Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 17th, 2008

Hubris Is Gordo’s Enemy

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Rafe Mair in the Tyee

Why the BC Liberals should lose the next election – if history repeats itself. We can but pray and work hard to that end.

The only thing Rafe forgets to mention – or ran out of space on – is the Gateway. But my friend Eric dealt with that already

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Posted in politics

Canada short circuits electric car sales

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Mike De Souza, Canwest News Service

Transport Canada denies it of course, but Ian Clifford of Zenn Motor Co, is blaming them for the fact that he still cannot sell his electric cars here, even though he has been selling them in the US for quite a while. Something about the definition of low speed vehicles and crash worthiness exemptions or somesuch. Bureaucratic twaddle of course. For most things automotive we just accept the US standards – but add daytime running lights and speedos in km/hr. No doubt the US also had to co-ordinate federal and state requirements, since it is the states that look after the roads – and only the interstates get federal funding. Not that you can take a slow speed vehicle on a freeway of course. So don’t buy a Zenn if your commute takes you across the Port Mann or through the Massey tunnel.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2008 at 11:32 am

Taxpayers get say on $18m transit levy

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Vancouver Sun

There is going to be a public meeting tonight in Burnaby. Translink wants to consult – about less than 2% of its revenues. They would have got that from businesses, but they balked and want homeowners (and renters too but they do not see it directly) to help pick up the tab. Because the BC Liberals in Victoria like to give the odd sop to businesses – unless they are in the way of one of their favourite projects of course.

Property tax is one of the worst ways I can think of to pay for transportation. Note too that in the minds of the subs at the Sun, it’s a “transit levy” – no matter that increasingly it is going to pay for roads. In fact for as long as I have been around Metro Vancouver’s transport issues, the common theme has always been that transport users should pay for transport – and that if the price they paid to use their cars and trucks – or buses and trains – were closer to their true social costs we might see a more reasonable distribution of trips between modes, and fewer vehicle kilometres travelled.

The one thing that is not going to be on the table for discussion is how $18m could be absorbed by budget cuts. And of course, the only thing that gets mentioned are things people want. I simply would not expect Dale Parker to talk about how the credit collapse – which is by no means a problem limited to the US – is affecting some of the P3 projects we are now stuck with. The Canada Line and the Golden Ears Bridge are costing much more because of the fallout of the bundled mortgages crisis. And we have already seen the Canada Line trim its project scope to try and stay within budget. And I have seen it suggested that it has also had a knock on effect of reducing available funding for other major capital projects yet to start.

He does say “And these [operating] costs have gone up 93 per cent in the past seven years” but he does not say how much unit costs have changed, because a lot of that increase comes from at long last actually expanding transit service – not that it is anywhere near enough and is certainly not increasing transit mode share the way it was supposed to.

The very rapid rise of board meeting costs will not, of course, be mentioned. Not by the Board anyway. Though you can expect a lot of puffing blowing about maintaining competitiveness in the market place for skilled talent. Which may well also be called to defend rapidly rising staff costs too. Not to mention the shortage of bus drivers. Nor what happens to a gas tax that is based on a levy per litre not percentage of pump price when those prices rise.

How many people going to this meeting are going to say “Yes, I would like to pay more property tax” ? And what do you think the outcome will be if 100% of them say no?

So I won’t be going.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2008 at 11:18 am

Posted in regional government, transit

Tagged with

City needs to push the envelope to stay on top

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Miro Cernetig talks to Larry Beasely

The ostensible reason for the article is that we have moved up another of those best city lists.

These rankings take our attention off the question that’s really at hand: With a million more people expected to be here by 2030, how are we going to stay on the cutting edge of urban planning that’s put us in the livability big leagues?

Larry of course is building not one but two cities in the dessert of Abu Dhabi and

“I’m learning we’re not as far ahead on some of this stuff as I thought we were,” he says.

Which is refreshing. The problem with these rankings is they have gone to our head – or at least to the collective heads of the planners. And upstart furriners like me who keep saying “The Emperor has no clothes” are simply not listened to. But Larry, with his OC and new perspective will be.

The trouble I have is that they think it is about buildings and especially cultural institutions. Which seems to me to reflect the priorities of Marie Antoinnette.

There are some very basic things we need to be doing – and architects are not going to be the most important component of that, neither are the problems or their solutions the exclusive domain of the City of Vancouver. No doubt working for a Crown Prince with few budget constraints is a heck of a lot easier than herding cats, but in a metropolitan area being run (and ruined) by the province, that is what has to be done.

For starters, there is the problem of housing, and the related issues of mental health and welfare. These are basic social problems – and in my mind the quality of society is measured not by its glitzy buildings or cultural institutions, but by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. And right now the only thing that seems to be grabbing our attention is how to conceal the extent of our social policy collapse during the weeks of and around the 2010 Olympics. Lack of affordability of homes to buy is actually the least of it. We are supposed to have free at the point of service for public health, yet people with multiple diagnoses are simply turned away from treatment. We shy away from creating more and better public spaces for fear that the homeless will move in. We cannot buy a decent bus shelter or bench in case somebody finds it a better place to sleep than a doorway. And instead of building more public housing, we simply buy up a few more roach infested SROs, and do a half hearted job of trying to clean them up, displacing more people in the process. And actually destroying some of the best public housing we have, and rebuilding it to provide more marketable homes!

It is not the buildings that are the problem. They simply reflect what we are willing to pay for. And the answer here at present seem to be not much since the land costs so much. But it is the spaces in between the buildings that matter – and in the words of that tired old cliché we have private affluence and public squalor. We devote more space to car parking than almost any other activity. Our streets may be broad, but the sidewalks are mean. And public places where people gather are few and inadequate. And we concentrate on Vancouver – and especially downtown – as if that were the only place worth considering.

And I haven’t even started on our infrastructure. “World class” cities surely need good waste disposal (liquid and solid) as well as reasonable movement alternatives for goods as well as people.

Oddly enough there is no need to “push the envelope” with any of this, the solutions have been around for decades. We have just turned our back on them in our obsession with finance and profitability, as if that is the only way to measure worth. How can we boast of our GDP per capita – when so many of those heads have no pillow?

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2008 at 10:20 am