Motordumb

This is terrifying.

I mean, that is what it’s supposed to be. Part of the macho-truck-tough-guy/gal image it is meant to project. Sports cars were sometimes jokingly referred to as phallic symbols, projecting compensatory manhood and virility. This is a more of a rolling sawed-off shotgun, projecting violence, instability, and wide destructive swath to compensate for an inability to aim.

Big Trucks are nothing new in Canada, but look at the language the puff piece in the “Drive” section of our national newspaper (ugh) uses to describe it:

“Insane”, “ridiculous”, “’roid rage”, “invincible”, “out of scale”.

This truck is too wide (“A single lane suddenly feels too narrow… a foot wider than an already-huge F-250”), too tall (“the bottom of the seat is at eye-level”), and both creates a visual barrier for others (“Once inside you can see clearly over the tops of all SUVs”), yet has terrible visbility itself (“Nothing directly in front of it is visible, thanks to the huge, wide hood”). This lack of visibility is enhanced by mating a 450 horsepower engine with a design that features “bad steering, bad ride and bad handling.” But don’t worry, “You’re so high off the ground, there’s little sense of speed. It’s like looking out the window of a 747 during takeoff.”

Yes, this vehicle is an exaggeration of a point, and not many are sold (although the Globe & Mail will no doubt help with that little problem). But it is symptomatic of a situation where the use of automobiles is,  for the first time in history, getting less safe. And it is increasingly innocent bystanders being killed by them, not drivers.

There are many factors leading to these trends, distracted driving being a bit part of the equation (which raises an entire new rant about big LCD screens in cars). However, we live in a situation were you can roll a Honda Civic off the lot that is faster on the racetrack than a Lamborghini Gallardo. Dodge is selling, over the counter and with no special training mind you, an 840hp drag racer that does a sub-10 second quarter mile. It is so fast, that it is actually illegal to use at a regulated drag strip without doing safety modifications, but you can drive through your local school zone with no such regulatory concerns.

Cars are getting bigger, they are getting more powerful, and things like outward visibility are being compromised for design reasons. Trucks, especially, are seemingly exempt from any regulations around bumper height and fender coverage. After-market modification of lights, suspension, and other critical safety equipment is essentially unregulated.

This is all coming from the position of someone who walks and cycles in a dense urban community, but also someone who sees it as part of his job to make it be safer for 8-year-olds to walk to school and 80-year-olds to cross the street. We already give so much of our urban space to automobiles, because they serve a utility that people value. Recognizing that, we can build wide, comfortable sidewalks. We can design better crosswalks, and paint green paint at conflict zones. We can impose speed limits, improve lighting, create walkable neighbourhoods and dynamic retail districts. But our public spaces will never feel safe – will never be safe – if some agro asshole can charge through it waving a sawed-off shotgun at everyone.

We need to have a discussion about how far is too far for automobiles that want to share our urban space. We need enforceable standards of power, speed, bumper height, and other design elements that emphasize the safety of not just the operator and the passenger, but of other who unwillingly share space with these machines.

Some will suggest this is an intrusion – the end of freedom as we know it. Of course, we already have an actual law telling people to wear a Styrofoam helmet when sharing road space with this monstrosity. And when you get run over by it, rest assured the driver will say “I didn’t even see him!” like that is a defense, and not an admission of guilt. And Crown Counsel will agree.

There is no “War on Cars”, but if that’s what it takes to get these tanks off of our city streets, sign me up.

Ask Pat: $1 Transit?

Terran asked—

Hey Pat,
Hope I’m allowed to still ask questions even though I don’t live in New Westminster anymore. (I’ll be back once affordability comes back)

Translink recently started asking about transit fares again. This was a long time promise for the compass card that we could better manage the system. The survey is quite overly simplistic but that’s not my question more concern.

My question stems for the comments below the Facebook post they have for the survey. The idea of $1 transit fares comes up. Considering only ~35% of the budget comes from transit fares could this actually be a realistic option? I know I would switch from using my car if I could get to work for only a $1. Would the increased ridership even come close to off setting the huge loss in revenue? Is there even a way to know?

Sure, I’ll give you one free question since you used to live in New West. Wait – was that your question?

As you mention (and I talked about a bit a few weeks ago), TransLink is going through a Fare Review process right now. This is likely in response to the integration of the Compass Card as much as to a newfound opportunity for the next stage of system growth, as the Mayor’s Plan for a decade of capital investment may be back on track.

This review is not intended to boost or reduce fare revenues, only to re-jig the system to make it work better; to make it more “fair” or more user-friendly. The working model is that any adjustment would result in about the same revenue from fares, it will just be collected in different ways. The survey therefore was designed to collect people’s feelings about fare structures such as whether people who travel farther should pay more, or the entire system should be a flat fee, but is basically silent on what the actual flat fee or distance charge would be.

What you are suggesting is not just a “flat fee” model, but one that sets the fee quite a bit lower than it is now, in hopes that it will boost ridership. Considering the purpose of the survey, what would that rate have to be?

TransLink receives a little more than 1/3 of its operating revenue from the farebox, or about $510 Million of a $1.4 Billion budget. Aside from roads and bridges and all the other things TranLink does, they annually have about 240 Million journeys on the multi-modal transit system, or 360 million boardings (obviously, some portion of journeys results in more than one boarding, as a person may transfer from SeaBus to the SkyTrain, or from one bus to another on a single journey). So depending on whether you want to issue transfers or not, you would need to charge $2.15 per journey, or $1.45 per boarding.

So a dollar won’t be enough, but would this simple and cheap fare boost ridership enough to make up for it? At current service levels, there would need to be a doubling in the number of journeys on the system, or a 45% increase in boardings. Anyone riding a SkyTrain during rush hour or standing on a 106 recognizes this is not viable without a significant increase in service levels, which would require investments in the capital part of operations (buying more trains and buses), not just increased operational costs.

Perhaps there is some wiggle room in the idea of flat $2 fares per journey, one might speculate that this would provide a 7% increase in ridership to make up for the lost revenue per ride, but that brings us back to the fairness question: should a person riding the 106 from Columbia Street to Uptown pay the same amount as someone riding SkyTrain from Surrey to Downtown Vancouver? Which type of journey are we trying to incentivize more? These are the questions the current review is trying to address, even at a relatively simple level.

Calculating an optimum fare, one that incentivizes use but also provides enough ridership to maintain a system, is some difficult calculus, even putting aside the political implications of increasing the various tax subsidies to the system (or the massive tax subsidies to the alternatives). I don’t think we are going to get there through this fare system review.

And seriously, we really need to talk about how much you are spending on your car now. If $1 fares would sway you, perhaps you might want to crunch the numbers and see where $2.15 fares put you, financially. The sad reality is that, regardless of how much we subsidize cars, they are still surprisingly expensive to operate if you do the actual math.

ASK PAT: Electrical utility

Chelsea asks—

Why does New Westminster have its own electrical utility? What benefits does it deliver to residents and businesses? Seeing as every time Hydro raises its rates to pay for new infrastructure or repairs we have to raise ours too.

Reason I ask is that as a single homeowner living in an apartment, I pay a flat rate that is higher than BC Hydro’s step 1 rates, and I never use enough electricity to move me into step 2 if we were on BC Hydro. So basically…families and people who use a lot of power over a two-month billing period are getting a discount compared to BCH, and I’m paying more.

We also don’t get the benefits of online access to our electricity consumption or basic things like e-bills. It’s nice that I could still pay my bill in person at City Hall if I chose…but I think I’d take being able to see my usage online, just like my cellphone bill or my cable/Internet.

I could have sworn I already wrote this blog post and drawn the graph below, but I can’t find anything in my archives, so I guess I just dreamed about it, or half-wrote it then moved on. So thanks for the reminder!

First off, we have our own electrical utility because we have always had our own electrical utility. It started in 1891, which makes it 70 years older than BC Hydro, and even 7 years older than Hydro’s grandfather, BC Electric Railway Company. Though most local municipal power systems across BC were amalgamated into BC Hydro (or West Kootenay Power, now FortisBC, or other entities), a few still remain independent.

The most obvious benefit is that the City makes money selling electricity. We purchase it at wholesale rates from BC Hydro, and we sell it at retail rates similar to what BC Hydro charges users in adjacent communities (more on this below). The difference between the two is about $8 Million a year. Some of that goes to pay for the operation of the utility (maintaining all those poles and wires, and the staff to do so) and contingency funds to pay for asset replacement as the system ages, but a significant portion of it goes into the City’s coffers, where it effectively offsets property taxes.

There are a few other benefits as well. We generally have more reliable power service and faster response during storm events, because we have dedicated crews and contractors who concentrate on dealing with New West issues while BC Hydro is sometimes stretched a little thin during large storm events. We also, by owning so much of our own utility assets, can leverage that for things like installing a fibre network (happening now) and district energy utilities (coming soon, I hope).

Historically, our Electrical Utility has emphasized reliable service and economy, and has (how can I put this politely…) lagged behind a bit on customer service innovation like on-line billing. They don’t have much of a web presence, and mostly operate out of a non-descript building adjacent to our works yard. Even finding out how our rates work can be a bit of a challenge with the City’s website, as most customers would not think to search for Schedule A of the Electrical Utility Bylaw to get answers. Really, in 2016, they shouldn’t have to. This is a place where a little Community Engagement effort would go a long way.

Now onto the rates issue. The City’s policy has been to maintain retail rates similar to BC Hydro retail rates, and overall when all of our different residential, commercial, industrial, and other rates are combined together, you find this is the case. However, the actual structure of how we charge is slightly different, and ultimately, some people pay a little more than they would on BC Hydro, some pay a little less.

As you have discovered, our base rate for residential users (the amount you pay to have an account, regardless of electrical use) works out to be a few cents higher per 2-month billing period (New West charges $11.92 per 2-month period, BC Hydro charges $0.1835 per day). We then charge a flat $0.0993/ kWh of use, where BC Hydro charges $0.0829 for the first 1350kWh per billing period (2 months) and $0.1243 for any above 1350kWh. So, although collectively, we pay about the same rate, residential users (like you and I ) who use less electricity probably pay more per unit relative to BC Hydro rates, that people who use a lot. To graph it out, it looks like this:

graph1

According to BC Hydro, the average BC household uses about 900kWh of electricity every month. If this average holds true for New West, then the average household is paying about $5.80 per month more than they would in a BC Hydro service area, or almost $70 more per year. Strangely, if you are an efficient apartment dweller and use half that amount of electricity, your monthly New West premium is even higher – at $93 per year.

If you use about 1130kWh per month, then your rates are the same as BC Hydro, and the more you use, the more your savings go up. At twice the average, 1800kWh/month, you would get about a $200 per year discount off BC Hydro rates by living in New West.

As our rate structure is flat, you are not subsidizing larger users – we all pay the same for each unit of electricity in New West. However, comparison to BC Hydro’s stepped rate structure gives the impression that we are encouraging consumption, but not doing enough to actively discourage it. If you add the base and metered values together, here is the true cost of what you pay for every kWh of electricity, based on your usage:

graph2

For context, my (admittedly back-of-the envelope) estimate is that the average New West household saves about $160 a year in Property Taxes (or, depending on your viewpoint, receives $160 worth of extra services from the City they don’t need to pay for through taxes) because we have an electrical utility and the profit it earns for the City. That might make you feel better, except that property taxes index with the value of your home, so again, the big-house-owner probably gets more benefit than the apartment dweller.

In summary, I don’t think this is good. I support the concept of City using the Electrical Utility to provide a financial benefit to the residents that own the utility, and offset their taxes. I support using “similar to BC Hydro” as the benchmark for our retail rates. However, I think the impression of benefitting larger users that is created by our flat rate structure sends the wrong message. I remember asking some questions about this back when I was still pretty new to the job, and I seem to remember getting a report that more of less confirmed what the graph above shows.

I’m not on the Electrical Commission, and I’m not sure when the next rate review will occur, but I’ll see what I can do.

Mobi

The long-anticipated and irrationally-political Mobi bikeshare program has finally launched in Vancouver. I hope it works, but have my doubts.

Regular readers (hi Mom!) will remember that I went to New York City around Christmas time last year, and had a chance to try out their massively successful bikeshare program, product-placemently named “Citi Bikes”. The experience not only made me a fan of bikeshare- but changed a lot of my misconceptions about what bikeshare is. As I see many of my own misconceptions being repeated in the Vancouver media (social and otherwise) around Mobi, it is worth discussion.

Citi Bikes operate on short-term rental system. You can pick up a bike while walking by a station, and ride for up to 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if you have an annual pass) before you need to check the bike in again at any station. You can buy a day pass for $12, which gives you unlimited rides within 24 hours, or you can buy an annual pass for $150 and use it whenever you feel the need.

Now, 30 minutes seems a pretty short period of time to rent a bike, but that is the entire point of the system. If you want to rent a bike for a couple of hours to noodle around Stanley Park, or for a few days to add biking adventures to your vacation, then a private bike rental company is still the best option for you. Bikeshare is not about replacing other bikes, it is about expanding your walking distance and facilitating multi-modal trips.

I can probably explain better by talking about the day we spent in Brooklyn and Manhattan using Citi Bikes:

  • We walk the block from our place in residential Bedford-Sty to our nearest Citi Bike Station. After about 5 minutes of paying for a day pass and checking the bikes out, we were on our way east along brownstone-lined streets.
  • About 20 minutes later, we were at Barclay’s Centre where another Citi Bike station was awaiting. We dock the bikes and hang out a bit at the sprawling plaza. The dock also has a digital map kiosk, so we orient ourselves and plan the best route to the Brooklyn Bridge before we check out a couple of new bikes.

Barclay

  • Near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, we dock the bikes. We grab a coffee, then wander over to the bridge. The pedestrian/bike walkway is packed with tourists, so we slowly walk across enjoying the sites, the crowd, the experience, without abandoning bikes at one end we need to retrieve later, or feeling like we needed to drag them along.

brook

  • We spend an hour or two wandering around China Town and Little Italy, then hop on a Citi Bike to loop around the Bowery to the Village. Some places were better for walking, some better for riding, and we made the choice. village2
  • After some more meandering, we check out another set of bikes and cross the Williamsburg Bridge. Back on the Brooklyn side, we quickly swap bikes to get ourselves an extra few minutes, then head through Williamsburg to find a brewery.

bridge

  • After a tasting and a meal and some wandering about loving the vibe of Williamsburg, we found a nearby station and mapped out the best route home to Bed Sty as the sun was setting. Probably being a 40-minute ride at an easy pace, we figured we would need to swap out bikes half way. We didn’t know about the “Citi Bike Dead Zone” in the Hasidic part of south Williamsburg, but managed to find a station with 5 minutes to spare. If we had downloaded the Citi Bike App, we could have avoided this peril.

wilmsbg2

  • Back at our base station as it was getting dark (the Citi Bike has built-in front and rear lights run by a generator in the front hub), we checked in and walked the block home with time enough to catch a great Sousaphone-Accordion trio.

sousa

A nice 8-hour day, about 7 bike station stops, we probably covered 20 kilometres on bikes, just to connect up our fun walking spots. We never fussed with a bike lock (or a helmet – more on that later) or worried about bike storage or security, and were left with nothing but a pocket full of access codes.

slips2

That is just a tourist experience. If you live and work in the service area, the Citi Bike can change the decision you make every day when you walk out the door to run an errand or meet a friend. Walk for 15 minutes? Bike for 5minutes? Wait for 5 minutes for the bus? Screw it, I’ll just drive? The magic of bikeshare is that you don’t have to worry about the hassles inherent in the “Bike for 5 minutes” choice: you don’t need special clothes, you don’t have to fuss with locks or worry about bringing the bike back with you if you have a multi-stop trip planned. Bikeshare, when working properly, is like having a bunch of moving sidewalks around that can cut your walking time in a third, with no more hassle than walking.

The ease and functionality of Citi Bike relies on several things, though, and New York gets them right.

Stations need to be ubiquitous. Within the service area of Citi Bike, you are never more than a 5-miunte ride to the nearest station. They also manage the bikes well, in that I think there was only one occasion when we arrived at a station and found it empty of bikes. Fortunately, the on-line app and maps in the station kiosks have real-time measures of how full the stations are, allowing you to plan at the beginning of your rental. How ubiquitous? Look at the map of Manhattan and Brooklyn:

Citi

Bikes need to be Euro. By this, they need to be durable, friendly, simple, and built for casual use. Citi Bike rides are bomb-proof and a little heavy, but run like a Swiss watch. The transmission is internally-geared with a twist-shifter, the chain is in a case, so no grease or oil splatter problems. The wheels have full and deep fenders to keep the spray off, and to keep toes, cuffs, or scarfs out of the spokes. The pedals and seat are wide, flat and grippy so no special clothes are needed. There is a unique-sounding bell, a big basket for groceries, and front and rear lights are always on thanks to the nifty generator in the front wheel. They aren’t specifically elegant, and won’t win any criterium races, but they are the right tool for the job.

slow2

The payment has to be simple. Similarly, the kiosks for Citi Bike are simple to use, but have a ton of utility. It takes only a few minutes to buy a day pass using a credit card, and once you are in the system, it takes literally seconds to check a bike out (check in is as easy as park-it-and-walk-away). I could see how an annual passholder would be walking down the street, see a kiosk, and, on a whim, check out a bike to get 6 blocks down the street faster. As a bonus, there are digital maps to show you your location that allow you to zoom out to other station locations, which (as a super-double-bonus) serve as wayfinding tools for all tourists who happen by, not just Citi Bike users.

You can’t have a helmet law. Everything above about the need for the system to be easy, fuss-free, and comfortable is tossed by the wayside when you add helmets. Citi Bike is successful because it accommodates street clothes and on-a-whim decision making. Aside from the (not insignificant) yuck-factor, helmets significantly increase the hassle factor, and change the math on that walk-for-15/ ride-for-5/ wait-for-bus math. The kludged Vancouver solution (ugly, uncomfortable, dirty helmets that are likely more of a choking hazard than actual brain protector) stands in contrast to everything that makes Citi Bike work.

street2

The most significant stat about Citi Bike is that they have, since summer of 2013, had more than 25 million rides, with no fatalities and no major injuries. Manhattan and Brooklyn are not famous for their excellent roads or courteous drivers – the roads are crowded, potholed, and at times chaotic, and Citi Bike users are (reportedly) every bit as chaotic as other users. Many are novice riders, and very few wear helmets. Bikeshare is safer than driving, and Manhattan, it is safer than walking. The statistics are the same for bikeshare systems across North America. Part of this is intrinsic to the bikes: upright, slow, stable, comfortable, and visible. Part of it is the demonstrated phenomenon that the best way to make cycling safe is to put more bikes on the road – areas with bikeshare systems have been found to be safer for those cyclists not using bikeshare systems. Helmets Laws are not only a deterrent to use, they are demonstrably unnecessary for the inherent risk.

So I wish the best for Mobi. I’m not sure there is a sufficiently saturated market outside of downtown and the Commercial-to-Kitsilano corridor to provide the effective station saturation you need to make the system work, but within that area all of the pieces for success are in place. However, until we grow up and have a rational re-evaluation of the province’s silly anti-cyclist helmet law, I am afraid the system will suffer from lack of appeal. And that would be a shame.

Bugs in my compass

I had a slightly different commute schedule last Wednesday, in that I had a morning meeting in one of New Westminster’s western suburbs, and had one of those multi-leg trips to work. Instead of riding my bike or joining my carpool partners, I took the SkyTrain on all three legs.

My transit commuting is irregular enough that FareSavers have been the most logical and economical way to pay. Since the FareSavers have become about as rare as white rhinos, I have been buying tickets at the kiosk, pretty much because that is the pattern I have fallen into. On the first leg of my Wednesday journey, I reflexively bought a 2-zone ticket and although I noticed a few weeks ago that the new tickets are essentially disposable Compass cards, it took me one of those overstuffed train moments of self-realization to ask: why the hell haven’t I bought a Compass Card?

My thinking place
My thinking place

So on the second leg of my journey, after my meeting in that distant western suburb (I like what they’ve done with the place, not sure why anyone would want to live there), I popped for the $6 deposit and a nice float of $60. The number seemed to me prudent: large enough that it will keep me for a little while as I try out these new-fangled ideas, but not so large that I will hate the world when I inevitably lose it. Tap In at Waterfront; all good.

My first problem was at Brighouse. Like many of my cohort, I was riding with earphones, listening to a Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, and as I left the station and performed my first Tap Out, I was uncertain if I heard a beep. Actually, I heard multiple beeps, as people were tapping in and out all around me, but did MY kiosk beep? I think so, and with people behind me rushing out of the station to the busses, I didn’t want to break momentum to make sure. Even if I did, would Tapping Out twice somehow mess the system up, and count as re-entry? When did I become so old that new technology confuses me? Was it before or after I completely lost touch with popular music? Is Beyonce still a thing?

Fortunately, I can go on-line to see the status of my Compass Card. To do this, you need to set up an account, and aside from the frustratingly archaic, patriarchal and gender-normative mandatory “Mr/Mrs/Ms” data field (really, TransLink? It’s 2015), the interface was easy enough for gramps like me to navigate. I was able to confirm that, sure enough, the Tap Out didn’t take. My card balance showed $55.80, meaning I was charged the FareSaver Rate of $4.20 for a three-zone ride, instead of the $3.15 FareSaver Rate for a 2-zone ride. To fix my Tap Out mistake, I needed to call the 1-800 phone number, which launched me on yet another metaphysical debate about whether that hassle was worth $1.05 of my time.

I go through life like this, folks. It is harrowing.

Being interested in taking the ride to see where it goes, I did nothing. After work I once again hopped on transit, this time Tapping In at Brighouse Station at 5:10pm (90% sure it beeped for me), Tapping Out at waterfront at about 5:45 (70% sure, as the exit from Canada Line at Waterfront is a serious traffic pinch point that I am still certain will be the failure of the entire FalconGate Fiasco), Tapping In again across the lobby at Waterfront (100% sure, as the FalconGate was operating), and Tapping Out again at Columbia Station at about 6:15 (lets put this one at 95%). I made it to my 6:30 meeting at City Hall just in time. Thanks TransLink!

Curious to see how all of this activity showed up on my card, I logged on (after resetting my password, because who remembers those things?) and this is what I get:

Capture

Clearly, Compass is confused, or I really need to work on my tapping skills. My 5:10 Tap In was apparently registered, as it appears to have made the system aware I didn’t tap out, but none of the subsequent taps was registered. Fred Astaire I am not. As far as tracking my movements, we have a 2 for 6 on Taps. I suppose the two Waterfront taps cancel each other out, I’m surprised it didn’t catch me leaving Columbia Station. The good news is:

Capture2

The confusion of my movements has resulted in TransLink charging me for one three-zone trip, and not for the two 2-zone trips I made, so I guess I am $2.10 up on the deal.

I hasten to note this problem is very likely to go away once the FalconGates are fully operational, as it will be pretty much impossible for you to miss a tap-out. The current bugs in the system should probably be expected, and at least there is a method for you to receive a refund in the case you get overcharged.

As an interesting aside, I have two travel options on transit getting from my work to New West. I can take the Canada Line to Waterfront, then SkyTrain to New West, or I can hop on the 410 bus to 22nd Street station then one stop on SkyTrain. Both take almost exactly the same time, one hour station-to-station. I have always chosen the SkyTrain because it is more comfortable than the 410 bus and (traditionally) more reliable as it doesn’t get stuck in the east-west-connector single-occupant-vehicle Stockholm-syndrome traffic-radio-reality-program plebiscite-free fustercluck that our regional transportation system is becoming.

However, now that we are in the Compass world there is another difference:

Capture3

The ride on the bus will cost me $2.10 with my loaded Compass Card, the Train ride $3.15. If I was a daily commuter, that would be a difference of more than $500 a year. This makes me wonder if people will actually engage in this type of “toll avoidance”, trading convenience and comfort for a few dollars a day.

Bicycles

No secret around these parts – I like to ride bicycles more than most people.

The last couple of years, my mountain bike has been gathering dust as I spend much more time on the road, in no small part thanks to the guys of the Fraser River Fuggitivi – a rag-tag group of Sunday morning riders, some life-long cyclists, some new to the sport, some fast, some just trying to hang on. On a good day, the FRF can be a dozen riders; on some days we only have three or four; on rainy days we stay home. Them’s the Italian Rules.

This past weekend, for reasons that are more complicated than just the serious headwind we experienced on part of the ride, I was thinking about what riding a bicycle has taught me about society. Cycling is not just a social sport, it is a socialist sport. From the Pro Peloton to a local Sunday morning ride, we work together into the inevitable wind. The weaker riders protected by the efforts of the strongest, taking their pulls when they feel able, sitting back when they don’t. Rarely do we judge those who don’t take their pull, we know when you can pull, we know when you are hurting. By working together, we all go faster for less effort. There is nothing more socialist than that.

However (and here is the beautiful part), all that working together doesn’t mean there can’t be winners. Individually, few in the FRF could have pulled off our 80+km ride on a hot windy day with the average just a tick under 30km/h like we did on Sunday, but working together we got there and got home sooner. But not before we sprinted our lungs out to see who had the most left in the tank. @Gye_Incognito managed to ride the rest of us off his wheel in that flat-back slightly-too-big-gear style of his (last year’s FRF Sprint Champ @FlyingOakes was not present, and John of the Thundering Thighs is no longer with us, so we will have to put an asterisk next to this win). The sprint was fun as much as it hurt, and there is pride and respect earned for winning it, but none of us would have gotten there together to see it won without the several-hours effort we put in together, pulling together against the wind.

Over history, bicycles have been liberating and empowering, and they have been marketed, commercialized and commoditized. They were seen both as a symbol of Maoist communism, then as a roadblock to progress in post-Maoist communism. They were effectively driven off of the streets of our democratic urban areas to foster “free movement” of people and goods, and are now a symbol (arguably, THE symbol) of urban renewal across that same post-industrial capitalist world. Meanwhile, bicycles facilitate a sport that never shies away from its pure capitalist roots – Professional Cycling is a rolling consumer road show that grinds through its workers like a commodity, but where sacred symbols (including the most sacred of all – the Maillot Jaune) are just corporate branding exercises. Still, it is full of traditions that put the team before the individual: with winners who giving their cash awards to their teammates, a culture of Domestiques and Omerta and lead-out-trains and not attacking when your opponent is down.

Bicycles are about the most efficient human-powered machines ever invented, but they are also a powerful tool for society. They bring people together for common causes, and make society move forward more efficiently. You can’t help it: cycling makes you a socialist.

They also commonly remind me how out of shape I am. Thanks for the pulls, guys.

Green Drinks and Food Security!

I’ve mentioned the Southwest BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project (SWBCBRFSDP – my acronym, not theirs!) on this blog before, but it was tied in with a bunch of bummer complaining about lack of government support for protecting the ALR, so the good news might have been buried in all that whining. So this is the “good news” follow-up post. Folks in the know are coming to New West on Tuesday to tell us about this really cool project.

Recognizing the need to support more robust local food systems, the researchers at Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems are applying their significant expertise, and partnering with a diverse community of business, governance, and agricultural experts, to bring about change in how we source our food.

There are a lot of words in SWBCBRFSDP, but I like the idea of showing why every word is relevant:

SWBC: Southwest BC is defined by the project as the area from Hope to Powell River, and from Delta to Lillooet: an extensive area that ties the lower stretch of the Fraser River to the Sunshine Coast, and essentially comprises the mainland Canadian portions of the traditional lands of the Coast Salish People.

BR: A Bio-Region is and area defined by a common topography, climate, plant and animal life, and human cultural influence. In this sense, the watersheds of the Salish Sea from the desert of Lillooet to Howe Sound has a diversity of eco-zones, but are tied together by bio-cultural heritage and geography.

FS: This project is not just about farming and protecting the ALR. Yes, preserving farmland when we can will be an important part of the food security equation, but we also have to consider the other major food inputs, such as the salmon we catch from the river, and the traditional food-gathering that many of us are separated from, but are still an important part of the region’s culture. However, there is much more to food than having profitable local Agri-business farms (how many cranberries do you eat in the average year?). A Food System would support the regional economy by connecting together food sources with processors, warehousing and retail, delivery systems from Farmers’ Markets to restaurants and standard retail. A true system would even connect our disjointed organic waste stream, to bring the nutrients in our food waste back to the farms and better manage in the industrial-scale waste sometimes produced in Agri-business. Ultimately, every step in the food cycle should not just just feed British Columbians, but employ, include, and benefit British Columbians. That is how local economic resiliency is built.

Design Project: This project will start by performing an actual, science-based evaluation of what the food potential of the region is – can this region actually meet its own food needs? And if so, how? They will also be evaluating the critical needs and opportunities for our local food systems to get the food we produce to our local plates. The eventual plan is to create a series of science-based policy papers and best practices reviews that decision-makers in municipal, regional and provincial government can use to help bring a more sustainable local food system into existence.

This project hopes to realize that building a local food economy is about more than just Food Sovereignty (our ability to feed ourselves domestically and not being overly reliant on volatile global markets), but also supports economic development for the region. Every bit of food we import is a bleed on the local economy – it is a flow of our wealth to other places that we could instead use to fuel our local economy. If food is grown in BC, processed in BC, sold in BC, and the waste recycled in BC, we are creating jobs at every step, we are having a smaller environmental impact on the planet. It also brings our communities together by bringing us closer to the people who provide us our nourishment.

At a time when many of us feel bombarded by bad news and general malaise about the future of sustainability planning in our communities / province / country, this is a good news story – a positive look forward towards a better future.

At this point, the project is still being set up, and the proponents are trying to tie stakeholders together. The proponents are putting on a bit of a travelling discussion about the project and food security, which is why I am talking about this here and now – because Dr. Kent Mullinix and Sofia Fortin from the SW BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project are coming to Green Drinks in New West!

The NWEP is moving it’s every-second-month-or-so Green Drinks to the Terminal Pub (where there is a new menu, many excellent choices at the taps, and a cool new room) on June 10. Green Drinks is always fun, casual, and no-stress. You get to chat with a wide diversity of New Westies and people from a little further afield. The formal program is kept short to give you lots of chat time, and there is no need to drink if that isn’t your thing. It’s mostly just a social gathering of folks concerned about sustainability issues, socializing, talking, and having some fun.

This time, you get a chance to talk to the folks from the above-raved-about project (and ask Kent about pruning your trees- I took a pruning course from him a few years ago and learned more than anyone should ever need to know- the guy is a font of knowledge on all things growing!)

Join us! It’s Free!

RCFM FUNdraiser!

Since I wrote that last piece about the ALR, I have had a lot of chats with people in various forums on the very topic.

I have also read a bit more about the issue, including this typically-idiotic piece by Tom Fletcher where he suggests the only people against the systematic disassembly of ALR protections are the evil NDP and others who aren’t “in the real British Columbia”. I guess he didn’t talk to this guy who seems to know a bit about land development around the ALR, he being a former mayor and land developer in a place with a lot of ALR land, or this collection of people who live and work in the BC food supply chain, from the farm to the restaurant plate, or even these folks, who represent 14,000 BC Farmers. I guess none of them live “in the real British Columbia”, which by Fletcher’s opinions, I have to assume is somewhere near the Premier’s back pocket.

Many people have asked me – what can they do about it? Hopefully you have already contacted your MLA, and the Minister of Agriculture. Really, it only takes a few minutes to write an e-mail, and if you wait until election time to tell your elected officials what you think, you have failed at Democracy 101.

Here is another thing you can do to improve the Food Security in New Westminster: Come to the Royal City Farmers Market fundraiser next Wednesday!

How does that help? The RCFM gives people like Urban Digs and Glen Valley Organic Farm and the Forstbauer Family a place to market their fresh-from-the-ground actually-grown-here good-for-you food. As the good people at the Southwest BC Food System Project remind us- it isn’t just about saving the farmland, it is about assuring we have the sustainable processing, distribution and marketing systems in place to bring the local food to local tables in a way that supports local jobs and the local economy. Your local Farmers Market is part of that.

When everyone in this City is complaining about the Competition Bureau deciding that 4 grocery outlets owned by the same company is the best way to protect our town from monopolistic control of our food supply, a weekly trip to the RCFM is part of the solution – buying fresh food from people you know while enjoying the benefits of community building.

So yeah, you love the RCFM, but why go to the fundraiser? Two reasons:

First, it raises funds to keep the RCFM going. It helps pay for things like the tents, the advertising, the paperwork, the web presence, the musicians, the kids activity table, the special promotions, and it helps the RCFM employ its single staff member to herd the cats that need to be herded to make the whole travelling circus of volunteers and vendors run. It helps the RCFM do the other stuff it provides for the community, like the community table and the food coupon program and the bursary it provides for an NWSS grad. Every bit of the fundraiser money goes right back into our community, into making the RCFM the great weekly event it is!

Second, it will be the social event of the year (or at least the social event of the year that won’t require a special wardrobe). It will be at the brand new Hub Restaurant (have you seen their deck!?) with special canapé prepared by Executive Chef Michael Knowlson from food supplied by actual RCFM vendors, local craft beer and wine, a bunch of silent auction opportunities, and (this is new) a live auction for a few special items.

And yes, the rumours are true, I am going to be acting as MC, and running the live auction. So please show up, because it will be pretty weird for me to stand there auctioning things off to myself.

I personally guarantee you will laugh, you will meet new people, you will enjoy your food and drink, and you will be doing a good thing for a good cause.

Link for ticket purchase is www.rcfm2014.eventbrite.ca

The future of farming or a future without farms?

I’ve been thinking about the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) a lot recently. For several reasons.

Caveat: Although dealing with ALR issues is a (very small) part of my job, nothing I write here is related to actual experiences on the job, nor do I does it relate whatsoever to the opinions of my employers.

We were out on our regular every-Sunday-morning-in-a-month-without-an-“r” Fraser River Fuggitivi ride to Steveston, and a friend starting asking me about farms in Richmond. Among the topics: “wow, farmers must be rich, these huge houses!” and (in response to some signs on a farm) “is illegal dumping a really an issue?”

A second reason it has been on my mind was my recent short tour of Urban Digs Farm in Burnaby. We were there to buy some locally-grown and humanely raised pork, but got an impromptu tour and learned a lot about the realities of small farming in the Urban ALR.

Thirdly, I recently saw a presentation by Kent Mullinix about the Southwest BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project. This is a science-based collaborative investigation of the BC food system, with an emphasis on the sustainability of the inputs (soil, water, nutrients) and outputs (waste) of our local food supply.

All of these ideas were entering my already-addled head, because they entered in the context of the current discussion happening in Victoria about changes to the Agricultural Land Commission. The more I learn about this topic, the more concerned I am about the erosion of our ability, as a society, to feed ourselves, and the ripple effects that will have in our local and regional economy.

So let’s go back up to topic #1: The economics of farming in parts of the Lower Mainland. The reality is that some people are making money farming in the Lower Mainland, but they aren’t building mansions. Well, a few are building mansions because they are the very few large landowners and leaseholders growing cranberries or blueberries at a scale and scope that they can tie into the globalized agri-business model. Most of the mansions you see on agricultural land are not owned by the farmers of the land, but people who want to build a 20,000-sqft house, and a 10-acre piece of farmland is the most affordable way to do it. The farming that occurs on that land is not by them, but by someone else (usually the agri-business conglomerates) that lease the land, allowing the person who can afford the 20,000-sqft mansion to avoid paying too much tax.

There is also a fair amount of good farmland in the Lower Mainland that is sitting idle – not being farmed because it is owned as a long-term investment. Occasionally, someone decides the land has to be raised to grow crops (often, a dubious argument) and gets approval to bring fill onto the land from the ALC. That can be very lucrative, as it is surprisingly difficult to find somewhere to put all of the dirt you dig out of the ground when you build a high-rise tower in Burnaby or Surrey or New Westminster. Occasionally, this fill is contaminated or contains construction trash or debris. Since the ALC currently does not have an Enforcement Officer in the Lower Mainland, the chances of anyone getting in trouble for dumping this non-farm-use soil on ALR land are pretty slim. Very occasionally, unknown people dump large quantities of fill of unknown quality or origin on unoccupied farmland. See the part above about “Enforcement Officer”.

The third category of farmland use in the Lower Mainland is the small farmer trying to grow crops for local markets and maybe trying to latch onto the side of the global agri-business train. For them, the work is hard, and the economics dire.

Part one of the sketchy economics are land prices. Large tracts of ALR land in the Lower Mainland can be had for $100,000 acre, if you are buying a very large piece out in the far reaches of Langley or an unimproved piece of South Surrey. If you want to buy a smaller 5- or 10-acre ALR lot closer to urban areas, your land price can get up to $1,000,000 per acre. When the vast majority of BC Farms make less than $100,000 in annual revenue, there is simply no opportunity to support that land value.

So why is the land so valuable if it doesn’t deliver revenue? See the two examples of ALR land use above. If you want 40 acres upon which to build a 20,000-sqft mansion, $6 Million seems like a bargain, especially as you can lease 75% of the land to an agri-business and save on your taxes. Add to this the speculation that all ALR (especially the stuff near urban development) has the potential to turn into extremely valuable commercial or industrial land, if you can only convince the ALC to let it out of the ALR. The speculative value of the land is so much higher than its monetary value as farmland.

The second half of this sketchy economics discussion is the globalized agri-business industry in BC as a whole. According to Kent Mullinix, Food agriculture on BC made about $2.5 Billion in revenue last year, but the industry as a whole lost $87 Million. That is only a 3% loss on revenue – an industry can rebound from this type of temporary setback – except it is not temporary, it is systemic. The trend is downward, with no plan to recover.

The trend is going that way because the North American agriculture system is becoming less sustainable. It relies on uncertain hydrocarbon markets to fuel it, it is overtaxing the soil, in some places depleting the ground and surface water that sustains it, in other areas polluting the water running off from it. It is becoming more reliant on a few large Corporations that own all of the seeds and the pesticides that the seeds have been genetically modified to tolerate. The meat is overloaded with antibiotics that are creating a resistance problem, and grown in such concentrated conditions that the entire Fraser Valley has a “nutrient glut” – they can’t find anywhere to put all the shit they are generating. If, god forbid, there is a bumper crop, the Global Market, in all its invisible-hand wisdom, causes prices to dive and the farmer still struggles to break even. Margins are so tight that an entire industry of indentured servants temporary foreign workers had to be developed to allow the money-losing crops to get to export.

This contrasts completely with the approach the good people at Urban Digs are taking. They have leased a few acres of land in the last remnants of farm land in Burnaby, and use it to grow higher-value vegetable crops, organic free-run chickens (for eggs), ducks (for meat), and pigs. They may grow other things, but those what was on site when I visited.

I first met Julia from Urban Digs when we both presented at the same PechaKucha event at the River Market. I babbled on about rocks, but she gave a compelling talk about the farm that struck a nerve when she discussed the ethics of meat eating. She spoke of raising, nurturing, and caring for animals before you slaughter them for meat. Short of becoming an ethical vegan, this seems the least cruel way to manage our meat supply. Also, because they are not stressed, are free to roam, and have healthy balanced diets, the meat simply tastes better. Yes, this meat is a little more expensive than the foam-platter plastic-wrapped slab of flesh at Safeway… but I’ll address that issue later.

That’s MsNWimby meeting her meat at Urban Digs. 

Urban Digs are like pretty much every successful small-business owner I have met: They bust their ass every day to keep things running; They hire a local assistant when they can afford it and need arises to share in the hard work and they pay them for it; They rely on an integrated network of local supports for the bulk of their supplies; They are constantly reaching out to expand their local customer base and innovating to find new ways to serve their market. They contribute to their community, and every dollar they make is returned to the local economy. They are not getting rich, aren’t building a big house on their acreage, but they are getting by, doing good, honest work right here in our community.

This to me is the fundamental point that speaks to the real issue behind farming in BC: they can make enough revenue on a few acres of rich ALR farmland to make a (hard) living, but they can only dream of making enough to pay for the actual land they farm, hence the short-term lease.

So the big operators are scratching by, or losing money, riding the globalized agri-business  train, and the small operator is scratching by, but cannot afford to settle on a piece of land by providing better food to local people. At the same time that the majority of the food we grow, and the majority of the $2.5 Billion in annual revenue agriculture generates leaves BC, we in British Columbia spend more than $6.3 Billion on food, and watch our own farmland sit idle, or get redeveloped into tilt-up slab industrial land. Why?

A new crop of tilt-slab light industrial buildings in Burnaby.

Because agri-business food is cheaper.

That’s it – that is the only reason anyone can give for why that slab of antibiotic-laden, nutrient-reduced, potentially-diseased, tasteless flesh wrapped in plastic at Safeway is the better way to feed ourselves. However – and this is the important point – this is a false economy.

The compromises we need to make to our food security to save that little bit of money at the check-out counter are huge, and piling up, and they don’t represent real savings, they represent offsetting costs. The reliance on increased petrochemical inputs, on overtaxed soil and contaminated water systems, on increasing livestock influenza epidemics and moving food in gigantic steel boxes across the ocean when it can be grown in our own backyard. When almost all of the money we spend on that “cheaper” food leaves the Province, and the large agri-businesses operating in BC are losing money – is this really the cheaper option? Or are we being penny wise and pound foolish.

When the California Central Valley, where most of our vegetable crops come from, is seeing its third consecutive year of critical drought; when the Ogallala Aquifer, which irrigates 1/3 of grain crops in North America, is showing signs of failure; and when the world is moving past peak phosphorous (Cripes! That’s a thing!?), there are many signs that the era of all this “cheap food” is fleeting. The system is too big, too unyielding, and relies on too many critical paths. The globalized agri-business food industry in 2012 is starting to look like a Soviet corn or cotton plan from 1960, and it is just as doomed. The economics are shifting.

If this system is breaking, what will replace it? That is what the team from the Southwest BC Bio-Regional Food System Design Project are going to try to calculate. Now this post is running very long already, so I leave it to you to go to the website and get more detail about this very interesting program (and maybe I’ll Blog more about it later). Short version: A group of researchers from Kwantlen’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems is working with a broad group of partners including Local Governments from Hope to the Sunshine Coast and groups as diverse as the ALC, Real Estate Foundation of BC, the New Westminster Community Food Action Committee, and the Surrey Board of Trade to study the food system that nourishes our community.

Here is a quote form their website:

“The team is using a bio-regional approach to design an integrated food system that respects the boundaries and leverages the opportunities of an ecological and cultural region beyond the conventional delineations of municipal and regional boundaries. Our planning horizon is 2050. What is the potential for a revived and re-localized food system in BC; how can we respect and incorporate Indigenous harvest and hunting practices in the food system; how many jobs can we create; how much can we contribute to the regional economy; what kinds of ancillary businesses can emerge and how can this kind of food system reduce GHG emissions and address serious environmental concerns? These are some of the questions the ISFS team is trying to answer”.

This is an interesting project, in its infancy, but inside here may well be found the systems that need to be developed that will allow businesses like Urban Digs to provide food in a sustainable way to our community, and pay themselves a living wage while doing it.

Our Provincial government is also aware the ALR system is broken, but instead of fixing it, they seem intent on scattering the pieces about to prevent it’s repair. I present to you Bill 24 – Amendments to the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

The first step (and it can’t be the only one) to repair the disconnect between farm land value and its cost is to end the speculative investment in ALR land, which starts with a Government standing up and saying “This Government will not undo the ALR, and will not allow lands to be removed from the ALR”, like every other government of the last 40 years has done. Even showing the kind of commitment for the ALR that they demonstrated during the election last year would be nice. Look at their 2013 Campaign Platform, and the Agriculture section was 400 words with three strategies and 10 actions, and no mention of changes to the ALC. Actually, the platform suggests it will help with a Buy Local campaign and promote 50- and 100-mile diets, an idea that is best supported by strengthening the ALC.

This Act does quite the opposite, and opens up the door for exclusion on the whim of local politicians. The cost of farm land in the lower mainland will be going up when this bill passes, hand in hand with the pressure on local councils to open it for development.

With apologies to the most stunningly non-partisan of all Canadian scientists, this Government seems to never see a problem so bad that they can’t make worse.

Bill 24 is a potential disaster for BC food security, because it entrenches the unsustainable, failing business model that is our current globalized agri-business based food system. It not only fails to prop that business model up (as the land price equation change is going to hurt them as well!) it runs the risk of ending any hope we have of building the sustainable model that may replace it, at the very time when we are seeking to understand better what that system looks like.

On Competition for Groceries

With a spate of new (but remarkably familiar) signs going up around town, and everyone wondering about how increased consolidation could possibly result in increased competition, I have also been thinking about the changes in the New West retail world, and what they may mean.

Admittedly, I may be the wrong person to opine on this. I pretty much hate shopping, and by Brand Loyalty gland seems to have swole up and broke. Allow me to explain.

I spent much of my young life working in retail. My parents were small business owners, and I worked around the shop from a young age. Even when not working around the shop, it was the place I hung out at after school in those pre-teen years. Eventually I was cleaning shop, merchandising goods, helping with inventory and sales, waxing skis and fixing bikes. Although I did a variety of other jobs when I was young (pulp mill, bike courier, logistics, dishwashing and kitchen prep, etc.), pretty much all of my beer money through my undergrad came from working in bike shops – I loved working in bike shops. It may be because of these retail experiences that I am kind of cynical about retail sales, and generally dislike most retail experience decades later. I suspect it is some combination of subconsciously seeking the approval of the retail salesperson (wanting to not be one of those “bad customers” we criticized in the back room) and my internal critique of everything that a retail salesperson is doing to persuade money from me. I’m sure a therapist could work these knots out of my psyche, but as the end result is my buying less and living a more affordable lifestyle, I’m not sure it is top of the list of personality problems I need solved.

For likely unrelated reasons, I am not “brand loyal” at all. I essentially don’t care what name is on the outside of a store, but I do care about what is inside the store. I like to shop locally, and help out a small business person if I can. I don’t want to buy my underwear and spark plugs in the same store. I want the person selling me something to know more about it that I do. I will pay more for a higher-quality more durable product, if that option is available to me, but only up to a poorly-defined point of marginal gains. When shopping for apples, I look for the BC label. For larger purchases, I do my research, know what I want, and am rarely swayed from my opinion. I hate when shopping is a hassle, and more often than not, I find shopping to be a chore worth avoiding than a pleasurable way to spend my time. Again: the rich psychological tapestry.

With that context out of the way, how does this manifest on grocery stores? I have an internal algorithm that balances proximity (because I would rather walk), large but not too large (enough selection to find what I want, but not to be overwhelmed by variety or scale), a good produce section (because I like to buy ingredients as opposed to prepared foods, and this is where a quality difference makes a big difference) and easy to manage (reducing the hassles). When living near Lougheed Mall during my SFU days, that added up to the Lougheed Safeway. When living in downtown Langley a decade ago, that added up to the old-school Overwaitea/Save-on-Foods a block away. When living in Champaign, Illinois, that added up to a Meijer, which was a humungous big box store on the edge of town, but had an excellent compact grocery within and the only decent produce section in town. At my current Brow of the Hill address, that adds up to the Save-on-Foods in the Westminster Centre.

In my experience, the brand of the grocery store doesn’t matter that much – the difference in the shopping experience is a product of the staff and managers. Some stores are, simply, better run than others. They are all selling the same stuff in different packages and most analysis I have read suggest that if some have higher prices on some types of goods, they almost invariably have lower prices on other types. If a store has lots of expensive high-end packaged goods, they can generally afford to sell the staples at lower margins, and vice versa (which in part exacerbates the paradox that staple foods can cost more the lower-income neighbourhoods).

I love(d) the Thrifty Foods in Sapperton every time I was in there. In a very short time, it became my favorite grocery store in town, but I rarely shopped there – the proximity part of the algorithm just didn’t work out. When I was near-by, I shopped, but for the most part, the more local shop won. The Safeway in uptown is strangely too big and too hard to navigate, and I cannot get over the impression that things I buy there cost more than at Save-on (I have no data to support this, only personal anecdote). For quick-shop things, I often run to Uptown Market, which is a great little grocery, and in the summer months, try to buy produce from local producers along Marine Drive in Burnaby and, of course, at the Royal City Farmers Market. I am convinced by my own theory that the things that make the stores I prefer better are the staff and managers.

So when I heard that Thrifty Foods in Sapperton is being converted to a Save-on-Foods, I was glad to hear the staff were staying put. In fact, the order from the Competition Bureau insists that they not change staff when they sell the store off. The management and staff of that store have been exemplary to deal with. Not only has the shopping experience there been great, they have taken a really proactive role in community outreach. They contribute to community festivals in fun ways and have contributing to amateur sport in town. The General Manager, Doug Ford (no relation) has gotten involved in local organizations and is a great guy to chat with. He seems to understand community and his store’s role in it. I have no reason to believe that will change when the CEO changes from Marc Poulin to Jimmy Pattison. Only time will tell.

As for the Competition Bureau decision, we need to keep in mind that this was part of a country-wide purchase of 213 stores. When you read the Position Statement, you can see how they arrived at the decision they did. The math was based on distance to closest stores, competitors and non-competitors, and community mobility. In a dense urban area like ours, they looked at the make-up of the closest grocery stores.

Before the change, here is what the Competition Bureau saw (colours represent ownerships, distances are kilometres “as the crow flies”, and the black bars are to scale of relative distance):

After the owner of Thrifty buys Safeway, this is what it looks like:

All of the sudden, New West is looking pretty red. The Competition Bureau moves in, and here is the result:

seen form 10,000 feet up, it would be easy to argue that this is a more level and competitive field. One has to recognize this does not reflect exactly how the neighbourhoods work, nor does it include the smaller grocers (specifically exempt from the analysis the Competition Bureau performed, based on their Position Statement) like Donald’s. The analysis also did not anticipate the selling of the old IGA location to Save-On/PriceMart, or the introduction of a WalMart to uptown, but even the Competition Bureau can’t predict the future.

Me? I’ll still go up to Save-on-Foods in Uptown, because my personal algorithm hasn’t changed. If it closes (as I suspect it will, even Uptown can’t manage kitty-corner Save-on-Foods), the math will shift with it, and maybe the other Uptown Save-on will be the winner.

Resistance may be futile.