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 Even payments are sent by cheque less often and have mostly been replaced by wired payments.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.
The Confederations Cup soccer tournament began on June 15th. Also what started around that time was a protest in Sao Paulo about transit fare inflation. Protests soon grew in Brazil. I’m sure the Confederations Cup competition and the worldwide media attention to that event had a lot to do with the growth. But what are the protests about? And why are they happening all of a sudden?
First it’s important to look at the country of Brazil. Most people will consider Brazil a poor or developing country. It is true to an extent. What most people don’t know is how much Brazil’s economy has grown since the 1980’s. Its biggest growth was in the industries of oil, mining and agriculture which grew at 47% or 3.6% per year since 2000. Its industrial growth rate is also impressive with an 8.8% back in 2008. Brazil’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and actually now ranks 7th in the world and has the highest GDP per capita in South America and 53rd in the world overall. Its gross national income of $10,721 US in 2011 classifies itself as upper-middle income: an income on par with many countries of Eastern Europe. It can be attributed to many factors. Some say it could be Brazil’s move to democracy that started with an Amnesty Law in 1979 and developed into its own Constitution in 1988.
The quality of life has also gone up considerably in the last 20 years and Brazil has worked to establish methods to either keep it that way or improve it. Despite huge urban sprawl in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, its cities have some of the finest public transit systems that have been copied and studied by many major cities in the world. Brazil has also reformed its Social Security programs and tax systems. There was even a Law Of Fiscal Responsibility that controls public expenditures by the Executive Branches of all government levels. Export, Industry and Trade has been increased while allowing Brazil to keep itself from vulnerabilities by methods such as not exporting the oil it consumes. It has also halved its debt through exchange rate-linked certificates which has allowed exporting to grow to as much as 20% a year and put a limit on its inflation rate to 4%. It also has an average life-expectancy rate of 72.7 years (2009) which is comparable to that of many Eastern European countries.
So what are all the protests about? Even before I get into the nitty gritty of the protests there are some facts to send a message that a bubble was about to burst. We must remember that while Brazil has improved a lot in past years and especially this century, there’s still a lot of development to go. Despite its improvements, the 53rd best GDP in the world shows they can do better. Its gross national income is roughly 1/4 of what developed countries like Canada are receiving. In addition, the minimum wage translates to an annual income of an unenviable 8,086 Brazilian Reals (R$) or roughly $3,600 American. Even in government despite being a democracy, Brazil still ranks as the 69th least corrupt country in the World according to Transparency International with a score of 43 out of 100.
The first protests actually started on June 1st, two weeks before the Confederations Cup was about to begin. The first major protest was in the city of Sao Paulo of a transit fare increase from R$ 3.00 to R$ 3.20. The first protest started on June 6 and grew over time. The real turning point came when police fired rubber bullets at the protesters and journalists on June 13th. This was widely criticized by Amnesty International and even Brazilian Amnesty Groups.
Soon after, and while the Confederations Cup was progressing further, the protests grew to as many as 250,000 in various major Brazilian cities on June 17th protesting. Rio de Janeiro had the biggest that day with 100,000. Even Brazilians in other world cities stages their own protests. By June 20th, protests grew to millions of people in 100 cities and grew over the next few days. As negotiations and government involvement in matters occurred, which I will discuss later, the protests calmed down but not without incidents.
Interesting enough is not just the number of protesters and cities involved growing but the issues too. What started off as one protest over a transit fare increase grew to a wide array of issues being protested against or demanded:
- A bill (PEC – 37) that hindered Public Ministry to investigate.
- The distribution of petroleum royalties to the appropriate causes.
- Lack of criminalization of all forms of Corruption and Embezzlement.
- Secret Voting in Congress for forfeiture of office.
- A bill (PEC – 33) allowing decisions made by the Supreme Court going to Congress.
- Having a Privileged Forum.
- Taxing in Public Transport.
- Demands to the National Pact for fiscal responsibility, control of inflation and proper distribution of funds to education, public transport and health.
- Demands to implement means of political reform in the country.
- Demanding 10% of the GDP be devoted to education.
- Demanding a free-pass for full-time university students.
- Demanding a revocation of a ‘gay cure’ bill (PDL – 234) authorizing psychologists to treat LGBT people.
Evident enough is that the growth in numbers and issues happened as the Confederations Cup matches were occurring. I still remember telecast of Confederation Cup matches on CBC that even included security updates of what was happening in the cities. Even though the protests have been successful in leading to solutions of problems being protested over, there was still last chances for opportunity as violent clashes occurred in Belo Horizonte as it was hosting a semifinal match on the 26th and in Rio de Janeiro as it was hosting the final on the 30th.
You could understand why the Confederations Cup had a lot to do with the increase in protests. With a major world event happening, it’s obvious the protesters want to highlight Brazil’s problems right while the eyes of the world are watching. Mind you these next three years are going to be very big for Brazil as they will play host to many major international events. Besides the Confederations Cup that finished yesterday, Rio will host the Catholic event World Youth Day later this month. Next year Brazil will host soccer’s World Cup with twelve major cities contesting the competition. And 2016 will have Rio hosting the Summer Olympic Games. I don’t know of any other country that has had to host this many major events in a matter of four years. For Brazil it’s a chance for them to show the world their image as a well-to-do nation as they will be the first developing country since Mexico in 1986 to host a World Cup and the first developing country since Mexico again in 1968 to host a Summer Olympics. In fact the World Cup was even the subject of protests that received less notice than most other protests. Many were protesting the government giving a lot of the budget ($12 billion US) to these sports events instead of on living conditions.
I mentioned that many of the issues being protested upon have been approved within this two-week span of time. You can assure the media attention to this had a lot to do with it. Among those approved by the governments and senate are: public transit prices reduced and taxes eliminated; petroleum royalties destined to education (75%) and health (25%); reform and improvement demands to the National Pact being granted; secret voting ended; Bill PEC – 37 being revoked; all forms of Corruption and Embezzlement being criminalized; and implementing a Plebiscite to politic national reform. Even though the Confederations Cup is over and a lot of reform and improvements have been politically approved, there are still demands outstanding. Some like the 10% allocation of the GDP to education, revocation of bill PDL – 234, and the Free Pass for students are currently under negotiation by Congress while issues of ending of Privileged Forum and the elimination of Bill PEC – 33 still remain undiscussed. On top of it, time will tell if the approved reforms are carried out and if carried out successfully or not. Another thing to look for in the future is how much impact it will have on President Dilma Rousseff. Her popularity has already been hit by the protests. It remains into question whether she will win the next election.
Even though many of the protester’s demand have been met and even though many are still pending as of now, don’t expect all the action to end just as the Confederation Cup has ended. I’m sure as long as Brazilians see injustice or wrong ways of doing things, there will continue to be protests even without the anticipated major events happening and even after they all end. Nevertheless it’s excellent opportunism to make improvements happen to a developing nation that has improved so much in recent decades but still has more to improve upon.
WIKIPEDIA: Economy Of Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Brazil>
Uncredited Author . “Brazil: One Million People Demand Accountability” Transparency International. 21 June 2013. <http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/brazil_one_million_people_demand_accountability>
WIKIPEDIA: 2013 Protests In Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_protests_in_Brazil>