Stephen Rees's blog

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

Elizabeth Ball seeks ‘dark sky’ legislation for Vancouver light pollution

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I do not listen to talk radio – not even worthy programmes such as Rick Cluff’s Early Edition on CBC. My political sympathies are usually somewhat distant from the NPA – but that doesn’t stop them having Really Good Ideas. I hope that Vancouver City Council gives this one a careful hearing.

Whenever you fly at night time across North America, all you have to do is lift the blind on your window to see light pollution. It is of course the result of our obsessions with our need for security and safety. But streetlighting need not light up the sky.

My own personal concern with this is not actually about street lighting, but the practice of lighting private sector parking lots at night. And she has that covered too “putting limits on lighting on private properties like illuminated signs and flood lights.”

It is a huge waste of energy, of course, and one that could be easily reduced. And while Elizabeth Ball rightly concentrates on health impacts, my own desire is simply to be able to see some stars on clear nights. The CBC is very good at telling us when the Perseid meteor showers might be visible – or even the Northern Lights! But from our 6th floor windows the only lights in the night sky come from passing aircraft.

UPDATE Feb 4

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 6.14.59 PM

Written by Stephen Rees

February 3, 2015 at 8:06 am

Posted in Urban Planning, Vancouver

Tagged with

Transit Ridership has NOT been “flat”

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Better Transit

One of the frequently used speaking points of the no side has been the claim that costs have soared while ridership remains flat. Not true. You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts. Metro Vancouver has recently “upgraded” its website. You can find this table there but for reasons I cannot understand the link in my browser address bar doesn’t translate to a usable link for you. And just searching Translink’s website is, as usual, frustrating  but here is the data as a pdf

TransitRidership

And here is the best analysis I have seen yet of the motivation of the NO side

Written by Stephen Rees

February 2, 2015 at 10:44 am

“Transit tax” will be the same as Provincial Sales Tax

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It is not often I see a Press Release on a Sunday lunch time. It is reproduced entire below. The retailers were getting concerned at the potential for all sorts of complexity to be introduced by the new “Metro Congestion Improvement Tax”. Those fears can now be laid to rest. Good.

February 1, 2015

 

Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Welcomes Minister Stone’s Letter on Collection of Metro Congestion Improvement Tax

Vancouver, B.C. – The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation welcomes Minister Stone’s letter, received last night, regarding collection of the Metro Congestion Improvement Tax (MCIT).

Minister Stone’s letter confirms the MCIT, which will fund new transit and road improvements in the mayors’ Plan, will be harmonized with the existing Provincial Sales Tax.

“We’re pleased with the announcement that they are harmonizing the collection of the MCIT with the existing PST. This will address concerns that the retail sector and others had, and eliminate any further confusion about exemptions and administration of the tax,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the Mayors’ Council. “This clarity is critical for a ‘yes’ vote. ‘No’ is not an option. We need these improvements to prepare for one million more residents.”

Of note in Minister Stone’s letter:

  • The Province reiterated that revenues collected for transit will be subject to independent audits and annual reviews.
  • The Province has confirmed that the tax base for the MCIT will mirror the PST tax base.

Mayor Robertson confirmed that the Mayors would not be seeking additional exemptions:

“Application of the PST to the tax base has always remained a provincial responsibility and this harmonization provides seamless administration. We want to ensure that simplicity continues so we will not be requesting any further exemptions.”

This ensures that essential items such as groceries, children’s clothing, transportation expenses, prescription medication and other basic goods and services will be exempt from the tax.

“Residents and businesses can now vote ‘yes’ for the plan for better transit knowing that the MCIT will be collected in the most efficient and fair way possible,” added Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, vice chair of the Mayors’ Council. “Thanks to the this decision, voters can be confident that a 0.5% regional increase to the existing PST is fair and will only cost the average household 35 cents a day for more buses, better roads and more transit options.”

The move will ensure the economic efficiency of the tax, which is critical to supporting the integrated economic development strategy supported by the Mayors’ Council plan, a vision that includes consideration of the importance of goods movement.

Minister Stone’s letter to MC.Feb1-15

Written by Stephen Rees

February 1, 2015 at 1:16 pm

More about Uber and the “sharing economy”

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Back in the middle of the month I reported on a City Conversation which looked at the issue of the taxi shortage in this region, and the reaction to Uber. If you didn’t read it then, can you look at it now – and especially the comment by MB, which talks his experience as a taxi driver.

I get all sorts of “pitches” in my inbox every day. Usually invitations to meetings in places far away (now if they included airfare and hotel I might even be tempted) or books to review. The invite to read the paywalled Nation has become a regular. On the whole my campaign to find links to free rather than paywalled sites has been lagging. I am pretty sure that most people find ways to get to content that I am not going to discuss. In this case I wanted to read today’s article about Uber and the Taxi Industry, just to see if it adds anything to what appears on this blog already. So I got the proffered free access behind the paywall for reviewers. The article in question is “adapted from a paper produced as part of the Future of Work Project, an inquiry supported by the Open Society Foundations.” So I rather thought that there might be an open source version of it somewhere. If there is, my Google technique needs to be improved.

Writing from a place where Uber is already established and basing the article on interviews with the people impacted – mostly taxi drivers – gives a good insight into possible outcomes here. John Liss used to drive a cab himself and his experience mirrors that of MB. In fact most of the article addresses the issue from one that was hardly touched on at the City Conversation.

The rapid growth of Uber has profound implications for both taxi drivers and the industry. Are Uber drivers earning full-time living wages? Are they protected from arbitrary or discriminatory dismissal? Can they support their families? What does this mean for the future of work?

Well, that’s all very well, but should there not also be some coverage of the needs of the users?  Well there is this

But Uber has no requirement to serve the public. Indeed, there is a strong race, class and age bias as to who can utilize the service. You have to own a smartphone, which has an average cost of more than $500. Uber requires customers to pay with a credit card, cutting off those with no or poor credit. Until recently, the company had no wheelchair-accessible vehicles in Virginia, and continues to lack adequate services for the disabled in many places.

which I think does reflect some of the remarks I heard. There is also the issue of “surge pricing” which means drivers on Uber get to profit from times when there are peaks of demand – which was also discussed if not in the context of Hurricane Sandy.

The general conclusion seems to be that drivers for Uber have ended up earning pretty much the same as cabbies – and with all the attendant risks (pay up front, hope you get enough rides, no benefits) and once again the company that developed an app makes the big money.

As National Taxi Worker Alliance organizer Biju Mathew said, “It’s drivers and millionaires against the billionaires.”

So not different enough, I think to allow Uber in here even if they can be persuaded to play by the rules – that is to say the rules of society rather than their own. Which, according to Liss are stacked against the drivers.

But there is also the broader issue of the public interest. We need better alternatives to driving ourselves everywhere, and the current suite of options is not adequate. But simply relying on private sector initiatives and the market economy is unlikely to address these issues in a way that will satisfy anyone. In the same Nation there is a further examination of the “sharing economy” based on an examination of Uber and AirBnB.

“Now, despite over five years of official recovery, the sharing economy offers some people, like cab drivers, the prospect of real wage cuts, and others, like people with a spare bedroom, a way to supplement stagnant incomes. The sharing economy is a nice way for rapacious capitalists to monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous, and to evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population.”

So not much to cheer about there then. Actually I did notice something that seemed to offer a glimmer of hope.

“Uber’s a different story in New York, where all drivers have to be certified by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the cars are all regular cabs or car-service vehicles. Every Uber-hailed driver I’ve spoken with in New York likes the service, because it delivers more paying riders than they’d otherwise have.”

So it seems that Uber can work in a regulatory environment. It is also possible I think that the fleet of vehicles and the number of drivers could also be supplemented at need under such a system. In New York you see “car-service” vehicles all the time. They tend to be black, and are often upmarket sedans and SUVs as well as limousines. If you are staying in Brooklyn and you have an early morning flight out of Newark, they are probably the only practical way of completing the trip – short of sleeping overnight at the terminal. I do not know about Uber cars, but from these articles it seems that there are some attempts at both quality control and market segmentation.

Liss does give some insight too into how different cities and states have developed regulated taxi systems. What they seem to have in common is that having evolved as cars proliferated they then became stuck at the point in history when the regulation was imposed and have changed remarkably little since. It does seem that change is both necessary and desirable, but not that all attempts at control should be abolished overnight.

One of the more curious meetings I had when at Translink was with a lawyer. He had noticed numbers of people left behind at bus stops as he drove through Vancouver towards downtown, and he wondered if there was some way that people could be picked up to utilize the empty seats that were going the same way anyway. I had to disabuse him of the notion that the public transit provider – or the taxi industry – would welcome such an innovation. But this kind of ride sharing does happen. On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco it has become established and officially recognized that people will wait at a point where single occupant cars can pull up and load enough people to get into the HOV lanes and share the cost of the toll. I somehow doubt that anyone has thought of this at the Port Mann.  Hitch Planet hooks up people making trips within BC but does not seem, so far, to have tackled shorter trips with Metro. Jack Bell has expanded from simply organising commuter car pools  with an app of its own which can also handle one time trips.

Liss seems to be mainly concerned about the people who work in the taxi industry, and I must admit that cab drivers in BC are – as in so many other places – at the bottom of the food chain. I had hoped he would also look at why Uber has become so popular with users. Yes it has sharply reduced the number of cab rides, but I think it must also have greatly increased the size of the market, and probably diverted some people from transit in the process. It also seems to me that in the longer term a company with Uber’s track record is bound to target the transit market and cream off traffic on the most productive routes. This is exactly what happened in Britain (outside London) when buses were deregulated. There is now a distinct gap between denser urban areas where buses are frequent and reliable, and rural areas where buses are almost entirely absent. Greater Vancouver could be very much at risk if the disrupters start to take an interest in transit. And that is not so unlikely in a future where the public authority has to compete with one arm tied behind its back.

So, no real conclusions other than I recommend reading the Nation articles if this topic held you long enough to still be reading.  The current regulatory framework for taxis in Vancouver is far too biased towards the established license holders, and has resulted in a shortage of taxis – compared to other Canadian cities. It has also lead to people developing all sorts of ways of accommodating these rides. The trip diary survey shows that around 10% of car trips are to take someone to where they need to be – often with an empty return trip. The airport has even set up a “cell phone parking lot” to cope with one of the more obvious needs. Yes, the Canada Line helped, but lots of people need to get somewhere other than downtown. New technology does offer us ways to use the vehicles that currently stand idle for most of the time. And there is a real need for opportunities to make extra money for a lot of people. Yes it would be better if there was a higher minimum wage and a really good social safety net for those in need of supplementation to their incomes. Neither of those seem remotely likely in present day Vancouver, BC, Canada, so let us have a sensible conversation about how we can increase mobility in the region.

Here’s a place to start: Helsinki

“Passengers request a shuttle service on their phones and Kutsuplus computes the best way to get everybody where they need to go, based on real-time data. It also indicates how long it would take to complete the trip both with Kutsuplus and with other modes of transport.”

“[Uber] is an approach that works fine in America, where walking is rarely an option and public transport mostly nonexistent.”

Read more here

Bits keep adding themselves to this story. I saw this link in the February 3 edition of The Direct Transfer (something you might want to consider subscribing to). It comes from Bloomberg and the story is extraordinary. Google is developing its own ride hailing service, in direct competition with Uber a company it has been funding itself.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm

“Yes” coalition calls on voters to support Metro Vancouver transportation improvements

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Press Release

The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition — the biggest, most diverse coalition in B.C. history — highlights opportunity for Metro Vancouver to determine its transportation future

VANCOUVER, Jan. 29, 2015 /CNW/ – Victory for the “Yes” vote in Metro Vancouver’s upcoming transportation referendum will benefit people from all walks of life, according to the broad-based Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, which calls the referendum “one of the most important decisions facing our region for the next generation.”

The BTTC, the largest and most diverse coalition of its kind in B.C., is backing the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Plan to expand transportation options, cut traffic congestion, reduce pollution, improve the health of our communities and strengthen the local economy. The plan is also accountable in that independent auditing and public reporting requirements will ensure money raised is spent on the proposed projects.

The BTTC has come together from incredibly diverse backgrounds to become a formal non-profit society with a common purpose, appointing four co-chairs representing business, labour, environment and student groups, among others. All are encouraging Metro Vancouver residents to vote “Yes” in the binding plebiscite mail-in ballot, which takes place from mid-March through the end of May.

“The plan will make our regional and provincial economy more competitive by dramatically improving the movement of goods, services and people,” says coalition co-chair and Vancouver Board of Trade president and CEO Iain Black.

Improvements in the plan include better service on existing SkyTrain and bus routes, light rail transit in Surrey andLangley, Broadway Corridor rapid transit, replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and 11 new B-Line routes throughout the region.

“Saying ‘Yes’ to these vital projects is the most important step we can take to show we care for the environment and to improve our quality of life,” says coalition co-chair and David Suzuki Foundation CEO Peter Robinson.

The Mayors’ Council Plan will cut traffic congestion by 20 per cent, shortening commute times by an average of 20 to 30 minutes per day, and give 70 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents more frequent transit service. It also addresses Metro Vancouver’s future transit needs as the region prepares for one million more residents by 2040.

“Better transit and transportation benefits workers in a real way by making it easier and faster for them to get to and from their jobs and to spend more time with their families instead of wasting precious time on long commutes and traffic gridlock,” says Gavin McGarrigle, coalition co-chair and Unifor’s B.C. Area director.

The plan will be funded by a 0.5 per cent regional Congestion Improvement Tax. This funding method will be fair to everyone, including visitors and tourists. It is affordable — on average about 35 cents a day per household — or $125a year.

“Students rely on transit,” says Bahareh Jokar, coalition co-chair and VP External at the Alma Mater Society of theUniversity of British Columbia. “A stronger transit system will help thousands of students across Metro Vancouver advance their education, while building a better region for generations to come.”

The BTTC will work throughout the Lower Mainland with speeches, public appearances, editorial boards, digital media efforts and other ways to help ensure Metro Vancouver voters understand the benefits of expanded transportation options.

The BTTC is inviting the media and supporters of the “Yes” vote in Metro Vancouver’s upcoming transit and transportation referendum to a campaign event:

Time: 12 noon, registration at 11:30 a.m.
Date: Thursday, February 5
Location: SFU, Segal Building, 500 Granville Street, Vancouver, B.C.

About the BTTC:
The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition is a new coalition — the biggest, most diverse ever in B.C. — supporting the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council Plan to dramatically improve transit and transportation in our region. The BTTC has more than 65 organizational supporters representing more than 250,000 Metro Vancouver residents, including organizations from business, labour, environment, student, community, health and other groups. Learn more at the BTTC’s new website: www.Bettertransit.info Follow us on Twitter @voteyestransit and FacebookBetterTransitInfo

Better Transit and Transportation Coalition co-chair bios:

Iain Black is president and CEO of the Vancouver Board of Trade. He has been in this role since 2011, leading the organization through fundamental transformation and returning it to increased membership growth, financial health and relevance in the public and business domain. He joined the board after serving six years as an elected MLA and cabinet minister for the government of British Columbia, where his various responsibilities included three cabinet posts encompassing economic development, labour and small business.

Bahareh Jokar is a fifth-year political science student and vice-president external affairs of the Alma Mater Society of UBC Vancouver. She sits as the chair of Get on Board BC and vice-chair of the Alliance of BC Students. Her work focuses on advocating for student issues to different levels of government, while ensuring that students are informed and engaged during elections. Metro Vancouver is home to upwards of 100,000 students.

Gavin McGarrigle is the B.C. Area Director for Unifor and a vice-president and officer at the B.C. Federation of Labour. McGarrigle has represented workers and bargained agreements in many industries, including transit and transportation, with Vancouver’s container truckers, and in aerospace and hospitality. Unifor is Canada’s newest union and largest in the private sector, with more than 305,000 members across the country, working in every major sector of the Canadian economy. The B.C. Federation of Labour represents close to 500,000 members throughout British Columbia and includes many unions representing transit workers, including COPE Local 378, CUPE and BCGEU.

Peter Robinson is the chief executive officer of the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit science and education organization working to address some of Canada’s most pressing environmental challenges. He brings to this position a diverse background spanning four decades in business, government and the non-profit sectors. Robinson began his career working as a park ranger in wilderness areas throughout British Columbia, where he was decorated for bravery by the Governor General of Canada. After his park career, he worked at BC Housing, a provincial crown corporation, eventually becoming its CEO. Immediately prior to his appointment as CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, he was the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op.

SOURCE Better Transit and Transportation Coalition

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 10:53 am

Toderian and Montgomery on The National

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I need something hopeful. The debate over the “transit tax” is debilitating. So this big chunk of last night’s CBC tv news cheered me up this morning. I know that here I am preaching to the converted, and I must admit I do not watch tv news late in the evening. Good thing about this being on YouTube is you can watch it anytime and pass along the link.

I would like an escalator to Kerrisdale please, but leave me Ravine Park for the stroll back. Or add a slide.  A few bike escalators would get me riding again I think. So far there is only one in Trompe, Norway.  Gondolas for SFU – but why not New West or North Van too? Escalators should go in there too, of course. And can you imagine the row if someone dared suggest improving access to/from Wreck Beach? But we seem to tolerate the continued existence of a wide divided highway around Pacific Spirit Park. (From the video above “If you build a wide road people will drive faster…”)

We have been waiting for the sad old Arbutus shopping centre to be transformed into a mixed use hub for many years. The locals just grumble about what it would do to the drainage. The existing “recreation centre” in the basement of the mall looks like it may close as all the strata councils are considering dropping support due to lack of use. That shows me that we really have not yet figured out how to build public facilities yet. I think that also underlies the intolerance of the Poodle on the Pole on Main St. Why cannot people laugh at it? We seem to understand the laughing guys of Denman and Davie. But if you want to offend people, put a misaligned head of Lenin into Richmond. Actually, go look at the Oval and the area around it to see what not to do in our suburbs.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 29, 2015 at 8:28 am

Healthy City

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I saw this on PriceTags and was instantly enthralled. I haven’t tried to embed a facebook video on here before – and over there it did look a bit different. But the reason for posting this is as an antidote to the sort of scoffing we hear far too often here about initiatives like allowing city residents to keep chickens in their back yards.

This blog tends to get embroiled in transit and transportation but that is actually only one small part of what makes Vancouver such a great place to live in.

I took these pictures yesterday at Kits Beach which have nothing to do with food, but everything to do with Vancouverism

Kits beach

Fog Rolling Back In

Written by Stephen Rees

January 27, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Posted in placemaking

Tagged with ,

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