Posts Tagged ‘climate’
This turned up in my email today.
I was intrigued enough to do a bit of follow up. Iowa, Florida or Canada? Well no surprise when Canada turns out to mean Toronto. At this point my interest flagged.
I must admit I enjoy being retired. When I was at work, I used to sleep well, because I was able to fantasize about a life that did not include work. Now I am living that dream, my actual dreams are often of being back at work. Closer to nightmares really. But then I read this story about Hazel McCallion getting a new job. At 94!
Anyway, they asked me to share this email with a friend or two. That would be you.
This post appears today on Island Tides and her own web site. Because of its significance I am copying it here in its entirety, but closing comments.
The very idea that the federal government, having slashed scientific research into climate change, freshwater science, ozone depletion and contamination of marine mammals (to provide an incomplete list) would be running a gold-plated research project called “the Northern Gateway project” is a stunner. The fact that $78 million is to be spent in 2013-14 on research as to how bitumen mixed with diluent will disperse in the marine environment, as well as better weather forecasting along proposed tanker routes in and out of Kitimat, with $42 million set for next year was shocking. The documents leaked from sources inside the federal government included numbers never made public.
I suppose I should not have been surprised that the response from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was to say that somehow Dr Andrew Weaver, Green MLA from Oak Bay–Gordon Head and I had simply missed a public announcement of the funding.
It is marginally better than denying that what we revealed to the press was true. Instead, Oliver said we had not done our homework. He claimed this was all in the public domain, announced on March 18, 2013. I remember that press conference vividly. Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver and then Transport Minister Denis Lebel stood against the background of the Vancouver waterfront to announce their ‘World-Class Tanker Safety System.’ I actually watched their whole press conference on CPAC and had gone through the Natural Resources website to correct errors. It was bizarre to hear Joe Oliver claim that we had simply missed that the federal government was spending over $100 million on something called ‘the Northern Gateway project.’
I went back and reviewed that file. True, the press release said that ‘The government will conduct scientific research on non-conventional petroleum products, such as diluted bitumen, to enhance understanding of these substances and how they behave when spilled in the marine environment.’ In fact, the only substance they are studying is dilbit in the research programme called the Northern Gateway project – no ‘such as’ about it. The research is essentially a disguised subsidy to Enbridge which was supposed to have done this work and presented it to the Joint Review Panel. The key reason that the BC government submitted its objections to the project in the hearings was the failure of Enbridge to provide any evidence of the environmental fate and persistence of dilbit, either in a pipeline (terrestrial) or tanker (marine) spills.
Oliver managed to get a good chunk of media to accept that we were scandalized by something that was well-known. Nothing in the Vancouver event this spring suggested to those of us paying the most attention that the federal government was trying to fill the gaps in Enbridge’s evidence.
Nor was there anything in the announcement to suggest infrastructure investments in better weather forecasting for tanker traffic routes in and out of Kitimat.
We have placed the key documents on the Green Party of Canada website. I hope that people will go to the original documents and decide for themselves if this was something we all knew.
Hansard: June 6th, 2013
To the contrary, I asked very directly in the House if the Prime Minister planned to push the Enbridge project through:
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Mr. Speaker, in 2001, the Prime Minister wrote a famous letter to the former premier of Alberta in which he urged him to act “to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction”. Six days ago, the provincial government of British Columbia said no to the Enbridge project. It said that Enbridge had completely failed to demonstrate any evidence that it knew how to clean up a spill or even knew what would happen with the bitumen and diluent.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that under no circumstances will the federal government become the aggressive and hostile government that approves a project as long British Columbians say no?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the project in question, of course, is subject to a joint review panel process. Obviously, we believe in the rule of law and in adjudicating these things based on scientific and policy concerns. The government will obviously withhold its decision on the matter until we see the results of the panel and its work.
Many may conclude it was only prudent of the federal government to spend over $100 million on ‘world class’ work in support of a project which is subject to a review process not yet completed. On the other hand, I think Stephen Harper’s claim that (as he said twice) “obviously” he will wait for the panel recommendation before deciding about Enbridge is undermined by this spending. When one follows the money, it all leads to supporting Enbridge.
I am going to point you to two columns – both in the Vancouver Sun recently and thus behind their paywall. This breaks my undertaking not to subject you to needless expense – but I am sure that by now you have learned how to avoid that.
The first is the Pete McMartin column that deals with climate change and why it is going to be much worse than we thought and much sooner. “Global warming’s new frightening deadline” looks at an article in Nature from 2009. That story was “impenetrable” so he got it via the non-profit news agency, InsideClimate News. If you read this blog regularly – with its 350 badge – then you probably know all this already, and if you don’t its probably because you have fallen for the lies peddled by the Koch brothers. We are not going to stop at 350ppm – nor 2℃. Probably not 4℃ either and 2 would have been catastrophic.
“The carbon budget implied by the 2 C limit,” Jaccard wrote, “means that we cannot be making new investments that expand the carbon polluting infrastructure.
“This means no expansion of oilsands, no new pipelines (like Keystone and Northern Gateway) and no expansion of coal mines and coal ports.”
The second is by Vaughan Palmer and looks at a shorter term issue – and one that I have touched on here. What the NDP is going to do once elected. “B.C. NDP supporters’ dreams of good times ahead likely to be dashed” He fleshes out what Geoff Megs was telling me – we are stuck with MSP and cannot expect them to raise income tax levels beyond the small amount that was in the most recent budget. It is all about reducing expectations in the name of electability. While Palmer is right in his statements, I think the NDP leadership is wrong to take the current conventional wisdom as truth.
First of all there is the potential for not giving away our natural resources. Because of story number 1 I think we should leave the coal, oil and gas under the ground. But given that current operations are going to continue then they ought to be priced properly. I doubt that raising the carbon tax alone is enough and besides I keep reading the stories about how they do things differently in Norway. That ought to be example enough. The MSP could be replaced by income tax – that is fairer than the flat level fee now charged but remitted to the very poor. The graduated scale of income tax is better, the amount collected could stay the same, and the right people (those who can easily afford it) would be paying most of it. It could equally be argued that there are plenty of other worthy cases. The headline reference to “Good Times” suggests a party. We are not talking about a party, we are talking about restoring a measure of social justice. “Publicly funded child care, … raising rates for social assistance, more resources in the classroom ” are all good and worthy policies.
“Reinvestment in the forests” is trickier – but is certainly a better objective than just giving away all the cutting rights for free which is what the current government is trying to do in its dying days. The last thing we need to do is allow a hell for leather rush to cut down the trees as fast as possible in the name of quick profits.
The other thing that we must do is change the mindset that says we cannot afford rapid transit – so we must chose between the UBC subway or Surrey LRT – but the tunnel under the Fraser must be replaced because of congestion on Highway 99. There is indeed a very short window of opportunity to comment – but the report on Phase 1 makes it clear that the majority of those consulted so far still believe that expanding highways cures congestion. Those few of us who did suggest real alternatives are treated as an eccentric, insignificant minority. Harry Lali was on the CBC News last night – and he looked like a transportation critic who has not had time to master his brief. The NDP made the mistake last time of continuing to build the Island Highway – and then got bogged down by the fast ferries, which they thought did not need anything like a basic travel demand study let alone a full cost benefit analysis.
I missed a report on NEWS1130 on March 7 when Adrian Dix made it clear that he is not committed by the present process
“The Liberals have talked about the Massey Tunnel,” he says. “I think the premier, in her speech to the UBCM, talked about the Massey Tunnel. There’s no money or real plan attached to that.”
Hat tip to Eric Doherty for posting that to trans-action
Popular opinion has been steadily misled but is at least willing to consider (transit) alternatives – as the Tunnel Phase 1 report makes clear. They are just not being given any real alternative
• Scenario 1 – Maintain Existing Tunnel
• Scenario 2 – Replace Existing Tunnel with New Bridge
• Scenario 3 – Replace Existing Tunnel with New Tunnel
• Scenario 4 – Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing along Existing Highway 99 Corridor
• Scenario 5 – Maintain Existing Tunnel and Build New Crossing in a New Corridor
In Phase 1 a significant number of people expressed interest in a transit alternative as way of tackling congestion. Do you see any mention of transit in those scenarios?
CN has announced – several years ago – its intention to abandon their current operation along Shell Road. This route parallels Highway #99 and gets close to the northern portal of the tunnel. CN are going to link to their other line at the eastern end of Lulu Island – so the freight service to the port continues. In most other countries, when looking for a way to expand rapid transit the first place you look is for a disused rail corridor. Of course it needs upgrading – double track for a start – and while modern electric traction can cope with grades up to 6% easily (and steeper if necessary) getting over both the North and South Arms of the Fraser will not be cheap or easy, but is perfectly feasible and cheaper than building a much wider highway bridge. And yes it could be linked to the old CP Arbutus right of way, and the line that runs on the north bank of the North Arm from Marpole out to Coquitlam. This line was indeed considered by Translink for LRT not so long ago. What it might do South of the Fraser might be to provide a fast passenger service to the ferries (and the Tsawassen’s massive development projects).
There are three open houses this week and you can also respond on line. Please do, if only to make the numbers of those saying no to highways look a bit more respectable.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie has spoken out strongly against Option 5 – the idea of a new bridge across the South Arm to No 8 Road
VANCOUVER – Canada can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to a fraction of current levels while maintaining or improving living standards and quality of life, according to Low-Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios, an international review released today by the Trottier Energy Futures Project (TEFP).
The headline is attention grabbing. Unfortunately, the report it points to is a lot less exciting. It is an important message to get across – that we can indeed reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we don’t need to wreck the economy or reduce our standard of living to do that. The apparent choice between the economy and the environment is simply a diversionary tactic dreamed up by the “business as usual” crowd. Who can readily be identified as the present governments of Canada and British Columbia and their paymasters in the fossil fuel and automotive industries. And who, in recent years have been busily pushing us in the wrong direction.
I suggest that you download the report – it is a 40 odd page pdf – a give it a once over, and hang on to it if you need some quick reference material. But do not expect anything especially new or earth shattering. It is simply a review of reports produced on eight countries and what they could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Only three have actually reduced their emissions in recent years
Sweden, Germany and the UK all managed (small) reductions in GHG while growing GDP.
But most of the report is summarizing studies which looked at what could be done – and is based on one study in each country, some of which are not exactly new.
What did strike me is the lack of emphasis on land use – admittedly one of the hardest things to do and one of the slowest in producing results, but I would argue one of the most important in bringing about structural change. These are all overwhelmingly urban countries – that’s where most of us live and will continue to live. Unfortunately because it is tough to change, it is not happening very much here. All the stuff about transportation is focussed on better energy efficiency for cars – and electrifying them. Not on reducing the need for motorized transportation. There is the usual focus on energy efficiency for buildings, but hardly anything on the location of those buildings.
Research shows, for example, that Americans generally consume more energy – and emit more carbon dioxide – getting to and from a typical building than does the building itself. Research also shows that location and neighborhood factors can create a dramatic difference in how much energy is consumed and emissions are generated in the getting to and fro.”
“Additional research also shows that even ordinary households in transit-oriented locations save more energy and emissions than “green” households in sprawl, across several housing types. In other words, a home with no green technology, if in the right place, is actually greener than a house with every bell and whistle imaginable, even if the latter gets a platinum rating.”
That comes from a recent article in The Atlantic on the shortcomings of LEED. And while it was about Americans it applies equally to Canadians.
The Energy Revolution report that covers the Canadian issues does have this acknowledgement of the importance of transportation
The report recommends transportation demand management through government investment in public and non-motorized transport, better urban planning and limits to urban sprawl, and freight transport management. Proposed behavioural changes are confined to the transportation sector, including greater dependence on public transit, more active transport, a shift to smaller vehicles, and “teleworking.”
which does cover the ground but fails to indicate which ones are likely – or actually important. Nothing at all of course on the current trend of a reduction is car use, even though there has been no real shift in transit provision, or better urban planning and most of the investment – especially in BC – has been lavished on highways. And while teleworking reduces commuting it can increase travel.
My biggest beef with the studies cited is that none appears to have identified the potential for rebound demand in energy efficiency programs. This has been observed – when energy efficiency produces cost savings for consumers they tend to consume more. Your fridge and furnace cost less to run so now you can buy an wine cooler – or a much bigger tv. Your car mileage is better, so now you can drive more.
It is important to have good news stories about greenhouse gas emissions – that all is not lost and there is a point in trying to do much better. We can certainly do far better than we have done – Canada in general and BC in particular. Canada is the only country in the comparison that is a net exporter of petroleum (there is no mention of coal) – and in BC whatever we might have achieved through our carbon tax or run of the river hydro has been vastly overshadowed by our ramping up of extraction of fossil fuels. Coal and natural gas are keys to the present government’s “jobs strategy” even though neither are very significant employers. And we are also very much on the radar to increase exports of bitumen (from Alberta) and coal from BC and the US. There is not much gain for the planet if we reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions but vastly increase the ability of other places to more than replace what we have cut.
I was alerted to this story by the Globe – which this morning is trumpeting going behind the paywall as “access for all” (Orwell would be proud: newspeak lives). I am not going to link there since they were in any event simply recycling something. Not – I hasten to add – plagiarism. Just what we all do – and in this case adequately cited, though without the necessary web links. Which of course Google gets quite quickly.
The Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles is available from the Wiley online library – and since it has yet to appear in the paper version of the Journal of Industrial Ecology you can get the whole thing as a pdf though that may not last for long. What the Globe was doing was reporting on an on line discussion on Leo Hickman’s blog – part of the Guardian’s web presence – and one that I freely admit I had missed.
The study looks at both the potential of increased emissions from the manufacturing process – especially for batteries – as well as the source of the electricity. The EV has often been criticized as an “elsewhere emission vehicle” (49 million google hits on the phrase) – it may have no tailpipe emissions but if the electricity comes from a coal fired power station …
Here are the key conclusions
The production phase of EVs proved substantially more environmentally intensive. Nonetheless, substantial overall improvements in regard to GWP [global warming potential], TAP [terrestrial acidification potential], and other impacts may be achieved by EVs powered with appropriate energy sources relative to comparable ICEVs [internal combustion engine vehicles]. However, it is counterproductive to promote EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion. The electrification of transportation should be accompanied by a sharpened policy focus with regard to life cycle management, and thus counter potential setbacks in terms of water pollution and toxicity. EVs are poised to link the personal transportation sector together with the electricity, the electronic, and the metal industry sectors in an unprecedented way. Therefore the developments of these sectors must be jointly and consistently addressed in order for EVs to contribute positively to pollution mitigation efforts.
All of which is fair enough since all they are doing is comparing one sort of car to another sort of car. Which is why the big problem of electric cars gets completely missed. As I have often written on this blog the problem is the overuse of cars – far more than how those cars are powered or constructed. As a policy issue in urban areas – and after all most of us live in urban areas – what we need to confront – here and elsewhere – is that when most people use a single occupant vehicle for most of their trip making, the consequences are dire. Traffic congestion is the one that gets most noticed, as it is the most obvious, but add to that the horrendous toll on life and limb caused by collisions, the health impact of not using your own muscles enough and being sedentary for most of the time, and the sprawl of urban areas onto productive farm land and essential natural areas (loss of biodiversity and the greenhouse gas collection function of forests are merely examples).
I find it offensive that I am being accused of “a rapture of techno-narcissism” when I have long been advocating some very old fashioned ideas. Electric trains, trolleybuses, and trams as well as human powered bicycles were all widespread at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. Not to mention the somewhat obvious wisdom of building places where it was both possible, safe and pleasant to walk – something humans were able to do for millennia prior to gadarene rush to rebuild cities to accommodate the automobile. Or even something that seems revolutionary in Vancouver but has always been instinctive in older cities – places to sit down comfortably outside in public spaces without any payment being required.
Something similar seems to be going on with the debate about the pipeline. I really do not think that the main issue is the possible impact of spills on either land or sea. It is the problem of burning ever more fossil fuel that worries me. The oil sands are one of the worst offenders simply because of the amount of energy it takes to convert tarry sands into liquid fuels. If we had better ways of moving ourselves around – and we could have very easily and relatively cheaply – then the oil could stay in the ground. Possibly not forever – since there are so many other really clever things we can do with petro-chemicals, for which there often fewer readily available alternatives. Burning the stuff or making non-biodegradable plastic bags is simply profligacy, given the increasingly precarious future we face.
Or as Bill McKibben states
“We also figured out that we’re not going to win just fighting one pipeline at a time. We have to keep all those battles going, but we also have to play some offense, go at the heart of the problem.”
That’s the trouble with talk radio. In between the adverts for cars and the best deal on tires, someone accuses you of saying something you didn’t say. It is not “either/or” (roads or transit) – at least becuase the road expansion is well under way and in the case of Port Mann/Highway #1 nearing completion. And I really do not expect a magic bullet or a tooth fairy to fund it – both things that got discussed before we got to the callers. In fact I think the callers got lined up before I started speaking. They evidently weren’t listening.
But just supposing someone was listening to CKNW this morning and got intrigued this is what I am prescribing.
We spent $3bn on a bridge and have to pay that loan down, so users are stuck with tolls for the bridge until it’s paid off. Meanwhile we have to find a way to fund transit expansion. It is not enough to come up with a formula that enables Translink to carry on as now – or allow some modest increase. We need a way to to ensure that transit can grow its market share. The current plan for 2040 is way too modest in my view. We need much more and quicker than that.
I am also disenchanted with dedicated funding sources. The problem is that if you tie your funding source to something that is also going to change behaviour – and you are successful – then you are stymied. To some extent that has happened with the gas tax – and also happens with the carbon tax. I also dislike user fees – for the same reason. Pricing something is a good way to reduce consumption. It is also unfair to those who have little income – and therefore very little discretion on how to spend it. Of course those who are comfortable are quite happy to state that since they can afford the fee, everyone else should be willing to shoulder the same burden. Except, of course, they do not share the same ability to do so.
The right wing has seized the agenda on taxes and made us convinced that income and corporate taxes have to be reduced in order to make us more competitive. That has simply got us engaged in a race to the bottom. We now work longer – households need multiple sources of income – in order to just stay where we were. Real incomes have declined. We may have the lowest income tax but that is only because we now pay through a variety of fees and charges for the same services – or rather in many cases, a reduced set of services. Plus a greater reliance on sales taxes.
We continue to subsidize fossil fuels – both nationally and provincially. The latest expansions of natural gas exploitation are being achieved with a concession of NO payment of royalties to the province. The expansion of the oil sands in Alberta is only possible because of an extraordinarily favourable tax treatment. In both cases we would be much better off leaving it in the ground. For one thing the planet cannot tolerate the current rate of increase in carbon emissions. Since the IPCC’s warnings on climate change, CO2 output has not only increased, the rate of change has also increased. Fossil fuels left in the ground would also become much more valuable in future – because there are so many other things you can do with them other than simply burning them, all of which have much great value added and many of which are going to be very difficult to do in future.
So I am advocating a two pronged approach.
1. Stop funding silly things (subsidies to oil and gas, F35 jets, mega-prisons ….)
2. Increase income tax for the rich and corporations – as well as a switch of enforcement away from chasing small amounts from the poor to the huge sums squirrelled away illegally in tax havens.
You will note that these funds then have to come from the federal government as well as the provincial government. This is intentional. Canada is the only advanced western economy that does not have a national transit program.
Senior Government support has to extend to operating funds as well as capital funds. We also should stop collecting tax from transit agencies – it is ludicrous that we levy a tax to pay for transit on fuel burned in transit buses.
I am not going to suggest that we abandon private sector partnerships altogether. But if we are going to do them, we have to transfer the risk to the private sector. Translink revenues are being dragged down by the deal on the Golden Ears. It is unconscionable that money raised to pay for transit is being paid to a private company who built a road bridge we don’t need – and which cannot be paid for from tolls – which is what they promised initially. We also have to look long and hard at why Macquarie Bank is still getting paid long after the P3 for the Port Mann fell apart, and the project proceeded with public funding.
There are two aspects to this – what we build and where we build it.
Currently the priorities appear to be first the Evergreen Line and then – probably – a subway to UBC (though that is not set in stone, yet). Like the Port Mann, let us assume that the Evergeen Line is a done deal. It may not be the best one, but it is too late to change.
If we commit to building a subway to UBC it will be because the current B-Line “cannot be expanded” and is overloaded, and the idea of light rail down Broadway, or more elevated concrete structure for SkyTrain, is intolerable on the West Side of Vancouver (but not anywhere else in the Lower Mainland, apparently). It will also mean that the part of the region that currently enjoys the best transit service will get more and, absent a new funding arrangement for transit, that means less everywhere else.
The callers to CKNW this morning were appalled by the idea that they could be expected to use a bus. I cannot say I blame them, given what they know of bus service here. But if we are going to persuade people to get out of their cars and use transit, it is going to have to meet at least some of their needs some of the time. We also need to make the newer, better services widely available. Our current approach seems to – and does – favour some parts of the region over others. In part that is because the operator, being cash strapped, has to concentrate resources in areas where they get the most return. So if there is a ridership, there will be service – not the other way round. That is why things never change. Because we keep doing what we have always done.
So in future we will have to see some innovation. And in some cases that means taking a risk with a new kind of service, in a place that doesn’t see it now. When the railways first got into the commuter business, at the end of the nineteenth century, there were no suburbs. They built out into green fields, and hoped that those would become new subdivisions. A bit like the way the transcontinental railway was built – in the expectation that they would encourage settlement in what were then seen as “empty” areas. Indeed, that was also the way that the interstate highways got taken over by people driving to and from work. Because subdivisions popped up like mushrooms after rain, right next to the off ramps.
So if we have the ability to build rapid transit, it can only go to places that will see rapid and sustained increases in population. When the Expo Line was built through the East Side of Vancouver the residents of the areas around the stations were mostly successful in resisting an increase in density. We cannot afford that again. This seems to me to be a linkage that would allow for investment – and is a model in use in Hong Kong. There, the Mass Transit agency is a property developer. If that makes you queasy, turn it on its head, and come up with an experienced developer who knows how to do high density, mixed use development and create some kind of vehicle that ties the risks and rewards into producing transit and transit oriented development together. Stop thinking about transit – and transportation – as an end in itself. It never has been. It has always been inextricably linked with land use. Instead of building a new transit line and handing much of the increase in land value to a few lucky land owners and developers, indulge in some “joined up thinking” and get a better built environment and less car dependance on the same dime.
But rapid transit is hideously expensive – almost as much as building massive highways and bridges – and relatively limited in its reach. And we need solutions for a very wide area, where mostly people drive themselves around in single occupant vehicles. So we start by tackling the paradigms of ownership and use – since most cars sit idle most of the time, and only one or two of their seats are ever occupied. That means breaking down the barriers we have erected – mostly to protect transit. The rules we now use came into being once car ownership began to spread after World War one, and “jitneys” threatened the viability of the (private companies’) transit systems. We are already seeing the impact of widespread, mobile information systems on car sharing. It would be even more rapid if it were not for these obsolete rules. Indeed, even those lucky enough to have operating licences apparently cannot make money because of the way the rules are applied.
I do not advocate a free for all deregulation – but I do think that there is obvious potential when entrepreneurs keep popping up with ideas that seem to work but get slapped down – mainly to protect vested interests. It is also the case that even where transit service is good, people can come up with other services that appear to meet local needs better. So obviously there needs to be some kind of oversight, but the rules need to be drawn up to protect the broader public interest, and not just the narrow “economic interest” of the industry, as our current regulator has it. In some respects, with the creation of a new smartcard payment system, giving multimodal regionwide access, Translink actually will have a useful tool to ensure cooperation. So the same card that you swipe to ride the bus or SkyTrain could also get you a shared taxi, or a even an exclusive ride in a shared car, like car2go. It is instructive that modo – the car coop – expands in areas that are well served by transit. It is complementary – not competitive – to the transit system. You cannot expand the reach of transit deep onto low density single family home areas with a 40 foot diesel bus. And there are limits to what can be done with shared rides and demand responsive systems. The DART in HandyDART once meant “Dial a Ride” – but you now have to book days in advance and be qualified. The service that results satisfies no-one, but contains the germ of an idea that ought to be allowed to flourish, and benefit from the extra-ordinary explosion of information abilities of smart phones.
It is significant, I think that the companies that need to hire bright young minds now provide bus service to get their employees to the workplace. The buses they use look nothing like a transit bus – they have wifi on board for a start – and do not pick up at bus stop signs. But a new app allows them to be mapped. I am willing to bet that the man who upbraided me this morning for expecting him to use something as slow and cumbersome as our current transit service would be quite happy to get on board one of these. The IT aspect means that all our current practices of mapping and scheduling can be discarded. The routes can be adapted on the fly, in real time, to meet changing need. The rigidity of regulation means that Greyhound can’t adapt service levels to changing needs the way Bolt Bus (its subsidiary) can. The same paradigm starts to make suburban shared ride services look feasible even of they don’t look a lot like transit does now – and maybe that is a good thing in and of itself.
One of the reasons young people do not want a car – or a mortgage – is because we have loaded them down with student debt. Until they pay that off, a car loan or a 25 year mortgage is neither practical or appealing. Moreover, they no longer use the same systems we did to get in touch with each other. They have texts, twitter and Facebook. Almost anything can be set up on the fly – just ask the Occupy movement.
I really doubt that it is possible to win over everyone to using transit and I am not even willing to try. There will always be some people driving everywhere all the time – just steadily less of them as a percentage of the total. After all, we could not cope with a sudden influx to transit – as the UPass so convincingly demonstrated. The way we built the Canada Line showed we had not really thought through what “change modal split” actually meant. There already enough people who want to use transit – and who want to use it more often – but are frustrated, to provide a significant increment in transit use. The increase in service just to meet those desires would also bring in more riders, as service frequencies and reach would make those services more attractive. This is the benevolent cycle of growth that has been seen in so many other cities that have stuck consistently to expanding transit. We, on the other hand, seem so besotted with short term point scoring that we are going to enter the other spiral – where cost cutting reduces service, and thus ridership and thus to further cuts. I am convinced that these systems will always respond to these dynamics. There is no steady state. It is either growth or decline.
So the strategy I am suggesting is for conventional transit to incrementally add to its service – which means, right now, more buses. And more exclusive bus lanes – by taking road space away from single occupant vehicles. As demand grows, more limited stop and express routes – creating a hub and spoke system based on town centres, supported by an intricate and much more varied web of feeder services. That means space at the hubs has to be provided for bike storage, or shared bikes, as well as park and ride, kiss and ride, shared cars and station cars and shuttle buses. Rapid transit stations are, of course, hubs – as well as centres of mixed use, denser development – because they are within walking distance of so many services and facilities. I doubt that there will be many new rail based services added for a while – but obviously if there is an underused rail corridor available it must be pressed into use. Freight gets to use the lines when people are sleeping. Where there are highways, there will be rapid bus services – with priority where needed. At the very least so that those who insist on driving can have the educational experience of seeing the bus swish past them while they are stuck in traffic. Elsewhere it will have to be more and better buses – and the whole panoply of related “Better than the bus, cheaper than your own car” services.
Since we have hobbled public enterprises, and are convinced of their ineffectiveness, the expansion has to incorporate private enterprise. But we should look long and hard at what we are doing before we do it. Compare and contrast BC Hydro before and after IPPs, for instance. Learn from the experience of Britain with its railway privatization – or the Underground in London – and benefit from their experience.
There is no one simple solution – because although the problem looks straightforward (how to pay for transit) it is in reality complex and difficult because of all the connections. Politicians like big capital projects because they get to cut a ribbon. But what is needed is a whole range of small, incremental changes, and a shift in mind set. Mostly it needs a change in the way that government behaves.