Just because I am no longer affiliated with a political party doesn’t mean I am disengaging. While catching up to Today in Parliament podcasts from the BBC I heard about a debate about bus service in Yorkshire. While scanning the transcript of the debate I was pointed by LTC Bus People to some information about London Transit and an upcoming public meeting. I realize that is a lot of links but they explain a bit of my thought process. Today is Earth Day and I should be out enjoying the home world instead of using electricity to blog and listen to Portishead. Some of these ideas are started, I want them to grow and become part a bigger strategy.
Buses were the starting point for this post but fixing bus service is not enough to create a 21st Century transit system. All forms of transit need to be reviewed, improved and integrated with each other. The oldest form of human travel is walking, we’ve been doing it for a million years or so. Canada should start integrating all the trail systems, walking paths et cetera, as a national walking strategy. Walkable communities should receive proportionately more infrastructure money than unwalkable communities, more on funding these ideas later. To often communities have walking areas that are interrupted by other modes of transport or generally disconnected. Perhaps Transport Canada should start a small coordination team to assist communities in becoming more walkable and connected by walking paths.
Humans, being a lazy species, like travelling with little effort or sore feet. Sitting on a log floating down river is most likely the earliest method of this. Smart people all over the world realized logs are heavy and thus hard to move or paddle up stream, hence canoes and similar craft were developed. Canada has the good fortune to have many of the ancient routes mapped out by the earliest immigrants. Navigable waters were listed as a federal responsibility because they went beyond provincial boundaries and were what made Canada. The longest portage in Canada is about 53km long and there are routes to take a canoe from Atlantic to Pacific, from Great Lakes to Arctic Ocean. Water transport has always been essential to the Canadian and pre-Canadian economies. It is short sited to abandon it to petty local interests.
The volume a ship can carry excedes that of all other forms of transportation. Without shipping infrastructure Canadian goods could not be exported or other goods imported. To build a shipping infrastructure without integrating it with road, rail and even air reduces the over all effectiveness. There needs to be ways of people and goods to get to the pier. When York boats or Voyager canoes were insufficient to feed larger ships Canada’s road network began forming. Mud roads, gravel roads and even tarmac roads were insufficient to keep commerce going in the early 19th Century. The solution was steam driven and Canada is most likely the third country to eagerly embrace railroads.
Canada’s rail networks are still left in the Victorian era when it comes to routes and yet we can boast two of the most successful companies. It is time to open Canada’s rail market up to new competitors and new routes. There should be separation of freight and express lines to increase speed and efficiency of both. A national program of eliminating all level crossings should also be implemented. The biggest change needed is for high speed rail spreading across the country, including a trans-Canada line from Halifax to Vancouver.
Cities, such as London, will have great opportunities with being a stops on the bullet train lines. London could become the regional centre of a series of commuter/light rail lines that fed the main high speed line. Restoring the London – St Thomas – Port Stanley line and creating lines to Stratford, Sarnia Owen Sound et cetera would drive London’s recovery far better than another interchange on the 401. People from London would be able to access Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa businesses much quicker as London businesses would also be more accesible. Freight speeds increasing also benefit London manufacturers, how often does the container miss the ship because of Toronto traffic?
Roads are still needed and by diverting long haul freight and passengers to the high speed networks roads become less congested. Traffic congestion costs all economies that suffer from them. More roads merely means more room for congestion. Roads need to be thought of as feeders for other transportation services, and be dominated by bicycles and buses. Bus service should only be for areas where light rail isn’t viable and include rural service connected to the regional centres. Service should be as affordable and reliable as possible because public transit is needed to get people to work, health care and school. It also gets drunk people home safe and thus needs to be running after last call.
Humans had tried to fly for quite some time, just look at the legend of Icarus who flew to close to the sun (that’s what the insurance claim said). The Montgolfier brothers finally did it without inevitable accident reports. It has been said Russia was invented for the helicopter and Canada for the bush plane. Aviation is important to so many Canadian communities as it is the only lifeline for much of the year. A national strategy to develop airship service in the remote areas of Canada would increase the amount of cargo delivered to the remote areas and lower the price. Canada should aim to dominate airship cargo service and airship development to be well situated should there be a spike in oil prices.
Canada was once the world leader in short take off or landing or STOL aircraft. Canada should seek to dominate this area of aviation again, recently the United States Army and Vietnamese Navy purchased Twin Otters from Viking in Vancouver. The legends of Canadian aviation; the Beaver, Otter, Twin Otter and Caribou/Buffalo have yet to be equaled by anyone. Ignoring these an other successes is hurting our economic future.
All airports in urban areas should be connected with light rail and in major urban centres be connected into the high speed rail network. Lowering airline costs by lowering the taxes and security fees on airfare would benefit the industry. Opening the industry up to more competition would benefit customers.
Paying for this will require some revenue to governments who need to lay the foundation for private enterprise to get moving. Let’s start by increasing the gas tax by ¢5 per litre and applying it all to the national debt. This will free other sources of money up to transform and better integrate Canada’s transit systems. As most of the burden of paying for public transit is in the hands of under funded local government 1% of the GST should be returned to the locality it was collected. I’ll expand on that idea in the next post. This one got a bit rambly.