Editorials

Commentary or just open thoughts related to current events or personal experiences. These opinions are not meant to reflect the standpoint or views of any person, group, company or organization unless stated explicitly otherwise.

Three reasons why I don’t find air travel enjoyable

Thunderstorm at IAH
A massive thunderstorm halts ground operations at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like flying. Yes, I think airplanes are cool and such, but air travel for me is frustrating, stressful and expensive. I’ll break my reasoning into three pieces.

Stress – Flying, for me at least, is stressful. Having to wait in endless lines at the check-in counter, unprepared people fumbling with their documentation or not having a clue of what they’re doing. Security and customs are another favourite of mine. I won’t argue that we need security to prevent incidents at the airport and onboard aircraft, but the current model is designed to add frustration to an already taxing experience. Yes, I could pay an additional fee for expedited clearance (see below) to make this portion easier, but that’s besides the point. It’s even more frustrating when you grab a bin from the stack and the person ahead of you steals it from you because they forgot to remove their own belt. Come on. Then of course, there’s the waiting. Waiting to board, heaven forbid there’s an issue with the plane or missing crew members, or even weather. There’s often very little information being passed around and what we’re given isn’t always useful. The delay could be three minutes or three hours. And that’s super important if you have connecting flights (or if you want to run to a nearby restaurant for a last minute snack/meal). Want to deplane in a timely manner? Forget about it. Even before the seat belt sign is off and the door is open, others have already unbuckled and jumped into the aisle to grab their belongings. Finally, it’s the aircraft itself. I’m six feet tall, I don’t fit comfortably in those tiny seats, much less in any of those smaller planes, especially the ones made by Embraer. I have to hunch over when boarding or exiting, pull my knees up close and hope that my seatmate isn’t as large or larger than I am. It’s not enjoyable at all.

Expensive – The cost of flying is almost as high as the planes at cruising altitude. You have your base fare, then all the additional fees: airport improvement, fuel surcharges, immigration, security, agricultural, and so on. If booking online, there’s a few airlines that will charge you in Canadian dollars; other will charge you in American funds. Should the exchange rate be less than desirable (when isn’t it), that price of the flight is going to increase. But don’t forget, cheaper flights exist if you don’t mind hopping around the country. Then, there’s fees for checking baggage. Want to clear security faster and not spend five minutes pulling off your belt and removing your shoes? Have your wallet ready! Upgrade from economy to premium economy? That’s more money. You want to buy a snack box, not a meal, a small box that is more cardboard than snack? Better bring your credit card. Now you’re thinking, “Why don’t you just bring all your stuff in carry-on and save a few bucks?” I’m not turning into those passengers who insist on bringing full-size suitcases and claim them as “carry-on”, violently shoving them into a small overhead bin. Please stop doing that. I’ve had my backpack crushed far to often because someone is trying to save thirty dollars by cramming something that’s not portable into a small cabinet. Frugality is sometimes a bad thing.

United Airlines Window Seat
A window seat is my favourite place on the airplane – for the view and a place I can rest against.

People – Granted, many people I’ve flown with were amazing, they made small chitchat, they were quiet when I wanted to attempt some shuteye and sometimes even beyond helpful (such as pulling my backpack down from the bin upon landing so I would be ready to deplane). I love those people. However, there are some, who insist that upon purchasing a ticket, they’re entitled to anything and everything. You know who they are. These are the people who will line up and try and board in group one when they’re clearly group four. These are the people who will bring full-sized suitcases (sometimes more than one) as carry-on and then verbally berate gate agents and flight crew when challenged. These are the people who will bang on the toilet door when you’re in for more than thirty seconds. These are the parents of small children who let them kick seats and pull my hair because now it’s the flight attendants’ responsibility to look after their own offspring. These are the people who cut in line when trying to grab a last minute meal. These are the people take their shoes off and roam the plane barefoot or in socks. There’s more, plenty more, but I could write a small novel on their antics. These are the people that make my flight a few hours of hell.

I know I have made a pretty grim picture of flying, but my recent flights into and out of the United States got me on this topic. However, I must give thanks to the flight crew and attendants for putting up with this on a daily basis. I try to make myself a low maintenance passenger; I don’t get up during drink service, I avoid pressing the call button during the flight and most importantly, I greet the crew with a smile and a friendly “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” each and every time, no matter how bad things are going. I know it seems small, but if I can keep to myself and get a few minutes of rest with my eyes closed, then it certainly is a good flight.

Response to a Vancouver Sun letter about video games and violence

In light of recent events, video games have been thrust into the spotlight once again. As the parade of individuals in elected office, the media and elsewhere begin pointing fingers at digital entertainment as a quick and easy method to distract the concerned public, it becomes clear many of them pass misinformation along to feel better themselves or resolve some sort of internal conflict they have.

As I was reading the Vancouver Sun this morning before getting ready for work, I spotted a letter from Doris Reidweg in Langley that called out violent video games as the source for three murders that occurred in northern British Columbia in July 2019. I won’t go into details about the murders, but the this particular letter, it’s tone and subject really caught my eye.

Now, I know newspapers won’t let subscribers publish full length essays due to publishing constraints, space, and other limitations, so it’s hard to determine the complete picture Doris is trying to make with her brief statement. But, here was an opinion that blatantly called out video games as the root cause behind the reprehensible actions of two teenage males that put a huge part of Canada on edge. With the recent information that these two males did not survive their cross-country flight from the authorities, it will be difficult assess why two tourists and a university lecturer were murdered.

Because we don’t have that information, the media (and others) are forced to glean as many details as possible from family, friends, the community, social media profiles and other sources in order to assemble it in such away that makes a picture to provide better insight and reasoning. Of course, during this information gathering process, emotions can run high, people get concerned of what they find and jump to conclusions. And should someone have an online account for a game, it’s fairly certain someone is going to draw a line between the heinous act and a game itself as a definitive conclusion. When one person blames video games, most everyone turn into a flock of sheep and follow the “leader”, confirming their claim. It happens every time and will continue to happen.

Yes, there are some graphic games out there on the market. Yes, some of them do show gruesome scenes, and yes, some of them are excessive and over the top. But, there is something people quickly forget about video games: they are not real. They do not mimic the complex functions of handling a real gun. Anyone who has held a gun and played a video game knows that. But that’s lost on the general public; it’s just so much easier to say “he played Grand Theft Auto, so it’s the video game’s fault he did this!”. Have suspects in other events played video games? Quite probably. But there’s a bigger underlying picture, with video games (or any other media or propaganda) being one piece of the larger puzzle. There are so many questions that will go unanswered after this, and it’s important we don’t pervert the questions that are answered easily with knee-jerk reactions and emotions.

Everyone needs to take a step back, let the police and officials conduct their investigations fully and respect those affected by these tragic crimes by not jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. This is not to defend the actions taken by suspects (or anyone else for that matter), but rather to focus on the facts instead of feelings. If you don’t like video games, that’s fine, but to pass out misinformation because of your dislike for this medium is misguided and dangerous. There are many out there who play video games and continue to lead constructive, positive lives, much to the detriment of newspaper letter writers like Doris.

Metro Vancouver and Transit

Transit in Metro Vancouver is always a hot button topic. Anything and everything from fares, bus stops, right up to the technology used for transit vehicles. It seems that in the last decade or so, TransLink (the operating company behind Metro Vancouver’s public transportation system) and the government (both municipal and provincial) have proven they are incapable of effectively providing any sort of reliable operation to commuters in the Lower Mainland.

I’ve lived in the Vancouver area all my life and watched SkyTrain grow beyond the New Westminster station to Columbia, then over the Fraser to Scott Road and eventually out to King George, the Millennium Line when it only stopped at Sapperton, when there was no fare gates, and that you had to walk up steps when boarding a bus. Before the turn of the century, everything was branded as BC Transit, in its red, white and blue colour scheme of the Union Jack on our provincial flag. While there have been some major improvements and changes to the way we get around the region, not all of it is positive.

Many of those who live in Vancouver proper, Burnaby, New Westminster and parts of the Tri-Cities (Port Moody, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam), transit is generally available and reliable. The story changes to the communities south of the Fraser River, where buses are frequently delayed or non-existent, and local governments ignore the advice of the people that elected them into office by offering unpopular methods of transportation.

That unpopular method is LRT (Light Rail Transit). For the last decade or more, the City of Surrey has been doing studies and waffling over the idea of how best to connect its many town centres (Surrey Central, Newton, Guildford) together with the existing SkyTrain network. In the last year or two, the city has made the firm decision to implement LRT going down King George Boulevard to Newton and out east along 104 Avenue to Guildford. I could go on and on about why this is a terrible idea (read my thoughts on this), but once the decision from the provincial and federal governments to issue funding for construction for the LRT, there has been a hard stance from all levels government that LRT is going forward. Their lack of vision and all the computer-generated imagery showcasing a happy community with less cars and more pedestrians is short-sighted. Surrey is a growing city and a decade after LRT is in place, the city and TransLink will again be petitioning the provincial and federal governments for expanded SkyTrain service, thus wasting more of our tax dollars which could have been spent efficiently from the get go. The LRT will eventually be dug up and replaced with an elevated SkyTrain guideway (akin to when the express bus lanes down No. 3 Road in Richmond were built to great fanfare only to be torn up a few years later for the construction of the Canada Line).

Now Vancouver is considering LRT along a major east-west thoroughfare: 41st Avenue. Yes, the 41 bus is always crowded and yes it takes forever to get from Joyce-Collingwood station out to the University of British Columbia. Here we go again. If you drive along 41st Avenue, you’ll notice it’s not very wide and always congested. Lined with single family homes, the city will need to expropriate a large number of properties to make this work, driving up the cost exponentially. While the city is trying to find ways to move people to their destinations with fast and affordable service, LRT, again is not the right idea. You’re basically moving the bus onto rails at additional cost with limited room for increased capacity. And with the Oakridge area undergoing major renovations to include high density residential space, this idea will fall flat on its face. A better solution would be dedicated HOV lanes for transit vehicles and cars with two or more occupants.

Furthermore to TransLink’s and the government’s poor knowledge on building transit is the Canada Line. Completed in 2009 before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the Canada Line became too popular for its own good. Listening to the complaints of local business groups in Richmond that two tracks would make their establishments lose money because of an unsightly sterile concrete guideway, the line became single tracked after Lansdowne station (and out at the Vancouver International Airport). But it’s no joke now that the density in the island city is increasing with plans to tear down Lansdowne Mall to replace it with new high-rises and commercial space. But that’s not the worst of it. The Canada Line was crippled from the beginning with short platforms limiting the trains to two cars total. This lack of thought for future capacity has filled station platforms and crowded trains. TransLink has ordered more cars from Hyundai Rotem (the group that manufactured the first trains) to add more to increase service. There was even talk of making the trains into three cars, but that never materialized. Now Vancouver and Richmond are building up density along this rapid transit route which cannot possibly keep pace with that growth. Let’s not forget the clandestine construction which pitted local merchants along Cambie Street against TransLink and the builders over lost sales from lack of customers avoiding said construction (they’re now finally being awarded damages).

Then there was the Compass card debacle. How many transit systems around the world use fare gates/turnstiles and contactless cards for admission? Quite a few, and yet TransLink managed to drop the ball repeatedly because they didn’t redesign the fare structure beforehand. Trying to get proven technology to work with TransLink’s zone-based fare structure was a headache for the company and the public in general as costs spiralled out of control to the tune of $194 million dollars. The fare gates sat open almost four years before they were all closed in July 2016 finally forcing riders to tap in or out and ending nearly 30 years of the honour system.

The only recently positive news coming from TransLink and the levels of government is the extension of the Millennium Line out to Arbutus Street (and hopefully further out to the University of British Columbia). The Millennium Line has long been reviled as the “SkyTrain to nowhere” and its daily passenger counts are far less than the Expo Line, this has the potential to bring longer trains (no more two-car Mark II trains) as it connects with busy Broadway corridor. As long as TransLink plays its cards right and builds stations with longer platforms, this addition to SkyTrain becomes a much needed respite to the crowded 99 B-Line buses.

And to add a cherry on-top of it all, a TransLink bus stop in Pitt Meadows was named the worst in all of North America. Why? Because it’s on the paved shoulder of Lougheed Highway against a jersey barrier. Passengers are forced to endure speeding vehicles if they wait on the shoulder or they have lumber over the cement barrier to board their bus when it arrives. TransLink said they would address this, but why was it built in the first place? How could this ever have been a good idea from the beginning?

While TransLink continues to roll along like a sow in slop, it’s safe to say their executive leadership (along with the assistance of the Mayor’s Council*) will continue to draft up impractical and ill-considered plans to expand and “improve” the future of transit in Metro Vancouver.

*While TransLink is an independent entity, the Mayor’s Council (that’s 21 Metro Vancouver mayors, the Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, and the elected representative of Electoral Area “A”) pretty much has final say over the costs of projects, TransLink board appointments, fare increases, and executive compensation plans.

Surrey Light Rail project a terrible idea

Surrey is one of the fastest growing cities in Metro Vancouver. And with that growth comes the need to improve transportation so that residents and visitors can move between home and work and social events. Enter light rail, Surrey’s and TransLink’s silver bullet to making that future a reality.

Unfortunately, that silver bullet is nothing more than a lead weight, heavy with unnecessary spending, ill-advised ideas and a misunderstanding of the community. The first phase is to have street-level light rail transit (LRT) run down the middle of King George Boulevard between Surrey Central station and the Newton Exchange near 72nd Avenue, with another line out east to the Guildford Exchange on 152nd Street.

A map of the proposed Surrey LRT and future expansion to SkyTrain Expo Line. Source: TransLink

It sounds like a good idea considering that these routes are busy on any given day when taking the existing bus service or driving. However, street-level LRT down a major thoroughfare is not the best answer to this problem. Here’s why.

The LRT routes are not grade separated. This means that trains will run down the centre of King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue. This means that these trains will be subject to all existing traffic lights at intersections and traffic. Take into consideration of vehicles making left-hand turns off of King George or 104th and you can easily back a train up. Existing bus service is not subject to this (unless they themselves need to make said turn) as they run in the right/curb lanes. In turn, this is a glorified bus route that is restricted to the rails and can’t go any faster than what traffic dictates.

Then you have to factor in pedestrians. With the platforms for the LRT routes being in the middle of these roads, the potential for jaywalking and pedestrian-related incidents increase as passengers rush to catch a train or seek to cross the roadway after exiting to get to their destination. Watch the video below to see how trams and other LRT vehicles interact with cars and pedestrians.

Capacity is also an issue. Any LRT trains will need to limited to a certain length to prevent them from blocking intersections when stopped or delayed. Trains that are too long and moving too slowly could cause backups for traffic intending to cross when passing through an intersection as lights change or due to other circumstances (e.g collisions, pedestrians, etc). With a bus, you can add and remove vehicles as demand allows — and they can manoeuvre around any issues brought on by traffic, construction, etc.

With LRT sharing the same path as cars, trucks and SUVs, what’s to stop a vehicle from driving into support pillar for the overhead lines, bringing it down and necessitating a halt to transit service? Or if a vehicle collides with a train thus backing up service?

What about the cost? As of June 24th, 2018, the LRT project is projected to cost 1.65 billion CAD. And once the project begins, what’s to stop it from snowballing? That money could be put to better use, like more buses or towards expanding SkyTrain further into Surrey.

These are just a few of the many issues facing this boondoggle of a project. There’s so much wrong with putting a light to medium capacity system in the middle of a continuously growing city — it’s just as hilarious as the idea to limit the Canada Line to two cars per train with short station platforms. It’s not a sustainable vision.

Over the last, local community groups have been calling for extension to the existing Expo Line which terminates at King George. SkyTrain has the added benefit of elevation, meaning it is grade separated keeping it away from vehicle traffic and errant pedestrians. SkyTrain service can also be increased due to demand if necessary, to a max headway of 90 seconds between trains.

The Surrey LRT project is a novelty that might work well in other cities where road traffic is lighter, but it’s not right for Surrey. Surrey council needs to realize that there is demand for SkyTrain and improved bus service, not a dedicated LRT system that has no potential for growth and fuel for commuter’s headaches. You can voice your feedback through any of the community meetings or online.

Despicable

Once again, the downtown core of Vancouver is awash in stupidity as young and drunk idiots using the devastating 4-0 game seven loss between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins as a reason to cause mayhem.

While I was downtown at Canada Place watching the game, I made a mental note to leave the area before the game ended in the event that things turned sour. With five minutes left in the game, I was boarding a train at Waterfront trying to head east and out of the core. I was oblivious to the jackassery until my phone started going crazy with text messages from friends asking if I was OK and made it out of the downtown core safely. However, I’m happy that the people who gathered at Canada Place left in peace and did not try to riot.

In watching CTV‘s live feed of the senseless destruction, I feel angry that hooligans would use a family-friendly hockey event to commit such stupidity. People jumping over burning cars, smashing windows and fighting others is just unbelievable. Even worse is seeing the images of people in Canucks jerseys running rampant — not all Canucks fans riot after a loss. Granted, I am frustrated with the team’s performance in the Stanley Cup final, but it is no excuse to be stupid.

As the world wakes up, they are going to see a very different Vancouver. Last year, during the 2010 Winter Olympics, there were limited disturbances and they were quickly quelled. One year later, we seemed to forget. This is going to paint a very bad picture for this city. We are better than this and we need to remind ourselves that we should not tolerate such disrespect to our fellow citizens. So many people stood by and watched, photographed, recorded the looting and the torching of vehicles and other personal property.

I’m embarrassed. I’ve always been proud of our city and have always openly welcomed others to see what I call home. It’s a shame that we cannot hold in our emotions after a hockey game. It’s truly a shame. I went home to move on. Why can’t everyone else?

Boston, you proved to be a fierce foe in the final — congratulations on your win. You deserved it so much more.

Editorial: Vancouver is not a bad city

Coal Harbour and Stanley Park
Coal Harbour and Stanley Park

Since the beginning of 2009, there has been a scar ripped across the face of this fair city, and it’s frightened a few people. International news agencies are proclaiming that Vancouver’s recent rash of violence is a turn off for tourism. I’ll say this right now — it’s not. But it’s only worrisome if you’re a gangster.
The shootings that have a lot of people worried are between rival gangs, not random targets. Sure, there haven’t been any innocent victims, but it’s a chance you take with being outside. It’s like walking across the street. You don’t know if someone’s going to run the red light and send you flying through the intersection. Always be aware of your surroundings, just like you would in any city.
I visit Chicago quite a bit, and they have a bad rap for being the home of organized crime with random homicides and attacks. But you know what? Chicago is still an amazing city with great people. So is Vancouver.
And with the US Dollar higher than the Canadian Dollar, it’s still a decent price for US tourists. So come up and visit Vancouver. I guarantee you’ll like it. Good weather, good food, good people. We’d like to see you.

Editorial: Wii is no longer family friendly

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Institute on Media and the Family is claiming that Nintendo has abandoned its family friendly focus on Wii.

The fuss is over Sega’s latest creation, MadWorld, which is gory game where players fight like gladiators using vicious and improvised weapons. Obviously, the game is rated M, but there’s still the problem that video games are still played by young children and that Nintendo’s kiddy image is being tarnished.

Unfortunately, these watch dog groups think that the family is always the happy mother, hardworking father, and young impressionable son and innocent daughter. As time progresses, the son and daughter grow up and move on to different things (like the son will go out and skateboard and the daughter will hang at the mall and discuss the latest purse fads or whatever). The groups want to keep the family together and as young and innocent as possible from all the evils and trends in today’s society. And outside of the family are violent movies, vulgar music, bloody games, and so on which have become main stream in Western culture.

Many parents are uninformed over video games and what they should let their kids play (comes back to my experience where I saw a mom buy a copy of Conkers Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64 because it had a cuddly squirrel on the box). But what gets me is that families and watchdog groups start going ballistic when an M rated game is released for a Nintendo system because of the company’s perception of being more family oriented. Well, a DVD player is family oriented as well isn’t it? I don’t see why people are freaking out over this because the son could pop in his father’s copy of 300 into the DVD player and spend all afternoon screaming “Tonight we dine in hell!” instead of watching his educational Barney episodes.

Here’s something: if it doesn’t suit your family values: don’t buy it, don’t play it, and don’t whine about it. There are thousands of other games available if you’re not comfortable with one. Responsible gaming is in the hand of the parent. Read the box first before opening your wallet.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times