Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for November 2013

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

with 2 comments

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

leave a comment »

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.