Stephen Rees's blog

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

Who will pay for the subway?

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This weekend Mike Smythe of the Province got a jump on the debate that will re-awaken this year.

“The Mobility Pricing Independent Commission is studying a range of new taxes, fees, levies, surcharges and, yes, tolls as a way to pay for badly needed transportation improvements.”

And as usual for the mouthpiece of the far right, business is all important, lobby he put the question in the way the Republicans like to see things framed

 “it could mean you’ll have to do something nobody likes: paying more money to the government. “

Actually there are quite a few things I am vehemently in favour of: healthcare, education, contract enforcement

Did that last one surprise you? If you are trying to run a business, or if you want to pay a business to provide what you need, contract enforcement is a critical issue. If people can cheat you without fear of consequences, then we have anarchy. Government delivers a wide range of services – and some of them could be delivered by private enterprise, but you would not want to live in such a society. You simply cannot afford to pay for private healthcare or private education. Very few people can, which is why we should be looking very hard indeed at the record of the BC Liberals who did their best to hobble public services in favour of their private sector friends. There used to be a system that ensured that people who could not afford a lawyer still had access to the courts. That has been carefully removed in BC. But the courts are a public service and must not become a tool of the wealthy to oppress the poor. Justice and the rule of law are too important to be contracted out to Securicor or the Hell’s Angels.

In the case of where we live and how we get around simple geometry means that not everyone can drive to meet every need all the time. Cars do not work very well in a crowded city – but a crowded city is exactly what is needed to meet most human requirements. Until cars were mass produced, most people got around under their own power and mostly on their own two feet. It has only been relatively recently that walking became a crime.

You need to read this article in the New York Times Magazine to understand why good transit is essential to the success of a city – if it isn’t already apparent to you.

This why Derek Corrigan is wrong when he says that the Patullo Bridge replacement is more important than the Broadway subway and the Surrey LRT. And it is not about the war on the car or the battle between the city and the suburbs – both of which make for Good Copy for papers like the Province, but are both largely mythical. It is about the kind of place we want to live in, the kind of place that will attract the footloose industries like hi-tech and tourism, and the kind of future we face. It is the economy – and it is also the environment. It is also livability, sustainability and whatever the current buzzword is that says, ‘we have seen what urban sprawl looks like and works like and we don’t want that here’.


Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2018 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Transportation

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth

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The Arbutus Greenway has been covered extensively in this blog. A disused railway line has been converted into a multiple use trail, with different, temporary, uses in several sections. The bikeway and walkway is continuous but in other sections there is a chip trail for runners (and dogs) not that either of them seem to use it very much. Early responses to the use of blacktop for the bike/walk path was that it did not look very green, but a number of areas had been hydroseeded with native species – wildflowers if you prefer – weeds if you are an urban gardener.


The close-up shows a yellow poppy and some white flowering something or other. The seeded areas had been looking barren for most of the summer: it was too dry and hot for the seeds to germinate. But with the return of the rains (these images were taken in September) this lot seemed to pop up overnight. OK – pardonable exaggeration. But growth nevertheless.

Like I said, all this is temporary pursuant yet more consultations and a more permanent landscaping plan, until, in the fullness of time, trams return.



Written by Stephen Rees

January 3, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Guest Post: John Jeglum’s Letter to John Horgan re: Site C

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Site C Construction July 2017 2

Dear Premier Horgan:

 Your explanation for continuing Site C was quite inadequate. How can terminating a project that has cost 2.1 billion plus remediation at 1.8 billion be more costly than completing it for a total of 10.7 billion?  The 2.1 billion has already been spent. Your ability to carry out social programs should be aided by not needing to spend another 8 billion (or more) to complete another mega dam that is not needed.

 You argue that cancelling construction would immediately add to the provincial debt. Jan Slomp (2017) of the National Farmer’s Union writes: “BC Hydro is a provincially owned Crown Corporation, with net earnings that contribute to the annual provincial budget. If the Horgan government wanted to shut down Site C, BC Hydro’s net earnings, debt and equity would allow for an internal schedule to recover the costs already incurred on Site C. These payments would affect BC’s budget very marginally and it would definitely save BC residents in the long term, whether in taxes or hydro rates. From a strict financial perspective, cancelling a project with a $2.1 billion sunk cost would be more prudent than locking BC residents into an open-ended juggernaut, with a budget exceeding $10 billion and more unforeseen construction costs down the road.”

 Continuing the project, even though it is not fully justified, requires a certain degree of stubbornness and inability to recognize when continuing is irrational. It’s a phenomenon in which people stick with something because they’ve already invested so much time, money or energy, even if it’s not the best decision. “Just because you’ve lost money on something or spent some money on something doesn’t mean you should keep doing it.” The financial term for this is the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ (Azpiri 2017).

 The estimated debt of 1.8 billion for remediation is an estimate in the mid-range of a wide range of guesses. There is no existing remediation plan, so the reasonable thing to do would be to form a land planning group consisting of Peace Valley residents, First Nations, and government. There would be basic remediation  such as bank stabilization, trees, shrubs and ground cover. A certain amount of fill in would be accomplished by natural regeneration.   The cost would certainly be less than 1.8 billion, perhaps between 0.3 to 0.5 billion. This could be covered by the same internal schedule as the sunk costs.

 Unfortunately, you ignored all the good economic advice you got, and you followed Christy Clark’s decision, based primarily on BC Hydro recommendations with no second expert review by BCUC. You ignored the recent BCUC review and Deloitte’s review, and expert opinions by Harry Swain, Marc Eliesen, Robert McCullouch, and others, and you gave greatest weight to economic elites, business and labor organizations, entrenched civil servants, and a Crown Corporation whose main objective is maintenance of its authority and control of BC electricity.

 You did not take account of other economic factors, environmental impacts and social impacts by the dam: loss of thousands of hectares of highly productive agricultural land and economic potential for increased agriculture and food supply; loss of land and livelihoods of landowners and farmers; loss of ecosystem services from the Peace River watershed, vegetation and wildlife diversity; lost Carbon Capture and Sequestration by destroyed vegetation; migrations of mammals and birds with international implications, and fish movements in the river; impacts on the downstream water supply for wetlands in Wood Buffalo Park in Alberta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Nikiforuk 2017); and critically, infringement on the Treaty 8 rights of the First Nations on the Peace River–hunting, fishing, trapping, protection of grave and sacred sites, etc.

 How are you going to establish good relations, nation-to-nation, and an accord on Indigenous Rights, if you and developers keep unilaterally taking away or degrading the land and water? And more philosophically, is it morally right to destroy a river passage that is like none other in western Canada, cutting deeply through low mountains and plains, with unique microclimates and innumerable ecosystems and species such as exist nowhere else. This land and water is the birth-right of the FN who have lived here for millennia. When are we going to develop an honest Land Ethic in which we honor and respect the Rights of Nature? (Leopold 1949; David Boyd 2017).

 The most important thing you forgot, in my view, is the impact this mega-dam will have on Climate Change. The news now regularly contains items on climate change, and we know the big changes in climate and weather patterns–temperature, glacier and ice cap melting, ocean rise, increasing ocean acidity, increases in storm strengths (hurricanes, typhoons), extreme precipitation and drought, increasing incidence of wildfires —  the impacts go on and on. This means that in all our development actions, we must consider the impacts of each action on climate. And we need to save ecosystems for their carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) abilities, and forest and agricultural production.

 Why did you not consider what climate impacts the damming of a large river and creation of a large reservoir would have on the environment and climate? What would its carbon footprint be? Several decades of study have shown that mega-dams are not clean energy—they release both CO2 and methane(CH4)  from soil disturbance and flooded decomposing vegetation. Further, a high amount of CO2 is produced in the manufacture of cement, steel and other components (Schindler 2017). And the scores of excavators and trucks give rise to tonnes of CO2, NOx, and black carbon. In the present crisis of climate change, any development activity must take into account the carbon footprint (impact of GHGs causing heating of the atmosphere).

 I understand that you will soon travel to the far east to visit Japan, Korea and China. A major topic will be LNG. So again you follow the path of Christy Clark. I suspect that extracting LNG and fracked natural gas was a big factor in your decision to complete Site C, and also those who influenced you. Perhaps you were thinking to complete the dam to give the possibility for supplying more water and electricity to support fracking and LNG plants?

 Fracked natural gas and LNG  is the wrong path for BC, and for the world. Fracked natural gas, predominantly composed of methane (CH4) is not a bridge to a cleaner atmosphere. CH4 is a full-fledge fossil fuel! Experts peg fracked natural gas with a Global Warming Potential higher than oil or petrol, and similar to that of coal, sometimes depending on coal grade even greater (Howarth 2014). Fracked natural gas loses considerable CH4 during its extraction, processing, pipeline transportation, LNG liquefaction, shipping, regasification, distribution, and final burning. Christy and her ‘clean energy’ was only talking about the final burning of the gas at the end of the life cycle. LNG liquefaction also has significant emissions. Liquefaction is usually done by burning incoming natural gas; electricity can be used in combination with gas.

In fracking, huge volumes of water containing a wide range of possible chemicals, sand and other agents are forced under great pressure down vertical then horizontal bore pipes, emerge from exploded holes in the horizontal pipe, and are forced into a system of cracks in adjacent geologic layers. After a period of time fracking is stopped and gases and wet organics flow back into the pipe and upwards to the surface, where the gases and organics are collected and separated, and wastewater held  in containment ponds.

 It is well documented that not all of the ‘slickwater’ containing the gases moves back into the bore pipes. Some escapes and travels outside of the pipes, some reaching the ground surface. Cement caps and encasements around the vertical bores are supposed to stop this upward flow, but cracks develop over time in the cement, maybe from earthquakes. Some of the fracked gas-liquid  may even move considerable distances away from the drilling site in natural faults, and pollute aquifers and surface waters. It is documented that escape of gasses and organics have tainted water wells of houses and farmsteads, rendering the water undrinkable. The most spectacular effect is tap water that can be ignited! As well, studies in the US have shown that proximity to fracking operations, has influenced adult health and birth defects in infants.

 The Pembina Institute and Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions published a report in 2014 on the use of  LNG in B.C (Horne & MacNab 2014). The Clark government’s claim that LNG exports offer the “greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change” is inaccurate [actually wrong!] in the absence of stronger global climate policies. The Report states that “Natural gas does have a role to play in a world that avoids two degrees Celsius in global warming, but only if strong emissions reduction policies are put in place in the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas.”[my emphasis]

 By going the natural gas route we simply slow down the rate of adoption of truly clean alternative energies. Even if we manage to get CAPP and oil companies to act responsibly to reduce the fugitive losses of CH4 (they say by 2025, but this is doubtful; they will not do this until the US-EPA mandates it, which is highly unlikely under Trump and Pruitt) we may only achieve a reduction of 40 to 45% of the present losses of CH4.  CH4 is 108 times more powerful in Global Warming Potential than CO2 over a time-frame of 10 yrs; 86 times over 20 yrs; and 34 times over 100 yrs (Howarth 2014). We are so far along in climate change, with air temperature increase over 1.0 0C (since ca. 1900), that we must work for much faster reductions of green house gas (GHG) emissions, and much sooner.

 The UN climate program and the world’s top climate scientists and activists urge levelling off and reduction of GHG emissions in the next 3 years (Figueres et al. 2017). In my reading, fracked natural gas will not provide a bridge to zero-carbon clean energy before we reach 2 0C. Canadian and provincial government actions to reduce fugitive emissions are dreadfully slow.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a possibility, but so far no fully effective techniques have been developed (Hawken 2017). The only fully effective CCS so far seems to be the natural CO2 capture by green plants, especially forests and grasslands, transfer and storage as underground carbon. Agricultural land if managed correctly can be quite effective for CCS in soil.

 If you have dreams for natural gas and LNG, I think you should abandon them, and leave the gas in the ground. If we can stabilize at 2.0 0C or less, we can always come back to natural gas, it will still be there. It seems to me that the Asian countries will be buying LNG and natural gas cheaper from producers closer to them than Canada. Besides, China and India are moving rapidly along paths of alternative clean energies, and other countries know they should move away from fossil fuels, including natural gas. If you try to play the LNG export game, you will be hindered by the tax- and subsidy-favorable deals that Clark cut with Petronas, which is embedded in B.C. legislation for years. So we would end up selling the LNG at bargain basement prices. (This would be comparable to selling electricity from Site C at far less than its cost to generate.) And we will be wasting our time and money on the fossil fuel energies of the previous industrial revolution, when we should be transitioning rapidly into the clean energies industrial revolution.

 We should be moving toward a sustainable economy based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) enunciated by the UN. It is essential to rapidly switch off the fossil fuels with high GHG emissions, and move to affordable clean energy, SDG 7. This can be done developing local grids and distributed energy, which can be linked to the existing hydro grid of BC Hydro. First Nations and local communities have much interest in local clean energy systems (mostly run-of-river, solar, wind). Several have already have built or are interested in community energy systems, and these could be promoted.

 BC already has plenty of electricity to last for decades. Any shortfalls can be supplemented by several sources we already own—Columbia River entitlement, Burrard Inlet natural gas plant, adding generation capacity to dams already in the BC system, and actually using existing run of river facilities. Wind and solar prices are falling rapidly, and are comparable to hydro, even cheaper. Geothermal, although more expensive, could readily be geared up, drawing on existing expertise in fracking. Low periods of production by solar and wind can be augmented by storage in our hydro reservoirs, pumped storage, and developing big battery storage technology (e.g. Elon Musk, European battery systems). There are numerous potential jobs in clean renewable energy, as well as immediate jobs in energy conservation programs, new housing and energy retrofits.

 I urge you to abandon the LNG idea, and to focus on Clean Energy. I hate the idea that my children and grandchildren, and BC citizens, will be paying for un-needed hydro from Site C for generations, especially since we don’t need it AND because hydro is not the cleanest of energies. You should stop Site C now, it was Christy Clark’s project and you and your party should not have to assume the blame for it. You should get with the new age of Sustainable Development, first by whole-heartedly adopting Clean Energy alternatives, then working on your progressive, socially-orientated programs that would make Tommy Douglas, and David Lewis and Jack Layton proud.

 Please reverse your decision on Site C, it will drag you and the NDP down. But worse, it will unnecessarily burden all of us, the rate and tax payers, the Greens, and the Liberals, and slow up the inevitable conversion to Clean Energy and Sustainable Development. Adopt sustainable development and establish yourself as a champion of climate action and clean energy! Then of course, work on critically needed social and sustainability programs – indigenous rights, housing, efficient mass transportation, electric vehicles, child care, health care, poverty and living wages, bikes-ridesharing, education, and so on. Lots of jobs will be produced by clean energies, new housing, energy conservation in new and retrofit building, sustainable forestry and agriculture, etc.

 I believe the majority of people of BC are ready and anxious for these changes. Your government should help to make these changes happen!


 1) Op Ed_Renegades Rewarded at Public Expense in Site C Dam Decision—Jan Slomp, Natl. Farmer’s Union, 24Dec2017;

2) Site C didn’t need to be approved just because money was already spent_ critics–  Jon Azpiri  Global News 12Dec2017

3)A Sand County Almanac–Aldo Leopold, Oxford 1949;

4) The Rights of Nature–David Boyd, ECW Press 2017; 

5) A bridge to nowhere–methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas–Robert Howarth-Energy Science & Engineering (Society of Chemical Industry and JohnWiley&SonsLtd.) 15May2014;

6) Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming–Paul Hawken Penguin Books 2017;

7) LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context— Matt Horne & Josha MacNab, Pembina Inst and Pacific Inst Climate Solutions;

8) United Nations Says Canada’s Largest Park Under Threat, Calls for Site C Review–Andrew Nikiforuk, 13 Mar 2017;

9) Opinion_ Decision to approve Site C undermines reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and long-term action on climate change–David Schindler & Faisal Moola, Van Sun 20Dec2017; 10) Three years to safeguard our climate–Christiana Figueres et 28June2017;

11) Comment_ Reverse direction on Site C, or pay the price—Vicky Husband  Times Colonist 21Dec2017;

12) Past time to take First Nation consent on developments seriously–Judith Sayers, First Nations in BC Knowledge Network,  December 21, 2017.

Yours sincerely,

John K. Jeglum

Duncan BC

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

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The Story on Amtrak Cascades Train 501 Derailment

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Account of the recent crash of the Amtrak Cascades, by the Transit Sleuth who was on board at the time.

Transit Sleuth

First off, yes, I was aboard the Amtrak Train 501 in car 2, seat 4c. I had just sat down after having a breakfast burrito and speaking with several people in the bistro car. I spoke with the bistro attendant and her trainee that was with her. We talked about how great train travel is, how much better it is than flying, and we spoke with a passenger named Scott Claggett.

It was the first time Scott was taking the train on this route, which of course also the first time for everybody at this hour! He usually had to fly and he was euphoric (as were most of us) at how easy and how much more comfortable it is. We discussed what I was up to, how I had my bike aboard and was bound for Portland to meet up with some friends, ride around the city, enjoy some…

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Written by Stephen Rees

December 24, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Transportation

Guest Post from Rick Jelfs, Transport Action BC

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Global News BC had a 15 minute, year-end interview with TransLink chairman Kevin Desmond on 19 Dec 2017 at Issues discussed are possible later SkyTrain service on Friday and Saturday nights, safety, new Canada Line stations, Canada Line capacity expansions, double decker bus pilot, Compass Card changes and mobility pricing.

  1. Late night service is obviously doable but TransLink needs to maintain the system in a State of Good Repair. Extended operating times would remove 500 hours annually from the existing, overnight maintenance window. Desmond said that a wider, community discussion is needed to determine what is needed in terms of later service. He emphasized that extended hours will require trade-offs. And he did not mention the Canada Line, which would presumably require contract negotiations with the concessionaire to extend service hours.
  2. The system is safe, in spite of the much-publicized, Canada Line incident involving a Muslim woman. Additional police officers will be hired to compensate for the Evergreen Line expansion.
  3. Capstan Station construction will be 100% paid for by the private sector. A 57th/Cambie station may be considered under a similar funding model but would be much more expensive as it is underground.
  4. Canada Line capacity will be augmented by 24 new cars on order. Any Canada Line station lengthening is 10-15 years out. He stated, diplomatically, that the Canada Line was under built.
  5. He is very keen on double decker buses and hopes to order 30 DD buses early in 2018.
  6. TransLink is investigating allowing mobile devices and credit cards for fare payment.
  7. Stated there are equity issues with Mobility Pricing


The Eno Center  for Transportation in Washington DC has published a report touting the benefits of contracting out as a way to improve transit service. “A Bid for Better Transit: Improving  Transit Service with Contracted Operations” looks at a number of examples of contracted operations in three European cities (London, Stockholm, Oslo) and three North American ones (New Orleans, Vancouver, Los Angeles). The discussion is not a “privatisation will solve all our problems” that, once implemented, can be left to run its course, but is more complex and requires agency commitment, negotiation and monitoring.

The authors state 3 key issues must be part of any contracting out considerations – the public interest cannot be contracted out and only government can do so; contracts must clearly align agency goals with a contractor’s profit motive; and agencies and contractors must work together to innovate and improve system operations.

The paper provides an overview of TransLink’s contracting out activities (or lack thereof) emphasizing that changes in provincial political priorities led to the current situation whereby BCRTC and CMBC are wholly-owned subsidiaries rather than contracted service providers. It does point our that the potential threat of contracting out may be enough to prevent excessive cost increases. That being said, TransLink does contract out some niche services.

However, the Canada Line P3 contract is looked at critically be the authors . They argue that the political motivations to get the line opened for the 2010 Olympics led to a P3 contract that overemphasised construction speed at the expense of long-term operational flexibility. TransLink is left with a 35 year contract under which it must negotiate service changes with the concessionaire.


Transit ridership is up a reported 41% on certain routes in the South Okanagan. Good news but the numbers would be starting from a fairly low level. Unfortunately, there is no source for the numbers published and there is one oddity; a 30% decline in operating costs per passenger is described as “minor” so I suspect a typo.


Written by Stephen Rees

December 21, 2017 at 2:27 pm

Infographic courtesy of Prof Chris Oliver

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Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Posted in cycling, health, transit, walking

Weekly Photo Challenge: 2017 Favourite

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Instead of a specific theme or topic, we invite you to share your most meaningful photo from 2017. This isn’t necessarily the “best” photo you’ve taken this year — feel free to post your most technically accomplished photo of the year if you’d like, but we equally encourage you to think about other parameters.

From the photo that generated the most reactions on your blog to the one that has the deepest emotional pull on you, define “favorite” in whatever way works best for you. Your chosen image doesn’t have to be one you’ve already shared in a previous Photo Challenge. Anything goes, as long as it’s a photo from 2017.


This image was taken in October in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was the second port of call on the Panama Canal cruise. We had taken a regular local bus into town, and were just wandering around the Old Town. This bridge is over the Ribera de Rio which is both a conservation area and a market aimed at visitors.

This shot was unposed, unanticipated but it captured a moment perfectly. The smile is utterly natural – and not aimed at me but the girl’s mother who is some distance behind me, waiting for her daughter to catch up to her. As soon as I read those two paragraphs of the challenge, I knew which picture I would choose.

I too look forward to seeing what others will be posting as their 2017 Favorites. 

Bonus image: the view from my window right now


Written by Stephen Rees

December 20, 2017 at 10:11 am