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

Archive for August 2013

Politics hijacks transit planning yet again

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Having looked at Glasgow for a comparison on Compass, here’s another very instructive comparison, a bit closer to home. This op-ed piece appears in the Toronto Sun and is by R. Michael Warren who is a “former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager and Canada Post CEO”. He was present when the decision was made to buy “the province’s untested “Intermediate Capacity Transit System” (ICTS)” which we know as SkyTrain.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.43.13 AM

The parallels between us and them are obvious. The tussle between city and suburbs, the choice of technology – it’s all exactly the same

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been on the wrong side of this issue longer than anyone. “Stopping the war on cars” to him means putting rapid transit below ground or making it grade-separated. Out of the way of cars.

It seems to me that an endorsement by Rob Ford should be enough to deter anyone. But Vision Vancouver wants a subway under Broadway. And for very similar reasons. What is even more striking is the way that the link has been made in local planning for Grandview – where towers were suddenly added to the plan, much to the surprise and dismay of those who had been consulted. And one suggestion has been this is necessary to show that Vancouver is committed to increasing density (in the form of high rise towers) at subway stations. The quid pro quo being that if the City wants rapid transit then there has to be supporting denser land use. No repeat of what happened along the Expo Line – with no development happening at all at Broadway, Namaimo or 29th Avenue stations. By the way exactly the same effect was seen along the second subway in Toronto. The Bloor-Danforth line cannot be seen as clusters of towers around stations the way the Yonge line can be.

It is also worth re-iterating that the idea that a subway can be inserted underneath an existing street without interfering with it is foolish. Sure cut and cover subways and surface light rail create disturbance all along the street, but subway stations are significant objects at major intersections and have to have connections to the surface. And despite the nonsense that was peddled by the Canada Line constructors, entrances are needed at all street corners, not just one of them. If only to handle transfers to other transit effectively.

But also if you build very expensive subways, and you want fast services, there are going to be fewer stations – and most development is going to have to occur within a short walk of the station entrance. Do not think you can do that without upsetting the neighbours. Or you can have enough new development without increasing building heights significantly.

To make the headline a bit clearer, politics is always going to decide how public money is spent on major infrastructure projects. There is no way this can decided simply by technical considerations. These are not engineering  decisions. They are planning decisions. They are about place making. We have already plenty of experience of what happens to places when decision making is based on engineering standards. It is absolutely right that both politicians and communities get involved. The important thing is that the final outcome is not decided on short term political advantage.

The Scarborough RT was supposed to have been extended north and then east from Scarborough Town Centre to serve a new area of affordable housing known as Malvern. But the route, protected from development, ran though a neighbourhood that got built before the line did. When the TTC got ready to start building the local politicians listened to the protests of the neighbours who did not want trains running past the end of their backyards. Malvern, by the way, is now one of the greatest concentrations of visible minorities in Toronto – and one of the poorer and most troublesome areas for crime and social problems. Which cannot be blamed on SkyTrain!

What the headline means is that politicians tend to make decisions based on what is best for their party, or will be most popular with current voters. Politicians who act with an eye to the long term future are much rarer. But the decision to build the Canada Line underground beneath Cambie was based on those kinds  of calculation. Or rather, the decision to refuse to consider light rail – either along the existing CP right of way in the Arbutus corridor or along the “heritage boulevard” of Cambie Street – was all about placating the existing voters, not about accommodating the people who were going to move to the Vancouver region.  Or looking at something like “the best benefit-for-cost solution”.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 28, 2013 at 10:48 am

We’re not the only ones

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The Guardian reports this morning “Glaswegians revolt over ticket changes for ‘Clockwork orange’ subway system”. Like the Translink issue, the problem is that the new stored value “smart card” (in Glasgow called “Bramble”, in Vancouver called “Compass”  and in the Guardian compared to London’s “Oyster”) is being introduced at the same time as a significant fare increase.

some passengers have been angered by the withdrawal of 10 and 20 journey tickets, which took place in June, arguing that the new system will leave them paying considerably more for their journeys.

This is precisely the same issue we have with Compass.  It really surprised me that the (paywalled thus not linked) Sun actually produced a pro-Translink editorial on the subject. Indeed, I think this must be a first for that organ. It reads like a Translink press release, except that is criticizes those who use other media to voice their opinions. Because they differ from the official line, and the Sun, and, of course, in some respects with each other, they must be wrong.

The Guardian concentrates on the withdrawal of fare discounts. There is not quite the huge penalty for cash use for some kinds of trips as here – but there are definitely incentives to use the smart card. The problem is that these incentives are not nearly as good as earlier incentives to use transit more frequently. Paying up front for a bunch of tickets helps the organization’s cash flow. Not everyone makes two trips every weekday, so passes are not a universal answer. Monthly discounts work well for commuters, not so well for people who have a more varied trip pattern. The point about Oyster was that did not matter as the system would ensure users got the best deal going no matter how many trips they made. The policy in London at the time of its introduction was to encourage people to use the transit system.

Translink made two fundamental errors. The first was to use the introduction of Compass to raise fares in general. At the same time it has been forced to cut service in many places, to meet overcrowding elsewhere. It has not been able to do enough for the most crowded routes and at the same time it has caused considerable inconvenience to users who were already putting up with slow and infrequent services. The second was to ignore the lack of provision in the new system to open gates with existing magnetic media during the changeover period, which was going to have to be years not months due to the need to replace bus fareboxes that could not issue Compass tickets for cash. Due to the omission of this facility in the specification of the system, and the lack of funds to replace not yet life expired bus fareboxes, one type of “seamless” journey (cash on the bus transfer to SkyTrain and SeaBus) would not be possible. It is possible to buy magnetic readers for fare gates – or for ticket vending machines. It may have seemed expensive at the time, but in the context of a hugely expensive and uneconomic (it cannot ever pay for itself) crackdown on fare evasion, balking at the last few million having lashed out $170m of public funds seems obtuse. And by the way, Compass itself will allow for new kinds of fare evasion.

I frankly doubt that the idea of making people pay twice for one direction of travel really was thought of as a good incentive to switch to Compass. It sounds to me like people covering their rear ends after discovering an omission. And – to correct the false information in the Sun’s editorial – it was not “leaked”.  The bus operators were concerned that the passengers who found out about the need to pay twice would take it out on them. The operator is, after all, the most visible and vulnerable face of the organization. I have always preferred the cock-up theory of history to the conspiracy theory. That does not mean there is not evil in the world, just that bad things happen more often due to mistakes than deliberate malevolence. For reasons that we need not discuss here, Translink has long been incapable of admitting error. Yet it is run by people and therefore mistakes are inevitable.

The most egregious error now is that the view that Translink is using fare policy to deter ridership is gaining credence. The transit police in particular have taken to tweeting (and other communications) in ways which have convinced many that bus transfers will not be accepted anywhere on the system.

It is too late now to roll back the fare increases slid through as part of the Compass system. It cannot now be made to look like something that every transit user will welcome. It is not about being convenient. It is simply a worse deal than transit users now get. And Translink should admit that. The discount for ten rides is not nearly as good as with ten tickets. Don’t pretend that we should be happy with that. Translink could move back the day when the gates close until something can be done for those with bus transfers. Or operators could simply inform cash payers that they will have to pay at the station (not on the bus) to get the gate to open. After all, unless a fare boundary has been crossed, there is no revenue loss. Compromise is a solution that dissatisfies all equally. Translink  cannot now expect to win everything it wants. The ease of transfer is essential. We always have had an integrated fare system and retaining that ought to have been a prime objective in adopting any new system.

This is not to damn Translink and all its activities. This is not part of a “hate on” against this or any institution. This is pointing out that a mistake has been made and must be corrected. Pretending otherwise is simply not good enough.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 26, 2013 at 9:05 am

Green Party of BC AGM

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At the Vancouver Public Library today.

I have created a storify of this event to compensate for my lack of note taking and photography.  I am grateful to Carrie McLaren for her permission to use a few of her photos here

I wanted to record my impressions of the event, while it was still fresh in my mind. This is not intended to be a record – there are places for that and it’s not here. I did not run in the last election, but like everyone in the Green Party I was very encouraged by our showing and especially electing the first ever Green MLA. In fact the first Green in any Canadian provincial legislature. There are now also Green Party representatives in parliament and Vancouver City Council. In fact these are all three different but overlapping parties.  I have a feeling that the withdrawal of federal funding based on votes cast may well herald a closer relationship between federal and provincial parties. There have also, apparently, been dirty deeds at the municipal level, where some have tried to limit Green influence by joining the municipal party under a false flag. So the first thing I did was sign up for the vangreens. I have also paid my dues to the feds too.

I was not the only one present to note how fast the Green Party of BC is changing. This was my third AGM and the attendance was noticeably different. There were still a lot of old white guys – and they took most of the seats on Provincial Council again. But there are more females, and more visible minorities present now, and an important contribution is being made by First Nations.

Standing Ovation for Jane Sterk © photo by Carrie McLaren (GreenCarrie on flickr)

Standing Ovation for Jane Sterk
© photo by Carrie McLaren (GreenCarrie on flickr)

Jane Sterk has been a transformative leader: when she took over the party was in financial difficulty and risked de-registration. I must say as a new member and candidate I was completely unaware of those issues. A bit like a duck swimming, I could see we were making progress but I could not see the frantic paddling underneath the surface. Her speech was more than the usual acknowledgements (though they were there too). It was a sober and candid review of the last six years, with a clear analysis of why we had been successful in the last election, and what was now needed to do very much better next time. Given the paucity of resources the GPBC has compared to the two major parties, her achievement has been significant. But a tribute to her wisdom and clarity of thought is shown by her choice to quit while she was ahead.

I did scribble down some notes – which resurfaced some time after this blog post first appeared. One of the things that Jane revealed is that she has at least three job applications on the go, as well as the intent to run in the next municipal election and starting a new blog (which, as soon as I see it, will go on the blogroll).  One of the critical reforms she introduced was the notion that loans were not to be treated as donations – even if that is allowed under the Elections BC rules. She convinced the provincial council that the concept of cash flow was critical – donations tend to come in lumps but expenses stretch throughout the year. It is also essential to distinguish between “wants” and “needs”.  We currently have only two paid full time officials (Leader and Executive Director) but what we need are 15 regional organizers. We have to view ourselves as a political party, not a protest group. That means our job is to get people elected. The objective has to be not just a few MLAs but to become the official opposition then the government. The most successful Green parties in the world are those that have created partnerships with like minded parties and co-operated with them in government. That is the way that green policies get adopted. The job now is to find ways of putting our members into positions where they can do what we propose.

Jane Sterk  © photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

Jane Sterk
© photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

Andrew Weaver gave an inspiring speech. I hope that it becomes widely available as a transcript or video. It certainly deserves it. He observed that the job of a politician and a scientist ought not to be very different. There is a problem, which we recognize, search for evidence and then analyze that for its solution. Evidence based decision making is what ought to guide our political leaders. Far too often what happens is we have decision driven evidence research. And – far too often – not even that. He also described how he won his campaign and paid tribute to his team. There’s the difference, I thought. When I ran for MLA I did not have a team. Or even any real understanding of what is required of a campaign. That will now change as there is, it turns out, quite a lot of Green Party experience on how to do such things and we will get much better at running campaigns in future. For other candidates, I might add. Not me.

The real difference between 2009 and 2013 was that the Green Party did not try to recruit a candidate for every riding. The intention was to concentrate resources – very much in the way that the national party had concentrated on getting Elizabeth May elected. That did give rise to some discontent. People feel they have the right to vote Green – even if that means the candidate is simply a name on a ballot. There could have been more candidates if more had volunteered, and there was some local organization to back them. But the reason that there was no Green Party name on so many ballots is that neither candidates nor local organization were in place. That should change now as a lot of effort is going into building regional organizations to galvanize Green Party support in groups of ridings.

Adriane Carr  © photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

Adriane Carr
© photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

Adriane Carr was one of the founders of the provincial Green Party – and its leader on two separate occasions. She is one of the party’s better orators, and got the room on its feet. She is also clearly enjoying her time as a Vancouver City Councillor. She had some very wise words to say about the importance of starting the campaign now: not just for next year’s municipal elections but for the next provincial and federal elections. We cannot expect to elect anyone who has only run a two week campaign.

Sjeng Derkx © photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

Sjeng Derkx
© photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

There was also a very remarkable speech by Sjeng Derkx. The Greens in general are always positive in presenting policy and election strategy. His was the first public assault I had heard on the NDP. Firstly on their dismal election record in BC, and secondly on their readiness to blame others for their own failings. The myth of vote splitting had already been very effectively dealt with by others: in ridings where there was no Green candidate running, those votes went mainly to the Liberals, not the NDP. “They haven’t had a new thought since Tommy Douglas!” got a round of applause. As it happens, I think we will do much better when we stop worrying about NDP voters, and try to get those people who do not vote at all to vote Green as we are not like the other parties. Far too often all politicians are lumped together: “they’re all the same” is a refrain heard all the time on the campaign trail as the reason for not voting. It is significant that Jane Sterk was the only party leader where the majority of those polled chose “trust” over “distrust”.

Much attention should be paid to a motion – that was approved without dissent – to review Green Party “branding”. At one time the use of terms like “brand” or “marketing” would have been anathema to a grass roots party born of protests in the woods. The people now coming to the party understand what is meant by those terms, and why it is much more important to understand how voters perceive the Green Party than what we have in our policy manual. Which has always been about a lot more than just environmental issues, though you would not know that from the mainstream media.  At the very least you, reader of this blog, ought to be aware of the Ten Core Principles.

Andrew Weaver pointed out that the current government “plan” to expand LNG is simply not feasible. It makes no sense to “go all in and then double down” on a market that is already oversupplied and by places much better positioned to serve that demand. This is no longer the party that thinks first of lying down in front of logging trucks. Sure we object to the wasteful and damaging extraction and over exploitation of resources. But we have very good reasons for thinking that no responsible government, that claims to be the best steward of our province, could possibly deliver on the present “promises”. And we also happen to have a very much better alternative based on a locally vibrant economy. Not just “digging up BC and selling it to China” as Jane put it.

I really enjoyed this meeting. Perhaps the high spot was the good natured joshing between Adam Olsen and Andrew Weaver. Which became moving when Adam presented Andrew with a traditional blanket – that Andrew was asked to put in his office at the leg. to remind him that “this family” [the Green Party of BC] is behind him to support and protect him from the inevitable storms he will have to face.

Adam Olsen - now Interim Leader - and Andrew Weaver MLA © photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

Adam Olsen – now Interim Leader – and Andrew Weaver MLA
© photo by Carrie McLaren (Green Carrie on flickr)

I left feeling optimistic. There is hope. Things can change. Just because the BC electorate was once again fooled by advertising and slick communications, does not mean that we are on this path indefinitely. There is indeed a different way to run this province, and it does not have to be a choice between capitalism or socialism, between the economy and the environment, or between Tweedledum and Tweedledummer. We can and will do better. We must. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Posted in Green Party, politics

Al Gore explains why he’s optimistic about stopping global warming

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It is nice to find something optimistic to pass along on this topic. It  comes from The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog, not something I had even heard of let alone read but Steven Godfrey did and tweeted about it. (That’s called a hat tip.)

Well worth the read.

Initially I was going to post something about 350 – since there is still that badge up there to the right.

Ezra Klein: In 2005, when “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, I remember that the hope was we could keep the carbon load in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, and the fear was we would hit 400ppm. Now we’ve hit 400ppm and people are hoping to avoid 450ppm. This seems to be getting out of hand, and fast.

Al Gore: We have already crossed the 400 parts per million mark. We crossed it earlier this year. The question now is how high it will go before we begin bending the curve. But in spite of the continued released of 90 million tons of global warming pollution every day into the atmosphere, as if it’s an open sewer, we are now seeing the approach of a global political tipping point.

But the badge is actually about something else so I am leaving it where it is.

I was also thinking about posting something about flood risk since at one time used to post about that but was then told that somehow the North West of America was exempted. Turns out that was wrong too. But given the blue paint on Cambie Bridge I have not felt nearly so alone on that issue lately.

I wish I could share Al Gore’s optimism. I think that may be because the view from here tends to be more pessimistic just because Christy Clark got re-elected and Stephen Harper isn’t going anywhere soon. Canadians in general, and BC in particular, does seem to be remarkably short sighted. We still blow up with rage over bike lanes, for goodness sake. We will probably vote “No” in the transit funding referendum (see almost any recent issue of Price Tags). We have the widest bridge in North America, after all, so what could possibly go wrong with that? The port is still seriously considering this Texada Island linked coal terminal – as though the world market for coal had not collapsed, and the BLI got zero bids for it recent public lands coal rights auction. Actually those last two may also be straws in the wind to boost optimism.

But we have governments at both federal and provincial levels who are both committed to an expansion of fossil fuel production. As though the issue of unburnable reserves did not exist. Even some of the wiser financial commentators are looking at what that does to the balance sheets of the oil and gas companies.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Impact of Climate Change

Tagged with

SkyTrain won’t take bus transfers with new Compass Card system

with 31 comments

Proof of Payment

But will not open the gates at SkyTrain or SeaBus

The story was broken by 24hours and took me by surprise.

I have actually turned down the offer from Translink to be a beta-tester for the Compass card, since I do not use the transit system very much these days. Car2go, walking and biking make up a lot of my trips and, after all, I am not a commuter now either. I carry pre-paid tickets, and the two zone ones still read $3.75. I also try to cut down on carrying change and use cards for most transactions.

I actually got a bit irritated the other day when I took a lot of bottles back to the liquor store. They gave me coins for them, but not enough to do anything with. “You can always use them on the bus” said the helpful clerk. (His cash register cannot issue a credit note, which could be used to help pay for the beer I was about to buy.) Since cash fares on the bus are already more expensive than my stock of prepaid tickets, why would I?

TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said that at $25 million, it was too expensive to upgrade all bus fare boxes so they would dish out Compass-compatible tickets.

If a passenger carries a bus-transfer pass to the SkyTrain, they will be told to get a Compass single-trip pass from a machine. There will be no trade-ins, nor will there be a discount for cash-only bus fares, Zabel said.

The new fare system itself is already uneconomic. Putting gates on SkyTrain was where all this started. Kevin Falcon, then Minister of Transport, ignoring all the facts and data except the opinion polls, insisted that the Proof of Payment system had to go, and that people would then “feel safer”. Nonsense of course. And he handed over tax dollars to do it

The province is providing $40 million and the Government of Canada is contributing up to $30 million from the Building Canada Fund to support the approximately $100 million in eligible costs for the faregates installation and related station improvements. The total cost for both the faregates and Compass card projects is approximately $171 million.

Why not enough to make the bus system compatible? It already will never ever pay for itself through reduction in fare evasion. So why not round up to $200 million?

Maybe because until the zone system gets replaced with fare by distance, a passenger who has paid cash on the bus and got a (card with a magnetic stripe) transfer already has valid proof of payment. If an actual person – like a SkyTrain attendant or Translink police officer – asks, that proof of payment shows the correct fare has been paid within the last 90 minutes.

The problem is that Translink has installed gates on SkyTrain that only stay open when someone waves a valid Compass card (with an rfid chip) at them. And if there is to be any real payback, they have to cut the number of people checking tickets on board. Which actually reduces security overall.

You could put the argument another way: why was there no magdip reader on the new faregates? There are probably fewer faregates than buses. Or no magdip reader on the machines that sell the Compass cards? All made by Cubic, of course. And when the electronic bus fareboxes were specified the idea of adding other media was supposed to be a bolt on extra that would be easy to install. At that stage, of course, we were never going to gate SkyTrain, let alone buy gates that only work with media from part of the system.

“It’s estimated only 6,000 customers (pay cash and transfer) a day, which represents a small percentage of our daily rides,” Zabel said.

So it’s okay to swindle 6,000 people a day, but worth spending $171 million to catch less than 4% of fare revenue thought to be lost to people who don’t pay at all?

The one thing that we have always been so proud of here is that we have a multimodal system, and one ticket works all of it. Janette Sadik-Khan (Transportation Commissioner for New York) was delighted when she discovered that here. Such a contrast to her city where MTA cards do not work on PATH or NJT trains within NYC. Or most ferries. “I feel like Charlie at the Chocolate Factory” she said “I’ve got a golden ticket!”

The people who use cash to buy a ticket and transfer will be those who use the system least. (Or as Renée Stephen points out, people who do not want to be tracked by Compass.) But will include visitors – who have the least incentive to buy a prepaid card and then have it as a useless and expensive souvenir. I send my son the stored value Metropasses we get whenever we visit him in New York. We still have our Paris Navigo cards – but we only bought one month’s travel on them. We can reload them, should we return, but when we left (in a taxi) there was no value left on them.

The unwary visitor to Vancouver already gets dinged, of course, if they pay cash from the airport to ride the Canada Line. It’s free to the car parks, and the now under construction shopping mall. But $5 extra for any further. Up until now we have mailed transit tickets to people who are coming to visit us from out of town. Unless we are picking them up at the airport of course.

I got quite annoyed recently when Councillor Andrea Reimer tweeted about upcoming fare increases (also due to Compass) “It’s like they don’t want us to use transit”. In only 140 characters it is hard to assign blame accurately. But this is yet another example of Translink’s tin ear as far as its users are concerned. Lack of funding is a problem – but not an excuse for theft.  I begin to think she was right.

I know my old books of tickets will be useless eventually – but I would expect Translink to have some method of loading my new Compass card with their value, or I won’t buy one until they do or I have managed to use them.

If a passenger has paid the correct fare and has proof of payment, the system is obliged to transport them. The inability of electronic systems to talk to each other cannot be used as an excuse for breaking that contract. Are proof of payment tickets issued on buses now going to read “not valid on SkyTrain”?

In other news 

I was going to ignore the Globe & Mail story (picked up by Sightline’s Daily) about driverless buses.  Translink is not really “considering” them in any realistic sense. The G&M was just plonking a CTV clip onto its web page anyway. Bizarre, since CTV is not paywalled and G&M is. And there is no actual content barring a short clip of a driverless people carrier at an airport somewhere. If the driverless bus is a segregated right of way BRT, how is that any different to what we have now? And if Google gets its way and there are already driverless vehicles in mixed traffic, why shouldn’t it be a bus or shared ride taxi too?


The estimated loss from fare evasion is “more than $7 million a year”

6,000 a day pay cash and transfer, will now have to pay again

6,000 x 350 x $5 = $10.5 million a year

I am enjoying the flurry of attention this  is getting on twitter. Even if it is clear that people read the tweet and respond to that, rather than read what I wrote in this blog. So instead of jumping into that fray again I am going to note a strategy that now occurs to me. Your level of comfort with this will determine if you use it or not. The Operator of the bus is NOT required to enforce the fare system. He/she is only required to inform you of the fare. Some have taken to saying to non-paying passengers “That’s between you and the transit police.” So tell the bus operator that you intend to transfer at the SkyTrain station, and you will pay the fare there as you do not feel it reasonable to be expected to pay twice. Show him/her that you have the fare ready – and state that the transfer issued by the bus fare machine is worthless.

I think that is lot easier than jumping the fare gate.

But you may find yourself talking to the legal system later. Assuming that this now viral story on social media does not cause Translink to do a rethink.

UPDATE Miranda Nelson has posted a list of what she thinks is wrong with Translink on the Georgia Straight which uses one of my pictures (thank you) and has a link to an on line petition against “the pay twice if using cash” policy.

FURTHER UPDATE Sept 27 Finally someone has seen sense at Translink – also from 24 hours

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

Electric Car2Go

with 2 comments

These electric Smart cars have been part of the Car2Go fleet in Vancouver for a while now. I have not actually seen one until today. I was taking a look at my Android car2go app after getting an email this morning. Car2Go had been “experiencing a partial disruption in service” this morning, so I was curious what the app would show. Turns out that not only was there an available car right outside but there was a little electric logo on it. ⚡

By the way the Car2Go app for Android is much better than any other I have used (iOS or Symbian)

Smart EV rear

The vehicle looks much like any other car2go. I think the term “electric drive” could easily be confused with a hybrid, which while it has an internal combustion (IC) engine does indeed have a final electric drive. But this is a real EV – a battery only electric vehicle.

Smart EV front near

Actually this is one of the nicer variants of the Smart car that has a glass roof and electric motors to control the door mirrors. And, as seems to be common practice, the roller blind across the ceiling had been left open, and the car parked in full sun. So it was a nice little oven to get into – with extra frying on the seat and seat back. Cloth upholstery would be so much nicer.

Smart EV front off

Smart EV interior

Everything about the car is as similar as possible to the IC car. It has an “ignition” key – just nothing much seems to happen when you turn it except the radio comes on and you can open the windows and turn on the fan. It also has air conditioning. I turned that off as soon as it was comfortable enough, and drove with the windows down. At city speeds, that is more energy efficient. Using a/c and keeping the windows closed works better at highway speed.

The pick up on any electric vehicle is always better than any IC since the torque characteristics are quite different. You can easily leave everyone else standing at the lights if you want to. Some of the older IC Smart cars are quite sluggish, especially from a standing start, and with a distinct lag after each gear shift.

Smart EV two extra dials

I am not convinced that these are actually necessary, since the conventional fuel gauge on a Smart car – just under the speedometer – is easily readable. What is noticeable is that this car has regenerative braking, so power is fed back into the battery when braking. In fact even if you just take your foot of the accelerator. This is a pity but common to every EV I have ever driven. I think that imitating engine braking to make the car feel familiar is not needed. Better would be the ability to coast. I found that even the lightest pressure on the right pedal caused battery drain, and driving feet off meant the car slowed. In fact the slowing was more noticeable than some IC cars I have driven

Plug it in, plug it in

Although I did take it around the houses so I could try it on the hills of Kerrisdale (nothing to report there) and traffic was light, the whole journey was easy and used hardly any juice. I think the needle must have gone down a bit but for most around town use I should not think that range is going to be an issue. I know you get can a charge at City Hall. Maybe there’s something on the in car navigation system about charging stations – I forgot to check. There is a key fob for charging. I didn’t notice if there was a credit card.


In other news

I found the hype of Elon Musk’s “HyperLoop” easy to resist. On twitter, Jarret Walker seemed to hit the right note of skepticism, as you would expect. The problems of human transportation being mostly about the basic physics and geometry issues. The greatest weakness of the analysis is not so much Musk’s assessment of potential number of trips but a lack of appreciation about how much network connectivity is going to matter to make the low density sprawl of southern California work to feed his point to point service.

Personally I would far prefer a High Speed Train, though I can easily understand the frustrations of those who feel let down by the tentative approach being taken in California. I much prefer to look out of a window (though in an HST keeping your eye on the distant horizon is important for comfort) but most of all I like to get out of my seat and walk around when under way. This is not exactly encouraged on planes or buses – but is at least feasible. I find the idea of remaining seated in a windowless vehicle claustrophobic. Even if it is only for half an hour.

Recent news from Britain about ever more fare increases for the privatized railway show once again how wrong headed that approach to public transportation is and has been throughout. There is a growing lobby there in favour of renationalization. But David Cameron’s former speech writer thinks they are fantastic 

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2013 at 4:15 pm