Opinion

Proposal for Light Electric Vehicles

If I had a billion dollars and wanted to provide sustainable local transportation for 400,000 people, I would buy each one of them an electric bicycle.

By Gregory Ciupka
Published May 27, 2016

If I had a billion dollars and wanted to provide sustainable local transportation for 400,000 people, I would buy each one of them an electric bicycle.

It might be called the LEV (light electric vehicle) and travel about 25-30 kilometres per hour. Not too fast, but fast enough. It could be used for round trips of up to sixty kilometres in any direction, not just 11 kilometres east-west through downtown Hamilton. The batteries could be recharged for free on sunny days.

Hamilton air quality would improve dramatically and transportation costs would plummet, not to mention inevitable general health improvements.

This approach ties in perfectly with the idea of improving the quality of life for residents of this great city. We can invest in a bicycle manufacturing company and design a basic model for every day use as well as a young family and inclement weather edition - it has been known to snow around here, after all. It also needs to include effective security features to deter theft.

This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some folks will choose folding bikes to ease storage concerns. Others might select a covered design to protect the rider from the elements.

There are plenty of hurdles to overcome to create successful designs, but technology has come a long way and with some determination, this is very achievable.

Building 200,000 or 400,000 LEV bicycles will generate thousands of local jobs, another huge benefit to residents. After initial success in Hamilton, we can export our solution domestically and beyond and change the world. That is a goal worth talking about.

Riding is not for everyone, but by adding electric assist, widespread single-direction bicycle lanes and free bicycle parking, the number of willing users will become meaningful. If we could achieve 50 percent LEV urban boundary usage, it would make a dramatic difference.

Others will continue to drive or utilize specialized vehicles (e.g. wheel chair accessible), but on roads that have reduced congestion and with lower traffic speeds.

There is a lot of talk about complete streets. Installing full-lane bike lanes accomplishes this goal on major arteries quickly and economically. Sidewalks are sheltered by bike lanes improving the pedestrian experience. Bicycle traffic is protected. And Cars naturally slow down, now that they are relegated to one narrow lane.

Capital and maintenance costs for LEV can be as low as one dollar per day per user. In other words, very affordable and about one third of the cost of current public transit.

In reality, we don't need public funds to buy bicycles. Residents can fund the bicycle purchase of their choice (basic, folding, electric, covered) with their transit fare savings. Where the city needs to lead is in providing safer road infrastructure, which amounts to designating the right-most lane of arterial roads for LEV and bicycle use using nothing more than eco-friendly white paint.

This would represent a fraction of the cost of any other public transit alternative. Line painting work can be completed within a few months with little disruption to the community.

The proposed LRT is extremely expensive (the current billion dollar proposal only delivers 11 kilometres ten yeas from now). LRT represents old technology, old thinking and does not consider changes in how we will work and play in the future.

Ten years from now, we can expect some form of self-driving electric shared cars to be a reality, providing a modern economical alternative for public transit. At that point, issues like car parking will be a thing of the past.

In the meantime let's promote cycling as a primary form of local transportation and put the automobile in the background. We have focused city design on the automobile for over a century. This needs to change now. No more suburban sprawl development of single family homes and shopping malls accessible only by car. We need to change by-laws and zoning to quickly transition to cycling as the primary form of local transit.

Current traffic congestion (morning and evening commute) can be improved by creating transit connections between the GO stations (including Aldershot) and destinations east, west and south that provide secure bike parking. Align the bus connection with the GO schedule.

Introduce Odd-Even GO service, so that everyone gets to work sooner. This will get cars off the road unlike the LRT proposal which only aggravates non-local commuters.

The LRT is a reverse Robin Hood Story. Collect from the poor and give to the rich. The proposal includes public borrowing (the province is running huge deficits) and then contracting large corporations to deliver a product (producing some jobs). Unfortunately that "free" product is very expensive to operate. These costs will be borne by the ridership (and local taxpayers will need to fund the likely shortfalls).

If we are going to impose a transit system on our populace, let it be economical and life affirming. If we continue to designing exercise out of our lives, we will continue to experience health and welfare issues. We need to break this cycle and start designing an active lifestyle into our lives. Let's take a major step forward by putting cycling first and get serious about our future.

Gregory Ciupka was born and raised in Toronto, but has been firmly rooted in Hamilton for the past 20 years. He enjoys our spectacular road cycling and finds it doesn't get any better than riding Wilson, Mineral Springs, Sydenham, Snake and King.

23 Comments

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 09:36:21

The LRT is a reverse Robin Hood Story. Collect from the poor and give to the rich.

This is garbage. There is no meaningful definition of "poor" where the tax funds to build and maintain and run LRT are in any significant degree coming 'from poor people'. The redistributive effect of LRT is significantly downward on the income spectrum, and not upward, and to pretend otherwise is unsupportable by evidence. If you have figures, I'll be keen to examine them.

I mean, the whole proposal here is a utopian redesign of our transportation system that would involve staggering costs, very many billions, to implement and that would still only be the local costs, not regional. I admire your broad thinking; it has nothing practical whatsoever to recommend it as a mass transit solution, sadly.

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 12:15:18 in reply to Comment 118844

The figures are a matter of public record. I think The Spec reported this week that we (the city) "granted" $4.8 million to a developer. I'm not familiar with the project or the people involved, but then I heard that developers in general were getting nervous due to wavering on the LRT commitment. So lets recap, we have to fund the LRT and then we have to fund the developers. Seems taxpayers always pay. Just a guess, but I am assuming that most taxpayers don't have $4.8 million. So poor in this context can be everyone that has less than the recipient of our largess. To be fair, after the developers are finished, we will collect more property taxes (and be responsible for providing more services). Recall that the city has debts and our infrastructure is severely underfunded. So the established pattern is to borrow more and continue to increase property taxes without a plan to reverse the trend. When will city staff and property owners catch a break?

Not sure how you estimate staggering costs, the suggestion is to paint bike lanes on existing roads so that people feel comfortable riding their bikes and LEV's

Utopia is a reach, but if we work in that direction, things will be incrementally better, right?

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By multimodal (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 12:49:50 in reply to Comment 118852

I'm all for getting more people on bikes, but having every resident on one, electric or not, does not do very much to help those who need to connect in from elsewhere in the region, nor anyone who has to cover any reasonable distance on a daily basis. If everyone who currently takes a bus (soon to be LRT hopefully) to a GO station has to take a scooter instead, I'd like to see the utopian vision for where all these e bikes will be parked.

Electric bikes, regular bikes, bike share, cars, buses, LRT, inter city rail - it all has to be supported and available so that people can use the mode(s) most appropriate for a given trip. You can't replace any one with another. The problem today is there is a HUGE chasm between support for cars, and every other mode is chasing table scraps so we are using cars for trips that absolutely should be taken by other means.

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By ryanplestid (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 09:58:33

The LRT does not have high operating costs, in fact it has lower operating costs than the current bus system because it will require fewer drivers along the corridor. I think the idea of integrating cycling into a public transit system is a great idea, and perhaps even pushing for local manufacturing but I think you trivialize the difficulty of such a project.

Perhaps the city should look at incentivizing engineering start-ups which could benefit the city, but going from zero to full on production of an in-house product that is competitive with the market is asking a lot.

This bicycle program would also not have any of the economic uplift potential of an LRT. One of the nice things about this geographic concentration of infrastructure is we can densify along a corridor.

I love the ambition and forward thinking, however I think this article tends to trivialize difficult projects, and ignore the merits of existing ones.

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By nice but (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 10:23:02

I think we should have LRT and prioritize dedicated lanes for cycling, including these LEV. It would be nice to replace cars with LEV where possible (i.e. Single riders) but to replace public transit not sure it would work. Public transit is and should be a "public" good, benefit, or service for all.

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 11:53:28

Forgot to mention SoBi (shame on me)

In Hamilton we already have some experience with a bicycle program.  SoBi, essentially a 750 commuter style bike system with one gear and a basket in the front. It includes lights as well as a solar powered GPS device. People can rent a Sobi for about $4 per hour or purchase an annual membership ($85/$125) granting them 60 or 90 minutes of use per day. The great thing about this program, aside from providing an alternative way to get around, is the “heat” map. The GPS provides a view of where the bike travels and how often. As a result we know where people start and end their trips as well as the route. This is very useful information for Road Planning purposes, but can also be used to extrapolate the potential of a wider program. Consider that SoBi users currently put up with inclement weather as well as winter conditions. This all happens on existing roadways and cycling infrastructure. Imagine the potential with a much more extensive cycling oriented roadway design. The biggest win for SoBi users is the elimination of parking concerns as well as bicycle security and maintenance. A great model, but not for everyone due to the weight of the bike. Perhaps an electric assist version is on the horizon?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 13:44:29

What about the people that can't ride a bike?

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By THINK (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:42:05 in reply to Comment 118859

For a billion dollars they could all get chauffers!

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By reality (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 04:20:30 in reply to Comment 118887

A billion dollars over 10 years (an extremely conservative lifespan estimate for transportation infrastructure) is barely 200 per year per person. So let me know when you are willing to be my chauffeur for 200 bucks a year - oh and you provide the car. Hell I'll even double it to 400 for you. Sign me up, I love your plan!

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 16:28:02 in reply to Comment 118859

We still have the bus system and HSR also operates an Accessible Transit called DARTS, which provides door to door service - a recognized need and a suitable solution.

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By DARTS (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 21:58:47 in reply to Comment 118871

DARTS isn't run by HSR. It's run independently and will probably be shut down soon based on some scuttlebutt I heard from a driver. Will probably be run by one of the taxi companies since they do essentially the same thing as DARTS

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By maybe (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 13:56:11 in reply to Comment 118859

Segway share?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 22:21:02

I applaud Mr. Ciupka for the enthusiasm that comes through in his three articles. However, I would suggest a bit more research.

The LRT is a reverse Robin Hood Story. Collect from the poor and give to the rich.

Absolutely untrue. The proposed Hamilton LRT is 100% funded by the provincial government, whose largest income source is income taxes. These came to an annual total of $29.2 billion in 2014-2015. It is rare for governments in Canada to attempt to finance themselves by taxing poor people. This is because poor people have an unfortunate habit of not having very much money to tax.

...and travel about 25-30 kilometres per hour.

Current provincial legislation allows electric bicycles to have power assist up to 32 km/hr.

Introduce Odd-Even GO service, so that everyone gets to work sooner

I don't know what that is. Neither does Google.

SoBi, essentially a 750 commuter style bike system with one gear and a basket in the front.

This is from one of your comments. SoBi bicycles have three gears.

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 13:12:14 in reply to Comment 118879

With respect to SoBi, I recall that we invested $1.5 million to cover the cost of the bikes and lock up stations (about $2,000 per bike). Should we be looking to expand this program? Is it possible to introduce an electric assist version to expand the potential audience? Would it help if we painted bike lanes on many major streets to increase rider comfort (as well as slow down vehicular traffic as a result of sometimes narrower and fewer lanes)? What dividends would accrue in terms of carbon emission reductions, improved general health and well being of citizens and how quickly can we get this done - surely sooner than a ten-year time horizon? Note that subscribing to this service costs about $0.39 per day for a 90 minute riding time, about a tenth (12.3%) of the user cost of an HSR monthly pass. If we could justify this option for 50,000 SoBi bikes, it would cost the taxpayers about $100 million. Don't know what the useful life expectancy is for a Sobi, but at 5 years, we would need an additional 5 replacement cycles ($500 million) in order to compare to the LRT life expectancy at 30 years. I would expect bicycles designs to improve over time and for costs to decrease. WEHat I like about this is we only need to invest a tenth of the LRT project, get dramatic results later this year and avoid all the negative fallout on businesses, while reducing congestion.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 22:34:31 in reply to Comment 118907

With respect to SoBi, I recall that we invested $1.5 million to cover the cost of the bikes and lock up stations...

Once again, I will suggest that you do research before posting. About 10 seconds with Google provided a CBC source for SoBi's $1.6 million cost.

Which, by the way, is the cheapest public transit system.

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 12:51:52 in reply to Comment 118879

The applause is for all participants here at RTH including Mr. Love who rightly points out that many talents are necessary for success. I'm a humble idea generator (some call it ambitious, utopian even), but this is with full knowledge that an idea cannot go far without research, consideration from many perspectives and eventually implementation.

With respect to the Odd-Even suggestion, I'm struggling to give it a name, maybe you can help. My idea is really an variation of the B-Line Express service. My understanding is the Express bus makes 10 stops over the same route as the B-line bus which makes 43 stops, all in the name of getting to the destination more quickly. The GO service already has an Express train from Oakville. I'm suggesting two trains, one starting in Hamilton and the second starting at Aldershot. The Hamilton train skips the Aldershot stop saving about 2 minutes (rough guess based on my measurements). Similarly, the Aldershot train skips the Burlington stop and proceeds directly to Appleby. Each train gets to Union Station up to 20 minutes faster. Of course there is a cost to this (twice as many engines at a minimum). Perhaps this cost could be offset by automating the driving responsibility? The point being, if the service is a little faster, maybe a few more riders would be willing to convert. I recognize that there are issues - a small minority of riders need to get off at a station no longer serviced by the train stopping at their station, but it certainly appears to be true that almost everyone gets off at Union (GO Transit must have the data).

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 10:41:18 in reply to Comment 118879

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2016 at 19:16:52 in reply to Comment 118883

I'd like to remind once again that the other Ontario LRT's are all currently on-budget (Kitchener-Waterloo ION LRT, Ottawa Confederation LRT, Eglinton Crosstown LRT).

Currently, they use the Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) and it seems to generally be a little more cost-overrun-resistant. True, it is no guarantee that there won't be cost overruns, but assuming that there will be, is a little specious given the current trend.

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By collins (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 10:45:27 in reply to Comment 118883

it was shortened because collins doesn't want it

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By AGREED (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:40:35

you could buy all the b and a line transit riders cars for 10 years with a billion dollars (CAW would love that and the could get in a fist fight with LIUNA over it.)

But I like this idea. electric bikes are better than trains running down the middle of the road any day.

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By AGREED (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 12:45:21 in reply to Comment 118886

I forgot to add - 400,000 people make a billion dollars (serving coffee at Tims or whatever) and the government takes it from them and buys them all bikes. Great idea.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2016 at 19:24:40 in reply to Comment 118888

Although I like electric bikes -- I'd like to point out that bikes don't last long as LRT infrastructure.

The operating/maintenance costs of an LRT can be lower than a BRT because LRV's can last 30+ years while buses typically last only 10-15 before replacement. And one LRV driver can transport more passengers, due to the length of the LRV (1-LRV consists and longer 2-LRV consists) compared to even an articulated bus.

It's long term infrastructure. If you spread the billion dollars capital cost over several decades, it is not nearly as painful. You should ask Scarborough that want a MULTI-billiondollar 1-stop subway extension.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-05-28 19:25:17

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 12:32:43 in reply to Comment 118897

For cost, I was thinking about users (riders), who can take an HSR/LRT trip for $2.75 per ride or about $95 for a monthly pass (about $3 per day) If an electric bike can last around 5 years, one dollar per day would give you about $1,825 (5x365) for capital and maintenance. If it lasted only two and a half years, the cost to the user would be $2 per day. Still much cheaper than the $3 public transit cost. And there would be no billion dollars to amortize over 30 years (per your example).

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