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

Archive for the ‘fuel consumption’ Category

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.

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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