My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

The July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns have probably perplexed a lot of people. In the past week, a lot of us bore witness to a level of chaos that I think had yet to be seen on the SkyTrain system in 28 years of operation.

We enjoy our SkyTrain service so much that I think that we have developed a collective expectation that things will always work out the way they’re supposed to.

Here are some of the responses I spotted on Twitter regarding the breakdown:

http://twitter.com/SantiHenderson/status/489950692669267969

http://twitter.com/BaD_KiTTy_MeLz/statuses/489943859783168001

http://twitter.com/CTVVancouver/statuses/489943945120874496

You can clearly see that there’s a lot of frustration; there’s a record of the incovenience. There’s an aura of madness that goes up in the air, as no one wants to be made late.

http://twitter.com/Charlesvancity/statuses/491315698174414848

We’re tempted to question the SkyTrain system. Bus drivers’ union leader Nathan Wood – who, on CKNW, raised an issue that Light Rail systems have outnumbered SkyTrain-type systems in terms of construction around the world, is just a bit concerned that our main rapid transit backbone can have trouble fostering a busy transit network. While his numbers on the amount of SkyTrain systems in existence are slightly off of the actual amount, I can see why people would want to raise those questions after a series of unique, 5-hour closures.

How much service was actually disrupted?

Reliability chart - SkyTrain vs other systems
Reliability chart – SkyTrain vs other systems. CLICK TO ENLARGE

You might have already seen this graphic, actually. I was wanted for a guest post on the Vancity Buzz, and had just finished creating this chart when the second consecutive major SkyTrain issue hit commuters Monday mid-day for what was unfortunately the second time in under 7 days.

SEE ALSO: Vancouverites are spoiled with SkyTrain – Vancity Buzz guest post by Daryl

Usually SkyTrain is operating for 20 hours daily – and while it’s absolutely unfortunate that the recent issues that plagued SkyTrain commuters hit during busier times of day,  a 5.5 hour meltdown constitutes just over 25% of that service – meaning service was fine for the rest of the day. This is a far better record than what was achieved during the Portland transit meltdown of 3 weeks ago, where more than 60% of service fpr the day was not on time.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a 132 hour work-week for the SkyTrain. 5.5 hours represents approximately 4% of service provided for the week, and well under 1% of service provided for the entire year. We had this twice in one week – meaning 11 hours of service were not operated on time – but that still represents less than 0.2% of all service provided throughout the year.

SEE ALSO: Reality Check – Why is SkyTrain breaking down so frequently? – Vancity Buzz

For the rest of the year, SkyTrain is operating normally – 99.4% of service is provided, with a 94.7% on-time performance rate. SkyTrain lets us down sometimes, but this isn’t actually happening a lot of the time. We enjoy reliable, rapid service that gets us where we need to go.

On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.
On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.

What should we do about this

There’s no question that issues and system shutdowns like this can be inevitable – so is there something that we can do about it? I think that there absolutely is – and looking at these issues, it seems that there’s a lot we can learn from this. For example – a lot of the time SkyTrain will fail, it impacts all riders because many bus lines connect to SkyTrain stations. A strategy to minimize delays during system shutdowns could involve the redirection or extension of bus routes to key areas to serve riders where they already are.

Normally, the best transit agencies can do when this happens is implement a shuttle bus bridge to repace the rapid transit service. This was the same procedure in Toronto and Portland, as pointed out above. The bus bridges are released as demand allows, but there’s no specific protocol that is followed in the event of a failure – meaning it can take some time before the bus bridges actually start, with passengers delayed until then.

PHOTO: Shuttle buses line up to board passengers at Metrotown
No one llikes to deal with slower shuttle buses replacing SkyTrain service!

But, it’s important to be prepared.

So, here’s an important disclaimer: I was lucky enough to not be there for both of these recent SkyTrain disruptions.

But, before you lambast me with comments of “you don’t know what we face!” or “try being on a train when it happened”, I would like to comment that I have seen my share of SkyTrain delays and disruptions before.

Prominent was the one that hit our system in April 2013, when a power rail issue in New Westminster halted trains on the system for close to an hour and required the deployment of shuttle bus bridges. I was on the problem train, and remember what it felt like as my train was passing the problem area and the electricity was suddenly cut. I remember how staff restarted the train and tried to move it past the area again, only for it to once again come to a grinding halt. I was heading from Surrey to the last showing of the theatre play at Windermere Secondary School, to see the performance and meet some friends in a yearly event that I consider to be something of a tradition. With the level of delays, I was unfortunately not able to make it to Windermere until the play ended.

It’s important to remember that transit isn’t the only form of transportation that isn’t always reliable. Accidents on key arterials or bridges can disrupt the flow of traffic in the region, especially when there are two or more bridges blocked at the same time. As a driver, you might know an alternate route that might be slower but will get you there with less congestion and less time waste. I think the same needs to be true for riders of transit.

Sometimes, there’s just no way to make it on time. Regardless, I still think it’s important to be somewhat prepared for when there are issues – and handle ourselves calmly and responsibly in times of crisis.

Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz
Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz

There’s an important message that can be had from the recent issues, one of which is a need for all of us to step back and realize that every possible way to get around has some sort of volatility. Even as we walk, we risk tripping on something that can temporarily impair our most basic ability to get around. The reality is, no matter how we choose to get around, we may run into issues. And, with the amount of money we sink into our demand to get around, it’s understandable why there’s such a high level of frustration when a transportation service you must rely on does not work out – not just on the SkyTrain but everywhere else.

Think about it. It’s true, right? So much of the money we earn goes towards the basic function of getting around. Transportation defines the way all of us live – so much that I think we don’t realize that it costs a lot of money to get around in this society. We take our transportation for granted – and for the younger ones, who may have benefited from the subsidized and discounted U-PASS, it’s especially not easy to realize this. However, this is the reality of the life we live. An average suburban household might spend more than 60% of income on the house and car – dealing with gas prices at all-time highs and ownership costs.

But where do I start?

It all starts with looking at where you live and where you might be going, and looking at your alternatives well in advance. For example: what are the bus routes near your house, and where can they take you. Which routes are your best options (accounting for frequency, speed, etc.) Or, if you live in Surrey and you tend to need to get across the Fraser River a lot, how much money can you set aside in case you need to pay for a cab to get across? If you vaule your money, what are the alternate bus routes to get you around once you do get across? (for example: the 123 from New West Station goes to Brentwood, or the 100 22nd St Station goes to South Vancouver).

As a society, we have to be anticipative of issues and have the knowledge to deal with it in real time – because often, transit authorities have limited resources and can’t always do that.

Appendix

Anyway, to conclude this, I’ve seen the comments to the Vancity Buzz post on Facebook, etc. and some of you asked for the sources for my on-time performance numbers – which I have listed below.

I know it’s questionable given I have omitted certain systems, so to clarify – if there’s a system I omitted, it may be because of the difficulty in actually finding the numbers (the internet, in a limited time frame, can only get you so far!) or due to measurement standards that weren’t too comparable (I was looking at adding some Light Rail systems in New Jersey to the list, but NJ Transit’s stats measure with poor standards that consider runs on-time even if they are 6 minutes early or late, so I chose to omit). Listed below:

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Toronto rapid transit review recommends SkyTrain expansion over LRT

Toronto rapid transit review recommends SkyTrain expansion over LRT
Scarborough RT
A Scarborough RT train in Toronto boards passengers. The Scarborough RT uses the same propulsion technology as Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, using a fleet of Mark I cars.

Looks like my calls are being echoed in the City of Toronto. Someone out there is seriously listening to me, for I had previously proposed the very idea this think tank is proposing through Better Surrey Rapid Transit (SkyTrain for Surrey), in an attempt to communicate to people that SkyTrain expansion can make sense.

I have been pushing for quite some years now for a SkyTrain expansion in my home city (Surrey) over the current Light Rail expansion plan on account of SkyTrain making a lot more sense (most of you reading probably know this of me). As part of that, I went ahead and applied some of my thinking onto Toronto’s transit proposals in a special article I wrote regarding the under-construction Eglinton Crosstown Line. I published that write-up more than 1.5 years ago, in March 2012.

The use of [SkyTrain technology] would provide the same cost savings that moving a portion of the LRT at-grade would and more, despite a need for complete grade separation.  It would provide faster, more reliable service and be more flexible in capacity expansion, and also remove the travel time penalty associated with at-grade LRT.
[READ MORE – “The Compromise is SkyTrain – Toronto should be pursuing this technology and not LRT on Eglinton” on SkyTrain for Surrey]

I supposed that using linear motor-propulsion “ALRT” (also known by some critics here as “SkyTrain technology”) would cut down on the Eglinton Crosstown Line’s tunnel size and tunneling costs (the LRT is being built with a 6.5m diameter tunnel, whereas SkyTrain technology requires just a 5.3m diameter tunnel), saving billions and billions of dollars, and opening up the room for grade-separating the rest of the line and providing better service throughout, increasing ridership numbers and improving the business case. The Crosstown Line is currently being built for at-grade LRT technology, assuming that further expansions would be at-grade.

A map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in contrast to Toronto's current rapid transit system
A map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in contrast to Toronto’s current rapid transit system

The Neptis Foundation yesterday submitted a very bold critique of the Metrolinx “Big Move” plan that seems to agree with a lot of my previous propositions. The 144-page study recommends a different Toronto rapid transit plan than the one being recommended by Metrolinx. It thinks in the same way I have thought, in that leveraging the Scarborough RT’s ALRT/SkyTrain technology and extending it would make more financial and practical sense than the current proposal to build LRT.

Business case of LRT proposals vs. study's SkyTrain proposal [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Neither Metrolinx nor TTC seems to have given serious consideration to development of Scarborough and Eglinton Crosstown lines using ALRT or similar “light metro” technology. This technology has been applied very successfully in more than 20 cities around the world. 89 Some architects and urban designers prefer surface LRT, because it is less visually intrusive, and can run in mixed traffic and pedestrian environments, albeit at much lower speeds. But faster services on exclusive rights-of-way are far more effective, and efficient, at getting motorists to switch to transit.
The Toronto LRT schemes could be greatly improved by building them with fully exclusive rights of way, perhaps automated ALRT or similar technology. Ridership would be much higher, as would the benefits to the region. And the costs could actually be less.
[READ THE FULL REPORT – CLICK HERE]

The author, a UK-based railway consultant, is calling for the full package: a switch of the Eglinton LRT line to a SkyTrain-technology ALRT line with driverless train automation, grade-separation of the full line (including Phase II) to offer faster journeys, and shorter station platforms (appropriate given higher train frequency). He cites that such a setup would generate more than twice the benefits and cost half as much per new daily transit rider. This is based largely on the basis that as a faster SkyTrain-type line it could provide better service and attract more ridership, which is very sound. It isn’t rocket science: when compared against light rail transit systems throughout North America, our 68km SkyTrain system here in Metro Vancouver is outperforming all of them in ridership numbers. There is value in better rapid transit service.

Here is one excellent question I would like to highlight: the study questions a proposal to refurbish the existing Scarborough RT line (a 1980s-era SkyTrain technology line traversing eastern Toronto), noting that the costs to refurbish the RT line to use LRT technology are higher per kilometre than the from-scratch SkyTrain construction costs for the Evergreen Line in Vancouver:

At $1.8 billion for 10 km, the Scarborough LRT line would be considerably more expensive than the Sheppard Line, 68 or about $180 million per km. About half the cost is for conversion of the existing 6.5-km RT to accommodate low-floor LRT cars, with overhead power collection. This involves substantial reconstruction of six intermediate stations, and complete reconstruction of Kennedy Station to provide a larger underground loop, and track connection with the Eglinton LRT so TTC can exchange cars for maintenance purposes (but not for through-running with passengers). The balance is for construction of 4 km of new line, mostly elevated, from McCowan to Sheppard Avenue.
Note that at $180 million per km, the cost per km for the Scarborough RT is about 30% higher than the cost of the Evergreen Line, a fully grade-separated ALRT line in Vancouver, even though the Scarborough line uses mostly existing infrastructure, and otherwise operates through a broadly similar corridor.
Concept: Douglas-Lafarge Lake SkyTrain Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain
Concept: Douglas-Lafarge Lake Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain

The study recommends building on SkyTrain technology on account of finding that the LRT proposals in Transit City and following plans had low (or negative) benefit:cost ratios, in exactly the same manner as I am recommending SkyTrain technology in Surrey based on a negative benefit:cost ratio for LRT – and does a great job at making a case for it, addressing issues raised with capacity and size of rolling stock, among other things.

The author officially proposes the “Scarborough Wye” concept, for 3 rapid transit lines using SkyTrain technology: the existing Scarborough RT with renewed infrastructure, its extension to Malvern Centre, and a new line from Scarborough Centre to North York via an elevated right-of-way in the centre of the 401 Freeway and down the existing Sheppard Subway tunnels. He makes the case that the whole concept could be built for an outstandingly low cost per new transit rider and a high benefit-cost ratio – better than any of the LRT proposals that have gone through thus far.

Scarborough Wye proposal from Toronto transit plan critique; CLICK TO ENLARGE
Scarborough Wye proposal from Toronto transit plan critique; CLICK TO ENLARGE

We can only wonder if the common sense overflowing from this study could possibly prevail in the upcoming decisions at TTC and Metrolinx, and I hope something moves forward because it does look like SkyTrain technology is the solution for providing a lot of high quality transit. I think it would send a good message across Canada and to Metro Vancouver’s decision-makers and planning authorities as well.

More on Michael Schabas, the study author

Michael Schabas is a UK-based railway consultant who has been involved in launching several new railway projects and businesses.

With a background in urban rail projects in the Canada and the United States, he came to London in 1988 as Vice President for Transport for Olympia & York (O&Y), who were developing the Canary Wharf project in London Docklands. He led O&Y’s involvement in planning and promotion of the Jubilee Line Extension, and also instigated the re-signalling and re-engineering of the Docklands Light Railway.

Between 1981-1986, he worked for the UTDC (Urban Transportation Development Corporation) and was involved in the early development of the automated rapid transit technology used in Vancouver’s SkyTrain system.

Source: Wikipedia; Also see: his website

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

The iPhone 5C is not a "budget" iPhone.

The iPhone 5C is not a "budget" iPhone.
Worldwide Marketing Senior Vice President Phil Schiller stands in front of iPhone 5Cs at the recent Apple unveiling event; Photo: CC BY-SA Globovisión
Worldwide Marketing Senior Vice President Phil Schiller stands in front of iPhone 5Cs at the recent Apple unveiling event; Photo: CC BY-SA Globovisión

The new iPhone 5C is not a budget iPhone.

It’s a smart move by Apple of keeping their profit margins higher, as it costs less for them to produce a 5C and offer it at the last-gen price, than to lower the original iPhone 5’s price to a last-gen price.

With an unlocked minimum cost of $550 in the United Staes, at least one India news source is complaining [LINK HERE] that this is not an affordable smartphone for emerging markets. It is far from that. EDIT: Tech blog Engadget [LINK HERE] has also brought light to this.

By comparison, the new and high-end Moto X smartphone by Motorola – which is, unlike the Chinese-manufactured iPhone 5C (which is already the subject of at least one labour scandal [LINK HERE]) is completely built in the U.S.A. with the most ethical practices, costs $575 unlocked – just $25 more. Motorola is preparing an even lower-cost Moto X that will completely undercut the iPhone 5C despite more ethical manufacturing.

Here’s a graphic from Engadget:

iPhone 5C vs. Motorola Moto X - from Engadget
iPhone 5C vs. Motorola Moto X – from Engadget

And, thus, by concept the iPhone 5C we have come to expect is a massive failure.

It’s just another attempt by the world’s greediest and most irresponsible corporation to fool people (by way of marketing) into giving them lots of money, through exceptionally high profit margins, that they will stow away and rarely if ever use.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

It’s been more than one year now since that day when we stood there protesting Bill 22, outside and in the rain and snow, probably close to some 20000 strong students all belonging to a generation that researchers of this society have labelled with the letter “Y”.

We weren’t just a random group of high school kids who wanted to skip school just to take the opportunity to join a bunch of other people doing it. Granted, there were probably some of us who were out of school for that purpose, but in spite of that, there were a lot of us had real concerns about our education – and we showed it in rallies and protests that, for that one day, attracted attention across the province. We were everywhere. The average joe who kept up would have seen us in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Penticton, Squamish….. and even in a small town somewhere north of Prince George.

And then, after that, we had to go back to school.

The reality of being young and needy in British Columbia

It’s hard enough for a young person in BC to show their concerns about their society and their environment; the majority of us, under 18, don’t have a vote in any elections. However, facing school and pressures that take up our daily lives, we really don’t have the time to commit to involvement in protecting our own futures and prosperity. Less yet do we have time to be skipping school and making a big show of it like we did that one time on March 2nd, just to show people that we’re concerned about what’s going on. We don’t have time to launch mega-massive protests like the ones Montreal students did at about the same time over rising tuition fees.

Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012
Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012

So, what we don’t have an ability to do in this society is properly represent ourselves. We rely on the 85 important and older people who go to Victoria with the hope that they will make decisions that do accomodate us, and steer us towards the prosperity that other generations of past got so that they could become great and successful people, in much the same way we want to be. We have to rely on you, and we can’t rely on ourselves – and that, I believe, is becoming one of the most critical mistakes in modern-day politics in every democratically-run sovereignty.

In May 2012, a few months after the March student walkout and after months of job action, teachers across the province were forced to give up. They accepted a horrible legislation that was called Bill 22, a legislation that has brought to B.C. the worst student-educator ratio in Canada and the associated effects to students and to our society in the indirect ways.

Our say, in addition to their say, just simply wasn’t enough.

Young vs old in BC polls

Yesterday, when thousands of British Columbians took to the polls to get in their vote in the 2013 elections, elementary and high school students across the province participated in Student Vote: a parallel election program coinciding with the British Columbia provincial election. They elected a majority NDP government. But, when the actual elections came, they were then out-voted by the rest of the population.

When British Columbians in a surprise flip elected back the same government that brought us the horrid Bill 22, young people under 18 in British Columbia didn’t have a say in it at all.

We won’t have a say in facing another 4 years of the B.C. Liberal government that has brought us inferior education compared to other provinces in Canada (including the worst student-educator ratio in the country). We won’t have a say in the cutbacks in skills training programs that will affect us as we graduate from high school and look for these programs to get us the skills we will need to start benefiting from (and contributing to) the economy in the future. We won’t have a say in any of this.

On top of that, we also have to face the fact that well over 70% of people in this province simply didn’t think about us when they made their vote. That 70% being: the 52% of people who didn’t show up to the polls at all (only 48% of voters voted in the May 2013 provincial election, a record low), in addition to the voters around the province who brought back the party that has largely governed without our interests in mind for the past 12 years.

There is a growing disconnect between the young population of British Columbia and everyone else.

I think that, starting today and proceeding as more and more of the issues young people face in their society get worse and worse as little is done to effectively solve them, young people in this province are going to lose hope in our modern system of democracy. They’re going to lose hope in their ability to be accommodated in a society that really doesn’t care about young people, has given them a much more difficult situation than was faced years ago by the generations that are now voting their concerns out, and doesn’t have a way to allow them to properly represent themselves in modern politics. (see video above, titled “What Is Generation Squeeze?“)

They’re going to start favouring something much more convoluted and scary in nature: something else.

In my view, this will create a tendency in British Columbians’ generation Y and (as they grow) generation Z: a tendency for us to be generally dissatisfied, unhappy, rebellious, and perhaps violently rebellious in our futures, as a result of the inconveniences we faced as a result of an incompetent government surrounding us at our young age. It will have dire consequences on the stability, economy and strength of this entire province.

That, I believe, is going to become this province’s single biggest future issue.

That, or the fact that based on the elections results there are probably few – if any – educated people in British Columbia who will ever take my concerns about the growing disconnect between young people and their society seriously.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

Response to StreetFilms: Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

The video above is certainly right that the car-orientation of our society is among the biggest drivers (no pun intended there) in kids’ changing commute patterns. I’m a bit of an urbanist, and I can say that I’m certainly not a fan of how so many communities in this world are being oriented towards the car, as opposed to kids and people.

However, to an extent I disagree with this video in the claim that children have “lost the freedom to roam” solely because of a car-oriented culture, and car-oriented communities. The comments in the video seem to imply that children have lost their freedom to roam simply because of that, or alternatively because their parents do not allow them to walk or bike.

Kids are not unlike adults: they are free actors in a free society (tips hat to Jarrett Walker), and they have the right to choose what seems best for them (with the assistance of parents). There may be reasons that children are actually choosing to be driven to school in the morning out of lack of choice, not because the society around them is car-oriented. There may also be reasons that parents are choosing schools further away from home for their children.

I happen to know that both are happening in my community. And, it’s not because of any specific development and land-use orientation towards the car.

The effects of school schedules and overcrowded school buildings

At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt an awkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks). I’ve noted this before in my newsletters several times as one of the problems of lack of education funding in not just this city, but also this province (B.C. has the worst student-to-educator ratio in Canada 16.8:1, vs. a national 13.8:1 average – from the BCTF and Statistics Canada)

North Surrey Secondary's 5 block schedule
North Surrey Secondary’s 5 block schedule

I have one friend who goes to North Surrey Secondary, and lives just under 1 mile away, and is driven to school. In her case in particular, in the morning, she asks (and has arranged) to be driven to her school with her brother. But, in the afternoon, they have no problem making the 20 minute walk back to their home.

As with 11th and 12th grade students, as a result of the awkward 5-block schedule the school has been forced to adopt, her and her brother are expected to be at school and in class by 7:55AM – 45 minutes earlier than is expected at most other high schools in the city. That already means, in spite of being driven, waking up very early in the morning to go through preparation.

Transit options aren’t much better; the 335 bus route runs only every 20 minutes in the morning, meaning a missed bus means being late to class, and a trip that would take longer than simply walking. However, even if the buses ran frequently enough to be reliable, relying on transit would add an additional monthly cost of $104 ($52 per student) – not exactly an encouraging prospect for many parents who have cars for their own purposes, and who might not pay much to drive their kids to school in the morning (and possibly from in the afternoon) – especially if it happens on the way to work.

Some people have the luck of parents who will wake up earlier and cook in the morning to prepare food and other daily necessities. But, other students might be like how you see Umi-chan in the opening scenes of STUDIO GHIBLI’s From Up on Poppy Hill. These students, girls or guys, might have to cook for themselves, in addition to cleaning up and doing other errands in the morning to start the day. These errands can take a long time.

This reality seems to reflect itself in many online polls of students. In this poll on Discovery Girls [LINK] (you need to answer in order to see the results), 57% of respondants take 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning. This second poll on Smart Girls [LINK] has similar results: 30% of girls take at least an hour to get ready in the morning. 63% take 30 minutes or longer.

Image of the poll on smart girls. 63% of respondents require 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning.
Image of the poll on smart girls. 63% of respondents require 30 minutes or longer to get ready in the morning.
For the people who take over an hour, they may have to wake up as early as 6:20-6:30 in the morning in order to meet the 7:55AM schedule, considering the time of commute.

It’s been studied that adolescents naturally tend to be “night owls” – they prefer to be awake in the later night hours and awaken later in the day. This is because of hormones, and it happens with every teenager. Early wake-up schedules simply do not sit in well with teenagers.

This is why, in my belief, a lot of them will value those extra 20-30 minutes in the morning they can sleep in addition to being in the comfort of a car in the morning on the way to school – sheltered from rain, storm, wind, and other potential sources of discomfort.

The effects of student-educator ratio

Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a rally on March 2, 2012
Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a rally on March 2, 2012 [CLICK HERE to learn more about this]
The other issue in my community that I pointed out earlier is student-educator ratio. Here in British Columbia, we have the worst in the country. We are far above the national average. That is a factor that can make parents here very concerned about the education their students receive.

Why? Higher student-educator ratios have impacts on the education students receive. Lower student-educator ratios mean better education.

As I mentioned earlier, people are free actors in a free society. They are free to make the decisions they want in order to get the best. Parents are free to choose to send their children to a different school that may offer a lower student-educator ratio or an otherwise statistically better education, even if it’s further from home and, perhaps, driving to school is required. This, I believe, is one of the big contributors to why many students are being driven to school.

I know several students who have been moved to different high schools by their parents in order to obtain a better education. These actions do have results. One of those people I know, in particular, helped start the Can You Contain It! Campaign with Metro Vancouver. She’s a very active environmentalist and lifestyle change activist, with a very big record of community involvement through selfless acts of service.

A solution?

In my view, the solution to both of the problems is simply to ensure that children have a better education and a good learning environment – we must make sure that there are enough teachers for students so that they can get a better education closer to home, and big enough school buildings so that no schools have to adopt awkward schedules that force students to come very early.

—————————————————————————————

Encouraging active commutes to school

That still leaves the issue: What can we do about schools in car-oriented communities? I do believe that car-orientation plays some part in why students are driven to school, but I also believe that the solution isn’t difficult.

I believe that encouraging students to cycle (and parents to allow their kids to) is the solution to the problem, as is ensuring there is bike-friendly infrastructure (although in car-oriented communities, lower traffic volume on low-density residential streets can actually permit very safe cycling even without dedicated bike infrastructure like bike lanes). Cycling is something I took on for commuting in my final years of high school, and in my view it often provides a perfect balance between an active commute and a reasonable travel time to school in the morning.

How to encourage cycling? Not difficult. Urban and suburban areas should adopt programs like TransLink’s Travel Smart (a program by our metropolitan transit agency that encourages people to commute sustainably) and introduce them to schools. I know for one that Travel Smart has had much success in encouraging active commuting to schools in my city through incentives.

A group of kids cycling in Japan
A group of kids cycling in Japan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons – C.K. Tse

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

"Samsung School" program in Port Coquitlam paves way for affordable, effective technology in classrooms

"Samsung School" program in Port Coquitlam paves way for affordable, effective technology in classrooms
Port Coquitlam, B.C.'s Riverside Secondary School is the first Samsung School classroom in Canada. The classroom of the future, Samsung School is a complete digital education package that seamlessly connects Samsung software and hardware. Students are joined by Samsung Canada's executives HT Kim (President and CEO) and Philippe Lozier (Director of Business Solutions) as well as Port Coquitlam dignitaries. (CNW Group/Samsung Electronics Canada Inc.)
Port Coquitlam, B.C.’s Riverside Secondary School is the first Samsung School classroom in Canada. The classroom of the future, Samsung School is a complete digital education package that seamlessly connects Samsung software and hardware. Students are joined by Samsung Canada’s executives HT Kim (President and CEO) and Philippe Lozier (Director of Business Solutions) as well as Port Coquitlam dignitaries. (CNW Group/Samsung Electronics Canada Inc.)

I’ve always been displeased with the uprise of Apple iPads in schools across British Columbia. For their high cost, iPads provide less flexibility than cheaper laptops when typing is a necessity in school projects and provide less features and lower productivity than Android tablets like the Google Nexus 7, Galaxy Note 10.1 and other competitors. High costs in technology means there’s usually less to go around for students than with alternative, less costly options – which can create challenges, especially in an era where many schools face budget shortages and do not come close to being able to afford giving every clasroom technology for every student.

When I heard about this pilot program, it occured to me that the school where this program was put into a place is one where a good friend of mine I used to go to school with now goes to, so I contacted her immediately about it. She told me that while she wasn’t part of the class taking part in this program, she did know about it, and did manage to meet the president of Samsung Canada when he had visited the school.

If I had the same opprtunity to meet the president of Samsung Canada, I would have given him quite a handshake. I couldn’t be happier in knowing that the introduction of a program in a North American schools involving Samsung tablets is happening in my province, and in my metropolitan area. The per-unit cost of a Samsung Galaxy Note is less than an iPad, despite better specifications and better features that are suited to students like the S-Pen for writing and S-Note, Android 4.1 features like Google Now and split-screen multitasking. That means that more units can be purchased by a school for more students, and each unit can do far more than a usual iPad, improving educational output.

The below article on MobileSyrup (link) says that Riverview Secondary is currently the only North American school to be going through this pilot program, but I hope other schools follow suit soon. There is a video in this that contains a lot of positive comments from teachers, students and parents about the program.

http://mobilesyrup.com/2013/04/04/samsung-school-pilot-program-launched-in-bc-students-outfitted-with-31-galaxy-note-10-1-tablets/

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

PSY's new single "GENTLEMAN" re-establishes meaning in mainstream pop music

PSY's new single "GENTLEMAN" re-establishes meaning in mainstream pop music
From the music video for the new PSY single "GENTLEMAN"
From the music video for the new PSY single “GENTLEMAN”

One of the reasons I really enjoyed PSY’s popular summer 2012 single “Gangnam Style” was because of the satricial underlying message about rich people hidden within the creative video and the catchy beat that captured the minds of millions of American music enthusiasts and others, making Gangnam Style’s music video the most viewed video on YouTube.

PSY gave us a catchy, mega-mainstream, play-it-everywhere song that had the impact of “Like a G6” (by Far East Movement) in 2010, but had far more depth than “Like a G6”.

I really hated “Like a G6” (not to say that I hate Far East Movement altogether; I actually really liked their song “Rocketeer”).  It did give society an interesting beat that became replayed in so many demonstrations and events (even child-oriented events, and at schools), but had a shallow meaning in that it was simply about getting drunk/high and promoting that – a topic which is not very meaningful, nor is it supposed to be marketed to such younger audiences.

Like a G6” tarnished my perception of mainstream music in what I thought was an irreversible way; but, last summer, PSY’s Gangnam Style helped save it by showing me that meaning and value still has some precedence in today’s most popular music.

It is the 13th of April, 2013 – and it is time to enter a new single by Korean K-Pop artist PSY. The name is “Gentleman”, and a music video for it (which is sure to rake in views given the established fan-base that was created through Gangnam Style) has been released on YouTube. And, needless to say, I am extremely happy about it. It’s quite like Gangnam Style in that it’s quite a bit more than Like a G6, and is helping to re-establish meaning in mainstream pop music.

In addition to the establishing of new dance moves, catchy beat, and a hilarious and rather sexy (moreso than Gangnam Style, I will have to admit) video, there’s a story, a message and insight in this video. If you don’t understand Korean (a lot of the message is communicated through puns in the lyrics) then it may be less clear, but the video is full of visual cues. It might take more than one watch to find it, so I encourage you to look closely.

HINT: It has to do with KARMA

(If you really can’t figure it out, then you can read about GENTLEMAN’s story and message at [CLICK HERE])

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Apple's history of suing before thinking

Apple's history of suing before thinking
What Apple has done - from Techanalyzer
What Apple has done – from Techanalyzer

Image above: all the suing Apple has done in the past few years, esp. over smartphone companies.

Below: This is from 6 years ago. Apparently, Apple has a history of suing before even researching if it is valid to sue. I find this ironic, as they are the most valuable and one of the most powerful companies in the world and yet, as you can see by all the lawsuits, they hold so much fear.

Apple sues itself in the foot (again)

By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco, 4th May 2006

Apple Computer’s legal policy of shoot first, and ask questions later, has got the company into trouble again.

Apple’s lawyers have gone after the popular humor community site Something Awful for posting a link to one of Apple’s own internal service manuals. The link resolves to a third party website, and was posted in a useful and informed discussion about Apple’s troubled MacBook Pro.

SA’s founder Richard Kyanka received an email from Apple claiming:

“The Service Source manual for the MacBook Pro is Apple’s intellectual property and is protected by US copyright law. Linking to the manual on your website is an infringement of Apple’s copyrights. We therefore must insist that you immediately take all necessary steps to remove the Service Source manual and any other Apple copyrighted material from your site and to prevent further unauthorized use or distribution of Apple intellectual property. “

Six years ago, a US judge in a case brought by Ticketmaster ruled that deep linking does not violate the copyright act.

“I replied to Apple and told them basically to screw off because I’m not doing anything illegal,” wrote Kyanka.

“NOTHING, I repeat, NOTHING is even hosted on SA. All we have is a link going to somebody else’s webspace. I guess Apple has no clue how the internet even works; they should be threatening to sue the ISP hosting the horribly illegal service manual, not some guy who runs a forum where his forum members are TRYING TO HELP people fix issues with their faulty Apple computers.”

The case is likely to bring more attention to MacBook Pro’s recent woes. We should also note that Lenovo, which now owns the IBM ThinkPad business, continues to make identical technical manuals freely available on the internet.

Since the case was settled in the US, the issue has raised its head in several unrelated disputes. Three years ago budget airline Ryanair blocked access to Openjet.com, a flight shopping comparison site, and only in the same year was the issue settled in Germany.

A similar link was posted on Apple’s own Support Forums, and has only just been removed at time of writing. Saving Apple the trouble of suing itself. ®

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Smiling at the demise of Apple computer

Smiling at the demise of Apple computer
Apple R&D spendings
Apple R&D spendings percentage compared to the competition
Some things to know about Apple:
  1. Sits on a $137 billion cash mountain and is hurting the economy by not spending it for any useful purpose, or returning it to investors
  2. Spends only a tiny percentage of its profits on actual research and development, and lags behind competitors in this percentage
  3. Recklessly steals innovative features and designs from others by…
    A. Patenting what is not theirs
    B. Patenting ridiculous things like standards-essential form factors (devices with rounded rectangles) for the purpose of…
  4. large-scale offensive litigation on competing companies
  5. Offers inferior products at higher prices that are often not affordable to a world demanding more affordable technology
  6. Succeeds largely a result of marketing success, not innovative success
  7. Seen as “innovators”, “leaders”, and an “inspiration”.
  8. In reality, hypocrites
So, this recent news article from BBC is making me smile like a devil. May they die in a hole.

Apple brand less ‘inspiring’, survey says – BBC News

Technology giant Apple is perceived as less “inspiring” than it was three years ago, a brand survey suggests.

The findings will heighten concerns among shareholders who have seen about $230bn wiped off Apple’s stock market value since September 2012.

Smartphone rival Samsung is now seen as equally “inspiring” in the US, says the survey by consultancy Added Value (AV).

AV is part of Sir Martin Sorrell’s marketing group WPP, whose clients include Samsung, Google and eBay.

Analysts fear Apple may have lost its way since its visionary co-founder, Steve Jobs, died in October 2011.

While Apple’s brand still scores more highly overall, Samsung’s is more consistently appreciated across the world, particularly in East Asia, says Added Value.

Apple’s reputation for market-leading innovation took a knock after the iPhone 5 was seen as an iteration of an earlier design rather than a characteristic step-change.

According to research by Gartner, Samsung and Apple now account for 52% of the global smartphone market, but in the final quarter of 2012, Samsung sold 64.5 million smartphones to Apple’s 43.5 million.

Similarly, Apple’s iPad Mini was a response to rival, smaller tablet computers already on the market, adding to the impression Apple was following, not leading.

Patent battles

In September 2012, Apple’s share price topped $700 – a record for the company – giving the tech company a market capitalisation of more than $655bn.

But since then, the price has tumbled, wiping about $230bn off the company’s value.

Since 2011, Apple and Samsung have been slugging it out across the world’s courts in a series of distracting patent battles.

Apple first sued Samsung in the US for alleged intellectual property infringements. Other court cases have taken place in France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, South Korea and Japan, with no company yet emerging as the clear winner.

Apple may be sitting on a $137bn cash mountain, but unless it can recapture its role as an “inspiring” technology leader and settle its legal battles, the perception may grow that its best days are behind it, analysts believe.

‘Bold and exciting’

In its Cultural Traction 2013 report, Added Value analysed the “cultural vibrancy” of 160 brands across 15 sectors, involving more than 62,000 respondents in 10 countries.

The top 10 brands perceived to be the most “visionary, inspiring, bold and exciting” were Google, Apple, Samsung, Ikea, Microsoft, Sony, BMW, Audi, Coca-Cola and eBay.

Want to know more about what I know about Apple? Visit a website I created to expose their hypocrisy: Apple Hypocrisy

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Japan: A sustainability shift example for the world

Japan: A sustainability shift example for the world
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I love Japan, and I find that there is so much about it in its people’s culture, traditions and ways of thinking that the rest of the world should consider following, to solve problems and make progress in a world of uncertainty and in a world that needs some change.

The Japan I see to day is a great place that triumphs high fuel efficiency in vehicles, compactness and efficiency, and electrified rail lines as the primary, most affordable and most widely used form of transportation. I actually never knew, however, that it was on the verge of today’s China at one point in the past – encouraging middle-class citizens onto cars and creating wastelands of its natural environments, and creating pollution and illness in cities as a result. So, when I read this, it brought me great surprise to think that today’s Japan could not have been today’s Japan with the presence of leadership and a voice in the opposition parties, even as they never came to power.

From the International Herald Tribune Global Opinion’s Latitude:

Japan’s Pollution Diet

By ALEXANDRA HARNEY

TOKYO — Seeing Beijing wreathed in smog throughout the winter, it has been hard not to worry about the costs of China’s rapid economic growth. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show: Can’t a country capable of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty find a way to keep its own capital safe for habitation?

Japan rightly prides itself on blue skies, Prius taxis and mandatory recycling.

Five decades ago, people were asking similar questions about Japan. Even as the world marveled at the country’s 10 percent annual growth, alarm was growing over air pollution in several cities. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide tripled during the 1960s. Japan became known for pollution-related illnesses: Yokkaichi asthma, Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) — both named after the cities where they first appeared — and cadmium poisoning, known as itai-itai, or “ouch-ouch,” because of the excruciating bone pain it caused.

Today, Japanese cities are among the world’s least polluted, according to the World Health Organization. Japan’s environmental record is hardly spotless, but the country rightly prides itself on blue skies, Prius taxis and mandatory recycling. What’s more, it managed to clean up without sacrificing growth by investing in pollution-control technologies and giving local governments leeway to tighten standards beyond national requirements.

It wasn’t easy. The Liberal Democratic Party, which governed Japan almost continuously from 1955 to 2009 and returned to power in December, wasn’t proactive in cleaning up the country’s air and water. That’s partly because until the mid-1990s Japan’s electoral system incited politicians to pander to the interests of business. With candidates from the same party required to also run against one another, most politicians stood little chance of distinguishing themselves on policy and so tried to secure votes by courting business and industry associations.

It was only when citizens’ movements, which grew out of protests against the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the Vietnam War, got the attention of opposition parties in the 1960s and early 1970s that the government was forced to confront pollution. “I saw the government and L.D.P. as responding just enough, just in time, when the pressure got strong enough that they could defuse the opposition and stay in power,” said Timothy George, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of a book on Minamata disease.

The first result was a blizzard of laws — 14 passed at once — in what became known as the Pollution Diet of 1970. Air pollution fell dramatically in the years that followed.

[READ MORE – CLICK HERE]

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.