It’s questionable which of the eight World Cup groups of this year should be called the ‘Group Of Death.’ Most people are saying it should be Group D, and with good reason. It consists of three countries that have won at least one World Cup and all three are still strong today. It’s a shame there will be at least one of those World Cup winners packing once all the Group Stage matches are done.
So here’s my rundown of the Group D teams:
-Uruguay (6)- If any country has to be the comeback story of football, it’s Uruguay. Uruguay dominated football in the 1920’s and won the first ever World Cup in 1930. Uruguay also shocked home country Brazil in 1950 by beating them 2-1 in the Maracanazo, which I will write about in a later blog. Since then, Uruguay’s prowess withered over time. It was like their fourth-place finish in 1970 was the end of it all. It would take four more World Cup appearances where the highest they got was the Round of 16 before there was a turnabout in the last few years. And it was over at the 2010 World Cup where Uruguay sent the message they’re back with their fourth-place finish. Further success continued with a win at the 2011 Copa America, qualifying their under-23 team for the Olympic Games, and finishing fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. They’ve also had good play in friendlies with wins against, Italy, France and Japan. Nevertheless they did struggle during World Cup qualifying during the first half. They just have to be together in Brazil if they want to write another chapter to their new legacy.
-Costa Rica (34)- Costa Rica seems like the odd one out in this group. The other three have won World Cups in the past and the furthest they ever made it was the Round of 16 back in 1990. Maybe so but Costa Rica can deliver. They have had wins against Mexico and the U.S. last year. They’ve had their notable losses too. Whatever the situation, this can be a good learning experience for Costa Rica. They’ve never won against any of their Group D rivals but win, lose or draw, this can provide excellent growth for the team. They have good guidance through Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto and have talented players like Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s top goalscorer Alvaro Saborio and rising newcomer Joel Campbell who plays for Arsenal. Don’t underestimate Costa Rica.
-England (11)- It’s always the same old story for the Three Lions. England often has the finest combined talent assembled for a football team no matter what tournament they enter. However they don’t always play like a functioning team and they often come up shorter than expected. And don’t get me started on penalty kicks. 2014 will define the TriLi’s even further. They have the goods to do well. They have an excellent coach in Roy Hodgson who took on England just two months before Euro 2012. They have top players like captain Steven Gerrard, vice-captain Frank Lampard, phenom Wayne Rooney and rising young star Jack Wilshere. Since Hodgson took over as coach, England has been impressive despite being ousted in the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 thanks to, you guessed it, penalty kicks. They’ve won or drew most of their matches. Even their losses– to Sweden, Chile and Germany–were not that big. So will England arrive here in Brazil? It will all be decided with the whole world in their wake.
-Italy (9)- The Azzuri are traditionally a stellar team. Only Brazil and Germany have finer World Cup legacies. However things really took a stump at World Cup 2010. They entered the tournament as the reigning Cup holders and left at the end of the Group Stage. The irony being they had the same coach that led them to win the 2006 World Cup. Italy has since hired Cesare Prandelli as their new coach and he has given them an excellent turn-around. The tournament where Cesare proved himself and the new Azzuri was Euro 2012. The Euro was won by Spain but Italy did make it to the finals. That was enough to send the message that Italy was back and playing with the winning style the Azzuri has the reputation for. Italy also finished third at last year’s Confederations Cup and qualified for the World Cup easily. However Italy has shown some glitches in recent play. They beat Mexico and tied Germany but have lost to Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Italy is seeking redemption in 2014. No doubt they have the ability. It’s just a matter of them delivering.
And now my prediction. I predict the two advancers from this group will be Uruguay and Italy.
After doing three spotlights where I’ve spotlighted two stadiums, I can finally spotlight only one here. However it’s one of the biggest and will be a major stage here at the World Cup.
Year Opened: 1965
World Cup Capacity: 62,547
World Cup Groups Hosting: C, D, F, H
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (A1 vs. B2) & a semi-final
This is another of Brazil’s classic football stadiums. It was 25 years in the making and opened up in 1965. The stadium is considered one of the best football stadiums in the world. The stadium once held over 132,000 people for a soccer match back in 1997. Many other big soccer matches and big concerts have been held in the stadium. There was some redevelopment to the stadium in the years leading to the World Cup. Now fans can enjoy better access to the arena. The stadium was also one of the venues for the Confederations Cup. After the World Cup the stadium will return to being homes to Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro.
MEET THE MASCOT FULECO
Since I only have one stadium to focus on, I thought I’d give a focus to the mascot. Normally choosing a mascot for a major sporting event is not an easy thing and it wouldn’t be an easy thing for the World Cup. Some like Striker in 1994 and Zakumi in 2010 were well-received. Some like Goleo in 2006 were questionable since the lion is representative not of Germany but more England and the Netherlands. And then there are even food-based mascots like Naranjito the Spanish orange from 1982 and Pique the jalapeno pepper from 1986.
Brazil went with a three-banded armadillo who camouflages himself as a soccer ball. Brazil held a vote on the mascot’s name and the most votes went for Fuleco: a mix of the words Ful–from Futebol (football)– and eco from Ecologia (ecology). The name should suit as Fuleco is representative of football spirit and is of an endangered species. Fuleco has a cheerful and appealing personality. He’s a proud, confident Brazilian armadillo. He does not talk but he’s very curious and extroverted, adventurous and loves to explore wherever he goes. Like all Brazilians, he has a big heart and is hospitable. Unlike his other armadillo friends, he’s very sociable. He loves to dance to music, especially Brazilian samba music, and likes keeping up to date with his family.
Brazil has given Fuleco a positive response. Within two days after Fuleco’s announcement, 89% of Brazil knew who Fuleco was. A recent survey of appeal revealed that Brazilians gave him average appeal score of 7.3 out of 10. Already he’s destined to be one of the best World Cup mascots ever.
And there you go. That’s my take on group D, another World Cup venue and the mascot Fuleco. More World Cup stuff to come.
Group C may look like a more relaxed group as compared to groups like Group B, Group D or Group G, but don’t be so quick to dismiss. There have been teams from nowhere that would come to surprise and finish high, if not win. Group C may come with one of those surprisers and it could be any of the four teams. All four have reputations of being ‘sleeping giants’ and it could be right here in Brazil where they finally arrive. Here’s my rundown:
-Colombia (5)- Colombia is one of many great teams who never had the change to deliver well at the World Cup. There was a period in the 90’s when they were one of the best teams in the world but during those three World Cups, they only made it past the Group Stage once and even then only got as far as the Round of 16. It’s a question of what it was: not all being together, political tension at the time, best players sidelined. We’ll never know. But now there’s a new Colombian team picking up where the previous one left off. They’re currently ranked in FIFA’s Top 5 and they’re hoping to deliver this time around. They have the players and the clout. They also have a good coach in Jose Pekerman who often selects players for a specific role rather than their profile. He was successful in coaching Argentina to the quarterfinals in 2006. They’ve even played well in recent games, tying Netherlands 0-0 and beating Belgium 2-0. Colombia can finally arrive on the World Cup scene here in Brazil.
-Greece (10)- This is one team whose prowess over the years has grown considerably. Their first World Cup was in 1994 and they were uninspiring: losing all three of their matches and scoring no goals while conceding ten. Things have really picked up for Greek football since. They were the surprise winners of Euro 2004. They returned to the World Cup and even though they didn’t advance past the Group Stage, they still had the benefit of winning a game: 2-1 against Nigeria. For 2014, they’re a top-ranked team in good hands with Portuguese coach Fernando Santos who has been very successful coaching in both Portugal and Greece. He guided Greece to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 and to a consistent track record since, losing only to Bosnia-Hercegovina and South Korea. This is possibly Greece’s best team ever and there’s no better time than now for them to prove themselves.
-Ivory Coast (21)- At every World Cup since 1986, there’s been at least one African country that advances past the Group Stage. Some have made it as far as the quarterfinals. Many have expected the Ivory Coast–or Cote d’Ivoire– to be that team but ‘The Elephants’ have played below expectations in their two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2010. Even though they have Didier Drogba, one of the greatest African football players ever, he can’t be a one-man team. Nevertheless the team has been very consistent in recent years. Much from the help of French coach Sabri Lamouchi who has guided the team these past couple of years. They finished second in the African Cup of Nations in 2012 and even tied Belgium 2-2 in a friendly this year. Even at 36, Drogba still looks and plays strong and the team consists of other good talents like Manchester City star Yaya Toure and promising young gun Serge Aurier. This could finally be The Elephants’ year.
-Japan (47)- No other nation has experienced increased growth of football in the last 20 years the way Japan has. It all started with the creation of the J League in 1993 when football really took off and helped Japan qualify for their first World Cup in 1998. They’ve qualified for every World Cup since even co-hosting in 2002 where they made it to the Round of 16 for the first time. Success continues for the Blue Samurais. They’re coached by Italian Alberto Zaccheroni They feature star players in the top European leagues including Keisuke Honda with AC Milan and Shinji Kagawa with Manchester United. From the first year Zaccheroni assumed the role of Japan’s coach, they won the 2011 Asian Cup. They’ve has mixed results in international play these past two years but have shown their strength trough ties against the Netherlands 2-2 and wins against France 1-0, Belgium 3-2, Ghana 3-1 and South Korea 2-1. They may rank low on FIFA’s chart but they could perform above expectations here.
Now my prediction for the two that will advance. It’s a toughie but I believe it will be Colombia and Greece that will advance.
Now that I’m done all the stadiums that will just hold Group Stage, I’ll now be focusing on stadiums that will host matches in the knockout rounds. One is brand new while one is older and has a reputation. Both will be known for their capacity and features and are both expected to have sufficient post-World Cup use.
Year Opened: 2013
World Cup Capacity: 46,154
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (D1 vs. C2)
Pernambuco is a new stadium that was built not just for the World Cup but for last year’s Confederations Cup too. Pernambuco is a new stadium not just built for the World Cup and for Recife to have a new football stadium but also to give a financial boost to a deprived area of the city. Plans for the surrounding area include a university campus, indoor arena, hotel and convention centre, plus commercial, business and residential units and a large entertainment complex with shopping centres, cinemas, bars and restaurants. The biggest feature of the stadium is its intent to be a ‘Green Arena’ relying on solar power and even serving the purpose of being a solar power plant to power 6,000 people when not used for game play and be part of the research and development of solar power in Brazil. Football club Nautico Capibaribe is expected to make this stadium home after the World Cup.
Year Opened: 1973
World Cup Capacity: 67,037
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (B1 vs. A2) & one quarter-final
Castelao is one of the few stadiums at this year’s World Cup to go through two major renovation projects. The first came in 2000 and it was a three-stage project that lasted a year. Then once it was assigned as a hosting venue for the World Cup, it was given a twenty-month reconstruction project starting in March2011: a mere ten years after the first set of renovations were completed. Whatever the situation, Castelao was the first World Cup venue to be completed, back in December 2011. Castelao was one of the venues for last year’s Confederations Cup. Castelao Stadium has always been a venue that has hosted big events in the past. Castelao plans to continue to host major concerts and serve as host venue for Ceara and Fortaleza Sporting Clubs.
And there you have it. My take on Group C and two more stadiums reviewed. Five more groups and six more stadiums to go.
The funny thing about the World Cup group draws is its unpredictability. They try to make things easier by designating seeded teams from all the others to give better parity only to end up with a crazy combination. Group B has a combination crazy enough to have the very first match a rematch of the exact World Cup final from 2010! Also just as surprising is that Group B has four teams that are very talented but it’s not enough to call it the ‘Group Of Death.’ I think there was more than one ‘Group Of Death’ for this World Cup. It’s a wonder why Group B didn’t get that label.
Despite these oddities, Group B is loaded with talented teams and should make some exciting play. Here’s my rundown of the Group B teams:
-Spain (1)- Now seems to be ‘The Reign of Spain.’ Spain has always been known to be full of football talent but the team hardly ever came together at World Cup tournaments of the past, often performing below people’s expectations. This would cause Spain to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ for a long period of time. This all changed when Vicente del Bosque was appointed coach of Spain’s national team in 2008. Since then, Spain’s magic came about. It all started with winning Euro 2008, then surprising everybody including their compatriots with a win of the 2010 World Cup. Spain’s long-awaited legacy continued with a win at Euro 2012 and becoming the first team ever to successfully defend their European Championship. Spain’s success continued as they played without a loss until the finals of the Confederations Cup where they lost to Brazil 3-0. Spain continues to be brilliant only losing one game since, 1-0 to South Africa. Spain just recently beat Italy 1-0 in a friendly. They appear poised to repeat in Brazil. It’s the next month that will define things.
-Netherlands (15)- While Spain is no longer ‘football’s greatest underachievers,’ the Netherlands have the misfortune of being seen as the greatest team in the world to never have won a World Cup. Three times a finalist, never a winner. Oranje is waiting for that day to prove themselves the best in the world. However it will come a t a challenge. Back during Euro 2012, the Netherlands performed one of the biggest chokes in their history by losing all three of their Group Stage matches. 2013 was a year they really wanted to make up for things and they did well by not losing a game. However failing to win all four of their friendlies since World Cup qualifying including a 2-0 loss to France shows that they might not be ready for this World Cup. This is unfortunate for head coach Louis van Gaal as he would like to leave team Netherlands on a positive note. Nevertheless it could be that Oranje is just ‘playing possum’ and may come alive in Brazil.
-Chile (13)- Chile is another team full of talent that has yet to prove itself in a big way. The team that is affectionately called ‘La Roja’ by its compatriots and supporters have only gone as far as 3rd at the World Cup, and that was back in 1962 when they hosted it. In recent years, Chile has been better at its consistency. They’ve qualified for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups and finished in the Round of 16, the only other two times they’ve made it past the Group Stage. Chile has had a great play record since 2013 in both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. They’ve shown they can challenge some the best teams in the world, if not defeat them. They beat Uruguay 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier last March, tied Spain 2-2 in a September friendly and even beat England 2-0 in a friendly in November. However they have lost to Brazil 2-1 back in November and lost to Germany 1-0 this March. Most people are predicting Spain and Netherlands to be the two advancers from Group B. There could be a Chilean surprise.
-Australia (59)- The Socceroos were the surprise of the 2006 World Cup. Their 2006 advance to the Round of 16 led them to be transferred from Oceania’s continental federation to Asia’s. However their prowess has taken a bit of a dip. They didn’t advance past the Group stage in 2010 and have struggled in play for the Asian Cup. The 2013 and 2014 play seasons have been unimpressive including 6-0 losses in friendlies against both Brazil and France. In 2014, they’ve had a 4-3 loss to Ecuador and a 1-1 draw to South Africa. 2014 could be a further learning experience for Australia.
So now my prediction for the two advancers from Group B: Spain will definitely advance but it will be tight between Netherlands and Chile in which I feel Chile will be the one moving on.
More stadiums in focus. Like the stadiums focused in my Group A review, these two will also host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. I also want to remind you that in my Stadium Spotlight, I won’t completely compliment the stadiums. In fact I will make aware of some of the glitches, especially since glitches in the construction and/or upgrades of stadiums have made big news leading up to the World Cup. And these two have been two of the ‘bad news bears.’ So without further ado:
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,968
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, F, H
There’s been a lot of concern of the readiness of many of the stadia set to stage the World Cup. Cuiaba is one stadium that’s been causing some of the headaches. One of the headaches happened back in October when a fire caused structural damage, which has since been repaired. In fact Cuiaba needed a second World Cup warm-up match on April 28th to prove its readiness. FIFA was pleased this time around. Nevertheless it didn’t guarantee the stadium was 100% ready. Work returned to the stadium shortly after and on May 9th, a worker was killed when he was electrocuted while working on the installation of a telecommunications network. Work was halted temporarily after his death.
Ready or not, Arena Pantanal will be the stage for four Group Stage games. After the World Cup, the Arena is to be reduced in capacity and to be the home venue for both Cuiaba and Mixto Esporte Club.
Year Opened: 1999
World Cup Capacity: 41,456
World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H
Not all World Cup stadium problems are about the new stadiums. Existing stadiums have had their own problems too in terms of renovations or upgrades. Curitiba’s Arena da Baixaba is one stadium that had its issues. The stadium had plans for upgrades like extra seats and a retractable roof. The stadium suffered a setback in October 2013 as work was suspended on the orders of a Brazilian labor tribunal due to numerous and serious safety breaches. An extra headache came in January 22 of this year when FIFA’s General Secretary visited the Arena and said Curitiba could be dropped if significant improvements in the renovations didn’t take place within a month. FIFA decided to keep Curitiba the following month. Recently there was some good news about the Arena. Valcke visited the Arena again on May 22nd and this time he praised it for being a ‘top-class’ venue.
The venue is expected to have its seating reduced once again to its usual 30,000 and return to being the host venue for Atletico Paranaense.
So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.
Those of you that have known my writing over the years have known that when I do soccer blogging of major events, I do a rundown of the teams that will be competing. Some of you may have guessed I’d be doing it again for the World Cup, and you are right. However I’m doing a separate blog for each of the eight Group Stage groups. So much to preview, so little space. With this being my first blog of the upcoming World Cup, then it’s no question the first blog will be done on Group A. For the record, my summary of the teams will be done in their drawn World Cup order rather than their FIFA ranking of May 2014. FIFA ranking of that month will appear in brackets.
-Brazil (4)-No other country has as much of a football legacy as Brazil. Brazil is the only country that can boast competing at all nineteen past World Cups and the only country to have won the World Cup five. The World Cup arena has been an excellent showcase of Brazilian football at its best and it has inspired the world around. However we’ve also seen Brazil choke at times, especially in recent competitions. Just ask France. They’re known as Brazil’s ‘achilles heel’ and have handed Brazil some surprising defeats including the 1998 world Cup final and the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal. In both cases, Brazil was the defending World Cup holder. Brazil’s recent chokes were more humbling as they choked to the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal and at the 2011 Copa America, they lost their quarterfinal in what was Brazil’s worst-ever Copa America performance.
Brazil can’t take any chances at this World Cup more than any World Cup. They’re the host country and all the world expects them to win. They especially want to rid their compatriots of the 1950 ‘Maracanazo,’ which I will talk about in another blog. Yes, Brazil may have won the World Cup more than any other country but of the eight countries that have won the World Cup, Brazil and Spain are the only ones to fail to do so as host country. Brazil hopes to end this ignominy this time around. After their Copa America debacle, they sacked their coach in favor of Luiz Felipe Scolari who helped coach Brazil to its last World Cup in 2002. The return to Scolari has paid off as Brazil won last year’s Confederation Cup defeating reigning World Cup holders Spain 3-0. Since the return of Scolari, Brazil’s overall record has been excellent losing only twice: to England and Switzerland. No doubt they’ll face huge pressure but the Confederations Cup proved that Brazil is back in action and ready to deliver.
-Croatia (20)- If you were to do a pound-for-pound rational of football teams, Croatia should rank amongst the top. Croatia is one of only two countries in FIFA’s current Top 20 with a population of less than 5 million . Uruguay being the only other country. Ever since their independence in 1991, Croatia has proved itself a formidable force in football, especially at the 1998 World Cup where they finished third. However that was the last World Cup where they even advanced past the Group Stage. 2002 and 2006 appearances didn’t pan out and a failure to qualify in 2010 almost made the Vatreni’s glory a thing of the past. However Croatia is looking to mount a comeback. In 2012, they signed on a new president in Davor Suker, himself a former great as the top goalscorer at the 1998 World Cup. The role of manager was replaced by former team captain Niko Kovac. The team successfully qualified for the World Cup. They also have a good mix of talent from veterans like Darijo Srna and Luka Modric and fresh young talents like Dejan Lovren and Mateo Kovacic. Croatia is one country that’s very capable of causing a surprise.
-Mexico (19)- Mexico is without a doubt the best team in the CONCACAF as far as legacy goes. No other North American team has qualified for the World Cup as often. However its greatness has appeared to have alluded them in the past couple of years. They failed to advance past the Group Stage of last year’s Confederations Cup, they lost to Panama in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and almost missed qualifying for the World Cup in a qualifier against Costa Rica where they trailed 1-0 after 80 minutes. Two goals in the last 10 minutes kept them alive where they’d go on to beat New Zealand for the wildcard berth. Mexico has made efforts to make their near-loss to Costa Rica a thing of the past. They have not lost a game since but they have come across some tight ties like a scoreless draw against Nigeria and even a 2-2 tie against the US last month. Mexico hopes to be ready for Brazil. Miguel Herrera is one tough coach who favors home grown talent over talent from European leagues. That could be the factor that could either spell success or failure. Only the World Cup stage will decide that.
-Cameroon (50)- Older people may remember Cameroon as the team that came from nowhere in 1990 to win 1-0 against defending champions Argentina. Cameroon charmed the world that year by reaching the quarterfinals and becoming the first African team to do so. However their glory appears to be a thing of the past. Cameroon has not advanced past the Group Stage since. This time around doesn’t show too much promise. They do have a German coach, Volker Finke, and have good talent in Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song but they do face a heavy battle in group play. Already this year, they’ve had mixed results with a 5-1 loss to Portugal and a 2-0 win against Macedonia. Nevertheless it’s too soon to judge. I’ve seen teams where nothing was expected of them and they’d advance far.
This is a new feature. This is where I get to focus on the various stadia that are hosting the World Cup. I figure the arenas are worth talking about. Brazil has twelve stadia that will facilitate for the World Cup: seven just opened within the past year. The crazy thing is how the Group Stage play is organized. Usually in most cases at a World Cup, the country would have organized certain Group Stage groups playing at a set stage of stadiums. In Brazil’s case, a country with twelve stadiums may have three stadiums in cities close to each other to host the Group Stage games of two groups. Division that simple. Brazil has done it weird. All twelve of the stadiums will hold four Group Stage matches but they will be matches for four different groups. Additionally, all six of the Group Stage games for each individual group will be played in six different stadiums, and not all will be that close by. That will mean a lot of traveling around for the 32 teams, especially in a country of over 3 million square miles.
It’s confusing but hopefully it won’t interfere with the play as badly as the vuvuzelas did at the last World Cup. As for stadiums, Brazil has twelve good stadiums. Five are old and traditional but renovated in time. Seven are new built especially for the sake of hosting the World Cup. Here I’ll give you my first taste of my Stadium Spotlight. Note that each stadium I show in my Stadium Spotlight feature will be a stadium that will contest Group Stage matches for each respective group. These two I will focus on will host Group Stage matches in Group A. So without further ado, here are the two stadiums in focus:
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,086
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, D, G
One of seven new stadiums built especially for this World Cup, the most unique thing of the stadium is definitely the roof. While Brazil had made headlines with difficulties of building and completing stadiums in time for the World Cup, this stadium however earned praises from FIFA not just for the stadium itself but for development of areas surrounding the stadium which I will talk about later. This stadium finished in good time and officially opened this January. After the World Cup, the stadium capacity is to be extended to 45,000 seats and to be the stage of home games for both the America Futebol Clube and ABC Futebol Clube. The area surrounding the stadium has planned a shopping centre, commercial buildings, hotels of international standard and an artificial lake.
Year Opened: 2014
World Cup Capacity: 42,374
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, E, G
There was some criticism from England’s manager Roy Hodgson about Manaus hosting World Cup matches. He should watch his tongue as England will be playing the very first World Cup match of his group there, against Italy. This was one new stadium that actually was under question whether it would be ready for the World Cup. The stadium has been completed and was officially opened in March. The stadium has a full capacity of 46,000 and is to be the host stadium of Nacional FC after the World Cup, replacing the now-demolished Vivaldao Stadium.
And there you go. My first preview of the World Cup teams and stadiums. As for predictions, I’ll just settle for predicting the two countries that will advance past the Group Stage right now, and I predict it will be Brazil and Croatia.
Seven more groups and ten more stadiums to review before World Cup 2014 starts. Stay tuned for more.
Change is good. So they say. Change is sometimes good, sometimes bad, but it’s unavoidable. There will be two notable changes–one in Greater Vancouver and the other all across Canada–that are products of the signs of the times.
CANADA POST’S FIVE-YEAR PLAN
It’s been official since March 31st to be exact. However it was in November when the news hit the fan. Then Canada Post announced major changes that would take place: some that would take place within months and some within years. One was the reduction, if not the complete elimination, of mail home delivery and designating it to neighborhood post office boxes. This was something to affect 80% of Canadian households over a five year time. Another was a do-away with thousands of postal jobs. Canada Post plans to ‘retire’ jobs just as many of its employees are reaching retirement age rather than have huge layoffs. However the biggest news had to be huge increases to the price of postage–the biggest ever in Canada Post’s history– for the average customer. One example is the price of single Canadian stamp for a simple basic letter anywhere in Canada to be $1 each or $8.50 for a book of ten. That’s up from $.63 each the year before.
No kidding it was a shock to all those that heard it. But in all fairness, it’s pretty much a sign of the times, albeit a rude sign. When you look at it, less people–especially the young– send out lettermail. They send it via email, whether it be in the form or regular mail-style communication or greeting cards. Even payments are sent by cheque less often and have mostly been replaced by wired payments. In fact Canada Post announced the billions of dollars in total it has lost over the last few years. If you saw things through Canada Post’s point of view, you could understand why these shocking changes. One increase in postal use has occurred in recent years has been the increase in parcels and packages. You can thank modern technology for that too. More specifically online shopping that has resulted in the increased packages. that’s one thing that’s keeping the postal workers in business and working.
Before Canada Post would make changes they’ve been intending to do for a long time, they consulted the public. They had group meetings with people from all around the country. They even invited feedback via email. So this isn’t something that they did as run-of-the-mill. They actually paid attention to what was out there and took note. However it’s not to say they may have missed some details. The biggest flack came in concern of elderly people who can’t make it to those anticipated boxes, or not without huge effort.
If there’s one saving grace about this, it’s that businesses get a bigger break from this. Businesses also have their own dealings with the new postal rate increases. Fortunately Canada Post is very understanding how businesses rely on paper mail. I myself work for a business that sends out a lot of paper mail and I know of the graces given to businesses. One is postal rates given to businesses using indicia print mail. Businesses can pay anywhere between five to twenty percent less than what the average customer pays at the counter. One example is while the average person pays $.85 per stamp for a book of ten, businesses can pay $.75 per piece even if it’s just one to go. The savings get even better in terms of bulk mailing on the Electronic Shipping Tools (EST). Sending bulk mail via EST was already a good savings before as businesses could save two cents per piece as long as the batch was a minimum of 5000: a savings of at least $100 per batch. Now the price is $.70 per piece–a savings of five cents each– and the batch minimum for this savings has been reduced to 1000. It looks as though Canada Post was most prepared for businesses and did what it could so they wouldn’t take as huge a blow as the customer.
No doubt there have been complaints about this all. I cannot blame the people for complaining. In fact I don’t like paying $1 for a single stamp, and this is as a basic customer. Nevertheless I think of all the changes that have occurred on how people deal with mail, especially in terms of technology, and I sometimes feel like saying to them: “If you decrease the postal system’s usefulness to yourself and others, you have this coming.” Sometimes I really feel like saying just that. One more thing. American conservatives have liked the new system and some are considering it as a template for changes in the American postal system.
Oh, a footnote. You know how I mentioned Canada Post’s plans to ‘retire’ certain positions than lay off. Well there were was an announcement of a certain number of carriers in three major Canadian cities being laid off. I guess they didn’t want to wait.
TRANSLINK GOES ELECTRONIC
Okay, I’ve already talked about one change that’s already happened. Now I’ll talk about a change that was supposed to have happened fully already but is only happening partially. For those who don’t know Greater Vancouver transit system, people simply buy their tickets and board the trains. Sounds like a good opportunity for freeloading but Transit Police frequently board the trains to inspect. Those caught without proof of appropriate fare get fined $160. Buses are pretty regular where customers pay up front, allowing little opportunity for fare evasion.
Just two years ago, Greater Vancouver’s transit authority TransLink started set up of new turnstiles for the Skytrains. It’s not just for the sake of restricting access to people who have paid their fare but also to equip for for the new electronic way of boarding transit. TransLink announced plans to start the new Compass program where people use a computer sensor card to tap in and tap out of buses and trains. Compass cards and their value are paid for at special fare booths at Skytrain stations. The cards are a lot like how some use a chip credit card to tap in their charge at some terminals.
TransLink had plans for the program to start on January 1, 2014. However they invited people from the general public to become testers of the Compass card system during a three-week period starting in September 2013 and ending October 1st. I was one of the people who signed up to volunteer and I was selected to participate in the testing period. I received my card in the mail and used it tapping in and out of buses and SkyTrains. Tapping in wasn’t the hard part. Tapping out was as I forgot at least five times completely. There were a few times I’d forget to tap out of the SkyTrain and then head back to the turnstile to register.
One purpose was for TransLink to get an understanding of people’s transportation patterns. Another was to get a sense of how transit passengers dealt with and felt about the upcoming system. they even invited emails under usernames to get the feedback they wanted. It was a mixed bag of what to expect. Even before the testing period, I remember one bus driver saying that the Compass system is going to create mayhem. I take that with a grain of salt because I’ve lived in Vancouver long enough to know there are lots of Vancouverites that mourn “Doomsday!” over everything.Actually I’ve seen people in Quebec City use a fob-style method of payment on buses as far back as 2009. I’m sure there are many more cities in Canada and around the world that have adopted their own electronic fare system. So this Compass thing is actually something Vancouver and TransLink should have caught onto a long time ago. However I don’t feel Compass should replace fare payments as some people may not need the card due to infrequent TransLink travel. Compass is more for people like me who bus day in-day out.
One drawback about this is that TransLink users that were part of an employee pass program–where employees received passes for a monthly fee that was a 15% discount from monthly bus pass rates– were told the employee pass program would expire December 31st of the year. Many people, including myself, were disappointed but TransLink made it clear that this was a sale and sales do end. The public were told people would pay a monthly rate via Compass that’s less than that of the current regular bus passes.
Anyways it’s May, more than four months after the original planned date of the Compass changeover, and I’m still waiting. I’m also back to paying the regular monthly bus pass rate. Compass may not be available to the general public as of yet but it is open to certain people. Some people who are part of disability programs or assistance programs already have access to Compass as the general public are still waiting. TransLink even admits on their website that they’re ‘rolling out Compass one group at a time.’ Now that we’re talking about TransLink’s website, TransLink also has a section on their website devoted to Compass and their answers to FAQs like security and privacy concerns. One thing that’s still unanswered is the start date for the general public. They say the start will be spring/summer 2014. It’s already May and there’s no official start date yet. Guess it’s just the waiting game right now.
So there you have it. Changed happening in 2014. One nationwide, one strictly in Greater Vancouver. One partially for the better, one for the worse. One happened on their projected start date, one is still four months past it’s official start. Both however are signs of the changing times and changing needs of the public.