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

Trip report: Victoria

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It was my 66th birthday, and we decided to celebrate by taking a trip to Victoria. My partner had not been on a trip in a float plane. They do not fly at night, and anyway we had tickets for the Cultch on Friday night, so we left on Saturday morning in bright sunshine, with not a cloud in the sky.

Mount Baker from the floatplane

This was taken with my phone. A Canon A1400 PowerShot is a neat little point and shoot, but boy does it ever chew through its 2 AA batteries. I had spares in my bag, but that gets stowed at the back on a float plane, not under the seat.

Harbour Air Victoria terminal

Mostly we walked around Victoria, but we did take the bus out to the Belfry Theatre on Saturday night. The Transit app on my phone worked brilliantly, as long as we had access to wifi. Victoria does have free wifi on part of Government Street, but the quality is highly variable.

Scan 10

We noticed that BC Transit still uses paper transfers, and that buses do not have an on board display of the next stop: operators and other passengers were happy to help. We had to get a taxi back to our James Bay hotel, as the bus had stopped running by then. There is, apparently, no shortage of cabs in Victoria on a Saturday night. By the way, most passengers seemed to use passes, which they swiped through the reader on the top of the farebox. Cash fare is $2.50, no discount for seniors using cash, but equally nothing extra for the express bus all the way out to Swartz Bay.

BCT 9510

I used to work in Victoria for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, which was then in the Jack Davis Building on Blanshard Street.

The Jack Davis Building

There is nothing on that building now to indicate who is using it. Across the street, where the Bay used to be is now a condo development, which has retained the frontage and has a public market on the ground floor which is something I strongly recommend you include if you visit.

Formerly The Bay now The Hudson

I am sure if we had been staying longer we would have used Farm Food To Go. What sets markets like this apart is that the people behind the counter actually welcome the opportunity to talk. There was, for instance, a man running a chocolate stall who was not so much a salesman as a  missionary. I still cannot understand why we did not actually buy any of his remarkable varieties of chocolate. Probably the “too many choices” problem.

Moon Under Water

There are plenty of microbreweries and brewpubs in Victoria – and many of the longer established ones have been shipping products to Vancouver for some time. Moon Under Water was new to me – and the bus driver. Unfortunately many breweries suffer due to our weird planning system – which treats them as industrial activities, and this puts them out of the way of the average visitor.


Spinnakers  has been established longer than anyone else, and will probably be where we choose to stay for the next trip – whenever that is. It has an unbeatable location – only a short Water Bus ride across the harbour for us, and a local told us of the phone number to call that gets you in touch with one of the skippers, who will get a boat to you to pick you up, if you cannot see one in the vicinity.

Victoria Harbour Ferry

By the way next week is Victoria Beer Week March 7 – 15  “Nine days, twenty two events, 43 breweries, infinite joy”

The trip back on Monday was intended to be more multi-modal than the way out, and a lot cheaper. BC Transit bus #70  to Swartz Bay, walk on to the ferry, then Translink bus #620 to Bridgeport and on to the Canada Line to King Edward and the #25 home. It will infuriate the No vote trolls who now pester me, but the trip was easy, quick and uneventful. The double deckers on the BC Transit #70 up the Pat Bay Highway are really good British made Alexander Dennis buses, with an unparalleled forward view from the front seats on the top deck.

Douglas and Yates

They have been designed to maximize seating, so the legroom is only just acceptable for me, and would be an issue for anyone taller. The buses are timed to meet the sailings to Tsawwassen – as well as the hours in between. The schedules are co-ordinated. Similarly when we arrived back on the mainland, there were two newish articulated buses waiting to take people to Ladner, Richmond and beyond. The #620 benefits from bus priority measures so even though there was only one lane northbound through the Massey Tunnel we were not held up at all. Though that would not be true for those who drove. North of the tunnel the highway was nearly empty, and of course the bus turns off before the queue for the Oak Street Bridge – and again the bus lanes work really well.

Coastal Celebration

I did find myself acting as a transit guide, even though there was a Coast Mountain employee at the ferry terminal looking after the line up. I recognise, of course, that when you get to a certain age, retaining information can be a problem, so mostly I was just reassuring. Our bus was packed but as a senior I got a courtesy seat – and the bus behind was operating on the load and go principle that I have also seen used at Horseshoe Bay. I do like the quiet of the new hybrid artics, but the view from the inward facing bench seat leaves a lot to be desired. But we made the whole trip with 30 minutes left on our transfers. Which I think is impressive but is pretty much par for the course on that run.

You can get a good idea of the value of time from this trip. Of course fares on the float plane vary by day and time of day – and you could save a buck or so by taking the bus. This is cost per person for our trip including tax, fees and charges

Car2go home to harbour $4.36
Harbour Air to Victoria $176

Travel time door to door ~1 hour

Bus Victoria – Swartz Bay $2.50
Ferry to Tsawwassen $16.25
Transit to Home (3 zones) $5.50

Travel time ~4 hours

There is an option we did not take, which is Pacific Coach Lines, where the bus is loaded on to the ferry: downtown to downtown that costs $40 (not including the ferry) or $30.95 for BC Residents or Seniors both subject to GST. At the time we travelled this was only available for the 09:00, 11:00 and 17:00 sailings. That includes wifi on the bus.

I have to say that even when I was standing next to the computer desks I was unable to use the wifi on the ferry, but it was good in the terminals.

We stayed at the Oswego Hotel and got a deal booking a few days before departure with Hipmunk. Their wifi was the only issue: you have to keep logging in, and at one point we were not allowed on. I found myself talking to a Bell customer service rep rather than the front desk as they needed an IP address or MAC number for each device. Harrumph. It is quite a well located “boutique” hotel with a decent restaurant – but I am not sure how long that will continue. Over breakfast on Monday morning we overheard what sounded like an audit interview from a prospective chain. I have a nasty feeling that they are going to be swallowed by a franchise operation – which would be very sad. Currently it has a very nice individual feel: it would be shame if it swapped that for corporate blandness.

For three whole days I ignored both twitter and facebook and only went online for local information.  I needed a break from the the relentless campaign – which seems to have swallowed me whole even though I am not actually part of it. For one thing, the No side trolls are making life …. prickly. Take a look at what Gordon Price found about how the No side works. It is also worth taking a look at this Salon article about how three major US transit systems are failing   –

The great transit systems of the Eastern Seaboard are in crisis.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is operating a subway system strained by record ridership and storm damage, where the increasing regular delays have been supplemented by a series of recent snafus that have stranded tens of thousands of New Yorkers. A meager capital funding plan is in limbo, threatening the progress of long-awaited projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

In Washington, ridership on Metrorail is down 11 percent since 2009. Mechanical failures smoked straphangers out of underground stations on three occasions… last weekend alone. In January, a third-rail malfunction near the National Mall caused a smoke-storm that killed one woman and sent 84 commuters to the hospital.

And in Boston, a record month of snow has spawned a transportation catastrophe with few modern equivalents. “It’s like a war, we’re taking this back station by station, line by line, switch by switch,” said T chief Beverly Scott. Some parts of the system were shut for days; replacement buses, when they ran at all, created block-long lines in the cold. The city’s tempo shifted into half-time.

These are, respectively, the largest, second-largest and fourth-largest rapid transit networks in the country. And despite their differences, they have a couple things in common. First, each of the three agencies shows a streak of incompetence that irritates and frightens commuters. Second, all three networks suffer from a worrisome lack of political and financial support.

As Boston’s recent debacle illustrates, it can be hard to sift the pebbles of internal mismanagement from the vast sands of disinvestment.

Some of that is extreme weather – but a lot is lack of investment. Which is not just confined to transit of course. It seems to be the hallmark of the Republican approach to government: cut or refuse to raise taxes, spend hugely on the military and prisons but ignore nearly everything else. Then look surprised when bridges start falling down. John Oliver does a good job of explaining what could well become our story too, if the No side wins. Listen to what the callers say when a gas tax increase is suggested. Sound familiar?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Posted in personal thoughts

Tagged with ,

7 Responses

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  1. I think the bus # you identify as 640 is 620. Good reporting and information.

    Jeffrey P.

    March 3, 2015 at 4:32 pm

  2. Good catch. Thank you.

    Stephen Rees

    March 3, 2015 at 4:33 pm

  3. Lander = Ladner, Brighouse should be Bridgeport

    I had the same experience Horseshoe Bay – Langdale on Sunday – once we pulled away from the dock, the wi-fi failed.

    Marc Erickson

    March 3, 2015 at 8:09 pm

  4. I could have sworn I had corrected those solecisms earlier. I do not understand how they survive

    Stephen Rees

    March 3, 2015 at 8:47 pm

  5. The Yes side has students in many stations, asking you to sign for yes, as it where. Unfortunately they haven’t been trained to argue with a NO sayer…

    For example, when the later complain over the transLink CEO outrageous salary…and compare it to the leaner salaries of the CEO of Toronto transit commission, of the Sound transit CEO etc..
    BUT there is only one Translink in charge of most of the transit in Metro-Vancouver, while there are 5 OTHER transit authorities in the Central Puget Sound besides Sound Transit..each with their CEO, board etc. Same in the Greater Toronto…(10 different authorities I think..)

    Click to access Regional_Transit_Coordination.pdf

    Of course they could–should–do what the transit authorities in the Region of Lyon just did at long last…There is now only ONE transit authority…
    At the same time 22 regions in Metropolitan France (out of the 27 in the French Republic) are shrinking to 13 regions…
    Thought it is not a done deal yet, as there are a lot of unhappy people. These 22 regions were the modern versions of the pre-1789 provinces, many of them with a long history of fighting with the French (think Scotland and Wales versus England)

    All of a sudden there are now staff in various SkyTrain stations with bright green vests “customers something–service? I tend to forget things I dislike–
    Just yesterday I saw 2 tourists ask for the washroom in the Waterfront station. The “helpers” knew there was none, but they didn’t know that there was one in the food floor of the Harbour center.
    I told the tourists and the TransLink helpers…the later knew that the Harbour center was somewhere outside… some helpers!

    Re your batteries…it might not work for you, but I found years ago that the battery on my Panasonic Lumix died quickly–like within a day– if I left the camera on, even in energy saving mode. Shutting it off when not taking photos for a few minutes to a longer time kept the battery loaded for days and days

    Red frog

    March 3, 2015 at 10:39 pm

  6. Stephen wrote: “A Canon A1400 PowerShot is a neat little point and shoot, but boy does it ever chew through its 2 AA batteries.”

    I love my AA battery cameras, but they come with a caveat – do NOT use standard non-rechargeable Alkaline batteries. These batteries have a ridiculously short life in gear with a high current drain like digital cameras. Buy rechargeable NiMH batteries instead, and for best results look for the low self-discharge type (which can usually be identified by packaging which says “pre-charged”). These have the great advantage that they will keep their charge for a year or more without having to be recharged. Not to mention that rechargeable batteries are “greener” than disposables. I’ve regularly gotten 400 to 500 shots per charge out of these types of batteries.

    If you’re going on a trip with no opportunity for recharging the batteries, you can buy non-rechargeable “Lithium” batteries (NOT the same as rechargeable Lithium-Ion), which have extraordinary lifespan. These have given me over 2,000 pictures per pair.

    Sean Nelson

    March 4, 2015 at 2:28 am

  7. Thanks for the battery advice. I do have some rechargable AA batteries left over from the days when I used a Canon S2 for real estate photography. They have been lying around unused for over five years and I think must have deteriorated in that time. They will now get replaced.

    Stephen Rees

    March 4, 2015 at 8:26 am

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