The Joy Of No Car

May 3, 2011

For a couple of days at the end of last week we rented a car.  We had to take the cat to the vets in Burnaby and we had an evening appointment across the city in Kitsilano; so it was a useful time to have the car.

It was the first time I had driven for more than a year, and it was an interesting novelty once again at the beginning.  But I was happy to turn the car in on the Friday. By Saturday morning we were both feeling bushed!  Having the car seemed to oblige us to use it over (get soil from Home Depot) and over (dim sum) until we were exhausted with the constant doing.

Over the last twenty years without a car, we have developed a slower — and, I like to think, a more considered — life.  Without a car we are obliged to think carefully before we go out; we have to think about getting from place to place and what we can carry with us, more concretely than does a driver; but at the same time, we have none of the stresses caused by parking, for example.  As we walk the sidewalks we actually meet people and chat, something that is impossible when you are driving.  We are weather-prone and sometimes even weather-limited; but our car never breaks down and is never damaged. In a pinch, we are happy to call for a cab or a rental car.  Otherwise, we are happy to keep to Shank’s pony.

Canadian Niceness Day

October 11, 2010

Today is the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada.  If for no other reason that gives me an excuse to discuss a certain kind of etiquette on Vancouver’s buses.

The front section of buses here have priority seating for seniors, baby carriages and disabled folks.  Most of the time, riders seem quite happy to give up their seats if a senior or handicapped person gets on.  However, almost everyone seems to have a need to apologize for their consideration:

“Oh, it’s OK. I was getting off in the next few stops anyway.”

“I’ve been sitting down all day.  It’ll do me good to stand up for a while.”

Why is this?  Do we have to explain away some sort of weakness in giving up our seats? Is it only young children that can publicly express unbidden happiness, while age adds alibis and remorse? Or is just another example of our world-renown Canadian niceness?

I don’t know the answer, but I ask it every time I see it happen.

Hanoi’s Subway

October 1, 2010

When I was younger, Hanoi — then the capital of North Vietnam — was subject to massive bombing by the Americans.  Between 1966 and 1972, a huge amount of ordnance was dropped on the city, causing citywide destruction.  How times have changed!

The Vietnamese government has just announced the start of work on a subway transit system for Hanoi.  They will build a 12-station 12.5 km line costing about $1 billion.  The line is scheduled to be open by 2015 and is expected to carry 300,000 passengers a day to ease traffic congestion in the city.  Financing is coming from the French Government ($384m). the Europe Investment Development Bank and the city’s state budget.

The very idea of an entrepreneurial Vietnam with the need for a major subway system financed by Western banks would have been simply unimaginable back in 1972.  Perhaps we should take another look at some of today’s “disaster areas” and recognize that the future can be better than the present. Life does move on.

Open Data: Transportation

September 29, 2010

I am very interested in the Open Data movement as it relates to information maintained in various government databases. In the transportation sphere this generally works best when mashed with a system such as Google Maps. The latest I have seen is this incredible mapping of every bus stop, train station and port in the United Kingdom:

[click on the image to be taken to the application; use Google's zoom controls to dig deep into the map and find, for example, individual bus stops]

The tabulated data is also useful as explained in the Guardian’s article that led me here.  This seems to me to be a perfect use for accumulated data that would otherwise sit unused in a mis-matched collection of binders or logs or computer tables.  As someone mentions in the comments to the Guardian piece, adding bus routes, for example, would be the next logical step.

I haven’t had this much fun with data since I discovered the fabulous almost real-time shipping maps!

From Ridiculous To Sublime

September 24, 2010

The Hummer was the poster child for vehicular excess when Arnold Schwarzenegger put the first civilian version on the roads.  It has since been exceeded by far too many ultra-luxury SUVs to count.   More barrels of oil have been wasted than be counted.  Now, it seems, Hummer wants to take first place once again; this time by proposing the first flying SUV.

As Luxist reports:

The AVX Aircraft Company’s new airborne SUV, a sort of Hummer with retractable wings, or a helicopter with wheels if you prefer, was originally designed for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The AVX (above) does everything a Hummer can do with the addition of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capability. The four-person all-terrain vehicle converts from road to flight mode in a mere 60 seconds, has a cruising speed equivalent to a light aircraft and features automated takeoff / landing flight control. With a payload of 1,040 lbs., it has a range of 250 nautical miles on one tank of fuel and can cruise at an altitude of 10,000 ft. fully laden. The AVX can do an impressive 80 mph on the ground and hits 140 mph in the air.

This is America’s response to the acknowledged truth that they use too much gasoline already?  How bloody ridiculous!

Luckily, there are US companies that are using their heads to meet the challenge. FedEx is trialing the use of electric delivery bikes in Paris (see the story and video here.)

The tricycles require manual pedaling to start the motor. Although slightly bulky, there’s a tall, removable storage container that sits between the back two wheels.  The vehicles can travel at a speed of around 20 kilometers per hour and are welcome traffic in Paris’ pedestrian-only areas and many bike lanes … They avoid the traffic that clogs the streets of central Paris while moving at a decent speed.  During a trial period, the bikes delivered on average 15 packages per hour.  FedEx’s managing director of operations for France, Dirk Van Impe, says the tricycles have improved efficiency, are financially viable, and good for the company’s visibility.

FedEx is a progressive company in these matters, with solar power offices and a fleet of hybrid vehicles.  It would be great to see these bikes in all major cities.

The Rich Get Richer

September 13, 2010

The major UN Report on Global Economic Activity released in December 2009 stated that:

the continued weakness of the world economy is manifest in the continued increase in unemployment. Through the end of 2009, the recovery will have been “jobless”. Unemployment  rates are expected to continue to rise well into 2010.  The number of unemployed has more than doubled in the United States since the beginning of the recession in December 2007 [to] the highest in 26 years. … The unemployment rates in the euro area are also estimated to have increased by more than 2 percentage points in 2009 … Unemployment rates in transition economies and developing countries have also moved higher, in particular in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Central and South-eastern Europe, where the number of unemployed increased by as much as 35 per cent in 2009 … In East and South Asia, vulnerable employment affects about 70 per cent of the workforce … In sub-Saharan Africa … the share of working poor (that is to say, those earning less than $1.25 per day in purchasing power parity (PPP)) is expected to increase to about 64 per cent in 2009, up from 59 per cent in 2007.

Another report notes that

at the end of 2009, there were 81 million “economically active” youth aged between 15 and 24 who were unemployed, or 13% of all such youth around the world — an increase from the 11.9% in 2007.  In other words, the situation for that group is getting worse.

But luckily we have Luxist to remind us that it is not all doom and gloom around the world.  A couple of articles in particular caught my eye today. First there was the story of the three-bedroomed apartment in Monaco that someone just bought for $308million.  Let me repeat that: a three-bedroom apartment in Monaco that someone just bought for $308million.

One of its main features is the fully developed rooftop, which looks like it belongs on a cruise ship:

Personally, I wouldn’t buy it because it is not even private! Look at the picture above and you can see a tower overlooking the grotto.

The other story was about a 21-year old kid with a $5million car collection that will become a $10million collection when he has his next birthday.  He doesn’t have to work for it, or get a certain grade level; his daddy will simply give him another $5million worth of cars for his birthday.

All his vehicles have personalized license plates featuring the figures 070, which cost an additional $150,000 a pop. The international playboy spent the summer flying his cars to London, Montreal, Las Vegas and New York to go on high-octane driving tours with friends.

I read that just after learning about the 81 million unemployed youth, youth that need to work to help feed their families. I’ve since looked up that average student debt in the UK is $40,000, with similar figures in North America.

Will the rich never understand the problem with such conspicuous consumption? To broadcast the spending of $308 million on an apartment while millions are homeless and hundreds of thousands of ordinary houses are in foreclosure, to give a work-shy kid four “Ferraris, five Porsches, three Lamborghinis, two Rolls-Royces and a Mercedes SLR McLaren” while his contemporaries are buried under huge debt loads and unable to find gainful employment; this almost screams for a revolution. I guess they think their private armies will save them.  Well so did Louis XVI.

Kudos To The BC Government (For A Change)

September 2, 2010

I am not generally a fan of the Liberal Party government that currently runs British Columbia (even though the only potentially viable alternative is even worse.)  However, I have happily supported their move to a Harmonized Sales Tax and now I have to praise two serious transportation safety initiatives.

Earlier this year they announced the toughest drunk driving legislation in Canada, laws which came into effect on September 1st.  A breathalyzer reading of .05 used to be just a warning. Now, a first offense at that level brings a $200 fine and a three-day driving ban. Getting caught at 0.8 or above brings an immediate $500 fine, a 90-day ban and a 30-day impounding of the car — plus any additional criminal charges that can be brought against the driver.

I happen to believe that there should be a zero tolerance for ANY alcohol in the system of a driver, but these new rules are a good start in that direction.

Just as interesting are new regulations coming in at the end of this month which will hit speeding drivers hard.  According to the Province newspaper:

Beginning Sept. 20, drivers caught exceeding the posted speed limit by 40 kilometres or more will see the vehicles they are driving impounded.  “A charge of excessive speeding will trigger a mandatory seven-day impoundment for a first offence, a 30-day impoundment for a second, and 60 days for subsequent excessive speeding offences within two years,” a ministry press release stated.  Those sanctions are on top of existing penalties, which include: a fine of up to $483, three penalty points on a driver’s licence and an ICBC driver-risk premium of $320 per year for three years.

Good stuff and bravo to the BC Government for pushing these through!  No doubt some libertarian fools will challenge both of these new rules on “constitutional” grounds; I hope we don’t have to waste too many taxpayers dollars defending public safety.

Transportation In The Lower Mainland

August 31, 2010

I can’t think of the last time I used a blog post simply to point to another blog, but if you have any interest in transportation policy that affects Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, it is impossible to miss Stephen Ree’s blog.  I don’t always agree with everything written, of course, but everything that is written is composed carefully and with a keen understanding of the issues involved.  Don’t miss it!

Why Does Transit Set Mothers Against Seniors?

August 9, 2010

I am a big booster for transit in Vancouver. I haven’t had a car for twenty years and have relied upon transit almost every day. I happen to think that the public transportation system in Vancouver is pretty good; it certainly works for me and gets me efficiently where I want to go. But there are issues, and the biggest for me right now is a manufactured dispute between seniors and mothers.

Every bus in the system has a section near the front that is designated for wheelchairs, seniors, those with disabilities, and mothers with strollers and infants. It seems logical to me that priority should go to wheelchairs and there is rarely an issue with that. The next priority should surely go to those seniors with disabilities, who find it difficult to stand for any length of time. But no: I have on so many occasions seen drivers force elderly crippled people to stand up and make way for some fit young mother with a stroller and a baby. That cannot be right, and yet most mothers take it as an entitlement.

On the occasions when I have questioned drivers about it I have been told either that stroller priority is company policy, or that I should mind my own business. Ridiculous! I have finally written to the company to find out directly what their policy is. I will let you know. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to steam about all this.

Update: Transit wrote back very quickly — I guess I wasn’t the first to ask.

Thank you for your recent feedback and inquiry. The priority seating goes in the following order.

1. People using wheelchairs or scooters
2. Persons with disabilities and seniors
3. Children in strollers

But will they tell the drivers?

Fast Train To China

March 9, 2010

Forget the slow boat: the Chinese are planning to build a rail network that will have passengers traveling from London to Beijing in just two days!  The following is from the Daily Telegraph:

China is in negotiations to build a high-speed rail network to India and Europe with trains that capable of running at over 200mph within the next ten years.   The network would eventually carry passengers from London to Beijing and then to Singapore.  It would also run to India and Pakistan … A second project would see trains heading north through Russia to Germany and into the European railway system, and a third line will extend south to connect Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia.

Passengers could board a train in London and step off in Beijing, 5,070 miles away as the crow flies, in just two days. They could go on to Singapore, 6,750 miles away, within three days.  “We are aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as aeroplanes,” said Mr Wang. “The best case scenario is that the three networks will be completed in a decade,” he added.

Wow!  And they seem to be very serious:

China is in the middle of a £480 billion domestic railway expansion project that aims to build nearly 19,000 miles of new railways in the next five years, connecting up all of its major cities with high-speed lines. The world’s fastest train, the Harmony Express which has a top speed of nearly 250mph, was unveiled at the end of last year, between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. Wholly Chinese-built, but using technology from Siemens and Kawasaki, the Harmony Express can cover 660 miles, the equivalent of a journey from London to Edinburgh and back, in just three hours.

Book me on the opening train!

What Recession?

December 2, 2009

This baby is the 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, with a list price of $285,000 (not including taxes and delivery).  I would be happy to pick one up when I’m next out shopping but there are so many choices to make — 114 paint colors to choose from, 21 carpet colors, nine wood veneers and 24 leather hides — that it hurts my head.  I’ll just stick to that red and white 96-seater bus I’m used to.

Recycling Buses

November 5, 2009

In Atlanta, they have recycled three old city buses to create a cool bus shelter:









Even the seat is from one of the de-commissioned buses.   Great idea!

This is from SpaceInvading via coolboom.

Ridding Ourselves Of Cars

October 31, 2009

bikeLow-Tech magazine looks at bicycles this week, and concludes that cars have to go.  Boy, I couldn’t agree more.

The problem is not that there is a lack of good roads – enough of these exist to bike from here to Mars and beyond. The main problem is that these are occupied by automobiles that are not only dangerous but also very inefficient both in terms of energy use and floor space.We don’t need any new infrastructure, what we need is to clear the existing infrastructure of inefficient vehicles and replace them with efficient ones. In other words: give all streets, highways, cloverleaves and motorways exclusively to bicycles and all other human powered wheeled vehicles. Get rid of cars. Why make things so complicated if the solution is so simple?

How could we live without cars, I hear those trapped in skepticism say.  The answer is clear:

Picture this for a second. If cars are gone, we are left with pedestrians (on the sidewalk), pedal powered vehicles (one part of the streets and the highways) and public transportation (another part of the streets and the highways, separated from pedal powered traffic, or underground) … For long distance passenger transport, we have trains. For long distance cargo transport, trains again. Short distance cargo transport could see the revival of cargo trams (streetcars). Electric vehicles could be a part of the solution, too, both for cargo transport and for the disabled, provided they keep the same speed as bicycle traffic.

The whole article is well worth the read, and the possibilities should be lightly discarded.


We need a new phrase ….

August 1, 2009

Why do they call it “rush hour” when all the cars are standing still?

Global Travellers

June 1, 2009

The crash of an Air France jet into the Atlantic this morning is, of course, a terrible tragedy for all involved.  However, the passenger list provides an interesting view of travel today.

Back when explorers were like astronauts, heading out into the complete unknown in tiny ships, they gathered their crews from wherever they could get them.  They were often a polyglot collection of old salts from around the known world.  But each voyage was special, an event.

Today’s flight was just an everyday occurrence, something that happens on a regular schedule.  Nothing special.  And yet the collection of passengers’ nationalities included nearly every continent.  There were two Americans, an Argentinean, an Austrian, a Belgian, 58 Brazilians, five British, a Canadian, nine Chinese, a Croatian, a Dane, a Dutch, an Estonian, a Filipino, 61 French, a Gambian, 26 Germans, four Hungarians, three Irish, one Icelandic, nine Italians, five Lebanese, two Moroccans, three Norwegians, two Polish, one Romanian, one Russian, three Slovakian, two Spanish, one Swedish, six Swiss and one Turk.

The global village meme is ever more true.

Sic Transit

May 7, 2009

busesI have on a number of occasions in this space praised Vancouver’s transit system.  However, one item that seems to be becoming established policy is just setting my teeth on edge.

The seats near the front of the bus are designated for various groups of people — wheelchair users, others with mobility problems, seniors, and those with baby strollers.   The notices as written put these groups in the order I have listed them, presumably establishing some sort of priority.    I certainly have no problems with wheelchair riders.  Good for them to be able to get around.  However, on more than one recent commute, I have seen seniors and others with mobility problems (carrying canes, crutches, etc) forced to move because a parent with a stroller wanted to get on and use that space.

Hold on folks, that just isn’t right.  What is even less right is the entitlement these parents seem to assume by their manner, as if they and their children were somehow more worthy or important than the seniors and others involved.  The attitude of most (though not all) drivers is to accept the strollers’ rights and to assist them shooing the seniors out of their seats.

I urge Coast Mountain Bus Lines to make a definitive statement that seniors and those who are mobility-challenged do NOT have to move when a stroller tries to gain access.  And I further urge them to train their drivers in dealing respectfully with the rights of these groups.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

January 7, 2009

In a clear victory for free speech and secularism, the Atheist Bus Campaign raised more than $150,000 in just four days.  Yesterday, they unveiled their message on the side of 800 buses across Britain.


Next week, the campaign will put up 1,000 posters on the London Underground system with similar messages.

An interesting element of the bus slogan is the word “probably,” which would seem to be more suited to an Agnostic Bus Campaign than to an atheist one … But the element of doubt was necessary to meet British advertising guidelines, said Tim Bleakley, managing director for sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor in London, which handles advertising for the bus system.For religious people, advertisements saying there is no God “would have been misleading,” Mr. Bleakley said. “So as not to fall foul of the code, you have to acknowledge that there is a gray area,” he said.

Good old England!

Bravo Vancouver Transit!

January 5, 2009

As regular visitors will be aware, I am a serious booster for our city’s transit system.  It is one of the finest systems that it has ever been my privilege to patronize.  Having given up my car in 1991, and thus been a daily transit user for almost twenty years, I believe I know whereof I speak. Now, my faith in the system and its workers has been more than vindicated.

A few days before Christmas I went shopping downtown and on the Drive.  By the end of the day, I had a raft of packages that I was manhandling.  I got them all home safe, only to discover that my shoulder pouch had gone missing.  The pouch was worth just a buck or two, but it held my expensive and well-loved camera, my new expensive sunglasses, and my asthma inhaler.

On the days we haven’t been completely snowed in, I have made efforts to visit every store I visited that day to ask if I left my bag there.  No luck.   However, this morning we phoned Transit Lost & Found and, lo and behold, the pouch was there – and with all its contents!  It had been turned in by the driver (operator #50164:  if you ever see him or her, give them a pat on the back).

Can’t beat that for good service and honest workers!  Thanks to them all!

How Will We Die?

December 5, 2008

I was drawn to the World Health Organization’s recently published “The Global Burden of Disease:  2004 Update” through David Kenner’s review article in Foreign Policy.    The WHO’s report is a snapshot of the world’s health as of 2004.  From that, “using projections of economic growth and advances in medical treatment”, they extrapolate the leading causes of death in 2030.


It is interesting to me that the three causes expected to kill more people (heart disease, lung disease and traffic accidents) are each deaths by consumer choice in the use of fatty foods, tobacco, and automobiles.

I was surprised to see that tobacco consumption is expected to rise.  But then again, it is reasonable that developing nations should buckle under the full weight of tobacco advertising just as we did.  It is a pity that they can’t seem to skip that bit of our experience.  But Big Tobacco can make the stuff for as little as it needs to keep the wholesale price low, and governments quickly become addicted to the tobacco sales taxes they collect.  The guy on the street hardly stands a chance.

A final thought:  when you add up the cost of the world’s military, the tobacco and road transportation industries, and the unhealthy parts of agribusiness, it quickly becomes apparent that modern capitalism is in large part an economy of death.  I’m certain that is something we could change if we really wanted to.

What Detroit Needs

November 29, 2008

Stop the presses!  Hold the front page!   I have found the solution to Big Auto’s problems.

I present to you — the renewable, recyclable, no-gasoline motor:


With a $25billion loan from the American taxpayer, Ford, GM and Chrysler could probably corner the global market in suitable cows.

[Thanks to Peter Greenberg for the image]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 831 other followers