Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 20th, 2013

The Future

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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

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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

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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