Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for January 2012

The Airport and The Ferries

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Two quite different modes – and the same issue.

The BC Liberals are currently sitting on their hands about the Macatee report on BC Ferries – which ought to make Vaughan Palmer’s exit interview with David Hahn worth watching. (Voice of BC Shaw Cable only 8pm tonight). The policy has been for the corporation to move to user pay – which means that fares have risen, and at the same time loadings have fallen. The corporation now says it needs to cut service to make the books balance – which some people might think would reduce use further, but the corporation points to empty ferries on supposedly socially necessary services.

I was thinking about doing another ferry piece – but maybe I’ve written all I have to say on that – when the news broke of the President of YVR talking to the Board of Trade announcing increased user fees to pay for yet more airport expansion. YVR also has a commercial remit – and has been steadily expanding since it was cut loose by the feds.

Mr. Berg said the “geographical advantage” that YVR has traditionally had, of being the closest, major West Coast terminal to Asia, is being rapidly eroded as new technology gives jets greater range.

Flights can now go direct to Asia from as far east as Toronto and Chicago, he said, showing a map that illustrated how jets arc over the polar region to drop down into a growing number of airports in China.

“With new aircraft and navigational technology, a lot more cities are accessible from Asia today. And these cities have figured out what YVR’s founders knew. Serving as a gateway can bring vast economic benefits to their communities … this [is a] dramatically different competitive landscape than we [faced] 20 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Berg said Edmonton is opening 12 new international gates next month and Calgary is building a new runway and 22 new gates for 2015.

“Neither Calgary nor Edmonton has the passenger traffic to fill those gates today – so guess whose traffic they are looking at?” he said.

Mr. Berg said YVR, which last year was named North America’s best airport at the World Airport Awards in Copenhagen, is fighting back.

But is raising fees the way to win more passengers? I will say that the airport is now much better than when the new arrangements were introduced, and when I visit other places, the contrast to the airport I departed from is usually very instructive. Not many places, for instance, offer free wifi all over the terminal. There is indeed a wider range of food available – but that I think is mostly because so many airlines now charge for airline food, an it is usually much better to buy before you board, not just on price but quality. That being said, the pulled pork sandwich on a fresh baguette I bought at Cancun Airport was better than anything I have eaten at YVR. And I carried half it onto the plane since it was so large, even though on an international flight food is provided at no extra charge. (On Air Transat the wine was free too, even if they did spill most of it on my nice clean khakis.)

Nothing is reported about the expected impact of airport expansion on the environment which might be a bit odd given that this weekend there is to be a protest about the jet fuel pipeline the airport’s fuel supplier wants to build across Richmond.  Other places – like London – have had to look further afield as local protests have stopped expansion i.e. the new proposed new runway at Heathrow. Generally we seem to be remarkably quiet about the impact of YVR. The last major set of complaints I can recall prior to the fuel pipeline coming from some new residents of Richmond who ought to have realized that they were buying property under a flight path.

But the similarity of Han’s and Berg’s approach to their respective jobs – only commercial results matter – make the user pay more should surely have similar results. What the Edmonton and Calgary expansions will do is enable people from those places to make direct flights rather than change planes. Indeed, we seem to be back in the transit debate territory about the inconvenience of transfers and the need for a one seat ride. But in the airline business, the original ploy of making everyone fly through a hub was quite quickly countered with airlines that flew smaller, cheaper to operate planes on direct flights. Indeed on sites like hipmunk you can readily see how competition for your business stacks up  using an indicator they call “agony”. The direct flight moves to the top even if it isn’t cheapest.

I am not at all sure that it is just the airport you leave from that decides the route – but certainly the airport operators at Abbotsford and Bellingham recognize that for a growing number of people having an alternative to YVR is attractive. I look at the border line ups, additional driving/bus or train ride and probable additional hotel night for an early morning flight as being significant deterrents to using SEATAC – but obviously if there is enough trade to fill a direct bus service, enough people disagree with me.

The other phrase that popped into my mind was the one that was used when Britain decided to nationalize parts of its transportation system “wasteful competition”. If we really are facing a continuing economic depression in North America, and pressures on airlines for reduce their environmental impact continue (such as the EU’s imposition of a carbon fee on jet fuel)  the airports could be competing for a static or even shrinking market. So those user fees could be paying for under utilized facilities.

Maybe I just pick times to fly when the planes are cheap, but I am not aware of any congestion at YVR right now. And quite often when I do find myself through the security theatre and with time on my hands, I tend to notice that most of the shops and services are in fact closed. So they may well be priced at the same level as places in town – or even offer things I can’t buy there (at one time book publishers would have things in airport bookshops long before the local stores) but if they aren’t open, my wallet will also stay closed.

For flights within BC the fee remains the same. And an extra $5 on the sort of money that has to be paid these days for longer haul flights may well not register with users. After all, the amount for fees and taxes now usually exceeds the quoted fare. And people are willing to pay more for better, more convenient services. But even so, it seems to me that Berg could be making the same mistake that Hahn did. Except YVR answers to no-one, unlike BC Ferries, which was supposed to be independent but turned out not to be.

UPDATE  31 Jan     It is well worth reading Bill Tieleman’s opinion piece in today’s Tyee

Written by Stephen Rees

January 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

Tuesday Round-up

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The transit technology choice debate keeps on going. The Economist blog has a summary “Trolleying out the same old arguments” which pits Walker against Nordahl via a link to a Slate article by Tom Vanderbilt. So it’s not just the comments section of this blog that gets all of a froth about these things. Even so, there are things that made me stop and wonder about who does the editing at the Economist

Trolley tracks and electric lines running down the middle of the street, however, are a promise: a line runs here. It may be ten minutes between trolleys, it may be half an hour, but something is going to come down that line and take you where you’re going. The very expense of creating the line tells you: the government has invested too much in this infrastructure for there to be no service. The rails are, literally, an ironclad guarantee.

No they’re not. Lots of rails have been left in place where there is no train service or even hope of one. It is often regarded as just too expensive to dig them up. If you are a stranger in town and see some rails, I would advise not to expect a train to come down them without doing some research first. Even if the tracks are shiny – that may just be the friction of all those car tires going over them. CP still maintain the level crossings along the Arbutus Line since it has not been legally abandoned – although no-one in their right mind would expect an interurban to be rolling along this

Arbutus CP right of way 2

OK that’s a bit silly, but all of the Seattle waterfront streetcar tracks were in place last time I was there (they may have gone now in the wake of taking down their viaducts) but there is no hope of service returning

Former Waterfront Streetcar Track

The TTC debate about LRT versus subway won’t go away soon either. Mayor Ford’s declaration the war on the car had ended could not have been clearer. His decision about getting rid of a plan for lots of LRT on street tracks in favour of much less coverage by a subway or two was all about not getting in the way of people who want to drive. But it does not make much sense – as the Calgary Manager of transit planning puts it

“With some money, you can build a little bit of subway and make a few people very happy,” Mr. McKendrick said. “Or [with the same amount of money] you can build a whole lot of light rail and make a lot of people happy.”


the woman Mr. Ford appointed to head the Toronto Transit Commission has added her voice …. Karen Stintz argues it makes more sense to put the LRT underground only along the most congested part of the route, in midtown, while building it on the surface in the spacious suburbs.

The article ends with a quote from Jarrett Walker – of course.

Translink is promising more transit – but as usual in ways that make me wince.

It refers to large numbers of service hours for buses – without stating service hours per what unit of time. “An additional 40,000 service hours in April” sounds like a lot – until you ask yourself is that hours per year? Or hours this year from April to year end – and when is that anyway? Of course there is no mention of what that means as a percentage of what we currently have.

The Base Plan (page 22) states that  4,928,000 hours per year will be delivered by the bus service each year from 2012 to 2021.

So if the 40,000 is an annual figure that is an additional 0.8% – which is not much really, is it?

“by year’s end, 180,000 new service hours will be in place” or 3.6%. To make that figure look respectable I chose to just look at bus service. Use the total annual service hours of 6,918,000 it’s only 2.6% which is better than no increase at all but hardly startling given the present levels of overcrowding.

There’s a lot of blether about Faregates and how they are going to be more efficient and convenient for customers. Nothing about how the present system does not require most passengers with valid media to interact with anything now – and how easy it is to get in and out of stations and on to busy buses. And how systems with gates still manage to lose money to fare evaders, and how much the system is costing when there are many greater needs. Well, you can’t expect Translink to bite the hand that feeds it (even if so inadequately and inanely).

I could not resist the story from New York (in Atlantic Cities) about one very inventive homeless person has managed to secure himself an income by utilizing the unused value of discarded transit passes. The Metrocard is sold in round dollar figures, not rides, and while people can top them up they are more likely to discard them with some value left on them and buy a new one. (Which reminds me, I have one somewhere I should dig out.) That adds $52 a year to MTA revenues – and someone has found a way to get his hands on a little of that. It’s an offence, of course.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Transit Reliability

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I had the experience today of what “reliability” means in transit – and why connections (or transfers if you prefer) are so critical. The issue is not so much overall journey time, though that is of course significant, as the predictability of the arrival time. How much time does one allow for a journey, especially if there is an appointment at the other end, and how much slack do you build into your schedule in case things go sideways.

Actually time is significant when it comes to mode choice. The journey I am about to describe is one that I make regularly by car – and I normally allow 30 minutes each way. Of course there is a variation of plus or minus five minutes depending on traffic, and some times of day are worth avoiding – or checking with AM730 before deciding a route. At one time it seemed to me that the freeway was faster – but the congestion at the Steveston Highway intersection, as well as the inevitable line-up for the bridge doubled that variability factor. Arterial streets may be slower but they are more dependable.

The big doubt factor at present is the potential for icy road surfaces. Having spun out once before I am now much more reluctant to drive when the temperature drops. Today it turned out I need not have been concerned, but having written so much about transit I felt that it was a good reason to test some of the theories. In general, the need to include other stops on the way (pick up some milk, collect the shoes from the repairer, drop off the DVDs at the library – that kind of thing) make transit even less attractive. For one thing, all it takes is somebody slow ahead of you at the check out and your transfer expires.

I find making connections irksome. One on a trip I can deal with, two is near my tolerance level. The Translink real time bus map is a boon – at least when starting the journey. Of course it helps if you are close to the bus stop. Knowing that the bus is on its way is one thing: seeing it depart from the stop just as you arrive breathless at the corner is something else. If you able to use the “where’s my bus” feature on Translink’s web site  then at least you know where the bus is. However, to be able to do that on a mobile device you need something other than a Nokia smart phone: I am told that Androids and iOS work well.

King ED at Valley

I know I left the apartment at 10:00 and the bus was due at 10:09 but the faresaver validation expires 11:48 – which, with 90 minutes validity, makes boarding time 10:22. I checked the schedule and the service is supposed to be every ten minutes 10:00, 10:09, 10:20. So it seems I just missed the 10:09 and the following bus was a bit late – and got later due to extended dwell times at two stops to deploy the ramp. Similarly getting down to the lower level platform at King Edward – after crossing both Cambie and King Edward, then waiting while an airport train went through, made the connection the longest the schedule allows.

Not my bus

It is a fair trek from the Canada Line to the #403/#404 stop outside Richmond Centre or “Brighouse Stn Bay 7” as Translink would have it. I did that quite quickly as this bus was waiting there – and I hoped it would be the #403. Of course, with all the muck on the back of the bus obscuring the route number I was almost aboard before I determined it was a #410. And another one of those came and went before the #403 showed up. I got to No 4 and Steveston at 11:30 – or a ninety minute door to door trip compared to the Translink trip planner’s estimate of an hour (stop to stop).

Brighouse Station is the terminus of the Canada Line but is still an on street exchange around the intersection of Cook and No 3. The southbound connection – again crossing two busy streets – is around 350 metres, as the bus stop is far side of the intersection and is long enough for two arctics from the B Line days.

Coming back I did much better. I left the house as soon as I saw the bus pass Shell Road on the map (which meant I simply cut power to the PC and did not shut down properly) so I arrived at the stop as the bus did. The northbound #403 bus stop is on the same side of No 3 Road as the station but is still more than three bus lengths from the entrance. There was a train waiting to leave.

Stopped before Lansdowne Station

The Canada Line has some odd features in its operations – including slow orders through switches and around curves. The picture shows a stationary outbound service, stopped short of Lansdowne station waiting for the inbound service to open its doors in the station before proceeding. This seems to be taking caution a little too far to me, but seemingly is a regular feature as that had been noticeable on the way down. I also noticed people boarding the southbound train to get a seat for the northbound journey even at midday. This says a lot about the trade off that people make between speed and comfort and suggests that passengers place a much higher value on a seat than transit planners who like to maximize capacity at the expense of seating. Plus of course space for bikes and mobility devices.

When I got off the train at King Edward I had positioned myself to be opposite the exit – which was just as well as a #25 was pulling up to the stop as I got to the top of the escalator. The operator was going to end his shift at Granville Street, so was not hanging around at the stop for stragglers.

Forward view Nova LFS

Of course, you have to be willing to give up this seat – which actually faces inward, not forward – if a priority passenger wants it. But the view on the Nova LFS is better than the New Flyer low floor – and the windscreen far cleaner than a Canada Line train.

Return journey 45 minutes door to door compared to the 90 minute outward leg. Which shows how much time can be saved by making connections (transfers) properly.

Now one round trip is simply an anecdote, not data. But it illustrates how in transit the devil is always in the details. Cheaping out on stations on the Canada line – not having entrances on each corner of the intersection, not having a convenient off street bus loop – makes the overall journey much less convenient than it could be. It sends a strong message to the passenger – that your time is not considered valuable. Removing a direct bus service and inserting two connections means much more than just a slightly longer journey: the #480 used to connect my house to UBC with no transfers, so it was indeed competitive with the car when you consider that you can use the time seated on a bus to read – not something you ought to be doing when driving.

I am sure that everyone who reads this blog entry will have similar stories. But it is going to take a real culture change here to make that experience different. The Mayors are still pursuing imaginary administrative savings – actually I think it is just pique that the Province imposed an auditor on them and not the regional transportation agency. They forget of course that there is a transit commissioner, who has been on the same trail for a while now. But let’s make it all about money – not value for money.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Posted in transit

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Public Transit: What is the Question?

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Jarrett Walker at SFU 17 January 2012

Jarrett has a blog ( and makes a living as a consultant in North America and Australia. He is currently resident in Portland OR and has just published a book – also called Human Transit, and the evening was the first stop on his book tour. It is in paperback, costs $35 and is based on his blog. I did not buy a copy.

Because Jarrett has a blog, I am a bit reluctant to use this blog to simply write out what he had to say. At the same time there is very little that he said that I would take issue with, although I think it is worthwhile to note that he is in the business of promoting transit use in a society where many of the leaders are both unfamiliar with daily use of transit and somewhat inimical to “social engineering”. For instance, he is careful not to promote the health benefits of transit, as that might be seen as saying “using transit will make you walk more and that will be Good for You”. He also said that as he has a deep, powerful voice “when I say things people think I am giving them orders”. Throughout his talk and the question and answer period, he stressed that he is not about prescribing solutions but rather suggesting the questions that need to be asked. He also stated that he was “thinking out loud” and wanted to promote discussion.

He opened by stating “you will hear a lot of answers” offered by transit experts, but very few of them agree on exactly what the question is that they are trying to tackle. For example, much transit discussion circles around choice of technology (rail or bus, subway or streetcar). Partly this is because choosing a transit system is often thought to be like deciding what kind of car to buy. But that is a false analogy. People actually care little about the transit vehicle they are going to use compared with questions like “Will it take me where I am going?” and “How long will it take me to get there?”

If you ask people “What is the essential task of the police?” the answer is obvious – law enforcement. But if you ask “what is the essential task of transit?” the answers are many and overlapping. They might well also include notions like “fun” (see Darren Nordal “Making Transit Fun”)

Jarrett’s answer is the provision of “Abundant personal mobility without a personal vehicle over distances that are too far to walk“. He also made the  point that abundant transit is efficient transit. While transit delivers pedestrians over distances that are too far to walk, there are also other concerns which include “coverage services” – transit for places that will never have enough ridership to justify service, but have people who need the service. He also said that “transit leads development” – which I think should have been expressed as a normative rather than a descriptive statement. We too often insist that transit cannot be provided until there are enough people to justify a service (SkyTrain to Coquitlam, or the Scarboro LRT to Malvern) or that having provided a high capacity service we do not wish to see increases of density along the line (Expo Line through East Vancouver, or the Bloor/Danforth subway in Toronto).

He also introduced the idea of “symbolic transit” – like monorails and cable cars. He did talk about the San Francisco cable car – which is now simply a tourist attraction, not a regular transit service – but did not mention the F line streetcar, which is as (or more) important as a people mover given the lack of capacity on the cable cars, and the number of tourists moving between downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf.

He was very impressed with the accessibility maps now available on These maps are not just about transit but rather the overall journey time from any point in a city. It is a tool that produces a “map of freedom” – “How much of the city is available to me?” Freedom is important – and walking is an essential part of transit. He produced images of isochrone maps – “blobs” that showed how much of the city could be reached within 15, 30 and 45 minutes from any one point. I do not see how that type of map can be produced from that web page – maybe someone else can illuminate this for me.

One of the issues for transit is how to measure how much transit service you have. There are five variables:

frequency, span (hours/days of service), speed, reliability and capacity (a critical issue for many Vancouver transit users).

Much of the discussion about transit is about the last three issues – when frequency may be the most significant for any regular transit user. It is a concept that is very hard to grasp for any non-transt user and is hard to illustrate – but waiting time and uncertainty are two of the biggest deterrents to transit use.

Commuter rail is perhaps the best illustration of what happens when it is held that speed is the most important concern for transit. Most commuter rail service is so expensive to provide that it runs infrequently, only at peak times and in peak direction, and ends up being very little use except to those who can make a regular appointment to use it. There is almost no opportunity for spontaneity – and very little concern about people’s overwhelming need to “get on with their lives”.

He did become prescriptive when he started to talk about the virtues of the grid network for transit systems. He said “don’t pick favourites” i.e. that transit planners tend to “tell stories” about where and when people travel, and design routes around those major flows. The grid provides connectivity “everywhere to everywhere”. He also stated that the optimum was 800m spacing and noted that services in Vancouver along 4th Avenue “compete with” Broadway.

He told the story of the cancellation of bus route #305 in Los Angeles as “symbolic transit”. This was the bus route that connected Watts to Hollywood – the line that domestic servants from the poorest neighbourhood “needed” to get to their jobs cleaning the homes and looking after the children of the rich and famous. In fact the route was slow, infrequent and indirect and the regular “grid” services provided better penetration of neighbourhoods at each end (both Hollywood and Watts are large areas) and with one transfer most journeys were quicker and more convenient. The system was more efficient without the #305 and service overall was better. That did not stop the media from making a song and dance over the perceived attack on the poor.

He also was sharply critical of bus routes that run on one way couplets (or those have large one directional loops at the end of the route) “We need to get back too!” A one way couplet actually has a smaller service area in terms of the 400m walk distance from both directions of travel.

“Be on the way.” Transit works best on a straight line route with destinations like beads on the string. Every diversion to serve an off route destination slows travel end to end. He cited both SFU and UBC campuses as classic errors in land use planning – major destinations at the top of a mountain or the end of a peninsula cause major service issues for transit. He also cited a new development at Laguna West near Sacramento, CA.

This new suburban centre is shown on the map above as a red dot. The map does not show the railway line that runs between I5 and Highway 99 and passes the centre to the east. The designer who put the new town centre on neither route ensured that it was a cul de sac – and thus would never develop as a transit way station would – with service in more than one direction.

He also said that transit must complement walking, not compete with it. In other words, bus routes should not be too closely spaced, nor should stops, as neither produces an attractive and efficient service.

Having initially dismissed the discussion of technology, he ended with an illustration of a new type of bus (that looked very like a light rail vehicle)  that provides level boarding with the sidewalk and with an exclusive bus lane at the curb (parking has to removed to somewhere else) makes transit part of the street. He said that it did not matter whether this was a rail or rubber tire vehicle, but also talked about how bus designers are working to improve their vehicles while LRT has remained largely unaltered since the introduction of MAX to Portland. He had also earlier shown a “massive” european tram (streetcar) with multiple sections that had a very much larger capacity than any bus I know of. I think in terms of technology while some South American cities use double articulated busses for their BRT systems, that is the current practical limit for steering and control, whereas multiple section trams seem to be able to be extended indefinitely.

UPDATE One day after I wrote the above China announced its own double arctic bus  82 feet long, 40 seats, 300 passenger capacity

I did not make notes during the Q&A session as it moved faster than I could scribble on my Palm Tungsten. I do better when I remember to bring an old fashioned dead tree notebook. There was quite a heated exchange with Richard Campbell over the speed of all vehicles through pedestrian environments – and reaction too to his (Jarrett’s) criticism of the proposed closure of Robson Square to transit.

I do recall that one questioner asked if real time information made any difference to perceptions of convenience when frequency is reduced. Jarrett answered that it didn’t, but that was based on the very drastic reductions in service frequency now common on US transit systems under financial pressure.

Another asked if ride sharing could help make up for the loss of transit service – and he said that the mathematics of vehicle occupancy and street space make that an unworkable solution in city centres, but might work in low density suburbs.

I would also liked to have understood why the event was an hour earlier than usual. It seemed to me that the room was less full than usual – which also might have had more to do with the weather than the time.


I think it is a bit unfair of me to nitpick over some of his statements for what he did not say, since in any 45 minute presentation much will be left out – and he was trying to sell a book. He also speculated on what a follow up book might look like – if anyone has a grant available to fund it. (If he had a grant to write the present one, he did not mention it nor is it credited on the UBC Press order form). Obviously geography and topography are important; and, as he mentioned with reference to San Francisco, are the major reasons for the discontinuities and diversions of Vancouver’s street grid. It is also important to state that operating transit requires  there be space for adequate terminal facilities – storage space for vehicles to ensure reliable service and the simple human needs of the operators (washrooms, refreshments). A major constraint on planning bus transit in downtown Vancouver (and formerly the airport) is the premium on curb space.

There is also a need to take into account the diversity of population. US transit providers are currently engaged in studying how to accommodate people who are now much larger (on average) than when current standards for seats were determined. An aging population, and one which is reluctant to exercise, also influences decisions about route and stop spacing. It is also the case that “too far to walk” is an indeterminate distance. It varies by individual, time of day and journey purpose. I am quite happy to walk further when the environment is pleasant and I am not in a hurry, and unencumbered by luggage or shopping. People will walk further to a transit stop that has better service (more frequent, longer span, more reliable, faster). They will actually go out of their way and travel in the wrong direction just to be assured a seat. When people cannot drive their needs must be considered by transit planners, or those people lose all mobility.

I agree with him that securing an exclusive right of way is critical to successful longer distance transit service – or indeed reliable transit service over any distance in congested areas. However, the allocation of street space between the two building faces is a much more complex issue. And the quality of the pedestrian realm is as, if not more, important than transit – to city planners if no-one else. I have often heard it argued that parked cars can offer a safety barrier to cyclists and pedestrians from faster moving motorized traffic. Merchants, of course, believe that parking in front of their store is indispensable: I believe they are wrong about that – but that does not make persuading them to give it up any easier.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

Why a 24 hour SkyTrain service is not a Good Idea

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I was at a social function recently, where I was introduced as a transit expert. The person I was introduced to was adamant that SkyTrain ought to operate twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He claimed that is what happened on other transit systems (though he could not name any). He was supported by a musician who pointed out that bars stay open later than the transit system, and getting those people home without them needing to drive was an important safety concern.

I did try to explain why nighttime was important for maintenance – and the need for a safe working environment – but I could tell they were not convinced. SkyTrain is, of course, driverless though I suppose half speed trains under manual control might be better than nothing (not that I went into that detail then.)

About the only system I am aware of that operates round the clock is the New York subway.

Railway Age reports that they are finding that closing overnight for maintenance has some very important benefits

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority says its new FASTRACKmaintenance strategy has produced “unprecedented productivity gains.” Under that strategy, while lines are closed overnight for track maintenance, a first for a 108-year-old subway system that has taken pride in running its trains 24/7. The initial deployment of FASTRACK forces was completed on the Lexington Avenue Line over the weekend.

“It was clear from the first night that in terms of productivity and efficiency, FASTRACK is a major improvement in the way we perform subway maintenance and a perfect example of what can be accomplished when labor and management work as a team to improve the system,” said NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast. “I consider this effort a success and it could not have come about without the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of Transit workers who worked on the tracks, tunnels, and in the stations.”

For four consecutive weeknights, three work trains supported nearly 70 workcrews in the stations along the line segment as well as the tunnels and into the Joralemon Tube that connects Brooklyn to Manhattan.

“Jobs that would usually take weeks or months to complete were accomplished in days because, for the first time, maintenance workers were allowed to perform their tasks without the interruption of passenger trains rolling through a massive work area that stretched from Grand Central-42nd Street to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn,” said MTA. “During the four-night period, more than 300 vital tasks were completed—from rail replacement to roadbed cleaning to the scraping and painting of ceilings over tracks and platforms.Much of this work had not been performed in several years and some of it could only be done in the absence of trains over an extended period of time.”

While Skytrain is closed for four and a half hours overnight service is still available by NightBus although service is not frequent or especially widespread. It is however much more reliable than bus service during the day as there is no traffic to compete with for road space. It takes about an hour to get from downtown Vancouver to Richmond Brighouse so it is not especially fast either.  And is not much help if you need to get further south.

Maybe like the less dense suburbs this is a time of day when shared ride might shine?

Written by Stephen Rees

January 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

Changes Coming to Bus Routes to UBC?

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Mathew Laird has just tweeted

Hearing rumours the 480 is to be eliminated and the 100 extended to UBC. Direct bus from #newwest to UBC in the near future? Interesting…

The #480 is one of the heaviest loading bus routes in the region. When the Canada Line was introduced, most bus routes got shifted around so that the train would do most of the heavy lifting for traffic between Richmond and Vancouver. The UBC route was an exception, since the east west routes that link from Canada Line stations to UBC were already over capacity – especially the #99 B Line along Broadway. The articulated buses from the old #98 B Line were diverted to the #480 – and other routes like the #49, #43, #44 and so on.

Oddly enough I was recently being passed by a southbound #480 on Granville Street in Marpole. It struck me that it is the only survivor of a whole series of bus routes that used to do the somewhat circuitous routing of Granville, South West Marine, Hudson, and then 71st Ave to the Oak Street Bridge

#480 route diagram

The southern end of the #480 route diagram

What struck me then – and is quite obvious from the map – is that the current routing to Bridgeport Station actually duplicates part of the Canada Line – and that Marine Drive Station is a lot closer. Of course, at one time the #480 would take you to Richmond Centre (Brighouse) and even, on otherwise deadhead runs, all the way to Steveston and Shell (the Richmond Operating Centre). I bemoaned its loss then.

Loadings on the #100 between Marine Drive and 22nd Street stations cannot be anything like those between UBC and the Canada Line on the #480. But maybe the number gets changed if the new routing is different to the dog’s leg of the #480 (41st Ave and Granville) but took the more obviously direct routing of South West Marine Drive. That takes me back to my days working at BC Transit when I was regularly lobbied by the locals along the Drive who feared a direct bus past their doors to UBC. While there is no service bus along that route, I have seen many dead head miles run that way. So perhaps opposition these days is not as strong as it once was?

480 at UBC May 2010

480 at UBC May 2010 my photo on flickr

One thing is for sure. If there is a reworking of the #100 expect much of it to be short turns UBC to Marine Drive and not a lot of it going all the way to New Westminster!


In all fairness to the good folk of SW Marine Drive, I should make it clear that they did not so much oppose a direct bus as express the fear that we (BC Transit) would be persuaded to run a direct bus as a way for the City Engineers to then press for a widening of the Drive to four lanes. At the time I thought that showed a remarkable faith in our resources (even then buses were overcrowded and there weren’t nearly enough of them to meet demand on existing routes) and the City’s willingness to spend money on roads. While I am sure that there were some engineers who would have salivated at the thought, the City Transportation Plan was very clear in its opposition to increasing general purpose traffic capacity. And the same engineers then bitterly opposed any and all suggestions about bus priority in general and bus lanes in particular. It’s all different these days, of course.

The #100 was at that time a very long and highly unreliable route from 22nd Street to the Airport. It operated from the Port Coquitlam Operating Centre as there was simply not enough room at the Oakridge Operating Centre. Though there was no deadheading – it operated on one of the New West – PoCo routes to get to and from home base. Indeed, even now reliability of a UBC – New Westminster route via South West and South East Marine Drives would be a real issue. It does now however run past the new Vancouver Operating Centre – so a lot of revenue and non revenue miles of the present #480 would be saved.

I am not sure about the amount of space on the trains though.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 13, 2012 at 11:08 am

The Impact of Tsawwassen Mills

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The Delta Optimist story carries the headline “Proposed Tsawwassen First Nation malls to make area a ‘shopping destination'”. I first covered this development back in April last year. Since then the development of the port, the railway yards and the South Fraser Perimeter Road have all been proceeding apace. While the story notes that a decision is to be made by the TFN next week, I have little doubt that it will get approved.

While the Optimist does mention concerns about traffic being the biggest impact, there is also reference to the impact on local retailers: that concern seems to get dismissed rather too lightly

“Responding to concerns about the impact the two major malls would have on South Delta retailers, the TFN notes market research has shown developments of this size and format attract new shoppers to an area as the community becomes a shopping destination.”

What that actually means is that not only will South Delta retailers notice a loss of trade, so will a much larger area. And since this development is on the coast and just north of an international border, all that draw has to be on a much more narrowly focussed hinterland. Not 360 degrees of attraction more like 90 – nearly all those now shoppers will be coming from the north and east. I doubt many people will put their car on the ferry just to go shopping – but I could be wrong about that.

At one time I used spend my days doing shopping impact analysis for the then Greater London Council: we were concerned, back in the 1970s about the impact on our town centres. It turned out of course that we were absolutely right. Town centre vitality certainly was sapped when retail trade left for the edge of the built up area – and there are now studies under way to see what, if anything can be done about that. Closer to home, the decline of retail spending in the United States, mainly due to the credit crunch and higher than the stats show unemployment, has lead to widespread store closures and many malls looking for a new purpose. While things are not quite so tough here (yet) and we still confidently expect more people to move here, and disposable incomes to remain high there are those who are already predicting a similar “correction” to house prices here – including the IMF.

In the short term, given that real incomes have not been increasing for the last twenty years, and that despite the appearance of tax reductions, for those on average to low incomes that is more than offset by the increases in fees and charges of all kinds (things like MSP, EI and CPP and so on) the amount of disposable income – what people can spend when they go shopping – is pretty much fixed. So if you introduce a whole bunch of new retail stores into an area, that means that existing spending shifts from place to place. For instance, when the Ironwood and Coppersmith shopping plazas opened on  Steveston Highway in Richmond a few years ago, the nearest plaza on Williams Road promptly closed and has since been redeveloped as housing. Moreover, the Lower Mainland is a short drive from the US border, and thus all kinds of shopping opportunities where prices – and sales tax – are generally lower, even when the Canadian dollar is weak against the US dollar. Again, it seems to me unlikely that stores in the new “Mills” here will be dragging much business away from the outlet malls along I5.

Of course, there is no authority here that has the power to protect existing town centres. Nor, as far as I know, does anyone other than the retailers themselves have this as a concern. While there once was a regional strategy around Town Centres, I am not even sure that survived in the current regional plan – not that that has any teeth anyway.

The combination of the SFPR and a major new out of town retail centre seems ideal to keep Delta and Richmond – and probably parts of Surrey given how far the 20 minute isochrone stretches with the new road – car dependent for a very long time. And will ensure that Ladner and Tsawwassen town centres will decline as multi-purpose places and social centres.    I am also fairly confident that will be obvious in a much shorter time frame than 40 years.



Written by Stephen Rees

January 13, 2012 at 10:21 am

SFU Gondola: Great BCR, Shame about the Business Case

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Translink released the CH2M Hill Burnaby Mountain Business Case report (dated October 2011) yesterday. And the story got picked up quickly by Atlantic Cities.

It seems to me to illustrate what has been going wrong with public investment decisions in recent years. In terms of its Benefit Cost Ratio this project ought to rise high in any comparative analysis of potential transportation projects. There is always a long list of projects that could be done, but not all of them will turn out to be positive. Often the local environmental impact of a major transportation project – or the the cost of its mitigation – will outweigh the benefits – usually travel time savings, especially if all the costs and benefits are measured objectively. In this case, while local residents have objected loudly object the anticipated impact on them, the overall benefits are significantly higher than the costs.

  • 1.5 million hours of saved travel time for current riders and an estimated 500,000 of auto travel time savings as commuters switch to the more efficient service;
  • Fewer transit service interruptions due to snowy conditions on the winding roads up to SFU;
  • Over 26 million in fewer vehicle kilometres traveled annually, which translates into savings on gas, collisions and an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 7,000 tons annually.

“The total value of these benefits, over the 25-year life-cycle, totaled more than $500 million, creating a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 3.6,” the report notes, adding that a BCR of greater than 1.0 indicates that benefits surpass costs.

In a world where governments are concerned about such things, even though there may not be enough revenue to cover the costs, a BCR of 3.6 would be significant enough to make a case for public sector (taxpayer) support. Social benefits – or what economists call an overall welfare benefit – are worth paying for, even if the market does not have a mechanism to produce that. But these days governments in general have abandoned ideas of social welfare, and espoused the notion that somehow government is just another business and it is only the financial case that matters. Government expenditure is held to be necessarily wasteful and inefficient – unless it is spent on projects like huge weapons or prisons (which have no discernible  benefits at all, just high private sector profits).

Translink currently cannot finance any new projects beyond the Evergreen Line, since its financial resources are restricted by the province. So there is no way to cover the projected $120m in capital costs or the $10m extra in operating costs. Buses are cheaper. And cheapness, it seems, when it comes to public service, is all that matters. Travel time savings, lower emissions (local pollutants and greenhouse gases) and greater reliability are not worth paying for. Well, not when you have already shot billions on highway projects that will not achieve any of those benefits. Of course, in the case of BC, the assessment process ensured that the highway project would be built anyway and the case for it would never be effectively questioned. Its environmental costs would be ignored, and the case would be based on time savings that ignore induced travel that will quickly overwhelm the short term travel time savings.

I cannot say I like the Atlantic’s use of stock photography. Here is another of my Peak2Peak gondola shots – since that was a favoured technology for SFU at one time

Peak2Peak centre span

Peak2Peak centre span - my photo on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

January 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

Cambie Corridor plans puts Vancouverism to the test

with 47 comments

Hadani Ditmars in the Globe and Mail examines what is going to be happening at two stations on the new Canada Line.   There is to be a new development at Marine Drive and the Oakridge Mall is getting a makeover. There is a surprisingly positive view given by Patrick Condon, who elsewhere has been critical of this sort of point intensity of development preferring the mid rise, spread along the street style of development that follows streecars. Rapid transit of any kind has fewer stations than streetcars have stops, so the development tends to cluster around the station and density declines as distance from the station increases. Or would do if the planning was done properly – Stockholm being about the best example.

Train leaving Marine Drive station

Canada Line train leaving Marine Drive station my photo on flickr

I do not yet see that the “corridor” itself is going to see a lot of change. There are many home owners now asking for very large prices for their low density buildings along the street, which prompted a reaction from the city planner who pointed out that developers have to pay development cost charges to the city, and the sort of prices being asked and the likely permitted density increase did not add up to viable projects.

What I think is remarkable is how late the development is occurring. Most of it has yet to have much of a physical manifestation and it is only occurring at two points. Contrast that to the way Richmond’s city centre has been expanding – upwards – since the announcement of the line was made, with new developments open as soon as the line was and more on the way. In fact some of the development – out by the Oval and No 2 Road is quite remote from the line – and, indeed, any transit at all. There used to be a #492 express bus on weekday peak periods over the No 2 Bridge and direct to downtown. That went when the B line came in and was quickly revived when the loadings far exceeded expectations. The current idea is that people will take the #402 to Brighouse Station and wait in line for the single line shuttle  service. Actually people wanting a seat tend to get on the southbound train at the previous station to ensure they get one and put up with the slower journey time. Brighouse still does not have a purpose built bus station – unlike Marine Drive.

I think there is very little point spending huge amounts of money on rapid transit systems unless you are willing to allow much greater densities. The lack of development along the Expo line in East Vancouver being something that I used to take groups of people to see, since they had heard so much about the success of Vancouver’s downtown and thought that somehow this progressive attitude extended geographically. Until now, within the City, about the only place which has seen significant change has been Joyce-Collingwood where industrial land was converted to dense, affordable housing – by reducing parking requirements.

The new buildings going up on No 3 Road have not had their parking requirements reduced. Indeed they are actually building underground parking – something hitherto only seen at City Hall. That recognizes that for a lot of Richmond residents employment is not in Vancouver but in other suburbs, and that the car is still the dominant form of commuting. Despite the raised bike lanes.

No 3 at Firbridge site

Underground parking construction Firbridge at No 3 Road my photo on flickr

Development which actually increases parking supply (these sites were formerly car showrooms) inevitably increases car use – even if there is a rapid transit line nearby. Indeed, when the first Toronto subway opened along Yonge Street, traffic got worse. The removal of streetcars allowed more road space for cars, but the new high rise buildings at the stations had parking included in them.

I certainly congratulate Translink on its performance last year. It was a very good lesson in getting quarts into pint pots. I just think that they will hit the limit of what that can achieve fairly quickly. The Canada Line was built down to a price, and is going to be a problem when expansion become necessary. And if the development along the Cambie corridor exceeds the present two sites and becomes more widespread, the limits of that capacity will be reached very quickly indeed. In the meantime, what money is being spent is wasted on the pointless gating system.

Vancouver – and its region – desperately needs more and better transit and much more transportation choice. That is not news of course. And so far the region as a whole seems not to have embraced the idea that underlies the Vancouver Transportation plan  – that human powered modes and transit should have priority. Density is still a dirty word – just like traffic congestion. And for a good summary of the history of that I recommend the ever more prolific Gordon Price – and endorse his recommendations.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

Tagged with ,

Planning Students Conference

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At the request of the organizers: no, I won’t be going and I received nothing for doing this


Canadian Association of Planning Students 2012 Conference and AGM – PLANNING HORIZONS:The Edge, Future, and Potential of Planning

Dates: February 2nd – 4th 2012


Location: Vancouver, British Columbia – Simon Fraser University’s Downtown Campus, Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings Street)





The national CAPS-ACÉAU conference is the premier event for planning students from across Canada. Join us in 2012 in the beautiful and inspiring setting of Vancouver, BC for a three day conference to share your research and projects, network with planning students and professionals from across Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and explore leading planning initiatives in the Greater Vancouver region.

Keynote speakers include: Larry Beasley, Julian Agyeman, and Gordon Price. See our complete program online.

Call for Student Presenters: Deadline Extended to Jan.13th 2012!

The priority of CAPS-ACÉAU is to provide students with an opportunity to present their research in a professional conference setting. Prizes will also be awarded for those students recognized by their peers as giving the top presentations. In addition, our professional development sessions will provide practical planning skills as you prepare for your career as a planner.

Conference Registration & Fees


  • Three day registration $85*

($69* Presenter rate)

  • One day price $50

  • Three day registration $150
  • One day price $100


*taxes/service fee may apply

Discounts for air travel and accommodation are available to delegates, details online.


Detailed conference information available at:

For more information, please contact:

Written by Stephen Rees

January 5, 2012 at 8:45 am

Posted in Urban Planning