Yesterday morning, the ABC (public radio) affiliate here in Darwin interviewed me on the morning commute show. Click my name on this link to download the mp3.
Yesterday morning, the ABC (public radio) affiliate here in Darwin interviewed me on the morning commute show. Click my name on this link to download the mp3.
This post will be on top of the blog until 27 March. New material appears beneath it.
Sorry for the short notice, but I'm pleased to announce that on Thursday, 27 March, a week from tonight, I'll be giving a talk and public discussion called "Abundant Access: Public Transport as an Instrument of Freedom." If you saw the video of my recent Toronto talk of the same name, it's still worth coming, since I say very different things in each city I visit.
The event is sponsored by Melbourne's Metropolitan Transport Forum (MTF), an organization of local governments, and will take place at the Drill Hall, 26 Thierry Street near Queen Victoria Markets. Come at 5:45 PM for a 6:00 PM start.
(And don't forget: For a real intensive in creative transit planning and policy, there are still openings for my Interactive Course in Transit Network Design, in Melbourne the 27-28 March and in Brisbane 31 March - April 1. Details here.)
Thanks to everyone at MTF for putting this together. Hope to see you next Thursday.
Aussies and their neighbors: If you know someone who'd benefit from a more intuitive grasp of how public transit works, there's still space in our upcoming course offerings in Melbourne (March 27-28) and Brisbane (March 31-April 1).
Several public transit courses offered in Australia, but here's what's special about this one.
Levity aside, we designed this course to fill a gap in the training of most planning professionals. Few graduate programs teach public transport "from the inside," building an understanding of its unique opportunities and limitations through the experience of actually working with the tool. Still fewer hire teachers who are both seasoned practitioners and skilled in relating public transport to larger narratives that motivate people. If you care about public transport as part of your future city, invite your favourite land use planner to take this course! They'll come out much savvier about how to recognize development proposals that truly work with public transport, as distinct from those that are just giving it lip-service to "paint development green."
Antonio Loro is a recent graduate of the Master of Urban Planning program at McGill University, where his final research project examined the potential impacts of vehicle automation on travel and land use in cities. His research was supported by TransLink in Vancouver and Metrolinx in Toronto. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, TransLink or Metrolinx.
Vehicle automation is increasingly showing up on the radar of urban planning and transportation planning professionals. Technologies are developing rapidly, and some news stories report that fully self-driving cars are just a few years away. It’s tempting to envision automation ushering in a bold new era in urban transportation, where driverless cars whisk passengers between destinations safely and conveniently, use roads with great efficiency, and make public transit as we know it obsolete.
However, a closer look at vehicle automation reveals a more nuanced picture of the future. Automation capable of replacing human drivers in any situation may be many years away from the market. The traffic flow improvements enabled by automation will be limited in several ways. Buses and other forms of public transit will still be needed to efficiently move large numbers of travelers around cities. And various forms of automation in buses could enable major improvements in service.
The last two points have come up on this blog before (here, here and here), but since there are a variety of opinions on the implications of automation for transit, it’s useful to dig a bit deeper into these issues and take a critical look at when various forms of automation will arrive, how automation will affect traffic flow, and how it will affect travel behaviour. This post will delve into those questions to shed a bit more light on what automation means for the future of public transit.
According to some, vehicles that can drive themselves anywhere, anytime, without any human intervention – described as “Level 4” vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – are just around the corner. In 2012, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said of their famous self-driving car: “you can count on one hand the number of years until ordinary people can experience this.” Many others have made bullish predictions. For example, the market research firm ABI Research foresees Level 4 cars on the roads by around 2020, and panelists at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) 2013 World Congress predicted arrival between 2020 and 2025.
On the other hand, some point to a number of challenges that suggest Level 4 will emerge further down the road, perhaps not for several decades. Steven Shladover of the California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology, a leading expert on vehicle automation, argues that Level 4 will be much more technically difficult to achieve than many optimists acknowledge (see Vol. 7, No. 3 here). According to Shladover, huge advances in technology would be needed to progress to systems capable of driving safely in the vast range of complex and unpredictable situations that arise on roads. In addition, such systems would have to be far more reliable than products like laptops or mobile phones, and extensive – and expensive – testing will be needed to prove reliability. While Google’s vehicles have driven long distances in testing – over 500,000 miles as of late 2013 – and have not caused any crashes while in automated mode, Shladover points out that this proves very little because their vehicles are monitored by drivers who take over when risky or challenging situations arise.
Legal and liability issues could also delay the emergence of Level 4 vehicles. A few American jurisdictions now explicitly allow automated vehicles on public roads for testing, and Bryant Walker Smith, a leading authority on the legal dimensions of vehicle automation, has found that automated vehicles are “probably” legal in the US; however, he also cautions that their adoption may be slowed by current laws. Laws will have to be clarified before Level 4 vehicles hit the mass market in the US and in other countries. Liability for crashes could also be a thorny question. If a human isn’t driving, presumably blame would shift to the manufacturer, or perhaps a supplier of system components, or a computer programmer. Resolving these issues could stall the emergence of automation.
While there is dispute as to when Level 4 vehicles will be on the road, most in the field agree that more limited forms of automation are coming soon. Some are already here. For example, Mercedes S-Class vehicles can simultaneously control speed and steering when road and traffic conditions allow, though the driver must continuously monitor the road. This is just shy of “Level 2” automation, since Mercedes’ system also requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. Numerous other vehicle manufacturers are developing advanced technologies that promise to take over driving duties, at least some of the time, on some roads. As technologies advance, “Level 3” vehicles could be on the market by 2020 to 2025, according to most experts. These vehicles would allow drivers to forget about monitoring the road and instead read or watch a movie, with the caveat that when the automated system is out of its depth, it would ask the driver to take over. (The takeover time is a matter of debate – anywhere from several seconds to several minutes has been suggested.)
Automation could be a boon for safety – or it could create new problems. On the plus side, it appears that crash avoidance systems already on the market may be effective. Of course, as machines take over more of the responsibility of driving, safety will only improve if the machines are in fact less fallible than humans. This might seem an easy task, considering the foibles of humans, but it’s worth remembering that some automation experts believe otherwise. And where driving is shared between human and machine, the safety impacts are especially open to question. A driver in a Level 2 vehicle might fail to continuously monitor the road, or a driver in a Level 3 vehicle could be engrossed in their movie and fail to take over control quickly enough when requested. In either case, automation could actually decrease safety.
After safety, one of the biggest selling points of vehicle automation is its potential for improving traffic flow, especially through increased road capacity. With their slow reaction times, human drivers can’t safely follow other vehicles closely, so even at maximum capacity, around 90 percent of the length of a freeway lane is empty. If machines could react quickly enough, road capacity would increase enormously. Some studies appear to suggest huge increases are in fact possible – for example, one study estimates that capacity would almost quadruple, and another finds quintupled capacity. However, their calculations consider endless streams of densely-packed vehicles. More realistic estimates assume that several vehicles, say four to twenty, would follow each other in tightly packed groups or “platoons”, with each group separated from the next by a large gap. These interplatoon gaps would provide safety and allow vehicles to change lanes and enter and exit the freeway. Studies that account for these gaps estimate that automation would increase capacity in the range of 50 to 100 percent (for examples, see here and here).
While the more realistic estimates of capacity increases are still very impressive, there are a number of caveats. First, short headways are possible only when automated vehicles are equipped with V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Vehicles that rely completely on on-board sensors – such as the Google self-driving car, in its current form – cannot react quickly enough to the movements of other vehicles, so they would enable relatively small capacity increases. A second caveat: large capacity increases would come only when automated cars dominate the road. Studies have found that when fewer than 30 to 40 percent of vehicles on the road are capable of platooning, there would be little effect on capacity, and large increases would come only after the proportion of equipped vehicles exceeds 60 to 85 percent (e.g., see here). This is important, since new vehicle technologies will take some time to become commonplace. Imagine that as soon as automated vehicles hit the market, every new vehicle purchased is automated: it would then take two decades for automated vehicles to account for around 90 percent of vehicles on the road. If the rate of adoption is more realistic, but still rapid, it would take three decades or more before automated vehicles make possible large road capacity increases. A third major caveat: platooning is only feasible on freeways. Changing lanes, stopping at red lights, making left turns, parallel parking, stopping for pedestrians – such manoeuvres would make platooning impractical on city streets.
For city streets, however, there is the prospect of using automation to improve flows at intersections by coordinating vehicle movements. A good example is the “reservation-based” intersection, where there are no stop lights or stop signs – instead, cars equipped with V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure communications) technology “call ahead” to a roadside computer that orchestrates the movements of vehicles and assigns time and space slots for vehicles to cross the intersection. Simulations show such an intersection could move almost as much vehicle traffic as an overpass – but so far, simulations haven’t included pedestrians and cyclists. Accommodating these road users in a reservation-based intersection would require signals with sufficiently long cycles, so capacity increases would be limited.
Vehicle automation would also bring a very direct impact: reduced or eliminated labour in driving. Time spent traveling in Level 2 vehicles could be less stressful, and could become more productive and enjoyable in Level 3 and especially in Level 4 vehicles. Profound changes in travel behaviour would result. As people increasingly let their robot chauffeurs deal with road congestion and other hassles of driving, travel by motor vehicle would become more attractive. Trips would tend to be longer and more frequent and travel at peak times would increase. Trip routes would also tend to make greater use of freeways with Level 2 and 3 vehicles, since it is primarily on these roads that the vehicles will be able to operate in automated mode.
These induced demand effects would tend to increase road congestion. Freeways would be the exception – if platooning-capable technology becomes widespread, freeway capacity would increase and congestion would drop. That is, until the surplus capacity is taken up by the “triple convergence” of mode shifts, route changes, and change of time of day of travel. However, the increase in freeway traffic would be constrained by capacity limitations on the rest of the road network – as freeway travel increases, new bottlenecks would form on streets near freeway entrances and exits, where automation does not boost capacity, thus restricting the volume of traffic that can access the freeway.
The upshot of the above observations on the capacity effects of automation is that even when the potential freeway capacity increases enabled by platooning are fully realized, automated cars would nevertheless be able to carry far fewer people than bus or rail on a given right-of-way. And, as mentioned, capacities on streets will be largely unaffected. Because the capacity improvements made possible by automation would be limited, we will still need buses and trains when space is in short supply and we need to transport large numbers of people. Larger vehicles will still fit a lot more people into a given length and width of right-of-way than platoons of small vehicles will be able to carry. As Jarrett would say, it’s a simple fact of geometry.
So, vehicle automation will not render large transit vehicles obsolete. On the contrary, it could enable significant improvements in bus service and increases in ridership. Automated steering enables bus operation at speed in narrow busways, which reduces infrastructure and land costs. It also enables precise docking at passenger platforms, which improves passenger accessibility and reduces dwell times. Automated control of speed enables bus platooning, allowing buses to effectively act like trains. Automation can be taken further yet: a driver in a lead bus can lead a platoon of driverless buses, thus providing high capacity with low labour costs. Similarly, individual buses or platoons can operate driverlessly, thus enabling increased frequency with low labour costs. “Dual mode” operation is also possible: imagine a busway where chains of buses leave the city running like a train until they separate at a suburban station, where drivers board and take them onward onto various local routings.
Some of these forms of automation have already been implemented in BRT systems. For example, a system in Las Vegas employed optical sensors to enable precise docking at passenger platforms, BRT buses in Eugene, Oregon used magnetic guidance to facilitate precision docking and lane-keeping in a pilot project, and systems in Paris and Rouen, France, and in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, use various types of guidance systems. While bus platooning and driverless operation have not been deployed so far, these applications could be achieved given sufficient technological advances – or by using a low-tech shortcut. The simple solution is to keep other vehicles or humans out of the way of the automated bus. If buses operate on busways with adequate protection, platooning and driverless operation is possible with existing technology. (Similarly, current driverless train systems are able to operate driverlessly, even with decades-old technology, by virtue of the well-protected guideways they run on.) Developing a vehicle capable of driving itself in the simplified environment of a protected busway is a considerably easier task than developing a vehicle that can drive itself on any road, anytime.
With the arrival of Level 4 automation, driverless buses could operate on the general road network. This would make it possible to operate smaller buses at higher frequencies, since labour costs would no longer constrain frequency. If you shrink driverless buses small enough – and provide demand-responsive service for individual travelers – you end up with driverless taxis. This points to the possibility that public transit service may be more efficiently provided by driverless taxis (or driverless share taxis) in low-density areas, thereby replacing the most unproductive bus services and improving transit productivity overall. (Of course, while automation could boost productivity, even driverless demand-responsive service would still have low productivity where densities are low.)
While it’s a seductive story that driverless cars will transport us to a realm of much improved safety, convenience, and efficient road use – and where public transit has dwindled away – the future is likely to be more complicated. Advanced automation is indeed coming soon, though we might not see Level 4 technologies for a while. Automation could improve safety, though it could also generate new problems. It could also improve road capacity, but the improvements would be limited in several ways. All this suggests that we needn’t worry about (or celebrate) how vehicle automation will make public transit obsolete. Instead, let’s focus on how to use automation to the advantage of public transit.
Last week, several people emailed me to make sure I had seen Mini Metro, a simple but absorbing transit game that’s come out in alpha.
Between deadlines, I played a little, but in two hours we reached a win-win condition: The program was sure it had beaten me, and I was pretty sure I’d exhausted its possibilities.
The deal here is that you can draw lines but you can’t site stations. You build your first humming three-station metro, but then new stations just appear, further and further out, emitting graphical screams until you extend lines to serve them.
Each line has just one vehicle on it, so as the line is extended its frequency drops, so it visits each station less often, increasing the risk of crowding. That's accurate in its own way: Under any fixed budget, frequency and extent are inversely related.
Survive enough time and you’ll get upgrades: an additional line, or a chance to increase a line’s speed and capacity so that it drains its stations more often.
But it’s not enough. Before you know it, stations are getting overcrowded and when one of them finally fails, remarkably, the game calls this “losing” and ends. You see it as a little clockface loop on a crowded station, in this case the next to last station from the west end of the Blue Line.
You are not offered options to encourage flexible work hours, run shuttle buses, or hire Japanese train-packing specialists. Every round I played ended up in the “station failure” condition.
There's plenty of nonsense here. Optimizing for capacity is a very different problem than optimizing for customer utility or freedom. With a single train on each line, you add capacity by doubling up lines at key stations, or sometimes by creating odd loops whose purpose is to visit each station often, not necessarily run straight lines that would be useful to the customer. In the session above, a looping downtown shuttle seemed useful, for example, though these are usually disappointing in reality. Still ...
There are may ways to construct a transit game, but if you want it simple and sexy, a metro game that focuses on capacity is not a bad way to go. What’s more, although many of the assumptions are absurd, the game’s final message is surprisingly accurate: Politicians demand that transit systems spread out but not that they provide enough intensity -- whether that means frequency, speed, or in this case capacity. Transit agencies are always being told to spread themselves thin.
In Mini Metro, the relentless appearance of new stations (often in awkward and expensive places) mimics this constant pressure on transit agencies to spread out horizontally. The slow trickle of funding – most of it spent just keeping up with that spread – is never enough to stop overcrowding. Sooner or later, transit agencies have to invest in core capacity – new lines or bigger platforms where the failure points are, which is often downtown. But to too many local leaders, that’s read as “spending too much money downtown instead of in the neighborhoods,” or "they already have a transit line, so why are they getting another when my district/city/ward has none?"
That's why Los Angeles's crucial new downtown rail link is called the Regional Connector, emphasizing (truly) that the whole region benefits from it. Toronto is considering renaming its proposed “downtown relief line” for similar reasons.
Imagine how a campaign to get every city councilor playing a well-designed game might raise consciousness.
This job starts as a subcontractor as we find out if we're a good fit for each other, but then could quickly turn into employment. For that reason, it's probably for someone who's already in Portland, though I certainly won't tell you not to move here.
Download the details here: Download JWA Jr. Associate GIS Analyst
Please spread the word!
If you respect Portland as a leader when it comes to transit and sustainable urbanism, you should be interested in what its citizens think, not just what its spokespeople and marketers say. It's the citizens who've demanded most of Portland's most dramatic transformations, and they who have to signal when it's time to take the next step.
So here's what citizens of Portland think about how the city should prioritize its transportation investments, from a statistically valid phone survey (cellphones included) with a margin of error just under 5%.
Possible investments were ranked on a 1-7 scale where 7 (counter-intuitively) means the highest priority and 1 the lowest. Dark green on this chart means users chose 7, the highest priority, while light green means 6, blue means 5 etc. The brown is 4, which means netural, and the red and gray colors at the right are low priorities. Click to enlarge and sharpen. Original report is here and PowerPoint here.
Frequent bus service (slashed in 2009 with major ridership losses resulting) is the top transit service priority, closely followed by more (probably more frequent*) light rail service. Streetcars, in this supposed national leader of streetcar-revival movement? Not so much.
Responses to frequent bus and MAX service may be lower than actual because some respondents could have presumed that the survey was solely about things that the City of Portland controls, and transit supply isn't one of them.
On the other hand, there's not much patience for parochialism on the part of Portland's city government.
People are increasingly seeing the services of regional agencies as something that the City of Portland may need to act on. Given the list of improvements discussed above, and their relative importance, this response is probably heavily about Portland's relationship to TriMet, the regional agency that controls transit service. (It may also be about the relationship to Oregon's DOT, which still controls some major arterials.)
So for example, it's plausible that transit advocates who are in the 20% that oppose city involvement in "things it doesn't own" would not mention bus and light rail service as City of Portland priorities, even though they support them as investment priorities in general. Support for these things may thus be even higher than indicated.
So to sum up (and some of this will be more surprising to Portland-admirers than to Portlanders):
This is actually a very practical view, the only one that ultimately works with transit's underlying math. Core cities have higher per capita transit demands than their suburbs [see Chapter 10 of my book Human Transit] so they always tend to be underserved -- relative to demand -- by regional transit agencies that aim for some concept of "regional equity." In many cases, the only solution is for core city voters to step up and vote, for themselves, the additional service that only they know that they need. This doesn't have to mean breaking up the regional agency, but it does mean giving up on the idea that any service distribution formula that a suburb-dominated region would agree on will meet the core city's expectations for transit, based on the core city's economy and values.
Am I concerned about the low ranking of bus lanes? Not really surprised. We would have to get our frequency back (many major Portland bus lines run less frequently than they did in 1982) and put ridership growth back on track. Then that question would naturally arise in its own time.
There are other interesting nuggets in this survey. Portlanders' overwhelming obession with pedestrian safety is heartening, especially since this is a crucial transit improvement. (This may also signal a shared concern for East Portland, the disadvantaged "inner ring suburbia" within city limits that has poor pedestrian infrastructure, inadequate transit frequency, and most of the city's pedestrian fatalities.) Portland cycling advocates, and their national admirers, may be disappointed in the ranking of "safe bike routes." Sadly, cycling is polarizing here as it is everywhere. Although 55% give some priority to "safer bike routes" and cycling is the only mode whose share of work trips is clearly growing, opposition and disinterest are also higher on cycling than for the main transit service investments.
But when it comes to transit, there are some clear signals here, not just for Portland but for any city that hopes to replicate its achievements.
*This question should have been more specific. The response says "MAX light rail service" which could mean either geographic expansion or more frequency. The frequencies on MAX have been cut substantially in the last five years, so at least some of this response is probably about frequency.
''The more dead plants in the room [where the survey is taken], the more believing [respondents] were of climate change.''
University of Queensland researcher John Cook,
on a survey of public attitudes toward climate change,
quoted in today's Sydney Morning Herald
Step out into most developing world cities, and you'll see something like this:
Lots of vans sitting around, or looking maybe like they're about to go somewhere useful. Vague cardboard signs in the windows suggest they may or may not be public transit of some kind.
They're called mutatus in Nairobi, colectivos in Latin America. Over much of the world these informal, private, for-profit vans, run at low cost for low fares in areas of high demand, forming the basic public transit for a city. Generally they run along a particular route out of a hub like the one above, but sometimes it's possible to vary the route depending on what you can negotiate with the driver. You can count on them to hit key locations but not necessarily the exact path they'll take. You also can't be sure of when they'll go. Sometimes they wait until they're full before leaving.
Today in Atlantic Cities Emily Badger tells the story of the Digital Matatus project, an attempt to map and describe the spontaneously evolved patterns that these semi-fixed-route buses operate. Although nobody planned this network, it's more orderly than you'd guess. Download the sharp, complete map here.
What do I notice? Practically everything goes downtown!
Matatus have organized themselves into routes because that's to their benefit; they train customers where to wait for them along reasonable paths so that they aren't driving around looking for customers individually. The idea of the route -- and of an efficient, non-duplicative spacing between routes -- arises spontaneously from the economics of the product.
But they almost all converge on downtown, creating huge jams there. Nairobi is clearly big enough to have large flows of people crosstown to many non-downtown destinations, suggesting that a more efficient and liberating network would have more grid elements. This is a common thing that goes wrong in privately evolved systems. Every matatu wants to go downtown because it's the biggest market, and a mutatu driver doesn't have to be coordinated with anyone else to fill a bus going to and from there. This problem that bedevils privately routed and scheduled operations everywhere.
Crosstown service, by contrast, requires frequency on a single path connecting several major dots, and it has to leave from organized non-downtown hubs where many other services connect to it. That requires more organization, so it's less likely to arise spontaneously out of private operators optimizing for themselves.
So you get a single market overserved and other markets underserved. This is very much like the way a narrowly-focused transit agency will throw too much service at a single market rather than building a network useful for many markets. It takes more planning and management to create a network, and this usually requires a government willing to impose order.
This same problem was observable after the wholesale privatization of buses in Britain. Suddenly there was lots of duplication of bus service into the biggest downtowns as everyone chased the easiest prize, but service disappeared from crosstown markets that could have done well, but that required a network of organized connections to succeed. That network is what privately motivated transit has trouble delivering, because it usually requires cooperating with people who are perceived as competitors.
Now and then, these systems get reorganized by government into more logical routes that spread the network across the city for easier everywhere-everywhere travel, as happened in Santiago in 2007. The transition is hell, but when you're finished, you have a network that's much easier to use to go all over the city, and a much smaller knot of buses downtown.
The moral? Disorganized transit systems "planned" by the actions of many private actors do naturally evolve certain forms of efficiency, but they do not naturally evolve into the most efficient and productive network for the whole city. That final push into coherence requires network design!
My Intensive Course in Public Transport Network Design, by far the most fun way to learn about the choices and opportunities that arise in designing public transport networks, is returning to Australia in less than two months! My Australian colleagues at MRCagney are sponsoring two sessions, one in Melbourne (March 27-28) and another in Brisbane (March 31 and April 1). Locations in each city are to be announced, but they will be at central locations readily accessible by frequent public transport.
Just found this map of all 10-minute frequency or better services in New York City, by this not readily identifiable character on Tumblr. This looks like quite a struggle to make clear given the complex nomenclature that NYCTA uses.
The whole thing is here. An NYCTA contact tells me it's still current except for a change around LaGuardia airport.
When I'm learning a new city -- as I do 10 or 20 times a year as a consultant -- this is what I need!
Two weeks ago I was the guest of the City of Toronto Planning Department, part of its Feeling Congested program to explore transit options for the city. While there I did a series of meetings and workshops, including the following public address at St. Paul's Church. Only about 1/3 of it is specific to Toronto, and at this stage it's probably the best video of me so far. Thanks to everyone involved, as credited below!
From Jeffrey Bridgman:
Google maps is showing me my freedom to stay a bit more and chat now.It says that this route runs every 15 minutes from 5am to 11:30pm, which means if I get talking with someone, I don't care that I'm missing the 8:27pm bus since there'll be another one in about 15 minutes. That's a great improvement from the "Catch the next bus at 8:27" directions it used to tell you.
Everyone! This is the next app that Every Serious Transit Agency Needs to Implement ASAP. It could easily be as transformative as realtime information.
A while back, our Portland transit agency Tri-Met unveiled a mobile ticketing app, which my colleague Evan Landman reviewed here. It allows you to purchase tickets in bulk with a credit card and store them on your phone. When you need one, you push a button and a "ticket" appears on your phone, very much like an airline boarding pass. Right now in Portland, you just show that to the driver, but before long I expect we'll scan a barcode just as we do to board airplanes.
Our two fulltime staff and I are all occasional transit users, so not motivated to buy monthly passes, and all three of us can now report that we use transit more in Portland because we can use it spontaneously without worrying about whether we have $2.50 in cash. This not only reduces cash handling and thus speeds up boarding, it attracts more occasional riders!
And if you're a transit agency, you need to love occasional riders, not just regular ones. A vast number of citizens who find you occasionally useful, and whom you welcome with an easy boarding experience no matter how long it's been, can be a big part of your political base.
So congratulations to Capital Metro in Austin for rolling out a similar app. And if your transit agency doesn't offer this liberating tool, encourage them to develop it. It increases ridership, builds broader loyalty, and speeds up boarding. What's not to love?
The antidotes to groupthink ..., I have found, are: one, leaders who are willing to question their own assumptions and surround themselves with strong critical thinkers who are willing to do the same, and, two, leaders who also have the willingness to seek out and listen carefully for the underlying interests (or even the kernel of a good idea) in the voices of the people initially perceived or expected to be on “the other side.” That mysterious blend of arrogance and humility is hard to find.
When it provides free connections, as a Los Angeles Metro report is finally proposing to do. The Bus Riders Union is screaming about a fare hike, but for many riders -- those whose trips require a connection -- the proposal is a fare reduction, because the transfer penalty to be eliminated ($1.50) is far bigger than the hike in the base fare ($0.25)
The vast dense core of Los Angeles is one of North America's great grid systems, designed to allow easy travel between any point A and any point B via a single connection. Unfortunately, their current fare structure charges for a connection. This makes as much sense as a road tolling system that charges only for turns.
It's nonsense. Connections are an inconvenience to passengers that is required by the structure of an efficient network. Charging for connections encourages riders to demand wildly inefficient services like the late and famous 305, which zigzag diagonally across the grid, increasing complexity without adding much useful service. It amounts to punishing customers for helping Metro run an efficient and attractive service pattern.
Like other fees, fare penalties for connections arise in part because journalists and activists over-react to the base fare figure, creating more political heat for raising that number. So like money-losing airlines, the agencies have to look for other things to charge for to hit their fare recovery targets. But charging for connections is counterproductive, because connections are the foundation of the network. Airlines don't do it. In fact, airfares via a connection are often cheaper than the nonstop. That's because the connecting itinerary lets the airline run a more efficient service pattern.
So don't believe the news about a proposed fare hike in LA. Some people will experience one, but many cash paying passengers, who are often among the lower-income riders, will save.
And one thing's even more important than that: The pricing scheme won't be crazy anymore.
Thanks for the wonderful response to the New York offering of my Interactive Course in Transit Network Design on February 6-7. You still have time to register, but act very fast. Early bird discounts end January 15, and we have only 8 spaces left.
We'll have an amazing group representing five countries, with a diverse range of professions and backgrounds.
The course is designed to give you a felt understanding of the geometry of transit and the questions it requires us to think about. It's ideal for anyone in the land use and development world, as well as people in transportation policy or advocacy -- anyone who needs to understand how transit can help build the city they are seeking, and how to create urban structures in which transit can succeed.
It's also, as one participant called it, "inexcusably fun."
Big news: Thanks to a sponsorship from the Transit Center, we're able to offer a significant discount for this session only. The two-day course, which is a $500 value, will cost only $300 if you register before January 15, and $333 if you register later. The tuition will likely never be this low again.
Still bigger news: Starting in New York, we intend to offer American Planning Association (APA) Credit (15 credit hours for the two days). APA members can earn a big chunk of your 2014 AICP Certification Management credits early in the year. We're excited about that, because the course is really for planners and city builders who need to understand how transit interacts with what they do, especially if they're not "transit geeks" themselves.
Hope to see you in New York! And if you'd like the course offered in your city, see here!
From a midwestern newspaper journalist's anonymous email to Andrew Sullivan:
When you see the metrics every day, and it’s clear that quick-hit crime stories or freak-show stories generate as many clicks as an investigative piece that took weeks to report, what rationale can there possibly be for doing the investigative work, the longer-form stories that actually help explain the workings of a community to the people who live there?
If you care about the quality of journalism, consider a policy of refusing to click on crime and freak-show news, no matter how much the headline arouses your curiosity. One advantage of online journalism is that when I refuse to click on those stories, that disinterest is recorded. Obviously I'm in the minority, but the conscious behavior of consumers is the only thing that moves corporations.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales recently said that one of his biggest problems as mayor is the lack of credible local journalism, which has made it impossible to have a public conversation about issues that matter to the city and region. Would the great achievements of consensus in the past have been possible without our newspaper of record, the Oregonian, as a universally recognized forum for discsussing the issues of the day?
It's not just that the Oregonian has ceased to publish on paper, it's also that its website looks trashy and conveys the company's low self-esteem. Big O, before your name is utterly forgotten, wake up and realize that your marketing advisors are killing you. Fire whoever suggested that your website be called "Oregon Live" instead of "The Oregonian," and that it should look like the website of a cheap fly-by-night aggregator instead of like that of a newspaper. The credibility that comes from a long and respected history is the only thing legacy newspapers have as a competitive advantage, and the Oregonian is throwing that away.
When you really start thinking about this, it's hard to face how scary it could be. Sure, there are other ways of getting news, usually news pre-digested for those who share your political views. But there's no other way for the whole city to have a conversation. How can we do planning without that?