Friday, February 29, 2008

How do you make Buses Cool?

It is amazing that the most cost effective and efficient form of local transit is seen as the 'loser cruiser'.

The public loves to own their own cars and seems to have an instinctive love for trains, but the bus is ugly duckling.

Vancouver, the city about to have Canada's longest rail rapid transit system, is still moving a lot more people on buses than on the SkyTrain.

How do we make buses cool? How do we get people to love buses?

Maybe it can not be done and that all we can work with is the fact that the buses can operate cheaply and can offer flexibility.

The fact that you can get a bus from a small 12 person unit up to one that carries over 80 people means that you can offer regular service in low use areas and upgrade the bus used as the demand requires. The use of the double decker buses means you can move more people in one space than a regular bus and get more use out of the roads. Routes can be changed as demand changes. This flexibility should make people love buses, but they do not.

People argue that no one will leave their car to ride a bus, but they will leave their car to ride a train. But this simply not true. People will go from their cars to buses if their transit times are reasonable and the cost is also reasonable. With the new single zone for Greater Victoria, I would expect a lot more people in the out lying areas to switch to buses.

One thing that could be done to make people prefer buses is to make the bus shelters are stops beautiful. Have them always clean and comfortable, have a display with the time till the next bus, have the cities make them part of their street beautification. Connect them to coffee shops is some manner so to integrate the people waiting into their community. Make people think they are beautiful and an addition to their community.

Gardening as a way to save the world?

I made a total hash of the garden last year, I really did not try, but that was because I knew I was moving. This year I want to get a good garden underway for veggies and fruit.

I figure I will have about 300 to 400 sq feet to work with. What can I do with this space? A fair bit.

I would like to get some lettuce and spinach into the ground soon. I am trying to sprout some lettuce plants indoors at the moment. I figure I direct seed the spinach in a few weeks. If I can stay on top of it, we should have fresh greens from mid April through to November of this year.

I also want to get in a large number of strawberry plants and some rhubarb. Blackberries I can pick wild enough spots and I should have another large crop of figs - the tree is still huge after I pruned back a lot of it.

I figure I will go back to the square foot garden method I have used in the past. This means making the beds into 4x4 boxes with about 18 inches between them. This is a very effective way to use a small amount of space. Each box is fully accessible for all sides and the shape allows very dense plantings. The space needed to get around is much more limited than what you need with rows.

So what is the point of all this? I simply go back to the observation that most people living in the city have the space to grow some of their own food needs. The space needed is not that much and in return you produce some of your food.

Between everything I am proposing, I suspect I will produce 500 pounds of food. This means that 500 pounds of food will not be needed commercially. What is the impact of this? Commercially there is a higher use of chemicals and a lower production per unit of land - on a mass scale you simply can not pay as much attention to plants as you would in your own garden. There is also no use of any fossil fuels to bring the food here, though the amount of green house gases produced by the production of 500 pounds of vegetables is not that much at all.

What I find interesting is that I will do my part to make the world a better place but no one will reward me for it. There are so many other areas in which I can get some sort of reward for doing the right thing, but not for growing my own food.

There is no reason why the average Canadian could not produce 100 pounds of their own food each year. Certainly in rural areas this still goes on.

I remember in Lillooet the local grocery store manager could tell when the first frost came, people would finally come back and buy their produce from him. Many households grew their own produce and virtually everyone had their own fruit trees. In Lillooet people managed to produce a significant portion of their produce each year.

In Lillooet there was also a lot of hunting and fishing. On average, there is about 5 salmon caught per person - about 30 pounds of protein. To a lesser extent there is also deer and moose.

Here in Victoria we have an ocean at our doorstep with a bounty of crab, shrimp, fish and shellfish but very few people take part in harvesting any of it.

What it comes down to is that we have the resources in our urban areas to provide for a large amount of our food but we choose to give over the land to lawns and ignore out wild bounty.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Government Subsidies

The amazing thing in Canada is that there is an ongoing demand for public dollars to made available for businesses. The aerospace and automotive industries seem to be the biggest ones looking for public dollars.

Today the Globe and Mail had a column today by Konrad Yakabuski about Bombardier seeking money to develop the latest version of their commuter jets. The threat is that if the money is not forth coming, the company will move their manufacturing elsewhere. They are looking for something in the order of $1 000 000 000 from government. This is crazy. Why would we want to keep taxes higher to support a business that we are told is one of the biggest sources of green house gases? The threat is that Canada could lose 2500 jobs if the money is not forth coming. With the $1 000 000 000, the government could pay this work $50 000 a year for eight years. More than enough money to offer these workers the time and money to retrain, more than enough support to get dozens of entrepreneurs out the group of workers to start their own companies.

Meanwhile the auto industry is asking for large sums of money to keep the factories going. From 2003 to 2007 the industry has shed some 230 000 workers, but unemployment in Canada fell during that time. The economy added 1.4 million new jobs, half of those jobs are at least as well paying as the auto sector jobs. The reality is that we are in a transition away from making things like old style cars.

When government chooses to put money into some industries and not others, it skews capital investments to the 'winners' chosen by government. Government is always behind the times when it comes to what is the future. Small manufacturers making new and innovative products in the high tech field, green energy and other new emerging fields are having trouble competing with government supported old industries.

In 2004 some $19 000 000 000 was given by government to industry as subsidies. This means that the government had to raise an extra $6250 per family of five in taxes to support this.

Right now there is a huge global push to go green. In BC we can be the source of a huge amount of the greenest electrical power possible. We have businesses interested in coming up with innovative solutions on how to reduce green house gasses and how to capture them. We have more and more businesses that have a very small ecological footprint. All of these greener businesses are directly harmed by government over taxing us to offer more money to old industries.

The money government offers in business subsidies are also very inefficiently used. A billion dollars in subsidies cost close to $500 000 000 to offer - not counting damage it does to the nimble part of the economy.

Climate change issues will be best addressed through less government intervention in the economy and more use of the market to deal with public 'bads'

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I look around hospitals, hotels, airports and the ferry terminals and all of them have special parking for taxis - this is crazy, why are we making it easier for taxis to be in use?

Many taxis are Prius in Victoria, but still they spend most of their time without passengers in them. They are not efficient in their use, but they get special access to so many places.

As a start, we need to work on the Victoria Airport. The taxis need to be pushed out to make room for decent bus service to city. Move the taxis out beyond where we the public have to park.

If there were buses every 15 minutes going into to town, I would use it all the time.

I have also been at Royal Jubliee recently. Once again taxis get to come in close, public parking is further out and the buses do not come that close. The entrance needs make a priority for public transit. I would add a new bus running from the Fort and Foul Bay, via the backside of the Hospital and the front door, along Bay Street all the way to government and then down government into town. You could also reroute the #14 to pass by the hospital.

The government should also look at an extra carbon tax on taxis and limos - make them clearly and totally carbon neutral. Have them pay full freight for all their carbon emissions.

Friday, February 22, 2008

2008 BC Budget

The Climate Change Budget. It is nice to see the government beginning to understand that one of the strongest public policy tools that is has is taxation. Tax shifting has been around as an idea for years now, but very few governments are willing to move forward with it. BC is starting to break this mold.

The budget has introduced a modest carbon tax and balanced it with tax cuts in other areas. The goal is no change in net revenues.

The amount the price so fuel is going to rise is still not enough that it is going to make a dramatic difference, but another few cents a litre is going to make people think and will make people move forward with different choices.

Not very long ago a litre of gasoline was in the 50 cent range. Now it is around $1.10 a litre. at 25 000 km per year and 15 l/100 km, this means fuel has gone from $1875 per year to $4125 - that is an extra $2250 a year. Trading in this heavy gas user for one that comes in at 7.5l/100 km - quite reasonable for a lot of sedans now - your current gas bill will come in at about $2065 a year, not much more than what was spent a few years earlier.

Moving from an Xtera to an Optra would achieve this savings. $2000 a year is nothing to sneeze at- this is $40 a week.

It also makes sense to try and improve your gas mileage - saving 10% in fuel a year is now worth hundreds of dollars. It also becomes worthwhile to look at reducing the amount of travelling - say you drop that by 10% as well. You could go from $4125 the Xtera would cost you with current driving numbers to something in the range of $1700 a year - $2400 less in spending. This is the same as a before tax pay increase of $500 a month.

The amounts the government is proposing is still small, but they have started the process of taxing a bad to change behaviour.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Impact of Rising Gas Prices

We are now seeing a sustained period of gas prices of over $1 per litre. I wonder how much of an impact this is having on consumption in the Canada? I wonder what the impact is in the US?

It is hard to tell if people are driving less or just absorbing the costs. How big has the impact been?

A few years back we were paying about 50 cents per litre. An average car drives about 20 000 km in a year and gets about 10l/100km. This works out to a fuel cost of about $1000 per year for an average car in Canada. At $1.10 per litre, this has now risen to $2200.

$2200 is in the range of what we pay for fuel for the car. We spend much more on other things. Our annual food bill is about $10 000. We pay more for one month of our mortgage than all the gas for the car for a year. Gas for the car is not a big thing in our budget.

If you drive 10% less, you save about $220 - this means driving about 40 km less per week. But is it really worth doing? Does it make much difference? Would I even notice this money? This about the same amount of money as 2 Americanos at Starbucks a week or one beer a week out at a cheap bar.

The other way to save is to get better gas mileage - if one can improve by 10% the gas mileage on the car, this again saves about $220. This can be achieved by more frequent car care and driving with fuel economy in mind. From what I see out there very few people are doing this.

Another option is to buy a car that uses less fuel. If one can improve the mileage by 5l/100km, one saves about $1100 per year. Not a very big bonus to encourage buying a car that can get better mileage. Just over $20 per week.

As far as I can tell, the price of gas is still much too low to make any significant dent in driving habits. The marginal cost of owning a car will have to rise a lot more before large masses of people will choose to get out of their cars. Realistically we need to be looking at gas prices of more than $4 per litre before we will see the price make any change to driving habits. At this price, a 10% reduction in fuel costs would save $800 per year and a 5l/100km upgrade in vehicle would save you $4000 in a year. But even at $4 a litre, my gas expenses would still be smaller than what I spend on food.