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The man fighting to bring a new model of mental-health services to B.C.’s young people

April 13th, 2015 · No Comments

I’ve been hearing about psychiatrist Steve Mathias for years, his efforts to bring mental-health services to street kids in the West End and the Downtown Eastside.

I finally got to spend some time with him and hear about his big idea for how to get better psychiatric services to more kids in B.C. His storefront operation on Granville Street just opened. Now we’ll see if it will go further.

Here’s the story I did on him in Vancouver magazine.

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Vancouver’s Compass Card, still in tests after two years. Typical for transit smart cards or no?

April 13th, 2015 · 19 Comments

Transit smart cards are the in thing these days, I’ve discovered. Everyone wants them, in order to keep tabs on how transit is getting used and to give customers all the options they want for paying things these days.

Even systems that installed earlier versions, like Washington and Chicago, are upgrading their systems so they can expand to more modes and more ways of payment. (The hot thing these days is making sure systems have the capability to accept payments from bank and credit cards, not just a transit-only loaded-value card.)

I took a look around and called some people in the business for a story I did in the wake of the announcement about TransLink’s plan to roll out the card to another 130,000 people — university students — by September, bringing the total number of cards in use to 215,000. Still nowhere near the 1.2-million users a day but not peanuts.

It was interesting to find out that Calgary, for example, actually ended the contract with its vendor after years of not getting the system going and then had to go back because there weren’t any other options. And they’re still waiting, after about as many years as Vancouver. Other systems have rolled out their cards to everyone early, i.e. in Chicago, and then had some disastrous glitches that enraged people.

What I got from several long conversations was that it’s not always easy to tell from the outside who is the real problem: the transit agency for asking for too much? or the contractor for promising too much and then not delivering?

Sometimes it’s neither, consultants said — more a question of both sides constantly upgrading the functionality as things change in their worlds or discovering that something that worked in three other cities doesn’t work here.



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BulaBlog Beer Bash: Thursday, April 9, 7 p.m., Rogue Waterfront. Be there or be square

April 2nd, 2015 · 15 Comments

So Kirk and Jenables thought it was about time to get together and hash out all current issues in person, for those times when calling someone names from the privacy of your home laptop just isn’t enough.

Kidding, folks! In actual fact, the two get-togethers we’ve had so far have been remarkable for their civility and I would like to say, on a personal note, that it’s been wonderful to meet or get to know better people who have come out to these.

K and J decided the Rogue Waterfront would be perfect: on top of all major transit lines, as everyone argues about the transit plebiscite, and next to the site of the Icepick building, which has also been a topic of disagreement.

I have agreed to come along, at their request. (After all, the blog is you, not me.)

All are welcome, truly. The reservation is under BulaBlog.


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Soliciting donations, promising stuff to donors – the Supreme Court asked to figure out if that’s conflict

April 2nd, 2015 · 6 Comments

I realize the keeners in class already know that the Supreme Court heard the case this week involving five Vancouver residents — including one of Vision Vancouver’s most persistent critics, Randy Helten — versus Mayor Gregor Robertson and Councillor Geoff Meggs. The residents are trying to get them thrown out of office for having, they claim, put themselves in a conflict of interest by making promises to a city union about jobs in exchange for campaign donations.

The stories I wrote in the two days in court are here and here. But court cases always inspire me to muse aloud, because there are so many things that happen that can’t be captured in just one or two news stories.

So two, count ’em, two lawyers from Fasken Martineau argued on behalf of residents (who have repeatedly declined to say who is helping pay their legal bills) that Meggs had gone beyond the usual kind of campaign promise when he went to CUPE 1004’s general meeting last October and talked about Vision’s policy on contracting out.

David Wotherspoon made an argument I didn’t expect, saying that it was okay for Meggs to have said that the mayor “has re-committed to not extend any contracting out.” I thought that was the statement that the NPA claimed was proof that the mayor and councillor were promising future jobs for the union in exchange for campaign contributions.

But Wotherspoon said that was the kind of general policy statement made during campaign pitches that was okay.

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Is it time to start thinking about Plan B for the transit referendum?

March 27th, 2015 · 309 Comments

The guy who was the mayoral candidate for the Non-Partisan Association last November, Kirk LaPointe, thinks so.

Anyone else got a Plan B?


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And the debate over a new Vancouver Art Gallery heats up again

March 26th, 2015 · 10 Comments

This Vancouver Sun story today, saying the VAG is not going to meet its deadline to raise money and never planned to, and this proposal for an art gallery expansion on this existing site arrived in my mailbox this morning.

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Uber has something to say about the Lower Mainland’s transit referendum

March 19th, 2015 · 37 Comments

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Front porches to be the design theme for Robson Square this year

March 18th, 2015 · 4 Comments

And now, pausing for a break from the transit plebiscite wars, the winner of the Robson Square competition this year is here.

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Why do people hate TransLink? “It’s a headless beast with no defenders”

March 16th, 2015 · 175 Comments

It appears, from the latest Angus Reid poll, that public opinion in the days from Feb. 25-March5 was running 61 per cent No, 27 per cent Yes. As other polls have shown, the main concern is TransLink and how it will spend the money.

So what is it that’s so wrong with TransLink, you may ask? It doesn’t run gold-plated, empty buses through town. It provides a degree of service that is rare for a city this size. And, although it had a couple of spectacular breakdowns over the past year, it doesn’t have the horrific problems some other cities do.

So what’s wrong? My Globe story is here, but for those who just want the summary:

1. It’s a customer-heavy operation, meaning more people scrutinize it, have opinions, and think they know how to run it than, say, Port Metro Vancouver (whose CEO makes $857,000, I found out when researching this) or even the Vancouver Airport Authority (couldn’t find Craig Richmond’s salary, but the board chair alone made $135,000 in 2013, $35,000 more than the TransLink chair).

2. It’s doing more than it was ever intended to do. It was never intended to be the funding mechanism for major infrastructure projects. As Ken Cameron, former planning manager for the Greater Vancouver regional district told me, it was meant to be the agency that ran operations only and other levels of government were supposed to figure out how to finance the big projects.

3. Unlike many other government operations, it has to go to the public every time it wants to get more than an incremental amount of additional revenue. Since it is doing 2. more than it was ever intended to do, it constantly has to ask publicly for money, which brings its operations to the attention of the public and the Fraser Institute than, say, the transportation or health ministries. (Their fights for funding all happen quietly at treasury board.)

4. There’s no single person that the public can look to when things go wrong. Former CEO Ian Jarvis, whatever is pay, is clearly not completely in charge. Neither are the mayors, who have sometimes been the first to go after TransLink when there’s a problem. Neither is the board, whose members act more like they’re at Port Metro or YVR (aka invisible). It feels to people on the inside like the province is in charge but, of course, the province is the first to take potshots at TransLink.

5. It does have people at the top who don’t seem to understand what is not going to fly with the public, who don’t actually seem to want to communicate with the public, and who have made some key terrible decisions. As a result, it seems to have a never-ending supply of current (bus drivers, especially) and former disaffected employees willing to talk about its problems.


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In another part of the forest, the office meant to scrutinize municipal spending not doing so well

March 10th, 2015 · 4 Comments

I realize no one gives a poop about anything but the transit referendum these days (hey, you guys, the bike people have been going WILD in the city without your scrutiny) but here is a story in another area: the doings in the office of the Auditor General for Local Government.

My Globe story here on the dysfunction. The original report on the workplace review here: 20150309163505-3 The debate in the legislature here.


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