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

Archive for June 2012

Recommended reading

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There are several stories that are worthy of attention today – but I am not sure that I have enough to add to any of them to justify an entire blog post.

Let’s start with taxis. I thought I had dealt with this topic extensively but when I checked the taxi category there are only seven posts, six of them in 2008 and one earlier. Maybe I just ran out of anything to say – as the term taxi pops up quite a bit in more recent posts, but not as the main  issue. The Dependant Magazine has a good investigative piece on the Vancouver taxi business but to my surprise I found it was dated June 1. I only learned of it today from Spacing Vancouver. It is important news in one sense since the Vancouver tax drivers are getting restive. There is a shortage of taxis here – that simple fact has been long established and generally accepted – and that clearly works to the advantage of those who own licenses, as they have a huge rarity value. In my earlier pieces I suggested that one way to rectify this is to move to a system which controls by quality not quantity – as London does. Anyone can become a taxi driver – provided that they can pass a test on their knowledge of London’s streets. (The vehicle you can use is also tightly controlled.) Plan to set aside two years of your life riding a motorcycle around central London if you feel like trying that. The conclusion of this article is that new technologies – mainly smart phones – and convergence of with car and ride sharing will deal a death blow to the taxi industry within five years. I doubt it – as the regulator here (The Passenger Transport Board) is well established, completely captive to the needs of the industry and unlikely to depart quickly or quietly.

The fact that other cities may see changes faster than we do should not surprise us – as the current fuss about bike sharing demonstrates. They think that helmet rentals through vending machines will solve the issue. We will see. I dislike the helmet, think the current legislation is based on misinformation and should be repealed – but I still bought a new one and will continue to wear it as long as the law requires. I doubt others will be so law abiding.

First time this bike has been out this year

It came as no surprise to me that research now backs up the opinions I formed that traffic circles don’t work and unmarked streets are safer for cyclists than sharrows. But the reason I think that circles don’t work is not “confusion about who goes first”. It is simply based on contempt for the rules that do exist. Where modern roundabouts have been installed in BC they do work – as long as the signage and road markings follow the standards. But small traffic circles based on ‘give way to the right’ are simply ignored. The number of times you see drivers making left turns by going the wrong way round the circle is clear evidence that they know what to do – they just cannot be bothered to comply. A bit like speed limits where enforcement is so lax and unpredictable that it is almost completely ineffective, and on most major arterials most of the time, the speed limit is ignored by almost every motorized vehicle – including, of course, marked police cars.

Yonah Freemark has a good summary of the French commitment to tramways in The Next American City – but if you read this blog and  the comments by Red Frog and Voony you will know all that already.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm

VIA Rail Canada cuts ‘inexplicable’ and ‘wrong to the core’

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The following is a Press Release from Transport Action BC. I am a member of that organization. Since I have no faith at all that this story will be picked up by our mainstream media, it is reproduced here in its entirety

VIA8702 Assiniboine Park dome car Vancouver BC 2005_0112

VIA Rail’s Canadian at Vancouver

Transport Action BC calls VIA Rail Canada cuts ‘inexplicable’ and ‘wrong to the core’
‘Death by a thousand cuts’ continues while hundreds of millions invested in VIA’s renewal

KAMLOOPS, JUNE 27, 2012 – Matthew Buchanan, president of the public transportation users and advocacy group, Transport Action BC, said that today’s announcement of yet more cuts to Canada’s nationwide rail passenger service is wrong and inexplicable given this federal government’s recent investment of $923 million in a renewal of VIA Rail Canada’s trains, stations and other assets.

“While the rest of the G20 nations invest heavily and wisely in expanding their rail passenger services, Canada’s longstanding policy of cutting VIA continues,” said Buchanan.

“These cuts are wrong to the core and the destructiveness of this latest round will soon become apparent, much to the detriment of the more than four million passengers who use VIA annually.”

In 2009, VIA began receiving $923 million for the largest capital renewal program in its 35-year history. Transport Action BC applauded that wise decision, especially the leadership role played by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, who are strong supporters of public transportation, in general, and VIA, in particular. Some of the investments in that capital renewal package are now being undermined by cuts to the very trains they were meant to benefit.

Respected sources, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, have determined that every dollar invested in rail projects yields three to four dollars of economic spin-off, not to mention vast social and environmental benefits. Furthermore, VIA’s public funding for its national network of passenger trains costs the average taxpayer only $1.60 per month – less than the cost of a large cup of coffee.

“We can only believe today’s shocking announcement is part of the usual Ottawa game,” said Buchanan. “From the day it was born as a publicly-owned Crown corporation in 1977, VIA has been under attack by high-ranking civil servants at Transport Canada, Treasury Board and Finance. They have engaged in a 35-year campaign that can only be described as ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ It appears these civil servants have once again misled the elected officials who have championed VIA and convinced them this is the right track to take. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The cuts – which are being portrayed by VIA as “the next phase of its modernization project” – will severely and negatively affect the following routes:

  • The Canadian (Toronto-Vancouver) cut from three trains weekly to two from the end of October until April each year;
  • The Ocean (Montreal-Halifax) reduced from six times weekly to three, cutting VIA service to Atlantic Canada in half;
  • Montreal-Ottawa;
  • Toronto-Stratford-London;
  • London-Sarnia;
  • London-Windsor; and
  • Toronto-Niagara Falls.

Deeper cuts will occur next year and in 2014, as VIA’s operating budget is reduced further.

As a result of this announcement and the continuing threat to VIA, Transport Action Canada and its five regional associations will soon be launching A National Dream Renewed: The VIA Rail Canada Town Hall Workshops. Directed and facilitated by well-known Toronto transportation writer and policy advisor Greg Gormick, the interactive presentation will cross Canada from Halifax to Vancouver Island to engage Canadians in a series of 40 workshops that will lead to the production of Transport Action’s blueprint for the re-establishment of VIA as a modern, innovative, sustainable and national rail passenger service.

Said Buchanan, “We call upon all Canadians to attend our town hall workshops and voice their opinions and ideas on how VIA can finally become one of our national dreams again, instead of the national nightmare that successive governments have made of it.”

Buchanan also noted that this government is calling its latest approach to economic stimulation “Staying on the Right Track for Jobs and Growth.” He added, “These cuts amount to taking the wrong track, if job creation and growth of the Canadian economy are the objectives. Cutting rail passenger service reduces jobs and undermines economic growth.”

Transport Action BC and four other regional associations in Atlantic Canada, Québec (Transport 2000 Québec), Ontario, and the Prairies, is a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is research, public education and consumer advocacy. It promotes environmentally-sound transportation solutions and gets actively involved in a wide range of issues, such as public transportation, safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, environmental protection, intermodal co-operation and government regulation.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Railway

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Christina de Marco too?

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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

Terraced housing

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There has been quite a lot of interest here recently about terraced housing – what the real estate agents here call “town homes”. Others have been blogging about the need for these to be sold on a fee simple basis rather than the strata title that is currently used in BC.

Place des Vosges panorama

Place des Vosges, Paris – my photo on flickr

When first thought of, in 1613 by Henri IV, these houses were designed to accommodate courtiers in separate accommodations. There was always a crowd hanging around at the palace – even at bedtime! – so I expect they welcomed the idea of their own front door.

By 1880 the pressing need was – as now – how to accommodate the lower income part of the community. The people who actually did all the work, on which the economy and the state depended, but who could not afford – even on several wage packets in a household, much in the way of housing. The Victorian 1% had even developed a bit of conscience about this, and actually legislated minimum standards like the need for each room to have its own window. The way that local taxes (‘the rates’) were then calculated also meant that the frontage onto the street needed to be minimized. So a very standardized home was produced – most constructed by small independent building firms working from a book of plans. This was the sort of London suburb where I grew up, and is one of the reasons why I am still, to this day somewhat reluctant to embrace the idea that a fee simple row house – or what I knew as a freehold terrace house – is much of an answer to our current shortage of affordable housing.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2012/jun/25/rare-aerial-photographs-britain-in-pictures#/?picture=392133891&index=2

March 1921: Densely packed housing along Kensal Rise, London
Photograph: English Heritage/PA

Written by Stephen Rees

June 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm

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The ad Jimmy Pattison doesn’t want you to see

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greenpeace-ad

The Globe and Mail reported this a couple of days ago. I just saw it on Spacing Vancouver. I think we should do our best to see that the message gets out. As the Globe noted “Getting an ad rejected can often be the fastest route to greater publicity”

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

ICBC Consultation: Calculating premiums

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The following is a message that was posted this morning to the trans-action and HUB mailing lists. I am copying it to this blog in case there are readers in BC who are not members of those lists, and who have yet to comment to ICBC.

I did not complete the on line form, I sent them an email

There ought to be a way to link the number of kilometres driven to the amount of the basic insurance premium.

ICBC commissioned research from Todd Littman several years ago which showed that distance based insurance is practical, possible and would be much fairer than the current system.
It could be introduced on a voluntary basis initially. Actuarially, there is a strong correlation between distance driven and the risk of a crash.
ICBC has been unresponsive to this proposal for too long.
There is a comprehensive technical report available at  http://www.vtpi.org/dbvi_com.pdf

_________________________________________

From Tannis Braithwaite

Tomorrow is the deadline to give input on ICBC’s proposal to restructure how it calculates insurance premiums.  Please go to http://www.publicengagement.icbc.com/index.html and tell them that you think driving violations should be considered in the calculation of insurance premiums.

More explanation of the ICBC proposal is below:

_________________________________________

ICBC is proposing to change the way it calculates insurance premiums.  Anyone can make a submission on-line at: http://www.publicengagement.icbc.com/index.html  The deadline is June 22, 2012.
The proposed change is intended to be revenue neutral, and to better align premium with risk in individual cases.  Structurally, it’s a switch from “vehicle-based” insurance to “driver-based” insurance.  Under the current “vehicle-based” system crash history follows the insured vehicle.  So, for example, if “A” crashes “B’s” car, the crash is recorded against “B’s” insurance.  If “A” has had a bunch of crashes in one vehicle and then insures a second vehicle, the second vehicle is insured at a rate reflecting zero crashes.  Under a driver-based system, “A’s” crash history would follow “A”.  In either system, vehicles/drivers are only penalized for “at fault” crashes, which ICBC defines as having been at least 25% at fault in a collision.
Statistically, if you crash your car, you are much more likely to have a second crash within the next year than is someone who didn’t have the first crash.  Insurance premiums go up after a crash, not because the insurance company is trying to recover past losses, but because you are more likely to cost them again in the subsequent policy year.
Factors that predict your crash risk
ICBC is prohibited from considering age, sex, race or any other prohibited ground of discrimination in determining crash risk.  The factors they do/propose to use for determining premiums in the new system are:
Driving experience – the likelihood of having a crash decreases dramatically with each year of driving experience for the first 5 years, continues to decrease a fair bit over each of the next five years, and continues to decreases a little bit for each additional year of experience….forever.  The current system recognizes the number of years of crash-free driving, but doesn’t recognize that a person with more years of driving experience is less likely to crash than a person with an equivalent crash history but fewer years of driving experience.  According to ICBC, experience isn’t just a stand-in for age.  Even if you don’t start driving until you are older, you are more likely to have a crash in the first several years of driving than you are with more years of experience.  ICBC proposes to recognize years of driving experience, not just years of crash-free driving experience.  ICBC wants feedback on how often premiums should be adjusted to reflect driving experience.
Number of past crashes – The more crashes you have had in the past and the more recently you’ve had them, the more crashes you are likely to have in the future.  It takes 15 years for the statistical effect of a single crash to wear off completely.  So, for example, someone who had a single crash 9 years ago is still 15% more likely to have a second crash in the current policy year than is someone who has never had a crash.  The current system recognizes the effect of a previous crash for only 3 years.  ICBC proposes to extend the number of years that a crash will continue to count in calculating your insurance premium to up to 15 years.  They want feedback on how long you think crash history should count for.  ICBC is also considering a system that also weights more recent crashes more heavily than crashes that occurred longer ago, which is in keeping with statistical risk.  But, ICBC thinks this might be too hard for people to understand(!??)  Surely it’s not.
No more free crashes: ICBC currently has a policy of giving drivers one “free” crash after 12 years of crash-free driving.  A person with a very long term crash-free record can have up to 3 crashes in quick succession with no impact on premium.  There is no good rationale underlying this policy.  Statistically, if you have a single crash, you are 40% more likely to have a second crash in the policy year than someone who didn’t have the first crash, and this is true even if you’ve previously had a long period of crash-free driving.  ICBC proposes either getting rid of the free-crash policy or offering an opt-out option in exchange for a premium reduction.  And, of course, there’s really no such thing as a “free” crash, since the $$ have to come from somewhere.  Failing to penalize a driver for having a crash means penalizing drivers that don’t have crashes.
Other Driver crashes: About 20% of crashes are by drivers other than the registered owner/principal driver of the at-fault vehicle.  Under the current system, the vehicle owner pays the increased premiums regardless of whether they were driving at the time of the crash.  Under a driver-based system, the crash would follow the driver rather than the vehicle.  The problem for ICBC is that not all crash-causing drivers have an insured vehicle, so they need to work out how to collect from uninsured drivers who crash.  Three options that have been proposed to deal with this problem are: spread the cost of the uninsured driver across all insured drivers, continue charging the cost against the vehicle owner, or send a bill for $500 to the crash causer and then try to collect.  Personally, I think ICBC can come up with something better, like maybe true driver based insurance where you have to be insured to drive.  Just not sure how this would be enforced.  Also, most “other driver” crashes are by members of the same household, e.g., child driving parent’s car, so this may affect the best options for enforcement.
Driving Violations: Driving violations are a strong statistical indicator of crash risk.  ICBC tried to introduce driving violations into its assessment of crash risk a couple of years ago, but was prohibited from doing so by the Provincial government (call it, the leading edge of the tsunami of political interference in regulated utilities that we’ve seen lately).  Now, they are trying again, but this time proposing to limit consideration of driving violations to the most serious ones, such as, impaired driving and street racing.  Again, there is no reason for basing crash risk on only the most serious driving violations.  Statistically, every driving violation correlates with higher crash risk, and there is no reason why lower risk drivers should be subsidizing higher risk drivers.    This is especially true when you consider how many un-ticketed driving violations occur and the police focus on the most egregious ones.  Also, it seems to me that including all driving violations in the assessment of crash risk is a good way to provide drivers with an incentive to follow the rules of the road.  ICBC just needs to spin this issue better next time, and they really need to hear that the public supports the use of driving violations in calculating insurance premiums.
Some things that came up in discussion
  • Giving credit for higher levels of driver training, similar to discounts that can be obtained on fleet insurance for organizations implementing safe driver programs
  • Relationship between distance driven and crash-risk. Proposal for distance-based insurance and better availability of alternative types of insurance such as temporary or occasional coverage.
  • The system doesn’t include any impact to premiums based on the severity of the crash.  There must be correlations or indicators of severe crash risk, such as high risk driving violations, or past crash history that help to predict the risk of a severe crash.
  • Insurance brokers don’t want the system to be too complicated to explain to people, or to take too much risk in people not understanding or not being told the right thing.
  • BC has a very low % of uninsured drivers compared to other jurisdictions.  We need to consider whether there is a tipping point where high risk drivers just stop insuring their vehicles in large numbers.
  • It’s good to have incentives that prevent owners from loaning their vehicles to high risk drivers (re other driver crashes).
  • Driving records are at the heart of driver-based insurance and all violations should be considered, though not weighted equally.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

June 21, 2012 at 10:45 am

Olympic Legacy

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There is a longish piece in the Guardian today about what is expected to be the legacy of the Olympics on East London.  The title cites Newham and the Carpenters estate. In fact the article ranges further than that – discussing Tower Hamlets and Hackney as well. My interest is because I spent the first 18 years of my life in Newham – though somewhat to the east of the area in question in what for much of that time was East Ham. My family moved out of the area soon after I left for university, and I have not been back for more than very brief visits since. Even so I accept that if anywhere needs regeneration it is the area around Stratford, which used to be mostly railway facilities and a network of declining industries known as the Bow Back Rivers. It is also true that the man who ran the locks on the canal used to answer the phone by announcing “Bow Locks”.

Now the summer Olympics is a much bigger deal than the winter Olympics, and in London it is all on one site not split as it was here. But the immediate similarity struck me – the victims in our case being the unfortunate residents of a BC Housing estate on the edge of the Olympic site in Queen Elizabeth Park. That site was cleared – though BC politicians were vehement in their denials that the removal of the tenants was anything to do with the Olympics. And the expected development has still not yet happened.

The other Olympic legacies here are the Sea to Sky Highway – which lead to a variety of residential developments in and near Squamish based on the newer shorter commute times by car to Vancouver – and the Canada Line, and lots of high rise residential towers in Richmond, with again much displacement of waterside industry. Not to mention the Olympic Village in Vancouver, which at long last seems to be getting going as a community with its own grocery store opening last week.

The other influence on my thinking is this recent article from Spacing Vancouver about Tom Slater the “unabashedly subjective” gentrification researcher.

in the opening chapter of his upcoming book Fighting Gentrification, he realized that “a different picture of gentrification emerges if one takes the trouble to talk to those who do not stand to profit from the rising costs of land and real estate.”

So he made himself a promise. “I felt that I had a civic duty to be critical in the work that I was doing, and to present a story that captured the predicament of the people living at the bottom of the class structure. So that became, if you like, my mission,” Slater said.

And if you read what the residents of the Carpenters Estate are saying, it reads very much like what his interviewee says in that article – or what the residents of Little Mountain have been saying.

The Little Mountain Site

 “I think that the Olympics has lost me my home.” She has lived on the Carpenters for 40 years and is disinclined to depart quietly. “I think they’re gonna have to come in here and drag me out. Why should somebody be able to force you out of your home? A home that’s got nothing wrong with it, that’s standing solid? I do not want to go.”

There is also some very relevant stuff about what people want – and it isn’t high rises

She [London’s outgoing Olympic legacy chief, Margaret Ford] gathered intelligence for the masterplan on “mystery shopping” excursions – chatting to people in cafes and the old Stratford shopping centre. “They wanted front gardens, back gardens for their kids to play in, really good lighting, lots of storage space, nice green spaces, somewhere they can afford and a decent school – it’s not bloody rocket science.”

Written by Stephen Rees

June 13, 2012 at 11:42 am

Posted in housing, Olympics, placemaking

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