Rail Trip to Seattle/San Francisco Shows Why Cruising is Booming … and So Is Uber!

I’m a train buff. I have ridden the rails on The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver three times; from Florida to New York City four times; from Ottawa to Toronto and between Montreal and New York more times than I can remember.

My love for trains goes back to when I was around five years old … watching those HUGE powerful engines (some were still even using steam!) pulling three, four, sometimes seven or eight passenger cars, arriving and departing Canadian Pacific’s Montreal West station, not far from our home. (An experience made even better when accompanied by an ice cream from Elmhurst Dairy nearby!)

Then when I was a university student, I worked a couple of Summers on the trains out of Montreal’s Central Station … as a “newsie” on the coaches, with my goodies basket, selling sandwiches, chocolate bars, chips and sodas, and even renting out pillows on overnight trips.

And although I did a few trips to the Maritimes, my regular route was between Montreal and Chicoutimi in northern Quebec … which offered two terrific bonuses: it really improved my ability to speak French; and, I learned firsthand how “corruption” pervaded business in La Belle Province in the 1960s (some newsies replaced company goods with privately supplied products).

The job paid well … especially for a student (commissions plus tips) … but my favorite part was just being on the trains, day after day, taking in the scenery and enjoying fresh air breaks riding between the cars with the top half of the boarding door swung open (I was allowed as part of the crew) or relaxing in the baggage car, with the sliding side loading door partially opened.

And after a career and vacations that took me all around the world many times by air for decades, I still enjoy the motion, movement, sounds, scenes and relaxing, rolling on the rails.

So a few weeks ago, for a week-long escape from politics, blogging and other news junkie stresses, I rode the rails again.

First Amtrak, from Vancouver to Seattle: great scenery … although a little strange because for the entire four hour trip, those of us in the “First Class” car saw it all backwards: the seats in the car apparently were so old and decrepit, they could not be turned to face forward!

But I did enjoy the rocking and rolling on the rails again!

Until Seattle: where I emerged from the King Street Train Station to take a taxi to my hotel at Second and Stewart.

“Forty dollars” the taxi driver demanded before I got in.

“No way”, I responded, knowing he was trying to scam me.

“How much you want to pay?”, he countered.

“I have no idea. Use the meter,” I said, pointing to the Seattle meter rates on the side of his car.

He refused … and walked away to find another victim.

I took Uber: fare one way to my hotel, $17.99 (plus tip) and only $13.99 (plus tip) back the next morning to resume my train journey to San Francisco … 24 hours on the rails again, lots of time to think: I paid $105 US for my Amtrak trip to Seattle; $315 Cad for my one-night hotel (included $51 in taxes); $43 US for Uber trips; $45 on meals/drinks: then $674 US for a single roomette to California (more great scenery and meals included in the dining car); but then another $20 Uber ride to pick up my car rental, $217 Cad for three day car rental (including taxes); three night San Francisco motel cost $746 US (including more than $100 US in hotel taxes); meals and drinks $200 US; vehicle gasoline $36; and finally, airfare one-way back to Vancouver (including taxes) $616 Cad.

(And speaking of “taxes/fees”, Seattle and San Francisco still have some way to go in exploiting visitors … compared to New York City! During my visit there in April, added to my nightly hotel bill was: a $31 “facility fee” (wifi etc.); a State Sales Tax of 8.875%; a City Sales Tax of 5.875%; and, $3.50 Occupancy Tax. I Luv NY, but hotels there have been getting extremely costly, so stays are shorter and shorter … too many extra charges/fees/taxes added on to every night’s stay … so right now, I have no plans to go back.)

But the problem of hotels getting REALLY expensive is now universal!

The tourist travel model is broken when a room (three-star, nothing luxurious) costs more per day than a cruise ship cabin that comes with meals, perks, entertainment, sometimes even drinks and gratuities … and transports you to a new destination every day!

In fact, the TOTAL cost for my one-week rail journey/modest hotels/car rental, family-style meals etc … nothing fancy … more than $3,800 Cad!

For LESS than I paid for my train trip, I could have taken a one-week cruise on a beautiful, luxurious ship: including cabin, taxes, travel, port fees, First Class dining, a variety of musical groups playing all day long in half a dozen lounges, or out on deck, along with nightly entertainment shows (music, dance revues, comedy) in a full-size theatre … and, also lots of fresh air, beautiful scenery, superb service and a full week of relaxing time at sea.

Is it any wonder that so many cities are witnessing more and more middle class families staying home …. or if doing any travel at all, opting instead for small town vacations, camping, all-inclusive foreign resorts … or, yes, even cruises!

Cruise tourism is booming once again and is rebounding faster than other forms of travel and tourism!,” reports Expedia Travel.

” With 31.5 million passengers having sailed in 2023 and 35.7 million expected to sail in 2024 (CLIA), there’s no denying that the future of cruising is bright.”

What’s that I hear? What about the environment?

Let’s keep it real … cruising is a polluter, but so is air travel, car travel, bus travel, taxis and, yes, rail travel too, along with all those huge hotels, resorts, restaurants, theatres and attractions.

However, today cruising is MUCH greener than it used to be: cleaner fuels (many even now run on LNG) , with extremely efficient engines, very high economies of scale in food purchasing/preparations (although people do often eat too much …but it IS a vacation!); ships now have huge recycling programs … and I have personally witnessed many people who cruise become more environmentally conscious/supportive and motivated while at sea, and, with higher salaries now, cruises provide relatively decent paying jobs these days, especially when tips are added in, for hundreds of thousands of staff and crew from more than 100 countries, many from Third World nations … earning enough money these days in fact to not only decently support themselves, but their extended families back home too.

(And here’s a fascinating article about how the cruise industry is reducing its environmental footprint: https://theweek.com/environmental-news/1024392/how-the-cruise-industry-is-pivoting-to-sustainability.)

I’m still a train buff … and plan to continue to travel as long as I am healthy enough to do so … but, I now have a greater appreciation than ever for not just the comparative wonderful value of cruising … but, in most cities when I’m a tourist, using Uber now instead of risking being scammed by local taxis!!

Harv Oberfeld

(New blog topic next Monday. Follow @harveyoberfeld on “X” for FREE First Alerts to new topics up for consideration and discussion.)

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Voting in France, UK and Toronto Sends BIG Message to BC

The politics have been different … some moving left, others right … but the overwhelming, consistent message voters across the world have been sending to their governments and politicians lately is: CHANGE!

The people have had enough.

Just last month, I pointed out that in democracies on every continent, as the famous line from Network echoed, the world’s middle class is “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”. (You can review that Blog here: https://harveyoberfeld.ca/attention-politicians-the-middle-class-is-mad-as-hell-and-not-taking-it-anymore/).

The high cost or unavailability of housing, soaring taxes, ever-increasing carbon charges, high grocery costs, rising concerns/fears about crime, high immigration numbers and negative social impacts are universally hurting … really hurting … the people who do the work to make our economies run, are enjoying few of the rewards.

And too many feel governments are failing to make things better.

So incumbents are either being tossed out of office or have had their grip on power substantially reduced by voters whenever the opportunity arises.

In June, I cited election results in India, Netherlands, Italy and Germany as the most recent examples of a “people’s revolt”.

Now there are more.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s centre-right party was tossed, finishing second in Sunday’s vote, behind a left-wing coalition, but ahead of its far right challenger; in the United Kingdom, the Conservative government suffered massive defeat at the hands of Labour; and, in a Toronto-St. Paul’s by-election, the Conservatives took a riding that had been Liberal for 30 years.

Even in Iran, as restricted and undemocratic as their elections are, voters chose a President promising a new direction.

Change! In the hope for something better for middle class taxpayers … is sweeping the world.

The BC government should be watching … and be worried.

Their media messengers keep offering soothing words that all is well for the BC NDP in the lead-up to the Oct. 19 provincial election.

True, a Research Co survey two weeks ago showed the NDP on top, with 40% public support; the BC Conservatives with 33%; the Greens, 15%; and, BC United, at 11%.

But the election campaign has not yet began in earnest, yet the gap between the NDP and Conservatives is closing. (See the full poll results here: https://bc.ctvnews.ca/bc-united-falls-to-4th-place-in-polls-conservatives-narrow-gap-with-ndp-1.6940263.)

Why?

The NDP may no longer be so popular in urban strongholds that have traditionally formed its power base.

Voters in Vancouver and Victoria are really feeling the squeeze of outrageous housing rents/mortgage costs, ever-rising property taxes, higher and higher commercial taxes/fees, carbon taxes, Hydro charges, transit costs, grocery prices, a troubled health system(doctors, hospitals, surgeries, ambulances) that sometimes seems on life-support itself, shortfalls in schools/education funding, fear of rising crime, with drug users wreaking havoc in many communities, a failing “injustice” system … and an NDP government that has been ineffective in solving these problems.

(Some problems may not be the responsibility of the province, but judging by election results elsewhere, anger and dissatisfaction often ignores jurisdiction in the voting booth.)

And it wont help the NDP that just days ago, an Angus Reid poll showed British Columbians, by a three-to-one margin, don’t believe the estimated $580 Million cost of hosting seven 2026 FIFA games is worth it. (https://angusreid.org/world-cup-host-vancouver/.)

Change.

Judging by election results we’re seeing elsewhere, maybe Premier David Eby, chosen by the NDP to replace his retiring predecessor John Horgan in October, 2022, should have sought a public mandate for his leadership and his promises a lot sooner?

Before the voters had two full years to assess his results.

Harv Oberfeld

(New blog topic next Monday. Follow @harveyoberfeld on “X” for FREE alerts to new topics up for discussion.)

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