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

Archive for the ‘silly’ Category

No good work goes unpunished

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WTA 822

WTA bus unloading at Bellingham

I must admit I was not aware of what a good job Whatcom County transit has been doing. But then I had also never heard of crosscut.com either – “News of the Great Nearby”.

the Federal Transportation Administration hailed WTA as the bus service with the highest ridership increase in the United States — up 32 percent in 2007-2008. Last year, its buses managed nearly 5 million passenger trips in a service area of only 196,000 people. It carries more riders per dollar than any other communitywide transit system in the state.

The title I chose comes directly from the article. My father used that aphorism frequently, only he said “No good deed goes unpunished”. I had of course heard about the effect that HST would have on cross border shoppers from here to there. Indeed, I do not think most of us in this region think about Whatcom County except in terms of cross border shopping. I did once supervise a project that tried to establish a cross border transit service for the large numbers of people who work on one side of the border but live on the other. That went nowhere – mainly due to inter-governmental bureacracies. A bit like the cock up over the second Amtrak train.

The whole thing turns on an administrative decision at state level that says the HST is not a “sales tax” but rather a “value added tax”. Which seems to me to be a fine bit of legal sophistry.

The exemption is one the state legislature created 45 years ago, for residents of states and provinces with a sales tax lower than 3 percent. Oregon, Idaho, Alberta, and Alaska qualified.

But Alberta doesn’t have a sales tax! Alaska gets in there because of the direct ferry service between the two states: visitors do not have to set foot on Canadian soil.

But I digress. The is no way that the WTA can challenge the ruling in court, because it was not the result of a case but rather the result of a ruling by the state Department of Revenue.

Gov. Gregoire and Director Holmstrom have told border community leaders. B.C. shoppers will get a free pass from Washington sales tax on purchases they buy to take back to Canada.

So no hope of a political decision by the state legislature either – since retailers expect a big boost in sales from the exemption.

Some Bellingham stores do as much as 40 percent of their business with B.C. shoppers. They sniff a bonanza, as the tax-free bargains draw Canadians by the thousands. It may also be bit of a paperwork nuisance.

Based on my own unscientific parking lot surveys at Bellis Fair Mall I would have guessed an even higher  figure. But then how do they measure these things? After all, the people who go cross border shopping are not especially open about their purchases. The exemption does not apply to day trippers. But then neither do the Canadian exemptions. In theory Canadians are supposed to declare everything they buy – no matter how long they are away – and then calculate how much exemption they are entitled to based on the amount of time they have been out of the country. I suppose these days there could easily be a number plate matching program on the computer in front of the border agent. But I rather think that most agents go by other “tells” – and are less concerned about small sums of sales tax than drugs, guns and illegal immigration. If you have to pay for an overnight stay (or two) to get the exemption, then you probably have to spend quite a bit before the trip breaks even.

At one time I used to take advantage of travel exemptions to bring back things like booze and cigarettes – but I stopped smoking many years ago, and decided that having a collection of single malts was not exactly a high priority. And I have always avoided buying consumer durables from places that would be difficult to get to if I needed to return something. So I have no personal axe to grind here. I do teach a course at Whatcom County Community College – and (sometimes) they even pay me!

I do begin to wonder when it will become apparent to politicians and bureaucrats in general that public transportation is something that they have to consider as being something worth spending taxes on  – like they now see defence or prisons.

WTA 827

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Posted in silly, transit

Tagged with , ,

Richmond slides in best city rankings

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The Richmond Review decided to run this story on their front page. Which says a lot about free local “news”papers. It is taken from an annual Money Sense survey – and seems to me to lack even the most basic common sense. Our “best” ranking (according to the Review) is in the number of new cars in the city – we’re No 3! Whoopee.

We rated cities based on climate, prosperity, access to healthcare, home affordability, crime rates and lifestyle with subcategories in each area.

Yeah, it’s that prosperity indicator. Am I worse off now that I was in 2007? That was when I bought my car. It is now getting on for three years old. It works just as well as the day I bought it, though thanks to depreciation it is worth less now. That was true the moment I drove it out of the showroom  – but of course if it lasts long enough to become a classic collectable item that could change too. Though in the case of cars, patina does not add value they way it does with furniture and bronzes on the Antiques Roadshow.  (Actually in the case of this survey it makes no difference at all since “new” means “up to three years old”.) Monetary value is actually not a very good way of measuring things. For one thing the Roadshow never mentions inflation. If someone had bought me something in the year I was born that cost $100, it would need to be worth nearly $1,000 now just to keep pace with the decline in the value of money.

Is the number of new cars a good measure of “the best place to live”? Somehow, the fact that some of my neighbours like to trade in their cars every three years does not  make me any happier with Richmond. At the same time, the ranking of affordability is applied to houses: but once again it is perverse in that the way the information is displayed suggests that Vancouver gets top ranking as it is even less affordable than Richmond is. As far as that goes, since I am mortgage free where I live got “cheaper” in terms of its value – but now seem to have returned to what I paid for it. Once again, I don’t see house prices actually make much difference to my perception of the city over time – factored by average incomes or not. The indicator is called “time to buy a house” (Average house price divided by the average family income) where Richmond ranks third (#53 overall) with an indicator of 177. The most affordable place is Portage la Prairie in Manitoba with an indicator of 1, which is ranked #73 overall.

What they are really saying of course is that Richmond is, in the words quoted from Derek Dang, “highly desirable”. Unless that condo you bought now has the elevated Canada Line a few feet from your bedroom window. Accessibility is great, privacy and the view not so much.

Actually you need to read the somewhat complex methodology to see how these ranking were weighted.

Some of the indicators I actually like

WALK/BIKE TO WORK – 7 Points – Data taken from 2006 Statistics Canada reports

TRANSIT – 5 points – Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit according the 2006 census

So we get no credit at all for the Canada Line, yet it has had some effect on transit ridership since the last annual survey, there’s just no census data on that yet. But only commuting counts, even though it has had significant value for me (and, I suspect quite a few others) in changing my views about how easy it now is to get to events of all kinds in Vancouver, without having to pay an arm and leg to park. In Richmond walking and cycling still seem to be perceived as recreational activities – not serious transportation. The only real change recently has been again due to the Canada Line which meant the new bike/walk bridge to Vancouver and the bike lanes on the north end of No 3 Road. Not that either of these connect to a continuous network of course. And walking anywhere other than the dyke or within one of the larger parks seems to be an exercise in masochism. I live within a mile of the nearest shopping centre – but that mile is along Steveston Highway. There is a sidewalk (on one side only) no bike lanes, and traffic which averages 70 km/hr (posted speed 50 km/hr – speed enforcement negligible).   So (nearly) all the drivers like this route. Like most of the straight, wide arterials in Richmond it seems to offer a fast way to get around, with few pedestrian crossings and restricted volumes of traffic emerging from side streets or entranceways. I do see a few brave cyclists – and some harried pedestrians – but none of them seem to be willing to linger. Conversation on the sidewalk would be next to impossible, most of the time. I cannot leave my back door open in good weather – or sit in my back yard for long – because of the noise.

CULTURE – Bonus points.  A city could receive up to 5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.

This seems to me also to be perverse. Surely the measure of culture should be something to do with participation rates. Thanks to cut backs in all levels of government funding for the arts the number of people employed has been in steep decline for some time. But that does not stop people making art – they just find it hard to make a living at it. And again “recreation and sports” counted this way means that the Vancouver Canucks are seen as important and your daughter’s softball league counts not at all. (Richmond hosts regional and national girls’ softball tournaments at London park.)

In cities, as with most things, what gets measured gets attention. Trouble is, we don’t usually measure things that are very significant but hard to count. Or rather, “mainstream media” seem to get all excited (front page news  is an indicator) about some things which turn out not to be very important at all. At one time, crime rates got all the press. Since they have been falling, you do not see so much about that – but stories about crime (customers of a local restaurant robbed at gun point) and the “failings of justice system” (i.e. we don’t punish those found guilty harshly enough) are still lead news stories. Richmond has significant problems – flood risk, lack of preparedness for earthquakes, loss of farmland and green space, shortage of parks in the  central area, loss of industrial employment, lack of transit to employment locations, lack of public and affordable housing, no shelters for the homeless, rising rates of foodbank use, impact of the cuts in education funding – I could go on. Some of this might be captured by this survey – but most of it isn’t. And anyway just ranking us against other places in Canada does not tell us very much either.

Are we doing well? Are we doing any better than we were? Are we keeping up with other countries? I don’t know. Not from reading this anyway.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm

The world’s top 10 most liveable cities

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International Herald Tribune

Part of a larger review – this is just the slide show. Nice pictures. Vancouver isn’t one of them.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 21, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Posted in silly, Urban Planning

8 random facts

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I have to thank Paul Hillsdon for this tag

This is my first time participating in one of these tag games.

  • Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
  • Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
  • Players should tag eight other people and notify them that they have been tagged.
  1.  I am a mongrel: my background includes a variety of different nationalities and cultures
  2.  As a result of 1, I always answer any question about my “race” as Human.
  3.  After years of doubt I have finally decided I am an atheist. This realization has been liberating.
  4.  I have type 2 diabetes
  5.  and osteoporosis – no, it is NOT just a condition of post-menopausal women
  6.  I have dual British and Canadian citizenship
  7.  I have four children from two [failed] marriages
  8.  I am seriously concerned that I am not going to find it easy to tag 8 more bloggers, and I apologize in advance to  those who will find this exercise pointless.

Paul wrote of his tags “3 teens, 2 urban design whizzes, 2 education whizzes, and 1 politico.”

I know I am not a teen or an education whizz – so now I wonder which of the remainder he puts me in.

I tag

  1. Bill McEwen
  2. Bill Tieleman
  3. David Pritchard
  4. Carmen Mills
  5. Jak King
  6. Richard Eriksson
  7. Keefer
  8. Sgt Turmeric

Written by Stephen Rees

July 1, 2007 at 6:52 pm

Posted in silly