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Archive for the ‘fuel consumption’ Category

Climate strikers “naive and unrealistic”

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Climate strikers gathering at Cambie and 10th

No, they are not. They are also on to you. They know what “gaslighting” means.

The headline comes from a Canadian Press story that was published by the National Observer – and others.

“The strikes themselves are not offering any answers. The strikes are not addressing the question of how we reduce carbon demand.”

Actually if Hal Kvisle was paying attention and not indulging in the usual shenanigans, he would be surprised by how well informed some of these young people are. For the last thirty years or so the fossil fuel industry has been spinning the story that not only was there reasonable doubt about climate change and its cause (when there was none) but also that it was essential to expand production in order to meet both rising demand and build the hardware for the eventual transition. This lost us a great opportunity to get ahead of the game. In the same period not only were greenhouse gas emissions expanding exponentially, but the earth’s ability to absorb that carbon was being exhausted. Some oil companies not only knew that to be true but also started down the path of getting ahead of the competition. BP even tried to convince its customers that the letters now stood for “Beyond Petroleum”. Not that that lasted long.

We have always known that we were being profligate and wasteful with energy, and there were already moves under way to cut that waste – especially in the public sector. BC faced a bit of a challenge since nearly all of our electricity came from existing hydro – which meant its cost to consumers was low, and the ghg emissions had already largely occurred during the construction phase. But even so, people knew about air pollution, and wanted something done about that including closing the last gas fired power station. We also knew that building complete communities in a compact urban region with increased transportation choice was key to better air quality and overall well being – we called it “liveability” back then.

In BC the revenues from oil and gas extraction fell precipitously even as production accelerated. The BC Liberals poured money into the sector by cutting taxes and royalties. In Canada, the extraction of the tar sands was only feasible because it was supported by federal and provincial subsidies, again started by the Liberal government. There is also a direct line between politicians supporting oil and gas and contributions from fossil fuel corporations to party funds for elections and propaganda. The lying from the corporations was long, loud and shameless. As was the greed of the elected officials who still promote them.

We know for a certainty that cutting government subsidies to fossil fuels will bring about significant change in short order. It is simply false to claim that there is need for a longer term transition since so many examples of successful transition are already evident. Solar panels and wind turbines are already more financially viable than fossil power for electricity generation. China is producing far more electric cars and buses than North America – and also building high speed electric railways and urban rapid transit systems. We could have been doing the same over the same period: it was not as if the technologies were not well understood and readily available. Instead we built even more freeways, and bought much bigger cars – and trucks – for personal transportation building our way to ever more automobile reliance, personal indebtedness and ill health as a consequence. There is nothing new about this understanding. What is new is that the children are now pointing out – loudly and with increasing credibility – how irresponsible politicians and corporate management have been, and how change must now happen faster, sooner and with much less attention paid to the personal fortune building of both.

But, really—who’s being naïve in this conversation?

See more – and much better – photos

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2019 at 10:46 am

Study: ‘It’s hard to beat gasoline’ on Air Quality

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I saw this on Planetizen and couldn’t resist the video

Now, we don’t have much ethanol around here, and the electricity we use is mostly  from existing hydro. So some of these results from the US don’t exactly translate here. So if you can afford a Tesla, go right ahead and don’t worry about those “electric cars are not so green” articles. The only time we use dirty, coal fired electricity is when our generating capacity is stretched at peak periods. Charge up your car overnight with a clear conscience.

The ethanol they refer to is E85 (85% of the fuel is ethanol): the most we use is 5 to 10%. At one time this was only true of so called premium fuels. Now it is not unusual to see ethanol in regular fuel and you may have to buy premium to avoid it. Most cars, of course, do not need premium fuel.

While hybrid cars do cut fuel consumption, this gets negated pretty quickly if you drive with a lead foot, or use a vehicle much bigger than you need. A smart car is going to use less gas than a giant SUV or truck, even if they are hybrids. And simple precautions like checking your tire pressures and not hauling a load of junk in your trunk will also cut your fuel consumption. Walking, cycling and transit (even if it is a diesel bus) are all better for the environment – and your own health.

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States

Authors: Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, and Julian D. Marshall

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.

Full text is openly available at: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.140685­3111

 

Elections in Washington doom Vancouver, and the planet

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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.

BC Highway Speed Limits Review

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Canadian speed limit sign

“A Canadian speed limit sign in British Columbia, taken on the 99 freeway just east of Ladner.” photo by David Herrera on flickr : creative commons license

I first saw something about this on twitter this morning. A journalist wanted me to comment (on tv, this evening) but we can’t make the timing work, though our telephone call did get my mind working. Then – also on Twitter – this page popped up which tells us more about what is intended. The Minister this morning was saying that it is only the limits that are going to be reviewed not enforcement. Which is a pity, in my view. And apparently it is not just about raising limits on newer rural highways

This review isn’t focused on increasing speed limits, rather making sure we have the right speed limits.

So in some cases speed limits might be reduced. Yeah, right.

There is a real problem with speed limits in BC, and that is not the level that they are set at The problem is that too many drivers believe that the speed limit does not apply to them. They have a car which is capable of much higher speeds, and, like all drivers, they know that they are of above average ability. Speed limits, according to this mind set, are merely suggestions for the elderly and those driving older, cheaper models. An even greater proportion of drivers view speed limits as the speed at which everybody ought to drive at, no matter what the conditions. Anyone driving slower than the posted speed is simply trying to get in everyone else’s way and needs to be taught a lesson. So tailgating, honking, light flashing and alarming manoeuvres  are mandated.

Ever since Gordon Campbell secured his personal popularity by abolishing photo radar, the respect for speed limits has diminished. I have written about that here quite often. I have also pointed to the simple facts of physics that when collisions do occur, severities increase with speed. What is a fender bender at 30 km/hr is fatal at 130.  If speed limits are widely ignored – and my experience suggests that is the case, and you can repeat that experimentally by observing the speed limit on any rural highway and count those who overtake you – then it probably does not make a great deal of difference what the posted speed is. The people who drive fast will continue to drive at whatever speed they feel like, because they do not have any need to consider the consequences.

We have, thanks to pressure from a very powerful lobby group (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reduced our tolerance for drinking and driving. Enforcement has been increased, to the point of actually infringing a number of important legal principles like due process, and stop without cause. Presumption of innocence has long been dead. Attitudes have shifted, and people worry when they drink and drive: not that they might cause a death or severe injury to themselves or others, but that they will be apprehended and have to pay a penalty. And that has affected enough people that places that serve alcohol have noticed an impact on their businesses. It was not enough, unfortunately, to ensure that Gordon Campbell was driven from office when found guilty of drunk driving in Hawaii.

I believe that caving to the loud protests against photo radar has had an equal and opposite effect. Firstly, when there was photo radar, the police announced a margin of tolerance. Ever since there has been a widespread popular belief, that a speed limit sign can have 10% added to it before running the risk of penalty. Not that that was the tolerance level on photo radar, and not that that is now significant. But secondly, the very idea that speed limits need to be enforced is now regarded as some quaint obsession. The police – runs this popular belief – would be better employed tracking down thieves or hooligans, not otherwise Good People who happen not to have noticed either their speedometer or the road side sign. Or that the sign was posted by people more concerned with political correctness than “real” road safety.

Raising speed limits will certainly appeal to a significant sector of the population. But I think those people are more than likely BC Liberal voters already. I suppose there are some Conservatives – and Libertarians – that might be won over. But the rural, car/truck driving longer distance types are already on side. This move will not do anything to win over those who have other concerns, but it does appeal to the BC Liberal base.

The other thing that needs to be noted is that no one is talking about fuel consumption. Higher speeds increase it, which means that emissions increase too: specifically greenhouse gas emissions. We are boiling the planet, and must reduce our emissions – and should have started doing that twenty years ago or more. The science of the impact of human activity on climate change is not in doubt. The need to reduce fossil fuel use is not negotiable. But that is not part of this review. Nowhere is it even mentioned. The only time I can recall that speed limits were generally reduced was the first oil shock. It had nothing to do with road safety – though that was its immediate effect. Every road in the US that had previously not had a posted limit, was now reduced to 55mph. That was designed with one end in view: reduce gasoline consumption. It did, but not by very much apparently, and the need to do that has not gone away. It is now even more important than it was then. But I do not expect that to be of much concern to this government, based on their current obsessions.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

What’s with abandoned Gas Stations?

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I have often wondered why there are so many abandoned gas stations – and why so little ever seems to happen to them. This is not something outside my experience but is completely beyond my understanding. Until now. Patrick Johnstone does this sort of thing for a living – and he writes well. So take yourself over to NWimby and learn something. Warning: this is only part one – there is more to follow.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 28, 2013 at 8:28 pm

“Report shows feasibility of 80 per cent emissions reductions”

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VANCOUVER – Canada can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to a fraction of current levels while maintaining or improving living standards and quality of life, according to Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios, an international review released today by the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP).

The headline is attention grabbing. Unfortunately, the report it points to is a lot less exciting. It is an important message to get across – that we can indeed reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we don’t need to wreck the economy or reduce our standard of living to do that. The apparent choice between the economy and the environment is simply a diversionary tactic dreamed up by the “business as usual” crowd. Who can readily be identified as the present governments of Canada and British Columbia and their paymasters in the fossil fuel and automotive industries. And who, in recent years have been busily pushing us in the wrong direction.

I suggest that you download the report – it is a 40 odd page pdf – a give it a once over, and hang on to it if you need some quick reference material. But do not expect anything especially new or earth shattering. It is simply a review of reports produced on eight countries and what they could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Only three have actually reduced their emissions in recent years

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 12.02.43 PM

Sweden, Germany and the UK all managed (small) reductions in GHG while growing GDP.

But most of the report is summarizing studies which looked at what could be done – and is based on one study in each country, some of which are not exactly new.

What did strike me is the lack of emphasis on land use – admittedly one of the hardest things to do and one of the slowest in producing results, but I would argue one of the most important in bringing about structural change. These are all overwhelmingly urban countries – that’s where most of us live and will continue to live. Unfortunately because it is tough to change, it is not happening very much here. All the stuff about transportation is focussed on better energy efficiency for cars – and electrifying them. Not on reducing the need  for motorized transportation. There is the usual focus on energy efficiency for buildings, but hardly anything on the location of those buildings.

Research shows, for example, that Americans generally consume more energy – and emit more carbon dioxide – getting to and from a typical building than does the building itself.  Research also shows that location and neighborhood factors can create a dramatic difference in how much energy is consumed and emissions are generated in the getting to and fro.”

“Additional research also shows that even ordinary households in transit-oriented locations save more energy and emissions than “green” households in sprawl, across several housing types.  In other words, a home with no green technology, if in the right place, is actually greener than a house with every bell and whistle imaginable, even if the latter gets a platinum rating.”

That comes from a recent article in The Atlantic on the shortcomings of LEED. And while it was about Americans it applies equally to Canadians.

The Energy Revolution report that covers the Canadian issues does have this acknowledgement of the importance of transportation

The report recommends transportation demand management through government investment in public and non-motorized transport, better urban planning and limits to urban sprawl, and freight transport management. Proposed behavioural changes are confined to the transportation sector, including greater dependence on public transit, more active transport, a shift to smaller vehicles, and “teleworking.”

which does cover the ground but fails to indicate which ones are likely – or actually important. Nothing at all of course on the current trend of a reduction is car use, even though there has been no real shift in transit provision, or better urban planning and most of the investment – especially in BC – has been lavished on highways. And while teleworking reduces commuting it can increase travel.

My biggest beef with the studies cited is that none appears to have identified the potential for rebound demand in energy efficiency programs. This has been observed – when energy efficiency produces cost savings for consumers they tend to consume more. Your fridge and furnace cost less to run so now you can buy an wine cooler – or a much bigger tv.   Your car mileage is better, so now you can drive more.

It is important to have good news stories about greenhouse gas emissions – that all is not lost and there is a point in trying to do much better. We can certainly do far better than we have done  – Canada in general and BC in particular. Canada is the only country in the comparison that is a net exporter of petroleum (there is no mention of coal) – and in BC whatever we might have achieved through our carbon tax or run of the river hydro has been vastly overshadowed by our ramping up of extraction of fossil fuels. Coal and natural gas are keys to the present government’s “jobs strategy” even though neither are very significant employers. And we are also very much on the radar to increase exports of bitumen (from Alberta) and coal from BC and the US. There is not much gain for the planet if we reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions but vastly increase the ability of other places to more than replace what we have cut.

Translink’s Fuel Tax problem – Part 2

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In yesterday’s post I referred to a discussion that I had hoped to have with a member of Translink’s staff on the impact of lower than expected fuel tax revenues. I am pleased to say that this morning I spoke to Sarah Ross, the Senior Manager, Strategy and Plan Development. Rather than add to an already rather long blog post, I decided to make this a separate post. Comments are already published there, though not much that has been raised is affected by what we spoke about.

The materials in the presentation have not yet been to the Board, but was for a senior staff level discussion. The major concern is that the program presented in the Moving Forward Plan cannot now be implemented.

That had assumed that in addition to the 2c increase in gas tax, there would be additional funds from an increase in property taxes pending agreement of a new revenue source. Subsequently the Mayor’s Council withdrew the increase in property tax due to lack of commitment for the new revenue source from the province. At the same time the Translink Commissioner denied some of the proposed fare increase. It was not anticipated then that volumes of fuel sales would fall

 “Motor Fuel Tax Revenues

“Under the 2012 Supplemental Plan, there will be an increase of $0.02 per litre in motor fuel taxes in Metro Vancouver beginning in April 2012. The 2012 part-year impact is $33 million, and the annual impact is $45 million by 2014. Total fuel tax is projected to grow to $417 million by 2021.” (Moving Forward p47)

While the fuel tax increase took place, revenues are not meeting target due in part to the fall in sales volume, but also because of the actions of the Mayors and the Commissioner.

What that means is that while the Evergreen Line capital plan can proceed, a number of other improvements are not going to happen. The most obvious one being the lack of funds for the promised rapid bus service over the new Port Mann Bridge when it opens later this year (and let us be clear, that promise was made by the Minister of Transport).

One of the things that has to be understood is that while we have lots of data on fuel sales  (and fare revenue, ridership and property tax) this is not the complete picture that we need. As discussed yesterday, there are a number of possible explanations for the drop in fuel sales, but the one that is really needed is how much of that is due to people driving less. It is expected that this is probably more important than cross border shopping for gas, but we cannot tell that now. The good news on that front is the Trip Diary Survey undertaken in the fall of 2011 will start producing data next month. Add to that the screenline survey that takes place at the same (automated vehicle counts across the region) and we will begin to get a picture of the longer term trends in travel. There are more people in the region but vehicle ownership is falling in some parts of it (vehicle registration data). The composition of the fleet changes slowly (around a 16 year turn over) but overall fuel efficiency is improving.

Falling gas sales have also been noticed by US transit agencies – earlier than here – and they are even more reliant on gas tax than we are. The economy there took a bigger hit in 2008 and is slower to recover. Unemployment there is stubbornly high (and underreported). It is also important to stress that fuel prices have significantly changed – far more than gas taxes. For a long time economists thought that gas sales were inelastic, as so many people had little choice in the short term to change their behaviour in the face of rising prices. We are now seeing that behaviour is changing – for example households with more than one vehicle will chose to use the more efficient one for more trips.

The trend in behaviour change is clearer here than in the rest of province. “People in Prince George cannot cross border shop, and have fewer alternatives to driving” noted Sarah. Last year transit ridership increased by 7% – much more than in previous years, and this in a year when service was not increased, merely reallocated. There is no newer information on transit share of the overall market (“mode split” in the jargon) but is probably greater than the 12.6% seen in 2008. The 6% drop in fuel sales that occurred last year was not expected: the Base Plan has assumed an increase of 3%. Next month consultations will start on how much of the Moving Forward Plan can be delivered. My forecast of that is “not much”.

Translink has been aggressively  pursuing efficiencies. The 2011 Service Optimization saw buses taken from low ridership routes and transferred to routes with “latent demand” (what the rest of us know as pass ups).  Originally conceived as a one off exercise, it now will become a regular program, and its reach will extend from simply moving service around within a service area (for instance, moving bus service around within Langley) to movement from the lower service level parts of the region to those where demand for transit is already high. This can be expected to be politically much more difficult, as there is already the perception that some municipalities are paying for services delivered elsewhere. I think that most of the “low hanging fruit” in productivity gains has already been plucked. While Sarah said that the aim is to minimize customer impact, next year is going to see both a fare increase and service reductions at the same time. Those service reductions will hit hardest in places were service is already at lower levels than the denser parts of the region. The January fare increase is going to effect cash fares, which have not changed since 2008, which are used most by the poor (who cannot afford passes) and casual riders – those with the greatest choice of alternatives.

—————————————————–

Motor Fuel Tax

Motor fuel taxes achieve multiple benefits, as they raise revenues for transportation and also encourage future shifts to more sustainable modes of travel. This is a relatively stable revenue source in the near term; however, its effectiveness at reducing auto travel results in declining revenues over the long-term. As such, motor fuel taxes are less reliable as a long-term funding source. In 2011, motor fuel taxes make up approximately 27 per cent of TransLink’s overall revenue.

Moving Forward page 13

Recent increases in motor fuel prices have been greater than the increase in fuel tax in this region. The “relatively stable revenue source” has proved to be much less reliable than thought. Unfortunately this has also happened at the same time as arguments over other revenue sources have become more heated and less productive. While the City of Vancouver has been able to boast how driving is falling – especially in the downtown core – in other parts of the region there has always been less choice. Those are also the places closest to the border. Improved fuel efficiency, better trip management, working from home, more use of the internet for commerce all play some role, though without data it is simply speculative to assess their importance. What we do know is that sooner than anticipated  the new Port Mann Bridge is going to open and without tolls initially – and with lower tolls until all lanes can be opened. The widening of Highway #1 is the bigger part of that plan (“The Gateway”) as is the South Fraser Perimeter Road – also now under construction. Billions of dollars poured into automobility in the most car dependant part of the region, where transit service is more likely to be cut than improved.

This is not just contrary to the regional growth strategy, it defies common sense. Use of the internal combustion engine for personal transportation is not just one the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, it also the largest cause of premature death – not just from vehicle collisions (bad enough) but from the sedentary lifestyle that produces the deadly combination of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The impact of those two factors alone accounts for much of the expected increase in health care costs of our aging population – increasing the percentage of adults who cannot (or should not) drive. In the part of the region where transportation choices are worst, choice will continue to decline. And this is a result of provincial government policies, and is supported by federal policy.

The consequences of very short term political thinking in BC and Metro Vancouver are producing less sustainable outcomes at greater cost. The shift from income taxes to sales taxes (such as gas tax) is profoundly regressive. People find themselves with declining disposable incomes as the range and amounts of fees and charges for essential public services increases (EI, CPP, MSP, bridge tolls, transit fares, school fees). It is not surprising that they take action where they can to reduce or mitigate the impact of those fees. Cross border shopping is not new in Canada. It is an entirely predictable outcome of a rising dollar, more concessions on what can be brought back duty free and the increasing difference in prices of all things – not just fuel. It does not help that the simple data that would enable more informed decisions to be made is often not collected, or is out of date by the time it is available – usually in the name of cutting public expenditures.

Next month sees a new round of consultations about transit – and how to pay for it. But the broader context which I have outlined above will not be addressed in that process. Once again we will see the unproductive collision of irresistible forces with immovable objects.  And until we start to elect governments at all levels that are committed to change rather than business as usual, that will continue to be the pattern.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Translink’s Fuel Tax Problem

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I was going to put EXCLUSIVE in large capitals in the title – but I have no reason to want to claim this information as my own. It is, after all, public domain or ought to be.

Last week, when I attended the SFU evening lecture (“Kiwi Urbanism”) I talked to Bob Paddon who is now Executive Vice President, Strategic Planning & Public Affairs at Translink. He was there to do a brief introduction, as Translink had made the contribution that made the evening possible. I started making notes as he spoke to me before the proceedings started. The discussion was prompted by me asking if the Evergreen Line funding was indeed “locked in” as the province has been saying. He assured me that it was, but then he went on to say that Translink is noticing an increasing gap in its revenue expectations. There has been quite a lot of information recently about how people are driving less in general. Much of the supporting information that I have seen has come from US sources – where the economy is taking much longer to recover from the recession and unemployment remains stubbornly high. While Canada has been somewhat better off, people are getting increasingly anxious as their disposable income has been static or declining. Gas prices in Vancouver have been a very high levels – although much of the local impact was attributed to a fire at the Cherry Point refinery and that capacity has since been restored. Not only are people driving less, but they have been getting more fuel efficient vehicles. To some extent, the reduction in driving can also be attributed to the opening of the Canada Line. I would like to be able to point to other major transit service improvements: apparently ridership is at least holding up under the present circumstances.

Bob later sent me a presentation, that examines the data on fuel sales that Translink has been looking at. He said that he would also provide me with a contact in the planning department with whom I could discuss this document, but so far I have not been able to have that discussion. Since a week has passed since I heard about this issue, I have decided to publish anyway, and stick to my own interpretation of what is a somewhat complex issue.

First, some context. In very rough order of magnitude Translink gets about half its revenue from taxes – and about half of that has been coming from fuel tax. The last Annual Report put it this way

Fifteen cents per litre fuel tax is applied to gasoline and diesel fuel sales in the transportation service region, with gasoline sales being 83 per cent of total revenue. Revenues are $12.5 million (3.9 per cent) unfavourable to budget. Total sales volumes in TransLink’s region have declined from the previous year by 5.3 per cent.

Over the last year the monthly revenue received from the Province has shown significant volatility. As a result of the carbon tax legislation changes made in 2009, the taxation process for fuel tax revenue has changed, which makes it difficult to forecast and compare trends. Another significant challenge of the revised process is the timing and magnitude of credits/refunds, which could go back four years. Discussions are underway with Consumer Taxation to examine the revenue capture and reporting systems. Further analysis will continue in 2012.

TransLink region experienced a decrease of 5.9 percent in 2011 fuel sales volume. High prices of fuel and a strong Canadian dollar would have contributed to the decline in fuel sales volume, which likely migrated to Fraser Valley Regional District and Whatcom County.

You can easily check yourself what gas prices are like by going to Gasbuddy.com. That is where I got the following information – and of course the volatility of gas prices means that the actual amounts will be changing continually, but this morning while gas prices in Vancouver were around $1.27 per litre, in Abbotsford they were $1.25. Since gasoline there does not carry the 15c/l that it does in Vancouver, you can see that some retailers are doing very well. Just over the border the average price (converted to litres, and assuming the dollar is at par) is $1.05. Bellingham is slightly lower at $1.0435 and Point Roberts (just one report and a bit out of date) was at $1.1492.

There have been reports recently of increased border crossings due to new higher duty free allowances – but that of course applies to overnight and longer trips. A savings of 20c per litre is obviously attractive, and people with high consumption vehicles are finding it worthwhile to buy large gerry cans to fill up at the same time as they fill their tanks. (The story about someone filling up garbage bags with gasoline turns out to have been a misunderstanding).

The following graph is one I concocted from the 2011 Translink Annual Report

This is perhaps not very beautiful as a graphic, but then it is the first time I have had to do anything like this for a number of years. It does show that Translink did get additional revenue as a result of the increase in gas tax, but as a share of the total, gas tax has been declining. From around 30% in 2007 to 26% last year.

The information in presentation that Bob sent me attempts to understand this and project its impact forwards. You can download the whole thing (TL Fuel Research – Rev Mgmt Comm – July 31) if you wish. I am just cutting and pasting  the graphics

This shows that while there has always been volatility in reported sales volumes this became much more pronounced when reporting requirements changed due to the introduction of the carbon tax.

This graph shows gasoline sales only (not diesel) and also indicates an increasing divergence between Ministry data and that of the industry (Kent is a consulting company that collects fuel sales data).

This year fuel sales have been declining generally

The “leakage” trend is not as clear – but note that there is no data for the cross border shoppers

Declining demand may be more prevalent this year (note that the data now refers to absolute volumes, not percentages as above)

The really big change is the decline in diesel sales

The presentation can only speculate about why this might have occurred.

  • Reduction in trucking activity in Metro Vancouver?
  • Purchases in the Fraser Valley?
  • Fuel switch in heavy-duty vehicles?

For example, garbage trucks in Vancouver have recently been converted to use natural gas instead of diesel.

There will continue to be research into these trends. The last slide of the presentation shows the intended structure of the work

The problem, of course, is that extrapolating from previous trends is a bit like steering a ship by studying its wake.  There is nothing in the presentation about mode share – nor does that appear in the annual report. The broader transportation survey that might help address that issue only happens once every five years, and of course the census data on journey to work – which was one of the few very good indicators – is no longer collected with the scrapping of the long form.

There is something happening here. People are not driving as much – some of that is due to better trip chaining, switching to walking and cycling, use of new media (no one goes to the video store any more now that they can download movies, most banking is done on line too). One of the drivers is not just that gas prices climbed but the expectation is that they are not going to get any cheaper. Cutting spending at the pump is one of the few areas where individuals can actually influence the outcome of their own personal budgeting. The decline in gas sales has been going on for a long time, as the reduction in the number of gas stations makes apparent. The decision to implement tougher corporate average fuel economy standards for vehicles also means that recent technological improvements  have been directed more at fuel efficiency than performance.

There always has been some “leakage” across the border – and out into the valley. But the Gasbuddy information seems to support my own view that much of the difference between gas pricing on ether side of the Langley/Abbotsford line has been swallowed up by the gas companies. The decision to go to the US means that people are planning ahead to make a trip just to get gas and put up with sometimes long waits – and much engine idling. Clearly those who are going down are not just buying milk. I can clearly recall warnings that we used to issue when discussing the potential for greater gas revenue, that the wider the gap between gas prices in South Surrey and Blaine, the greater the revenue loss would be. Of course we had no real data then either – just lots of anecdotal “evidence”.

What Bob Paddon was saying to me last week was that this needs to be incorporated  in future assessments of Translink’s finances: they are currently off $30m a year in their fuel revenue expectations. Which in a $1.2bn budget is not a disaster, but obviously has to be replaced somehow. In general the organization has done all it can to find efficiencies – as demanded by the Province and the Transit Commissioner – but as this trend seems likely to continue, future cuts will have to come at the expense of service, as there are no longer the opportunities for savings that have already been achieved.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Vancouver Airport Fuel Delivery Project

with 6 comments

I went to an open house last night, run by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office. The project has been around for a while (the Green Party tried to get people to pay attention to it at the last election). The idea actually goes back  much further and has already been rejected by Richmond twice, according to Harold Steves. The proponents are the consortium of airlines who make up the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation who have set up a website to promote the idea. The boards around the conference room, and the slides used by the presenter at the meeting, go into more detail than the brochure provided at the meeting. Probably the most informative document is the Project Description. On page 14 it describes the screening of fourteen different options from which this proposal emerged.

I think it is fair to say that this gave rise to many of the concerns expressed at the meeting. Most people wanted to point out that there are better ways of protecting the environment than trying to clean it up after there has been an oil spill. The general preference I think is that we don’t put the sensitive habitats at risk needlessly. So the assumptions and methodology used to select this project from the other alternatives are critical. But that will not be the subject of this EA. Both provincial and federal representatives present spent the first 40 minutes of the meeting explaining how their EAs work. And then the proponent got to do his dog and pony show – with questions limited and restricted – and the only answer ever given was “put your concerns in writing and we will answer after the EA is finished”.

I was surprised that the officials even decided to go for a public meeting format. An open house is usually preferred since opponents do not get a microphone, and cannot this let everyone else know what they are talking about. The meeting ran over time. The tactic of the officials and proponent to be be as dull as possible and bore people did not work. Most people stayed to get their word in. The project manager for the project spoke in a soporific monotone and avoided talking about any specific figures that might get quoted back at him.  Yet is was the claims that are made to justify the project where he was weakest. For instance, it was repeatedly said – and is also in the project description – that the current system is “at capacity”. As a number of people pointed out that is not true: the pipeline pumps are only used intermittently, as there is not enough tank storage at the airport (it already being expanded). But any questions about the existing system were deflected by trotting out a lawyer who said that as the current system is owned by Trans Mountain and not VAFFC, they do not have to answer questions about it.

The other obvious option – the use of the existing rail facility at Cherry Point refinery to load trains that could get to the existing rail sidings along River Road where a transfer to a much shorter pipe connection would need to be built – was dismissed out of hand. It is not even specifically addressed among the 14 options (only rail from Alberta was considered) but the project manager asserted it would be “too expensive”. There are, of course, no specific cost figures for any of the options, and when pinned on that point he waffled saying that the final cost of the preferred option could not be determined until its exact configuration was finalized (i.e. the route of the pipe within Richmond). VAFFC have already bought the property on the South Arm in expectation of proceeding.

The other assumptions – about constant growth of traffic at YVR and improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency not being enough to reduce the need for the project – were also not defended. They just came from “other sources” (YVR and Transport Canada) and thus could not be questioned.

Much was made of the fact that the project is not big enough to trigger a provincial EA but the proponent volunteered for one due to local concerns. Well, while technically true, a federal EA is triggered by the proposals use of navigable waterways and federal land (owned by the Port) so one was inevitable, so they might as well go for a combined EA. Fortunately for them, they do not put themselves in much hazard by so doing, since (despite the claims made by provincial officials) BC’s EA process is largely toothless. Some projects just give up, but very few are ever denied a certificate. It’s all about mitigation. The great strength of the opponents is that if fuel delivery were done some other way, mitigation might be much less. The problem is that the EA process does not have to test this assertion. It’s this project or nothing. No other option gets looked at.

Map showing terminal and proposed alternate routes

VAFFC Proposal

For the proponents, their major concern is that they have the ability to go to as many suppliers as possible. They do not want to be in thrall to any one supplier – or delivery system. To some extent, since they are the only customer for the existing pipe, they are using the proposal to put leverage on their suppliers. That concern is actually missing from the matrix used to select the final option but clearly weighs heaviest with the airlines. And it far outweighs all the other concerns.

If we had a truly rigorous EA process each option would be evaluated properly – not just screened out by the proponent before the process actually starts. It is this use of a coarse, and unverifiable “sieve” that gives rise to most of the concerns. Involving the public late, and declining to go into details about how this project is justified, is simply inflammatory. Unfortunately for the proponent – who has been diligently working with governments and first nations – the public has to be consulted. And they can detect very easily when they are being fobbed off.

My prediction is that as more people realize what their homes are going to be exposed to – and memories of that pipeline rupture in Burnaby are fresh in their minds – opposition is bound to grow. As those people realize that the options are not open to discussion, they will get angrier. Richmond is quite clear in its opposition to the project. The EA process will probably certify it, but I doubt that it can mollify those who feel that their interests have been protected. And, of course, for those concerned with the ecology of the Fraser delta, they have been disregarded for so many projects for so long, I am surprised that they still come out to such meetings.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 15, 2010 at 8:11 am