Posted by: mystressm | July 1, 2007

The value of time

I live in the West End.

Yesterday the monthly Critical Mass bike ride took place.

I watched it for go by for an hour from my 12th story apartment. The Critical Mass bikers completely took over every single lane going both in and out of downtown Vancouver. They went down Georgia Street, and then turned up Denman. I don’t know where they went after that, because I couldn’t see them.

But I could see what havoc they were making.

Barriered in downtown
The city streets were completely gridlocked. Nobody was moving an inch.

The Cambie Street Bridge is virtually unusable because of the Canada Line construction.

The Critical Mass website states that they “are a grass roots movement to take back the public space.”

Their ride statement keeps all the downtown citizens captive while they made their point.

Yesterday, their ride took an hour. They timed it perfectly. It started at 6:00 pm on Friday; just as a huge mass of office workers were trying to get home for the weekend. It took an hour. No one got home in time for dinner that night.

Besides the thousands of people stuck in traffic being forced to waste their time while Critical Mass airs their personal beef, hundreds of thousands of people who live in the West End who can’t get in or out. Everyone who lives or works downtown gets to either plan around Critical Mass or worse, doesn’t know about it and their plans get screwed.

For a whole hour, people can’t get home, can’t get to the airport to catch their plane, can’t do anything. The buses don’t move. Emergency services can’t get through. Critical Mass is making their statement. They think everyone should get out there and ride a bike. Or take the bus.

The cost of time
So why aren’t people using bikes as a main form of transit? Why aren’t more people using the public transit?


Both those forms of transit place a very low value on peoples’ time.

Businesses calculate the value of time all the time. It is one of the most important value calculations that a business does. For instance everyone is familiar with the concept of having a dollar value placed on employment. Wages for hours worked. Time value costs are calculated for virtually everything we do.

An unvalued commodity
People in general don’t think of time as a commodity, but it is. For instance, if it takes you an hour to get to work, that is two hours of your personal time that you don’t get to use. With only twenty-four hours in the day that means that 8% of your daily allotment is used up just commuting. You never get recompensed for that time.

Two hours covers a lot of stuff. Time with the kids. Shopping for groceries. You can do a weeks worth of laundry in that time.

Time is insidious. Time isn’t officially calculated as “valuable” unless you are physically on the payroll – governments, companies and people like the Critical Ride feel free to waste it.

Why  your time is wasted
There is no compensation to the victims from the agencies that feel free to casually help themselves to your time – because officially there is no value placed on it and there is no way to seek recompense for someone else stealing it.

Notice that ‘they’ are quite particular about looking after their own time. Everyone is quite careful to husband their own time and whenever possible shove the “wasted” moments onto the helpless ‘other’.

Ever gone to the grocery store and had to stand in the line to pay while noticing that there are lots other tills available? There is a reason for this.

The time of the cashier is valuable. She can’t have any “down time” because that costs the store. But as the customer – your time costs nothing to the store. That’s why all the “waiting” time gets shoved onto you.

It’s the same reason why you regularly get to listen to the highly irritating recording on the phone “We are currently experiencing high call volume – your time is valuable to us….please continue to wait”

It doesn’t really matter when you call. You will always continue to wait.

Who is the greatest fritterer of all?
The biggest waster of time is the government. As a monopoly entity, the citizens can’t take their business elsewhere.  There is absolutely no upper limit to how much of the publics time that the government can throw away.

Ever tried to get anything done with the government? Wait times to get anything processed are enormous.

Business permits, unemployment insurance, income tax, access to courts. Anything to do with the government requires that you stand in line or wait on hold. Ever heard of waiting lists?

But in my opinion, one of the biggest mass wasters of time is the public transit system.

I live in the West End and go to school in Burnaby at BCIT. It sounds like a pretty easy and direct commute. But it’s not.

Even with everything on my side – walking distance to the Sky Train, and commuting against rush hour traffic, it would take me twice as long by public transit as by vehicle.

Time wasted. Time I don’t have. Time I don’t choose to spend.



  1. Interesting take. Time is definitely valuable. That’s why we need rapid public transport and more cycling options. Driving a car may be faster for you because transit options to BCIT suck, but its a greedy solution that only slows everyone else down.

    Consider what your commute to BCIT would be like if everyone who lived in the West End or worked downtown drove to work. There are 50,000 people who live in the West End (myself included). Probably another 50,000 who live outside the downtown who need to commute in. There is no way the streets of downtown could handle 100,000 cars.

    I would wager the gridlock caused by that many vehicles would be worse than the gridlock generated by Critical Mass, even the massive June ride.

    That’s part of the message of Critical Mass. Car centric cities just don’t work. A dense, vibrant city like Vancouver can’t survive without public transit and cycling options. The more options there are, the more cars you take of the road, the less gridlock you have on a daily basis.

  2. I love both your entries on this topic. I coudn’t agree with you more. But I suspect if free enterprise ran public transit, it would be even more expensive than it is now.

    It’s interesting how cities in Europe, and even Toronto and Montreal, run relatively efficient and user-friendly transit systems that are widely used. But Vancouver either can’t, or won’t, get with the program.

  3. Hi Chris:

    I agree with you that we need more public transit and cycling options available. But I believe that to a large extent that the current state of traffic grid-lock and lack of public transit choices are artificially induced by our municipal government for political and power concentration reasons.

    There were several facts that I didn’t include in my blog due to exam time constraints:

    1. Our bus transit system was originally owned by BC Hydro. At a certain point it was sold to the province, and after that it was sold to the city of Vancouver. At each point of sale, the monopoly bus transit system was sold to it’s successor for a significant profit.

    This means that we, the people living in Vancouver have paid IN FULL via our taxes and fares for our public transit systemTHREE times over.

    We could have had a significantly better and larger transit system if all that money had been spent on improvements and enlarging it instead of fattening successive levels of government by repurchasing something that we, the public already owned.

    This was just a paper transfer since in all cases it was a “public” asset. We just got to repurchase it each time.

    Instead we have been forced to successively fatten the bottom line of successive layers of governments, while repurchasing our public transit system again and again.

    2. In North Vancouver several years ago, there was a company that tried to start up a competitor public transit service. This service was supposed to be a cross between the public bus service and a taxi cab. Essentially they were going to have mini buses that went door to door to pick up customers.

    Their plan was to able to transport not only people, but their belongings as well. People would call them by phone and they would come right to their door. The difference between this company and a taxi is that you would be sharing the van with several other people at once who had a common destination area.

    Sound like a great experiment? Well it was kyboshed by the North Vancouver City government as well as other municipal governments.

    First they demanded a $500,000 study by this start up company to “prove” that their idea would work even though this company had already performed their own feasability studies to their own satisfaction.

    Then the government said that they would only grant them a permit to “test” it in ONE municipality. They couldn’t go downtown. They couldn’t drive someone to East Van or Burnaby. Which meant that effectively that the companies plan wouldn’t work.

    Then the transit union started whining saying that it would take away some of their captive bus passengers and they might experience job loss.

    Get the picture? This company with a great idea never even got to try.

    Personally, I don’t care if it was a dumb idea and it didn’t work. It wouldn’t have cost me a dime for them to experiment. The government chose to red-tape them to death and demanded all kinds of ridiculous studies on the pretext that they wanted to “make sure that the poor company wasn’t making a mistake.”

    But the most important outcome, after they broke this company was that the municipality got to keep its monopoly. Owning and controlling the movement of people is an extremely powerful and valuable thing.

    Here’s another juicy fact:

    3.Did you know that a taxi license costs $500,000 @ year to own? The cab license money goes straight into the city coffers, and that the number of cabs is severely limited?

    Think about it. It costs about $30 to take a cab one way from the West End to the Airport. That means that a cab driver must make 17,000 trips to the airport just to pay for the license. But the government orders don’t stop there.

    Cabs must be pretty new. I can’t remember what the cut-off year is but they can’t be very old. So the cab company must purchase a brand, spanking new vehicle every few years. Then there is insurance, gas & repairs. And we haven’t even talked about wages.

    Just think. Do the math. If the cost to run the cabs were a lot less – then more people would use them and that alone might cut down on car ownership.

    Right now, all cabs must run 24 hours a day. But if it were more reasonable, then some cabs could be run part time – meaning that part of the fleet would be readily available for peak usage times. Now there is nothing. The government mandated barriers to entry are far too high.

    My argument doesn’t end here.

    I am aware that the Vancouver municipal government currently has a priority system for encouraging people out of their cars with the purported interest in reducing congestion and reducing emissions.

    Their priorities are from the most important to the least: walking, biking, public transit, then private vehicles.

    My cousin is involved at a very high level in city decongestion project in Australia. I got a further interesting fact from him.

    Did you know that simply by slightly tweaking the traffic lights so that the traffic coordination is improved you could massively reduce emissions and reduce the amount of time that each car spends in transit to a destination?

    And this would also include an improvement of the efficiency of the bus system which uses exactly the same roads as the private vehicles. In fact light tweaking could go a long way to actually meeting or exceeding the “AirCare” program.

    Oops! Did I say AirCare? Another government cost-shift. Which do you think is cheaper? For motorists to pay for a yearly air care certificate OR for the government to tweak the lights?

    You guessed it! Overall cost of light tweaking is less BUT the government has to pay for it. Much better for the motorist to pay for the yearly Air Care.

    The government also gets the benefit of being seen to be doing something which is more important than actually doing something. Even when it’s not.

    There is power in controlling the roads.

    There is even more in controlling the public transit if that becomes the only way of moving people and goods.

    Ever heard of the “one for you & two for me” song? Public Transit is an excellent political power gambit. And best of all – while ordinary people are being forced to sacrifice – time, energy and mobility efficiency these are the same ordinary people with votes that believe that the government is really working towards a solution.

    Oh – and here’s another FYI. Did you know that when the government introduces those watering restriction days (odd days you can water your garden/wash your car) to ration water — that water consumption actually goes UP???????………but that’s another topic.


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