While in a cabin in Jamaica, i recorded a sort of spoken word song made from loops, samples and layered tracks of sorta-singing and spieling about the changes in my city and the importance and interestingness of observation. Available in poetry only version as well.
Again, been meaning to write about this but finally taking a second to spiel out a couple thoughts about Dave Olsen (really, no me or Dave Olson, Dave Olson, Dave Olson, or Dave Olson)’s series for the Tyee (a Vancouver lefty online news community) which is worth an RSS subscription (go Drupal!).
Anyhow, the series of 5 articles break down the advantages (and no disadvantages) of fare-free transit for Vancouver and cites examples in Whidbey Island, WA and Haslert, Belgium plus offers commentary about how this might happen in BC. The accompanying podcast adds a lot to the conversation as wellsince they delve more into the political funding and leadership required to make some positive change happen.
I own a car which is used only for roadtrips and bi-annual trips to Ikea. I ride transit everyday for much of the day (about 3 hours per). I ride many routes and mix up my epic commute from North Van to the dreaded intersection of chaos of Cambie and Broadway. Somedays i ride bus, seabus, skytrain, trolley, walk, other days a string of buses and so on. I grew up in the Whalley and the 316/312 were my escape pods from a shitty Jr. secondary (Matheson) to truant wanders through beloved (and still innocent pre-Expo) downtown. When the Skytrain hatched, i was thrilled at the convenience (even from New West station) and the anti-fascist “walk-on” policy.
While traveling to 20+ countries, I’ve often rambled on about Vancouver fantastic transit system and progressive transportation paradigm. I am excited about more Skytrains, i visited the rolling transit museum, i shoot (semi-licit) video on Seabus and Skytrain and get excited for Sundays when i can roll my wee family onto the bus for”free” (i have a $95/month pass).
However, i am getting sick of being ghettoized as a tranist rider. I spend epic times waiting wth no shelter, packed into buses with grumpy drivers, smelly co-riders (i know, i know), random schedules, and rotating stops at the aforementioned intersection of confusion. I have given up on my dreams (articulated in the otherwise forgetable movie Singles) of comfort and amentities on transit but there are a few essentials which must be considered a priority.
Any way you slice it, more people riding better transit creates a better urban experience. For the douchebag in his/her Hummer there is more room for your fat-ass vehicle and for transit riders, we can feel semi-comfortable, safe and disembark not needing a shower or hepatitis shot (sorta joking there). Really, this morning waiting 10 minutes in the rain to ride a packed to the gills bus with hacking co-riders across Lion’s Gate then another 20 minutes for the Cambie which took 30 minutes to get me about 3 km is a lousy way to start the day. And it gets to be a real hard sell sometimes when i do have a damn car with insurance ready to go. If i can sit and read, daydream or enjoy a beverage, that is one thing but it is rare just to get a seat! Oh yeah, it takes 20 minutes by car vs. an hour and 20 minutes by tranist to get to work (the parking is a different matter ;-)). Hard sell but i wanna love tranit i really do!
Now I like the idea of free transit but i know in this political climate, it is a tough sell unless you can focus on the economic arguement. The arguments against will dwell on the “no perceived value if things are free” and the (albeit legitimate concern) that transit could become a rolling homeless shelter (which is a bigger problem for another missive).
The cost of collecting fares include the 3-4 folks at the Seabus terminal in the morning inspecting tickets (really do people fare-skip at 7:30AM?), the stickers, posters and advertising about “fare paid zone,” the now ubigoutis transit cops (and the annoying adverst recruiting for “Canada’s first transit goon-squad”), the tickets themselves, the fare box units, the ticket vending computers (the ones that are working anyhow), plus the hassle to drivers who are obliged to play the heavy (i’ve been stuck without change before and not prepared to drop a twenty to get a ride and got the stink-eye and attitude from drivers for sure – thanks asshat).
And it is not like the transit is cheap. For me to roll downtown and back by transit with woman and child downtown ends up being almost $20 – not chump change yo. So we roll the car (about $3 in gas) and with that savings, we can pay for parking (as if) and be home an hour earlier. This is the real cost. The cost to the community is more cars, more crowds, more waiting, more pollution.
Tranist riders should be revere, not marginalized. We are not the problem, the car drivers are, the absurd roads are (hello dedicated bus lanes!?!?), the constant fare hikes are, the lack of accountability is, the politcal indifference is, the lack of respect from drivers to passengers is, the skypigs (err… cops) are, the lack of understanding that efficient transportation is a key component (like education) to a successful, civil, progressive society is the problem.
The money we are talking about to make a tranist system free or cheap is minuscule compared to the money spend on Gateway project.
eParents love it (“head on down to the pool kids”, drinkers like it for asafer way home (there are a few there), and somehow the rednecks (err trying to come up with a better stereoype name here but drawing a blank) put up with it.
In leiu of free, Here’s the wishlist:
Roll back fares
Make the passes available
Get some new buses – enough testing already!
Put schedules up at stops
Make it easier to pay
Make more programs for discounted/free events
Use technology – web site sucks, SMS schedules, alerts,
Clean the buses (skytrain and seabus get walked through)
Sheltered stops with names
Comments for drivers – hire folks who give a shit
By the way, the Seabus is the best part of tranist and the best cheap tourist trip going. If the
While I think free transit is a hard sell here, I would settle for a few improvements like clean buses (both exhaust and interior), customer-friendly drivers (I am talking to you on the 15!), and schedules posted at each stop (shelter would be nice too, it does rain here Virginia).
A little tinkering with technology would go a long way for the rider’s experience too – i.e. a website with some semblance of usability and SMS “next bus” service (some SFU students are doing this I believe). Realtime announcements at stops (like in London) would be nice too but I won’t hold my breath.
As for price, a roll back of fares which make it more affordable to ride than drive for starters. Say a loonie a ride. Now, if I wanna take the wife and boy downtown and back, I can roll transit for about $20 or drive for $3 of gas + pay to park and still come out ahead (I do roll transit anyhow despite being packed shoulder to shoulder with wet strangers whilst bounding across Lion’s Gate).
Also, as a monthly pass buyer, I do not understand the erstwhile availability limits (imagine my audacity trying to get a pass on July 2nd! Took 4 stops to find one) and the “discounted” faresavers are a joke too.
Finally (rant almost done – more on my blog) enough testing and thinking about it already – Get some new buses! We are often riding the same decaying sleds as we did in the 1980s when Vancouver was deemed North America’s best transit system. Well it ain’t now.
For the record, i grew up in Whalley (well before Skytrain) and the 316/312 was my escape pod from a crappy Jr. Secondary school to my beloved downtown. I ride transit 2-3 hours a day now and visited the rolling transit museum (geeky I know). I also own a car which i use for roadtrip – and the traditional bi-annual trip to Ikea of course.
I’ve traveled to 20+ countries and ride public conveyance most everywhere I go from Guam to Japan to Amsterdam and beyond. Translink needs help fast in order cease ghettoizing the humble and noble transit rider who should be celebrated not passed-by (like i was this morning while heading to the instersection of chaos of Cambie and Broadway … but that’s another rant, one about rider safety!).
Originally appeared in Uncle Weed’s Dossier column in Vancouver Observer on Aug. 2nd 2011 under the same title. This spiel compiled a bushel of ideas I’ve wanted to amplify to Vancouver (knowing change comes slow etc. in land of conservative progressive) and banged it out white hot after returning from New Orleans and seeing the remarkable (dearisay) brand they’ve crafted for their city – and dang if they don’t know how to truly let loose and keep it cool. We have our moments in Vancouver but with absurd prices and policies for beer (which is an essay on its way) and neurotic policy shifts, and an abundance of disparity… a few refinements are in order – the question is: are we ready to step up? heh, you tell me.
Go Cups and Pedicabs ~ Are We Ready to be “World Class” Yet?
Like a beautiful but gangly teenager on the first day of high school, in Vancouver we tend towards constant introspection and self-awareness to the point of mental self-abuse when we discuss our city. “Are we are as pretty as Zurich? Are we more fun than Sydney? Do these pants make me look fat?”
We obsess about being “world class” as though that makes us important. World class doesn’t mean “big” – we remain medium-sized (and our topography ensures we will) – as Goldilocks would say, “Just right.” World class means something unique which makes the city stand out. Sure, we have mountains, the ocean and trees. But to go next level, we need to go wide open with new ideas and take some calculated risks.
I’ve just rambled back from New Orleans (podcast) – a city that knows something about its brand and reputation – with a headful of ideas borrowed from working examples to re-fit our city experiment into something truly more livable for the normal folks.
New Orleans: “Go” cups – simple, put your beer in plastic cup and take it from bar or store to wherever (walking not driving), very civilized. Street music. Not lonely, hunkered buskers, but like the 14 man brass bands holding court on French Quarter corners where the crowd ebbs with high-rollers’ cars and tourists with camera phones mix with locals boogying down. Street-level streetcars (ding ding) with a $3 day-pass to roll on wooden seats down the middle of the road. Also, add a brilliant culinary culture but leave the corruption, rats and humidity.
Austin, Texas: Pedi-cabs – move these cycle rickshaws beyond noisy, drunken weekend novelty status and transform the way we take short up/downtown trips. The licensed drivers make decent cash without emissions and save your sneakers on walks which are too short to bother playing the “where might a cab be?” game.
See also: Hosting art, technology festivals as a civic cash cow a la South by Southwest. Need to loosen up on bars, clubs and meeting centres (seriously, try renting a place) and provide an area for patrons to party (no, GranvilleMall doesn’t count) and you’ll attract conventioneers besides the stuffy ties at the dual Canada Places. Remember that conferences are junkets which requires fun times for attendees.
London: Though gloomy and spendy, I’ll take late night double-decker buses and free museums and galleries. Art saves lives and defines who we are. Make it accessible.
New York: Falafel at 3 a.m. like it’s no big deal. There is more, but this is enough.
Amsterdam: You’ll notice the separated bike lanes after you are run down when you don’t note the signs. As you are falling backwards avoiding the canals as scowling locals pedal by on heavy steel bikes, you’ll say to yourself, “I see, these aren’t sidewalks, these are true bike paths winding along like expressways for cycles.”
The reason bike lanes in Van are getting flack is because something was “taken away” – instead, make bike-only routes separate from the car-ways and everyone will be way happier.
Barcelona: Hard to describe Las Ramblas but we need something just like it – a true city pedestrian mall, a walkway, a people’s area for mingling, lounging and even lightweight commerce (lay down a blanket, sell your wares). Simply, we shouldn’t have to close a major traffic route to host downtown get-togethers or to observe each other on lazy afternoons.
Logan, Utah: Free transit. I know it sounds absurd… another Dave (Olsen, that is) researched free transit systems but missed one in the culturally conservative, big truck driving, two-bar university city by the Idaho border.The seat of Cache County boasts free, quality transit – hop on to go frombig box stores to the Mormon temple. I’d settle for a “SeaBus only” pass.
Brussels: While dignified Brussels manages to beat Vancouver for most underwhelming tourist photo op (Mannekin Pis vs. Gastown “Steam” Clock), the Belgian capital wins big prizes for character bars tended to by pro beer traditionalists serving on endless patio tables ringing vast squares. While we don’t have the centuries of Trappist ale culture, places like Six Acres show you can craft character and bring it outside on the cobblestones.
Vancouver: Summerlive at Stanley Park was close to perfect. Keep in mind, I’m a veteran of Grateful Dead tours, the legendary WOMAD feasts, and a hundred hippie jam fest weekends and attest this was simply a remarkable three days of music and demonstrative of a renaissance of great bands unseen since the beery 80s days of local hardcore.
Held close to the totempoles where I had my fifth birthday party, it felt like we stopped caring about how the outside looked at us and started living like we want to – we ride bikes, we walk the seawall, we tidy up, we sing along. Thanks to the police for keeping it chill and letting us enjoy picnics, tokes and (possibly) a brown bagged bevvie.
We come from all over. Trying to find someone second generation from Vancouver amidst refugees from the frozen lands is a task. And we are already remixing ourselves, our city and our culture daily. The concrete isn’t wet yet here, we can still define who we want ourselves to be. And it’s a good time to do it since the city’s brand (as I learned in a city which survived a hurricane, flood, looting, police corruption and chaos) is “that city that burns cop cars.” Nowhere to go but up.
We have visible homeless problems, demoralizing property values and waffling by-laws. These need fixing. But to make my beloved city truly world class, I’ll be happy with a couple of the above for starters.
Just wait, within a year, this expensive monstrosity will be used to effectuate excessive force and cause more harm than good. Just look at Tasers for example of the roadmap of poor execution by police. Get the cops on shoes walking the beat and talking to the community. Not hiding behind more barriers. Perhaps capital crimes would be prevented and solved by genuine outreach rather than big machines and power.
The Seabus is a passenger ferry running between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet. The crossing generally takes about 11-12 minutes. This video is a simple single shot of the crossing with ambient sound and no alterations.
The Seabus (there are 3: The Otter, and The Beaver, were launched in 1977 and the Pacific Breeze was launched in late 2009 just before the Winter Olympics) are operated by Translink, the transit authority for the greater Vancouver BC area. Many folks ride this daily as part of their commute to work in downtown or even closer, in Gastown or Railtown.
Further Reading on the launch of the Breeze:
The dock on the south side is adjacent of the wharves of Canada Place and accessible via Waterfront Station or the Heliport door on the low road. The north dock is in a complex with Lonsdale Quay market — a great tiny alternative to the busy (especially in the summer) Granville Island Market.
Both docks closely connected with other transit modes: at Waterfront, all Skytrain lines and Westcoast Express train; and, busses to all points on the North Shore at Lonsdale Quay (including busses to Grouse Mountain, Deep Cove and Horsehoe Bay).
Tip: Exit via the Heliport door and walk to unknown CRAB park just a few 100 metres away to the east – further east, a bridge connects you to the north end of Main St.
Tip: Ride the Seabus to North Vancouver and catch the 228 bus and ride to Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. It’s free, unlike Capilano, and it’s not a tourist trap
I’ve started a new column at Vancouver Observer, a web-based, hyper-local news site. The Column is called “Uncle Weed’s Dossier” and I’ll mostly write about transportation, Vancouver secrets and history, public policy conundrums, Cascadian diplomacy and creative activism.
Photo of this reporter on the SeaBus Bridge by Rebecca Bollwitt.
Here’s an excerpt of Riding the Roof of the Breeze:
1977 was a stellar year for culture. The Ramones, The Clash and Bob Marley with classic albums, Elvis for a half-year, plus Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever and the launch of the SeaBus. Since that banner year, the intrepid lil catamarans have toiled across Burrard Inlet, unheralded and undaunted. Now the two vessels – the Beaver and Otter – are three as the Pacific Breeze set off from Waterfront station Wednesday Dec. 23rd with politicians on-board and me on the roof.
Transit’s Crown Jewel
I’m the guy who did a 4th grade science fair project about transit, rode the long way on buses downtown to punk rock shows and celebrated when the ALRT began (even when it ended in New West). But living in Whalley, the SeaBus was an exotic morsel in the transit offering – i have scant memories outings to the Quay or the free suspension bridge but mostly i remember skipping out of school and riding it just to ride it.
These days, the Seab is my daily ride and my nightly schedule revolves around the run down the gangway into the surreal confines of a hazy crossing in a humming shuttle. Unlike the sway of the bus, the Seab is pod of relaxation and creativity and (the best part) you always get a seat. Indeed, I extol the virtues of the perfect day out in Vancouver on my podcast which includes “the 3 dollar harbour cruise” complete with a falafel and a rainforest stroll – all on one transfer.
Sitting in the rear seat in a MkI type Skytrain car in Vancouver, BC, I documented the journey. The change in light via tunnels and so on, created interesting reflections and a curious virtual ALRT trip. The tunnels sometimes remind me of Battlestar Galactica (the old TV show) set.