Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Canada Day - off island !

Just because we're not at home tomorrow, it doesn't mean we can't celebrate Canada Day in style. Tim Horton's coffee, Sleemans Ale and Mission Hill wines form the liquid offerings to wash down Bison Burgers, Poutine and Timbits galore - in Trafalgar Square, London!

For the fifth year running, London's famous landmark will be a sea of red and white as Canada's 143rd birthday is celebrated all day long - and late into the evening.

The day begins at 10.30 with the Canadian Tenors leading a rousing rendition of O Canada, after which the Canadian High Commissioner will drop the first puck in a day-long competition of street hockey.

At the end of the day, the Square is transformed ready for a three hour concert featuring a host of performers from across Canada.

Such a pity the Queen will miss out on all the fun. Now where is she again..........?

You can see a full run down of the day's events here.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The school bus challenge

This week, the Ministry of Education has announced that they are to spend a cool $12.5 million on 106 new green [well, yellow anyway] school buses - of which just two will find their way to the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District.

In a news release this week, Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid revealed:

“Student transportation services cost more than $90 million annually. Over the coming months, we will be looking for new ways to provide bus transportation for students that will save money that can be reinvested in classrooms.”

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District expects to spend $1,285,000 on transportation this year - of which $1,239,000 is the direct costs (excluding administration) of running 17 school buses around the district. That's an average $73,000 a year for each school bus. On top of that is the capital cost of the buses themselves - with the new 42-seat buses costing $114,000 each, rising to $140,000 for bigger, 84-seat buses.

MacDiarmid suggests that some school districts are saving money by providing students with Transit passes instead of running their own buses. That's great - providing you have a transit service to start with! Needless to say, there is no transit service on Gabriola - and one cost saving measure proposed by the School District is to assign a mechanic to drive the link bus from the Gabriola ferry to NDSS and back, instead of employing a driver - meaning there's less time spent on maintaining the buses. Sound economy? I'm not so sure.

And meanwhile, Gabriola cries out for a transit service to help the ever growing number of older folk - and young families without their own transport - access the necessities of life. BC Transit has promised a review of the potential for a transit service - but it doesn't look like it's coming anytime soon. And yet we have a school bus on the island that sits idle most days between 9am and 3pm, and daily from 5pm onwards.

Now I'm not suggesting that the yellow school bus should be used to provide a transit service during the day - anyone who has peeked through the door of the school bus will know that you need the agility of a mountain goat to climb the flight of steps inside the bus - which is the price that you pay for designing a school bus on a cheap, mass-produced truck frame.

No, what is needed on Gabriola is some joined up thinking between School District 68 and BC Transit to invest in a step-free transit bus that can be used for both services. Yes, I know that means there would be no transit service before 9am or for two hours in the afternoon - but by sharing the running costs between BC Transit, School District 68 and Nanaimo Regional District, we could secure a transit service for shoppers, medical appointments and leisure trips at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated transit bus. Once that's established, then it's time to consider whether a second bus - for peak time travel - can be justified.

It's time to accept that it's no longer sustainable to run two separate transport systems in rural communities : it's time to think outside the box and look for an integrated solution to secure transport services for the future. The yellow school bus working for just 4 hours a day is living on borrowed time. And meanwhile, Gabriola walks.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Whale watching with a difference

Photos : courtesy of the Times Colonist

Every day, passengers aboard the Victoria Clipper have the chance to watch orcas (killer whales) on the journey between Seattle and Victoria.

This Saturday, the Clipper gained an extra passenger as a not-so-dumb harbour seal jumped aboard to avoid becoming lunch to of a pod of killer whales. The seal perched perilously on one of the Clipper's jets for more than 20 minutes while the pod continued to circle the boat.

Once the whales had moved on, the seal nervously returned to the ocean - and lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Happy 60th birthday!

That alltime hippy favourite, the VW camper van, is sixty years old this year.

Originally designed by Volkswagen as a wagon to carry panels round their car plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, it was spotted by a dutch importer who worked with VW during the 1940s to develop the concept of a "combi" camper van.

Despite a reputation for being underpowered, having dreadful brakes and suffering frequent electrical faults, VW campers gained popularity throughout the world and remain a cult symbol that is dearly cherised by countless thousands.

Numbered among their fans are celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Formula 1's Jenson Button, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry from The Who - and actor Martin Clunes. They have become collector's items (especially the  'splitties' - early models built with a split two-part windscreen) among many who crave the freedom of the 1960's hippy era or the modern surfing scene.

Anyone know how many have found their way to Gabriola?