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

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Why am I blogging?

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Yesterday I posted a blog about a movie – and at the very end of that movie is a neat infographic of all the things we as individuals could do that would help save the oceans. Only one of those things is voting.

This morning in my inbox is a study of how, if we all became vegans, we could reduce our carbon foot print.

And straight away I recalled a tweet I had seen

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 10.14.21 AM

Actually that was just the start of the thread

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 10.14.38 AM

I did retweet the first one – which means I can now recover the rest of the thread. And while in general tweets “disappear” quickly, everything on the internet is stored forever, somewhere.

I do not know Louisa, of course. I was just retweeting what someone I do know (OK – it was Roland Talango) retweeted. It just struck a chord. And it is quite possible she is repeating something she heard or read in another medium. Doesn’t matter. We recognise the validity of what she is saying.

Yesterday’s blog post has been read 14 times and gathered 5 “likes” so not a huge reach. But someone is reading this – you. And you have reached this far so you have the attention span to get beyond 280 characters.

The comments threads on this blog never get anything like as long as the discussions on facebook. Despite most people disliking Facebook’s business model and recent behaviour, the drop off among people I know and care about has not been noticeable.

There are lots of things that happen around us that we notice. Some cause us to comment – and for more than will admit we do not have to actually have someone within ear shot all the time, but talking to an empty room soon seems pointless.

By the way, we go to a beach quite often. Beaches in Vancouver – based on my recent experience – do not seem to be getting much plastic, or there are enough people picking it up that I have not been able to find three pieces every time I visit. There is, of course, plenty of litter elsewhere and I still do not feel its my job to pick up after all those who have less concern about the environment than I do. I did post a tweet to car2go about that very issue. It did not get any response.

There are things that I see where I really want to say something, but I don’t. And, every so often, not saying something seems to cause a kind of build up – and eventually I blurt out somethings better unsaid just to relieve the pressure. I suspect blogging might be something similar.

I am really glad there is a young woman who washes out the stomachs of fledgling seabirds and feeds them squished squid. I am really pleased a group of guys are cleaning up a beach in Western Australia fouled by ghost nets. It is encouraging that there are other people out there who are doing their very best – even though it is not enough, and can never be enough, by itself. So by reading this, you are reassuring me that I am not shouting at the clouds.

And we really must do more to stop people like Jason Kenney getting elected anywhere.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 8, 2018 at 10:51 am

Trip report: Victoria

with 7 comments

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

Mount Baker from the floatplane

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

Harbour Air Victoria terminal

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

Scan 10

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

BCT 9510

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

The Jack Davis Building

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

Formerly The Bay now The Hudson

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

Moon Under Water

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

Spinnakers

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

Victoria Harbour Ferry

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

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

Douglas and Yates

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

Coastal Celebration

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

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

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

Travel time door to door ~1 hour

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

Travel time ~4 hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Stephen Rees

March 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Posted in personal thoughts

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Christina de Marco too?

with 2 comments

I have just read a tweet that linked to this news story

Forget the piffle from the always predictable Maureen Enser (and thank goodness she is on her way out too). The list of people who have been “let go” is now definitely an honour roll (Enser just worked out her time, that’s different). I took dismissal at age 55 really hard, but I have to admit that this early retirement kick has – so far – been a blast. I reviewed much of that today with a former co-worker from Translink and we both felt that the last few years away from the job have been a lot more fun for us than the years before that. But on the other hand we do seem to be getting rid of the people who not only have high intelligence, really good experience and relevant education but also a great track record.

They went to Chicago to attract Mike Shiffer. He had the sort of knowledge, competence and experience that had been sadly lacking at the top of  Translink’s planning department. He lasted less than three years.  You cannot say that about the GVRD/Metro Vancouver planning department: they may not have had much in the way of effectiveness or real power, but everybody (who had their head screwed on) acknowledged the intellectual power of the arguments advanced by people like Ken Cameron – and Christina de Marco. I am very proud that we worked closely together, as professional planners, when our political masters were busy tripping over their own shoelaces. She (and Tamim Raad at Translink) deserve the credit for winning the largest federal contribution (apart from the politically necessary but spurious award to Quebec for a bunch of hybrid buses) for the Urban Transportation Showcase Program. That was the thing that got us the Central Valley Greenway and the Main Street transit improvements – among other significant advances in integrated planning. These demonstration projects provided the data that showed that “sustainable transportation” was more than just a catchy phrase.

I just hope that gave her a decent package and that one of our planning schools scoops her up real quick. Such knowledge and experience needs to be passed along.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Guest Op Ed from Dani Rubin

The following was originally part of an on-going discussion an email list discussion that is (gently) moderated by the author, Dani Rubin. LandWatch is a private listserve used by its participants for educational/informational purposes. It is not a “newsletter” or “publication.”

The title of the thread is “US Population Policy?” but the range of what Dani wrote is beyond that.  It is one of the few things that I have read recently that instantly provoked the thought “I wish I had written that.” So I asked Dani if I could reproduce it, and I am delighted that he gave me permission to do so.

=======================

Please put aside any interpretations of pretentiousness when reading the following – actually I am deeply saddened and terrified by what I am describing below.

Underlying and facilitating the global Capitalist economy lays the world’s vast digital accounting system (as you recall from recent posts, the shear physicality of paper currency makes its usage for large global transactions utterly unworkable – base metals such as gold and silver are even less suitable as planetary mediums/markers of exchange).  While Capital reproduces and enlarges itself, it remains, via the global digital accounting system, anchored/rooted in particular legalistic notions of ownership acquired from the long dead Roman Empire (e.g., ‘ownership’ is the right to use and abuse). The tenacity/appeal of notions of ownership can never be overstated.  Nor can the reach/efficacy and durability of global systems of digital credit/debt transaction.

Often it is said that the value of any particular national currency is a direct function of that nation’s net ability to produce. The industrial metaphor for is characterized by the image of a number of productive factory facilities delivering their surplus outputs (a model of ‘wealth’ for all). We as environmentalists have challenged this metaphor by introducing notions of ‘limits’/’irreplacability,’ ‘biological consequence’ and ‘aesthetics’.

However, in post-industrial/digital societies the anchoring ownership that underpins Capital also lays largely upon human indentureship (contractual slavery of the Willing).

While the flim-flam narratives that we are embedded within use digital communications to inject idealized notions of democracy and individualism into our civil life, the on-the-ground realities betray the truth. I note that America has been at war for seven years – without invoking the draft. There can be no greater demonstration of the Hegelian master/slave relationship than endless waves of young men and women eagerly marching to their deaths while their parents urge them onwards, for the greater good.

To conclude, I am suggesting that the downfall of the Republic does not mark the end of the Empire. Personally, my heart goes out to  all of the well-intended folks that embrace the devolution of industrial capitalism (Orlov-styled collapse) and a return to a stable biospheric dynamic.

But the primary motivating forces in human history have shown themselves to be dark, deceitful and insanely ambitious and we are nowhere near the End Game.

Speaking as one who, years ago, endured several long face-to-face conversations with survivors of the camps (WWII) I do not look forward to approaching instability with hope in my heart.  I am old and my time to die approaches soon enough – I am ready – it is the onslaught of misery for others that frightens me.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Posted in personal thoughts

My Christmas Card

with 2 comments

snow tree 2008_1222, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.

To all the readers and commenters on this blog, my very best wishes to you.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 24, 2008 at 10:33 am

Posted in personal thoughts

SFU tuition-free education for seniors may be in jeopardy

with 8 comments

Sun

This is a purely personal and self interested appeal. I am 59 and I attend as many free SFU public lectures as I can manage. I have a very limited income, but I can manage that too. But I was utterly appalled to read

For more than 30 years, Simon Fraser University has been offering tuition-free full-credit courses to anyone over the age of 60.

The program — which attracts about 60 students per year — has been a source of pride for the school, and has been growing each year. Despite its popularity, however, the full-credit seniors’ program is in jeopardy.

SFU financial vice-president Pat Hibbitts told The Vancouver Sun that SFU’s board of governors is considering a proposal to cut the program to help make up for an unexpected $6.3-million shortfall for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

My late mother was the founder and Secretary of the Worker’s Education Association branch in Loughton, Essex. Literally up until her last breath at the age of 84 she was actively promoting adult education, and given the demography of where she lived ,that was mostly directed to people over 60. There is no argument that education never ceases – and keeping the brain active is the best strategy for holding on to your marbles. Despite many peer reviewed studies that demonstrate the value of educating old people her last twenty years were a continual battle with the authorities to keep her program going – and not for lack of customers!

I have a Bachelors and a Masters degree, and do not actually need academic credits for anything. My mother actually accumulated more than enough credits for more than one degree – but never wanted one. “I only read for pleasure” she said, in typical understatement. Her interests included English Literature, Archaeology, Classics, History – especially Economic and Social History, Anthropology and she “dabbled” in a wide range of other fields too – setting up new courses every year to meet demand and usually went to the classes – just because she could.

I have no idea at all what can be done about this situation, but one thing I think I can bet is that the BC Liberal Government in Victoria will not give a stuff about this – unless they are forced to. It is typical short term, compartmentalised thinking. The benefits of education go far beyond getting people into employment, but so far as I can recall that is about the only thing I have heard from this government. Quality of life means nothing to them since it does not appear anywhere on anyone’s balance sheet. And it has been apparent for years that shifting emphasis away from road building and car orientation would have major health benefits as more people walk and cycle. Exactly the same argument applies to adult education – it will reduce the escalating costs of caring for an ageing population . But that does not get reckoned into the “need” to cut university funding , in a province which has been running large surpluses for years and has no need to cut spending, other than a political preference for a dogma that regards all public spending other than law enforcement and prisons as “wasteful”.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 11, 2008 at 8:22 am

Posted in personal thoughts

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82% of Canadians would rather work than retire: poll

with 14 comments

CBC News

I am not surprised. The information comes from Royal Bank and is part of the spring RRSP campaign. What is important is that for most of us, work defines who we are. “I am an economist” sounds so much better to me than “I am retired”.

For me, this is my work. Blogging is only part of it. Once upon a time I used to be paid to try and implement the Livable Region Strategic Plan. Somehow that ceased to be the most important thing my employer was supposed to do. Not that anybody back then bothered to change the legislation – or even the rhetoric. When I came to BC I had not even heard of the LRSP. I remember looking at Transport 2021 and wondering where the new freeways were going to be. It took me quite a while to start to understand the concept of “liveability”. Indeed, I remember very clearly being invited to help organise a conference on “sustainable transportation”, and simply not being able to decode what to me was a meaningless catch phrase.

Trouble is, once I began to see what it was supposed be about I was struck by the dissonance between what we said we were doing and what we were actually doing. Which, truth be told, was not a whole hell of a lot really. Lack of available funding being a terrific all purpose explanation. But now there seems to be a lot of money on the table. $11bn for Gateway apparently. $14bn for transit (which turns out to be quite a bit less).  But still, not chump change.

So now we are at a turning point. And this self appointed job seems to me to be the most important thing I can do. It gives me a feeling of some worth. What do retired people do? Can you think of yourself sitting back and saying, “My work is done here”? I suppose if I had been working on turning out widgets I could have stepped away from that easily enough. But my work has always been about what kind of place I live in. Or what could be done to some other place to make it work better. And frankly, as a transportation economist, I killed a lot more projects than got built, because there are some really nutty ideas out there. And often there is a charismatic politician (or, worse, one who thinks [s]he is) promoting some scheme [s]he dreamt up in the bath. Sadly we have had more than one of those inflicted on us in recent years. And you would have thought by now that we would have become a tad more sceptical of mega projects in general and transportation mega projects in particular. But, as someone observed, the price of not understanding history is to repeat it. And every time you do that, the price goes up.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Posted in personal thoughts