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

Archive for the ‘ferries’ Category

That new bridge

with 34 comments

I apologize for driving you to a paywalled article. Francis Bula is reporting on what Geoff Freer (executive project director for the Massey project) says about replacing the tunnel and why transit won’t meet that “need”

60 per cent of the commuters are travelling to Richmond or Surrey, the U.S. border or the ferries – so are unlikely to use transit anyway.

The chutzpah of this statement takes one’s breath away.

It is not as if the Canada Line was not already changing travel patterns in Richmond. And the introduction of useful inter-regional connections to the transit system (over many years since it was entirely focussed on downtown Vancouver) with direct service to Metrotown and Newton shows that when the transit system actually looks at how people are moving, as opposed to used to move, even ordinary bus services can be successful. When I first arrived in Richmond and had to commute to Gateway in Surrey I initially tried the #410. Then it was infrequent, with a huge one way loop through Richmond wand was always very lightly loaded. Over the years it has become one of the busiest bus services in Richmond and the only one in the Frequent Transit Network.

The other huge change was when Translink backed off the long held belief  that it ought not to compete with Pacific Stage Lines and run a direct bus between the ferry at Tsawwassen and downtown Vancouver. The new service they introduced initially required a transfer to the B-Line at Airport Station, and now requires a transfer to the Canada Line at Bridgeport. It coincided with increased vehicle fares on the ferry so that walk-on traffic grew exponentially. (BC Transit had long met ferries with an express bus from Swartz Bay to downtown Victoria). The #620 now requires articulated buses and frequent relief vehicles. Just like the express bus to Horseshoe Bay.

Artic unloads at Bridgeport

As for cross border services, it would be easy to set up a “walk across the line service” at Peace Arch, with connections to Bellingham. There are just much more pressing priorities – mostly getting students to post secondary institutions thanks to UPass. But bus service across the line has seen significant commercial traffic with both Bolt bus and Quick Shuttle in head to head competition. Some of the casinos down there run their own shuttles too. The best thing that has happened so far on this route has been the introduction of a morning Amtrak train departure for Seattle.

What is actually needed is transportation planning that looks at the future pattern of development in the region, and integrates land use planning to meet population growth and travel needs. Strangely the desire of Port Authority for deeper draft for vessels in the Fraser River is not the first and foremost consideration. Port expansion is not a driver of economic growth. It is path towards calamity, since it is driven by the desires of a few very rich people to export yet more fossil fuel at a time when anyone with any sense recognizes that we as a species have no choice but to leave the carbon in the ground.

I think that one of the great benefits of rail transit development would be protection of the last bits of highly productive agricultural land left after the ruinous performance of the BC Liberals to date. People riding on trains get fast frequent service through areas which see no development at all, because it is concentrated around the stations. What part of Transit Oriented Development do you NOT understand, Mr Freer? Expand the freeway and sprawl follows almost inevitably.

Trains like this one serve the region beyond the Ile de France, and provide fast direct services for longer distances. The much faster TGV serves the intercity market.

It is perhaps a bit hard for people here to understand the idea of fast frequent electric trains that are not subways or SkyTrain, but they are a feature of most large city regions – even in America. As we saw in yesterday’s post even LA is bringing back the interurban. West Coast Express is not a good model as it only serves commuting to downtown on weekdays. All day every day bi-drectional service demands dedicated track – or at least the ability to confine freight movements to the hours when most people are asleep.

New Jersey Transit provides statewide services to the suburbs and exurbs of the New York region

Transit to Delta and South Surrey has to be express bus for now, just because there is so much catch up in the rest of the region. But in the longer term, really good, fast, longer distance electric trains – which can actually climb quite steep grades equivalent to roads over bridges – must be part of planning how this region grows. It requires a bit better understanding of the regional economy than just assuming that somehow coal and LNG exports will secure our future, when they obviously do no such thing.

The Airport and The Ferries

with 15 comments

Two quite different modes – and the same issue.

The BC Liberals are currently sitting on their hands about the Macatee report on BC Ferries – which ought to make Vaughan Palmer’s exit interview with David Hahn worth watching. (Voice of BC Shaw Cable only 8pm tonight). The policy has been for the corporation to move to user pay – which means that fares have risen, and at the same time loadings have fallen. The corporation now says it needs to cut service to make the books balance – which some people might think would reduce use further, but the corporation points to empty ferries on supposedly socially necessary services.

I was thinking about doing another ferry piece – but maybe I’ve written all I have to say on that – when the news broke of the President of YVR talking to the Board of Trade announcing increased user fees to pay for yet more airport expansion. YVR also has a commercial remit – and has been steadily expanding since it was cut loose by the feds.

Mr. Berg said the “geographical advantage” that YVR has traditionally had, of being the closest, major West Coast terminal to Asia, is being rapidly eroded as new technology gives jets greater range.

Flights can now go direct to Asia from as far east as Toronto and Chicago, he said, showing a map that illustrated how jets arc over the polar region to drop down into a growing number of airports in China.

“With new aircraft and navigational technology, a lot more cities are accessible from Asia today. And these cities have figured out what YVR’s founders knew. Serving as a gateway can bring vast economic benefits to their communities … this [is a] dramatically different competitive landscape than we [faced] 20 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Berg said Edmonton is opening 12 new international gates next month and Calgary is building a new runway and 22 new gates for 2015.

“Neither Calgary nor Edmonton has the passenger traffic to fill those gates today – so guess whose traffic they are looking at?” he said.

Mr. Berg said YVR, which last year was named North America’s best airport at the World Airport Awards in Copenhagen, is fighting back.

But is raising fees the way to win more passengers? I will say that the airport is now much better than when the new arrangements were introduced, and when I visit other places, the contrast to the airport I departed from is usually very instructive. Not many places, for instance, offer free wifi all over the terminal. There is indeed a wider range of food available – but that I think is mostly because so many airlines now charge for airline food, an it is usually much better to buy before you board, not just on price but quality. That being said, the pulled pork sandwich on a fresh baguette I bought at Cancun Airport was better than anything I have eaten at YVR. And I carried half it onto the plane since it was so large, even though on an international flight food is provided at no extra charge. (On Air Transat the wine was free too, even if they did spill most of it on my nice clean khakis.)

Nothing is reported about the expected impact of airport expansion on the environment which might be a bit odd given that this weekend there is to be a protest about the jet fuel pipeline the airport’s fuel supplier wants to build across Richmond.  Other places – like London – have had to look further afield as local protests have stopped expansion i.e. the new proposed new runway at Heathrow. Generally we seem to be remarkably quiet about the impact of YVR. The last major set of complaints I can recall prior to the fuel pipeline coming from some new residents of Richmond who ought to have realized that they were buying property under a flight path.

But the similarity of Han’s and Berg’s approach to their respective jobs – only commercial results matter – make the user pay more should surely have similar results. What the Edmonton and Calgary expansions will do is enable people from those places to make direct flights rather than change planes. Indeed, we seem to be back in the transit debate territory about the inconvenience of transfers and the need for a one seat ride. But in the airline business, the original ploy of making everyone fly through a hub was quite quickly countered with airlines that flew smaller, cheaper to operate planes on direct flights. Indeed on sites like hipmunk you can readily see how competition for your business stacks up  using an indicator they call “agony”. The direct flight moves to the top even if it isn’t cheapest.

I am not at all sure that it is just the airport you leave from that decides the route – but certainly the airport operators at Abbotsford and Bellingham recognize that for a growing number of people having an alternative to YVR is attractive. I look at the border line ups, additional driving/bus or train ride and probable additional hotel night for an early morning flight as being significant deterrents to using SEATAC – but obviously if there is enough trade to fill a direct bus service, enough people disagree with me.

The other phrase that popped into my mind was the one that was used when Britain decided to nationalize parts of its transportation system “wasteful competition”. If we really are facing a continuing economic depression in North America, and pressures on airlines for reduce their environmental impact continue (such as the EU’s imposition of a carbon fee on jet fuel)  the airports could be competing for a static or even shrinking market. So those user fees could be paying for under utilized facilities.

Maybe I just pick times to fly when the planes are cheap, but I am not aware of any congestion at YVR right now. And quite often when I do find myself through the security theatre and with time on my hands, I tend to notice that most of the shops and services are in fact closed. So they may well be priced at the same level as places in town – or even offer things I can’t buy there (at one time book publishers would have things in airport bookshops long before the local stores) but if they aren’t open, my wallet will also stay closed.

For flights within BC the fee remains the same. And an extra $5 on the sort of money that has to be paid these days for longer haul flights may well not register with users. After all, the amount for fees and taxes now usually exceeds the quoted fare. And people are willing to pay more for better, more convenient services. But even so, it seems to me that Berg could be making the same mistake that Hahn did. Except YVR answers to no-one, unlike BC Ferries, which was supposed to be independent but turned out not to be.

UPDATE  31 Jan     It is well worth reading Bill Tieleman’s opinion piece in today’s Tyee

Written by Stephen Rees

January 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

Ferry Fares

with 51 comments

Vaughan Palmer has another big think piece in the Sun today “Opinion: Fares are the albatross around the neck of new BC Ferries boss”

Queen of Surrey

It is, as one has come to expect, thorough and thoughtful. But there is a very surprising omission. The issue as he states is the fares are too high and that if fares were reduced then usage would increase which would increase revenue. But nowhere in the article can I find the term “fares elasticity” or any discussion about what effect changes in fares have had – or might have – in quantified terms.

As it happens, this has been one of the things that, as a transportation economist, I spent a lot of time working on. It is not at all simple and straightforward – few things in life are. Perhaps not quite as difficult to model as the Higgs Boson – but close – but at least we know that fares elasticity actually exists. The jury is still out on the boson. And the fares elasticity for BC Ferries has indeed been the subject of a recent, thorough and objective study by InterVistas for the Ferry Commisioner (that’s a pdf file you might want to save for future reference).

On Page 19 the elasticity for the major routes is stated to be

  • Ferry demand depends on the price of ferry services, with a price elasticity of roughly -0.28.
  • Ferry demand depends on GDP growth (or reduction) with an elasticity of roughly +0.21.
  • No discernable impact of population on ferry demand is apparent, at least with this data set.
  • The seasonality effect in the total ferry traffic is strong and significant. It dominates the model.Seasonality alone explains 99% of the variation in the quarterly data.

And then the report goes on to examine the other routes

At this stage, I am not going to get into the analysis, except to make a couple of observations. All economic forecasts are based on the caveat “other things being equal” and in real life they never are. Secondly, the consultants were looking at the potential revenue from fare increases i.e how much usage is lost when the price goes up. Elasticities cannot be assumed to be symmetrical. For an order of magnitude estimates, they are not bad, but people react differently to a price cut than a price increase. That is due to the law of diminishing marginal returns – buying twice as much of something doesn’t make you twice as happy even if you got a two for one deal. The second thing you bought was not as rewarding to you as the first and thus not worth as much.

But even so, for an opinion piece in the Sun, and the ease of finding this information, Palmer’s questions can indeed be answered. Now, at this stage I am not going to get into the complexities of the ferry routes and what ought to happen. My point at the moment is the simple one: Palmer should have found this report and ought to have referenced it. But maybe, like me, he does not have the time at present to read the entire thing, or have the energy to actually work out for the new ferry CEO what the answers to these sums look like. But clearly they fall into the category of “known unknowns” right now.

Maybe, when I have a bit more time I can return to this subject, but I am surprised that I have not got more response on the ferry issue in general.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

BC Ferries new CEO

with one comment

Vaughan Palmer reports on the appointment of Mike Corrigan (David Hahn’s No 2) with a cut in pay and bonuses.

BC Ferries have always been a political football – just like transit – and the BC Liberals efforts to distance the corporation from “interference” has been a real mess, but one of their own ideological creation. Hahn was simply doing what was expected of him, and behaving like any private sector CEO does these days. Unsurprisingly, this incurred the wrath of the very same people who vote for the BC Liberals, but think that they are themselves a special case, when it comes to public sector cut backs.

Most of the adjustments to the pay package are expected and reasonable. Where I think the discussion gets interesting is when Corrigan describes the challenges

The main challenge,as he sees it, is to deal with the controversy over fare equity. Residents and businesses who rely on the service are bridling at what they see as too many fare increases in recent years. But most of the ferry costs are determined by matters beyond the control of the corporation.

The big three:

Fuel costs –three times higher than the worst case projection when Corrigan joined the company.

Staffing costs – determined by labour contracts and staffing levels set by Transport Canada.

Service levels – set by government contract and, despite utilization rates as low as 15 per cent on some of the smaller runs, highly sensitive to public protest at any hint of a reduction in services.

I think each of these requires some informed debate

Fuel costs – a big chunk of that is taxes. In other jurisdictions, transit and ferries are tax exempt, simply because they are also tax subsidized. It makes very little sense giving a public service entity public funds simply to claw them back again as taxes. This is more than just an accounting principle – and  in Canada is confounded by the ridiculous way that governments levy tax on tax. Actually in terms of total percentage of costs, fuel is nearly always a smaller percentage of the total than labour.

Labour contracts are not of course determined by the feds – this is just sloppy editing. However, Transport Canada does require that there are enough trained people on board to help passengers in case of a vessel sinking. And that is determined by the vessel capacity and not its occupancy. Wage rates, and other work conditions and benefits,  are determined by collective bargaining and the ferries are one of the few cases left where this is allowed to work. In most other public sector jobs, all kinds of pressures are being applied to “cut costs” i.e. reduce wages and benefits for the many in order to financially benefit the very few. Of course, the spin is all about the public interest and the virtue of balanced budgets. But the only reason that BC Ferries wages and befenefits now look generous is that the private sector has been busy rolling them back  – spurred on by deregulation and privatization (or the threat of it).

“Service Levels are set by government.”   This and the statement “utilization rates as low as 15 per cent on some of the smaller runs” are the Post Media talking points – and framed in a way that will get the predictable response from the readership. The 15% is a nice figure to fling around – especially in the absence of any context. Is that 15% on some sailings on the worst routes? Or is it a reasonable rounding of overall performance on all but the Mainland to Vancouver Island  routes? I suspect it is the former, but will be treated as the latter. And I suppose I really ought to go read some of the Ferry Commissioner’s reports as it is bound to be buried in there somewhere. I will leave that to the commenters I expect to attract. Fair warning though – if you cite figures I want chapter and verse and a URL. Opinion is free but facts are sacred.

It is the principle that is important. BC seems to be stuck with the notion that cross subsidy in ferries and transit is inevitable and necessary. It is also applied by the Passenger Transport Board to long distance bus services, but is noticeably failing to secure public service in sparsely populated areas. Of course, it is easier to defend cross subsidy applied in general to a range of services: that way you get a big enough vested interest cheering section. If you piece out each route, and determine a way to fairly allocate overhead costs (i.e. those common to providing any service at all) it is possible to produce data that allows some more informed debate about how much subsidy goes to each route – or even each passenger. It also make it possible for those who have a principled objection to every public service expenditure (“wasteful” “inefficient” “let the market decide”) to pick off each route in turn as they rise up the ranks of “most subsidized” and fall one by one to the axe.

We have seen a steady erosion of public services in general at the same time as we have seen a steady reduction in what we now call “middle class” real incomes. We can be blinded by the impact of new technologies, which has enabled the steady reduction of employment of people who were actually really needed to provide quality services. We have seen this in health and education – and of course arts and culture too. Everything has been cheapened and dumbed down to a marketable commodity. We have lost librarians and teacher’s assistants, care aides and conductors. Anyone who was there to help and make the experience worthwhile for everyone. Of course, this was painted as “necessary” – but in reality was only necessary if you accept the argument that greater inequality was a worthwhile objective. That the “bottom line” actually measured something that was worthwhile instead of all those intangibles that make the right wing so uncomfortable.

At the same time, public spending on arms and militaria, “crime and punishment” and, of course, new roads was pretty much ring fenced against the cuts.

Ferry service is critical to many small communities. Indeed, those in the interior that required a lake or river crossing were generally exempt. But the coastal communities were always marginalized. The right even glorified their treatment of “the heartland” – the large rural constituencies where votes count for more, and the right is usually confident of a safe seat.

For transit systems, the weapon of choice has always been some form of local taxation – usually one as regressive as possible. That has been used steadily to limit the amount of publicly supported service – and, in terms of limiting spending has been quite successful. The costs, of course, have been widespread, borne mostly by those least able to afford them and often quite hard to quantify. Especially when there is a lobby group dedicated to ensuring as much confusion as possible to defend the status quo – which happens to benefit them.

For ferries the lines of conflict are a bit blurrier – but they follow the same fault lines. The truly wealthy have their own means of getting around and do not line up for anything, let alone a ferry. They also like the idea that some places are beyond the reach of the common people and can become steadily more exclusive.

There have also been some rather salutary failures of the private sector in ferry services in BC. Mostly because they tried to “cream” a market that was already well stratified thanks to competition from other modes (helicopters and float planes).

My own view is uncomplicated by attachment to any of the places that are impacted. I have no special affection for them simply due to the accidents of my history. I have been to the Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island, but I have no ties to either. I think it would be useful to see a list of routes with a breakdown of costs and revenues, with ridership data. Indeed, I was quite surprised when such data emerged from Coast Mountain Bus Company, and was used in the discussions over how much the South of the Fraser pays – and benefits – for bus service. I think that since we all pay for the “under utilized” ferry routes, we ought to be shown this information. And we ought to be able to trust the source too, and not be subject to spin and presentation. The more someone is a “communications professional” in these matters, the more they should be treated with scepticism.

And yes, at the end of the day, it is a political decision – and there is nothing wrong with that. Provided we have a representative and responsible democracy. Since the subsidy comes from provincial taxes, it is quite proper that the leg in Victoria has the final word. And that there are open committee hearings to inform their decision making. It is when the political process is corrupted by special interests that we need to be alert.

The BC Liberals have  not ruled this province for the benefit of the entire population. Their track record is dismal and they have indeed lost the public’s trust. So any “reform” from them is of dubious value and unlikely to survive them now.  Mike simply has to hold on until after the next election. The questions will not change very much. Just the way they are dealt with.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

Posted in ferries

Weekend reading

with 10 comments

Southbound train

Frances Bula does a comparison of the Canada Line to the Central Link in Seattle in the Globe and Mail. Its a bit short on the basic math and geometry and heavy on the personal/cultural stuff, but worth a look nonetheless. The Central Link is not low cost light rail either – except for the surface running bit in the middle – so the comparison is really between the kind of city it serves – and the key question of drivers vs driverless. So a change from the usual tram vs Skytrain debate. I think what is needed is a quick reference chart with the basic data – but I am not sure I have the time or energy to compile it.

Light rail trains sit in a yard in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

Light rail trains sit in a yard in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

Don Cayo in the Sun does a thing on why we don’t use ferries here as much as they do in Sydney – another one of those things that came up at the Jarrett Walker SFU talk. Otherwise I do not see why he is trotting this out now: its not as if Translink is actually proposing to do any more ferries any longer. And he also gets the number of SeBuses wrong. They ordered a third one in time for the Olympics – not because they intend to run three from now on but because they are going to take one out – almost certainly for scrap since it is unlikely to fit anywhere else.

Translink's Proposals for Commuting by Water

I think this graphic comes from the 2003 study – which only looked at the Burrard Inlet. There is no mention of the other crossings that have been suggested – such as the passenger and bike ferry over the top of the Deas Island tunnel that GVRD Parks were once keen on.

To his credit, Cayo does look at the basic math and geometry

While it’s true that, depending on the route, the travel distance may be shorter, fuel consumption per passenger mile — and therefore greenhouse gas production — is much higher. This drives operating costs way higher than land-based travel.

But fuel costs are usually not a great concern for transit: 80% of operating costs are labour costs. And fuel consumption varies hugely by size of vessel and hence load. In the case of freight, water transport is much more energy efficient per tonne  kilometre  than other modes but only because it is so slow and is confined to very large bulk loads – sand, gravel and woodchips are some of the most significant internal cargoes on this region’s waterways. Also log tows – one of the few places I have seen this practice. Passengers usually need to be moved more swiftly but of course the False Creek ferries do a magnificent job and are not subsidized at all. They even pay HST!

Passing ferriesCyquabus II

And finally a very necessary read from the Guardian, earlier this week.

‘Environmentalism’ can never address climate change. The shape of modern US environmentalism isn’t fit to tackle the scale and scope of climate change, argues David Roberts

I do not know why they left that US qualifier in there: its a global problem, though obviously without the US doing something effective, the rest of the world’s efforts may always be inadequate.

Environmental issues take a very specific shape.

The thing is, that shape doesn’t fit climate change. Climate change — or rather, the larger problem of which climate change is a symptom — isn’t like the issues that American environmentalism evolved to address. The solutions that American environmental politics are capable of producing are not commensurate with the scale and scope of the challenge climate change represents. A clear understanding of that challenge renders comically absurd the notion that it can or should be the province of a niche progressive interest group. It’s just too big for that.

Worth reading but also worth thinking about what that also means in other countries like Canada. Are we to be hobbled by our current governments’ attitudes? Federally – we think oil revenue from Alberta is more important than anything – and we can use US inaction as an excuse for our own “we must be integrated with the US economy” means we do less than nothing. Provincially we will do a buck and wing with carbon tax and cap and trade but stay with business as usual for the largest emitters oil, gas, transportation.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Monday mega-post

with 21 comments

I spent much of the weekend at the Northern Voice blogging conference – and, being contrary, did not take the netbook or the MacBook with me. All around me people who were at the front of the line to get a seat in a session were busy. Listening perhaps with one ear to the presentation, but mostly doing other things – tweeting, live blogging (though perhaps not as much as in previous years) but also I saw Gmail and even people building web sites. I thought it was a good idea to take notes in a paper format – using a ball point pen in a real notebook  (which also meant I didn’t need to spend any time looking for a power outlet). But a lot has been happening, and I wanted to draw attention to some of the stories in my inbox this morning piled up from the weekend. If you follow the same listserves I do, some of this may be repetitive of that.

On trans-action the long running debate of rapid transit versus streetcars, that has long occupied the commenters on this blog, continues. This evening I am going to be at the launch of Patrick Condon’s new book and there is also some overlap, now apparent, with the recent controversy here on environmental justice. Richard Campbell posted all of “In Praise of Fast Transit” – so I won’t, but it is worth noting the overlap.

From this perspective, it’s difficult to understand University of British Columbia Professor Patrick Condon’s recent call for slow transit in his home town, Vancouver.

“This perspective” being American, and based on their “suburban dispersion of the poor” – or if you are poor and live in New York you have to live in places like Queens because the better connected areas are not affordable. Now to some extent that might also hold true here – but is not, I think, quite so definitive. People here tend to follow the “drive until you can afford to buy” rule too, but there are other ways of achieving affordable living, often starting with the decision not to own a car – or maybe only having one car in the household. The change of land use around Joyce Colingwood being a good example – and one that is, sadly, all too rare. With the exception of West Coast Express, we did not go for “expensive commuter rail options” – unlike Greater Toronto. And there I used to have to listen to TTC executives spout “no concessions for fat cats from Oakville”  whenever the topic of fare integration got raised. Actually, the people on the GO train I boarded every day had also been forced out to suburbs like Malvern, where the TTC was often the only option for most of the remaining lower paid jobs in the industrial areas as free trade hit. Park and ride was about the GO’s only saving grace.  But that is, I think, exceptional in Canadian experience, and in Greater Vancouver we had intended at least to provide people with a grater range of choices. Not that we succeeded, due to the calamitous decisions that drove industry out of Vancouver into the suburban fringe and usually to the freeway exits, instead of the “regional town centres”. Most Metro planners concede that “office parks” were never part of the LRSP. And putting UBC at the end of the peninsular, and SFU on the top of a mountain, and then declining to provide anything like enough of the sort of accommodations that students need was even more contrary.

Patrick has his own riposte on Human Transit. And it is worth reading. But the point I want to make to readers here – and especially those who spend so much time commenting – it is not the transit technology that we ought to focus upon. It is about the sort of place we want to live in. Obviously in a long established huge urban area like the New York megalopolis, much retrofitting needs to be done – and it obviously ought to be more concerned about everyone – and not just the well to do – than it was in Robert Moses’ heyday. But in this region we have to weigh also in the balance where growth is going to happen next – we can expect another million people in the next twenty years or so. And also where we have been spending most up to now and how little difference there has been in mode choices as a result.

I think the speed question can also be reframed in that speed of itself imposes higher costs on society – firstly because a fast trip burns more energy per passenger kilometre than a slower one, but also – in personal transport – carries with it a higher risk of more serious casualties. Add to that, the extent to which personal transport is tied to fossil fuel use, the inevitable environmental degradation – of which a large chunk is the sprawl it continues to generate. Clearly the debate should be more about transit versus freeways – especially the extent to which recent decisions can still be reversed – than about trams versus SkyTrain. For the ‘burbs the prospects of “rail for the valley” seem to me to be diminishing, not improving. I hope I am wrong about that, but for now Translink cannot even find a way to pay for the much needed Evergreen Line – so the whole “what kind of transit do we need on Broadway” seems to me to be pointless. Whatever Translink concludes in its current round of planning is irrelevant. Translink cannot afford ANY expansion. Anything that does get built will be decided by the province (and the availability of federal funding) not what Translink and its consultees might prefer. If anything at all.

In the Globe and Mail, Frances Bula reports on an important shift in priorities at the City of Vancouver. No longer just “no more roadspace for cars” – the rule in recent years – but now less space for cars.

Urban-planning research has found that roads typically account for about 35 per cent of a city’s total land area.

The days when cars had free rein in that era are long over. Planners and city politicians look at which stream of locomotion should get priority and where.

They are also looking closely at how much room cars take. They require 140 square metres when they’re travelling, 37 square metres when they’re parked. And, Ms. Reimer said, one recent calculation she heard was that there are four parking spots for every one of the 1.5 million cars in the region.

“If you could figure out a more efficient use of allocating all this pavement, you could do all kinds of things,” she said.

One thing that we could do is take space from cars (1.3 people per vehicle on average, or 1,300 people per hour per direction per lane) and give it to transit. That gives an order of magnitude increase in people carrying capacity – as Gordon Campbell acknowledges. Even the very limited, down to fixed price budget, Canada Line can carry as much as five lanes of freeway each way  – or ten lanes of Broadway. But you can also do that with surface transit. And don’t bother with the issues of should be  it be steel wheels or rubber tires. It doesn’t matter. What matters is any exclusive lane transit option is far cheaper to build than a subway – and it gets in the way of the cars! Slowing cars down is a worthwhile target as part of the strategic objective of making a city better for people. Less space for moving cars – and parked cars too in the longer term once there is adequate transit – means more space for tables and chairs as well. It is not that streets are just for moving the maximum number of vehicles through as quickly as possible: streets are the public realm. Streets are where we live. Lively streets have lots of people – and they are not moving very fast – or often at all. Yes we need to get about – but that is only part of what cities need to be workable, and pleasant at the same time. Not that you will read that In Bula’s piece.

You also have to make it possible – or even attractive – to get across the street. Especially at intersections. Even more importantly where stupid transit planners have neglected to put in enough entrances to the subway (i.e. nearly every Canada Line station). Once again, please note that your nice new train might be “fast” (and could have been faster had it not had to stick to the bends in the road around Queen E park) but it is the overall door to door journey time relative to the car that matters in mode choice. And access time, in any simulation, is always twice the value of  in vehicle time. Washington DC is bringing back the Barnes’ Dance. I have mentioned that here before too. This is a better name for it than the “pedestrian scramble” which I think has all the wrong connotations as it makes me think of eggs and their fragility.  The important thing being that all vehicles face all way red signal – and no sneaking around the corner either! The current practice of giving turning movements priority at signalized intersections and making pedestrians wait ever longer also sends all the wrong messages. The priority in Vancouver’s plans has been (for many years) pedestrians first, then cyclists, then transit, then, finally, motorized vehicles. But that is still not seen on most streets.

The Staten Island Ferry

In news of transit in other cities, New York saw a nasty incident on the Staten Island Ferry,  which is being blamed on the high tech Voith Schneider Propeller. I didn’t get a ride on what is truly the world’s best harbour cruise (beats SeaBus and anything in Hong Kong becuase it is free) because we spent so much time in line for the Liberty ferry.  Maybe just as well. Seattle is looking at alternatives to its aging fleet of trolleybuses with the likely crunch issue being hill climbing ability. We ought really to have looked at trolleybuses for SFU, North Van and New Westminster. Or, as my trips last weekend reminded me, extending the #41’s wires to UBC. Actually my personal desire is to see poles put on some of the new hybrid buses, so they could use the wires where they are currently installed but little used . A bit of roof stiffening and some extra power control technology might be more cost effective than more kilometres of the world’s longest extension cord. And less wirescape. Note how nice this street looks without all the cables commonly seen on so many arterials in this region. Not just trolleybus wires either!

9504

And finally, the SFPR P3 contract was awarded on Friday. Laila Yuile has all the ghastly details. (Hat tip to Eric Doherty for the link.) As it happens London has got rid of its appallingly bad P3 deal on the tube. Interestingly, under the aegis of a conservative Mayor Boris Johnson.

Johnson was quoted by newspapers as saying the deal freed London Underground and private contractors from “the perverse pressures of the Byzantine PPP structure.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of transport workers’ union RMT, said the buyout was a “recognition on a massive scale that transport privatization does not work” and said RMT would continue to campaign for the renationalisation of Britain’s rail network.

Piccadilly Line Barons Court  20051201

Written by Stephen Rees

May 10, 2010 at 11:38 am

Mayor releases plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020

with 21 comments

Gregor Robertson used the platform of the current Gaining Ground-Resilient Cities conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre to launch “Vancouver 2020 A Bright Green Future” yesterday. This is the document from the Greenest City Action Team that sets out the objectives and looks as some of the possibilities to achieve the Mayor’s desire to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020.

My link in the paragraph above will enable you to download the complete report as a pdf file. If you would prefer, there is a short summary in today’s Vancouver Sun.  It does not discuss the recommendations – it merely presents them. And I expect there will be a lot of discussion about these ideas – what is there and, more importantly, what is missing.  On the whole, as a statement of objectives it is quite bold but “you know these environmentalists, they are never satisfied” (a line from the movie The American President, which was also about greenhouse gas reduction, in part. I’d link to the imdb quotes page, but that is one of the few they missed).

The report’s presentation is self-consciously modern. Much effort clearly went into appealing to modern sensibilities. No great slabs of grey text, or formal presentations. But lots of sidebars and anecdotes from other cities. Plenty of good positive examples, and lots of talk about the need for objectives and targets. Where it falls short is the lack of specific programs and commitments – so I do not think it is really a plan so much as a wish list.

Of course, my concerns are transportation and land use – because taken together that’s most of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Buildings and vehicles produce more than 85 per cent of Vancouver’s greenhouse gas emissions and are the focus of the next two sections of this report. However, there is an overarching issue that affects emissions from both buildings and vehicles: density. Land-use patterns are probably the single most important determinant of people’s greenhouse gas emissions and their ecological footprints.

To their credit they do not abandon Eco-density, the initiative of the last administration but they note

Much more can be done. Most importantly, Vancouver should complete the planning processes required to increase density and permit mixed uses.

Because this is a report of the Action Team – not a commitment by the City Council. So it does not have the status of a formal change to the City’s planning activities – yet. But Robertson himself referred to the document as a Plan. Ecodensity was not an easy sell for Sam Sullivan and company – and the issue will still raise the hackles of most communities within Vancouver, who are very happy with the way things are and are deeply suspicious of any change. Anything that affects both their current way of life, and their property values, is going to be subject to close scrutiny.

A series of more detailed implementation plans…will need to be developed by city staff through wide consultation with the community

Indeed. And this is followed by an exhortation to “everyone to do their part”. And I am quite sure that all of the neighbourhoods that had very close consultative processes under administrations prior to Sullivan’s will expect to have that approach returned.

UPDATE: Ned Jacobs has now published a damning critique of the Mayor’s commitment to consultation

Of course the city is not alone in transportation – so of course much of what it says about transportation in general – and transit in particular – is addressed to other levels of government and is all entirely predictable. What is very noticeable is the lack of a set of specific targets in areas where the City does have control. And as we learned this week from New York there is a great deal that can be done, very quickly and at relatively low cost. Paint and potted plants can do wonders.

There are a number of things the City can start to do quickly: and – as long as they stick to a continuous rolling effort – will have significant impact. In terms of broad objectives, this plan does not adopt the one that was pioneered by Copenhagen forty years ago – although there are ten different citations of that city in the document. Their objective was a reduction in the amount of space devoted to cars – both moving and parked. They have achieved that by a steady attrition: a small percentage is taken each and every year. Since traffic adapts to fill the space available, traffic has contracted.

Similarly in New York (18 citations) the decision was made to reduce the amount of street space used by cars by reallocating traffic lanes to become bus lanes, bike lanes and – probably most significantly – pedestrian space, much of which is not devoted to movement but sitting! The City of Vancouver, thanks to its charter, does not have to defer to senior governments here. It is master in its own house, and it can, if it wishes, move the furniture.

Previous City of Vancouver Engineers have fought long and hard against any encroachment on road space that might reduce traffic volumes. They seemed to have been unaware of the simple change in metric that is brought about when “people” are substituted for “vehicles” in the model. The #99 B-Line – the most effective bus route in the region – has almost no on street priority. There are no bus lanes on Broadway. The only thing that sets that route apart from most of the others is that it does not stop so often. On Hastings, a similar type of service is offered by the #135. It is not branded as a B-Line, but it works just like one. The Granville Street #98-B Line is now history: even that had hardly any priority within Vancouver. Contrast this to what New York is doing – and London, Paris and many others have done – in terms of bus lanes which have different coloured tarmac (no arguments about what is a bus lane) and camera enforcement (it is easy to see what is and is not a bus, unlike an HOV lane which is very hard to enforce).

Similarly the City can do a lot about parking. Not just on street but off street as well. But there is no overall parking strategy addressed in this report – apart from the need for bike parking, and for the ability to charge electric vehicles. This is really missing the point. But I can understand why they do not tackle it head on. Because that would immediately incur the wrath of the DVBIA. Well I suspect anything you do like this is not going to please that crowd so you might just as well face up to it. As long as there are lots of places to end car trips (parking spaces) there will be lots of cars. Yet three cars carrying on average 4 people in total take up the same space as a bus with 40 to 60. Or similar numbers of bikes or pedestrians. In Manhattan and Central London only 5% of the trips are in cars – so it is easier to make the case there. Not easier to win it, of course, since those car drivers are disproportionately influential people. Much harder here – as we saw with the Burrard Bridge trial, the short lived closure of part of Robson Street and the battle over Granville Mall.

Sure the City does not provide the transit service, but it can make the provision of transit a great deal more efficient and effective. A bus that can avoid traffic congestion is not only faster but more reliable. There may not even be any increase in the number of buses but those that are there will be moving more people than they can now, because they can complete more trips in a shift. That in itself makes bus lanes worth doing. But the longer term effect – as both London and New York demonstrate – is that you can get a lot more people using buses once you remove the element of uncertainty. The bus becomes reliable. And with only slightly more effort it becomes “the surface subway” that Janette Sadik-Khan spoke about this week. And a bus service can get introduced a lot quicker and cheaper than a subway line.

The contrast between the lack of specificity in areas where the city can do something (density, street use, parking) and transit, where someone else has to pick up the tab, is striking. There the ideas are definite – if a bit lacking in expertise.

  • The Downtown Streetcar project should get the green light, [of course – but since it only serves Vancouver, maybe you should consider following the example of Portland and pay for it yourselves? It is not now, nor ever has been, a regional priority]
  • express bus services should be expanded on busy routes (e.g. Commercial/Victoria) [see notes above about how bus lanes would be the way to achieve that]
  • Electric express buses should be used on Hastings, 4th Avenue, Broadway/West 10th Ave, and 41st Ave [You can do that on Hastings now, as long as it does not stop at intermediate points between downtown and the PNE. Electric B Lines would need a lot of wiring and some expensive “special work” to get in and out of the curb lanes between local buses. Putting trolleybuses back on the #41 sounds like a good idea until you look at the cost of wires to UBC. How about trolleys for Cambie while you’re at it? Maybe someone should start looking at my idea of putting poles on hybrid buses to extend the range and flexibility of trolley routes without more overhead wiring.]
  • Waterfront Station should be redeveloped into an accessible and attractive multimodal transportation hub. [DAFT – it is already. Redevelopment of one of the few outstanding heritage buildings in this City would be unforgiveable]
  • Local ferry services should be encouraged and supported. [yes, and the City can do that without Translink – West Vancouver just did. The False Creek ferries work very well without regional interference. Others could too, if they were financially viable ]

The one thing that is missing, that I am very pleased about, is there is no reference to a subway underneath Broadway to UBC.

Instead of a slab about what Translink should be doing, there ought to have been a direct attack on what is happening on Vancouver’s door step. The widening of Highway #1 may stop at Boundary Road, but that does not stop a huge amount of new traffic being dumped onto Vancouver’s streets. Yes I know that sounds like I am suggesting a Corrigan like bluster, but ignoring the impact of this vast increase in car traffic on the City’s east side is baffling. Not picking up the suggestion of pulling down the viaducts is a small issue in comparison. Freeway expansion will affect Vancouver. It is a very retrograde step – and the plan to make Vancouver “the greenest city” – is going to be undermined by the presence of large numbers of cars trying to get into Vancouver from the freeway.

And hoping that someone else might introduce road pricing is not a Plan, any more than expecting to win the lottery is retirement planning.