Tag Archives: transportation

Powering Your Vehicle in Vancouver

Downtown Vancouver is home to 100,000 people and some of the most expensive real estate in Canada. And yet pretty soon there will only be a single gas station serving the entire area (the Chevron on Georgia is being sold to developers).

As Anne McMullin points out in the article linked above, “land in the city is too valuable to be saved for a single use”. Because gasoline is volatile, you can’t just slap a condo on top of a gas station.

gas_stations_vancouver
Map of gas stations (via GasBuddy)

However, you can put an electric vehicle charging station just about anywhere. Which is why there are over 50 charging stations in downtown Vancouver.

electric_vehcile_charing_stations_vancouver
Map of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations (via ChargeHub)

Backpacking India: Crazy Transportation Day

India - Train from Varanasi to Siliguri
So many of our memorable moments in India have occured while traveling between cities. We often travel cheap, so that means a lot of time in shared jeeps, buses, and trains, and a lot of interesting interactions with locals. Our day traveling from the Makaibari Tea Estate to Kolkata was one of the wilder days.

To start, we didn’t have a confirmed train tickets to Kolkata. A week ago we decided to prepone our visit to Kolkata by 2 days when our trek was cut short, but the trains were all sold out. Most trains have a few seats reserved for foreigners like us who plan their trip last minute, but you can only buy them in person at big train stations and Darjeeling doesn’t qualify. Without white privilege on our side, we had to take our chances on the wait list with everyone else. We weren’t sure what our chances were of getting seats. We started out in position 18 and 19 and had moved up to 11 and 12 on the day of the train. We had hoped we would find out the night before if we got tickets, giving us time to execute a backup plan if we were unlucky, but we didn’t find out until 3 pm, a few hours before the train departed. When we got the email and text message notifying us we had seats, we were standing in line at the station trying desperately to book an alternative. We were extremely lucky to get tickets. Our seats were in carriage BEX, a special carriage added to the train for the Eastern Railway Trekking Club but with a few extra seats given to wait list passengers.

Getting to the train station was a bigger adventure than getting the train tickets. After lunch at the tea estate, we flagged down a passing shared jeep heading to Siliguri. There was only one seat left in the back benches, but the money collector jumped out and rode outside, one foot on the bumper and one on the spare tire, with his hands clutched to the roof rack for the rest of the twisting, bumping ride down the mountain. I was worried about him whenever we hit a bump or swerved to avoid another vehicle, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. Shortly after we took the last two seats (facing sideways in the back benches), we picked up two more men who found a way to squeeze in the back next to Emily and I, and firmly sardine us in. It was the most uncomfortable 90 minute ride of my life. We picked up a few more passengers, but luckily they sat on the roof and hung from the back instead of climbing onto our laps. At one point I counted 18 people in/on our jeep, which is normally full and cozy with 10.

In Siliguri, we extracted ourselves from the human compression chamber and climbed into the back of a shared rickshaw to the train station. It was surprisingly comfortable by comparison, with only 6 passengers squeezing in. Every time someone left our driver would wait and troll around for someone new to take her place. Standard practice in India, but I think one of the passengers got annoyed with the frequent delays. At least I assume that was the gist of the 30 minute angry Hindi yelling match that ensued between him and the driver. The passenger was literally frothing at the mouth and spitting red beetlenut on my pants. The driver was freaking out and spent more time looking back at us then at the road ahead. The other passengers were either amused or annoyed by the argument, but didn’t say much. Eventually the irate passenger jumped out of our moving rickshaw and our angry driver swerved over to confront him. I assumed it was going to turn into a fist fight, but they just yelled at each other for another few minutes and shockingly the irate passenger paid the 20 rupee fair and we drove off, our driver still cursing, but with no one responding.

Train to Calcutta
Good thing we had five hours to sit around in the train station and calm down after all that excitement. Just another day traveling in India.

Data Nerd: Transportation Expenses Updated

My 2012 post analyzing my transportation expenses is making the rounds on twitter again, so I thought I’d update the charts.
Transportation Expenses by Year Chart

Although the cost of driving in Canada has steadily risen, my transportation costs are flat. I spend $1200 a year split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie

5000+ Bikes

5000+ bikes
The bike counter at Science World is now routinely passing 5000 cyclists each day. This was taken before 10 pm and it was already at 5362. A lot of cyclists cut through the parking lot and miss the counter so the number of cyclists in the area is actually a lot higher.

I wish there were counters like this at other high traffic areas in Vancouver – the Burrard Bridge and along Dunsmuir would be perfect spots. I’d also love to get my hands on the historical data feed for this counter.

End of Blacktop Politics – Peak Car Use in Vancouver


For the past 40 years, the car has been king and BC politicians have been promising shiny, new (and expensive) highways, bridges, and expressways to get elected. It’s been known as ‘blacktop politics‘, and although it never delivered on its promise of congestion-free commuting, it has never been a losing strategy for politicians.

But that’s beginning to change. There are two transportation visions being floated for the Lower Mainland. Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberal government think expanded highways are the future. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and city council think expanded public transit, encouraging people to walk and cycle, and discouraging car use is a better plan.

It’s a big shift, but there are reasons to think the era of the car is coming to an end. Car use has peaked in many western countries, driven by high gas prices and young people who would rather spend their commute on a bus with their cellphone then behind the wheel of a car in traffic. In Downtown Vancouver, current traffic volumes are the same as they were in 1965!

The Sightline Institute has been documenting peak car use in the Pacific Northwest with a series of posts entitled Dude, Where Are My Cars? The most recent post shows that traffic on the Port Mann Bridge peaked in 2005, and yet the Liberals spent $3.3 billion building the widest bridge in the world (10 lanes, 65 meters) to replace it. Now, Premier Christy Clark is promising to expand the Massey Tunnel, which saw volumes peak in 2004. (Data from Ministry of Transportation – missing two years from 2000-2001).

Vancouver (and the region) has a growing population, and people are still commuting and traveling, they’re just using public transit and cycling instead of a car. Transit use is at an all-time high, and there’s a huge latent demand for new rapid transit projects. The Canada Line is years ahead of its ridership projections, averaging 110,000 passengers a day. Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver, and 4.1% of all trips are now done on a bike (1.9% in Greater Vancouver).

Politicians need to realize that our transportation future is not in wider bridges or bigger tunnels, but in more trains and bike lanes. There is a world-wide shift occurring away from the car. In Italy, last year more bikes were sold than cars for the first time since World War 2. In Australia, vehicle use is at the same level as 1992 and people are questioning the governments spending on highways. It’s time we start building for the future.

Destination Bike – Vancouver’s Olympic Village

Recombinant Bike
The Olympic Village has become a real destination for cyclists and pedestrians enjoying the seawall. On a sunny day like today, the area is overrun with bikes. Some of the cyclists are just passing by, but a lot of them are stopping to eat at Terra Breads, take a picture with the giant birds, and have a pint at the Tap & Barrel. I love the energy and life it’s bringing to the neighbourhood.

Tap & Barrel Bike Parking

The city has installed several new bike racks, but there still isn’t enough capacity. A large temporary bike rack in front of Tap & Barrel is rammed most evenings and weekends.
Temporary Bike Parking

The bike racks in front of Terra Breads and London Drugs are also full.
Terra Breads Bike Parking Olympic Vilage Bike Parking

Almost every street sign and has a pair of bikes locked to it.
Parking on any Pole 1 Parking on any Pole 2
Parking on any Pole 3 Parking on any Pole 4 Parking on any Pole 5

And cyclists have been finding creative solutions to the lack of bike parking.
Creative Bike Parking

I, for one, welcome the invading cyclists and the new transportation future they represent. It’s much nicer having your neighbourhood overrun with bikes than noisy cars.

Living Car-Free Saves Me $7000 per Year

Modo Car with a Bike Rack
When I moved to Vancouver six years ago, I made two crucial decisions that have saved me thousands of dollars – I bought a bike and joined the car co-op.

Being a data nerd, I’ve kept detailed records of all my spending for the past decade (first in a spreadsheet, then in Quicken, and now in mint.com). I went back through my records to see how much I’ve spent on transportation since moving to Vancouver. In six years, I’ve spent nearly nearly $8000 getting around by bike, public transit, taxi, car sharing, and car rentals. That’s less than what most people spend on their car in 1 year.

Note: Updated charts with 2013 data are available here

According to CAA, the annual cost of owning a car (driven for 12,000 km per year) ranges from $7,723.72 for a Civic to $10,465.12 for an Equinox. When you don’t drive much, 80% of the cost of car ownership is fixed costs (insurance, license and registration, loan payments, and depreciation). Only 20% is proportional to the distance driven (gas and maintenance). CAA doesn’t include the cost of parking, which can be quite expensive in Vancouver. In my building, it costs $100/month for a parking spot.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie
My expenses have averaged $1257 per year since I moved to Vancouver, almost equally split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit (including taxis).

Transportation Expenses by Year Chart
Cycling is my main form of transportation, and most years it costs less than $200 to service my bike (new parts and maintenance). I purchased a bike in 2006 and 2009, spending an extra $500 (my commuter bike isn’t that expensive).

Bike LineupNormally, I don’t use the bus that often (it’s faster to bike), but in 2008 and 2009 I was working in West Vancouver and commuted a lot by bus (2 zones), which explains the higher public transit costs those years. Otherwise, I spend less than $200 per year on bus tickets and cab rides.

Living in Vancouver, the times I need a vehicle are rare. When I’m buying furniture or playing in the North Shore mountains, I often use a car sharing vehicle from Modo. In the past year, I’ve started using car2go for short trips when public transit and biking are inconvenient. For traveling around BC, I often rent a vehicle from Enterprise. car2go VancouverThe cost of each car trip is high (a car rental for a long weekend is between $100-$200, plus gas), but I only rent a car once or twice a year. My car sharing trips with Modo average $30 (including gas). Even though I only drive a few times a year, the cost of renting a vehicles and using car sharing accounts for more than 50% of my “car-free” transportation budget. But I appreciate the flexibility I have to get a car when I need one, and it is still way cheaper than owning a dedicated vehicle.

Now, it can be argued that living close to downtown Vancouver, where a car-free lifestyle is easy, is costing me more for rent. Which is true, but it’s an easy tradeoff to make for a healthy lifestyle. I’m willing to spend my transportation savings on more expensive rent so that I can replace hours stuck in my car with minutes on a bike and pleasant walks to the grocery store any day.