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Archive for November 2013

A vision for reducing BC’s Transportation Emissions

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Rob Abbott Executive Director
Climate Action Secretariat

Another of the lunchtime Carbon Talks at SFU downtown today. Held in a room that not only has no public wifi but also no cell phone signal – at least not from my network, which was at 5 bars outside at the bus stop. So not really much response to their suggestion that people tweet. Even so, given the paucity of my notes you might glean something from the storify I put together. The event was live streamed and is now available as a video.

I must admit I was a bit puzzled given the announcement yesterday about the Carbon Trust – which has now been moved inside the Secretariat. No one asked about that – or about the referendum. If I had got a change to ask a question, I would have asked if he really did work for Christy Clark as I was very conscious of a lot of cognitive dissonance.

Below unedited for the cognoscenti are my raw notes. I am not now going to edit them as the full talk can be seen on youtube. By the way I am pleased to note, given what I wrote yesterday that Bob Paddon is now acknowledging “Mobility pricing may not be a solution in the shorter term” – but I suggest that we do actually need some short term solutions. Not just to deal with transportation in the Lower Mainland but also to deal with Climate Change – and what Canada, and BC in particular, are both intent on doing does not seem to be going in the right direction at all.

Here as a provocateur. Open up a space about a conversation that matters. Ties to dialogue tomorrow.

Portfolio approach includes ng for commercial and light trucks TOD

Behaviour change is hard esp wrt cars iconic far more than mobility

Land use mixed, complete community etc
IPCC report
BC target GHG down GDP and pop both up
Encouraging trends

More we can do
Clean Transportation Strategy
Need to couple bldgs to transport

Claims 20 to 30%  reduction in GHG for NG trucks compared to diesel

10% reduction in intensity of fuel

Warranty provisions for liquid fuels

Expansion of urban transit
$14bn inc Evergreen Line
BC Transit data
No TransLink data
Make it something you want to take

Car sharing
Calgary growing car2go fastest

TOD is the big one
Affordability is goal = congestion reduction
Complete streets
Paddon oped in Sun today
Climate Action Charter for LG
(Lots of motherhood and apple pie does he really work for Christy?)

Wholly new paradigm


How high can transit fees go
Govt going in wrong direction re coal and oil exports
Need for pt plan provincially

1 massive failure of communication narrative shld raise fees context ppl aren’t reflexively opposed
2 yes we have to be responsible citizens what
3 need to open up something quite different …how ppl g&s might flow province not there quite yet

Production is more important than consumption in GHG
Biodiesel can go much higher
Corporate culture need to commute

3 part of the solution waffles at length
2 lcf is sexy can go higher
1 embodied carbon must account for it and reduce it -how to do that w/o reduced q of life
Electricity imports

1 Massey
2 port emissions will double in next few years – truck traffic
3 how much do you look at other places?

3 easy to beat ourselves up. Our planners go to Sweden. Would these ideas work here
2 good at parts much less at integration
1 lynch pin investment lifestyle aspiration and land cost how we connect those communities will still need roads

Holistic approach

Multiple levels of trust
Stadium of our egos
A lot is happening which shows that the trust is there
Collaboration with stakeholders

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Transportation

UPDATED I won free Modo Membership!


Not a member just yet? We’re giving away a FREE 1-year membership + registration and $30 driving – just share this photo with your social networks and email a screenshot to We’ll draw and announce our winner this Friday!

and today I got an email which read in part

“Thanks for entering our Make It! giveaway. I’m happy to say that after a random draw, you’ve won!

Your prize is a free 1-year membership + registration and $30 carsharing credit.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Posted in car sharing

Tagged with ,

Road pricing: What’s not to love

with 5 comments

The title is taken from Gordon Price’s blog post and op-ed in the Vancouver Sun today.  He used a question mark, so this post tries to address the question. Yesterday the Sun had another op-ed on the same topic – equally positive – by Michael Goldberg (you may recall I quoted a lot from him at the “Moving the Future” meeting). I won’t link to that since it’s behind the paywall, but I am sure you can find it if you want to. And on Friday I am invited to another meeting where road pricing is going to be debated.

I am not just being contrarian. I have been in favour of moving towards road pricing ever since I read Gabriel Roth’s “Paying for Roads” back in the mid 1960s. I have written about it on this blog often enough. My impression is that there is a movement afoot to persuade us that we will get a say in future road pricing in the referendum. Frankly, I doubt it. And if we do I also doubt that it will win. Gordon does a good job of explaining why it is unpopular in general – but I think that there are some very specific reasons why it will not fly here, now. And that is what I am concerned about.

“The best is the enemy of the good.”

Road pricing is fine in theory, but very difficult to do in practice. Parallels with other places that use cordons to impose congestion charges on central areas (London, Singapore, various Scandinavian cities) fall down very quickly when you compare our geography to theirs. Our commute pattern in not dominated by travel from the suburbs to one central area. Suburb to suburb travel is much more important. We cannot do a simple cordon price system here.

The province appears to be willing to reconsider its tolling policy which means that prices could be applied to existing roads at some future date once it has decided what that policy is going to be. But it will almost certainly be a province wide policy, not one designed to be optimal for this region. That is going to create a whole new set of problems we cannot yet determine, since the new policy is still in vitro. But you can already see that since some roads are provincial, some municipal and some get funding from Translink’s Major Road Network it is going to take a fair bit of negotiation to sort out which roads it will be applied to and how.

The next huge issue is what will happen on the other roads. As Gordon’s other recent blog post about Portugal shows, when you toll the major roads, a lot of traffic shifts to the minor roads.

In London, when the congestion charge was introduced, it was recognized that there would be a shift from driving to public transport. And that would be a problem as the railway systems were already at capacity at peak periods, and it takes a great deal of time to build new railway capacity (though they are doing that too). So the only quick way to add capacity was to increase the bus system. The problem was that the buses were caught up in the congestion themselves. So it would not be enough to just add more buses. The service would have to become both more reliable and faster – to attract passengers and cut costs. So at the same time as the congestion charge zone was being set up, so too were lots of new exclusive bus lanes.

In Metro Vancouver there are very few examples of bus lanes. Most are simply queue jumpers – and many are also open to “high occupancy vehicles” (even where “high occupancy” means only two or more people). On the busiest bus routes, there are parking restrictions but at peak periods only. While there have been short lived examples of bus priority measures (on the old #98 B Line for instance) most have now been removed. Municipalities could – at any time – have demonstrated a commitment to better bus services by their traffic management policies. None have down so in any significant fashion.

If we are to switch to road pricing it cannot happen until we have resolved the issue of how the trips deterred by the tolls can continue to be accomplished. That means significant transit expansion has to be ready to go before the toll collectors are turned on. That means more buses, more operators, more operating and maintenance centres. There is no spare capacity in the present transit system. It has been managed out as part of coping with increased demand without increased funding. There will be some additional trains when the Evergreen Line opens but none are being bought for the rest of the (overcrowded) SkyTrain system. The Canada Line presents its own set of capacity restraints that have been expounded here often enough.

There has been an opportunity to switch on a road pricing like system for some time. Not one that is sensitive to routes or times of day, but would have reduced car use significantly. I refer to distance based car insurance. With mandatory provincially provided car insurance we could have had this years ago. Instead the province has used ICBC as a way of collecting more for general revenues.

Today the province also announced increased hydro rates – for the next five years. This is to help pay for the disastrous policies of privatization, “run of the river” schemes ( sorry that link is paywalled) and settling a legal dispute with  California.

At the same time provincial policies at BC Transit are being shown to have been very badly thought out. Hydrogen buses in Whistler – introduced for the Olympics fuelled from hydrogen trucked from Quebec – are found to be too expensive. There is never funding for dull, boring everyday transit service, but there’s always a ribbon cutting opportunity – and plenty of PR pizzazz for daft ideas like the hydrogen highway – which still doesn’t exist.

In BC – as in the rest of North America – real disposable incomes have been largely static. Reductions in taxes have been matched – and in some cases more than matched – by hikes in fees for services which used to be paid from taxes. 1% of the population has done very well indeed. Most of the rest does not feel better off. Household debt is at record levels. Raising hydro rates will make people feel worse off, especially those who have no way to increase their incomes and who have very little ability to reduce their use of power. We’ve had all the free light bulbs we can use and many of us cannot afford a new fridge.

There is going to be a referendum on increasing the amount we pay for transit. That will come from a combination of sources since that is the way the system is set up now, and there is no current ability to change that. The new revenue stream is need to play catch up to currently constrained demand.

None of the articles I referred to have dealt with inequality – or land use. We know that land use takes a long time to change, but we also know that transportation and land use are inextricably linked.  If we change the way we pay for roads, people will have to reconsider their location decisions. Many will feel stressed by this – there are few more traumatic events in life than moving. But they made their present decisions in a system that closely controlled how much they were allowed to spend on housing but ignored how much they would have to spend on travel. “Drive until you qualify” is actually a terrible strategy – for a two income family especially – but it was what most people did. Change those rules and expect howls of outrage. People on the lower end of the income scale are much more vulnerable to changes of this kind – and more numerous. That matters in systems where votes matter. Like referenda.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

The Future

with one comment

You do follow me on Twitter, don’t you? It’s not that I tweet a lot – though if you do not use RSS it’s not a bad way to know when a new blog post has gone up. It’s more that I often see things there that I think are worth reading – but I do not have a lot to add. It usually means I agree with much of what is there. Not always a total endorsement but usually “this is worth looking at”.

So when someone calling himself Neil21 (I know no more about him than that) posted a link to an article on robotaxis I retweeted it. Prompting this exchange

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 3.25.47 PM

I was a bit taken aback actually that someone who follows me on twitter, and therefore presumably reads this blog too, could have ascribed such an opinion to me. And since I don’t know who he is, this medium not being restricted to 140 characters seems  a better way to respond properly.

I knew I had written about this topic before so I put the words “shared ride taxis” in the search box in the right hand column.  So it starts with a plea to do a real reform of taxi regulation mainly to improve service but also to allow for shared rides. There’s a link to a story about shared rides on Pender Island and a useful summary of Auditing Translink which includes a lot of my thoughts on HandyDART (repeated earlier today). There was also an article about how to stop global warming which included this gem

Lets go for simple, easy and restrictive of car use. Street cars. Using existing lanes in the existing roads that are then closed to cars. And really cracking down on speeding – which wastes huge amounts of fuel and costs many lives. Use the fines from photo radar and bus lane violators to buy more trams. Car co-ops, and cheap shared ride taxis. Subscription based commuter coaches – commuters take the same route most days. It should be easy to sign them up for door to door services once the parking lots have been turned over to food production and the highway has only one lane for General Purpose traffic and all the rest of the capacity is dedicated to shared ride, essential freight and so on.

And this about extending Para-Transit, this one about Personal Rapid Transit and  Michael Geller promoting TukTuks. But perhaps the central argument is in this one about electric cars.

I am an enthusiastic early adopter of car2go. It already incorporates quite a few technological advances over other cars. For a start, I can easily find out where the nearest one available is: trouble is they are often not near enough (they are known around Main Street as Go2Car). It is quicker to walk or take a bus. Transit, someone once said, takes you from where you are not to not very close to where you want to be. In the low density suburbs that is a real issue. And taxis are as rare as hen’s teeth when you really need one – anywhere in the world, not just here where we are deliberately under supplied as a matter of public policy.

What would transform the utility of car2go would be bringing the nearest empty car to me when it is more than a short walk away. There are going to be autonomous cars, simply because the technology is now very nearly ready for prime time. The only question is how to use them. “It’s absolutely inevitable that autonomous vehicles will be shared” and the first application could well be a car2go that comes when you need it and vanishes once you have finished with it. It need not be an exclusive two seater car. It could be a larger shared unit – like a minivan. Tell the system not just where you are but where you want to go and the software links up the riders. So it then works like para-transit or HandyDART for everyone – or perhaps the commuter coach now favoured by many hi-tech firms for getting their employees to campuses out of town centres (though I think more of them will be just as interested in better urban locations for their offices).

Autonomous vehicles will “hasten sprawl repair.” We are stuck with much of our present built environment for another generation or two. It takes a longer time to rebuild whole suburbs than decayed inner cities – and that took long enough. Since our very silly provincial government thinks its a good idea to lock us into car dependency for much longer then we had better hope that the techno wizards building zero emissions self driving cars are a lot more successful than the people who have been promoting the very well known and established plan of more and better conventional transit (with protected bike lanes and comfortable walking streets) in denser urban areas. That doesn’t mean that the latter won’t happen as well – but since Premier Barbie seems to be doing all she can to prevent that, this will offset some of the worst effects of her decisions.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Transportation

The Need for Improved HandyDART Service

with 4 comments

Once upon a time I worked for Translink and the HandyDART file seemed to reside almost permanently on my desk. If I can recall any one summarizing emotion about that it would be intense frustration. The problems then were only too apparent, and the willingness to do anything about them was almost non-existent. I would like to be able to say that since I left more able minds were employed and things got better. But they haven’t: they have got a great deal worse. And mostly because everyone involved in the decision making process prefers to ignore demographics.

The story makes the front page of today’s Vancouver Sun, but my own resolution to not link to paywalled sites can be maintained since there is also coverage at the Vancouver Media Co-op. And my friend Eric Doherty, who is the author of the report, has made the whole thing available on line at his own web site as a pdf. I recommend that you read the whole thing.

The points made by the report are telling. The need to use Handy DART rises steeply with age, and the population “over 70 in Metro Vancouver has increased by two and a half times that of the general population” in the last five years. This is nothing new – the same effect can be observed over a much longer period. But during that time HandyDART service has not been increased. Indeed it has been cut, in part due to a misguided belief on the part of the former Translink Commissioner Martin Crilly that taxis would be cheaper. He formed that opinion after hiring his old friend and former colleague Glen Leicester – who was previously Translink’s Vice-President of Planning who presided over the years of inaction on the same issues when he was my boss. He now operates as Shirocca Consulting of North Vancouver and his usual methodology is very selective comparison with other Canadian cities using CUTA data.

The headline statistic is the rapid increase in the number of trip refusals – 4,900 times in 2008, 13,400 times in 2010 and 37,700 times in 2012 – obtained by an FoI request. It is also pointed out in the report that trip refusals actually understate the problem. “Trip denials do not show the full extent of unmet demand people won’t attempt to book trips they know will be denied.”  That’s actually a tweet I made which slightly edits what Eric wrote to fit the Twitter 140 character limit.

Privatising the service did not help at all. Previously Translink contracted with a number of smaller operators – mostly societies run by people with disabilities, with one company on the North Shore which must have had one of the most quixotic mission statements as it could not have ever turned a profit. At no time in the years I was involved was there any suggestion that this arrangement was especially problematic, although the re-organisation and concentration of health services by the province was making the need for cross-boundary trips increasingly problematic.

I do not understand why an American based for profit organization needed to be brought in – and they have not performed well. And – just in the interest of full disclosure – MVT in the US is run by Kevin Klika who was once a brother-in-law of mine.

Once of the real changes I have noticed in recent months is that the Health Authorities have at long last woken up to the health impacts of our dysfunctional transportation system. They have sent representatives to at least two of the recent pubic meetings about the future of transit in the region. Perhaps this is being driven by the work of Larry Frank at UBC. But the concern expressed so far has been restricted to the general health of the population at large (see yesterday’s post for Larry’s take on that) and none at all about how the geographic concentration of outpatient services has put such a strain on the sector of the population that needs it most. It needs to be understood that when you are over 70, you are much less likely to be in employment or full time education, so the only trips you can qualify for on HandyDART are those of a medical nature. That must be borne in mind too when you look at trip refusal rates.

The failure of Translink to meet the essential needs of the most vulnerable sector of society is egregious, but in large measure it can be laid at the refusal of the Health Authorities to work cooperatively with Translink. Their view seemed to be that transporting patients was not any of their concern. As long as it could be downloaded onto the patient then their own statistics and financial data would look better. They were, after all, only following the example of other service providers – such as retailers. By choosing to build bigger facilities, and seeking “economies of scale” more of the distribution/collection problem could be downloaded to customers. IKEA, for instance, not only expects you to travel a long way to its stores, it expects you to take care of delivery and final assembly – unlike most other furniture retailers. Of course, Health Authorities do not face much competition – so the pressure has simply been from politicians who only think that public services ought to be run like businesses.

HardyDART is much more a social service than a business and its shameful neglect of its responsibilities has to laid at the feet of these same politicians. And, I am sorry to say, at those of a number of senior officials only too willing to do their bidding and not stand up for their mandate.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2013 at 11:43 am

UBC Alumni dialogue: Transportation?

with 5 comments

UPDATED November 22

I went to a UBC dialogue at the Burnaby Hilton Metrotown on Monday November 18, 2013. You can find out more about the alumni at Attendees at the meeting were encouraged to tweet using the hashtag #ubcdialogues (despite the unavailability of free wifi) and I have gathered what was tweeted here  and in more readable format on Storify

Stephen Quinn of CBC Raidio was the moderator who introduced the five experts Larry Frank, Ian Jarvis, Carole Jolly of UBC planning, Paul Lee of City of Surrey and Ian Druce of Steer, Davis & Gleave.

The meeting was recorded for a podcast that is now available on the UBC Alumni web page.

Larry Frank opened by stating that future funding for transit should be  tied to suitable land use planning. It was essential to bring development to transit. The public sector health care costs of car dependence are greater than the investment required “We are lazy and sedentary” which gives rise to the most prevalent health problems: diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Ian Jarvis noted that everyone seem to be in favour of improvements to transit as long as somebody else pays for it. Fares cover half the operating cost, and do not make any contribution to fund capital investment. Everyone benefits from the improvements to the economy and quality of life that follow transit investment. The upcoming referendum will focus attention on these issues.

Carole Jolly stressed the economic benefits of rail all the way to UBC along the Broadway corridor linking the hi tech industry and health care institutions to the centre of research.

Paul Lee noted “We are not alone: everyone else has this problem.” Surrey covers a huge area and every two years adds the population equivalent to another Port Moody
How much courage do we have?

Ian Druce said that out region was actually ahead of other places in Canada as we have  integrated planning and transportation. We get funds for transit from three sources fares, gas tax and federal contributions [?]. There are issues over governance and decision making with both the province and the municipalities. There remains an unresolved issue for the region of affordability.

Stephen Quinn asked with reference to the referendum how do we make a case to people who can’t access transit?

We all rely on other people to make better choices, to allow us to drive. Congestion is bad and getting worse. I think  that the health argument carries a lot of weight as we pay for everybody else’s health. The greenhouse gas argument is profound but not as immediate

How much of an impediment is the governance structure?

The are two questions to be dealt with
1 The need for elected officials to control broad policy issues
2 What is the appropriate level of investment

How much is the Broadway rail line worth to UBC?

The recent KPMG report shows the significant economic benefit to UBC but, unlike the airport we don’t have a revenue source to tap for funds. Quinn responded that there is a great deal of property development at UBC  to which Jolly responded that the development benefits are fed back to education

When did the light bulb go on for Surrey?

Four years ago we did a study which showed that the maximum we can do with road expansion would allow for a 10 to 12% growth but our population will double.

He had contributed to a governance review of Translink for the Mayors Council. What is missing now is the policy led decision making that requires elected officials [for legitimacy] The mayors are frustrated that they get the blame for overcrowding and passups but they can’t raise the funds to do anything about it.

How should the referendum question be framed?

It should address decision making as well as funding. H wis much more worried about “bad infrastructure” and its impact on land use.

There were successful referenda in the US. The ones that won had a specific set of projects with determined costs and timelines for construction. For example, Los Angeles  had a long list of projects to ensure that there is something for everyone

We have to identify champions – its not enough that Ian Jarvis asks for more money. Groups like the Board of Trade have to be out in public talking about the benefit to the economy
Everyone wins

We have to present a package of benefits not just cost

Must include pedestrians and cyclists

Questions from the floor

1 The province should do something for transit

Use the carbon tax pay for transit. [Not just use it to reduce other taxes.]
Planning should be at regional level – not dropping a huge project out of the blue onto the region [i.e. Massey Tunnel replacement]

BC spends more on transit than the other provinces do [presumably he means in proportion to population or GDP not absolute amounts]. An economic vision for the region is needed. We have done quite well in recent years [transit investments].

2. Look at the relative density cf London and New York (cited data I did not get to write down)

We built inefficient land use

Density by itself is not enough. The City of Vancouver  is actually denser than most cities but is designed for cars

1m people are coming but the land base is limited

3. What is the right transit technology for Broadway?

Build for the future
Not just the costs look at benefits too

We have excess demand now – many cities would like that problem
We need to build in flexibility

SQ Raised the issue of Human dignity – referring to his commute on SkyTrain from Broadway & Commercial to downtown. Is comfort [on transit] a luxury?

The problem with SkyTrain is it moves a lot of people through one narrow corridor. We need a bigger, broader network to improve resiliency. Currently we are vulnerable to incidents on one part of system. We need a technology that will “fill the gap” between bus and sky train [in terms of passenger capacity].

4 – Identified two areas that are likely to vote No. Low density areas without  access to transit
Burnaby and New West already have their transit

We should “bundle housing with transit” to improve affordability and reduced the need to “drive until you qualify”.
Parks open space

Vibrant economy benefits everyone

5 – (from Transit operator) What happens if the answer is no, what do we do?

TransLink articulates that – dig deeper in the hole

The vote will be taken as one of non-confidence in Translink

6 – Is the Implementation Plan the list pf porjects? When will it be ready ?

Yes – mid 2014

7   Developer Cost Charges to pay for transit ?

Distance based impact fees. Has been done elsewhere. Munis get DCC to pay for Pedestrian facilities etc.

Capstan Way station development in Richmond – developer (voluntary) contribution



I am not sure why I was invited to the meeting. I think it is interesting that this is now the second time I have sat in a room where everyone was convinced that we needed more transit but was also sure that the rest of the region would not be willing to pay for it.

I think the carbon tax idea is popular but is actually the least likely outcome. Firstly because it was sold as “revenue neutral” and that will be difficult to reverse. Does it only get diverted to the extent it is collected in this region? Or do we think that other parts of BC deserve to get carbon reducing investments too? No one talked about sales tax.

I was struck by the conversation that once again identified the need for a champion for transit but once again did not name any of the coalitions that are already forming

I also think it is highly unlikely that the region will get to decide how to frame the question. The province will do that to get the answer it wants.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 19, 2013 at 8:58 am

Conflicted Space? Robson Square, Viva Vancouver and the #5 Robson Bus

with 11 comments

There was a lunchtime “conversation” at SFU downtown today.  As the meeting’s page is listed as an “upcoming event” and will thus move shortly, I am taking the liberty of copying its content here

Pop rocks on Robson

For two years, the block of Robson St. in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery has been closed to traffic during the summer, becoming the popular Viva Vancouver pedestrian space. A consequence is that the #5 Robson bus is rerouted by three blocks. Few realize that this seemingly minor change is said to affect much of the downtown transit network. Some people want to close Robson Square year round. Must we choose between efficient public transit and enjoyable public space, or Is there a way to accommodate both?

Starting the conversation are Lon LaClaire, Manager of Strategic Transportation Planning for the City of Vancouver, Brian Mills, TransLink’s Director of Service and Infrastructure Planning and Simon Jay of the Vancouver Public Space Network.

Corduroy Road (formerly Robson St)

Lon LaClaire talked about the Transport 2040 plan and its targets, which will require a reallocation of road space from cars to walking, cycling and transit. Transit trips have  to double (or is that the share of the market has to double?) to reach goal. In the process of revising the City’s plan the importance of the public realm emerged from the discussion about improving the economy. It was noticeable, I thought, in his illustrations that the population of the West End has not changed nearly as much as the growth in Yaletown, Gastown and SE False Creek. He stressed that the current review of downtown transit was not just about the #5 but better service to these newly grown areas. Bus routes 5/6 are pretty much the same as the original streetcar routes.

Brain Mills stressed that Translink’s mandate went beyond transit – though as he spoke he put up a slide showing a graphic of a diesel bus on the #5 route. He said that transit was an extension of walking and went through the process of the Downtown Service Review. It will not be until early next year that they will be ready to evaluate alternative networks and he stated that they will be consulting the public at that time. [I do not think anybody was listening when he said that.]

He listed what they had heard so far from their consultations to date

  • bus service to the Roundhouse area
  • a Robson route that serves the whole street end to end: incorporating east from Granville to the stadiums
  • Service linking Yaletown and Gastown
  • Transit priority measures to improve reliability
  • Minimise detours
  • Improve service for major events (concerts and games at the stadiums)

The #5 route is in the top ten for boardings and productivity: 3.3 m a year, or 3,200 boardings per day per direction

Clarification from Adam Hyslop at Translink

The 3,200 value Brian Mills mentioned actually refers to the number of riders travelling through the 800 Block Robson on the #5 on a daily basis in each direction. The total boardings on the #5 are closer to 10,000/day on weekdays, as indicated in this pdf file  2012_BSPR_Route_5 from the 2013 Bus Service Performance Review.

Simon Jay read his presentation. He cited Gil Penalosa – and the importance of designing for those aged 8 and 80 if everyone was to be served properly – and the Where’s The Square competition. He stated that a survey showed that 60% of respondents supported ‘closing’ the 800 block of Robson to traffic, and he showed pictures of Picnurbia, Pop Rocks and Corduroy Road

Rerouting the #5 had caused confusion and introduced delays and difficulties for users. He saw that the future of the route was an opportunity not a threat. It was possible in many places for transit and pedestrians to share the same space while closing the street to other vehicles.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 2.55.45 PM

The room was almost full by this time and most of the speakers identified themselves as seniors and residents of the West End. They were nearly all apoplectic about the rerouting of the #5

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 2.58.10 PM

The majority of speakers wanted to voice their displeasure about the reroute which had imposed delay and inconvenience. they stressed that only people with limited mobility, who have difficulty coping with the gradients of the streets involved and the necessity of being close to their destination when they got off the bus could appreciate how bad the situation had been. They pointed out that the VSPN illustrations of what a shared space would look like had no seniors illustrated in them.

E40LFR 2129 Robson at Granville 2007_0827

I regret that I was sitting behind Voony when he raised three points which I could not hear. He has added them in the comments section with some additional commentary. I have copied and pasted them here.

1) cities are built around the transportation network and not the opposite way –
the Robson-Denman-Davie transit has been here since 1890~, when the west-end was pretty much still a forest, and has been resilient to all changes: people organized their life around it.

In fact it IS the motor of the change, and still is, see for example the latest West End Community Plan organized around the “West End” loop: Robson-Denman-Davie recognized as the “lifeline” of the West End.

There has been much more change around the downtown buses in their first 100 years, than in the last 20.

That was to relativize the need to overhaul the whole network

(2) You can’t single out a destination (e.g. the Art Gallery). In downtown, people come from anywhere and go to everywhere…so it is important to have a simple, legible network (route along corridor), a point the latest Downtown Service Review recognizes
I have mentioned that those principles were already stated in the 1975 downtown bus review, ( see here for a summary and the full copy. I should have mentioned Jarret Walker’s ‘Geometry of Transit’, but forgot it)

(3) That leads to the shared space concept to accomodate all that:
Granville doesn’t work well as a shared space, and we have to undertand why:
One explanation is there is 1000s buses on Granville/day creating a wall of buses

[I could not resist a bit of editing]

It was pointed out that it ought to be possible to reconfigure the public realm around Robson Square and to make increased use of both the plaza on Georgia Street as well as the lower level “down where the skating rink is”.

Skating at Robson Square

One older lady stated: “The number of times I need to visit Victoria’s Secret is very limited” . She has taken pictures of the 800 block during its closure and seldom has seen more than 30 people at a time there.

“Do you really need to close this block?”

“Couldn’t you just put the bean bags somewhere else?”

“You do not need one big Public Square but several smaller spaces.”

There was one senior, male, from the West End who pointed out to his peers that the concerns should also address matters pertinent to their children and grandchildren.

@vpsn slide of 800 block of Robson with buses and pedestrians. Would TransLink go for this? #sfups
Brent Granby

I put my hand up, of course. I felt I should stress that the meeting was not part of Translink’s route consultation, nor were any decisions imminent. I also pointed out that the detour of the #5 was actually determined by the trolley overhead. Someone else noted the absence of a just one switch which could have made a huge difference. I noted that Translink has electric hybrid buses as well as trolleybuses, but no-one seemed to have considered putting poles on them. It is not impossible to have a duo mode bus which could switch between wires and its own power without the operator leaving the driving seat. I also said that other cities have transit running through pedestrian areas. Given that the service frequency of the #5 is 7 minutes at best, it should not be difficult to come up with a design that allows for buses in a public realm.

It is also the case that everywhere else seems to manage to have pedestrian only streets as well as bus only lanes. Only Vancouver seems incapable of organizing these. Gil Penalosa’s talks show how 8 year olds were able to design public spaces where cars,  pedestrians, buses and cycles all had their own space. Can’t we?

UPDATE 3 April 2014

You can now see the results of the Translink’s work on redesign of the bus routes in Downtown and comment on them.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

In Chicago, a sophisticated new rail fare system that doesn’t work

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I was just going to tweet this story, but sometimes that limited number of characters just will not do.

The story can be found on Marketplace – not the CBC tv programme of the same name. This one is on National Public Radio.

The parallels to Translink’s Compass fare card are eerily similar. For start the contractor is the same one – Cubic. Marketplace also compares the system to Obamacare – where the web page to sign up for the new health care system was rushed into use long before it was ready for prime time. That seems to be the case in Chicago too.  And, as here, the union is worried about how its members get the brunt of the passengers – sorry customers – complaints.

Last week, the transit union head demanded that the CTA hold off on the transition, until the kinks got worked out. He said his members were already getting cussed out by enough angry riders.

Are there lessons to be learned here or is the process here too far advanced? What does seem to be different is the management of the issue. The CTA is apologizing – and it is not paying Cubic until the system is actually working properly. And the old system is staying in place until it does. Translink has acknowledged that the beta testing showed up some issues – and others – like the pay cash as well as buy a ticket “solution” for the lack of swipe reader on the gates problem – are simply ignored. The user is simply told to get with the program.

I think our real problem was that gates on SkyTrain/Canada Line/SeaBus were never actually necessary – but Translink staff have been eager to get away from 3 zones to pay by distance and added smart cards to what was already a seriously flawed concept. There are ways to introduce new fare media and systems that are both graceful and flexible. Chicago learned the hard way why those qualities should not be ignored. Will Translink learn the same lesson the same way?

One very odd feature about the story – the headline identifies Ventra as a “new rail fare system” but the story is illustrated by a picture of a bus.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 7, 2013 at 8:43 am

Elections in Washington doom Vancouver, and the planet

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There is much celebration to the south of us. In their state and local elections, despite huge expenditures, the coal merchants were unable to get the result they wanted. “Bad news for Big Coal in Whatcom County” is the headline in the Seattle PI.

In a nationally watched county election, a slate of four Whatcom County Council candidates, backed by conservation groups and the Democratic Party, took the lead over pro-development, Republican-aligned opponents. The county is a key battleground over whether Western Washington will become home to a huge coal-export terminal.

And this got tweeted as “Big coal can’t even buy an election these days”. This also got picked up by the Sierra Daily in a piece headed “Coal Train to Nowhere

Understandably given local concerns over coal dust and its health impacts it seems likely that the export of more coal to China through Cherry Point is not going to happen.

“The coal industry is in a death spiral,” Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute said to Connelly. “They cannot even buy an election right now.”

I think he is being a bit short sighted. While this is a triumph for people over corporations – if the votes continue to go this way – Big Coal is not going to give up. It simply takes the trains from the Powder River a little bit further. Over border to Port Metro Vancouver. There are no concerns about local accountability here. No-one who has to run for an election here has any ability to stop the coal trains. And the Port only has to meet the needs of shippers. It has no obligations at all to the local community. Indeed Prairie provinces have more influence than the Mayor of Surrey, say. So while her council objects to coal trains that has no effect at all.

The additional costs of a slightly longer train journey to Surrey Fraser Docks are unlikely to deter Warren Buffet. He doesn’t need to buy any politicians here. The Port is positively salivating at the extra business. They will do his bidding happily and ignore whatever protests there might be as the Directors are secure in their positions. The federal government has abandoned any pretence at trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and anyway these count against the country where the coal is burned. It matters not at all to Stephen Harper that we are headed for a 2℃ increase in global temperatures – because his only concern is his own re-election. Coal trains through White Rock will have no measurable impact on that.