Tag Archives: transportation

The TransLink Plebiscite for Vancouver

Greater Vancouver, transit plebiscite, rapid transit

We all want better SkyTrain service where it doesn’t break down, people aren’t mugged and it runs as late as the clubs, but at what price. From the http://mayorscouncil.ca/vancouver/ site.

Greater Vancouver is undergoing a plebiscite or referendum (it’s being called both) about whether to increase our provincial sales tax by .5% to cover upgrades to transit infrastructure. It’s becoming quite a fight because TransLink, the arms length governing body (so you can point fingers directly at the provincial government), has had an extremely bad history of providing good and competent governance and spending.

TransLink talked about the Evergreen line (rapid transit trains), scheduled to go east toCoquitlam and environs for twenty-some years. It’s been nicknamed the Nevergreen line. There were plans and then there weren’t plans. They had no money, they did have money. The reasoning changed back and forth. There have been other indications of incompetence which arrived with the firing of the CEO this year and appointing a new one. But now instead of paying for one, they’re keeping the old one on shuffling papers because I’m sure he received an overpriced severance package. How much is the new one working for: $35,000 per month.

The fight for the increase has the “yes” side saying it’s not about TransLink, it’s about making our tansportation better. And while this is correct, TransLInk is still at the help. Let me put it to you like this: If you gave me $100,000 to build you a house and I did but it was a year late, had shoddy workmanship, the windows kept falling out and the sidewalk I promised was still in the works, would you agree to increase the money to me because I promised that the next house would be better?

traffic, transit, TransLink, tansportation

Yes or no for the increases provincial sales tax. From @Doug88888 flickr

You can guess by this that I’m voting an adamant no for the referendum. Here are just some of the points to consider:

  • What does Prince George, or Penticton or Victoria get for an increased tax besides paying more for Greater Vancouver? Do they even get to vote? I doubt it. Or are we talking about a higher provincial sales tax for only some of the people? That sets a precedent for all sorts of regional taxes.
  • Once a tax, always a tax. No indication of how long this would last. We already have a 7% tax.
  • The Compass debacle-a year past the implementation date and the system is still not functional. There seems to be no end date in sight for it coming online.
  • Everyone who parks in a parkade or at a parking meter in BC pays a nearly 22% tax on parking. They call it the PST but it doesn’t stand for provincial sales tax. They sneaked in the change as parking sales tax without announcing it–where is this money going?
  • “Better roads, more buses, and more transit options will reduce commute times, lower pollution, and boost our economy – all for less than 35 cents a day.” Since it’s going on a sales tax, how is this figure even derived?
  • Past history shows that TransLink promised merchants on the Cambie corridor that they wouldn’t be inconvenienced
    TransLink, transit referendum, sales tax, increased PST, skytrain

    This fat cat makes more than the prime minister of Canada. From the notranslinktax.ca site.

    for long, definitely not more than a year. Merchants lost business over three years and some ceased to exist or moved.

  • Overpriced CEOs. New one gets $420K a year. (More than our prime minister)
  • Vancouver pays the highest prices for gasoline in the country with 48% tax. Where is this money going?

Here is a short history of BC provincial tax rates (from http://www.daveobee.com/victoria/20080224.htm)

July 1 1948 — 3%
April 1 1954 — 5%
March 27 1976 — 7%
April 11 1978 — 5%
April 3 1979 — 4%
March 10 1981 — 6%
July 8 1983 — 7%
March 20 1987 — 6%
March 31 1993 — 7%
February 20 2002 — 7.5%
October 21 2004 — 7%

I’m finding it hard to agree to a tax increase when TransLink is already reaping certain benefits. Another clincher for me is that I looked up fare rates for other large cities and compared them to Vancouver’s. In fact, I believe, geographically Calgary and Toronto are bigger. So if TransLink charges more for transit fares, and we have the highest gas tax, and there’s an exorbitant parking tax, where is all this money going? Click on fares to seem my comparison chart.

And for you to make your own informed decision you can check out the NO side and the YES side. I’m not against improved transit: I am against wasting my money and asking me for more.

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Traveling in Europe: Calais

Europe 2011: Calais

Click on the above picture to go to the album.

Well, it seems a year after my travels I’m still going through photos. Life just got busy and I got distracted. So, tracking back in time, I needed to get to Calais from Belgium because I had to catch the Dover ferry to England and then get to Brighton for the British Fantasy Convention, held at the beginning of October.

Calais, travel, war, photos, Europe, France, French coast

The bunker in Calais. I’m not sure if it’s from the first or second World Wars.

There were ferries closer to where I was in Belgium but it turned out none took foot passengers except for the Dover ferry. By this time, I was getting a cold and my feet were actually blistered from walking so much. I was a bit tired. The train to Dover from Ghent took 2-3 hours with a stop in Lille. It was a beautiful clear day in Calais, a fairly modern looking city but then it was probably bombed a fair amount during WWII. I stayed in the Hotel Richelieu, a very short walk from the station and run by a man who was slowly renovating each suite. Breakfast was included but  declined as I needed to get up early the next morning to catch the ferry.

Calais, France, travel, Europe, Dover ferry

Calais’ warm, brown sand beach.

I wandered down to the beach, passing a bunker that I explored. It was sealed but obviously left over from the war. The beach itself was this amazing very fine-grain beige sand. I took my shoes off and walked into the water to soothe my feet. I wandered after that, taking a few pictures, then stopped in a cafe. I thought, because I was in France I would find cider, and using my very sad French, prefacing it first with “My French is not very good” (in French) I asked, “Vous avez cidre de pomme?” My answer was “quoi?” by a rather rude waiter (who tried his best to ignore me). I repeated and he said non so I ordered a glass of red wine. When it came time to pay the bill,  and I didn’t understand what he said, he reverted to English.

Later, when I wandered into a chocolate shop and repeated the experience I began to suspect that the people of Calais won’t speak English if they can get away with it. With ferries from England you can expect that they deal with English daily and maybe it’s a resistance to assimilation or the belief, when in France do as the French. I at least tried but they certainly didn’t give much for trying.

Calais, gardens, travel, peacock, France, Europe

The very large floral peacock on the main street in Calais.

I didn’t have time or energy to explore farther afield but Calais seems a small resort town. I found what I thought was city hall, with a lovely floral garden and a foliate peacock across the way. That evening I went to Le Restaurant Ancienne and had sea bream with balsamic rucola (arugula), tomatoes, bell peppers and mashed potatoes. Dessert was creme brulee with caramelized strawberries and lemon. It was creamy and all very good but too much for me to finish. In Europe so far, I found that unless you were ordering a bottle of wine, restaurants only have one choice by the glass.

The next morning I took a taxi to the ferry dock. I’m very glad I did as it turned out to be a very long and winding way. I would probably have missed the ferry and been exhausted. It didn’t cost that much for a taxi and I had a pleasant enough journey chatting with a man and his sons. The ferry ride was about three hours and for some reason, none of the sites seemed to have given an accurate time for the crossing.  I got to see the white cliffs of Dover but had no time to dally on the other side and made my way to Brighton.

Dover ferry, travel, France, Calais

The only ferry that takes foot passengers is in Calais. The Belgian ferries are only for cars.

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Travel Tips For Planes and Trains

Horley, London, trains, express trains, tracks, trams

Horely Station near Gatwick

I’m traveling in Europe and in the process of  finding transportation hither and yon I’ve discovered a few things. If you want cheap, book your flight about two months before your trip and shop around. Airlines will often hide costs so  check to see if they charge for baggage or seat selection and what weight you’re allowed to carry.

I went with Thomas Cook to save on the flight, thinking it might be better than the Air Transat but it turns out they’re just a horse of a different color. So, while the flight over was in a plane more modern than the one I took fours ago (if you have an iPod there is a plug-in for that and the light dimmer is digital now. However they’ve tried to make the most of a flying sardine can it is still a flying sardine can. A man and his 10-11 yea old son sat next to me and not even the boy could curl up or pull a leg  up on seats that are narrow and short in depth. I do not look forward to the return flight.

Headsets haven’t been free for years but now they chinch you on a pillow. You have to buy it and while the price is reasonable, it’s something you have to pack out of there. One deal was  a pillow that came with an eensy spot of wine, to make it more palatable . With a nine-hour flight it was a very uncomfortable sleep. I won’t go into the highly mediocre, greasy plane food served in too much disposable but not necessarily recyclable packing.

Once in England I stayed at a local guest house in Horley, about a 10-mminute drive from Gatwick Airport (more on guest houses later). When I googled how long it would take to get into London, Victoria Station, I got 2-3 hours, no matter how I entered it. Google can lead you astray. Even the people at the guest house thought it would take longer but not that long. Well, it turns out a 10-15 minute walk (instead of a bus here and a bus there and a train) got me to the Horley train station, which took 45 minutes to get to Victoria Station, for 14 pounds.

Victoria Station, trains, trams, London, transit, transport, travel

Victoria Station, London

Vancouver, take note. In recent years there has been much discussion on putting in turnstiles at the SkyTrain stations because too many people get on board free. They now have the police pop on to check tickets. In England, you buy your ticket and you can put it through a ticket checker or walk right through. However, there are people on board who check the ticket, or when you leave they have the turnstiles closed at the smaller stations (or later at night) and you have to enter your ticket.  It’s still people checking half the time.

Back to planes for a moment. When I was looking at taking a train from London to Amsterdam through the Chunnel prices were about $170. On a whim I checked flights, which were half that price. Because I waited until about two weeks before my flight, I ended up paying more but still $105 is better and flying faster. Check all options.

Once I landed in Schipol Airport, the fastest way to Amsterdam Centraal Station was by train in 20 minutes, for about 4 Euros. A tram then took me the rest of the way for about 2.60 Euros. It’s a bit confusing and even the police were wrong on where I was to catch it but the driver of the tram was helpful.

In both Amsterdam’s and London’s stations, shops and even pubs abounded. These weren’t sketchy little kiosks but full-on establishments, making the station part of everyday culture, not some place to hurry into and out of. People had lunch there and shopped. Vancouver’s price may not be as high in comparison to Europe’s but if they want to make the trains viable and affordable then they should look at bringing people in with carrots instead of sticks. Don’t make the drivers of cars suffer, encourage them that the trains are better.

I’m sure to have more adventures on my travels and I’ll talk about other aspects in the days to come. But the biggest thing about travel is to check in advance, check all types of transportation, leave early if you have deadline, and ask the locals. They’ll almost always know the best route and usually won’t mind telling.

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Vancouver’s Misquided Transportation Woes

Vancouver seems to have its head up the exhaust pipe when it comes to transportation. World class city, right? World class transportation? Not yet. Okay, they tried with the new Canada line from downtown to the airport and that’s great for the long distance traveler and it does service a couple of campuses so that’s a plus. Of course they’ve been putting off the line going east that would run to Maple Ridge, Burnaby and Coquitlam where a majority of commuters come from.

When we look at the cost of riding public transportation the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) works under the belief of punishing people for distance. The farther out you live the more you pay. Of course the farther out you live the more beneficial it would be for you to take public transit. On a cost to the consumer basis Greater Vancouver runs on three zones. I don’t take public transit if I can help it for the following reasons: it’s more expensive than putting gas in my car, which of course makes driving my car more convenient as I don’t have to get up as early, struggle to find space or wait, should I miss the bus/ or it be too full. I also don’t have to worry about sitting beside drunks, perverts or thugs (and I have had experiences with two of those on public transit in the past), and I don’t have to worry about getting mugged at a station.

Places like Mexico City, with a population over 20 million, make their transit fairly cheap because they don’t want even 10 million cars driving into the center (the pollution alone is enough to take people down). But not all cities are that big. Still, places like Calgary and other large cities have either free transit in the downtown core or one price for all areas. The cheaper you make it, the more people will use it. The more expensive it is guarantees that people will stick to their cars. But Vancouver doesn’t seem to see that. Sure there is a cost to running these services but I think lower rates and increased users would work better and still cover the same budget if not increase the revenues.

The other major stupidity in transportation planning as far as SkyTrain goes is that they cut service to it at 12:30 on all evenings. If I wanted to go downtown and not  drive, I would be left with the very sporadic bus service or expensive taxis. People coming from farther out of town are less likely to take transit to go drinking. It would be the safest thing if Translink ran the SkyTrain through the night, maybe on the hour and the half hour. Then, no matter what time you leave a club you know you can get home quickly. Somehow the great minds of Translink have never figured this out.

Now Vancouver has also gone on a green kick, which is not a bad thing. However being green or “eco” has become a catch phrase for popularity and sometimes the thinking behind it is lacking. Vancouver decided to put in bike lanes, not a small lane,  with a painted line that runs beside the car lanes, but a full car lane, girded with concrete blocks for the masses of bicyclists to ride through in relative safety. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. After all, it’s a pretty scary prospect to bike through commuter traffic every day.

The problem stems partly from the fact that downtown Vancouver is accessible mostly by bridges: Burrard St., Cambie St., and the Georgia viaduct ramps. There are a couple of other ways into downtown but those three are the major routes. Two of the bike lanes use two of these routes, though one is more after the ramp.  The Burrard St. bike lane doesn’t seem to have affected much but the one that runs along Hornby St. closed off accessibility to certain business, such as the Railway Club, making it difficult for deliveries, or musicians setting up. And now you cannot turn right to go to the BCIT campus but must do a loop de loop around. Why they didn’t pick one of the other streets that are less traffic laden, I don’t know. They want to encourage people to use bikes but there are numerous people who must use cars whether for health or the vagaries of their jobs and making driving more inconvenient isn’t the way to go.

The other odd thing about all these proactive bike lanes is that there are very few cyclists using them. I’ve been downtown in the morning and afternoon rush hours and times in between and I’ve never seen more than three cyclists in the lane. Now I don’t work downtown regularly so maybe every time I’ve been down it’s been an exception. However, a friend who does work downtown says they are empty most of the time. These lanes are the size of a car lane and they seem to be very spacious for a so few cyclists. So why is Vancouver, burdened with a $20 million dollar debt, thinking of building yet another one? Do we really need it? It’s eco-friendly, it’s cyclist friendly but is it really going to make a difference or just making commuting more difficult?

I’ve already outlined the issues with people coming in from the eastern cities and the reluctance with the cost of public transit. Those same people have to deal with empty bike lanes on major arteries helping to clog the city’s heart. It’s not the way to make it work. Put up large transit lots in a few areas outside the downtown core where people can park and take free transit or nominally priced transit into the city core, or even rent a bike. Make transit cheaper for those farther out. That would help, but going backwards and charging people more and more the farther they must commute will never get people on the side of commuting with public transit. Vancouver has to learn how to dangle a carrot and make public transit and commuting a pleasant experience.

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Traveling in India: Transportation Travails

I think there are many great tales that often take place around transportation: planes, cars, trains, buses, elephants, camels, bikes, rickshaws, etc. Especially if you’re traveling (obviously) there are more tales than the everyday commute, but even living in one’s own city will afford you adventures.

India was probably the most diverse in terms of transportation and terror. I already wrote about flying in “Frightful Flights” but the rest was its own adventure. I never did ride an elephant and though I saw one being ridden it was definitely not the most common form of transportation in India. That would be feet, as most people are too poor to afford more.

I took a few buses from town to town. Many of these were Greyhound size buses and usually without incident But a few trips were driven by kamikaze drivers on winding hills through treacherous roadways. These buses tended to be more like school buses with a picture of one or several Hindu deities up from as well as bright color trims or other decoration. The bus could be one where everyone had a seat and was a mixture of tourists and locals, or one that was a reservation only, air-conditioned, elite tourist only bus. Reservations certainly didn’t guarantee the type of bus or a seat.

On one supposedly reserved bus it was jam-packed full of locals with live chickens and other produce. We knew that we’d paid extra for the privilege of riding locally. It was a bumpy, dusty and long ride and we were packed close enough to examine the weave of each other’s clothes. After someone managed to puke on the bus, the answer being to put paper over the acrid mess and continue onward, several of us opted to ride on the roof of the bus. The tourist luggage was up there anyways and this was a good way to keep an eye on our goods and get some fresh nonvomit-ridden air. Of course this is illegal and had we been stopped some baksheesh would have changed hands, probably from tourist hands to police hands.

As it was, it was a fun way to see the country, and not experience the claustrophobia of the overcrowded bus. I had a couple of bus rides in Nepal too but they were calmer and cleaner. Busing to the next town wasn’t that far but the seats were narrow and metal. Metal is fine in a warm climate but at 5’4″ I was nearly too tall to sit in the seats. I would have stood but I was hit so badly with dysentery I nearly fainted and had to sit, thanks to the Nepalese who noticed my state and motioned for me to sit. Three of them can fit on a bench but I could barely jam my knees down and they were pressed against the seat in front of me. I also took up the room of 1.5 Nepalis. And anyone taller than me had to stand because they just wouldn’t fit. Imagine a 6’2″ man standing next to a tiny Nepalese woman.

Perhaps the most terrifying ride of my life took place in a jeep. The Himalayan hill tribes in the state of Meghalaya tended to drive mostly jeeps, which makes a lot of sense when you see the winding, curving roads with nothing but the foothills of the Himalayas framing them (those foothills equal some of our mountain ranges). One day we went out to Cherapunjee with Hanocia’s brother driving us in the jeep. I had tried to the drive the jeeps there but with the handling of a jeep which is somehow different and tippier, and the right-hand steering, left-hand gear shifting, I just couldn’t get it to work. (Oddly in Ireland with the same type of driving but a car instead, I had no problem.)

So we drove up and took the day looking around. We were there in Oct./Nov. and the days get shorter sooner. We ended up driving back in full darkness. There is no light pollution from distant cities in the foothills of Meghalaya. And the roads are narrow hairpins. As we found common and strange in India, cars would drive with their lights off and only turn them on when they encountered another vehicle. Imagine how terrifying this is as we wind through a hairpin, get to the outside curve and then there is a truck barreling at us, and they both turn their lights on to blind each other.

Hanocia’s brother swore he had to do this to save his lights and that the battery was going. Usually driving regenerates the battery but needless to say we were nearly breathless with fright. After a few encounters with oncoming trucks on the narrow roads we insisted he turn the lights on or we were going to get out and walk. We were miles and miles from Shillong but a long walk in the dark was preferable to dying in the dark.

Since this post has gone long enough I’ll leave off the train rides for a another time, but I can say this: after all these years I still vividly remember the transportation and the tales attached with traveling in India.

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Hit and Run, and Gang Killings

A couple were killed walking home on Saturday, by an 18-year-old driver, possibly drinking and speeding, who then tried to run from the scene by leaping into False Creek. (False Creek is indeed false and only a puddle really.) The police dogs tracked him down.

And on the news they talk about how that 18-25 year range of male drivers tend to have the highest accident rate because they take bigger risks. That poor couple don’t get another chance. Their lives are stopped short and early. The driver will. A speaker today said that BC has some of the toughest driving measures for getting a license and it has dropped deaths caused by young drivers by 20%. The accidents have cost the province $1.6 billion dollars.

So here’s one suggestion to get young people from driving like crazy maniacs while drinking. Make public transport more accessible. This is one of my pet peeves. Take some of that $1.6 billion and run the SkyTrain later than 12:30 am on weekends especially. Make it reliable and frequent. Run other buses that will take people from the bars. Taxis are too expensive for almost everyone so TransLink and ICBC and the city should get together and figure out that alternative ways of getting home after being at the bar will save lives and dollars. Make it part of the infrastructure.

For that couple and all the people killed by cars every week, it doesn’t make much difference. Such a waste, because someone wants to speed and show off and be tough or sexy or whatever power they think driving fast imbues. But we can also blame car manufacturers that put out numerous ads equating speed with sex and cool. Zoom zoom zoom. Just look at a billboard or an ad on TV and you know what I’m talking. Since Canada successfully sued the tobacco industry for health costs with cancer, maybe it’s time to sue the car companies for encouraging unsafe driving.

The other half of people dying this week in Greater Vancouver is the six shootings in seven days of various organized crime/gangster members. Brazen shootings in broad daylight in malls. So far, no one innocent (as in, not involved in these gangs) has been hit but that doesn’t negate last year’s rampage of gang shootings where several innocent men were murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I cannot imagine the horror of what they had to endure in those last moments. And of course their families and loved ones will pay the price forever of organized crime.

The only good thing about the shootings it that they’re eliminating themselves but there will always be other scum that rises to the top, the shooter that lives. If I had my way I’d punt them all to the moon without spacesuits. But I don’t, and the police aren’t having as much luck tracking them down.

I’ve said it before; I hate this type of growing up that Vancouver has had to face. Sure, every city has murders but we could still count them under 100. They were crimes of violence and passion but still few and very rare. The gangland shootings are almost doubling our numbers and innocent people are getting hurt. Shootings in malls? I’d like us to go back to the little granola city where the pace is slow and we have more restaurants than days in the year.

I’ll happily sign any petition that gets rid of these guys. It’s never good news if organized crime is involved. Police are asking people to deny service to known gang members. Not a bad idea. Like days of old, a tribe would ostracize a member who committed a terrible crime, ignoring them like they didn’t exist. These outcasts usually moved on or died of loneliness.

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On the High Horse: Greater Vancouver’s Attitude Toward Transportation

Transportation has always been an issue, but as gas prices bloat and government brings in carbon taxes, toll bridges (the Port Mann bridge is scheduled to have a toll booth, which will slow down the traffic even more) and other measures, all under the guise of being green, it means that people will want to seek alternative means.

Over the years, yes, people have relied more and more on their cars. When I was a child I would walk the ten-twenty blocks to school. These days everyone drives their kids. That’s partly because of the greater fear of predators, not to mention traffic has become exceedingly congested and inconsiderate, making it unsafe for younger children.

Housing prices have become exorbitant so people have to buy farther and farther out and then commute to work. If you live east of Vancouver you have the choice of taking buses; not a time efficient mode. There is the West Coast Express or a combination of SkyTrain and buses. The first is prohibitively expensive for many. But let’s look at using buses and SkyTrain. The farther out you live, the more you pay for a bus ride as the GVRD (now changing their name to Metro Vancouver)/Coast Mountain Bus  have conjointly allowed for the area to be split into zones. Which means you are punished for living farther from the downtown core.

Many people, including me, have opted to continue driving as it was cheaper for gas than a bus pass and more time efficient. Mexico City, with a population of plus 25 million keeps their trains cheap or the city would freeze from gridlock and completely decay from the pollution, which is already extremely bad. Cities like New York have an efficient subway system that runs frequently to all the boroughs and is comparably priced.

Efficiency means reliable. The bus/train system here has suffered from numerous breakdowns, especially in the winter. The stations are filthy and have a high criminal element lurking about. There has been a recent change to the stations with brighter lighting being put in and more security around the platforms. However, the level of filth (dirt, spit, gum, spills) on some of the platforms is still fairly high.

As well, people have been stranded when an overfull bus passes them by and there is no later one running. “Reliable transportation” would include buses running frequently and on time. Somehow the city decided it was a good idea to let downtown clubs and bars be open till 4:00 am if they wanted, but Coast Mountain closes down the SkyTrain just after midnight and the buses become infrequent or stop running to some areas far before most bars close. Incidences of weekend car thefts go up because somebody has come to town to party and find they can’t get home. I’d love to know who was the brainiac that thought that part out.

Taxis are likewise impossible to find on a weekend and would be too expensive to most other cities. Sure you can ride a bike, if you trust the drivers. I don’t, and that’s a story for another day. The public is held by the short and curlies. The GVRD, Coast Mountain and the BC government continue to tax everyone, raise prices of local transportation and add more tolls. They want to encourage us to use less fuel, mostly to garner votes in the “green” category. But where are the viable alternatives? Not enough public transportation that is affordable, reliable, safe and timely leaves people with spending more for not better.

Stress levels will increase, pollution won’t lessen because the green alternatives are missing. In the long run, this is the GVRD’s and the government’s ways of having more money coming in without putting effort in to true alternatives.

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