Stephen Rees's blog

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

“Metro Vancouver transit users to get smartphone tools”

with 5 comments

Kelly Sinoski in the Vancouver Sun says that Translink will release an app for real time information on bus service on September 6. “The first phase of the program will allow transit [users] to access a map that pinpoints the location of every Coast Mountain bus and community shuttle in real time”…”the second phase, which will predict a bus’s arrival at a particular stop, [will be released] early next year.”

Obviously this second phase will be a great deal more useful. Schedule information in a system where the bus is mostly at the mercy of traffic is not very much use at all. The fact that there is supposed to be a bus in five minutes is not helpful if the bus is running early or missing entirely – and neither circumstance is at all unusual. Of course, with rising passenger numbers and the lack of adequate funding, there is also absolutely no guarantee that you will actually be able to board the bus when it does arrive.

In a book review on the Spacing blog John Calimente has some interesting comments to make about Zurich, and why their system works so well even in their low density outer suburbs. He talks about timetables, transfers and frequency. In my comment after that, I point to the difference in political culture. The Swiss have never dropped their commitment to decent public services. Once they got railways and streetcars – and into some very challenging terrain – they ensured that it was not only usable but attractive. Of course they also have autobahns and high car ownership – but not instead of good public transport – as well as. Underlying much of what is wrong in many systems is the notion that somehow the people who use public services are not as important or as good as those who drive themselves. Mrs Thatcher’s famous remark about any man over thirty on a bus being a failure might be apocryphal but it certainly rings true in many ears. And many politicians at all levels seem to have bought into the notion that if a system benefits major corporations like General Motors or Exxon then it must be good for all of us. Certainly the corporations themselves have spent much on convincing all of us that should be the case. It isn’t. It never was.

Zurich Bicycles

Zurich Bicycles by Alex Minza, on Flickr

Transit is not a stand alone issue. We should be pursuing greater density anyway. It is simply a better, more efficient system all round. The fad of low density auto mobility is – or ought to be – over. It did not work as advertised, and under present circumstances cannot be allowed to continue. Urban areas with separated land uses and great distances between origins and destinations are hugely wasteful of resources – and created much social anomie. In this region we had appeared to recognize that, and congratulated ourselves on stopping one inner city freeway. But that was about all we did. Yes, SkyTrain was a significant decision. But we focus far too much on big projects and gee whiz technologies. Most of what Zurich has achieved is because they stuck to what they knew worked, and concentrated on making it work better. We can emulate that – but first of all we have to come up with what they had all along, which is a level headed approach to public service provision supported by taxation.

by ponte1112, on Flickr”]Triebwagen

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm

5 Responses

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  1. “but first of all we have to come up with what they had all along, which is a level headed approach to public service provision supported by taxation”

    Agree 100 % but lets’ have a look at the editorial in The Province, dated today, not April 1:
    “Editorial: Social engineers are behind transit woes
    ….quote ” TransLink’s recent breathless announcement that ridership is again at an all-time high can be largely blamed on the organization and its backers’ constant attack on drivers. North America-high fuel taxes, criminal parking tax rates and a failure to upgrade the road system leading to congestion has forced people who otherwise would look after their own transportation needs on to public transit.

    TransLink needs to stop expanding, take a breath, and work within its budget and not, as its officials constantly whine, demand higher taxes. As well, private transportation should be encouraged much more than is currently the fashion….”end of quote

    Thanks to Pete McMartin in todays’ Sun for a common sense approach on cars and parking in

    quote: “Here, in the Greenest City In The World (Patent Pending), we are still trying to figure out where exactly cars fit into our future.
    In a growing number of cities around the world, the answer is, not at all. Cities with environmental agendas long ago stopped accommodating cars: They now try to convince drivers, or force drivers, to get out of them…”.end of quote

    Obviously car drivers in Metro Vancouver aren’t aware how cheap gas, parking are here, compared to many parts of the world (where a freeway is an oxymoron).

    As mentioned in another post on this blog Seattle voters will be asked to vote for a 60$ increase on a car-tab that is now around $ 110…the $ will go to transit, roads, bike routes etc.

    One of the most amazing example–to me– of an enlightened transit service is in Berlin, where, at non-peak hours and on week ends:
    “Children under 6 years of age (a maximum of 3 children on ferries), prams/pushchairs and luggage, as well as one dog, can travel with the ticket holder free of charge. A reduced tariff ticket is required for each additional dog. You will need a bicycle tariff ticket to travel with a bicycle” .
    Not that I envy any adult that would try to go around with all that..nor would I like to be sitting nearby…

    Red frog

    August 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm

  2. Thanks for this insight from Zurich. We agree that alternative forms of transportation should be developed in paralell with the automobile, not in opposition to it. Public and private transport do not have to be in oppostion to one another, and we must get past this conception if we wish to enjoy higher density urban areas. Transit and density go hand-in-hand, individuals definitely want a urban transformation that is dense and walkable, but that means modes of transportation that are alternatives to the automobile must be developed and supported.

    [moderator’s note: this comment comes from a realtor promoting a development in New York. I have deleted the links to the advertising.


    August 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm

  3. Reims in France (Population around 300 000 with suburbs) inaugurated its tram system on April 16, 2011
    see the opening day celebrations at

    Angers in France celebrated the opening of its new tramway on June 25, 2011.
    See photos from the town own internet site at
    Angers (population of about 290 000 with the suburbs) was, in the Middle Ages, the seat of the Count of Angers, better known as the Plantagenet family.. Henry II, King of England, was born in the nearby town of Le Mans (famous for its 24 hrs car race).
    Le Mans (same population as Angers) as had a tram since 2007.

    These trams systems aren’t very big yet and have about 40 000 passengers a day so far. Like all trams systems in France they use a contactless smart card. The monthly fare goes from around 35 euros in small towns to 45 euros in bigger towns. Under 60 Euros in Lyon where, besides several tram lines there are also 4 subway lines.They offer 1 free month a year (2 months in some towns) if one buys a yearly pass (deducted automatically monthly).

    The difference with B.C. is that the board of transit authority in each metropolitan area is made of representatives from all the towns that make that metropolitan area (however small it might be) plus the president of the region where that metropolitan area is located (there are 22 in Metropolitan France) and they decide how to finance transit, just like they finance roads, schools etc. A big chunk of the transit budget come from a payroll tax on businesses with 10 or more staff.

    Another major difference is cultural. Mayors and presidents of regions in France are often, or have been, a MP in the national assembly or a senator (elected) and are familiar with trains and urban transit.
    The mayor of Bordeaux is also at the same time France’s current minister of foreign affairs (so much for French people taking it easy..). He was the mover being the construction of the Bordeaux tram system but also the building of new bridges and pushed for the completion of the TGV line ( in a few years) that will shave a full hour on a Paris-Bordeaux trip (it will only take 2.15 hrs).

    Red frog

    August 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm

  4. “The difference with B.C. is that the board of transit authority in each metropolitan area is made of representatives from all the towns that make that metropolitan area (however small it might be) plus the president of the region where that metropolitan area is located (there are 22 in Metropolitan France) and they decide how to finance transit, just like they finance roads, schools etc.”

    what is different with Translink?

    (…What is different is probably, that Translink could be under Metro Vancouver over-sight, isn’it?)

    PS: I was thinking the France’s current minister of foreign affairs was Bernard Henri Levy…it is quite a shocking news to learn it is the mayor of Bordeaux… are you sure?


    August 25, 2011 at 12:12 am

  5. Voony,
    The difference with TransLink is that its board doesn’t have the political clout the transit boards have in France or other European countries. When the chairman of a transit authority is also the president of a region and is on a first name basis with the Prime minister and the President of the country….it is easier to get financing..the more so when other members of the board are also well connected politically. .

    BHL has never been a MP or minister..He is a left-wing philosopher that lives in an historical building in a posh district of Paris staffed by several full time household help. He is an interesting person and makes quite a few good points about politics etc. but unfortunately has not the power to do much..

    Perhaps you were thinking about Bernard Kouchner? the co-founder of “Doctors Without Borders” and a socialist? he left the government in the fall of 2010

    i know for sure that Alain Juppe is indeed, right now, Bordeaux Mayor and the “minister of Foreign and European affairs”. I was raised in Bordeaux , was there last December, and read the local paper.regularly, and sometimes watch the news on TV5.
    He was previously the minister of Defense. He has been a Prime minister and also a minister in various positions and was the president of the political party of Chirac, Sarkozy etc.

    Incidentally J. Chaban-Delmas, the previous mayor of Bordeaux (from 1947 to 1995!) was, besides being the mayor, also a minister, a Prime minister, the speaker of the national assembly etc. (not at the same time).

    Red frog

    August 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

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