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

Archive for November 2011

Into The Blu

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Almost every day I get email from PR people trying to get me to blog about something. Mostly, they fail to take account of the stated purpose of the blog. Rarely do I take an interest but something about a new web page peaked my interest, even though it is not about transportation or planning or this part of the world. On the other hand it does have a direct connection to my concern for the environment, and specifically the damage we have done, and are doing, to our oceans. I doubt that anyone who lives in BC can be unaffected by the ongoing drama of the salmon. There is, of course, an inquiry – and also an offensive (in both senses of that word) from the salmon farmers who see a threat to their profits by people concerned about the damage they have done, and are doing to our ecosystem. I will not eat farmed salmon. I regard Alexandra Morton as a heroine. It does indeed concern me that port expansion at Roberts Bank seems to be able to proceed despite the obvious damage it has done and will do to habitat of fish and birds – as well as our ability to feed ourselves. The huge gyre of garbage in the Pacific does worry me – as does the absence of the oolichan. And as you are reading this, and while some of you have started growing moustaches for Movember, I am shaving mine off so that my new mask does not leak when I go snorkelling on the reef in front of the hotel on the Mayan Riviera. I rediscovered the joys of snorkelling when I swam with the stingrays last winter. When I first heard about The Blu I thought maybe that would provide me with some information I could be using there.

I was fortunate to be given a demonstration of the Beta version by their CEO Neville Spiteri – by some clever use of internet technology. While I cannot offer you quite the same experience, the web site is currently offering a limited number of guest log ins to those it invites – a bit like the way Google initially offered gmail and google+. So for twenty readers of this blog there is going to be a free guest log in. But, of course, not yet.

You can already visit the site to read about what they are doing, but to see the Beta demo you will have to use the invite code. If, when you get there, you find that twenty others have beaten you to it, then send me an email (see the about page for that) and I will ask for some more. But you will have to wait until I get back as I am not shlepping a five pound MacBook this trip. Nor do I have an underwater camera – and seeing the results that those cheap disposables produce – I don’t intend to get one.

The Blu offers an immersive experience. It is a virtual reality. The graphics that I have seen have been impressive. Many people are working on adding locations, environments and species. There are currently five entry points, that depend on your location i.e., which of the five land continents you log in from. From there you can travel to several habitats, and watch a growing number of types of fish, which each have artificial intelligence and awareness of their surroundings. You can interact with the fish – simply following one is interesting since it is nearly impossible for a humble human without flippers or scuba gear to do that in reality. And, in the case of the Great White Shark, not advisable, even if it were possible.

Some people will see the The Blu as just another electronic game. Others are already exploiting its educational value. Neville Spiteri said that he feels one of the shortcomings of the environmental activists is that they tend to hit people over the head with information, rather than letting them discover for themselves, which is what The Blu can do for the sea. He is talking to Sylvia Earl and Greenpeace already. I am hoping that activists here will also see the opportunity. The Blu is a business, and while most people will experience it for free, already enthusiasts are “collecting” species, and the money they are willing to pay can go either to the graphic artists who create the species, or to an organization that wants to fund raise on behalf of that species. Thanks to the computer magic, the Pacific Salmon may become a superhero (and not just a supper hero as autocorrect would prefer). I was also quite pleased to see the fatty tuna swimming around – just as I like to see spring lamb in season.

I think I have probably done enough to wet your appetite. You do not need to request an invitation when you click on the blu. All you need to do is sign up using the invite code theblu0064

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Posted in computers, Environment

Modo’s Electric Vehicle

with 3 comments

I recently posted a Press Release from Modo about their new electric vehicle acquisition – a Nissan Leaf. I did not write much and I used their picture. Today I was pleased to go for a ride in the car and take some pictures of my own. I was going to change the original post but maybe a photo gallery with comments is a better way to go.

Nissan Leaf rear

I found the car in the parking lot north of City Hall. Modo has a row of reserved parking spaces here along the 10th Avenue side, but the EV charging station is roughly in the middle of the lot. Modo also organizes the City’s own car sharing program.

Mitsubishi MIEV

The City chose a Mitsubishi iMIEV for its program. I think if I had been parking this car, I would have backed into the stall, just to make the cable shorter and reduce the tripping hazard. In fact, if you have a choice, backing into a stall is always a better way to park, as most collisions in parking its occur due to people backing out.

EV sign

$1 an hour including juice seems a good deal to me.

Unlike the Modo stalls, anyone who has a plug in vehicle could use the station. And it is probably worth noting here that at 2pm on a Friday afternoon a lot of the Modo spaces were empty. (It may not be be strictly relevant but while I was there I saw a postie in uniform take a CAR2GO – which shows that Canada Post is perhaps a lot smarter than many people give them credit for.)

Leaf charge port in hood

The choice of the City Hall lot was based in part on Modo’s knowledge of their existing car use from it. The average length of trip is 14km. The Leaf we used was fully charged with a range of 140+ km available, so the probability of running out of juice for most users should not be an issue.

Charge Point

On my flickr stream I have been collecting images of EV charging stations. This one seems neat enough to me

Charge Point display detail

Modo members will find their charge card tucked into the driver’s sun shade. (By the way, if you are a Modo member and you have to refill the tank of an IC car, the cost of fuel (and a car wash) is reimbursed.)

Leaf being charged

You can see the empty line of reserved Modo parking spots behind the car.

The red Leaf with some red leaves

I was not a Modo member when I wrote this so I had to be content with the passenger, not the driver’s, seat. My impression is that this is a very comfortable, easy to drive and quiet vehicle. Electric cars can have quite startling performance simply because an electric motor has a great deal more low end torque than any IC motor. Since we were driving in mid afternoon city traffic, there was no speed or acceleration trial. The car does include a central display, which when I was in it either had the rear view camera (when backing up, which also included a parking guide) and when in forward motion a GPS real time map.

One of the great advantages of car share membership is the wide range of vehicles available. Not only do you not need to own a car, but you can get a vehicle that meets the needs of the trip. Car coop members make far fewer trips by car than car owners – because they do not have the perverse incentive that ownership provides (“I have spent all that money, I might as well get some use out of the thing”). You can have a coop membership and not feel that you have wasted money if you decide that its a nice day for a bike ride, or that transit would be more convenient for some trips. For that reason Modo concentrates on the City – high population density and frequent transit is a good mix for the coop. They are not trying to encourage car use, but recognizing that for some trips in our metropolis a car is the best choice. But it has to be a real choice, not one forced by circumstances.

Modo is trying to get into the suburbs. They would dearly love to have a car at Brighouse Station, for instance. Trouble is that most of the land devoted to parking in the centre of Richmond is private land. Indeed, as I have often lamented here, you are forced by the rules of the parking lots to take your car with you when you leave. You must not park in one place and then walk to complete several errands. That is one of the main reasons why traffic on Number 3 Road is always dreadful. Most of those drivers are making very short trips.

Modo also is getting more and more approaches from developers, who like to provide car coop memberships out of the condo fees and thus reduce the number of parking spaces they have to supply. Quite how we could retrofit existing condos, by getting strata councils to adopt a car coop space as part of the amenities – the same way they provide swimming pools and recreation rooms – presents an interesting challenge. But some of those spaces thus released could be chain link fenced bike compounds.

Car sharing is already good for the environment, due to the reduction of car trips. Making those trips zero emissions (and in BC most of our power comes from existing hydro) is a worthwhile bonus. And coop members get to try a EV before most people – geeky transportation bloggers excepted.

For what its worth, of the OEM EVs I have been in, the Leaf is by far the nicest. The Chevy Volt is not all electric – and it will be a long time before we see any hydrogen fuel cell cars here. Plug in – for hybrids or all electric – does seem to be the best choice for now. Trouble is at present there are only ten Leafs in Canada. Lucky Modo members, then.

UPDATE December 4, 2013

There is a blog post by another modo member on her experience of driving this car

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Modo’s First Electric Vehicle

with 2 comments

Modo, the car co-op, has added an all electric car to its fleet, and sent me the following press release. As it happens, I am not a member of that co-op, nor have they offered me the chance to drive the car. So I have very little to add to what appears below. Except to say that  for people who need to pick up and return a car near City Hall, I would be very interested to learn about their impressions of this car.

VANCOUVER, Nov. 1, 2011 /CNW/ – In a region where sustainability is an important measure of livability, Modo The Car Co-op has added its first fully electric vehicle (EV) to its fleet, a first for carsharing in Western Canada.

The not-for-profit carsharing organization was eager to offer an EV to its members once it could confirm that a parking spot with charging infrastructure would be available.

The City of Vancouver stepped up and offered Modo a spot with EV charging capacity at a City-owned EasyPark parking lot (453 West 10th Ave., north of City Hall) where an EV public charging pilot is currently underway.

Carsharing fits into the City’s Greenest City goals: every carsharing vehicle removes between 4 and 30 vehicles from the road, depending on the study. And an electricity-fuelled vehicle shared by many people further reduces the climate impact from driving cars.

Modo is grateful to have such strong collaboration with the City of Vancouver towards carsharing. “The City has been supportive from the start,” says Douglas Dunn, Modo’s Fleet + Operations Manager. “From offering advice on different EV models to providing the parking spot for our first EV, staff at the City have shown how committed they are to achieving their Greenest City targets.”

The EV, a 2012 Nissan LEAF, is now available to be booked by all Modo members.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm