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City, Media

Monday's Media Morsels - March 4

Posted by Hannah / March 5, 2007

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Pigs are the new unifier. There's a new environmental kid in town and it's going to join the French and the English in the global battle against mega-pig farms. The Sierra Club has launched a Quebec chapter that will begin with four priorities: pig farms, climate change education, environmental awareness in Chinatown and a forestry campaign.

This is yesterday's news, but great anyway. Christopher DeWolf (UrbanPhoto) reports in the Gazette that Montreal's metro system will be moving into the modern age. Before long we'll be scanning cards to ride the rails.

The Arcade Fire's Neon Bible will be released on Thursday, and critics can't say enough good things about it.

Three weeks to election day. Who's your vote going to? CBC offers a weekly round-up podcast of the campaign, in case you missed the coverage.

And, finally, some closure in the hijab soccer conundrum: FIFA stands firm and says it will leave it up to the discretion of the referee.

photo by mike9alive

Discussion

19 Comments

Christopher DeWolf / March 5, 2007 at 03:27 pm
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Thanks for the mention, Hannah! One correction, though: my blog isn't Assertions, it's Urbanphoto:

http://www.urbanphoto.net

Assertions looks like a great site, though.
DC / March 6, 2007 at 08:56 am
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Yes, Assertions would be me.

The STM's move to a stored-value card is a fare hike in disguise, which is why the Gazette likes it -- we should not only beat the poor, but we should do so while wearing masks. And the stick should be green, and should involve adopting technologies that have made London's transit system so, um, affordable and efficient. Leaving that metaphor aside for a moment, it's also an attempt to minimize the work done by unionized employees and transfer as much of the fare collection and handling system over to some kind of private contractor.

Whether these are good or bad things -- whether the savings they realize at the cost of people with decent jobs are substantial, or even actually recouped and re-invested -- is as yet unknown. Similarly, I'm waiting to see some analyses, preferably *not* carried out by the consultants who are pushing this thing, that quantify the impact of a new fare structure on ridership, both geographically and socioeconomically.

New Assertions updates, including an epic smackdown of Projet Montreal's light rail natterings, soon soon soon.
Christopher DeWolf / March 6, 2007 at 04:56 pm
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I know it's easier to rant against a large and amorphous organization like the Gazette than to take issue with an individual author, but "the Gazette" didn't write this article---I did. Just me. I'm sure you understand the distinction between a freelance writer and the editorial board of the Gazette, if you have any conception of how a newspaper works whatsoever.

There are currently no details available as to how the fare system will be restructured, so your guess is as good as mine as to what the STM will do. But smart card technology and the politics of transit fares, although linked, are not one in the same. It is impossible to state, as you did, that smart cards will inherently make Montreal's public transport system unaffordable. Transit in London is unaffordable, but public transit in Paris, Washington and Hong Kong---all of which use smart cards---is relatively cheap. Paris has one of the most affordable transit systems in Europe and Hong Kong has one of the most affordable in the developed world. Smart cards did not change that.

You write: "Leaving that metaphor aside for a moment, it's also an attempt to minimize the work done by unionized employees and transfer as much of the fare collection and handling system over to some kind of private contractor." This is not true. The STM, not a private contractor, will manage the smart card system. Moreover, it is not obvious that any jobs would be cut after the smart card system is implemented. Ticket agents would still be required to serve customers and fix smart card problems. In fact, Hong Kong, Paris and London generally have more agents working at each station than Montreal. I find it rather galling that you so stridently assert that people will lose their jobs because of smart cards when there is no evidence that this will happen.

Finally, I would like to know how you would go about upgrading Montreal's archaic, inefficient, 40-year-old fare system without bringing in the newest technologies. Again, we're talking about a technology here. They might enable fare restructuring (fare hikes is your own cynical take on that), but they don't require it. Smart cards are a tool and nothing more.

I wish you would have done some basic research instead of projecting your own assumptions on what I wrote.


Hannah / March 6, 2007 at 05:48 pm
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Very sorry about the blog mix-up. I've corrected it.
Hannah / March 6, 2007 at 06:08 pm
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I've lived in both New York City and Washington, D.C., where they have smart cards, but they also have little paper or plastic cards with magnetic strips. Like the smart cards, you can load up the low-tech cards at at a dedicated machine using bills, interact or credit card. They're incredibly convenient and even save the extra transaction fee that you would otherwise be charged if you withdrew money from a third-party ATM.
But I do have some reservations about bringing that system to Montreal. The public transit system here doesn't have nearly the reach of D.C. or NYC (or the other cities you mention in the article); it's already expensive and I can't imagine the STM will reduce the cost - kudos to them if they do. (In NYC you pay again to go from metro to bus and vice versa, but it's only a $1 a fare on Manhattan.) Also, from what I understand most smart card systems don't give routine commuters a discount. It would be nice if the system added money to your card if you exceeded a certain number of trips.
Christopher DeWolf / March 6, 2007 at 07:01 pm
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The stored-value magnetic cards that New York has are somewhat similar to smart cards, but they are easier to tamper with, malfunction more often and don't last as long.

As for discounts, I can't speak for every smart card system, but Hong Kong's MTR subway offers Octopus users a 10% discount off the regular cash fare. In London, using an Oyster card gives you a 50p ($1) discount off the regular ticket/travelcard price.

Some people have complained that the STM hasn't consulted the public on introducing smart cards, but I think this misses the point: smart cards are really just a sophisticated tool that makes getting around easier. Consulting the public on smart cards would be like consulting a restaurant patron on the cutlery instead of the food.

What <i>should</i> be debated is the new fare system. The public should be involved every step of the way since it concerns them. Attacking smart cards because they might lead to fare hikes is missing the forest for the trees. It a kind of conservative, knee-jerk mentality. The STM will invariably want to raise fares whether we have smart cards or not. We should fight the fare hikes, not the smart cards.
Christopher DeWolf / March 6, 2007 at 07:05 pm
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By the way, Hannah, thanks so much for fixing the link, but I'm afraid you linked to the March 2006 archive page instead of the actual blog!
DC / March 6, 2007 at 09:47 pm
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Chris, I didn't intend to single your article out -- anyone making moves as a freelancer has my cheers from the sidelines. And you are absolutely right that I came off as tarring all the Gazette's contributors with the same well-used brush I apply to their editorial board, so again my apologies on that score.

Currently the fare paid on the system is not a function of distance that the passenger travels. As both residential and industrial land closer to the centre of the city increase in value, both the mix of classes and the mix of land use types that we values in Montreal start to erode, increasing travel distances for those least able to pay by the mile. Ten years ago, we were worried about poverty entrenching itself in Villeray; now those worries are applied to farther-flung parts of the city, such as southeastern Montreal-Nord and St-Pierre.

A stored-value smart-card system is, in all of the examples you gave,
"Flexible, nuanced" fares that would be higher during peak periods will only serve to displace discretionary travel away from peak periods -- for people who still work 9 to 5 it's a fare hike. Similarly, charging less for a short trip from Saint-Henri to downtown doesn't do much to attract the (relatively few, I'd imagine) people who would drive that distance, but charging more for a trip from the West Island (or way-less-affluent and far more poorly served Pointe-aux-Trembles)

As for my suggestions about uprgrading the system without bringing in the newest technologies, how about:
-Articulated buses?
-Federal financing for bus purchases -- why should only big-ticket rail investments hog all the Ottawa love?
-Concrete pads at bus stops, to eliminate that lurch we feel when a bus hits the grooves that heavier vehicles leave in soft asphalt?
-More segregated rights-of-way for transit vehicles -- think the Spadina LRT instead of the wimpier (and far more dangerous) lanes on Pie-IX and the Champlain Bridge?
-Buying new metro cars -- 40-year-old technology seems good enough for them -- rather than chasing votes in Laval?

Galling? Just one of the joys of the internet. Where flippant people with sharp tongues and broad brushes meet better-informed people with thin skins.
Christopher DeWolf / March 6, 2007 at 10:20 pm
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I definitely share your concerns about the implications of pay-by-distance. (A switch to a zone system would be especially bad, I think.)

As for all your suggestions for upgrading the system... I was referring specifically to the fare system, but you're definitely right that all of the things you mention are badly needed. As far as I know, new metro cars are on their way but they might be delayed because of legal action from Alstom. Some of the smaller things like, well, more buses would be greatly appreciated for someone like myself who doesn't have a car.

Didn't mean to come across as thin-skinned (but well-informed! Thanks!). Sometimes I just spend too much time on the internet.
Christopher DeWolf / March 6, 2007 at 10:21 pm
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I should mention that San Francisco is currently considering eliminating its fares altogther. Wouldn't that be nice?
DC / March 6, 2007 at 10:43 pm
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Chris, I didn't intend to single your article out -- anyone making moves as a freelance journalist and getting pieces into the dailies has my cheers from the sidelines. And you are absolutely right that I came off as tarring all the Gazette's contributors, and you in particular, with the same well-used brush I apply to their editorial board, so my apologies are due on that score as well.

Currently the fare paid on the system is not a function of distance that the passenger travels. As both residential and industrial land closer to the centre of the city increase in value, both the mix of classes and the mix of land use types that we value in Montreal start to erode, increasing transit travel distances (not to mention times) for those least able to pay by the mile. Ten years ago, we were worried about poverty entrenching itself in Villeray; now those worries apply to farther-flung and more obscure parts of the city, such as Montreal-Nord and St-Pierre.

Charging less for a short trip from Saint-Henri to downtown doesn't do much to attract the (relatively few, I'd imagine) people who would drive that distance, but charging more for a trip from the West Island (or way less affluent and far more poorly served Pointe-aux-Trembles) makes transit less competitive for longer-distance trips. Similarly, "flexible, nuanced" fares that would be higher during peak periods will only serve to displace discretionary travel away from peak periods -- for people who still have to travel at peak it would be an increase, no bones about it. That's not cynical; it's the way that a time-sensitive and distance-sensitive fare works.

This technology has its merits, but among its demerits is, very clearly, enabling fare increases of a sort that are currently technically impossible. One of its chief advantages -- sharing a fare system between urban and suburban systems -- doesn't seem particularly compelling given that the route structures of those systems are not very well integrated. Whether the potentially regressive effects of these fare hikes would be worth sorely-needed additional revenue is a real (and very difficult) question that both you and I wish to see opened up to the broader public. The choice of investing in this new fare system is part and parcel of that question and as such is fair game in such a debate. But perhaps that's my conservatism jerking my knee there.

Do I have advice for "upgrading" the fare system without new technology? Well no, I don't, as regards the flat fare that is currently collective via the existing clunky 40-year-old analog technology. For longer-distance trips, this helps mitigate the impact of our emerging pattern of spatial segregation, and offset the increased attractiveness of auto travel.

Galling? Just one of the joys of online fora, homey. Where flippant and careless people with sharp tongues and broad brushes (me) encounter better-informed people (you). I'm sincerely glad you take your role as a real journalist seriously, just as I, speaking for the moment as a fake non-journalist, don't take mine very seriously at all.
DC / March 6, 2007 at 10:46 pm
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Oopsay!

Misposted my earlier missive, well, earlier. See my revisions for another version -- looks like you're not the only one of us who can spend too much time online.

Group hug all around. MP: since 2006, bringing nerds together to butt heads.
sookie / March 14, 2007 at 05:14 pm
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How about farms for foie gras?
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