Green group questions economic sense of hydrogen buses
It was a while ago now that I questioned the hydrogen bus plan for Whistler, in fact May 1, 2007. That post attracted a comment from someone using the pen name “Astrolounge” who is obviously an insider, since (s)he revealed that the “plan” was even worse than I imagined. Over two years later and long after most of the money has been spent, Ian Bruce of the David Suzuki Foundation has caught up – and is now being quoted by the Province yesterday.
Bruce says he is concerned about the priority of spending on the hydrogen buses as part of the 12-year $14-billion provincial transit plan announced in January of 2008.
“The new money was roughly $11 billion and of that just under $5 billion was committed from the province,” said Bruce. “Yet in the last budget we had roughly $150 million (toward public transit) so it is not even putting us close to being on track.”
The so called “transit plan” was bogus. I said that at the time as well. There was never any money – other than the funds committed to the Canada Line and this daft Olympic showcase as part of the “hydrogen highway”. The plan relied on money from the feds, and from the municipal level as well. Neither was consulted – and no commitments by either were ever made. The “plan” was simply a hasty rehashing of earlier proposals, designed to look like a plan. And there was never any thought given to how these projects might get enough operational funding.
The Gordon Campbell government was, as that time, looking forward to the election, and trying to appear green. Somehow they managed to work this trick with a totally inadequate carbon tax. Carol James seized on this as her (failed) strategy, when it would have been much easier to discredit the BC Liberals due to their much greater commitment to greenhouse gas increases through the Gateway – a major freeway expansion – the expansion of oil, gas and coal extraction and the yet to be realised plans to build more pipelines to export tar sands output, as well as the very real threat to open up drilling for oil around Haida Gwai.
Added to the question of costs is the fact that the hydrogen has to be bused in from Quebec, as it cannot be produced in B.C. in great enough quantities.
Actually that’s nonsense too. If you are going to spend these sorts of sums, a new electrolysis plant running off our own abundant hydro resources should not have been too difficult. After all, how can you have a hydrogen highway without the hydrogen? Of course, the fact that apart form these buses there are no hydrogen vehicles that need the fuel now or in the foreseeable future is just one of those nitpicking details that can be readily dismissed.
But, said BC Transit spokeswoman Joanna Morton, investing in future technologies is a must.
Actually, it isn’t. There are all sorts of well proven technologies that would increase transit use, reduce car dependency and start building a greener future. The problem is that would require a government that understands how transportation and land use needs to be changed to a more sustainable model. That would, for a start, mean abandoning freeway widening – something that Gordon Campbell has made clear he has no intention of doing even though studies the government themselves sponsored show will increase ghg emissions. It would also mean that some new funding source would have to be found to ensure that the proposed capital projects would actually be able to be operated. This is the most pressing problem in Greater Vancouver – not for BC Transit, since none of the other cities in the province will ever see modern transit investment in anything other than buses. Translink (SoCoBriTCA) cannot afford any system expansion – and has simply raised fares and taxes to keep operating the same system it has now for the forseeable future.
The real question that needs to be answered is why this government can find millions for hydrogen buses which cannot operate effectively in Whistler and meets no identifiable needs at all, when all sorts of worthwhile projects that would increase transit use and enable a more efficient land use pattern are neglected. The Evergreen Line is the one that springs to mind, but let’s assume that BC Transit has to be involved and needs to spend in other places – so perhaps Rail for the Valley and on the E&N on the Island come to mind. Or perhaps streetcars for Victoria. None of these looks Olympic of course. None offer photo ops with the Governator. But they would actually work to increase transit use and encourage transit oriented development, and thus actually do something effective about ghg emissions. Something that can not be claimed for hydrogen buses in Whistler.