Category Archives: Urban & Transport

Electric Vehicles are set to take off…so why is Trudeau still pushing pipelines?

Tesla Model 3 at March 2016 unveiling (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)
Tesla Model 3 at March 2016 unveiling (Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

In my previous March 2016 article “Pipelines to Nowhere“, I made the point that the proposed Canadian pipelines are about increasing the international supply of petroleum when all the signs are that demand fossil fuels are levelling off over the longer term.

For example, recent data showed renewables represented 99% of new US electrical generation capacity added in Q1 of 2016, up from the 68% in 2015 referred to in my March story, leaving one to believe that further progress has been made since year 2015, when 90% of global new capacity added was associated with renewables.

That said, it is the incredible, emerging trends in the transportation sector – currently nearly 100% dependent on petroleum – that are on the verge of severing the world from its heavy addiction to oil.  On that note, the majority of car companies have plans for bringing in a wide array of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles by 2020 and by that time an electric vehicle would be competitively priced versus a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle.

Big car makers get serious about EVs

Notwithstanding this progress, the transportation times appear to be changing faster than indicated since my March article was published.  A couple of significant examples confirm this trend, including:

1)  Volkswagen recently announced it will invest $11B in a battery manufacturing facility and expects 20% to 25% of its sales – 2 to 3 million vehicles/year – to be electric vehicles by 2025

2) Tesla has $1000 deposits for 370,000 Model 3 vehicles that won’t be delivered until 2017

3) A projection coming out of the UK suggests that by 2020 there will be more charging stations in the UK than gasoline stations

4) Porsche is hiring 1400 people for the development and deployment of its new electric sports car

5) Mack, Tesla and China’s BYD have made it known they will be bringing electric trucks into the marketplace, with the BYD truck to be assembled in Lancaster, California – the same place BYD manufactures electric buses – and the two types of vehicles will share many components.

Outpacing the aforementioned examples, Norway has increased its sales of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles from 25% of the total new vehicles sold in 2015 to 28% in the first half of 2016.

Germany, Netherlands could ban gas cars

Against this backdrop, the Netherlands and Germany are now mulling over banning gasoline cars from new vehicle offerings, beginning in 2025.  Then there is the news from Australia that it is placing fast-charging stations around the country to sell electricity at the same price as that from one’s home plug outlet.

And as I indicated in “Pipelines to Nowhere“, China and California have myriad policies to make zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) the shape of the future, with China having a target to manufacture 2 million eco-vehicles/year by 2020 and California targeting 1.5 million ZEVs on its roads by 2025.

Resistance is futile

So why are electric vehicles only 1% of total vehicle sales now and how can so much happen by the end of the decade to drive such transformative change?

First, there are the dealers.  According to a survey conducted on behalf of the US Sierra Club, dealerships are doing everything imaginable to discourage potential clients from purchasing electric vehicles by not keeping them in-stock, keeping them not charged for a test drive and salespeople ill-informed on what one needs to know about electric vehicles.  The salespeople much prefer to push the high-volume, high-profit margin SUVs.  Funny coincidence, I experienced a similar scenario when I tried to purchase a hybrid in the 2008 model year.

2016 Chevrolet Suburban
2016 Chevrolet Suburban

Then there is the matter or the US Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards cloned in Canada, which set sales-weighted average fuel consumption targets  for each vehicle size category, as well as sales-weighted targets for the overall vehicle sales of each manufacturer.  The perverse side of this concept is such that if a manufacturer has sales heavily weighted in favour of large, high-energy-consuming vehicles, its overall sales fuel economy target becomes more lenient, otherwise known as “compliance flexibility.”   The manufacturers are now exploiting this loophole to the limit, even to a point of making some models bigger to be subject to less stringent fuel economy standards.

In theory, the automakers have to make up for failing to meet overall sales-weighted fuel consumption targets in later years, leading up to 2025.  But the automakers are already gearing up for sob stories to request more leniency on the part of the US government, with the excuse that they have to accommodate unanticipated client demand for the vehicles with the high profit margins, the SUVs.

Here in Canada, the Government of Quebec has introduced Bill 104 to duplicate the stipulations of California and 9 other states, on the percentage of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) and hybrids manufacturers must sell from 2018 to 2025 – that percentage incrementally increasing each model year from 3% in 2018 to 15.5% in 2025.  The Quebec dealers and the manufacturers are putting up a fight that essentially says that: a) the policy won’t work because the public must be free to choose and the demand is not there for ZEVs and hybrids; and b) what is good enough for California and 9 other US states is not good enough for Quebec.

Meanwhile survey after survey has shown that electric vehicles are favoured by the public, and 2020 is the tipping point when ZEVs become competitive.

The City of Montreal has acknowledged this public receptivity in that it will shortly adopt legislation requiring car sharing services to incrementally offer greater percentages of electric vehicles, beginning in 2018 and reaching 100% electric by 2020!

Trudeau Govt failing Canada on climate change

Meanwhile, the federal Liberal Budget for 2016-17 only allots $56 million over two years for cleaner transportation, with a large portion of these funds to be invested in developing standards and regulations  – I thought the latter expenses were part of government operating costs!  And the Trudeau government has already reneged on its promise to invest in charging stations and have a government vehicle procurement plan favouring ZEVs.

The current government has its mind set on pipelines for which there will not be a corresponding increase in consumption to justify increasing the supply. Plus, Canada can’t meet the Conservative GHG reduction targets should these pipelines be built. 

Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks - flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)
Justin Trudeau speaks at the Paris climate talks – flanked by Canadian premiers (Province of BC/Flickr)

But wait, you say.  The Liberals have said they are going to overhaul the environmental review process.  The context is a reaction to a Federal Court decision to annul the National Energy Board’s recommendation for approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline and a desperate attempt to avoid a repeat overturning of the NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline to triple its capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels/day.  Trudeau’s support for the latter pipeline dates back to the 2015 election campaign.

Taking a closer look at this Trudeau concern about the implications of the aforementioned Federal Court decision for the Kinder Morgan project, Trudeau appointed a three-person panel to advise the government on the NEB approval of the TransMountain project.  One of the three panelists is former Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird, who participated in an executive exchange program with Kinder Morgan.  Ms. Baird is now a registered lobbyist for liquefied natural gas projects in BC.  Hardly the profile of a credible panelist to advise the Trudeau government.  The President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Stewart Philip, has referred to this panel appointment as a conflict of interest.

More conflicts of interest

Now, Trudeau has an even bigger NEB conflict of interest on his plate.  Within the last few days after the August 29, 2016 stillborn start to the Montreal segment of the NEB hearings on Energy East, the hearings were suspended indefinitely in response to two formal requests that two of the three NEB commissioners on Energy East be removed because of a conflict of interest.  These two commissioners, Jacques Gauthier and Lyne Mercier, along with the NEB President, Peter Watson, met with former Quebec Premier Jean Charest in January, 2015, while Charest was acting as a consultant for TransCanada.
All Jim Carr, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada, could say in reaction to the latest NEB fiasco is that the NEB needs to be modernized to avoid these conflict of interest situations.  This is in keeping with Budget 2016-17, which confirms the NEB’s role evaluating the environmental impacts of pipeline projects.

What should be at the heart of the question of the environmental review process is the Harper government’s decision to put the National Energy Board in charge.  Tinkering with the oil-tainted NEB engine is about changing an image and not the substance. Substance would suggest the re-habilitation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, or some equivalent, to get the job done – properly!

Canada needs solid, clear legislation

Canada is still operating under the traditional resource economy model while its competitors are moving into fast-forward on the green economy.  This is the context for Budget 2016-17 offering less for clean technologies than the budgets of previous Liberal governments.

There is a moral or common thread to this piece.  First, when the government objectives are clear and well-laid out in policy and legislation, industry will comply.  Second, where things are fuzzy, or in the all of the above category, industry will procrastinate though whatever loopholes are made available to them.

Canada needs solid and clear policies and legislation, not meaningless clichés or platforms for “all of the above.”

Suzuki- Volkswagen cheated climate, people's health

Suzuki: Volkswagen cheated climate, people’s health

Suzuki- Volkswagen's cheating has serious climate, human health consequences
Photo: Ben Harrington / Flickr CC licence

Volkswagen was caught cheating on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests by installing “defeat devices,” which allowed its diesel vehicles to pass nitrogen oxide emissions checks but spew up to 40 times allowable pollutants once they were completed. The scandal has resulted in plummeting share prices, CEO Martin Winterkorn’s resignation and up to $18 billion in fines, as well as recalls, stop-sale orders, impending lawsuits and possible criminal charges.

A million tonnes a year of hidden pollution

Beyond the betrayal and legal and financial issues, the effect on global pollution is massive. Volkswagen is the world’s largest automaker by sales, and as many as 11 million of its diesel vehicles are implicated. According to the Guardian:

[quote]The rigging of emissions tests may have added nearly a million tonnes of air pollution by VW cars annually — roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture.[/quote]

Nitrogen oxide pollution creates particulate matter that causes respiratory problems and is linked to millions of premature deaths every year worldwide. It’s also a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide and so contributes to global warming.

VW’s cheating takes human toll

By Christopher Dombres / Flcikr CC licence
By Christopher Dombres / Flcikr CC licence

The Volkswagen debacle is bad enough in itself, but it also raises questions about automaker practices, pollution, emissions standards and testing and the implications of our rampant car culture.

Volkswagen cheated on regulations designed to protect human health and the environment, and the consequences are increased rates of asthma, lung disease, cancer and death. But it’s not just diesel cars and it’s not just vehicles from one company. Cars kill and harm millions of people every year, with accidents, pollution, climate change and other environmental damage. And car-makers have in the past resisted safety improvements such as seatbelts and air bags.

Loopholes big enough to drive a truck through

Illegally rigging vehicles to pass emissions tests hurts everyone, but legal loopholes create similar problems. Just look at SUVs. I did a quick count of the many passing my office during the afternoon, and almost all contained a single driver — no passengers or even pets! Under emissions laws in Canada, the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, SUVs are classified as “light-duty trucks” and are subject to less strict emissions standards than cars. Yet, most people treat them the same as cars.

This creates incentives for manufacturers to produce more heavy vehicles or even to design cars as trucks, such as Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. According to the Economist, “As vehicles above 3.8 tonnes were long exempted from the American regulation, manufacturers started producing enormous vehicles such as the Hummer to avoid any fuel-economy rules.”

Vehicle emissions double

Even with fuel-efficiency improvements, vehicle emissions have more than doubled since 1970 and will increase as demand rises in countries like China, India and Brazil, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Studies show that because fuel efficiency makes it less expensive to drive, people drive more. Clearly, we need better solutions.

It’s easy to say it starts with individuals. We can all find ways to reduce private automobile use. But individuals aren’t entirely to blame for our fossil-fuelled lifestyles. Incentives, regulations, policies and infrastructure are needed to create the necessary shift away from reliance on wasteful, inefficient transportation and fuel options.

Revving up solutions

We’ve seen many positive developments in recent years. In my hometown, Vancouver, and many other cities, car-sharing programs and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure are expanding rapidly. Hybrid and electric vehicle technologies are making great inroads. Recognition of the need for efficient public transit is also spreading around the world. And fuel taxes and carbon pricing have been proven effective at reducing reliance on private automobiles.

Taxing fossil fuel consumption may be more efficient than emissions standards because, as the Economist points out, fuel taxes encourage people, especially those who drive a lot, to buy more efficient cars and to drive less. And, “A fuel tax does not rely on dubious testing nor does it create distortive loopholes.” Revenue from taxes can be invested in cleaner transportation alternatives or, as with B.C.’s carbon tax, used to reduce income taxes or provide rebates to people with lower incomes.

It’s outrageous that a car manufacturer like Volkswagen would stoop to devious practices to get around laws designed to benefit all people, but in our car-driven culture, it’s not entirely surprising — just another signal that it’s time to rethink the way we move ourselves around.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.


Canada should put the brakes on misleading, ineffective fuel economy standards

Photo: Flickr/Scott Molineaux CC licence
Photo: Flickr/Scott Molineaux CC licence

For the last several decades, the fuel consumption requirements imposed on vehicle manufacturers in Canada were the same as those applied in the US.  The premise of the Conservatives and Liberals alike has always been that Canada has no choice but to emulate the US, because Canada is part of an integrated North American market.

That line of thinking is half right. Canada is part of an integrated North American market but to date, vehicle manufacturers have gotten off easier in Canada than in the US and Canada does have option of more stringent stipulations within the North American framework.

Understanding CAFE

To put the above considerations in context, thus far, what has been the same in Canada as in the US are the obligations that each vehicle manufacturer must comply with corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards – standards which each year incrementally decrease the required average fuel consumption of vehicles sold.

These CAFE standards are sales-weighted, which is to say, that a CAFE year-specific goal represents the mandatory minimum average fuel consumption for all vehicles sold by a given manufacturer, in a given country, in a given year.  Thus, the greater the proportion of sales associated with high-energy-consuming models, the worse will be a manufacturer’s CAFE and the more difficult it will be for the manufacturer in question to comply with the CAFE standard for that year.

At least, this is the way things stand prior to 2016.

Loopholes open up for car makers

The new US CAFE legislation, which comes into effect for the 2016 to 2025 period, is written in a way that allows a corporate compliance target to be a moving target.  That is, should the manufacturer sell a “higher than expected” number of larger (higher fuel consumption) vehicles, that manufacturer would be have the “privilege” of having a higher than desired average fuel consumption compliance target.

Unfortunately, Canada has adopted the above-described new US CAFE formula, while continuing to leave more wiggle room for manufacturers under the Canadian CAFE rules than under its US counterpart.  As a result, the Canadian approach risks encouraging the dumping/marketing of the larger vehicles on the Canadian market.

By contrast, there are options for Canada to have more stringent requirements than the US, without any of the constraints associated with the integrated North American market, and  remaining consistent with the actions of 8 US states.

Canadian fuel efficiency hugely exaggerated

The fuel consumption figures used to determine a manufacturer’s compliance or non-compliance with CAFE targets are not the same in the US and Canada.  The Canadian numbers highly exaggerate what one can expect on the road, while the US numbers are not far off from what the consumer can expect under SUMMER driving conditions.

In the US, the formula for churning out the numbers is based on a combination of test results that are subject to mathematical calibrations to reflect the on the road experiences of consumers.

Furthermore, in the US, though the manufacturers are responsible for doing the testing, to keep them honest, the US Environmental Protection Agency randomly tests about 15% of the models.  This aspect of the US system seems to work quite well.

However, in Canada, the manufacturers do their own testing and their data is not verified by the Government of Canada.  This is how we end up with vehicles rated as having exceptionally better fuel economy in Canada than the very same models in the US.

The implications are: 1) the calculation of a manufacturer’s year-specific Canadian CAFE is not reliable; 2) it is easier for a manufacturer to comply with a Canadian CAFE target for the year in question than it is to comply with the identical US CAFE target for the same year; and 3) Canadian consumers are mislead as to the fuel consumption to be expected for the models on our market.

With regard to the latter point, knowing that the fuel consumption ratings claimed by the manufacturers via their advertising are not credible, Canadian consumers are discouraged from taking into account fuel consumption ratings when making a selection for a vehicle.

New US CAFE rules too complicated, weak

US President Barack Obama is talking tough on climate change these days.
US President Barack Obama is letting automakers off easy

The US CAFE stipulations that apply to the 2016 to 2025 period, as negotiated by the Obama administration with automakers in 2010, are represented by a 1500-page agreement and new legislation that is 300 pages long.

As indicated earlier, Canada has followed down the same path as the US.  This is a pity because the US path for 2016 to 2025 is a departure from the greenhouse gas reduction principles of previous CAFE legislative models, leaving the automakers with more flexibility than ever before – which undermines the spirit of GHG reduction goals.

It has been surmised that the reason why President Obama was so accommodating to the industry was because in 2010, US-based vehicle manufacturers had just survived a near-death experience and needed breathing room for their respective recoveries.

In theory, nevertheless, the US had adopted laudable targets, with the 2016 CAFEs set at 6.2 litres/100km for cars, and 8.2 litres/100km for trucks – and the 2025 CAFE target for cars at 4.3 litres/100km.  Pretty impressive, one might say.  But the devil is in the details of the 1500 page agreement and 300 page legislation.

Fast and loose

Under the new 2016 to 2025 US CAFE formula, distinct fuel economy targets are established for each category of vehicle.  These categories are defined in terms of footprints, as measured by multiplying the distance between the front and rear wheels (the wheelbase) by the distance between the right and left wheels (the track).

Where the new US CAFE rules depart from the spirit of the original CAFE goals is the fact that the mandatory CAFE for a given manufacturer becomes more lenient should a manufacturer sell a greater proportion of vehicles in the larger footprint, or the high energy consumption footprint categories.

Put another way, the US government “…will establish a distinct target for every automaker that is based on its footprint categories and sales.”

This means that these are not hard, defined targets at all, rather “… projections because, unlike today, when every manufacturer’s car and truck fleet must meet the same mandated corporate-wide sales-weighted fuel consumption average, the future requirements will be instead based on the size of each vehicle in a manufacturer’s fleet… calculated by averaging the footprint-based CAFE targets of each and every vehicle it sells in a given model year,” and adjusting  “the miles-per-gallon targets to match the industry’s real-world production tallies and market conditions at the end of the year.”

The result is that the CAFE goal becomes a moving target to suit the whims of auto manufacturers. Moreover, for legislation to be effective, it must be clear, reasonably succinct and minimize caveats.

As if all these “willful loopholes” are not enough to be dismayed with Obama agreement, even the US “virtual manufacturer-wide CAFE targets” are not that ambitious when compared with those of the European Union.  In the EU, the average emissions/vehicle is set at 95 grams for 2020 while the US target for 2025 works out to be 93 grams.

Time for a shift

Canada has the option adopt more stringent CAFE targets than those of the US.  Manufacturers would simply need to adjust the distribution of models made available on the Canadian market.

A solar ev charging station in San Francisco
A solar ev charging station in San Francisco

Since manufacturers have always had differences between the selection of models offered on the US and Canadian markets, a more stringent Canadian CAFE would merely accentuate the differences, without imposing any technological constraints on the auto industry.  As such, a more demanding Canadian CAFE would not create any undue challenges pertaining to the North American integrated market.

Moreover, Canada could join California and 7 other US states in requiring that a certain percentage of sales be zero emission vehicles and low carbon (hybrid) models, beginning in 2018.  The required percentage would incrementally rise through to 2025.

The seven other states are Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

A Made-in-Canada model

Taken together, the above information suggests it is time for a Made-in-Canada solution – which could include the following components

Back to Simpler CAFE, without Loopholes

First, and perhaps most important, a Made-in-Canada solution need not be as complicated as the US departure from the original company-wide CAFE concept – one which allows the auto industry to stray from overall manufacturer-wide CAFE targets whereby the targets are adjusted to fit with vehicles sales, rather than the other way around.  This allowance for a higher aggregate fuel consumption is, in reality, a license for manufacturers to promote higher profit models with the help of advertising images of SUVs climbing over rocks and speeding along narrow winding roads at the edge of cliffs.

A far superior model would be that of straightforward Canadian CAFE targets pertaining to the average fuel consumption for all vehicles sold by each manufacturer, for each year – without there being any footprint categories.

By taking this path, the Government of Canada would have the necessary assurance that its goals would be met.

Providing reliable information to consumers

Second, to address the built-in leniency of the current CAFE approach, new fuel economy testing methods and calculations could be introduced to be similar to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s methodology – with a number of significant differences.  To this effect, it would make sense that a Canadian testing procedure include WINTER DRIVING conditions with snow tires on and that the test results be properly calibrated to reflect on-the-road experiences.

Also borrowing a page from the US, the Government of Canada would be wise to randomly test around 15% of the models put on the Canadian market.  In addition, the selection of vehicles for government testing could include models for which there have been a significant number of complaints or which have been identified as problematic for other reasons.

By taking this approach, Canada would have reliable data for calculating the CAFE of each manufacturer and consumers would have reliable information for comparing vehicles on the market, thus encouraging them to take fuel consumption ratings more seriously when purchasing a vehicle.

Joining leading US states on zero and low-emission vehicle goals

Finally, by adopting legislation similar to that of California and 7 other states – regarding the percentages of sales that must be zero emission vehicles and low carbon vehicles beginning in 2018 and increasing through to 2025 – Canada could surpass typical US CAFE standards without running into market integration problems

For those who might suggest that Canada cannot do this because it is part of the integrated North American market, one could remind them that California has roughly the same population as that of Canada and all 8 US states taking part in “enhanced low/zero emissions targets” are part of the North American market.  Indeed, should Canada participate in the “enhanced approach”, it would be helping automakers improve their economies of scale for meeting the requirements of the jurisdictions in question.

To sum up, Canada not only has considerable scope for having more stringent vehicle fuel consumption legislation and targets than those of the US, it can pursue such a strategy without creating havoc to the North American market. There is nothing stopping Canada from shifting to a better system.

Why Rafe Mair is begrudgingly voting Yes in Transit Plebiscite

Why Rafe Mair is begrudgingly voting “Yes” in Transit Plebiscite

Why Rafe Mair is begrudgingly voting Yes in Transit Plebiscite
Rafe Mair trusts Mayor Gregor Robertson (pictured) with our transportation future a tad more than the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation – despite big misgivings about transit management to date (Vision Vancouver/Twitter)

I am a lifetime contrarian. Whatever I’m supposed to do, I rebel against. I have not changed much in my dotage.

But I’m going to vote “Yes” in the Transit Plebiscite, notwithstanding the fact that I have grave concerns about the Translink and the city councils offering their ideas about how to spend the money.

There are several reasons that I came to this conclusion.

Look at who’s leading the “No” side

To begin with, I always like to see who is lined up on each side of an argument so that I can judge a little better what the issues really are. There are a great many people who have expressed simple annoyance, deep annoyance in fact, at the way Translink has been run. I have a lot of sympathy with that but in a moment I will tell you why that is not my major consideration.

I will say this: I think that going into this plebiscite, Premier Clark ought to have got together with the various mayors and come up with a better way to administer transit in Greater Vancouver. But she didn’t and we must make our decision based on what is, not what we wish it was.

Looking at those who are leading the “No” vote, I see the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute – the former much more prominent, in the person of Jordan Bateman. This rings a lot of bells for me because these organizations have never seen a public institution that they didn’t want to see smashed to pieces and help in the process. They have a constitutional dislike of everything that is not run by the private sector.

As for the Fraser Institute, my eyes were opened a few years ago when I interviewed a man named Dr. Walter Block, a “fellow” of that organization, who believed in consensual slavery. If a single mom with children, unable to bear the expense, wanted to become a wealthy man’s slave, by consent, she should be free to do so!

Now I don’t for a moment suggest that that is the general view of right-wingers but Block was a “fellow”, his views are the logical extension of unrestrained libertarianism, and it’s places like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute where far right libertarians park themselves and erect their soapboxes.

I think it is fair to say that both of these organizations represent the far right wing in our community and don’t represent real people with real problems.

Voting “No” won’t solve our problems

Let’s get back to the question of management of Transit.

There is one fact that jumps out of all of this when you think about it. This isn’t the normal case where the “No” side says, “Let’s throw the rascals out and throw us in so that we can do a better job”. There is no such alternative mechanism ready to step in if the vote is no – we simply go into a state of limbo, fumble about, presumably try to work out a better governing arrangement, tackle the various issues piecemeal without any central direction and eventually work ourselves back to the position where we must have another plebiscite!

Being on the “No” side when you have no responsibility to do anything if you win, is pretty damn easy. It’s all very well just to say that things have been badly managed, but unless you have somebody to step in with a better idea, you’re simply protesting without a plan.

A streetcar I desire

Most of all I recognize that if the “No” votes wins we’ll be in the transit wilderness for years to come. That really doesn’t affect me personally as I am old and I live in Lions Bay, which is extremely well-served and stands to gain or lose very little in this exercise.

On the other hand, I am a native Vancouverite and have lived here most of my life. I go back to the days of the streetcar – I wish we could in fact go back to those days. I’ve seen my City grow from about a quarter of a million when I was a boy to 2,000,000-plus today. I’ve been through the debate which saw us reject freeways for better transit without coming up with the transit.

I’ve used public transit systems all over the world and I’ve never seen one where people didn’t bitch about it. It goes with the territory.

A lot of work to be done

A “Yes” vote scarcely guarantees that all will be peachy from here on. What it does guarantee is that there will be a plan, money to fulfill it, pursued by people who are very close to the voters, namely mayors and counsels.

No doubt there are better ways somewhere but given our history and situation in Greater Vancouver, this is the best we can expect and is certainly better than the chaos that will result from a “No” vote.

So the old contrarian is asking his fellow citizens to overlook the fact that they’re not pleased with the system as they see it but know that the best way to deal with that is not to ignore it and hope, as Mr. Micawber did, that “something will turn up”.

Cities, Transit get too small a piece of tax dollar pie

Cities, Transit get too small a piece of tax dollar pie

Cities, Transit get too small a piece of tax dollar pie
Photo: Translink

Many people think of Canada as a landscape of forests, mountains, water and ice, but the Canadian experience is fast becoming focused on glass and concrete. Our 2011 census revealed that 81 per cent of us now live in cities. And despite taking up less land space, our environmental impact continues to grow. As the UN notes, cities cover only two per cent of the world’s land area but produce 60 per cent of CO2 emissions — including a significant proportion from urban transportation, as people commute to school and work on increasingly crowded roads and transit networks.

Transit drives healthy cities

Changing the way we move through cities is a critical step in reducing carbon emissions. The most direct way to accomplish this is to provide urbanites with reliable alternatives to automobile travel. By investing in walkways, cycling networks and efficient public transportation — including rapid rail and bus systems — cities can promote healthy lifestyles while protecting the environment. A two-car household that replaces one vehicle with alternative transportation can cut its annual emissions by 10 per cent.

Building balanced transportation systems and improving transit reduces reliance on private vehicles, cuts traffic congestion and leads to better public health by keeping pollutants linked to asthma and cardiovascular disease out of the air. It can also help curb North America’s obesity epidemic, which is leading to diseases like diabetes and sending health care costs skyrocketing.

Cut the cars, cut the fat

Recent research on the relationship between health and transit use in Metro Vancouver by University of British Columbia urban planning and public health professor Lawrence Frank and two health authorities reveals that residents of areas with above average public transportation use are 26 per cent less likely to be obese and 49 per cent more likely to walk for at least 30 minutes a day than people living in low transit use areas.

Plebiscite puts transit support to test

Vancouver is a good case study for the future of Canadian urban public transit. Metro residents are voting on a plebiscite to fund regional transit and transportation expansion with a 0.5 per cent provincial sales tax increase. Many groups in the region — including business, labour, environmental, health and student — are setting aside political differences and joining the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition to support it.

Cities left to solve transit problems

With only eight cents of every tax dollar going to Canadian municipalities, cities across the country are looking for ways to fund infrastructure maintenance and improvements. Canada is also the only major industrialized country without a national transit funding strategy. Provincial governments, such as Ontario’s, have had some success in securing funding for transit improvements, but across the country the issue is largely in the hands of local leaders.

Although Metro Vancouver’s transit ridership has increased dramatically in recent years, road congestion is still a problem, costing the regional economy up to $1.2 billion per year. To combat similar issues, cities around the world, including London, Milan and Stockholm, have introduced congestion charges for drivers who use city streets during peak hours, funnelling monies raised to into transit improvements. By comparison, a Vancouver sales tax increase would spread the cost out to include transit users, cyclists, walkers and visitors.

Denver Seattle failed before passing transit referenda

North American cities often have a more difficult time than European municipalities convincing residents to support transit funding. Denver, Colorado, has had two transit funding referendums, one that failed and a more recent one that passed. In 2014, Seattle residents took part in two votes, agreeing to a 0.1 per cent sales tax increase and a $60 vehicle levy to improve transit only after bus service faced severe cuts following a “No” vote on transit funding earlier in the year.

Metro vote raises important questions

Canadians aren’t often invited to directly participate in policy-making. The vote in Metro Vancouver is the first of its kind nationally and will likely set off a heated debate about how transportation funding is discussed in this country. While the outcome remains uncertain, one thing is clear: People with realistic transit options have a daily choice to support or degrade the environment. When faced with that choice, history has shown more people opt to leave their cars in the garage. We need to think seriously about how we keep our cities moving into the future.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Climate and Clean Energy Communications and Research Specialist Steve Kux.

Public-Private Partnerships a bad deal for BC- Finance Ministry report

Public-Private Partnerships a bad deal for BC: Finance Ministry report

Public-Private Partnerships a bad deal for BC- Finance Ministry report
P3 skytrain construction by SNC-Lavalin killed many businesses on Vancouver’s Cambie St. (Wikipedia)

The following is republished with permission from Policy Note – the blog of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC office.

By Keith Reynolds

The BC Finance Ministry has produced a report much more critical of Partnerships BC and its activities around public private partnerships (P3s) than might have been expected by a province so committed to the practice. It raises issues of conflict of interest, dubious practices and questionable assumptions in the multi- billion dollar program. The story has received no media coverage.

While it is likely the province will continue to push P3s with undiminished enthusiasm for large projects, the report and surrounding documents acknowledge many of the criticisms of P3s raised by other groups including both the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the BC Construction Association.

The results of the Partnerships BC study were announced in a December 16 press release in which the government promised to carry out the recommendations in the report as well as further recommendations contained in observations from the report’s steering committee. If the government carries out this commitment it will mean Partnerships BC will lose some of its autonomy in the way P3s are delivered.

The study arises from a commitment in the 2011 Throne Speech that the province was going to take a hard look at is Crown corporations “to ensure taxpayers and families are protected and the interests of all British Columbians are well served.” The studies are being conducted by the Ministry of Finance’s Internal Audit and Advisory Services branch (IAAS).

Among the biggest issues in the report is conflict of interest.  The report states:

[quote]There is a concern that Partnerships BC is potentially biased towards certain procurement methodologies because it is mandated to be both a self-sustaining organization and an advisor to government. This creates the perception that Partnerships BC’s advice may be biased towards revenue generating opportunities for the organization.[/quote]

In a letter from the report’s Steering Committee to the Minister of Finance containing “additional observations” the Committee recommends taking some decision making power away from Partnerships BC. The Committee recommends:

[quote]To ensure the determination of work directed to Partnerships BC is unbiased, it is recommended that the initial screening of all new capital projects for P3 viability be conducted by the Ministry of Finance under the direction of the Deputy Minister.[/quote]

The report also identifies (although it dismisses) the potential conflict of interest of hiring of the former PBC Chief Executive Officer, Larry Blain, as its Board Chair and then contracting with him to provide other services. However, the report also says:

[quote]A sample of fourteen consultant and contractor files, representing 23% of total files, was also reviewed. More than half of the contract files reviewed did not contain adequate documentation.[/quote]

The report does not say whether or not Blain’s contracts were among these deficient files.  Since the IAAS review began both Blain and the woman who replaced him as administrative head of the agency, Sarah Clark, have left Partnerships BC.

While the report specifically says it did not examine the methodology that justifies the use of P3s some of its findings touch on this methodology. For example, Partnerships BC says it bases its decision on whether or not to use a P3 by comparing the cost of a P3 with a public sector comparator.  However, PBC frequently uses what it considers to be the most expensive possible method of public procurement (Design/Bid/Build), ignoring less expensive methods of public procurement such as Design/Build, which even the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships (C2P3) considers public procurement.

The report says:

[quote]In many instances, PBC has used DBB (Design Bid Build) procurement as the benchmark. However this is not always understood by the project owner to be the most likely alternative as the project owner might choose to do DB (Design Build) procurement if a P3 does not generate value for money. Consideration should be given to using the most likely alternative that the project owner would use, to ensure that value for money is correctly stated and is understood by all parties.[/quote]

The report states that there is an inherent uncertainty in the assumptions used by Partnerships BC to justify P3s and recommends that:

[quote]Given the inherent uncertainty of the assumptions made in the value for money calculations, at least one jurisdiction in Canada has set a minimum value for money threshold (5%) that is required to go forward as a P3, and the government could consider doing the same.[/quote]

The report examines “bundling,” a practice by which smaller projects are linked to provide a large enough contract for a P3. This has been a particular bugbear for the BC Construction Association which finds many of its members are too small to participate in such projects.

The report finds this is not a common practice, but despite this, the Steering Committee for the report recommended to the Minister of Finance that “government strongly restrict the use of bundling and provide clear guidance on what is considered acceptable bundling.”

The report recommends that the trigger threshold for using a P3 be raised from $50 million to $100 million saying, “Stakeholders believe that this threshold needs to be raised to ensure greater cost/benefit returns on these complex and costly projects.” This being said the report suggests loopholes be left open should the government want a P3 for a smaller project.

The Steering Committee makes another recommendation which may undermine PBC’s involvement saying:

[quote]For local government and associated entities within BC, allowing Partnerships BC to provide services only through direct invitation (on a government to government basis) provided there is a positive return to the Crown Corporation.[/quote]

If followed through on this may reduce pressure on local governments to use PBC for projects.

A significant portion of the report focuses on the possibility of PBC competing with the private sector which might be delivering these services instead of a government agency. Major consulting firms, and smaller ones as well, could have delivered many of the services provided by Partnerships BC.

In 2002 when Larry Blain, who had also served on Gordon Campbell’s transition team when he became Premier, was appointed as head of Partnerships BC, the agency seemed largely untouchable. This seems to be changing.

In a final irony, the report itself may be a conflict of interest. Partnerships BC is a private company owned by the Ministry of Finance, thus the Ministry of Finance is reviewing its own agency which raises its own conflict of interest issues.

Keith Reynolds is a National Research Representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Metro's congestion tax referendum is on the wrong track

Metro’s congestion tax referendum is on the wrong track: Opinion

Metro's congestion tax referendum is on the wrong track

The following is a letter to the editor from Malcolm Johnston of Rail for the Valley.

One has to shake one’s head with the ‘Metro Vancouver congestion improvement tax’ referendum, as clearly the Metro mayors haven’t a clue what they are talking about.

The name, Metro Vancouver congestion improvement tax is false advertising, as the only way to reduce road congestion and associated gridlock is by reducing road space for cars and this is not being done.

mode share graphSubways don’t reduce congestion and are only built to accommodate high ridership on routes which demand long trains and large stations. Traffic flows along Broadway come nowhere close to justifying a multi-billion dollar subway which, if built, will drag TransLink into a financial morass as it has done in other cities. The ill-planned LRT for Surrey, which is being planned as a poor man’s SkyTrain, will do little in alleviating congestion.

Don’t Metro mayors realize that after investing over $9 billion in ‘rapid transit’, mode share by auto has remained at 57% for over 20 years?

The one mode with a proven record of alleviating congestion is modern LRT because it uses road space for its route, thus modern LRT reduces road space for cars while at the same time offering a convenient and attractive transit alternative. It’s why LRT is built around the world and SkyTrain is not.

So instead of the oxymoronic, ‘Metro Vancouver congestion tax’, a more accurate name would be; “Let’s do the same thing over again and hope for different results” tax.

Oh, excuse me, that’s the definition for insanity.


Damaged container ship undergoes repairs to hull at Vancouver port

The CMA CGM Attila's damaged hull, after striking the dock at Vancouver's Centerm port (cell phone image)
The CMA CGM Attila’s damaged hull, after striking the dock at Vancouver’s Centerm port (cell phone image)

The container ship that struck the dock at a Vancouver port early yesterday morning is undergoing repairs to its damaged hull. The vessel, “CMA CGM Attila”, will likely remain moored at Vancouver’s Centerm container facility until at least Sunday while the work is carried out, according to sources at the port.

The website reports that the ship arrived at 4:52 AM local time Wednesday, at which time it collided with the dock.

According to the Canadian Press, the Transportation Safety Board dispatched two officers to investigate the incident yesterday.

The Centerm container terminal, operated by DP World, is located off Vancouver’s Crab Park, adjacent to the Vancouver Harbour Heliport and Seabus terminal.

The 321 metre-long vessel was constructed in 2011 and flies a Maltese flag out of the port of Valletta. It travelled to Vancouver from Seattle this morning. Prior to that, the ship had been in China and Hong Kong.

More information on the CMA CGM Attila can be found at

Large container ship strikes Vancouver dock- Attila
CMA GCM Attila, moored at Vancouver’s Centerm after striking dock (Photo: Damien Gillis)
Large container ship strikes Vancouver dock- Attila

Large container ship ‘Attila’ strikes Vancouver dock

Large container ship strikes Vancouver dock- Attila
CMA GCM Attila, moored at Vancouver’s Centerm after striking dock (Photo: Damien Gillis)

A large container ship, the “CMA CGM Attila”, struck the dock at Vancouver’s Centerm container port early this morning.

The website reports that the ship arrived at 4:52 AM local time.

According to the Canadian Press, the Transportation Safety Board has dispatched two officers to investigate the incident, noting that at this point, “the extent of any damage is unknown.”

Centerm container terminal, operated by DP World, is located off Vancouver’s Crab Park, adjacent to the Vancouver Harbour Heliport and Seabus terminal.

The 321 metre-long vessel was constructed in 2011 and flies a Maltese flag out of the port of Valletta. It travelled to Vancouver from Seattle this morning. Prior to that, the ship had been in China and Hong Kong.

More information on the CMA CGM Attila can be found at

Vancouver’s Centerm port with ship CMA GCM Attila at 2 pm, August 27 (Photo: Damien Gillis)

Nearly 100% of US car sales could be electric in 15 yrs – the challenge is powering them with clean electricity

Powering clean transportation with clean energy
An electric smart car in Amsterdam – from the popular car sharing service, Car2go (Wikimedia Commons)

There are those who suggest that a migration to a green economy is too expensive, that we must convert to natural gas as a transition fuel, that the subsidies for clean technologies are driving up the cost of energy, that we need to sell more fossil fuels to finance the transition to clean technologies. What all these views have in common is “denial”. Indeed, these arguments may be referred to as today’s version of the case for The Flat Earth Society.

Clean energy investments offer better long-term economics

For starters, investments in fossil fuels no longer make any long-term sense.  The oil companies know the writing is on the wall in light of: 1) the need to shift more emphasis to non-conventional fuels that are more expensive to exploit and refine – such as Canada’s tar sands and offshore oil; and 2)  market prices that do not reflect the increases in fossil fuel project costs.  On the latter point, market prices are based on speculation more than anything else.

Taken together, the rising cost of fossil fuels, the declining cost of clean technologies and energy storage, the long-term financing associated with major energy projects – typically a 20 to 25 year cycle – plus the introduction of government measures to reduce fossil fuel-related emissions around the globe, indicate that, already, long-term clean energy investments are now cheaper than fossil fuels.

Add to this the fact that fossil fuel sectors represent the most subsidized in the world, to the tune of $1.9 Trillion/year in 2011 dollars, or roughly $110/tonne.  If we were to eliminate these fossil fuel subsidies, not only would clean energy be cheaper in the long run, but it would be immediately competitive without any subsidies.

While some will argue that shale gas discoveries have injected new life into the longevity of the fossil fuel sectors, the evidence is accumulating that US shale gas is tied to boom and bust cycles because only the initial extractions of the sweet spot gas are economically sound investments.  To this effect, US shale gas stakeholders have already begun writing off billions in investments in the US.

One might also say that the case for a shift away from fossil fuels has been internalized in China and the green shift is gaining momentum in the EU and the US – but not in Canada.  Pity!

Going green is uphill battle, but not insurmountable

For the migration to a green economy, the transportation sector may appear to be the most difficult challenge.  This is so because this sector is currently nearly 100% dependent on fossil fuels and there are no obvious, immediate, large-scale, practical alternatives for making the switch to clean transportation.  But these barriers are more psychological than technological.

Those jurisdictions with the courage to make the right political decisions today can change the paradigm, and some have already begun to do so.

The role of electrical utilities

Crown utility BC Hydro has been saddled with massive debt associated with overpriced private power contracts
Public utilities like BC Hydro can help power electric cars

Electric utilities for the most part have not paid much attention to the new market possibilities associated with the electrification of transport.  This is so, despite the advancements in batteries, bi-directional, fast-charging stations that can be networked to use parked electric vehicles as energy storage facilities – plus the arrival of both plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

Perhaps the best explanation for why utilities haven’t paid attention is their internal cultural mindset.  One would think that electric utilities would be actively investigating new types of markets because the combination energy efficiency, the prevailing economic slow-down, and the emerging trend entailing individuals, corporations and communities getting into the act of producing their own clean energy, all suggest growth in traditional markets may be low or stagnant in the coming years.  In effect, without efforts to pursue the possibilities in the transportation sector, these utilities may find themselves faced with higher costs, without the additional revenues to cover them.

UN: Electric vehicles could approach 100% of US sales by 2015

Accordingly, utility investments in clean transportation are logical next steps given: the 1) size of the transportation sector; 2) government initiatives around the globe to reduce dependence on fossil fuels; and 3) the current near total reliance on fossil fuels for transportation.  With the latter two considerations in mind, a UN report indicated that electric vehicles could make up close to 100% of US new vehicle sales within the next 15 years.

Utility incentives for electric vehicles could range from discounts for charging stations, vehicle purchase discounts or loan payment arrangements with dealers/manufacturers, and off-peak rates for charging vehicles at night.

In Canada, where many utilities are public, the above incentives could be part of overall provincial government incentive packages to foster a migration towards electric vehicles.

Local and regional infrastructure

As implied by the preceding information, one of the keys to making the shift to electric  transportation is that of infrastructure – in particular, large-scale, clean energy smart grids and micro-grids.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, semi-autonomous micro-grids, supplied by local, intermittent clean energy sources (e.g: solar and wind) – backed up by storage systems and linkages to regional utilities – are no more complex a system than our current electrical infrastructure.

US and California’s leadership

In February 2014, the US federal Department of Energy announced $7 million for advancing the design of community-scale micro-grids, with capacities going up to 10 MW.  In addition, the DOE is offering$6.5 million in matching grants for the development of integration technologies to accommodate multiple, intermittent renewable energy sources and energy storage in a grid.


Even bolder than the US federal government, the state of California has adopted the Self-Generation Incentive Program that will provide $415 million over 5 years to install micro-grid components on the customer side of the grid, including wind turbines, waste-heat-to-power technologies and advanced energy storage systems.  This program will help meet California’s energy storage mandate, which, among other things, requires that investor-owned utilities add 1.3 GW of energy storage to their respective grids by 2020.

Electric vehicles as extensions micro-grids and energy storage

With the support of electric vehicle bi-directional charging stations, during energy surplus periods, regionally networked, parked electric vehicles that are plugged in would serve as energy storage facilities via their respective batteries. Parked electric vehicles would become extensions of the energy storage network, to be called upon during periods of high electricity demand.

At the micro-level, the combination of 1) a parked electric vehicle in an employer/industrial park parking lot or at one’s home, and 2) a clean energy micro-gird, supplied by local solar rooftop and/or wind power sources, supplemented by the regional utility, would offer several attractive features.  These inclue: 1) building-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-building opportunities off the regional grid and 2) possibilities to supply/sell surplus energy to the regional grid, as appropriate.  Also, in times of blackouts, the parked vehicles would be sources of stored energy to bridge the loss of power period until the regional source is restored.

Utilities, hydrogen and energy storage

Other types of utility partnerships for storage solutions could include the Canadian hydrogen sector. This involves the electrolysis of water, using clean energy generated from hydro, wind and solar sources, to produce and compress hydrogen – or leave it in a liquid form as long as necessary for later use in fuel cells.

Conversely, the governments and utilities can adopt a wait-and-see attitude regarding competition in the transportation sector from fuel cells and bio-fuels.

Hydrogen vehicles

Germany has already started down the hydrogen vehicle path with a mass program to set up hydrogen fueling stations across the country.

Under the  €350 million “H2 Mobility” Initiative – a partnership involving Air Liquide, Daimler, Linde, OMV, Shell and Total – by 2015, Germany will have 50 hydrogen fueling stations around the country, 100 by 2017 and 400 stations by 2023.

This will mean that, in Germany’s metropolitan centres, drivers of fuel cell vehicles will have at least 10 hydrogen refueling stations available, starting in 2023.  Integrated into this plan, there will be one hydrogen station for every 90 kilometers of highway between densely populated areas.

At the EU level, the ‘Fuel Cell sand Hydrogen (FCH) Joint Technology Initiative’ (JTI), a partnership between the European Commission and EU industry will invest $1.8B  on the development of market-ready fuel cell and hydrogen technologies over the next 10 years.