September 26, 2015

Ohrn Words: Some Talk about This Topic

Much talk about this topic, and so much to say. It is my opinion that in this world, massive forces are at play, even in our tiny soggy corner.  And it is no accident that motordom is challenging at every turn.
First the final report from SFU’s “Moving In a Liveable Region”.  It nicely covers the unprecedented transit referendum we held in Metro Vancouver.
As to lessons learned:  “In a country where investments in infrastructure are generally made without direct public voting (though not without consultation), Metro Vancouver’s transit and transportation referendum is a political anomaly.
For campaigners and transportation professionals who worked to secure a positive result on the transit and transportation referendum, the No vote was a great disappointment. Many supporters were students, volunteers, low-income transit users, nonprofit workers, and young professionals.
In hindsight, the result was not particularly surprising: Asking voters whether they want to pay more taxes, with only 10 weeks to explain the benefits they will receive in return, is a nearly impossible task, as many visiting American transportation experts had forewarned. A global survey of referendum timelines indicates that 10 weeks was unusually short for a campaign on such a complex issue, and our early research revealed that opponents of transportation funding usually have an easier campaign (Weyrich and Lind, 2001).
The mayors knew this, but felt they had no choice; it was a vote or the prospect of no funding for transportation for years to come. ”
Second:  since transportation is largely dependent upon fossil fuels, and in some cases is transporting fossil fuels, a look at the enabling product is worth your time: ” Investors managing some $2.6-trillion (U.S.) in assets have signalled their intention to shift focus away from fossil fuels, a report released at a United Nations climate session this week states. ”
Third:  Who pays for roads?  Yet another report (this time from the US) that comes to the same conclusion as so many others — a conclusion that never seems to make it into public consciousness. (Bike-haters:  I’m lookin’ at you.)
But this massive subsidization goes mostly unnoticed, and affects us all, and most transportation decisions.

‘“We need to dispel the myth that user fees are paying for the building and maintenance of our road network. The reality is that these funds are barely covering a fraction of the cost,” said Gabe Klein, SVP of Fontinalis Partners, and former Commissioner of Transportation for Chicago and Washington, D.C. “The highest return on investment is on bike, pedestrian and transit projects,” he said.’

Thanks to Todd Litman for sending this around.
Fourth:  who’s profiting from motordom?  Well, the short answer is that lots of corporations profit.
But here’s a glimpse of just one corporation, and the profit from just one of its product families.  And if people have the option to switch to transit, biking or walking — some of this goes away.  It’s a powerful incentive to the rich and powerful to keep and expand the status quo of free (or subsidized) roads and lots of them, and to battle investment in walking, biking and especially the big one — transit.
On the Ford F-150, -250 and -350:  “The gross profit on each pickup is about $8,000. If Ford can continue selling more than 700,000 trucks a year, that’s a $5.6-billion cushion.”  Yearly.  Every year.
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Ken Ohrn  |  Cypress Digital   |   604-307-8052

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  1. So true. And the auto industry knows more than anyone that much of their sales are to people who would rather not buy a motor vehicle if they had other options. If 60% of the population want to cycle for their short trips, they see that as a threat and will use every tactic there is. Propaganda campaigns about safety, culture jamming, getting their buddies in governments to enact cycling and public transit hostile laws, etc. They’ve been watching the grass roots movement of desiring alternatives build for the last few decades and they intend to stop it.

    1. I wonder why none of the car companies get into the market selling bicycles, they already have the showrooms, and they could train their mechanics, and through their economies of scale use the bike as an expensive Potemkin village from which to have all things. They’d be considered green, could make a car and bike combination which required buying as a set, and maybe not make 8000 a vehicle, but certainly could make $1000 a bike, times the members of a whole family needing one) if they were marketed in the same way, as a ‘last mile’ solution.
      There’s an obvious slippery slope for them to be wary against, but just like hybrids don’t necessarily have many benefits, but have big bonuses for owning one, a car sold with a bike could probably be eligible for some big tax rebates similar to those of a hybrid or electric car, which would give a serious competitive advantage in both image and profit to whoever’s car might be eligible for such rebate.

      1. Car manufacturers sell what people want to buy (hybrids, electric, 8 cylinders, .. and that is why you see so few electric cars or more pickup trucks in less dense areas). Most do sell bikes, too, such as BMW shown here http://shop.bmw.com/en_US/lifestyle/sports/bikes/bikes/page1.html
        Not as profitable, obviously.
        Public transit makes sense where there is high density development, but it also has to be RAPID, i.e. faster or at least as fast as a car. In most cases today in MetroVan a bus is slower, unless we have dedicated lanes. Buses have a reputation as the “poor man’s choice” whereas LRTs/SkyTrains or subways do not. They are also usually not air conditioned whereas LRTs/SkyTrains or subways are. Buses are also wobbly whereas LRTs/SkyTrains or subways are not. Once we have more LRTs/SkyTrains or subways we will see more pickup of those, especially if roads are tolled and/or gasoline is more expensive.
        Bikes too make sense where the distances are fairly short, say 6 km or less and it is fairly flat. Much of MetroVan is hilly, plus there is rain in the winter. As such, bikes provide only partial answers in some areas of MetroVan, not everywhere. Have you noticed that car traffic is worse on rainy days as less people bike or walk, and less take the bus, too, and more cars are used.
        Co-existence is the name of the game. Car users pay more in taxes than bus or bike users (counting all taxes: property taxes, GST, PST, income taxes, property taxes). An analysis here on that topic would be useful.

        1. The buses I’ve taken to work from both East Van and the west side have always been much more crowded on rainy days than nice ones. If there are also more cars then there must be a lot of fair weather cyclists and pedestrians in this city.
          Most of those taxes you list only help fund major highways. All other roads are built and maintained by property taxes. Whether I choose to walk, cycle or drive has no impact on the amount I contribute to the road network in Vancouver.

      2. Some auto companies have had bikes but they all were either rebranded mediocre mountain bikes or were some sort of folding invention to sort of act like a spare tire when you broke down with your car.
        None were actually well designed pedal vehicles. Now if Ford or MBW had come out with something like the Bullitt bike, then that would be somewhat different.
        But you know, much of their profit has come from coercion and manipulation of society, government and media. Something honest like a bike wouldn’t work for them. The profit margin on motor vehicles is very high and then there are all the support industries they have a finger in. The profit margins on bikes are pretty small.
        And Thomas, I’m under the impression that private car owners are the second most highly subsidized for of transportation there is. I’d also like to see some more information about how much each mode gets subsidized. Not to pit one against the other as that will not lead us anywhere productive but more to stop people thinking that they themselves are paying their own way but all others are freeloaders. What are the facts?

    1. It’s interesting that you bring that up, Thomas. That is one of the primary reasons many people had for voting No, in the recent referendum but it’s not been discussed in the media.
      F150’s are primarily bought by trades people and rural people. There are very few commuters in Metro driving trucks. Those that do invariably need the vehicle for a boat or a trailer, or a rural dwelling.
      The downtown bike crowd really are oblivious to the entire rural landscape that surrounds them. Farmers, ranchers and rural people are not going to bike to work. Transit is not going to efficiently service even Langley, which is within spitting distance of Vancouver, for decades. This is not Europe. This is one of the least populated countries on earth. In Vancouver, including Metro but excepting the downtown peninsula, we all live in a rural place. It’s green burb, even in East Van, or it’s country that starts in Surrey or Richmond.

      1. People advocating for a bikeable downto are not against people driving trucks in the ‘burbs. They want to add additional choices to it. The existence of another option does not mean the current option goes away.
        The “burbs are full of people who would like to walk or bike to the store but currently don’t. They matter too.
        If the suburbs and countryside had a network of cycle paths connecting all the places that people want to go, they would still be able to drive a truck there.

      2. It is a myth that urban and suburban Canada cannot have good transit, bike routes etc. Canada is actually much more urban than many European countries that have better transit infrastructure and yes, walking & cycling paths in suburbs and even between rural villages.

      3. A shocking number of the big Ford and Ram trucks on the road are spotless and never used for their intended purpose of hauling stuff, except maybe some occasional groceries and a gym bag. Sometimes contractors feel they need a one-tonne F-350 to haul a 30 kg toolbox.
        In our consumer culture these trucks have become symbolic penis extenders, and the men who drive them (invariably, the vast majority of truck drivers are male) are painfully and comically overcompensating and oblivious to the fact they have been conditioned as such since early childhood.
        The sad part of all this is that every driver is so hugely subsidized, and the carnage on the road is so tragic, especially when a truck intersects with a much smaller car of bike.

  2. Ohrn; ” Many supporters were students, volunteers, low-income transit users, nonprofit workers, and young professionals.”, as were many opposed. Nevertheless, the Stephen Harper Conservatives will come to the rescue for light rail, today.
    It’s good to have a solid partner in Ottawa.

    1. I seem to remember a certain recent transit announcement by The Kid (Trudeau) that took place specifically in Surrey, right under the nose of the Jihad terrorist fearmongerer Conservative candidate . One of the NDP’s big planks is also public transit.
      It appears Harper has no patent on public transit, and in fact may have the smallest funding packet proposal of all for this vital public service.

    2. The Conservative announcement is the same old 1/3 that the federal government (both Liberal and Conservative) contributed in the past. If there’s anything newsworthy in the announcement it’s that they aren’t planning to cut their contributions.
      While the other parties haven’t pledged specific amounts for specific local projects they appear willing to spend significantly more than the incumbents on urban infrastructure.

  3. Thomas, the Expo Line makes an operating profit because its ridership is so high and their are no union-scale drivers. That’s before you even begin to add up the value of the development it has stimulated over three decades.
    Overall, transit in the Metro covers 50% of its operating costs. You cannot say that about roads, not even the roads where maintenance is farmed out to contractors whose employees are paid a pittance and therein are subject to poor standards and a high turnover. Most roads in all jurisdictions are constructed and maintained by private contractors. Roads in an average city consume at least a third of the land within its boundaries. They are a heavy burden on taxpayers even when maintained by the private sector.

    1. Not having drivers isn’t an automatic cost saving. Driver salaries only account for about 15% of operating costs in Calgary and Edmonton while their more primitive networks require less expensive systems, fewer controllers and less maintenance. Lower capital costs also mean significantly lower debt servicing costs.
      Had Vancouver gone with LRT in the first place it is possible that operating costs would be quite similar to what they are for SkyTrain. Had that choice been made, however, we would likely be looking at a very expensive retro-fit to fully automate the system and remove capacity restraints.