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

Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Unexpected impacts of climate change

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Talking this morning to a company that imports stuff from Europe. It is currently very late arriving here. Originally it was destined for the port of Montreal, but there have been strikes there, so the container was diverted. It was now to be delivered by ship into Vancouver via the Panama Canal. But for the first time in its history there has been a three month drought, and the canal is short of water. To get containers through in smaller vessels, they have to be transhipped in Cartagena. The port of Montreal is currently unable to handle ships due to flooding and the consequent shortage of railcars.

Maybe I should be more incredulous. Here is a recent picture of a container train leaving the Port of Montreal May 6, 2019 – with plenty of space for a second container on every car!
CN 9547

Photo Credit: Michael Berry on Flickr

In the other direction, a container full of door furniture (“knobs and knockers”) destined for a new development in Vancouver was lost at sea when a ship from China was hit by an unprecedented  cyclone.

This is going to be the new normal, and will require some rethinking of the trade patterns that have developed in recent years. While there might be comparative advantages in labour cost, the perils of shipping may make manufacturing at at home rather than abroad a more attractive proposition.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 7, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Transportation

“Why did everyone else get bus deregulation and London did not?”

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The quote comes from an article in the Observer yesterday.

I wrote a letter to the Editor today:  it does appear. I thought readers here might also like to know the answer.

Because Professor Christopher Foster of the London School of Economics wrote a paper describing the impact of competition between bus companies in London in the 1920s and 30s which lead to the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board. Traffic congestion has always been bad, especially in Central London, but the behaviour of bus drivers trying to beat each other to the bus stops to scoop up as many fares as possible had become downright dangerous. Mrs Thatcher clearly took a narrow view, and decided that this was a risk she was not prepared to take – in London. Chaos did indeed hit most of Britain’s larger cities after bus deregulation.

By the way, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Railways was more effective with his advice on the privatisation of the railways. He told her that people would be killed. He was also right, but that did not happen on Thatcher’s watch but later under John Major who was notably less intelligent.

I went looking for a suitable picture and found one of the “Chocolate Express” which was accompanied by some useful text. So instead of using a copyright image I am sending you to that page.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 6, 2019 at 11:17 am

Posted in Transportation

The Free Transit Illusion

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One of the reasons that I blog much less these days, is that I got bored with myself. Every time I sat down to write it seemed that what I was writing, I had written before. Even when I was writing that it was repetitive, I kept on. Yet the illusions that beset us continue to be repeated. As if those notions had not already been disproven, repeatedly.

It is a truism, but it takes more energy to refute a falsehood than to repeat. Conservatives rely on this. Almost everything they assert turns out to be untrue. Yet the policies they endorse continue to operate despite their obvious failures. Wealth has never trickled down. Holding down wages has not created more jobs. Making drugs illegal has not reduced their use at all. Increasing spending on the military has not made us safer. Prisons do nothing to reduce crime. Corporal punishment is not effective at improving children’s behaviour.

The left also endorses fatuous policies, ones shown time and again to be ineffective. Mostly deciding to adopt the policies of previous, conservative governments. The BC NDP is doing now exactly what the BC Liberals endorse: Site C, highway widening, cutting down old growth forests, expanding LNG.

Just as we know what we should be doing – reducing ghg emissions being the most important – what we actually do barely scratches the surface and mostly we continue with business as usual.

There is a problem of poverty. Just as providing homes turns out to be the only effective solution to homelessness, so providing money is the only way to relieve poverty. The first thing new Premier Ford did was cancel the Guaranteed Income pilot project – just in case it proved that point once again.

Here we have once again fallen into to happy illusion that in order to deal with poverty – and the fact that some people have a hard time paying their transit fares – we should make transit free. The latest developments here have been an endorsement by Victoria City Council – and now by Kai Nagata of Dogwood who uses Jason Kenney’s swearing in as a hook for a piece about what to do when Kenney “turns off the taps”. Kenney, now sworn in, says he won’t – yet.

It is not surprising that in support of this proposal a number of easily disprovable assertions are made

“Zero-fare public transport is the norm in many cities across Europe. ”

Actually very few cities – Dunkirk (France), Tallinn (Estonia) and apparently two dozen other French urban areas – though only Aubagne is named and analyzed. Luxembourg is going to try it nationally, though it is a very small country and has made its own economy successful by being a well known haven for tax evasion.

There is a list at but it is not reliable. Calgary, for example, is shown on that list, but its own webpage provides a list of fares – free only applies to a downtown section, not the whole system, and pets. Frankly, I am not about to spend any more time checking the veracity of ALL of the rest of the assertions but Winnipeg isn’t a free system either. Bizarrely England is listed as fare free – that may just be a formatting error or a reference to the Old Age concession of a free bus pass. This is of limited value since it does not apply to other modes – trains – and in the deregulated market where local government has been deliberately starved of funds there is little to no socially essential service outside of the dense urban area. The country bus is largely a fond memory. The lack of revenue for the operators (little to no subsidy from local government, no income from pass users) means there is no incentive to increase service.

By the way, Seattle used to have a free fare zone downtown, but dropped it. It is one of the few transit systems in the US that reported increased use last year.

There is a wikipedia article (see below) but it lacks references (though the bit I quote has a source).

The notion that appeals to Dogwood is the mistaken belief that free fares will get people out of their cars and onto transit, and that this will reduce congestion and thus fuel consumption. Nagata simply asserts this belief. The evidence does not support it. The inescapable rule is that traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. Congestion exists because there is more demand that can be accomodated. Congestion tends to be worst at peak periods – journeys to and from work or education – and on some routes on public holidays – the road to the ferries from Tsawwassen on the Easter weekend being a most recent case. Generally people adapt to predictable congestion but just as a few will try car sharing, or leaving really early, others will drive when it seems “not so bad”. And there is a sort of equilibrium. Like most human compromises one which leaves everybody equally dissatisfied. We know that adding lanes to freeways just increases the amount of traffic, just as removing a freeway usually reduces congestion. The only thing that we know works is to price road use – when it is free it is over consumed – and provide more and better transit service that, as far as possible, uses its own right of way to avoid the congestion. You have to do both. Oddly, pricing roads, even though successful, is much less tried than free transit fares, which mostly isn’t.

From Wikipedia

Several large U.S. municipalities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been judged unsuccessful by policy makers. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some disadvantages:[7]

  • An increase in vandalism, resulting in increased costs for security and vehicle-maintenance
  • In large transit systems, significant revenue shortfalls unless additional funding was provided
  • An increase in driver complaints and staff turnover, although farebox-related arguments were eliminated
  • Slower service overall (not collecting fares has the effect of speeding boarding, but increased crowding tends to swamp out this effect unless additional vehicles are added)
  • Declines in schedule adherence

This U.S. report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the goal of enticing drivers to take transit instead of driving is not necessarily met: because fare-free systems tend to attract a certain number of “problem riders”, zero-fare systems may have the unintended effect of convincing some ‘premium’ riders to go back to driving their cars. It should be kept in mind that this was a study that only looked at U.S. cities, and the author’s conclusions may be less applicable in other countries that have better social safety nets and less crime than the large U.S. cities studied.[7]

[7] Perone, Jennifer S. (October 2002). “Advantages and Disadvantages of Fare-Free Transit Policy” (PDF)NCTR Report Number: NCTR-473-133, BC137-38. Retrieved 1 November 2012.

So if free transit does not attract drivers, who does it attract? Here it will be the homeless – kicked out of shelters during the day and looking for somewhere warm and dry. And for people to panhandle. The transit police will not be able to cope as without the need for proof of payment, removal will be at best temporary – even if they do manage to persuade the most offensive to leave. It will be gangs of kids. It will be people with nothing better to do than go for a ride somewhere – anywhere. Yes free transit increases the number of people on transit – just not the ones that you wanted to leave their cars behind.

The other reason that people do not leave their cars for transit is simply the inconvenience and relative slowness of transit (all those bus stops) compared to driving. Even for relatively short trips in denser parts of the region, car is still the preferred mode. It is not until there is a clear transit advantage for some trips do people switch in significant numbers. Clearly the expansion of the SkyTrain has worked well. In the parts of the region where additional road space is next to impossible, car trips are being curtailed. Where there is a better alternative, it does get used. More people are also choosing to walk or ride a bicycle – and the option to not own a car, but use ones that are available (Modo, car2go et al) – reduces the need to own a car, and thus try to maximise the return on capital investment. (“It’s sitting in the driveway, I might as well get some use out of it.”) The recent record boost in transit use, and the growing mode share for bikes and walking in Vancouver has nothing to do with transit fares, but everything to do with comparative advantage. And protected bike lanes – not white lines or sharrows.

Nagata also makes the fundamental error of assuming that governments (federal and provincial) will fund free transit. So far, the only thing that they have been willing to do is fund capital projects – preferably expansions – and usually with ribbon cutting opportunities and naming rights (The Canada Line for instance). What has always been lacking is adequate funding for operations and maintenance. Canada, on the whole, has done a much better job than the US. The shameful condition of the New York subway being one of the most glaring examples. Government also likes to play at innovation – which has given rise to several expensive, and usually short lived, experiments like the Whistler hydrogen buses. Instead of doing the essential dull, repetitive non-newsworthy state of good repair and high reliability transit cannot do without. Much of the innovations have not actually been necessary, but one thing that did come out of the imposed electronic fare collection system was essential data on how the system is used. In earlier times, Greater Vancouver saw a complete neglect of data collection as a result of foolish cost cutting. At least some of the newer and improved services now being provided is from a better understanding of when and where people are travelling – despite the lack of tap off on buses.  Again, a free fare system loses all that information.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 30, 2019 at 11:01 am

Posted in fares, transit, Transportation

Tagged with

Arguing with Ms Thunberg

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Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 6.00.08 PM

I just came across a quote from the highly intelligent, well informed climate campaigner. It was on Twitter

Yesterday, Thunberg repeated the phrase. “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking,” she said. “We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

You can see the whole thing on the New Yorker who are impressed by her rhetoric.

So I do not really want to get into an argument with her and on media like Twitter and Facebook these things can get out of hand quickly. But I am pretty sure that the guys who built cathedrals knew exactly how to build the ceiling even as they were working on the foundations. You may recall that I recently posted my pictures of the ceiling of Notre Dame.


If you have been in the crypt of any medieval cathedral you will note a similar form of construction. This is not my picture. It is by Michael Gabelmann who uses a Creative Commons license for his picture of the crypt of Pecs cathedral built in the 11th century.


Abundant Transit on Twitter also wrote today

We have everything we need to solve the climate crisis. Only politics and culture stand in the way.

And that was in reply to Jennifer Keesmat

The fact that #Vancouver has made creating walkable communities a central big move of it’s #ClimateEmergency plan is both a clue + an inspiration to cities around the world. We don’t need gadgets. We don’t need to invent something new. We know exactly what to do.

And, by the way, the record breaking increase in transit ridership here was not due to making it free. Lots more people are using the system because it is convenient, reliable and less hassle than driving. It also looks to be better value for money than owning a car and then trying to find a parking spot for it. In fact we are becoming the victims of our own success as the biggest problem now is overcrowding.

But to return to the climate crisis, what we need to do is first stop subsidizing fossil fuel use. Renewables are already cheaper than coal – and most people who are serious about energy efficiency find that an easier way of saving money than almost any other alternative. We do have to get serious too about inequality. Our society is headed in the wrong direction not because most people are unaware of the need for change, but a few, exceedingly wealthy people, have been working hard to confuse the issue while making unconscionable profits and avoiding paying tax. Tackling that is actually more important than trying to persuade everyone else that they have to change their lifestyle. Although carbon tax has been remarkably effective at quite modest levels. And because we have done not nearly enough for the last thirty years (other than have fairly silly arguments when the science was unequivocal) we now must move faster. But no-one has to freeze in the dark. But bicycles, buses, protected lanes for both – and more passenger trains in North America will all work very well indeed because we know how to do that. We know how to build better places too. Batteries are getting better and cheaper: so are solar panels and wind turbines. We haven’t even started on geothermal – unlike Iceland. It really does look like we will see commercial electric aircraft and ferries here soon too. Everyone loves to point to cruise ships – but they are actually already using electric drives. We just need to change the way they generate the power. Not rocket science. And that is something else we really don’t need. Setting up home on another planet is not necessary – or even very practical.


Ms Thunberg posted to her Facebook page recently. I decided to cut and paste it here. I have no argument at all with her. You should read this

As the rumours, lies and constant leaving out of well established facts continue, please share this newly updated clarification about me and my school strike.
Please help me communicate this to the grown ups who lie about me and family so that I can focus on school instead:

Recently I’ve seen many rumors circulating about me and enormous amounts of hate. This is no surprise to me. I know that since most people are not aware of the full meaning of the climate crisis (which is understandable since it has never been treated as a crisis) a school strike for the climate would seem very strange to people in general.
So let me make some things clear about my school strike.

In may 2018 I was one of the winners in a writing competition about the environment held by Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper. I got my article published and some people contacted me, among others was Bo Thorén from Fossil Free Dalsland. He had some kind of group with people, especially youth, who wanted to do something about the climate crisis.
I had a few phone meetings with other activists. The purpose was to come up with ideas of new projects that would bring attention to the climate crisis. Bo had a few ideas of things we could do. Everything from marches to a loose idea of some kind of a school strike (that school children would do something on the schoolyards or in the classrooms). That idea was inspired by the Parkland Students, who had refused to go to school after the school shootings.
I liked the idea of a school strike. So I developed that idea and tried to get the other young people to join me, but no one was really interested. They thought that a Swedish version of the Zero Hour march was going to have a bigger impact. So I went on planning the school strike all by myself and after that I didn’t participate in any more meetings.

When I told my parents about my plans they weren’t very fond of it. They did not support the idea of school striking and they said that if I were to do this I would have to do it completely by myself and with no support from them.
On the 20 of august I sat down outside the Swedish Parliament. I handed out fliers with a long list of facts about the climate crisis and explanations on why I was striking. The first thing I did was to post on Twitter and Instagram what I was doing and it soon went viral. Then journalists and newspapers started to come. A Swedish entrepreneur and business man active in the climate movement, Ingmar Rentzhog, was among the first to arrive. He spoke with me and took pictures that he posted on Facebook. That was the first time I had ever met or spoken with him. I had not communicated or encountered with him ever before.

Many people love to spread rumors saying that I have people ”behind me” or that I’m being ”paid” or ”used” to do what I’m doing. But there is no one ”behind” me except for myself. My parents were as far from climate activists as possible before I made them aware of the situation.
I am not part of any organization. I sometimes support and cooperate with several NGOs that work with the climate and environment. But I am absolutely independent and I only represent myself. And I do what I do completely for free, I have not received any money or any promise of future payments in any form at all. And nor has anyone linked to me or my family done so.
And of course it will stay this way. I have not met one single climate activist who is fighting for the climate for money. That idea is completely absurd.
Furthermore I only travel with permission from my school and my parents pay for tickets and accommodations.

My family has written a book together about our family and how me and my sister Beata have influenced my parents way of thinking and seeing the world, especially when it comes to the climate. And about our diagnoses.
That book was due to be released in May. But since there was a major disagreement with the book company, we ended up changing to a new publisher and so the book was released in august instead.
Before the book was released my parents made it clear that their possible profits from the book ”Scener ur hjärtat” will be going to 8 different charities working with environment, children with diagnoses and animal rights.

And yes, I write my own speeches. But since I know that what I say is going to reach many, many people I often ask for input. I also have a few scientists that I frequently ask for help on how to express certain complicated matters. I want everything to be absolutely correct so that I don’t spread incorrect facts, or things that can be misunderstood.

Some people mock me for my diagnosis. But Asperger is not a disease, it’s a gift. People also say that since I have Asperger I couldn’t possibly have put myself in this position. But that’s exactly why I did this. Because if I would have been ”normal” and social I would have organized myself in an organisation, or started an organisation by myself. But since I am not that good at socializing I did this instead. I was so frustrated that nothing was being done about the climate crisis and I felt like I had to do something, anything. And sometimes NOT doing things – like just sitting down outside the parliament – speaks much louder than doing things. Just like a whisper sometimes is louder than shouting.

Also there is one complaint that I ”sound and write like an adult”. And to that I can only say; don’t you think that a 16-year old can speak for herself? There’s also some people who say that I oversimplify things. For example when I say that “the climate crisis is a black and white issue”, ”we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases” and ”I want you to panic”. But that I only say because it’s true. Yes, the climate crisis is the most complex issue that we have ever faced and it’s going to take everything from our part to ”stop it”. But the solution is black and white; we need to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Because either we limit the warming to 1,5 degrees C over pre industrial levels, or we don’t. Either we reach a tipping point where we start a chain reaction with events way beyond human control, or we don’t. Either we go on as a civilization, or we don’t. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival.
And when I say that I want you to panic I mean that we need to treat the crisis as a crisis. When your house is on fire you don’t sit down and talk about how nice you can rebuild it once you put out the fire. If your house is on fire you run outside and make sure that everyone is out while you call the fire department. That requires some level of panic.

There is one other argument that I can’t do anything about. And that is the fact that I’m ”just a child and we shouldn’t be listening to children.” But that is easily fixed – just start to listen to the rock solid science instead. Because if everyone listened to the scientists and the facts that I constantly refer to – then no one would have to listen to me or any of the other hundreds of thousands of school children on strike for the climate across the world. Then we could all go back to school.
I am just a messenger, and yet I get all this hate. I am not saying anything new, I am just saying what scientists have repeatedly said for decades. And I agree with you, I’m too young to do this. We children shouldn’t have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue.
And if you have any other concern or doubt about me, then you can listen to my TED talk (…/greta_thunberg_the_disarming_…/up-next ), in which I talk about how my interest for the climate and environment began.

And thank you everyone for your kind support! It brings me hope.

Ps I was briefly a youth advisor for the board of the non profit foundation “We don’t have time”. It turns out they used my name as part of another branch of their organisation that is a start up business. They have admitted clearly that they did so without the knowledge of me or my family. I no longer have any connection to “We don’t have time”. Nor does anyone in my family. They have deeply apologised for what has happened and I have accepted their apology.


Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2019 at 4:33 pm

Buses: you can’t do that here!

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This is a screenshot of my tweetdeck right now.

Increasing bus service has worked in Seattle and Auckland but could not possibly work in West Vancouver. Of course, they might change their minds tonight, in which case this post will vanish.

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So I looked her up on Twitter and found this tweet which, at 09:13 on Tuesday April 16 seems to be her most recent one

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But some people will prefer this version “West Van says no to B-Line past Park Royal” North Shore News 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 15, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Transportation

Opinion: It’s time to give the West Coast Express the big expansion it deserves

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West Coast Express (BCVX) 906

The long title comes from an article published yesterday in the Daily Hive written by Ian Ius. He has had a brainwave which had me wondering why no-one seems to have proposed this before – as far as I know. The short version is that while WCE would be hard to expand along the Burrard Inlet, it would be possible to run an all day, every day, service from Coquitlam out to the Valley with the Evergreen Line providing connections to the rest of the system. It is worth your time to click on that link and read the whole thing.

I thought at first I would not have much to add, and I apologise if you have read some of this from me before. I make no claims to originality here.

I have always advocated a better transit link between Surrey City Centre and Coquitlam Centre. Yes you can do that by SkyTrain now, but with two transfers and an indirect route. I think a better service could be provided by a nonstop direct bus on Highways 1 and 7 over the Port Mann Bridge. The new low floor express buses would do nicely.


Photo by UltraBuizel 10 on flickr Creative Commons Licensed

The other thought that occurs to me is that there is a very good example of the integration of heavy rail passenger service with freight in Chicago where the Metra Services run on several Class 1 railroad lines. The most intensive freight plus Metra route is the BNSF “Race Track” out to Aurora Illinois from Union Station. This has multiple tracks and a very advanced signalling system. Sadly, Metra service on Sundays is only once every two hours, but there are plenty of freight trains that pass in that time.


There is also a commuter rail system the serves the Montreal metropolitan region, some of it electrified. I have yet to experience that. Which, by the way, is also the case with West Coast Express. Not that I haven’t tried, but I just couldn’t come up with a way to make it work when I was travelling out to Abbotsford for evening meetings.


Written by Stephen Rees

April 5, 2019 at 11:30 am

Transit Line Usage

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Translink usage diagram

This diagram was created by Mark Pope who posted it to the Facebook group Expo Line Memes for TransLink Oriented Teens (ELMTOT). He has given me permission to use it here and he has also provided links to the original data and his spreadsheet.

This is a very good way to understand how the transit system works, and changes one’s perception of the relative importance of the lines. I think the thing that surprised me the most was the difference between the 99 B-Line and the Millennium Line – and also how ridership quickly tapers off on the west side of Vancouver.

West Coast Express is not shown but had 2.3 million boardings in 2017 compared to 105m on the combined Expo and Millennium Lines.

I am not going to close comments, but I think it would be a good idea, if there are any questions, to ask them on the Facebook group rather than here.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 23, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Transportation