Made in China buses: Is the fearmongering necessary?

Made in China buses: Is the fearmongering necessary?

If you live in greater Victoria, you must be aware that BC Transit and CAW Local 333 are negotiating a new contract. Like a number of contracts negotiated in this time of fake austerity,  the negotiation is contentious because there are actual mandates from the government that salaries cannot increase unless “savings” are found elsewhere. I am not privy to how these negotiations are going, so no second guessing here on strategy or tactics. I hope things get settled, because I travel more than a thousand kilometres by bus every month and driving to work is not what I want to do, neither is crossing a picket line.

All that being said,  this new tack is disturbing.

Williams said B.C. Transit “wants the unrestricted right to bring in Chinese-built” community shuttle buses with lower safety standards, which could be piloted by part-time drivers “at a significantly lower wage rate than conventional bus drivers.”“B.C. Transit literally had to go to China and get these buses designed and built there to get around higher safety requirements,” Williams said in the release.

via Victoria bus drivers set for overtime work ban starting Monday, union says

Yes, China bashing is a quick way to gain sympathy. and happening quite a bit this month because the Chinese and Canadian governments are negotiating a secret trade agreement (Leadnow campaign link) that gives corporations of both countries all kinds of rights and privileges that we could only dream of getting for ourselves.

Is there any evidence that Chinese made buses are unsafe, especially when they need to conform to Canadian safety standards? Is there any evidence that these standards are being gamed? These are different questions from “are these buses suitable”? “Are the lifecycle costs for these buses being understated”? I wish CAW Local 333 would take the time to frame this issue more accurately, because this issue is not about China, it is about us.

Lost in all this China bashing and a cynical attempt to appeal to our “other” phobia is the obvious conclusion that it’s not the “made in China” aspect of manufacturing that makes a product less durable or of poorer quality, it is the insistence of markets to lower standards on the products to cut short-term costs or to increase profits. China, like many other countries, probably more than Canada, manufactures large quantities of high quality products routinely. It’s not China’s fault that your crappy London Drugs coffee grinder can’t actually grind coffee and breaks when your cat sneezes near it. It’s the fault of the companies that sell you stuff, and our own inability to balance short-term price vs. long term cost. It is also the oppressiveness of the Chinese government combined with consumers need for cheap, and market profit needs that exacts a high price on the Chinese makers of the high quality IPhone.

So, ask hard questions about the suitability of the buses, and question the market mechanisms that brought us here. Unions are a very necessary buffer against market excess and corporate control. But do we have to use “made in China” as a cudgel again? As my friend says,

Made in China has become a short form for criticisms of the market, which are credible. But the problem is that it slips in the othering too


A Bus Corridor for Douglas Street?

A Bus Corridor for Douglas Street?

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission has set a one-year deadline to have rush-hour, bus-only lanes up and down Douglas Street.

B.C. Transit’s long-range plans call for a $1-billion Light Rapid Transit line between downtown Victoria and Langford in the West Shore. Fortin said bus-only corridors might help forestall the need for that work.

“If it solves our problem by putting some paint on the ground in this dedicated lane, then perfect,” Fortin said. “If it delays our need to invest in Light Rapid Transit for another 10 or 15 years, that’s good, too.”

Interesting and promising. Let’s hope the provincial government in its election year avoidance of all things important can come through with the right of ways required. Also interesting that Dean Fortin explicitly mentions that the success of these bus lanes, a Bus Rapid Transit Lite, could postpone, or even forestall the Light Rail Transit plans. Given the  reluctance of North American governments to invest in any infrastructure other than defence (or roofs for football stadiums), finding $1.1B for LRT in addition to building a sewage treatment plant was going to be difficult.

Let’s see how this develops.

PS: I am tired of posting stuff to facebook where I can’t find it 6 months later. So, quick hits to the blog it is for the foreseeable future (1 day-6 months).


Transfer cheats or transfer windows? BC Transit and transfers

Transfer cheats or transfer windows? BC Transit and transfers

The BC Transit CEO is claiming that an additional $600,000 is being seen in revenue without increasing ridership due to a crackdown on “cheating”

“It’s pretty amazing — the level of fare evasion that was going on out there,” said Manuel Achadinha, president and chief executive of B.C. Transit.

Pretty incendiary. BC Transit’s financials from the September 13th Victoria Regional Transit Commission meeting reveal a small increase in ridership, and an increase in revenue (over plan) from passengers and advertising of $685K, YTD.

When BC Transit in Victoria changed its transfer system recently, it did three things:

  1. Reduced its transfer window from 90 to 60 minutes, a 33% reduction. Now, I don’t know how much this is being enforced. I use a monthly pass, but anecdotal observation of bus transfer lengths indicates that it is enforced with varying levels of strictness (people watching is fun on the bus!).
  2. Made transfers one way, so people running short errands can no longer use a transfer on the return.
  3. Did away with the “letter of the day” system, and prevented people from banking transfers from previous days and times.

Now, the only cheats are the ones who gamed the letter of the day, not the ones who were using the transfer for short errands, who now pay double what they paid, or those stopping en-route to home and running a small errand in their 90 minute time window, now 60 minutes.

It’s obviously easy to parade cases of cheating, creating beautiful anecdata.

“I actually had a guy who had a glass case who had everything [all the transfers] alphabetical”

Right, the power of ONE! While a numerical estimate of $200,000 was provided for the cheating, it’s hard to tell what this was based on. It is disturbing that the Times Colonist didn’t bother questioning BC Transit on the methodology used, or the provenance of the numbers. It seems as likely to me that a shortening of the transfer window, and banning two way travel with a transfer could have increased the revenue per passenger from $1.47 to $1.52, a 3.4% increase. But that goes against BC Transit’s story.

I am sympathetic of BC Transit’s need to raise more revenue without bothering the car driving and property owning public with property tax increases. As a monthly pass buyer and property tax payer, I contribute in many ways! I suspect they noticed the reuse of transfers and saw it as an opportunity to raise revenue by tacking on unrelated transfer restrictions. We should be exploring more mobility tied solutions such as linking the carbon tax with transit funding, as these University of Victoria students are advocating. This is on the head of BC’s provincial government, which believes more in the optics of having a carbon tax in place and wowing environmentalists worldwide, rather than designing a system that works well.  Car drivers, think of it as paying a modest (really modest) toll to get people off the road so you can drive in peace! I would do it!

Photo courtesy Stephen Rees Flickr Photostream used under a Creative Commons Licence. Do read his blog as well, he always has insight to add to BC’s transit options.