Large whales can get caught in fishing nets. This young humpback was lucky and lived. In 2011, it was found was freed by a group of conservationist in the Sea of Cortez. The whale was very, very happy about it. Source: the Great Whale Conservancy.
Pipeline opponents demand all-party investigation
Indigenous leaders, conservation organizations and community groups are calling for an all-party investigation into the federal approval for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker expansion project after revelations in April that insiders rigged the federal approval process.
Whistleblowers in the federal government revealed they were pressured “to give cabinet a legally-sound basis to say ‘yes’” to the pipeline and tanker proposal,” one month before the pipeline was actually approved.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, stated, “We are absolutely shocked and outraged to learn that the legally required consultation process for the destructive Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion may have been disingenuous. Even though consultation and accommodation is a red herring in the era of consent, it exists as a minimum legal standard that the government is required to carry out. We expect a full and independent investigation immediately.”
Seven First Nations are awaiting court decisions which could overturn the approval due to improper consultation. These revelations appear to confirm concerns at the time that the federal government had already made up its mind.
“The serious allegations in this reporting, if true, means the Kinder Morgan review process was a rigged game from the very beginning,” said Mike Hudema, Climate Campaigner with Greenpeace Canada. “We need an investigation to look into the claims, to determine whether Indigenous leaders and people across the country were lied to and whether the only answer the federal government would hear for this destructive project was the one Kinder Morgan demanded.”
High-ranking public servant Erin O’Gorman ordered the five involved federal departments to create a rationale for the approval on October 27, 2016, while consultation talks with local First Nations were going on. The Ministerial Panel that was to fill gaps in the National Energy Board process under the Harper government didn’t issue its report into meetings along the pipeline and tanker route until November 1, 2016. The panel was the centerpiece of Justin Trudeau’s election campaign promise to reform the National Energy Board.
“Thousands of people took time out of their day to voice their opposition to the only federal representatives who would listen,” said Peter McCartney, Climate Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, who attended all of those meetings. “To know that Cabinet didn’t even consider their input is a slap in the face to all British Columbians.”
Source: Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (“UBCIC”), ubcic.bc.ca
The Wilderness Committee is Canada’s people-powered, citizen-funded wilderness protection group. wildernesscommittee.org
Greenpeace: The organization’s goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity” and focuses its campaigning on worldwide issues. greenpeace.org
350.org uses online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions to oppose new coal, oil and gas projects and build 100% clean energy solutions that work for all.
Dogwood is BC’s largest nonpartisan citizen action network. dogwoodbc.ca
The Council of Canadians is Canada’s leading social action organization, mobilizing a network of 60 chapters across the country. canadians.org
SumOfUs is a community of people from around the world committed to curbing the growing power of corporations. sumofus.org
BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion) is a group of local residents whose mission includes preventing the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and related infrastructure in Burnaby and supertanker traffic. brokepipelinewatch.ca
Coast Protectors: The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs are working towards the recognition, implementation and exercise of inherent Indigenous Title, Rights and Treaty Rights. www.coastprotectors.ca
The Pipe Up Network is made up of residents of Southwestern BC who have come together because of their concerns about the safety, environmental and financial implications of shipping tar sands along Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. pipe-up.net
“Now is the time to stand beside Indigenous people in support of our timeless struggle to defend Mother Earth, whether our Indigenous Land Rights are being violated in BC, by Kinder Morgan’s TMX pipeline, the Site C Dam, the Pacific Northwest LNG plant or in Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline. There is a battle being waged across the globe by Indigenous Peoples and their allies demanding a safe, healthy world for future generations. This is about water versus oil and life versus death, and ultimately, survival versus extinction.” – Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Sign the pledge to Stop Kinder Morgan
“With our voice, in the courts or the streets, on the water or the land. Whatever it takes, we will stop the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and tanker project.”
Sign the pledge at www.coastprotectors.ca
More rigged than a Russian election
On April 25, MP Nathan Cullen stated in the House of Commons, “The Liberal’s Kinder Morgan approval process is looking more rigged than a Russian election. The Prime Minster promised the people of Alberta a credible process. He broke that promise. He promised British Columbia meaningful consultation with First Nations. He broke that promise too.
Now, with leaked papers from the Prime Minster’s own administration, we have proof that the decision on Kinder Morgan was made before the process even started. Today in Parliament, I asked Justin Trudeau to release the Kinder Morgan papers and the rebuild the trust of Canadians. He chose not to answer the question.”
I remember following your election victory in the early hours of October 20th, 2015 while on vacation halfway around the world. I was hopeful your leadership would be an improvement compared to another term of Stephen Harper. You said, “We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post” and I was optimistic. I heard your speech about supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, promising necessary reconciliation with our First Nations. You’ve supported the global scientific community’s overwhelming position that climate change is real and impacted by human behaviours, voicing your commitment to The Paris Climate Accord to lower Canada’s carbon emissions and prevent a catastrophic future.
You were saying all the right things. You even looked the part: a young, active West Coast guy with a Haida tattoo who boxes, snowboards and does yoga. You come off as very relatable. When I heard you talking about our beautiful West Coast – “This has been home for me for many, many years, throughout my life, and I get this place; I get how important it is to support it” – I was almost won over to becoming a supporter of yours, almost. There is just one problem: what you’re saying isn’t adding up to what you’re actually doing.
You’re supposed to be our country’s trusted leader. In your promotion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, you claim your position is supported by science, economics, law and even First Nations. None of these assertions are true, however. The reality about the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is that it is connected to the antithesis of what you claim to support. Like you, I’m also a leader. With that title comes the responsibility to hold the trust of those you lead. As a father of two young girls, I’m constantly trying to instil an understanding of good values in them. We should tell the truth and be consistently honest and keep our word. If we don’t do those things, people will not want to associate with us and may become hostile towards us.
On March 21, 1951, the Trans Mountain Pipeline Company was created by a special Act of Parliament. On that same day, the company made a pipeline proposal to the Board of Transport Commissioners. Ownership of the company was split between Canadian Bechtel Ltd. and Standard Oil. This was the same year that saw Parliament “reform” the racist Indian Act. In 1952, the pipeline was constructed and oil was flowing through it by 1953. For perspective, First Nations people weren’t even allowed to legally vote until 1960. The very foundations of this project are premised by a lack of consent and disenfranchisement of the original stakeholders. Without first acknowledging and remedying this initial injustice how can current and future considerations of this project be deemed just or fair?
You campaigned with promises of overhauling the National Energy Board’s flawed approval process and fully consulting with First Nations, only to pull an about-face and use that same faulty mechanism to drive forward Trans Mountain’s approval. The human rights tragedy of this project isn’t only about self-determination and court battles. It is far simpler. On the other end of this pipeline, at its source, is an ongoing attack on the ability of First Nations inhabitants to live a fair and healthy existence. Tar Sands extraction is rapidly destroying the Boreal forests and river ways, that are home to many First Nations that rely on them to eat, drink and practise their traditional ways. No sane economic rationalization can put profits above human lives; your rhetoric about jobs is shameful. As our leader, your job is to safeguard the lives of all Canadians. The oil patch worker’s job is not more important than the lives of all the people being poisoned by Tar Sands extraction and the carbon impacts to our planet. The Alberta Tar Sands account for 38% of Canada’s carbon footprint.
Like you, I have travelled to Fort McMurray. I think we could both agree the experience of being there was very impactful. The bleakness, the lack of animal life and the stench of death were startling to me. I’m confused that you would want to expand this wound. For me, the impact of my time there was that I needed to do everything in my power to prevent the continued degradation of our planet and the poisoning of the local inhabitants. To this end, I have opposed the Tar Sands and their expansion both with words and deeds. Most recently, I’ve joined with local First Nations to protest at Kinder Morgan’s terminus and holding tanks on Burnaby Mountain.
I was arrested on March 24 for peacefully expressing my opposition to this terrible project. The discretion used in choosing to arrest certain protestors on some days for doing the same thing in the same place while others are left unmolested by authorities is concerning. By my count, there should be several hundred more arrestees at the time of this writing. Your tweet on April 8, 2018, “Canada is a country of the rule of law, and the federal government will act in the national interest. Access to world markets for Canadian resources is a core national interest. The Trans Mountain expansion will be built” did not sit well with me. If you’re so interested in the rule of law, why have most of the arrestees not been given their due process? Most of us have not been served notice for hearings consistent with a timely or appropriate manner. The charges have been changed from civil to criminal contempt and have been processed at a pace that hasn’t allowed many to retain counsel or mount a healthy defence. The rule of law also says that First Nations must be engaged in meaningful consultation, something you continue to avoid by engaging in meetings without their leadership represented.
Please reconsider your position on this pipeline because it will never be built. A recent poll by Insights West shows 44% of British Columbians are opposed to Kinder Morgan’s pipeline. It further explains that 23% of that number are willing to engage in civil disobedience, roughly 10% of adults in our province. This is a fight you won’t win. Choose to be on the right side of history with greater consideration of our future generations. Invest in sustainable alternative energy sources that will benefit all Canadians.
We Don’t Want Your Pipeline is Bob Bossin’s musical response to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The musicians on the live stage recording are Marie-Lynn Hammond, Keith Bennett, Ben Mink, Calvin Cairns, Paul Gellman and Dinah D.
The original We Don’t Want Your Pipeline was written by Robin and Linda Williams when people in Virginia had their own pipeline battle. Robin and Linda graciously let Bob write new verses for the Kinder Morgan fight.
Full credits, lyrics, sheet music and other info about “Pipeline” can be found here.
A bad deal for BC
by Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA
The announcement – on World Water Day – that the NDP Government is to enact regulations and legislation to “make BC LNG competitive” caught many by surprise. Though the fine-print details are not yet available, the Premier’s announced provisions for all of BC’s wannabe LNG industry include:
- A 20-year postponement of PST payable on construction materials (PST on these will be a hefty 7% on the 70%-or-so materials portion of the $40 Billion capital expenditure on liquefaction, treatment, storage, port and pipeline components of the project):
- As an EITE (emissions-intensive and trade–exposed) industry, exemption from future carbon tax increases above the current rate of $30/ tonne all others in BC will be paying. (This is totally the opposite of the Government’s announced policy of “polluter pay”);
- Elimination of the 3.5% LNG income surtax (already reduced from the 7% royalty rate originally announced in 2015);
- Application of the BC Hydro industrial rate ($54/ megawatt-hour) for grid electricity service to LNG facilities. (This rate is half the current $110/ MWh residential rate, well below BC Hydro’s $120/ MWh marginal cost of new electricity from Site C and below its breakeven average rate of around $90/ MWh. Giving power away for half-price will make residential customers foot the bill via future BC Hydro rate increases – lest BC Hydro slide further into debt).
These are extraordinary measures for any Government – let alone one recently critical of the previous Clark government’s largesse to well-heeled LNG proponents, many of them large contributors to BC Liberal election coffers. And to an industry which has so far dismally failed to deliver on its promised 100,000 jobs, a debt-free BC and a BC treasury overflowing with a $100 Billion taxation bounty.
All in all- these concessions represent a gift of $6 Billion of taxpayer money – primarily to LNG Canada’s Kitimat project and spread over the expected lifetime of that project. If enacted, it will make all British Columbians, willing or not, silent partners in LNG Canada, a company jointly owned jointly by Shell Canada (50%), Petro China (20%), Korea Gas and Mitsubishi (both 15%).
So what’s the problem?
Simply put, the “deal” is woefully one-sided. We BCers are neither shareholders nor guaranteed creditors of the LNG venture(s) we may so generously give to. We failed to secure any guaranteed dividends or tax payments (as Qatar and Norway both did), there are no minimum employment quotas for British Columbians (Australia got those), there are no guarantees that profits won’t be siphoned off to tax havens via imaginative accounting practices (as happened in Australia, where that Government is suing Chevron to recover over $300 Million in evaded taxes. Woodfibre LNG’s owner, Sukanto Tanoto, appears prominently in both the leaked Panama and Paradise papers that expose the murky world of off-shore finance – this subsequent to his company being convicted and fined $250 Million for evading taxes in Indonesia), nor any guarantees that most of the construction work won’t be offshored to Korea or China and temporary foreign workers brought in to staff the project (as LNG Canada and Woodfibre LNG both plan to do. These LNG proponents are currently lobbying Ottawa and filing in Federal court, appealing for exemption from a 45.8% anti-dumping tariff levied on the Chinese and Korean steel they plan to use to construct their LNG plants there and float them into the BC coast).
Neither do we have assurances that selling our gas to Asia won’t cause supply shortages and a tripling of prices here, as has happened in Australia’s sad LNG experience. Add to those the perils of fracking and polluting First Nations land in Northeast BC and the difficulty this plant – emitting 8-9 million tonnes of GHGs every year – will create for BC’s 2050 commitment of an 80% reduction in GHG emissions (to a total of 12.6 tonnes, which this one plant would commandeer 80% if), and the rottenness of this deal for BCers becomes woefully apparent.
A BC LNG industry would struggle to be profitable (the only operating LNG export plant in the U.S. – Cheniere Energy – lost about $600M in each of the last 5 years). It would be another boom-and-bust industry (the very last experience many BC towns want to repeat), and would, even at its inception, be an industry already in its sunset years as the world transitions away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst of runaway climate change.
We should all admonish our Premier to stop this ill-advised giveaway of taxpayer money. Well-heeled proponents begging for tax concessions to “make them competitive” isn’t how capitalism is supposed to work. Rotten deal, John. Stop it!
The oil and gas sector is our most polluting industry
by Peter McCartney
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley have put together a climate plan that phases out coal power and brings in a carbon price. But they’ve done it with the explicit goal of justifying the expansion of our dirtiest industry: oil and gas.
Canada is the world’s fifth largest producer of oil and gas. We export fossil fuels all over the planet, despite knowing the harm they are causing. We hold some of the responsibility for those climate impacts, even if we didn’t burn the product ourselves. Here at home, the oil and gas sector is our most polluting industry. Any climate plan that doesn’t tackle these emissions will fail. And that doesn’t mean allowing the tar sands to expand while producing less carbon per barrel of oil. We need abrupt, absolute reductions in pollution, the kind that can only come from a planned phase-out. This means ending oil and gas exploration, stopping the proposed Teck Frontier tar sands mine and the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Ultimately, we need a plan to wind down the industry and support the workers who are affected.
Alberta has an example of how to transition workers out of a polluting industry. It provides financial support for coal workers to access further education, fund their retirement or relocate for new opportunities. It also funds economic development initiatives in coal communities. Why not expand this, with support from the federal government, to the oil and gas sector? Our leaders clearly see the need to wind down and transition one dirty fossil fuel industry, but not another. Any gains made by winding down the coal industry are lost as long as we plan to increase pollution from oil and gas, which is already 38 times more damaging.
There is simply no future for this industry and workers deserve a plan to deal with the aftermath.
Peter McCartney is the climate campaigner at the Wilderness Committee. Find out more about his work to take on Canada’s fossil fuel industry at wildernesscommittee.org and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 604-683-8220, or mail to 46 6th Ave E., Vancouver, BC., V5T 1J4.
photo by Alex Harris
a film director is arrested
by Zack Embree
Five years ago, I set out on a mission along with my co-director Devyn Brugge: to understand the impacts of the Kinder Morgan pipeline on local communities and give a voice back to those who had been ignored by the National Energy Board process.
I have interviewed residents affected by the 2007 inlet drive spill, and covered the protests on Burnaby Mountain – and journeyed to First Nations communities such as Fort Mackay, Alberta to witness the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, to New Brunswick where many of the energy workers are from, as well as to France for the Paris Climate talks.
What I found was a growing storm of opposition from all walks of life and confusion over Prime Minister Trudeau’s climate plan – how to achieve it while building a major oil pipeline?
Directly Affected: Pipeline Under Pressure – A feature length documentary we produced is screening at The Clutch on April 8th, The Rio Theatre April 22nd, Evergreen Theatre Powell River April 13th, Comox Tuesday April 3rd at North Island College Theatre, The Vic April 28.
For more information go to www.directlyaffected.ca
The Canadian government is receiving 10% royalties from sales of the world’s first genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) animal, a GM Atlantic salmon.
“We’re concerned that the government is responsible for regulating this GM fish and also has a stake in its success,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).
The royalties are part of a 2009 $2.8 million-dollar grant agreement between the company AquaBounty and the federal government Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The royalties will be paid to the Government of Canada until the grant amount is paid back. If the GM salmon is not a commercial success, there is no requirement for the company to repay the government funds.
“The GM fish was developed with public funds, but without public consultation, and it’s being sold without labels,” said Sharratt. “If Canadians unknowingly buy GM salmon, the government gets 10% of the profit.”
In 2016, Health Canada approved the GM fish for human consumption. In 2013, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change approved GM salmon production at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island (PEI) where GM salmon eggs are currently manufactured and then shipped to Panama for growing at a small pilot site.
The company AquaBounty must still seek approval from Environment and Climate Change Canada for commercial scale GM salmon production at their Rollo Bay facility in PEI, now under construction.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, The Council of Canadians, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society are calling on the government to halt any further assessments of the GM salmon until it takes steps to increase transparency in the regulatory process and marketplace, including by establishing mandatory labelling of GM foods.
“We’re concerned about the next steps for environmental assessment because future repayment of the federal funds partly relies on the government approving the company’s next GM fish plant,” said Mark Butler of Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia, referring to the planned Rollo Bay site in PEI. “In this case, increased sales mean increased production and increased risk to wild Atlantic salmon.”
In Canada, there are no public consultations before a new genetically modified food, crop or animal is approved and no mandatory labelling of GM foods. “At the very least, consumers should know when they buy salmon just what they’re getting,” said Karen Wristen of Living Oceans Society.
AquaBounty is a majority owned subsidiary of the US biotechnology company Intrexon.
Source: Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), www.cban.ca The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. The Ecology Action Centre is an environmental charity based in Nova Scotia. Living Oceans Society has been a leader in the effort to protect Canada’s oceans since forming in 1998.
Break the silence – plastic is poison
by Bruce Mason
Nothing is forever, except maybe plastic. And despite the well-funded, deliberate, universal misconception, it’s anything but disposable. Virtually every one of the innumerable pieces we’ve ever made is still with us, somewhere. The amount we are currently producing each year equals the total weight of humanity.
It’s truly and totally ubiquitous, everywhere and in everything, including the broken-down microscopic filaments in our drinking water, sea salt and beer. It finds its way into the bellies of anything alive in the ocean, the guts of 90 percent of birds, and finally, ourselves.
In line with the credo of every con-artist – “There’s a sucker” – or, make that customer – “born every minute” – plastic is one of the biggest, deadliest scams in history, especially single-use plastic. Manufactured in mere seconds, it struts its brief life in myriad ways: in an indispensable smart phone, computer, appliance or automobile. And most often, its raison d’etre is only momentary – as a package wrapper, for instance. It is the very stuff of advertiser’s dreams and a planetary nightmare, the raw material of our addiction to what we are told we want and need. It is the ultimate human invention, at once so necessary, yet unnecessary, tough, pliable, lightweight and eternal.
Take the plastic water bottle (please). Despite millions of dollars spent annually to convince you otherwise, bottled water is no better or safer than most municipal tap water, which is precisely where two-thirds of it comes from in the first place. Too much of it is also mined for a pittance of what it’s sold for, by companies such as Nestle, whose CEO is on record saying water is not a human right. Siphoned from a source we have held in common, since humans first crawled out of water onto land, bottled water is the poster child of corporate and government corruption and free-market, neo-liberal snake-oil salesmen.
Also of interest: the energy used to produce a plastic water bottle is equivalent to one-quarter of the volume of its contents. Non-profit Pacific Institute researchers also determined that the manufacture of one pound of PET – polyethylene terephthalate – plastic releases up to three pounds of carbon dioxide.
So, once again, it’s down to fossil fools. No surprise then that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals recently glad-handed $35 million tax dollars to a chemical company that makes plastic resins, the day before he promised to use Canada’s G7 presidency to encourage other nations to commit to reducing or phasing out single-use plastics.
You read that right. Part of our federal government’s five-year, $1.26-billion, Strategic Innovation Fund, unveiled in last year’s federal budget, is earmarked for Nova Chemicals’ $2.2-billion expansion plan in Sarnia, Ontario, to enable the production of 431,000 additional tonnes of polyethylene, annually.
Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada, is among those who are having difficulty swallowing Canada’s commitment to reducing ocean plastics when it’s also providing multimillion-dollar grants to the companies that make them.
“So limiting single-use plastics gets tweets and producing more of them gets $35 million,” says Stewart. “We really should be trying to ban the use of disposable plastics and find better alternatives.”
It’s part of our Justin’s murderous mantra to build more pipelines to somehow combat climate collapse. Could be why John Horgan is so high on LNG, made possible by fracking the bejusus out of BC, while destroying obscene amounts of precious water and releasing deadly methane. Even as we have been warned, the drilling goes on, deep in every direction into the dangerous San Andreas Fault, in defiance of the ‘Big One.’ It is most certainly why, in shale-gas glutted Trump-land, plastic production is being hiked by a whopping 40 percent.
Everybody sing: “Oil… what’s it good for?” For the same thing as shale gas: to make more plastic. The shillers who are leading the chorus bring to mind actor Rip Torn, straddling a nuclear bomb, riding it out of the chute of an airplane, while shouting “Yee, Haw!” in the final scene of the iconic movie, Dr. Strangelove. And some may remember the 50’s folksong, Plastic Jesus: “I don’t care if it rains or freezes/As long as I’ve got my Plastic Jesus/Ridin’ on the dashboard of my car.” Hell, even the dashboard is plastic, these days.
In honour of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, The Guardian, one of a handful of still-worthy newspapers, asked Margaret Atwood which institution she would change. She called for a “Plastics Reformation.”
“Are plastics an institution? Not in the sense of having a pope, or even a small cabal of leaders. But they are surely the modern equivalent of a universal religion. We worship them, whether we admit it or not. Their centre is whatever you happen to be doing, their circumference is everywhere; they’re as essential to our modern lives as the air we breathe, and they’re killing us. They must be stopped,” she wrote.
Don’t be a sucker. Don’t be lulled into stupefying complacency, fooling yourself into the cognitive dissonance that you can’t do anything about the madness. Stop treating plastics as disposable. Real friends don’t let their friends drive while drinking or texting, or eat farmed salmon. And perhaps most importantly, they don’t let them drink water from a plastic bottle. In recent weeks the world has awakened to the nightmare: one study quantifies water in plastic bottles as currently more popular than soda pop, another, that more than 90% of bottled water contains deadly microplastics.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.
Photo: Modo CEO Patrick Nangle at the wheel of a Rav4 hybrid. Image courtesy Modo.
Vancouver leads North America with about 3,000 shared vehicles. Now, if it could just electrify the fleet.
by Robert Alstead
Maybe we should have marked it on the calendar? Ten years ago: our personal car-free anniversary. The day we broke free from hefty insurance premiums, maintenance costs and parking fees. Free from the temptation to reach for the car keys when a bike would do. Free to use the precious space that had been liberated in our garage. Free from the responsibility – ecological and economic – that goes along with owning a car.
But then it never really felt like a clean break from motordom. We may have given up our worn-out 1991 Mazda 626, but after putting down $750 for joint membership in car share co-operative Modo, we, along with several thousand others, became owners of a whole fleet of vehicles.
Transportation in this city and province still revolves around cars. As our family has grown over the years from two to three to four, there’s always been the temptation to buy our own.
That we’ve remained car sharers this long is largely down to Vancouver’s increasing cycle friendliness, as well as reasonably good, albeit strained, transit system. Paying as we go with Modo has served us well when combined with our bikealot lifestyles, and the list of other options for those times when we need four wheels has just kept growing: Zipcar, car2go and Evo. Peer to peer Turo (“Airbnb for cars”) recently launched in BC and there’s even a hybrid bike/electric vehicle (EV) share, Veemo, being piloted at UBC. Actually, Veemos are three-wheels, but you get the picture.
When, a decade ago, we joined Modo, or the Co-operative Auto Network as it was known before its brand makeover in 2011, we booked a car over the phone and then retrieved the car key from a secure box at the back of the car. There were slips of paper to fill in with miles driven and gas bought at the beginning and end of every trip. Now, you can book by app, web or phone, in increments of 15 minutes. Trip logging is automated and you key in and out with an electronic, key ring fob. There’s a good variety of vehicles. We now have a 2017 Hyundai Elantra on our block where, until recently, the nearest family sedan was based a five-minute bike ride away. When elderly relatives visit, there’s various minivan options and a pick-up truck down the road is my go-to for lugging furniture. If we don’t drive during the month, we don’t pay anything.
Modo started life 20 years ago as an SFU thesis project with two cars and 16 people in Vancouver’s West End. Today, it has over 50 different vehicle models in a 600-strong fleet spread across Metro Vancouver, in Greater Victoria, Saanich and Nanaimo. The Co-op’s 18,000 members can book anything from an eight-seater Kia Sedona mini van in Fairfield, Victoria, to a 2017 Toyota Prius V at Vancouver City Hall, a 2015 orange Scion coupe at Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain in Coquitlam or a Nissan frontier truck outside Surrey City Hall.
It’s not perfect. Don’t try last-minute booking that seven-person mini van at long weekends. Plus, the two-way carshare model, exemplified by Modo and its counterpart Zipcar, where you have to return the car back to its home location at your pre-chosen time, can seem inflexible.
Modo’s fees have also been creeping up; in the last year, they went from $4 an hour and $0.40 per kilometre to $5 an hour and $0.25 for Modo Plus (i.e. shareholding) members.
“A price change is a pretty soul searching exercise here,” says Patrick Nangle, former CEO of Purolator who, as new Modo CEO, brought in new rates in August. “It’s the last thing ever we want to do because of our value proposition. Affordability is top of the list.”
Nangle defends the new pricing structure as necessary to cover basic operating costs, for better quality cars and better maintenance of vehicles so they’re not scratched and dented. They’re also cleaned more often.
Certainly, for occasional drivers like us, carsharing still means thousands of dollars a year saved over solo ownership, while enjoying the benefits of a diverse and regularly updated fleet of vehicles. There’s also those carsharing perks: being able to park in resident-only spaces, not having to worry about insurance and gas or changing the winter tires. It’s covered.
What’s more, Modo’s day rates, up to 250 km over 24 hours for $80, with taxes included, are hard to beat and the winter season overnight rates, from 7pm to 9am of $12.50 plus $0.25 per km, are a gift for night owls.
“We are a co-operative. We are owned by the members. It is sharing in the truest sense of the word,” says Nangle, in his small office in a tower opposite the Waterfront Skytrain station on Granville Street. “So we run the business just to break even and a little bit more than that. We’re not trying to make a big profit.”
Nangle is keen to press home Modo is not always the best option. He welcomes new entrants on Vancouver’s carsharing scene, seeing them as “complementary” rather than competition, and stresses that sustainability is part of the bottom line. While his wife needs the family Volvo to get to work, Nangle himself buses and bikes to work when he can. “We advocate very strongly in Modo to walk, ride your bike, use the bus first. If you need to use a car, use a shared car. But don’t take a car as your default choice to go three blocks to buy some milk.”
Are you going one way?
Sometimes you don’t want to return a car to its original starting point as with the Modo two-way model. “Floating” or “one-way” car shares car2go and Evo, which launched in Vancouver in 2011 and 2015, have gone some way to filling the gaps, particularly as they grow their Vancouver fleets and expand the geo-fenced “home” areas in which their cars operate. The one-way carshare model is ideal for urban trips: going to a restaurant, cinema or ball game. You can book any free car via an app, drive to your destination and walk away.
Vancouver has the largest member base of the 11 North American locations that Daimler-owned car2go operates in, says Tim Krebs, the company’s communications manager. There are 137,000 Vancouver members.
Unlike Modo, with its diverse fleet, car2go’s 1,100 vehicles are a few select models: the familiar Smart cars, as well as more roomier Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA models.
The car2go home area spans most of Vancouver and North Vancouver, with satellite parking at UBC, BCIT and the Pacific Gateway hotel for airport access. You can go outside the home area, but you must return back home to end your trip.
With BCAA-owned Evo, it’s been a similar story of rapid expansion. “We’ve grown the fleet from 250 to 1,250 in just a short two and a half years,“ says director Tai Silvey. As well as Vancouver, Evo is in New Westminster (since May), North Vancouver and university campuses like UBC, SFU and BCIT. It has satellite parking also at Grouse Mountain and the airport.
Evo’s fleet is 100% comprised of Toyota’s hybrid subcompact, the Prius C, a roomy hatchback that can fit five people and bikes or skis on the roof rack.
You can start an Evo trip using the app or, unlike with car2go, a dedicated keycard, with reservations possible up to half an hour beforehand. Customer support is good and a simple, but useful, feature is the Evo button on the dash to make hands-free calls to customer support.
Which one to join? A lot of people join both as membership fees are negligible and it gives you more driving options. Both companies also have promotions where they waive the sign-up fee and offer free minutes.
From carshare to EV share
In recent months, a succession of countries have announced they are going to ban conventional fuel combustion engine (ICE) cars, including China, India, the UK, Norway and France. Some cities will call time on gas-fuelled cars even sooner than national governments: Paris is going free from noxious car emissions by 2030, Oslo is turning roads into bike lanes for its 2019 ban and Oxford will phase in its ban, even on road gritters and garbage trucks, between 2020 and 2035.
GM is going all-in on EVs, Shell is buying up charging stations by the tens of thousands, and a rebranded Toyota doesn’t want us to call it a car manufacturer anymore; it’s a “human movement company” now.
Canada may still be pushing dilbit pipelines and its consumers buying bigger vehicles, but it is pricing carbon. At the provincial level, the BC government’s decision to remove bridge tolls may be exacerbating traffic congestion, but some form of mobility pricing is expected to replace it. “Greenest city” Vancouver has joined Paris and 10 other cities in pledging to de-carbonize the “major areas” of their cities.
The trend is clear
Around a quarter of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions are from road transport. Car share operators, who have a frequent turnover of vehicles in their fleets, would seem well-placed to take a chunk out of that. Not everyone can afford to buy a new EV. They probably can afford to share one.
However, there are only three all-electric carshare vehicles in Vancouver: Modo’s 2 Nissan Leafs and a Prius PHEV.
What’s holding us back? Lack of charging stations is the response from all of the car share operators I talked to. “I know the city of Vancouver is taking steps towards increasing their infrastructure, but there’s a long way to go,” says Evo’s Tai Silvey. “We’re very focussed on creating the greenest fleet possible,” he says, adding, “The first step to that in our opinion is hybrid and that’s why we have a fully hybrid fleet.”
Patrick Nangle says Modo has been gathering data on the duty cycle of 40 Modo gas vehicles to build a business case with Fraser Basin Council and West Coast Electric Fleets for evolving its fleet more quickly toward EVs. Currently, 20% of Modo’s fleet is hybrid or electric. “There is some subsidy from provincial government, but it’s still more expensive. We don’t believe people will pay more. So how do we make sure that we get the right level of utilization, the right economics on the car. We want to introduce more. We think it’s the right thing to do,” says Nangle.
Car2go already has exclusively EV fleets in Stuttgart, Amsterdam and Madrid with 1,400 vehicles in total. Yet the company retired its electric Fortwo Smart cars in EV-friendly Portland because the long charges meant the cars were out of rotation for too long. Last year, car2go switched its all-EV fleet in San Diego to gas after a major charging station provider went bankrupt. Parent company Mercedes Benz will be phasing out gasoline Smart cars for electric only, so the trademark tiny car will gradually be replaced in North American car2go fleets by the larger Mercedes GLA and CLA vehicles.
Vancouver has around 250 public, level 2 charging stations and, importantly, as far as hardworking shared cars are concerned, only one DC fast charging station, which the City of Vancouver runs in conjunction with BC Hydro at Empire Fields. Fast charging stations allow for top-ups that take minutes rather than hours, but cost much more to install. BC Hydro has set up 30 fast charging stations across the province since its launch in 2012, with around 27 more being planned as part of “Phase 2” of the fast charge network rollout.
By comparison, Amsterdam, which saw the launch in October of another free-floating, all-electric car share with 100 Hyundai IONIQ EVs, has 2,200 public charging stations with more fast chargers about to go into gas station forecourts.
City of Vancouver climate policy analyst Ian Neville says that Europe’s 220 volt electrical standard versus North America’s 120 volt system makes them a “little more advantaged.” Amsterdam’s municipal government also has more control over land use, which helps when it comes to putting in kerbside charging stations. But Vancouver can learn from Amsterdam’s experience.
“Part of it is it’s hard to predict right now,” says Neville. “We know with autonomous and shared, together that’s going to have a very different impact, but it’s a hard thing to plan infrastructure.”
BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has been calling on the provincial government to make it easier for industry to install charging stations and sell electricity. At the moment, businesses must register as a utility to resell electricity or give it away for free as Tesla has done for Tesla owners with its 10 BC Superchargers. “BC Hydro is the single biggest barrier to the introduction of electric vehicles in the province,” says Weaver.
Self-driving, wirelessly charging, shared pods may become common on city streets in the 2020s, but Vancouver’s immediate focus is on fast-charging public stations as well as steadily adding residential charging in new buildings. By 2020, the City expects to have deployed eight to 10 EHubs, which will have DC Fast Charging units plus Level 2 stations for charging over longer periods.
Given what we know about their impact on our climate and health, it’s clear that gasoline vehicles have outstayed their welcome in our cities. We are on the cusp of a huge transition in mobility.
Nangle points out that Metro Vancouver expects 700,000 people over the next 20 years. “At current ratios, they will bring almost half a million cars. So you’ve got this tidal wave of cars coming. So 3,000 shared cars today. I would be happy if it was 10,000. And it won’t be just Modo. It will have to be a combination of different kinds of business models to serve different kinds of needs. And better transit system, and better bike lanes, and, and, and…”
Please see March Common Ground for part two.
Robert Alstead covers transport, technology and climate change at www.icycle.ca