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

Archive for January 2015

Taxi Disruption

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The first City Conversation of the New Year featured Peter Ladner of Business in Vancouver and Mohan Kang of the BC Taxi Association. It was sparked by the recent attempt of Uber to set up in Vancouver, which was quickly squashed. However, Uber is not the only actor who wants to see something change in mobility provision here. Indeed many who favour change hope that there will be a better alternative to Uber.  There was someone video recording the meeting – and taking photos –  but I cannot see where on the SFU website these meetings get archived. Perhaps you can help me.

Yellow Cab 234

Peter Ladner opened by saying he was not an expert in the field but of course he has editorialised about it. He opened by talking about a recent trip to Grouse Mountain where he saw an empty bus, three idle cars2go and a sign for car sharing. He said that the waste of car seats in the line up of cars is absurd and could be easy to deal with through new technology. He cited the new Helsinki app, Moovel (Daimler) and Park Together as examples. Uber is “just the most prominent and the most ugly – ruthless, aggressive and unethical.” Uber is aiming for a monopoly and will also take aim at transit. “Do we need protection through regulation?” he asked. He cited examples like Hitch Planet and Airbnb to show how they have managed to build trust. He thought that increasing the use of ride sharing would have community benefits through better mobility access and “microjobs”. On the other hand with Uber there could be a race to the bottom.

Big Yellow Taxi by C4Chaos

big yellow taxi @ gastown by c4chaos on flickr

Mohan Kang explained that his association is a non profit that represents the 140 taxi companies that serve BC but not the four that serve downtown Vancouver. [Black Top, McClures, Vancouver and Yellow]  Uber represents a good idea but they have gone the wrong way about it. Taxis are not the only service that is regulated. He cited doctors and dentists as an example of a service that needs regulation, and deals effectively to restrain unregistered practitioners. Uber has no requirements of drivers other than a post 2004 four door car and a driver’s license. Taxi drivers must have training, a special license, much more insurance than other drivers (at a cost of $20,000 a year) and pass a course at the Justice Institute. They are also subject to a criminal record check before they can get a chauffeur’s license and must have their taxi inspected every six months. A new accessible van costs $45,000 and can only be operated as a taxi for six years before it is replaced. He said the industry is effectively subsidizing accessible taxis. Uber will not provide services to those with disabilities, without cell phones and credit cards and will not take cash or taxi savers. “If we don’t need regulation for taxis, then we don’t need it for day cares – or building construction.” Regulation is necessary to protect the public. Taxis by their constant presence on the street save lives and can report incidents to the police as they happen. BCTA has been part of the Amber Alert system for ten years.

The first participant said that she would not feel comfortable getting into a stranger’s car, but felt safe in a taxi. The second said that he had used Uber in Los Angeles for seven rides and felt that the system was safe and convenient. He compared their prompt and efficient service with a recent experience in Vancouver when a taxi took 25 minutes to arrive – and showed him 200 ride requests waiting on the system. This was, of course, a Friday evening.

I was the third participant and rehearsed some of what I have been writing on this blog on this topic. Mr Kang responded to the discussion by stating that the BCTA has never contributed to any political party. He also said that the Passenger Transport Board does not show any favour to the industry and has issued additional licenses in recent years ( e.g. Garden City cabs in Richmond). He was asked are more cabs desirable? Is the industry over regulated? Could taxi fares come down? He responded that the fares are determined by the Passenger Transportation Board [using a cost of service index]. “Prices cannot be lowered”. Recent changes permit some suburban cabs to pick up in downtown Vancouver on Friday and Saturday night. But at 02:00 on Saturday (when the bars close) the peak in demand for cabs cannot be met economically by adding more taxi licences – as the service is not needed at other times. Surge Pricing on Uber was said to deal with this problem by encouraging more cars to come into the market at that time. Regulations currently forbid suburban taxis that have come into Vancouver from picking up, and have to return to their home municipality empty.

Hilary Hennegar of Modo said that the taxi industry is a public service which has been important to supplement accessible services after HandyDART was cut. She felt that there were better examples than Uber such as Seoul, South Korea that has booted Uber and set up their own system. She thought that a co-operative approach was possible rather than a predatory one. Vancouver should develop its own sharing economy.

McClures taxis at Granville Island

Benn Proctor has produced his Masters’ Thesis which is an unbeatable source of information on “Assessing and Reforming Vancouver’s Taxi Regulations”. It was observed that each car share takes ten cars off the road: car share reduces car ownership.

There were concerns over the use of the data collected by Uber which could create issues over privacy. Boston MA is using Uber data to study trip making.

Michael Geller stated that “the taxi system is broken”. He thought the value of taxi licenses on the secondary market reason enough for intervention. While the BCTA may not make political donations, taxi company proprietors (i.e. license owners) are very generous to all candidates. [As a reality check I can state authoritatively that no taxi company offered me any money when I was a candidate. Perhaps that is just an indication of how realistic taxi operators were about my chances of election. ]  We are moving to a society where young people do not have driver’s licenses let alone own cars. We have to have more choices, and the taxi industry must address their ridiculous 4pm shift change. The more we can reduce the need to own a car the better we will do.

Peter Ladner pointed to the mytaxi app and suggested that the automobile industry is ‘waking up’ to the reality of lower car ownership.

Michael Anderson stated that this meeting had been “City Conversations at its best”.

taxi by K. Yasuhara on flickr

taxi by K. Yasuhara on flickr

POSTSCRIPT
Somebody sitting near me was talking to the person next to him, before the meeting began, about shared ride vans in Africa. I had heard about these but this morning someone tweeted the link to a piece on Next City on the tro-tro in Accra, Ghana. This includes commentary from Uber

Shared ride, legal and unregulated vans also operate in a number of US cities, where conventional transit and regulated taxis are both inadequate. There is also a trial ride share program at SFU.

The Vancouver Sun reports that the additional weekend taxis so far authorised have made no difference but even so the four Vancouver companies have managed to put them on hold – again – and seem likely to continue to block any efforts to reduce waiting times on Friday and Saturday nights.

Read Michael Geller’s take on this meeting in the Vancouver Courier

February 4 – some more data on the quality of taxi service in Vancouver

Written by Stephen Rees

January 15, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Transportation

Tagged with , , ,

“Bad News for P3 Loving BC Liberals”

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The Tyee opinion piece is based in a report that went to the government just before Christmas. This blog has long been a critic, not just of P3s in principle, but also the way that Partnerships BC is supposed to work.

“There is a concern that Partnerships B.C. is potentially biased towards certain procurement methodologies because it is mandated to be both a self-sustaining organization and an advisor to government. This creates the perception that Partnerships B.C.’s advice may be biased towards revenue generating opportunities for the organization.”

You can read the press release which carries its own naturally laudatory title “Crown review finds Partnerships BC fulfilling its mandate” or the Partnerships BC Crown Review Report:

http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/ocg/ias/pdf_docs/Review%20of%20PBC.pdf

and the Steering Committee Recommendations Letter:
http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/ocg/ias/pdf_docs/PBC%20Steering%20Committee%20Recommendations.pdf

But actually I think just reading the Tyee is more likely to steer you right: for instance

While the report specifically says it did not examine the methodology that justifies the use of P3s, some of its findings touch on this methodology. For example, Partnerships B.C. says it bases its decision on whether or not to use a P3 by comparing the cost of a P3 with a public sector comparator. However, PBC frequently uses what it considers to be the most expensive possible method of public procurement (Design/Bid/Build), ignoring less expensive methods of public procurement such as Design/Build, which even the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (C2P3) considers public procurement.

In a final irony, the report itself may be a conflict of interest. Partnerships B.C. is a private company owned by the Ministry of Finance, thus the Ministry of Finance is reviewing its own agency which raises its own conflict of interest issues.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Pushing the button

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Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers is making a big fuss about the number of times CMBC bus drivers push the button which records “fare not paid”. He thinks that the loss of fare revenue is such a big issue that it justifies voting NO in the upcoming referendum. You can’t trust Translink, he says.

I thought it might be helpful to actually work out what the size of the problem might be – something that Travis Lupick has a shot at in the article I linked to above but fails to make clear. The Average Fare on Translink was $1.86 in 2012 (Source: Translink) and the size of the business (according to Lupick’s article) $1.41 billion. 2,762,363 button pushes multiplied by $1.86 is a revenue loss of $5,137,995.10. It looks like a big number but it is 0.36% of the amount needed to cover Translink’s expenses.

So according to Jordan Bateman we should not try to increase transit spending in this region because Translink records a 0.36% revenue loss from fare evasion on its bus operations. Actually a lot of button pushing does not happen, especially on the 99 B Line which has all door loading. So maybe the revenue loss is closer to 0.5%. Big deal.

By the way, this is the same Jordan Bateman who was once a Langley Councillor and an advocate of transit expansion.

UPDATE

 

I just had a phone call from Jeff Nagel to talk about this post. This allowed me to discuss my “moment d’escalier” – the thoughts I had after I posted. What I ought to have written in the first place.

The amount of money that Translink loses to fare evasion is NOT the biggest issue facing us. If fare evasion could be entirely eliminated the problem of transit in this region would remain. There is not enough transit service to meet existing needs, let alone what we will need over the next twenty years to meet the increase in population – and the increasing preference for people here and coming here to have a more and better choices than driving everywhere for everything. Concentrating on fare evasion was what lead to the Compass/Faregates fiasco. Far more is being spent than than will be recovered once the system is actually implemented. And that is not Translink’s choice – it was one imposed by the province.

The scale of fare evasion needs to be viewed in terms of what is needed to cover the cost of operating the entire system. So that is why my shorthand expression of percentage of revenue loss is expressed that way – and not as how much gets collected by bus fareboxes. Because we have an integrated transit system – people use buses to get to SkyTrain – or ride SkyTrain and then transfer to a bus to get to their destination if you prefer. All door loading was introduced on the 99 B-Line as a way to improve service. Most people on that bus have U Passes or other tickets: they are regular commuters, so they are not about to use cash to pay a fare. And the fare media were not even designed to go through the farebox. And even those who do use Compass cards may not be getting counted. But that does not matter very much. There is no realistic, economical way to check the fare media validity of every rider for  every part of their trip and it does not look like a completely functional Compass system will be able to do that either.

In exactly the same way, the insistence on audits, or the fuss about executive pay, does nothing to address the critical lack of adequate funding for transit expansion. And a half per cent on sales tax in the region is at best a stop gap – and not a real substitute for an adequate funding system. The value of Greater Vancouver to the BC economy means that the people who live outside the region ought to be part of the solution. Just as people in Greater Vancouver help pay for transit in Prince George – and bridges in Kelowna. I do not like the regional sales tax idea and I think the current referendum is wrong headed. But that does not mean I support voting No. That is just shooting ourselves in the foot.

We have to stop giving Jordan Bateman, The CTF and the Fraser Institute so such attention. They are like climate change deniers, howling at the moon. We have serious problems and we need serious people to deal with them. Jordan Bateman has no interest at all in those problems or how to solve them.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 7, 2015 at 8:24 am

Posted in Fare evasion, fares

Tagged with ,

Automatic Number Plate Recognition

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I have on numerous occasions on this blog recommended that speed limit enforcement needs to be upgraded. The BC Liberals, under Gordon Campbell, got rid of photo radar in response their supporters claims that the program was a “cash grab”. No satisfactory examination was conducted on its impact on road safety – so far as I am aware. I have often suggested that Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) be used to detect vehicles that travel lengths of road at speeds far above the posted speed limit. ANPR is already used for various travel surveys – such as turning movements through an intersection. My information of course is based on my knowledge and experience which is now very much out of date. When ANPR is used with current data processing techniques its impact is far reaching.

I would still like to see something much more effective being done to reduce the daily experience of seeing most cars on most roads exceeding the speed limit with impunity. But I must admit that reading “How Britain Exported Next-Generation Surveillance” was an eye opener for me.  There is nothing in the article that refers to Canada. But as we saw from the tv news coverage of the attack on Parliament Hill, and many other news stories, there is a lot of surveillance going on here. There was also that appeal for people to look at cctv videos of people who took part in the Stanley Cup riot in downtown Vancouver.

A lot of what has been introduced since September 11, 2001 in the name of security has been very intrusive and arguably not very effective. As the Matter article notes, much of the apparent success of the ANPR system has been due to sheer luck or other  investigative techniques. But in Canada police surveillance of law abiding protests, and tracking of people labelled “extremists” simply because they express a preference for clean air, drinkable water, nutritious food and a livable planet is already a legitimate concern.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm