BC Ferries- Part 2

I wrote this earlier piece about the announced “rationalization” of BC Ferries, but didn’t really address the direct measures that the Minister from Kamloops proposed to solve BC Ferries’ current funding woes. So what of the solutions offered? Aside from the service cuts, what of the rest of the initiatives announced?

I used to joke that Ferries could be free if there was a bar in the back with a half dozen blackjack tables. I cannot believe they took me seriously (or maybe my cynicism once again fell short?). Frankly, I couldn’t care less about the slot machine idea, And although I agree with this opinion 100%, I have come to expect and accept moral bankruptcy and from this government, so no surprises there. The government-run exploitation of the poor through gambling genie is out of the bottle, and I hope eventiually a rational government will come along and invest a meaningful chunk of the revenue into helping those affected by the addiction, but I won’t hold me breath.

In this case, though, I have my doubts that it will generate significant revenue (or if it does, what portion of that revenue BC Ferries will actually get to keep), and only hope they are located in such a way that I don’t have to sit near them or – dear god – hear them. Although this does open up some exciting possibilities for other transportation funding projects: Golden Ears Bridge revenues a little short? Throw a few slots on the deck! Casino cars on SkyTrain? Free spin with every tap of your Compass Card?

The ending of off-peak Senior’s free rides, replacing them with a half-price fare, seems petty and ill conceived. The current “free ride” offered Senior BC residents is limited to off-peak times (i.e. Monday- to -Thursdays, no holidays) and the discount only applies for their passenger fare: seniors still have to pay full pop for their cars. So a senior driving to Victoria pays $51.25 plus tax instead of $66.75 if they travel when demand is low. That fare will now go to $59.00. Not a big change, but if you have ever seen the line-up for the early bird special at the Pantry, you know pensioners love to get the discount.

Good thing Seniors aren’t riding these off-peak seats for cheap!

Cutting this “free-ride” does little for revenue, but disincentives travel in off-peak times for those with more adaptable schedules, which further exacerbates the sometimes-empty / sometimes-stuffed Ferry problem. Further, it perpetuates the undermining of the Ferries being a vital transportation link for BC residents – especially many of the seniors who live on Gulf Islands where there are very few services. There is no hospital on Saturna, no doctor, no pharmacy. Walking on a ferry and taking the bus to Sidney is the only affordable way for seniors to get access to these services. Charging seniors $12 return (if they don’t take a car) to walk to their nearest Pharmacy seems like a shitty policy to me, and not one offset by an appreciable increase in revenue.

Just poor planning. 

The lightly- floated idea of enhanced passenger-only service sounds great to me. I rarely take a car on the Ferry, but am commonly lamenting how passengers are not treated as valued customers, but as the more inconvenient part of the car-moving business. However, before blowing the budget on special passenger-only boats, they could think about just providing some basic level of reasonable service to the pedestrians they already have.

For example, you cannot reserve a passenger ticket for the Gulf Islands. On busy long weekends, you can (and pretty much must) reserve a spot for your car, but if you want to walk on, you need to show up, line up, and take your chances. Yes, those boats do regularly sell out. Taking a stuffed-to-the-rafters 620 bus from Richmond, lining up for 40 minutes to buy a ticket (as they cannot sell them until they know how many reserved drivers show up to take their spots, nor how many passengers are in those reserved cars), then being told they sold out and you have to come back tomorrow, then being told you cannot reserve for tomorrow, but will have to roll the dice again, then waiting 30 minutes for the next 620 to show up… well, it is enough to make you want to just get it over with and lease a Hyundai.

Actual lineup for the 620. How would you like to wait in this line,
then be told at your destination you can’t have a ticket? 

But if I already lease the aforementioned Hyundai (because I am tired of rolling the dice with the the bus), I can still walk on (if there is room) and might park at the terminal, but long-term parking at Tsawwassen is now $16 per day. Paying $50 to park on a long weekend, combined with the (car-only) reservation being the only certain way on the boat, the incentives for driving right onto the boat add up pretty quick.

They don’t need special Ferries to attract more walk-on customers; they need to adjust the systems they have in place that make walking on unreliable and inconvenient. Don’t even get me started about the lack of coordination between the TransLink schedule and the Ferries Schedule at Tsawwassen.

And while I am harping on about customer service, in what other business is it OK for staff to start vacuuming around the feet of paying customers who are trying to relax? Do hotels or restaurants do this? Airlines? Movie theatres? Anyone?

Has anyone seen this anywhere BUT on a BC Ferry?

However, there are more fundamental questions that these proposals raise: where did they come from? The person whose job it is to run the Ferries “like a business” (as business groups lament it should be done) clearly did not make any of these decisions, from which routes to cut to bringing on the slots. Instead, these decisions were foisted upon him by a Minister of Transportation who makes unilateral changes to the way the corporation runs, yet refuses to take responsibility for the efficiency (or lack of) of the corporation.

It is clear from this interview of the CEO of BC Ferries that these decisions were not made by him or his Board. Much like with BC Hydro, ICBC, and TransLink, this government is making management decisions for these quasi-independent agencies, then blaming the agencies when these seemingly random, poorly thought-out, and unaccountable decisions don’t work out.

The BC Liberals are like the schoolyard bully who grabs your wrist and repeatedly smacks you with your own hand, all the time asking “why are you hitting yourself?”

Larco, Rails, and the Waterfront Vision.

I am cognizant that things are preliminary and there are many details yet to work out, but my initial reaction to this is very positive.
The Larco Property has been, for a few years, the missing front tooth in the smile of New Westminster’s waterfront. For those not paying attention, this is the lot between the Fraser River Discover Centre (FRDC) and the New Westminster Pier Park – the big pay parking lot at the end of Begbie Street. The development of Larco has been an on-again-off-again affair, but the last time we saw approved plans for the site, it was, to borrow a phrase commonly used in ironic understatement by my old sedimentology Prof: “sub-optimal”.
The plan was for 5 tall, thick towers on a pedestal of parking, rather the same as Plaza88 but 66% larger. It was out of scale with the surroundings, and threatened to create a permanent barrier separating Downtown from the waterfront, and burying Front Street for all time. As a trade-off, the plan was to bury a few hundred metres of a new freeway – the now-defunct North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR) – under the pedestal. Little regard was given to how this “traffic solution” would impact areas east or west of the Larco Property, but I don’t want to drift off on that story here…
With the establishment of the Pier Park, the cancelling of the NFPR, and new ideas around accommodating parking in Downtown in a post-Parkade era, the plans for Larco no longer really fit the bill, so the City asked Larco (who, in the City’s defense, had not acted for a decade on the previous plans) to go back to the drawing board and try to re-imagine the site through the lens of these new factors. It is what Larco brought back that has me (tacitly, with all the regular devil-in-the-details caveats) feeling pretty positive about the prospects for that site.

Sketch drawing, click to make bigger, or go the City site to look at the entire report.
The number and mass of the towers have been reduced. The new plans call for narrower towers with greater spacing, which should help preserve the view corridors down the important streets, and allow some sunlight to hit Columbia and Front streets. With some clever design, these towers might fit very nicely without feeling like a wall separating us from the river. The towers will vary in height (which further reduces the wall effect), but the tallest will be at least as high as the tallest at Plaza88). I’m not generally in favour of super-tall buildings on the waterfront, but if done well, not completely out of scale with the surrounding buildings, and lined up so not to block established view corridors, 3 towers will not overwhelm. Note that Larco is reducing the overall number of residences from over 1000 to around 800, which is something significant for a developer to give up, but will definitely allow the buildings to fit the site better.
The second big plus is that the development will allow expansion of the Pier Park to the west, and will feature a significant amount of public greenspace filling the gap between the FRDC and the Pier Park. This will no doubt come with access improvements to the east side of the park, but just by connecting the River Market/Quay to the Park more cohesively, the whole will exceed the sum of the parts. With longer-term plans to connect the Quay to Queensborough with a pedestrian bridge, and to connect the east end of the Park to Sapperton with a Greenway, we can now envision a future where New Westminster’s waterfront becomes a one of the greatest community amenities in the Lower Mainland- we will truly “Own the River” as the best place to spend some time on the banks of the muddy old Fraser.
The third (and perhaps most surprising) positive coming out of this plan is the disappearance of the parking structure. I don’t mean there will be no parking, I mean that Larco wants to build the “human space” at the same level as the bottom of the Pier Park, and stick the cars down under the pier. New construction techniques and tanking technology definitely allows this to be done safely, and with the entire breadth of the lot used for parking (and driveways and walkways above) there is enough room to build parking to the tower residents, and to have an extra public parking area to accommodate the FRDC, River Market and visitors to the Pier Park. The plan will not have several levels of above-ground parkade creating a garage tunnel effect we see on some other streets (I’m looking at you, Carnarvon!)
All of this had rightfully raised the same question among several people: what about the rails? Don’t we need to build overpasses? Won’t the whistles and bells and idling trains just cause more conflict? How will all these people rely on Begbie Street crossing?
These are serious concerns: both the need for level crossings vs. overpasses, and the issue of adjusting rail operations to deal with whistle cessation and reduced community impacts. Apparently, the City is working on them, and this is an area where serious work needs yet to be done. However, I will argue that complete separation may not be the best solution. (Unless the separation involves moving the rails, but I’m going to assume the Federal Government is not interested in spending any money moving goods by anything but truck, and this idea will never fly).
I don’t want multiple overpasses with elevated concrete flying over our streets. They are ugly, they are expensive to build and maintain, they act as obstacles to pedestrians, and (especially) people with disabilities. They loom over the human spaces below, create traffic barriers at times of emergency, and serve to actually separate us from the places they are meant to connect. Instead, we need to take a more rational approach to level crossings in New Westminster.
And we don’t need to re-invent the wheel here. We are not the only City in the world with industrial rail lines along a re-imagined post-industrial waterfront. We don’t even need to tax our imagination too hard to see  how it would work, we can just look around the world (thanks to Google Street View):
White Rock:

The Old Port area of Montreal: 

New Orleans:  

Or even dusty ol’ Peoria, Illinois:

 I’m just saying, if it plays in Peoria, you can’t tell me we cannot do it in New Westminster. We (and by “we”, I mean the railways and the governments that regulate them) just need to grow up.

Like or hate what you see? Go the the City’s Open house on Wednesday and give them a piece of your mind! 

Build a Playground with a click!

Short note, as I am getting really busy planning my December off (more on that later) and working on stuff that will fill our Januaries (yikes!), but I there is something important enough going on THIS WEEK that I wanted to add my voice to those getting the word out

It is a sad sign of our priorities as a society that the Ministry of Education will not pay for playground equipment at an elementary school. I like to think it is more reflection of the kind of Government that raises rates for the electricity needed to run schools, refuses to give the schools extra money to pay those rates, then tells the School Boards to just close some schools if they can’t afford to keep the lights on, as opposed to being the sign that our community doesn’t value our kids or recognize how important exercise and unstructured play is to learning outcomes… /end rant.

Clearly our community cares, as there is a group of aroused rabble who have been moving on a campaign to get funding from an Insurance Company to buy the playground equipment that an Elementary School should have at the new Elementary School called Qayqayt Community School which is being built currently on the old St. Mary’s Hospital site.

As the Aviva Community Fund is a national program, there are several programs competing for a few funds, but the good news is that this project has already jumped several steps in voting and promotion, and is a semi-finalist. They have 8 Days to get as many votes as they can. So go there and vote. Right now. You can even vote multiple times (once a day) and every person with a different e-mail address in your house, at your work, or in your universe can vote. Every day. So you, (yes you) can probably get 100 votes here.

The local group organizing this campaign has even made it easier for you by creating a webpage link to get you straight to where you can vote:


Here are the instructions sent to me by Tim Mercier from the École John Robson Community, and it was easier than the 7 steps below make it look, especially if you already have a Facebook account:

To Register;

1- Go to www.vote4robson.com
2- In the top right corner of the site (inside the yellow and above the search box) find “Sign in – Register – Francais” and click on “register” to get to the registration page;
3- Connect using your Facebook account or enter your email address and create a simple password for your account. Then scroll down the page to find the yellow “Register” button and press it;
4- Aviva will send you an email (to the address you used to register) and you will then need to open the email and click on the link;
5- This will bring you back to the Aviva page. The Sign in tab is located on the top right of the page in the yellow, click on it to go to the sign in page where you will need to enter your email address and password.
6- This will take you to your account page and Dashboard, if you want to find our entry either search for ACF17525 or just go back to www.vote4robson without logging off the Aviva site and it should get you there.
7- Once you have voted once, we will be in your supported idea tab and you can find us there.

Here you go, New Westminster – time for us to do what a great community like ours does best when a few people start a good idea – support them by showing up and give a few clicks to give the kids of the Downtown neighbourhood and all of the Qayqayt catchment a place to blow off steam so they can get some fresh air, learn better, and be healthier and happier #NewNewWest Citizens.