Public Transit
September 18, 2019

Ride-Hailing in Vancouver: Will it pay to be last?

The best summary so far:

Over the years, Vancouver has watched as its peers have dealt with the darker sides of Uber and Lyft: muddy passenger safety records, negative impacts on congestion and emissions, flouting of local regulations, and widely criticized labor practices.

Now B.C. transportation leaders are cautiously optimistic that being a last-adopter will prove to be a virtue. They hope that strict data-sharing requirements, a stringent licensing scheme for drivers, and a long-term vision to mitigate added traffic with fees on curbside access and downtown streets at rush hour will help make ride-hailing more sustainable here. …

Meanwhile, TransLink’s buses, trains, and ferries are swelling with riders: Vancouver’s system-wide boardings jumped more than 7 percent in 2018, following nearly 6 percent growth in 2017. …

Somewhere in this mix of ingredients for transit’s success: the absence of Uber and Lyft, which have proven to be mortal foes of many transit systems in North America. … over an eight-year span, TNCs might be responsible for nearly 13 percent of declining bus ridership in a given city.

Those extra car trips have led to measurably more traffic. In San Francisco, a study by the SFMTA found that 50 percent of increased traffic delays between 2010 and 2016 in that city could be linked to Uber and Lyft. …

Local officials are also intent on mitigating congestion impacts or negative effects on transit ridership. To keep an eye on how many cars are on the road, B.C.’s new regulations require ride-hailing companies to share data upon request, including trip rates, wait times, and the times and locations of pick-ups and drop-offs. Over time, local and provincial governments may consider pricing schemes that encourage certain types of ride-hailing trips and discourage others, such as charging fees to access curbside pick-up zones, said McCurran.* The revenue could potentially help subsidize certain types of ride-hailing trips, such as those that connect to TransLink stations. …

(Andrew) McCurran is hopeful that Vancouver will be able to pull off something that no city on the continent has really been able to do—welcome ride-hailing as a complement, rather than a competitor, to public transit. …

In contrast with U.S. cities that have rushed to be first to the table with new mobility offerings—be they autonomous cars, hyperloops, or drones—Vancouver may prove that is pays to be last.

Full article here.

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In the recent history of Vancouver, it’s unusual when the built-out parts of the city – places where people happily live and work – suddenly change scale and character, when a new urban form, usually larger and different in use, replaces the local urban landscape.

Sudden change was the way we used to do it: when a single rezoning swept away the architecture (and many of the people) in early streetcar neighbourhoods, and converted them into the concrete highrise versions. (See Kerrisdale Village, Ambleside, the West End).  It can also happen where obsolete uses and rising land values come together, when industrial lands convert to residential megaprojects.  (See Collingwood Village).

Or where new transportation infrastructure aligns with new land use. See the impact of the Canada Line on Cambie Street.

Here’s the northwest corner of Cambie and King Edward in May, 2015 – a half decade after the Canada Line opened:

And in September, 2019:

Along the Cambie boulevard, the shift in scale is dramatic.

… compared to what was there just five years before:

 

It won’t take too long to get comfortable with this scale of change.  In fact, the spectacularly treed boulevard will be so much more appreciated now with gallery walls of apartment buildings, all about the same height and setback.  The parkway becomes more an elongated arboretum, less a well-treed highway median.  The entire landscape shifts with your viewpoint on the elegant curves that so gently rise and descend over Queen Elizabeth Park.  On the Cambie Boulevard, the tradition of  Olmstedian landscape architecture lives on.

When Oakridge was laid out, this was the best of Motordom in the City Beautiful, designed for the aesthetic and practical experience of moving by car.   Now, underneath, real change has come but out of sight.

The consequences of planning done after the Canada Line corridor have accelerated; the transformation is apparent, and a little jarring.  But because what was best about the boulevard looks like its being respected, what could have been traumatic change looks like it will be just fine.

When you’re hoping that Vancouverites will come to accept more sudden change in scale and character of the city and its neighbourhoods, it’s helpful to have something done well to show them.

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Bob Ransford got it right: the public art piece – ‘Off Centre’ by artist Renee Van Halm – is at the Joyce-Collingwood Station.

It’s a small but colourful piece of the just-completed station upgrade funded in the blandly named TransLink Maintenance and Repair Program – a $200 million program of 70 projects that have been rolling out since 2016.

As these small and large improvements continue, it feels like a golden age of renewal for TransLink, reflected not only in physical changes but also in additional capacity and ease of use.  Like these, as reported in The Sun:

On Tuesday, 24 new Skytrain cars will increase capacity by five per cent on Expo Line and nine per cent on the Millennium Line during peak periods.

As well, commuters can expect more frequency on 12 key bus routes with the addition of 40,000 service hours. On Seabus, sailings are being increased to every 10 minutes during peak periods. …

The regional transportation authority has implemented a new artificial intelligence algorithm that improved the accuracy of bus departure estimates by 74 per cent during a pilot project.

It can even seem excessive:

When headways are every two minutes on a Sunday afternoon, passengers don’t really need a schedule.  But hey, it shows they care.

Let’s remember this as we reflect back on the 2015 referendum – a totally cynical move by the BC Liberals, which delayed the inevitable funding and cost millions, only serving to demonstrate how easy it is to trash government if you make the price visible.  The Liberals have barely acknowledged (and never apologized) for imposing that referendum on the region.

The least they could do now is to recognize how TransLink has improved, helped shape the region, and is more necessary than ever.

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When Gordon recently posted a short item about plans to use facial recognition to speed Chinese subway users through ticket gates, I was actually riding those subways in Chengdu and Beijing.

What the story didn’t say is that the delays at the subways aren’t at the turnstiles, but at the adjacent “Security Check” where every passenger has his or her bags, purses, or backpacks x-rayed, and undergoes a wand scan for prohibited items. Millions of these checks are a part of daily life in China at subways, museums, offices, and public places.

Along with the ubiquitous video cameras, ID checks, and security personnel we found that they just became part of the routine after a couple of days.

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It seems reasonable to jump on a 21st century transit link like Canada Line and expect that there will be some sort of free internet available for you as part of TransLink’s customer service. Last year I wrote about TransLink  announcing that free access to internet service was coming, and would be offered on SkyTrain, the SeaBus and on transit. Even better, “the TransLink Board approved the development of a strategy to provide washrooms on the system “over the longer term”. 

Of course there’s a bit of “cut and paste” internet service at the SeaBus terminal and on the SeaBus itself, and sadly TransLink says it will take six years for complete transit network coverage courtesy of their partnership with Shaw cable.

But across the Pond in Britain, Transport for London is way ahead of TransLink in their announcement of 4G mobile phone technology going live on the Jubilee line’s tunnels early in 2020, with a full rollout in the next few years.Currently London’s tube stations have cell phone and internet reception which is non-existent in the train tunnels. That will require 1,240 miles of cables being installed in the tunnels which is close to 2,000 kilometers of wire.

London’s underground transit tunnels are one of the last major public places in Britain without phone reception.I find it fascinating that Transport for London is providing the underground communications service as a public space amenity. But also being British, the Guardian ruefully observes that such cellular network availability creates “new challenges to commuter etiquette.”  

The Mirror reports that the proposed new cellular coverage has mixed consumer reviews.

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I have written before about the work of Stanley Woodvine who writes for the Georgia Straight. Mr.  Woodvine is a homeless writer as well as a graphic artist, and brings a unique perspective to the city.  I wrote about his take of people carrying large sandwich boards in the city, and the scramble for retail positions in a shifting storefront market.

Stanley Woodvine also likes to dumpster dive, and his combination of interest in city events and looking for that elusive item hit paydirt. And his latest find is truly  the stuff of legends~Stanley’s  “pastimes of binning and blogging unexpectedly came together on Friday (June 28) when I pulled actual blueprints for a Granville Street Skytrain station out of a cardboard Dumpster in the 1400 block of West Broadway.”

Unbelievably a set of blueprints for the proposed new Granville Street station were dated May 24, 2019, and stamped by  architectural firm Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership (MCM) and building contractor PCI Developments. The plan showed that the new Broadway subway’s Granville street station will be on the northeast corner of West Broadway and Granville Street where the existing Royal Bank building is at 1489 Broadway.

The drawings themselves detail a five story mixed use building above ground with a curious six floors of parking for 332 vehicles below ground, completely out of keeping with the density of the project.  Mr. Woodvine surmises that the five stories being built above ground may merely be a platform or podium for a tower that will require this parking capacity as part of their development permit. The drawings indicate the location of the “future residential elevator” which confirms Mr. Woodvine’s hunch. He also notes that the future tower may be 40 stories based upon the parking capacity noting that the new 40-storey condo tower at 1335 Howe includes 430 vehicle stalls.

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Via Tom Durning this story from Washington State which is just starting to receive the settlement that Volkswagen is required to pay to all fifty states. In 2015 Volkswagen was found liable for working around emission standards on their diesel vehicles and were required to pay out almost three billion dollars to the states to “reduce diesel dependency and related pollution” as Hannah Weinberger describes in Crosscut.

Washington State allocated the first $13.3 million dollars among six transit companies that purchased fifty zero-emission electric transit buses, and plans to also invest in electric school buses. In total Washington State  will receive $112.7 million from the settlement, and will be directing half of those funds to electrifying existing buses and trucks. Of the nearly 3,500 transit buses in the state, many use diesel as their fuel.

Volkswagen settlement funds represent a critical opportunity for states to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Washington is taking a big step in the right direction here, and we hope other states — some of which are still spending on dirty diesel buses — will take heed,” says the National Resources Defense Council’s Luke Tonachel, who directs its Clean Vehicles and Fuels Group.

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There are two stories here. One is told by Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger that young people are just not into cars, and carmakers haven’t figured out how to get that group interested. Even an analyst for the J.D. Power research firm detailed the problem:

“Gen Z buyers’ participation in the new-car space is declining year after year. We expect to see them get their first job and buy a car. But we’re not seeing this.”

In the United States in 1983 46 percent of 16 year olds had drivers licences; in 2016 that figure was 26 percent. As Lloyd Alter observes “young people just might care more about the air they and their kids are breathing  than they do about the conveniences in cars.” He also points out that this socially responsible tech-savvy cohort chooses to live in places where they don’t have to drive.

The other story and it is Big News is that anyone 18 years or younger living in the City of Victoria will get a free transit bus pass, no matter what school they are going to. The 6,000 passes will cost $850,000, and will be covered by the City’s Sunday downtown parking fees. This is a great way for students to use the transit system and become accustomed to public transit, of course also meaning that there will be less vehicles on the road.

That was echoed by Susan Brice, chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission:  “Anytime we can get more kids riding the bus and making bus riding a part of their life and a habit, that’s good for all of us.” 

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Hopefully, PT readers are following my exploration of Tel Aviv’s White City on Instagram. As mentioned in the leading post above, this historic neighbourhood shares a lot of characteristics with others of its ilk:

Mid-century modernist beachfront neighbourhoods have an eclectic combo of dense housing, a mix of uses, unique businesses all kinds of restaurants, stirred together with social tolerance.  There’s often a gay village embedded within.

They were often the first suburbs of rapidly expanding cities or linear developments strung along beaches, a few blocks deep, served initially by streetcars and transit with limited parking.   Like Ipanema in Rio, like Miami Beach in Florida, like Venice in California.

They’ll have their beachfront attractions, of course, but usually a block in or leading perpendicularly from the waterfront will be a commercial street cluttered with restaurants and shops, still served by the transit that shaped them   Think Denman and Davie.

They’ve had their up and downs, starting off as attractive middle- and upper-class developments, sometimes as beachfront escapes, sometimes as single-family speculative real estate, sometimes as apartment districts and then gone into decline in the early 20th century until after World War II.   Like the West End, some were largely bulldozed and replaced with higher density rental apartments, some were simply passed by – until rediscovered in the late 20th century and then increasingly gentrified in the 21st.

What shall we call these districts?

Despite their variations, they share enough in common to have a generic name.   MiCe,Hi-Di-on-the-beach.   Okay, not that one.  But help us out.

Scot and I have been developing a list.  Here’s what we have so far:

  • White City – Tel Aviv
  • West End and Kitsilano – Vancouver 
  • Santa Monica and Venice Beach – Los Angeles
    Ipanema and Cocacabana – Rio
    Miami Beach – Florida
    Sea Point – Cape Town
    St. Kilda – Melbourne
    Potts Point and Bondi – Sydney
  • Oriental Bay – Wellington
  • Surfers Paradise – near Brisbane
    Waikiki – Hawaii

Add your own below!

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