Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Environment

Farewell Mike

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Surprising news this morning that a corporate reorganization has eliminated the position of Vice President, Planning & Policy so Mike Shiffer is no longer with TransLink. Service and Infrastructure Planning will now report through the Chief Operating Officer. Strategic Planning will report to the  the VP Corporate & Public Affairs.

He gave a talk at SFU early in 2010 (which was reported here) which showed his depth of knowledge and understanding of the issues. This was soon after he arrived here, so he managed to survive for three years. Apparently he wants to stay here.

The reorganization is just one more indication of the damage that the current insistence on audits and cutbacks is having on the organization.

UPDATE Thanks to a tweet from Paul Hillsdon I have a link to Ian Jarvis memo to staff in a Surrey leader story

The role of planning – and especially Strategic Planning – is always difficult since it seeks to bring objectivity and rationality to an arena where all too often passions and gut instincts hold sway. We are not alone in this as the current pantomime in Toronto over rapid transit expansion shows – or the latest brouhaha in the London Mayoral elections, where the future of the hop-on, hop-off bus is once again at the top of the agenda.

Planning should most definitely NOT be about PR and spin  which is what “Corporate & Public Affairs” are all about. That’s the place where they believe that perception is reality. And we all suffer for that.

By the way, congratulations to Joe Trasolini on winning his by-election, but I am afraid  that means his favourite road project will once again resurface.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2012 at 8:02 am

Journal of Public Transportation Vol 15 #1

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Academic journals in general are ridiculously expensive, and often only available in university libraries. JPT is a welcome exception and is free for anyone to download as a pdf file. I get an email when a new issue is available.

Below I have cut and pasted the Table of Contents for Volume 15 No 1, 2012  

In view of the lively debates that break out here in the comments sections whenever transit is mentioned, I trust that readers will benefit from the information from the National Centre for  Transit Research at the University of South Florida

Should Transit Serve the CBD or a Diverse Array of Destinations?
A Case Study Comparison of Two Transit Systems
Jeffrey R. Brown, Gregory L. Thompson……………………………………………………………..1

An Approach to Calculate Overall Efficiency of Rolling Stock
for an Urban Rail Transit System
Qamar Mahboob, Thomas Stoiber, Stephanie Gottstein, Antonios Tsakarestos…….19

Assessment of Models to Estimate Bus-Stop Level Transit Ridership
using Spatial Modeling Methods
Srinivas S. Pulugurtha, Mahesh Agurla………………………………………………………………….33

Transit Coordination in the U.S.: A Survey of Current Practice

Charles Rivasplata, Adam Smith, Hiroyuki Iseki ……………………………………………………..53

Bus or Rail: An Approach to Explain the Psychological Rail Factor

Milena Scherer, Katrin Megel Dziekan…………………………………………………………………..75

The Impact of Weather on Bus Ridership in Pierce County, Washington

Victor W. Stover, Edward D. McCormack……………………………………………………………….95

The Potential Role of Flexible Transport Services in Enhancing
Rural Public Transport Provision
Nagendra R. Velaga, John D. Nelson, Steve D. Wright, John H. Farrington……………..111

Are Smart Card Ticketing Systems Profitable?
Evidence from the City of Trondheim
Morten Welde………………………………………………………………………………………………….133 

Written by Stephen Rees

April 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Shocking the Suburbs

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Jago Dodson & Neil Sipe of Griffith University in Brisbane actually entitled their presentation “Oil Vulnerability & Cities” but that is the subtitle of their book – and that has the much snappier title I used. Room 1700 at SFU had 30 people in it at 7pm last night. Is that because Urban Studies talks do not give anyone professional credits? Or was there a hockey game on tv? After ten minutes a few more stragglers arrived and  Anthony Perl did the introductions. Griffith University and SFU have some kind of “twinning” arrangement  which apparently paid for their trip.

Price of NYMEX Light Sweet Crude Oil, 1997-2006

The have been looking at the impact of higher oil prices on Australian cities. In 1990 oil was AU$20 a barrel but by 2004 reached a $140 peak. Since they are  partly transport planners and saw this as a policy and planning problem they thought that this was a useful topic to research since there would have to be a response.  They did not want to engage in a debate on the future sustainability of oil supplies, but showed an IEA chart dated 2008 which showed a steep decline in conventional oil supplies expected from that year forward.  At present Queensland is experiencing an energy boom due to its exploitation of natural gas and coal which as (in his words) “put a floor under energy prices”.

Newman & Kenworthy – produced the first study of  energy use and density of cities in 1989 (the image below was not the one they showed but comes from the same data set)

Unsuprisingly that showed that the US has the most use of energy for private transportation. Australia and Canada are not far behind. They forecast there would have to be an abandonment of car dependent suburbs, which had been the theme of the iconic Australian movie series “Mad Max“. At the time of writing oil prices are $103.80 US per barrel (12 April 2012). The energy returned on energy invested in producing motor fuel which was 50:1 in the 1950s is now 5:1 and for some fuels such as ethanol  1:1  [or worse according to some sources].

They began mapping oil vulnerability using data from the Australian 2005 census. Dependence on motor vehicles was shown by using the variables travel to work by car and number of cars owned and for socio economic status the Socio-Economic Index for Area (SEIFA). These were combined into  the vulnerability index for petroleum expense rises (VIPER) index. They showed maps of Brisbane, where the most vulnerable lived in the outer suburbs with similar results for Sidney and Melbourne. On of the reasons they ascribed was that “public transport is not so good out there”

Mortgage and oil vulnerability in Brisbane


The 2ndgeneration of the index the ‘vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petrol and inflation risks and expenditure’ (VAMPIRE) included  median household income and mortgages. The maps also now had data a from 2001 and 2006  which produces a map of growth in vulnerability. Last year they added six US cities and, more recently, Vancouver. In the US cities they used Census 2000 data, and for Vancouver the  2006 census data but without car ownership (as that data is not in our census) and just based it on the mode used for journeys to work. (see also Center for Neighborhood Technology which was covered here recently)

The maps showed that Atlanta is nearly all vulnerable with a few odd spots of low vulnerability near the centre. On both Boston and Chicago the effect of  mass transit shows up. Both Las Vegas and Phoenix were “not as bad as you might think” but conceded that new areas were few people lived distort the picture. Even Portland looks poor as does Vancouver  outside of downtown core but better than Boston & Chiacgo at the highest value index areas. In Sydney they have added motor vehicle data vehicle age and size which shows that older cars (more than 10 years) with larger engines dominate in the lower income outer areas. A regression of the data showed an r2 of 0.85 which is significant.

Their work shows that electric vehicles are not the answer as the owners of old large cars have low incomes. The capability of households to afford electric vehicles poses a policy problem of since market effects will almost certainly lead to the price of older gasoline cars falling as new electric vehicles start to become popular.

Greater urban density is also often suggested as the cure for oil vulnerability.  He questioned the “palatability” of high density using an illustration of high rises in Hong Kong, and pointed out that development  by the private sector is market driven and based on the  distance decay function of land prices (land prices fall as distance from the centre increases). The viability of density in outer suburbs is questionable  due to low land values. A network of public transport with high density development at nodes (stations) was proposed by Newman & Kenworthy in 1999 but  Lenzen et al in 2004 showed that when automotive energy use is compared to total energy use the embodied energy in high rise buildings is taken into account, high total energy use is associated with high density. Is high density development more energy efficient overall? High wealth’s  key to energy use since the wealthy consume more goods and services including international travel. Myors et al 2005 showed that co2 emissions  per person are highest in high rises! The rate of change of land use density is in any event driven by private sector development is is relatively slow compared to the depletion of conventional oil reserves.

There has been some policy response to their work. The South East Queensland Regional Plan 2009 includes a commitment to “actively reduce oil dependancy” which looks good on paper but has not been put into practice. On the Gold Coast, there has been less highway expansion and the building of an LRT.

Paul Mees “Transport for Suburbia” (also available as a preview) recommends a high frequency integrated network. At this point he spoke about “no rush” at Broadway and Commercial at peak periods “You can’t really miss the bus” due to high frequency. See also Zurich’s cross town integrated network.

Their work can be read on google books “Shocking the suburbs


Questions were raised on mortgage data – which may have been related to the CNT work.

Australian cities are highly centralized with respect to employment “No one wants to be in suburban office parks”

Their objective was to produce a simple model with a few variables for ease of use and comparability which has proved robust at the coarse level

It seems likely that saving energy on transport, then gets used on other equally energy intensive activities

Australia now has a carbon tax BUT it is NOT applied to transport fuel. This was ascribed to the political concern that marginal seats in the suburbs tend to decide elections. Queesland had seen a dramatic change in power after a subsidy to petrol was removed.

The forecast is not rapid change in urban areas due to building life.

My question – or rather observation – was that climate change is happening much faster than peak oil. The response was that they were mainly concerned about socio-economic distributional impacts, not passing the 350ppm threshold.

In Queensland a “balanced” transportation policy looks advanced – but is equivalent to ISTEA 1991

Social exclusion was mentioned but has been mainly a concern in the UK as an impact of bus privatization.

In Australia federal gas tax is not hypothecated to highways but the federal politicians area still “fixated on building things, pouring concrete – not better planning”. The rate of incremental policy change is not fast enough and there will be a shock


I do not know if this talk will be on the SFU web page as podcast – there was no evidence of video, and the use of the visual aids a was hampered by some basic fault in the compatibility of video files. It is indeed fortunate that it is easy to to find their work on line. However, I came away convinced that Australia is, like us, sleepwalking where this issue is concerned. I was charmed – but also alarmed – at the perception that we had a Zurich like transit system. Of course we don’t, and our spend rate on transportation is still heavily skewed towards roads and low density sprawl. As I pointed out they are actually fortunate to have retained employment in their city centres where they are served by electric trains (and trams).

But the current rush to exploit shale gas by fracking and the increasing rate of use of tar sands (they are not confined to Alberta) is creating an illusion that the oil shock can be deferred. That is not the case with climate change, and given recent experience with extreme weather events in Australia, their tenacity on holding on to their research focus seems …. perverse? Or maybe just endearing. After all, we all seem to prefer not to contemplate what is now inevitable, most tipping points having whizzed by like publication deadlines.

Australians, just like us, have not seen their personal incomes keep pace with inflation. They did drive until they were qualified to own a home, and are just as much auto dependent in Moonee Ponds as we are in Langley  (…or Richmond, come to that.) We are slowly struggling to produce better urban development patterns and trying to find a way to fund transit (which should not be nearly so difficult as we have made it).But both of us – the whole world in fact – now face a future where the climate is going to be increasingly inhospitable. I think that impact is likely to be as sharp and probably faster than the economic impact of higher gas prices. But then I did notice this morning a pump sticker at $1.51 a litre. Is that enough to produce a revolution? I doubt it. Shame about the polar bears.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 13, 2012 at 11:05 am

Harper breaks first election promise

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Feds end sewage prosecution despite claim to be ‘tough on environmental crime’

VANCOUVER – Just one month after re-election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already broken an election promise, as his government today shut down a sewage prosecution in the same city where he vowed to crack down on environmental crime. The prosecution had alleged that the Iona sewage plant in Richmond, operated by Metro Vancouver and sanctioned by the Province of BC, was violating the federal Fisheries Act by sending toxic sewage into salmon-bearing coastal waters.

In 2006, environmental investigator Douglas Chapman, represented by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund), tried to put an end to the pollution by launching a private prosecution against the Province of BC and Metro Vancouver on behalf of three environmental groups: T-Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union and Georgia Strait Alliance.

But today, the federal government ordered the Provincial Court to end the prosecution. The federal lawyer declined to give any reasons for the order. The government’s order stands in stark contrast to Prime Minister Harper’s election campaign promise to crack down on environmental offenders, which he declared in Vancouver on September 24, 2008. At that time, Harper said “If you want a government that is tough on environmental crime, then you should re-elect a government that is tough on crime generally.”

Environmental groups say the federal government is being hypocritical. “I am disgusted that the federal government has ended this prosecution. What’s the point of the law? Polluters get off scot-free,” said Chapman.

Ecojustice staff lawyer Lara Tessaro explained that “the federal government should justify why it is shielding these big polluters from the Court.  Instead, it has refused to give the public any reasons.”

The primary treatment used at the Iona sewage treatment plant removes only 30 to 40 per cent of suspended solids and oxygen-depleting substances, and fails to remove the majority of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants – like PCBs.  These heavy metals and chemicals bioaccumulate as they move up the food chain, harming salmon, killer whales and a myriad of other vulnerable coastal species.

“At a time when we’ve lost seven more of our Southern resident orcas, I’m appalled that the federal government isn’t willing to stop the pollution of their habitat” said Christianne Wilhelmson of Georgia Strait Alliance. “Sewage is one source of toxic contamination we can fix, but governments aren’t doing enough.”

“The Iona sewage plant spews toxins straight into the path of a billion juvenile salmon heading out to sea,” said David Lane, executive director of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. “Metro Vancouver must implement advanced, modern sewage treatment at Iona immediately.”

The four organizations now plan to focus their efforts on the upcoming public consultation on Metro Vancouver’s new Liquid Waste Management Plan, and continue to urge that it be strengthened.

And, of course, the sewage works at the south end of Lulu Island is also tipping only partially treated sewage into the South Arm of the Fraser, which is seeing record low salmon returns this year. And I still have to point out the “beach unsafe for swimming” signs to people who persist in wanting to paddle and swim at Garry Point.

Astronauts get given a piece of equipment that allows them to recycle their own urine as drinking water. Why we still think that dilution is the solution to pollution here defeats me

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2008 at 11:36 am