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 Even payments are sent by cheque less often and have mostly been replaced by wired payments.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.
Been to New Westminster lately? If you haven’t been there, what images first comes to mind? Are they positive or negative? If they’re negative, you’d be in for a surprise with the changes that have happened in the city. Big changes.
New Westminster was once the pride of British Columbia. It was proclaimed by Lieutenant Governor Richard Moody in 1859 to be the official capital of the Colony of British Columbia. It was official recognized as a city in 1861, exactly 25 years before Vancouver was established as a city. A lot of history is in that town which currently has a population of over 65,000.
It was seen as a great pathway with being located by the Fraser River. Excellent for transportation of goods through the waters and great links by rail service. It’s area rich in trees was especially beneficial for the logging industry and for the pulp and paper industry. Many pulp and paper mills were build around New Westminster and the Fraser River. Its railway system would also be built around the various mills.
As many of you have noticed in your own cities, the older buildings would face a neglect for some time. Much during the 60’s and 70’s. New Westminster faced a neglect during the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of the times the areas would be some of the sleazier areas of town often the scene of drug deals or crime. Even the older buildings would start to look shabby over time. The area around New Westminster Skytrain station used to be a popular hangout for young thugs. Some former residents of New West may remember that.
One thing many people will notice is the many improvements made in New Westminster over the last ten years. Columbia Street has definitely made big improvements in the last ten years. Before 1964, Columbia St. used to have many department stores and was the downtown attraction of New Westminster. The area consisting of the major stores around Columbia St. which also linked with South Burnaby and North Surrey was known as the Golden Mile. That changed after 1964 when the Highway #1 freeway was completed and allowed people to travel to Vancouver faster. Many of the department stores along Columbia St. closed up and moved themselves to the Uptown area. The nearby landmarks like Douglas College, the Courts and the City Hall were the places still keeping it active mostly.
Things really improved since Wayne Wright became mayor of New Westminster in 1999. Columbia St. has recently gone under a ‘facelift’ in the last ten years. One of the things Columbia St. is noted for is their array of wedding and bridal shops. It has become a major area for wedding planning and fashion. Housing along Columbia St. has also sprouted out with new developments happening. Even older buildings were renovated or given new life for attracting new and current businesses. There’s even an annual automobile festival in July, the ‘Key West Show & Shine’, that attracts people to the street.
The biggest boost on Columbia St. was the Plaza 88 along the New Westminster Skytrain station. A multi-storied condo was built there five years ago with the anticipation of an adjacent outdoor shopping mall along the Skytrain levels. Back in winter 2011, the New Westminster Skytrain station opened Plaza 88 and has since become a common shopping place with a Safeway and a Shoppers Drug Mart. A movie theatre opened there last year as well as various other stores and medical businesses and new businesses continue to come in. Ten to even five years ago, the area was very run down full of old crumbly buildings and was a common hangout for people into drugs or causing trouble. Now the place makes for a for comfortable setting for people and even includes a play area for children.
Another bustling area is the New Westminster Quay market alongside the Fraser River. The Quay market had a slow period roughly six years ago as businesses left many vacancies behind. A major renovation of the market area from July 2007 until its reopening in September 2010 has succeeded in attracting new businesses in especially with having an ‘anchor store’ with Donald’s Market.
Another redeveloped in New Westminster as of recent is the Brewery District. The Brewery District used to be the pride of the town of Sapperton after the Sapperton Brewery was opened in 1879. The brewery was owned by many brewing companies with Labatt’s Brewing Company being its last one in 1958. The brewery was closed in 2004 after Labatt’s decided to withdraw its business. The area that used to be part of the brewery has been redeveloped in the last few years. The area was recently revived with the opening of a Thrifty Foods and a Toronto Dominion bank. A Brown’s Social House restaurant and a Shopper’s Drug Mart were also opened months ago. Nearby is the office for the Greater Vancouver Transit Police and Translink with office room for more businesses. There’s already a condo area in existence to the surrounding area and more homes are planned in the years to come. Even with the surprising news in the past two months of Thrifty Foods being sold by its umbrella company Sobey’s, the area still shows potential for consumer business to increase over time.
It isn’t just new buildings and businesses that New Westminster is proud to show off. Recently it has also developed a sense of pride for its past. Back in 2009, the Royal City celebrated 150 years. The Irving House on Royal St., now a museum, is its most classic building and open to the public and even has a Victorian style Christmas. The New Westminster Heritage Centre runs guidelines for running and developing its classic homes and buildings. This allows for buildings like the BC Penitentiary to be converted into an office or even the CPR station on Columbia St. to be converted into a Keg Restaurant for some time. There are also tours of heritage homes which still keep their own facades and designs despite renovations and modernizations for current occupancy. The New Westminster Mayday festival started in 1870 and still continues today as a tradition with participating children still wearing the traditional uniform and dancing around the maypole.
It’s not only what has been completed in the last five years or past buildings and traditions revamped that has caught a lot of buzz for New Westminster but also what’s planned for the future. Being constructed nearby Plaza 88 will be the brand new New Westminster Civic Centre or the Anvil Centre as it’s commonly called now. That area too was once part of an area that had a lot of old buildings that were also looking run down and also a common spot for homeless people and drug addicts to loiter around. The centre is designed in the shape of an anvil commemorating the Anvil fired off annually during the Battery Salute of the annual Hyack Festival. The centre which is expected to open next year promises a 350-seat theatre, art studios, multi-purpose rooms for arts and performing arts development, a conference space with banquet seating for up to 500, a new location for Tourist New Westminster on ground level, and a new home for both the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum of New Westminster.
There was one negative note. Back in October there was a fire that burned down the E.L. Lewis Building, one of Columbia St.’s older buildings still put to good use. The fire devastated the building and surrounding area leaving 30 businesses displaced. It was an unfortunate happening. This could however lead to promise of a new development in terms of businesses or housing.
New Westminster has developed a new sense over the years. It’s a city with a proud and celebrated past with a highly ambitious future. Despite the negative impact in the past 20 to 30 years, the city has made big improvements and promises more in the future. The Royal City is becoming Royal again.
For more information about New Westminster, click the link to the official website.