacks open so if people want to opine on this sort of thing getting posted here they can. If you are on the Landwatch list serve you will already have seen it, since I forwarded it there as well. Kudos to the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria, BC.


First Time that Ozone Depletion Is Shown to Impact the Entire Circulation of the Southern Hemisphere
New York — April 21, 2011 — In a study to be published in the April 21st issue of Science magazine, researchers at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science report their findings that the ozone hole, which is located over the South Pole, has affected the entire circulation of the Southern Hemisphere all the way to the equator. While previous work has shown that the ozone hole is changing the atmospheric flow in the high latitudes, the Columbia Engineering paper, “Impact of Polar Ozone Depletion on Subtropical Precipitation,” demonstrates that the ozone hole is able to influence the tropical circulation and increase rainfall at low latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the first time that ozone depletion, an upper atmospheric phenomenon confined to the polar regions, has been linked to climate change from the Pole to the equator.

“The ozone hole is not even mentioned in the summary for policymakers issued with the last IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report,” noted Lorenzo M. Polvani, Professor of Applied Mathematics and of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and co-author of the paper. “We show in this study that it has large and far-reaching impacts. The ozone hole is a big player in the climate system!”

“It’s really amazing that the ozone hole, located so high up in the atmosphere over Antarctica, can have an impact all the way to the tropics and affect rainfall there — it’s just like a domino effect,” said Sarah Kang, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Columbia Engineering’s Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics and lead author of the paper.

The ozone hole is now widely believed to have been the dominant agent of atmospheric circulation changes in the Southern Hemisphere in the last half century. This means, according to Polvani and Kang, that international agreements about mitigating climate change cannot be confined to dealing with carbon alone— ozone needs to be considered, too. “This could be a real game-changer,” Polvani added.

Located in the Earth’s stratosphere, just above the troposphere (which begins on Earth’s surface), the ozone layer absorbs most of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Over the last half-century, widespread use of manmade compounds, especially household and commercial aerosols containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has significantly and rapidly broken down the ozone layer, to a point where a hole in the Antarctic ozone layer was discovered in the mid 1980s. Thanks to the 1989 Montreal Protocol, now signed by 196 countries, global CFC production has been phased out. As a result, scientists have observed over the past decade that ozone depletion has largely halted and they now expect it to fully reverse, and the ozone hole to close by midcentury.

But, as Polvani has said, “While the ozone hole has been considered as a solved problem, we’re now finding it has caused a great deal of the climate change that’s been observed.” So, even though CFCs are no longer being added to the atmosphere, and the ozone layer will recover in the coming decades, the closing of the ozone hole will have a considerable impact on climate. This shows that through international treaties such as the Montreal Protocol, which has been called the single most successful international agreement to date, human beings are able to make changes to the climate system.

Together with colleagues at the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria, BC, Kang and Polvani used two different state-of-the-art climate models to show the ozone hole effect. They first calculated the atmospheric changes in the models produced by creating an ozone hole. They then compared these changes with the ones that have been observed in the last few decades: the close agreement between the models and the observations shows that ozone has likely been responsible for the observed changes in the Southern Hemisphere.

This important new finding was made possible by the international collaboration of the Columbia University scientists with Canadian colleagues. Model results pertaining to rainfall are notoriously difficult to calculate with climate models, and a single model is usually not sufficient to establish credible results. By joining hands and comparing results from two independent models, the scientists obtained solid results.

Kang and Polvani plan next to study extreme precipitation events, which are associated with major floods, mudslides, etc. “We really want to know,” said Kang, “if and how the closing of the ozone hole will affect these.”

This study was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Vancouver Island railway running out of steam

with 4 comments

The Globe and Mail sets out the depressing recent history of the Esquimault and Nanaimo Railway. I have, of course, covered this before – with the same photo!

VIA6148 Victoria Stn BC Oct 1994

Victoria Station October 1994 - my photo

I came to Vancouver Island in 1994, when I worked for the BC government. The railway was, of course, an issue then. That really has not changed very much except, like the railway, the position has steadily deteriorated. In fact one of the last things I did before I left was buy myself a round trip ticket for the ride from Victoria up to Courtney and the back again. I was pretty sure I would not have the opportunity again – and at present it cannot be done. The once a day train has stopped running – and in fact has not been allowed into Victoria for a while.

VIA6133 Nanaimo Stn view2 BC Feb_1997

Nanaimo Station February 1997 - my photo

While I lived in Victoria there was a lot of interest in running a train into Victoria in the morning and out again in the evening – just like West Coast Express. That, it was said, would give people an alternative to the “Colwood Crawl”. Unfortunately the government of the day was committed to the Island Highway – an idea born of the previous SoCred government. Nanaimo being a centre of NDP support – and of course the bingo scandal – they wanted the highway much more than any upgrade to the E&N. On that last ride in 1997 I got see the raw wound of the new highway carved across the scenery. At one time the E&N was one of the more scenic railway rides. It seemed to me at the time that the Island Highway project had damaged much of that.

VIA6133 Courtenay Stn BC Feb_1997

Courtenay Station February 1997 - my photo

Once you got to Courtenay there was really nothing much to see – and anyway the single car train simply reversed direction and went back the way it came. There was no catering on the train. A coffee truck came out to meet it at Nanaimo – and there was time to get a cup of something very like coffee and some thing else which was almost edible.

Victoria Station

Victoria Station - and the Johnson Street Bridge 1994 - my photo

But there was never any consensus – especially among supporters of doing something. The commuter train was not supported by those who wanted light rail for Victoria. Others thought that it should be a tourist attraction. Something like that has been running at the extreme end of the old E&N in Port Alberni.   It uses an old steam logging loco and converted cabooses and is run by volunteers

Alberni Pacific 7 Port Alberni BC

Alberni Pacific at Port Alberni BC June 2010 - my photo

This is also an idea that was adopted on St Kitts with their narrow gauge round the Island line left redundant by the abandonment of sugar growing.

St Kitts Scenic Railway

St Kitts Scenic Railway, December 2010 - my photo

They of course now have tourism as their only industry – so their minds were much more concentrated. But enthusiasts in many countries have started successful railway preservation projects – perhaps none more so than in Great Britain where Dr Beeching provided them with plenty of opportunities, and there was a considerable body of enthusiasts and experienced, retired railwaymen. Some of these operations quickly expanded beyond the gricer and Thomas the tank engine markets into real transport service – and are now known as “community railways”, with the opportunity for government support for socially necessary services.

Victoria is, of course, a cruise ship port of call. You cannot expect the cruise ship companies to come up with excursions themselves but everywhere that cruise ships operate there are small tour operators keen to tap the deep pockets of cruise ship passengers. Alaska, for instance – and the Yukon – both offer train rides to them. BC has one of the best tourist railway operators since VIA gave up on the finest scenic passenger ride – the Kicking Horse pass to Banff – which has allowed Rocky Mountaineer to become very successful indeed and expand with services to Whistler and beyond.

Rocky Mountaineer enters The Cut

Rocky Mountaineer June 2010 - my photo

If we had governments who could get the heads out of highways for a moment, they would see that the lower end of the E&N could become very useful both for moving commuters and tourists. Indeed this market segmentation strategy is essential. Virgin brought that expertise to British railways from its airline business and has doubled passenger traffic on its route (the West Coast Main Line). Running trains for people is a different kind of business to running trains for freight but unfortunately North American railways are dominated by those who understand freight alone.

WCE 902 Vancouver BC 2005_0620

West Coast Express - June 2005 - my photo

It is not beyond the wit of man to come up with a structure that would allow for different types of train service that will attract commuters and tourists – just not at the same time. And freight trains could be fitted in between them, even without huge investments in signalling. As Bombardier was saying, the time is right for trains: if only because they are far more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre than most other modes.

UPDATE BC Transit announced today (April 26) that “Light Rail Transit (LRT) has been identified as the preferred technology that will meet the goals and objectives of the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit Project.”

In 2010, the rapid transit alignment was approved and endorsed by all directly‐affected municipalities (Victoria, Saanich, View Royal, Colwood and Langford), the Victoria Regional Transit Commission and approved by the Board of Directors. The alignment follows Douglas Street between downtown Victoria and Uptown in Saanich, then runs parallel to the Trans‐Canada Highway and the Galloping Goose Trail to 6 Mile/Colwood Interchange, along the Island Highway to Colwood City Centre, then into Station Avenue in Langford via Goldstream Avenue.

In May 2011, the business case with the recommended technology will be submitted to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission for endorsement and then to the BC Transit Board of Directors for approval in May. If approved, the business case will be submitted to the Province of BC in June. The timeline for the project will be finalized once BC Transit receives approval and funding for the project.

The cost of the preferred technology along the entire alignment is estimated at $950 million.

Under here puts some buttons to share the post – but not a tweet button. So I am putting it here to see it if works. Please tweet me

Written by Stephen Rees

April 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

Posted in Light Rail, Railway

Tagged with

Report Urges Shift from Freeways to Transit

Not a press release – but an article posted by my friend Eric Doherty, a colleague from the Livable Region Coalition. The report in question can be downloaded as a pdf from The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – and there is also a summary pdf and will be a slide show later.

I did not get advanced notice so I have not yet had time to read the report – or even the summary and I am bit occupied at present. However I feel quite confident that any report co-authored by Eric, Patrick Condon, Kari Dow, Marc Lee and Gordon Price will be worth your time.

This study lays out a plan for a 30-year initiative that would transform the ways in which people and goods move across our province. This in turn will create complete communities with affordable housing choices, more and better jobs, and a better quality of life for all British Columbians.

I was wrong – there is a Press Release. OK I am going to post that too – but I will return later and when I have absorbed the report there will probably more consideration. So for now no comments or pingbacks here – obviously you can do that elsewhere

Carbon tax was the stick, now we need a carrot

Experts recommend high quality, zero-emissions public transportation system

(Vancouver) Aggressive investments in BC’s transportation system will not only reduce BC’s greenhouse gas emissions, but lead to healthier, safer communities for all British Columbians, according to a new study.

The study, co-published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Wilderness Committee, sets out key strategies for urban, suburban and rural areas that will improve transportation and quality of life at the same time.

“Instead of allocating billions of precious tax dollars on wider roads and bigger bridges, like we’re doing now, we need to build a province-wide zero-carbon public transportation system,” says co-author Patrick Condon, UBC chair in Landscape and Livable Environments and a leading figure in sustainable design.

The study proposes an annual investment of $2 billion over the next ten years, with the long-term goal of creating a zero-emissions transportation system by 2040. Transportation needs would be met a mix of public transit, cycling, walking and private or shared electric vehicles, with shorter trips and a switch to clean fuels.

To get to zero emissions, the study envisions a province of “complete communities” – in which residents do not have to travel far to meet their day-to-day needs. They can walk, bike or use public transit for most trips, and use shared electric vehicles. Complete communities have a mix of housing types (including affordable options), decent jobs, public services, parks and other public spaces, and commercial districts with restaurants, offices and retail outlets. The authors emphasize that the exact mix of transportation modes will depend on whether a community is urban, suburban or rural.

Economist Marc Lee, co-author of the study, points out that transportation of people and goods accounts for about 40% of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions. He proposes that transforming transportation is the logical next step in BC’s climate action agenda.

“If we think of the carbon tax as the stick, then a new transportation system is the carrot,” says Lee. “Many British Columbians who live in suburban and rural areas resent paying the carbon tax, and with good reason: they’ve been penalized for driving, but they aren’t provided with any alternatives. And that’s what we’re laying out here: an effective, doable alternative.”

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2011 at 11:17 am

“City-dwellers don’t want cars, they want choice”

with one comment

A press release which actually deals with issues I want to blog about is an increasing rarity. Dozens arrive, few get more than a glance. This one is all about a study that found that if you live in a city like Boston or San Francisco you will use your smart phone (if you have one) to help you get around without a car if you are deprived of one for a week.

I reproduce the entire press release below and note that it includes a link to the study itself. This is so that people who are keen on smart phones and new media can have access to it.

I am using the article to make my usual point. The marketing and information systems are important, but not as important as having an adequate transit system – and a government determined to make that system steadily more available and affordable “going forward”. That means not just plans and aspirations but the rising spiral of better service and increasing use. For a little while Translink had that. But its mandate to look after the road system and its desire to build mega projects, coupled with three levels of government (outside of the City of Vancouver) mostly concerned to expand road use has changed that. The latest rounds of service cuts are being defended – by commenters here and the spin doctors there. It’s an adjustment. Service hours are the same. Yadda, yadda. The reality is that people who have limited choices – and probably cannot afford a smart phone and its monthly service charges – have seen a distinct deterioration in transit service. Especially if the service they happened to rely on was not one of the best performing. What looks like efficiency improvements to the service planners looks like the loss of mobility and convenience to people who travel off-peak, or who live in lower density areas.

It also needs to be understood that even if you have great service, if it is overcrowded or unreliable due to traffic congestion, the fact that your smart phone can tell you how long you have to wait is, after a while, small comfort. Yes better information does reduce perceptions of waiting time, but it does not give you back the time you lost. Eventually those who have choices will exercise them.

“I hope this will inspire officials debating whether to invest in public transit to expand their systems, now that we’ve shown that people want options.” Julia Serazio, Executive Editor of Next American City

Those officials she is talking about are the newly inspired Republicans who are taking an axe to public spending programmes of all kinds but transit seems to be the top of mind for many of them. Nothing in this study – or indeed any facts of any kind – will deter them in their ideological quest for government spending cuts. And it is ideological and has been shown to be counter productive. For instance family planning programs are anathema to the religious right but there is lots of evidence that they are highly cost-effective – an ounce of prevention for a ton of benefits. But like I said no objective evidence is ever used – there or here. We have known that we need more transit for many years – but we still build freeways. And it looks like more people who desire to see more prisons or an end to needle exchanges will turn out to vote next month than those who support more transit spending.

Boston and San Francisco have good transit systems – for North America, that is. Both are in need of more tax payer support. And, I suggest, spending on service provision will do more to retain and grow ridership than any marketing or information system. Here, the prospect of continued chipping away at services will lead to a steady decline as people give up on a system that is not there for them when they need it. Like late night service. Like service in the suburbs. Those people will find they have ever less choice.




Latitude Study Finds Access to Mobile Information Plays Important Role in Choice to Use Car-Free Transportation

– Smartphones Can Reduce Reliance on Driving by Making Sustainable Transit a More Flexible, Equitable and Enjoyable Experience –

BOSTON, Mass. – April 20, 2011 – Access to real-time and mobile information is infusing alternative transit with a range of benefits traditionally reserved for car ownership, according to a new study: Tech for Transit: Designing a Future System.

The study was designed and run by Latitude, an international research consultancy, as part of their ongoing Latitude 42s: Exploring the Possible World innovation series, and was published in collaboration with Next American City, a non-profit organization and quarterly magazine advocating for sustainable cities. Latitude helps clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web.

The study asked regular drivers from Boston and San Francisco to give up their cars for one week. Participants in the deprivation study completed surveys about their attitudes and experiences before, during and after the car-free week and contributed to online discussion groups with other participants to chronicle their experiences.

“The beauty of deprivation as a study design is that it’s so immersive and experiential, and it can’t be fully recreated through thought experiments or role-playing scenarios,” says Marina Miloslavsky, a Senior Research Analyst at Latitude who specializes in innovative experimental design and who led this particular study. “By following our participants through every step of the lifestyle change, we were able to get a real-time glimpse into this novel situation and the poignant insights that arose from it.”

The goal of the study was to learn how new technologies and improved information access could enhance transit experiences, and uncover how cities, transportation providers and technology companies can work together to develop these information-based solutions to encourage adoption of more sustainable transit.

“The results of this study are incredibly heartening to us and to everyone who advocates for sustainable cities. We have long found that people are pleasantly surprised once they trade in their cars for public transit. City-dwellers don’t want cars, they want choice,” explains Julia Serazio, Executive Editor of Next American City.  “I hope these results will inspire drivers around the nation to try leaving their cars at home and explore their cities using other means, and I hope this will inspire officials debating whether to invest in public transit to expand their systems, now that we’ve shown that people want options.”

Key business opportunities from the study include:

  • Apps that Enable Aspirations (and Make It Easy to be Good): Developing car-free lifestyles helped participants fulfill other social or personal aspirations such as helping the environment, curbing their budgets and improving their health. A wide range of existing and future apps can help people to track their progress and make good, knowledgeable choices in real-time (e.g., by evaluating one’s carbon footprint, recording calories burned, etc.).
  • Collaborations Between “Competing” Entities: Participants expressed a desire for one-stop, mobile information shops that would allow people to make more informed decisions on-the-go (e.g., by comparing information across public transit offerings, car-sharing or ride-sharing services, etc.). Government and private-sector entities should collaborate on these kinds of resources, enabling users to choose among multiple – and sometimes competing – options by comparing schedules, cost, availability, and convenience.
  • Connections Between Transit and Other Local Information: Routes and schedules are a good start, but local area information can make car-free transit even more enjoyable. This might include dispatches about local or route-specific stores, public resources, business openings, promotions, and events. This data will increase convenience for users, boost the local economy, and foster positive opportunities for community discovery and a greater sense of connection to the places where we live.

“This study highlights broader implications outside of transit: that readily accessible information, thanks largely to mobile, is becoming the great democratizer of products and services,” says Neela Sakaria, Senior Vice President of Latitude. “People now expect to compare companies and brands against each other at any given moment, potentially leading them to choices they wouldn’t have previously considered. We’re seeing this trend across several studies: that most people want to make good choices – they want to be more healthy, more sustainable – and they increasingly expect mobile information to help them pick the brands and services that let them do so.”

Tech For Transit Study Findings Now Available

A complete PDF study summary is available for download at

A discussion of findings for Latitude’s (in collaboration with Next American City) Tech for Transit: Designing a Future System study is available on Latitude’s Web site at

About the Study
The 2011 Tech for Transit: Designing a Future System study was designed by Latitude (and published in conjunction with content partner Next American City and technology partner Locately) to learn how new technologies and improved information access could enhance transit experiences, and uncover how cities, transportation providers and technology companies can work together to develop these information-based solutions to encourage adoption of more sustainable transit.

Latitude asked 18 regular drivers from both Boston and San Francisco to give up their cars for one week. Participants completed online surveys about their attitudes and experiences before, during, and after the car-free week, while also contributing to online discussion groups with other study participants.

Latitude 42s: Exploring the Possible World
Latitude 42s are an ongoing series of innovation studies (of which Tech for Transit is one) that Latitude publishes in the spirit of knowledge-sharing and opportunity discovery for both established companies and emerging entrepreneurs. The 42s explore how technology and new information access can redesign a range of everyday human experiences most likely to shape the future of commerce, communication, and civic life, from sustainable transit to the new sharing economy to the Internet of Things.

About Latitude
Latitude is an international research consultancy helping clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web.

About the Study Partners

Next American City
Next American City is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, dedicated to promoting socially and environmentally sustainable economic growth in America’s cities and examining how and why our built environment, economy, society and culture are changing. They achieve this goal through the publication of their quarterly magazine and interactive website, their emerging leaders program, events across the country, and advocacy on issues central to the future of cities.

Follow Next American City on Twitter @NextAmCity and become a Facebook fan at

GPS tracking and analytics for this study provided by Locately.

# # #

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2011 at 8:23 am

Posted in transit

Bicycle Diaries: Episode Five

I should have written this months ago. The last diary I wrote was about the ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. This one happened last December, on the US Virgin Islands. We had taken a cruise and booked some shore excursions, oddly most had transport connections. There was a cable car ride on St Thomas, a train on St Kitts and a bike ride on St Croix.

The ship docked at Fredricksted, which is at the western tip of the island and somewhat remote from the capital Kristiansted. Most people on the cruise seemed to think this a disadvantage, but then they seemed to be mostly interested in shopping.

pano St Croix Frederisksted

The picture was taken from the stern of the ship and is actually several images stitched together: if you click on it and then select the original size you get a pretty good virtual tour of the route we cycled. Mostly level and along the coast. It was run by a cycle shop that was based in the town square literally steps away from the pier. About a dozen people had signed up for a guided tour. I cannot say that aspect appealed to me very much, but what we paid for to Celebrity Cruises was roughly what we would have paid to rent two bikes for the morning. This way, we didn’t need a map or a guide book.

We were fitted out with helmets, given a bottle of water and a mountain bike. They told us that we should not worry about the front gear – just use the seven on the back. There are one or two steep bits, but really nothing of concern. My only issue was that I had got used to my thumb shifters, and going back to twist grips was a bit of a let down. The bikes were more basic than the ones we had rented in San Francisco and on mine the indexes of both shifters had been rubbed away in use. I ignored the advice and shifted both front and rear, since I kept looking for a lower gear than middle and 1.

Frederiksted isn’t very large. It used to be Danish before being bought by the Americans, and very curiously drives on the left of the road even though all the cars, trucks and buses are left hand drive. Otherwise the rules of the road follow US practice. There are no bike lanes but plenty of “share the road” signs. There is not a great deal of traffic to worry about on this route.

Our guide took us around some of the historic buildings, but not the fort since that is just across the square from his shop.

Fort Frederick

Adjacent to the cruise ship berths, its guns never fired in anger. It was supposed to have been the centre of town but is now on its northern edge, as the place never grew as expected.

St Patrick's Church, Fredericksted

Here is a small group of us outside the church. The guide is the chap in the bright green shirt – without a helmet. He had obviously done this tour many times, and from his interest in trees I suspect may have been a biologist of some kind

The Danish School

The school is not architecturally very distinguished perhaps but has an interesting history.

After two or three stops we set off along the coast road, which was pretty flat, to the highlights of the tour. A former sugar plantation, with the ruins of a factory built in 1787 – and of course, in those days worked, by slave labour.

Sugar Factory 1

And a huge beobab tree – not native to the islands but imported from Africa and quite important to the health of the workers on the plantation

Beobab tree

The guide knocked down one of the beobab nuts and broke it open. The interior of the seed pod has more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than cows milk. We were encouraged to chew the white powdery stuff off the seeds – which had to be spat out. It was not universally applauded.


Then we continued along the coast and the road got closer to the shore. There were many small coves and beaches where I might liked to have stopped. I thought I would have done if we has just hired bikes. But then I would have missed out on fresh coconut juice. Bare feet (and apparently a bare chest too) are essential for scaling palm trees. And very strong arms!

How to climb a coconut palm

To get to the “milk” (actually mostly water) – and of course to remove the nut from the tree – you need a pocket knife. Not something I carry now thanks to the TSA.

Smaller nuts are likely to have more to drink than the more mature, larger nuts. And the best bit is the “jelly” which is scooped out with a bit of the shell.


We eventually came to the end of the road, which by then had become just a dirt track.

Virgin Island bike park

We left the bikes here and went to explore the beach.

Actually the real interest was in the rocks and the tidal pools. Although I will suggest that the west coast of Vancouver Island around Ucluelet has better rock pools. Interesting how, once you put on a bike helmet, if it fits properly you don’t really see any need to take it off.

sugar mill

The ride back was much more spread out than the gang on the way in. I stopped to get this shot of the former sugar mill – arguing with the guide about the best angle. He stayed with me as “tail end charlie” to make sure nobody got lost, but when we caught up with my companion he quickly transferred his attentions to her. So I got in a quick burst of speed and top gear. But the ride back was no more than 20 minutes anyway. A very pleasant way to spend a morning. They did make sure we had enough water for the ride back, but I did not really need it. I much more enjoyed the local beer after we had dropped off the bikes.

Not exactly "local" brew

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Posted in cycling

Harold Steves


Picture by Donna Passmore from facebook

Harold's cakeHarold Steves at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery

Harold Steves, a set on Flickr.

The father of the ALR, councillor for Richmond, local activist for defending the environment for 50 years was given a “toast and roast” at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery on Sunday night. The Cannery is notoriously cold but Harold got a warm welcome and a standing ovation at the end. He pointed out that setting an urban boundary by preventing development on agricultural land had forced the region to adopt a denser, more sustainable structure and prevent sprawl. At one time – 1939-45 – the region was self sufficient in food production and can be again: 42% of that food was grown in “victory gardens” and we can – and must – do that again. There are still many battles that have to be won over and over again: the threat to farmland has not abated, and the Green Zone, the estuaries and the stream banks originally intended to be protected have not been. Oil tankers are still a threat: both Richmond and Delta Councils oppose the development of an aviation fuel terminal at No 7 Road. This was a battle he fought fifty years ago – with a demonstration at the Peace Arch. Speakers then said that an oil spill “the length of Long Beach” was inevitable – and of course soon after the Exxon Valdez went aground in Alasaka and proved them right. The organisers of that demo went on to found Greenpeace. Half of the Lulu Island bog was bought by the city and is now Richmond Nature Park. The rest of that bog – the DND and Garden City Lands still remains to be protected. At one the those lands were the bread basket of the First Nation, and could be again. He also spoke about the Spettifore Lands and how misrepresentation of the land quality was used to take the land out of the ALR. Thirty years later – last month – used the same report to the ALC in front of Delta Corporation to oppose development of that site – nearly all of which is land of the highest agricultural quality.

Harold Steves' Belted Galloways

Harold Steves' Belted Galloways my photo on flickr

I posted the above at 11:20 Sunday night while my memory was still fresh. It was so cold in the cannery that I was unable to make notes and I wanted to get as much of Harold’s address down while I could still recall it. The timing of the dinner had been arranged months ago to coincide with the anniversary of the ALR. Unfortunately that meant it also coincided with the NDP leadership convention, which meant many leading NDP members could not be present in person: Corky Evans and Jim Sinclair were two of the speakers I was most looking forward to. As a “roast” the evening was tame – I think those two would have added a lot of sparkle. Worthy of note were the number of people from other parts of the political spectrum – Vicki Huntington now an independent MLA who said she was from “a lifetime in the Conservative Party” and Langley Mayor Rick Green a former leading light in Social Credit while in Delta. Notably Green, while still Mayor, has been prevented from attending Metro Vancouver meetings by his council for successfully opposing the withdrawal of land from the ALR in Langley by CP Rail. Sadly also Rafe Mair – also a former SoCred but now a blistering critic of the BC Liberals – was unable to attend due to ill health. John Cummins former Conservative MLA for Delta – East Richmond was present but did not speak. Richmond Mayor Malcolm did speak – and quoted at length from one of the local opponents of the ALR who remained nameless, but apparently is well known for references to ALRmageddon – sadly a Google serach failed to identify the individual. Apparently the small piece of land he owns in Richmond is not even in the ALR!

UPDATE: The individual in question has now identified himself. He joins the select group who are not going to be allowed to comment on this blog – and comments on this post have been closed

It is a great tribute to Harold that he has been able to work so effectively to defend the land by working across party lines. All paid tribute to his commitment, integrity and diligence. Many examples were cited in addition to the ALR including the ongoing fight against Gateway (I am proud to say I have shared that platform with Harold) and the fight over the former BC Packers site, much of which I witnessed at first hand. Apparently a new initiative will  be starting over the next three years to complete the transformation of the Steveston Waterfront which will continue the success of direct sales from fishing boats and the new Farmer’s market which up to now has been operating seasonally from the Cannery site.

Thank you to Donna Passmore for organizing this event and inviting me to it. I feel honoured.

The video below is by Damien Gillis

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm