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Posts from the ‘Locale is International’ Category

Cycling now the most popular form of rush hour transport on London streets, report shows

Cycling Weekly, 19 February 2019

City of London report shows four-fold increase in cycling in City in last 19 years

Anyone in London will be able to tell you about the surge in cycling numbers in the capital in recent years, but the latest survey of transport modes in the capital has shown in stark detail just how popular cycling has become.

The City of London Corporation has been running its Traffic in the City study for the last 19 years, with its survey of traffic at 15 locations in the City of London showing loud and clear the huge uptake in cycling over those years.

Since 1999 all modes of above-ground transport have reduced by 25-50 per cent, with the exception of cycling, which is now four times as popular as it was 19 years ago.

What’s more, at peak times (between 08:00-10:00 and 17:00-19:00) the numbers of cyclists exceed the numbers of cars, taxis, buses, motorcycles, or goods vehicles.

However it’s not all good news when it comes to the level of cycling in the City of London, with the report pointing out that the increase in cycling numbers has slowed since 2012.

“While this is not a extrapolatory exercise”, the report states,” it does appear that the City counts have reached ‘peak cycle’ over the last five years, suggesting that significant changes in cycling infrastructure provision and/or travel behaviour may be needed to spur further growth in cycling on City streets.”

The report has also included pedestrian numbers for the first time, and points out how the large amount of space dedicated to private vehicles carries a relatively small number of people.

“Private vehicles – cars, taxis, and motorcycles/mopeds – utilised the most street space of any mode – over 53 per cent – while only carrying an estimated quarter of all people travelling on City streets,” the report continues.

“While buses only made up two percent of all counted vehicles, they carried an estimated 19 per cent of all people travelling on City streets (compared to 21 and 19 per cent for private vehicles respectively).

“Buses and private vehicles carried approximately the same number of people in the City while making up an estimated nine and 53 per cent of total street space usage respectively.”

Why Trains Are So Much Greener Than Cars or Airplanes

Citylab, 1 April 2019

Whether moving freight or people, rail is far more energy efficient and less polluting than other transportation modes. And it could get even cleaner.

Transportation represents a large portion—about 29 percent—of U.S. emissions, and the share has been rising in recent years. Rail proponents often argue that investment in trains and public transportation is a key part of making transportation cleaner, and indeed, the Green New Deal calls for greatly expanding high-speed rail.

I’m a scholar of rail, and it’s clear to me that the quickest way to decrease greenhouse gases from transportation is to travel by train and move goods by rail instead of on the road or by air.

To explain why, it’s worth comparing rail to other modes of transportation on energy consumption and emissions, and to look at some of the developments that can make rail more widely used in the U.S. and less reliant on fossil fuels.

Energy and emissions profiles

Data show that rail has a significantly lower energy footprint than trucks and passenger cars. Rail transport, with hard steel wheels on steel rail, has lower resistance to motion than road transportation. And the convoy formation of individual rail cars into trains also adds to its better energy and environmental performance.

A common measure for transportation capacity is ton-miles for freight and passenger-miles for passengers to indicate that a ton of freight is moved for one mile and for passenger systems that a passenger is moved for one mile.

Freight rail accounts for about one-third of the ton-miles and consumes only about 2 percent of the transportation energy in the U.S. The higher efficiency can be illustrated this way: On average, freight railroads move a ton of cargo for around 479 miles on a gallon of fuel, which is about 11 times more energy-efficient than trucks on a ton-mile basis.

Passenger rail is around three times more efficient than a car on a passenger-mile basis at current occupancy levels. The lower energy consumption leads to lower greenhouse emissions.

How U.S. and European rail differ

Often there is the perception that the U.S. lags behind other countries when it comes to rail, but in many cases that is not true. The country has, arguably, the best freight rail system in the world, which is owned, operated, and financed by private companies. Passenger service in specific corridors is comparable with the European counterparts: for example, in the Northeast. On long-distance routes and in less densely populated areas, however, there are often empty seats on Amtrak trains.

The primary difference between Europe and North America could be summarized like this: In America there is a freight rail system with some passenger, while in Europe there is a passenger rail system with some freight—the emphasis is different.

A further difference is that the rail network is private in the U.S. and operated to yield a profit, while in most other countries the rail infrastructure is owned by the government (similar to the freeway system in the U.S.) and heavily subsidized.

To compete with air for passenger transportation

Running passenger and freight trains on the same lines is possible but poses many challenges, as the characteristics of the two train types are very different; freight trains tend to be long, heavy, and comparatively slow, while passenger trains are short, fast, and comparatively light. If there are not too many trains on a line, this mixed traffic can be managed, but if there are a lot of trains, then separate infrastructure is the way forward.

When journey times are less than four hours, people usually prefer to travel by train instead of alternative options, such as air or road. For many corridors in the U.S. it would be necessary to upgrade existing lines or to build new infrastructure to achieve competitive journey times.

For the high-speed rail projects in California, which the state recently decided to scale back, and Texas, where trains would be able to travel at speeds of 200 miles per hour or more, those states are building new infrastructure. Higher-speed options often allow existing rail tracks to be upgraded to accommodate speeds of around 110 miles per hour to around 125 miles per hour, and such projects are being implemented in Florida and the Midwest.

Routes to better environmental performance

The majority of trains in the U.S. are diesel-electric, where a diesel engine runs a generator, supplying electric traction motors that turn the wheels. However, electricity can also be supplied by the grid to trains via wayside infrastructure, and this option accounts for about 4.5 percent of rail energy, more than for any other mode, with the majority being used in transit and commuter operation, and some intercity rail. Therefore, when the electricity generation mix becomes less greenhouse gas-intensive, those rail systems automatically follow.

For the lines where wayside electrification is not economically feasible—imagine routes that are long, such as Chicago to Los Angeles—or where traffic is relatively low, rail will continue to rely on on-board electric power generation.

Rail is developing options to reduce emissions for lines without wayside electrification too, with advanced diesel engine technologies, and exploration of less polluting energy options, including natural gas. Florida East Coast Railway has converted the majority of their locomotives to liquefied natural gas.

Having batteries to supply power to trains can significantly reduce or fully avoid conventional wayside electrification, decreasing cost and visual impact as no overhead wires are necessary on the right-of-way. These are suitable for relatively short distances and where power demand is low, such as light rail and streetcars. Detroit’s QLine, for example, operates 60 percent on battery power, or “off-wire.”

Hydrogen fuel cell applications to rail, often referred to as hydrail, enable long range with a lower environmental footprint than diesel, and such trains for regional passenger service are already in operation in Germany. In the U.S., the technology is being investigated by some passenger and transit railways, including in North Carolina, and its use for freight rail is being explored as well.

Even without these advances, rail is already more environmentally friendly than road or air. Dramatically expanding rail use, particularly passenger service, will require government investment in more frequent service on existing lines, starting service to areas that don’t have access to rail currently, reducing journey times and building out a larger passenger rail network.

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/04/rail-transportation-carbon-emissions-green-new-deal/586240/

Melbourne airport rail link accord

Railway Gazette, 14 March, 2019

AUSTRALIA: Development of the long-planned rail link to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport is set to move forward following the signing of Heads of Agreement between the federal government and the state of Victoria on March 13.

Announced jointly by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, the agreement sets out strategic objectives for the project, along with the governance arrangements and information sharing processes.

Pointing out that ‘Melbourne is truly a global city that deserves world-class infrastructure’, Morrison said the people of Melbourne and Victoria ‘had been waiting far too long for the rail link to become a reality’. He reiterated that the government had committed its A$5bn share of the investment as part of the last federal budget. This has been matched by a similar commitment from the state.

The Melbourne Airport Rail Link is provisionally costed at between A$8bn and A$13bn. Construction is expected to start in 2022 and take around nine years. The new line would run southwest from the airport to join the existing suburban network near Sunshine, where interchange will be provided with regional services to Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. The Airport line would then continue via Footscray to enter the city from the northwest, connecting with the cross-city Metro Tunnel now under construction. It would also be linked to the planned orbital Suburban Rail Loop, providing access to the city’s northern, eastern and southeastern suburbs.

Detailed planning and development is currently underway, and a project team is to be established to develop the business case, which is due to be finalised next year. Rail Projects Victoria has already engaged technical and commercial advisors and commissioned geotechnical investigations.

According to Victoria’s Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan, early market engagement attracted more than 100 submissions, and further market sounding will be undertaken to assess the potential for private-sector involvement, including equity partners and other financing arrangements.

With Melbourne’s population growing rapidly, traffic through the airport is projected to increase from 35 million passengers in 2016-17 to more than 67 million by 2038. Construction of MARL would help to relieve the Tullamarine Freeway and increase transport capacity for the northwestern suburbs, explained federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure & Population Alan Tudge.

https://www.railwaygazette.com/news/infrastructure/single-view/view/melbourne-airport-rail-link-accord.html

Crossrail project likely to open in 2021 and cost more

International Railway Journal, April 3, 2019

COMPLETION of London’s Crossrail project is likely to be further delayed until 2021 and cost even more according to a scathing report by the British parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published on April 3.

The 21km core underground section of Crossrail through central London from Paddington to Stratford and Abbey Wood was due to open in December 2018 but has been delayed indefinitely, while costs are steadily escalating. The Department for Transport (DfT) agreed to provide an additional £590m in July 2018, followed by a further £2.15bn in December 2018. This increased the total cost of the project by 19% from the £14.8bn agreed in 2010 to £17.6bn. However, Crossrail has been unable to provide a new opening date for the scheme.

“We are not satisfied by the DfT’s vague response to our questioning on how it protected taxpayers’ money when overseeing delivery of the programme,” says the PAC report. “We are not convinced that new services will start to run in 2020 as now hoped, nor that the additional £2.8bn of funding provided will be enough.”

“It is clear that the delivery deadline of December 2018 had been unrealistic for some time,” says the PAC chair, Ms Meg Hillier. “But the DfT, Transport for London (TfL) and Crossrail Ltd continued to put a positive face on the programme long after mounting evidence should have prompted changes. Wishful thinking is no basis for spending public money and there remain serious risks to delivering this programme, with a revised schedule and costings for completing the work still to be agreed.

“It is unacceptable that parliament and the public still do not know the root causes of the failures that beset this project. Nor will we accept the DfT and Crossrail Ltd’s description of these serious problems as systems failures.”

Key findings

The PAC lists six key findings and actions it wants the DfT to take regarding Crossrail:

Finding 1: the DfT, TfL and Crossrail’s fixation on a delivery deadline of December 2018 led to warning signs that the programme was in trouble being missed or ignored.

Action: explain within six months the steps the DfT is taking to encourage a culture of openness and transparency and how it will ensure that project teams reconsider completion dates for major programmes at key points through the programme.

Finding 2: it is unacceptable that the DfT and Crossrail are unable to identify the root causes of the programme unravelling so quickly and so disastrously.

Action: consider the root causes of cost increases and delays and set out by June 2019 lessons learned and their impact on the DfT’s approach to the project.

Finding 3: the unacceptably laissez-faire attitude by the DfT and Crossrail to costs potentially rising by nearly £3bn.

Action: the DfT should set out how it considered the value for money for taxpayers when it agreed to increased funding in 2018.

Finding 4: the programme is at risk from further cost increases and delays.

Action: after reaching agreement with Crossrail, the DfT must outline how it has assured itself that the revised schedule and cost to completion are robust; the DfT should also detail how the £2.8bn of extra funding will be allocated.

Finding 5: weak governance by the DfT and Crossrail characterised by a catalogue of failures to adequately oversee performance.

Action: the DfT must explain by July 2019 how it has changed its contractual relationship with Crossrail so that it can properly exercise oversight and hold Crossrail to account for its performance managing the programme to completion.

Finding 6: the DfT and Crossrail have been unwilling to accept their responsibilities for the significant delays and cost overruns.

Action: the DfT should clearly articulate by the end of April 2019 what it, TfL and Crossrail are responsible and accountable for and what the consequences have been for those senior officials in positions of accountability and responsibility for failures on the programme.

Trains in store

A few of the class 345 Aventra EMUs supplied by Bombardier that will be deployed on the Elizabeth Line are already in service on the surface sections between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, and Paddington and Hayes & Harlington. Limited testing is underway on the central section, but most of the fleet is in store.

Crossrail project likely to open in 2021 and cost more

Can rail investment act as an economic growth driver?

International Railway Journal

ONE of the most interesting observations to emerge from the first International Railway Congress, staged jointly in Vienna on March 18-19 by Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) and Russian Railways (RZD), was made by Dr Stefan Buske, owner of Buske Law, who pointed out that the World Bank estimates a $US 50 trillion investment gap in all types of infrastructure including rail up to 2040.

“We must close the investment gap to prevent us from economic downturn,” Buske told delegates. Buske says there needs to be a focus on private investors because of limited public funding. “The good news is that we have outstanding prospects for infrastructure financing and for rolling stock in particular,” he continued. In addition to scarce government resources, Buske says the need for private investment is being driven by further liberalisation, such as Europe’s Fourth Railway Package, and an enhanced regulatory framework such as the expansion of the Luxembourg rail protocol, which aims to encourage private investment.

China is continuing to invest in infrastructure in order to spur economic expansion. As we report this month, China has decided to ramp up expansion of its already colossal high-speed network to help prevent a further reduction in the rate of economic growth. Having already built a 29,000km high-speed rail network – by far the world’s largest – its original plan to reach 30,000km will be achieved shortly and it now intends build another 8000km by 2025 and to reach 45,000km by 2030.

China is not alone in expanding its rail network. Russia plans to construct 20,730km of new lines by 2030, particularly in the far east. Apart from the Moscow – Kazan high-speed line, most of the new lines are for freight. Unlike China, where new lines are funded by the state leading to serious concerns about the level of debt, Russia intends to use a mixture of public and private finance.

Russia also plans to invest around €2.7bn in rolling stock and €1.3bn to acquire 23,000 locomotives. Buske says around 25% will be funded privately.

Investment in new railways should be based on a sound business plan to develop the infrastructure when it is completed. Yet some of the Chinese lines are being built in the sparsely-populated western part of the country for strategic rather than commercial reasons, unless the plan is to use them for freight to reduce transit times for container traffic between China and Europe as part of the ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure programme.

Unfortunately, the new standard-gauge railways in east Africa are being built with little thought to how they might operate commercially. Faced with a severe lack of freight traffic, the Kenyan government has tried to force shippers to use the new railway between the port of Mombasa and Nairobi rather than sending their goods by road. This is hardly the best way to attract new customers.

Returning to Asia, a lot of effort has been put into reducing rail transit times between China and Europe to make rail more attractive, but it was only when China started to subsidise rail freight that traffic started to grow. The big question is how long will the Chinese continue to subsidise the traffic? More effort needs to be made to remove bottlenecks between China and Europe to make the rail offer more compelling.

This point was illustrated by Mr Oleg Belozerov, RZD’s CEO: “We cover 4000km in five days, but we need to stop at the borders for two days, which kills all the time saving achieved. We must put more effort to speeding up border crossings.” Belozorev says there was a 9.7% increase in transit volume last year to 23.7 million tonnes, and 34% increase in container traffic to 553,000 TEUs. “We want to achieve 3 million containers a year,” he says.

Mr Vladimir Morozov, head of Belarussian Railways, acknowledged that despite a lot of effort to streamline freight operations on the China – Kazakhstan – Russia – Belarus corridor, there are still problems to solve. “Since 2013, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan have been cooperating, and work has stepped up to create a high-quality product with high standards of service for customers, while technical standardisation has much improved,” Morozov told delegates. “We have concluded contracts with more than 50 companies which has led to a shortage of wagons. Trains are often stopped at Brest [on the border with Poland where the gauge changes from 1520mm to standard]. The waiting times are too long, not only at Brest but at other border stations, which needs to be solved. In one month, we will inaugurate another border station.”

RZD believes that extending the 1520mm-gauge network from Kosice in eastern Slovakia around 400km west to Bratislava and Vienna, would be one way to accelerate traffic from Asia to Europe. RZD forecasts the extension could carry 22.9 million tonnes of freight by 2050. “We must give maximum attention to this project so that it can be implemented,” Belozerov urged delegates.

The challenge is to convince the Slovakians that building the line, the majority of which would be on their territory, will be to their advantage. RZD plans to stage three more annual International Railway Congresses in Vienna, as it is deadly serious about building this line. But this should not divert attention away from the need for other improvements to the Eurasian landbridge.

Can rail investment act as an economic growth driver?

Free public transport is an attractive idea. But would it solve our traffic woes?

ABC, 18 March, 2019

The promise of free public transport is an enticing one: fewer cars, less congestion, less pollution.

And a greater sense of community, says Judith Dellheim from Berlin’s Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. “It could make the cities more human and more attractive,” she says. Dr Dellheim sees free public transport as a human right, not just a public good. “This is a valid democratic issue because public transport brings people of very different social groups together, it improves the social climate,” she says.

But do the promises stack up? And would free fares really persuade people to embrace public transport?

All eyes on Luxembourg

While most cities offer various concessions for public transport, no major urban centre has opted to do away with ticketing. The exception is Luxembourg, which will abolish all fares from next month.

The European city-state is tiny, with just over 600,000 residents, but its decision has drawn huge international interest.

“It’s possibly the first example of an entire region, in this case a city-state, making public transport universally free,” says public transport advocate Tony Morton. “There have been experiments in the past where various cities have introduced free public transport in their central areas. They’ve introduced systems where maybe the city buses are free, but the trains aren’t. “Or they’ve made public transport free for registered residents, but not necessarily for visitors. Luxembourg is the first example at scale.”

The Estonian experience

How successful the policy change will be won’t be known for at least a couple of years, but it is possible to make an assessment based on the experience of others.

In 2013, the Estonian capital Tallinn opted to abolish transport fares for all registered city inhabitants, but not for tourists and other non-residents. The move was politically popular but the results were mixed, according to Oded Cats from the Delft University of Technology.

Dr Cats, who spent several years evaluating the initiative, says there was only a moderate lift in public transport patronage, with no corresponding decrease in car use or traffic congestion. “People that already used public transport used it more frequently, as well as people shifting from walking and cycling to using public transport for short trips, which is, of course, not a desirable effect,” he says.

While the policy has been socially beneficial for the unemployed and people on low incomes, Dr Cats says the same level of assistance could have been provided through targeted concessions. And he predicts Luxembourg’s transport authorities will have a hard time persuading people to give up their private vehicles. “About half the people working in Luxembourg commute from neighbouring countries. Many people will have to still use legs of a trip which extend beyond Luxembourg, meaning that the trip is not completely free,” he says. Existing workplace incentives, like employer-guaranteed parking spaces, will also make eliminating private vehicle use difficult, he says.

Service trumps price for transport users

Mr Morton, who is the president of Melbourne’s Public Transport Users Association, is also sceptical about the Luxembourg experiment, and about the broader notion that ticket pricing is the main barrier to increased public transport usage.

“We’ve tended to argue that public transport needs to be cheap, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be free,” he says.He says scrapping fares won’t persuade people to embrace a service which they experience as deficient or poorly run. “We haven’t really made public transport a viable, attractive mode of travel for people living in the suburbs of our capital cities,” he says. “The question of how much it costs to get on the bus or on the train is not even relevant because that bus or train service doesn’t exist where they are.”

Transport economist Ansgar Wohlschlegel warns the introduction of free public transport could have perverse results if it isn’t paired with complementary measures aimed at driving down car ownership.”Once people start moving from car driving to using public transport, then the roads get less congested, therefore car driving becomes more attractive again, and therefore new people may start using the car to drive into the city because now the roads are clearer,” he says.

And that, says Dr Wohlschlegel, could ultimately result in the worst of all outcomes: increased public transport demand, coupled with an eventual increase in car traffic.

Dr Cats agrees. What’s most important, he says, is making car use more expensive during those parts of the day associated with congestion. “That has to do with parking fees; in city centres it has to do with congestion charging, with fuel taxes — unpopular measures, of course, but those are the most effective measures for reducing congestion,” he explains. “Secondly, improving the quality of public transport, specifically at those times of the day in those areas, and building very strong, high-capacity urban rail systems.”

Adjusting for the peaks and spreading demand

For international transport consultant Jarrett Walker, demand-responsive pricing is fundamental to the efficient movement of commuters in already congested cities. “Public transport agencies need to encourage people to travel outside rush hour if they can, because service at rush hour is very expensive, and outside of rush hour you have surplus capacity,” he says.

Fares, he says, are a simple and effective means of limiting rush-hour movements. But he argues for greater flexibility in non-peak times. Mr Walker says making travel free during those periods could help spread demand more evenly and have a positive social impact, particularly for those on low incomes. “They are more likely to be travelling all over the clock, and they are least likely to be travelling into the city in the morning and out of the city in the afternoon,” he says. “It’s the difference between having a job in a bank and having a job at Hungry Jack’s or at McDonald’s, or something like that, where you are coming and going all over the clock.”

When a technology ‘cure’ becomes part of the problem

Mr Walker is also sceptical about the role ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft can play in dealing with urban congestion. App-based car-hire companies often market themselves as an answer to traffic congestion and as a complement to public transport. But Mr Walker says the full picture is far less optimistic. “If a new ride-sharing solution gets two or three people in a little vehicle, that’s better than those three people driving cars. But it’s worse than those three people riding the bus or train.”

And new research from the University of Kentucky suggests a correlation between the rise of ride-hailing services and a decline in public transport patronage in the United States.

Transport engineer Gregory Erhardt surveyed publicly available transport data in 22 metropolitan areas. “There have been theoretical arguments saying that Uber and Lyft bring people to and from the rail stations,” he says.
“That perhaps they are concentrated at night, bringing people home from bars when transit doesn’t operate, and so forth. “What we found is that that’s not the case. In fact, they are operating often in the peak periods, they are operating in places where they are concentrated in the city centres, in the exact same places where public transit is viable.”

He estimates the effect on public transit has been significant. Over a six-year period, companies like Lyft and Uber, he says, can reduce heavy rail ridership in a city by as much as 7.5 per cent, and bus ridership by almost 10 per cent. And that means more, rather than less traffic. “But there is a clear benefit to the person in the car: they have this door-to-door experience that you don’t get in public transit,” Mr Erhardt adds.

Looking forward, Mr Morton argues we need a more realistic conversation about the cost of investing in better public transport, balanced against the enormous amounts of public money spent enlarging and extending road networks. “The stated motivation for not wanting to expand public transport and to boost its use is that public transport is a drain on public funds, whereas it is thought that roads somehow pay for themselves,” he says. “Now, roads do not pay for themselves. There’s actually quite a substantial public subsidy for the road transport system as well.”

For Dr Dellheim it all comes back to one thing. “When the whole of society is fixed on cars, then of course the whole life of the society, the whole economy of the society, is oriented on the car industry and car use,” she says. “So, it means that it’s necessary to rebuild the whole life of the society, to show the people that there are different possibilities, and then you see that there is a real desire to change the mode of life of the society.”

But whether free public transport is one way of doing that remains an arguable point.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-18/free-public-transport-do-promises-stack-up/10893288

Call that an EV? This is an EV… Volvo rolls out self-driving electric bus

Ecogeneration, 7 march 2019

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Volvo Buses have launched the world’s first full size, autonomous electric bus, a single-decker that can take close to 80 passengers. The bus is the first of two that have undergone preliminary rounds of testing at the Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous vehicles at NTU.

The bus requires 80% less energy than an equivalent-sized diesel bus and issues zero emissions, the company says. It will be tested on the NTU Smart Campus.

The NTU and Volvo partnership is part of the collaboration between the University and LTA under NTU’s living lab platform. The platform assesses technology maturity and road-worthiness, including the certification of technologies for deployment on public roads.

The bus comes with a Volvo Autonomous Research Platform software that is connected to key controls such as its navigation system, as well as multiple sensors.

This includes light detection and ranging sensors (LIDARS), stereo-vision cameras that capture images in 3D, and an advanced global navigation satellite system that uses real-time kinematics. This is like any global positioning system (GPS), but uses multiple data sources to give pin-point location accuracy of up to one centimetre.

The system is also hooked up to an “inertial management unit”, which acts like a two-in-one gyroscope and accelerometer, measuring the lateral and angular rate of the bus. This will improve its navigation when going over uneven terrain and around sharp bends, ensuring a smoother ride.

These sensors and GPS platforms will be managed by a comprehensive AI system that was developed by NTU researchers. It not only operates the various sensors and GPS systems on the bus, but also enables it to navigate autonomously through dense traffic and tropical weather conditions.

ABB will develop a smart fast-charging solution based on its OppCharge concept.

Offering a charge power of 300kW via a pantograph mounted on the infrastructure, the fast chargers will recharge a battery in just three to six minutes. This will enable charging during the layover times at the end of the bus route, without impacting normal operations.

“ABB is committed to pioneering technological innovations for a sustainable future. We are extremely excited to collaborate on such a landmark project which marks a positive step toward the electrification of public transport across the region and beyond,” said ABB president of electrification products Tarak Mehta.

Call that an EV? This is an EV… Volvo rolls out self-driving electric bus

The Biggest Saudi Oil Field Is Fading Faster Than Anyone Guessed

Bloomberg, 2 April 2019

It was a state secret and the source of a kingdom’s riches. It was so important that U.S. military planners once debated how to seize it by force. For oil traders, it was a source of endless speculation. Now the market finally knows: Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest conventional oil field, can produce a lot less than almost anyone believed.

When Saudi Aramco on Monday published its first ever profit figures since its nationalization nearly 40 years ago, it also lifted the veil of secrecy around its mega oil fields. The company’s bond prospectus revealed that Ghawar is able to pump a maximum of 3.8 million barrels a day — well below the more than 5 million that had become conventional wisdom in the market. “As Saudi’s largest field, a surprisingly low production capacity figure from Ghawar is the stand-out of the report,” said Virendra Chauhan, head of upstream at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. in Singapore.

The Energy Information Administration, a U.S. government body that provides statistical information and often is used as a benchmark by the oil market, listed Ghawar’s production capacity at 5.8 million barrels a day in 2017. Aramco, in a presentation in Washington in 2004 when it tried to debunk the “peak oil” supply theories of the late U.S. oil banker Matt Simmons, also said the field was pumping more than 5 million barrels a day, and had been doing so since at least the previous decade.

In his book “Twilight in the Desert,” Simmons argued that Saudi Arabia would struggle to boost production due to the imminent depletion of Ghawar, among other factors. “Field-by-field production reports disappeared behind a wall of secrecy over two decades ago,” he wrote in his book in reference to Aramco’s nationalization.
The new details about Ghawar prove one of Simmons’s points but he missed other changes in technology that allowed Saudi Arabia — and, more importantly, U.S. shale producers — to boost output significantly, with global oil production yet to peak.

The prospectus offered no information about why Ghawar can produce today a quarter less than 15 years ago — a significant reduction for any oil field. The report also didn’t say whether capacity would continue to decline at a similar rate in the future. In response to a request for comment, Aramco referred back to the bond prospectus without elaborating.

Lost Crown

The new maximum production rate for Ghawar means that the Permian in the U.S., which pumped 4.1 million barrels a day last month according to government data, is already the largest oil production basin. The comparison isn’t exact — the Saudi field is a conventional reservoir, while the Permian is an unconventional shale formation — yet it shows the shifting balance of power in the market.

Ghawar, which is about 174 miles long — or about the distance from New York to Baltimore — is so important for Saudi Arabia because the field has “accounted for more than half of the total cumulative crude oil production in the kingdom,” according to the bond prospectus. The country has been pumping since the discovery of the Dammam No. 7 well in 1938. On top of Ghawar, which was found in 1948 by an American geologist, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on two other mega-fields: Khurais, which was discovered in 1957, and can pump 1.45 million barrels a day, and Safaniyah, found in 1951 and still today the world’s largest offshore oil field with capacity of 1.3 million barrels a day. In total, Aramco operates 101 oil fields.

The 470-page bond prospectus confirms that Saudi Aramco is able to pump a maximum of 12 million barrels a day — as Riyadh has said for several years. The kingdom has access to another 500,000 barrels a day of output capacity in the so-called neutral zone shared with Kuwait. That area isn’t producing anything now due a political dispute with its neighbor.

While the prospectus confirmed the overall maximum production capacity, the split among fields is different to what the market had assumed. As a policy, Saudi Arabia keeps about 1 million to 2 million barrels a day of its capacity in reserve, using it only during wars, disruptions elsewhere or unusually strong demand. Saudi Arabia briefly pumped a record of more than 11 million barrels a day in late 2018. “The company also uses this spare capacity as an alternative supply option in case of unplanned production outages at any field and to maintain its production levels during routine field maintenance,” Aramco said in its prospectus.

Costly Strategy

For Aramco, that’s a significant cost, as it has invested billions of dollars into facilities that aren’t regularly used. However, the company said the ability to tap its spare capacity also allows it to profit handsomely at times of market tightness, providing an extra $35.5 billion in revenue from 2013 to 2018. Last year, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said maintaining this supply buffer costs about $2 billion a year.
Aramco also disclosed reserves at its top-five fields, revealing that some of them have shorter lifespans than previously thought. Ghawar, for example, has 48.2 billion barrels of oil left, which would last another 34 years at the maximum rate of production. Nonetheless, companies are often able to boost the reserves over time by deploying new techniques or technology. In total, the kingdom has 226 billion barrels of reserves, enough for another 52 years of production at the maximum capacity of 12 million barrels a day.

The Saudis also told the world that their fields are aging better than expected, with “low depletion rates of 1 percent to 2 percent per year,” slower than the 5 percent decline some analysts suspected. Yet, it also said that some of its reserves — about a fifth of the total — had been drilled so systematically over nearly a century that more than 40 percent of their oil has been already extracted, a considerable figure for an industry that usually struggles to recover more than half the barrels in place underground.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-02/saudi-aramco-reveals-sharp-output-drop-at-super-giant-oil-field

Making cities more walkable by understanding how other people influence our journeys

The Conversation, 19 February 2019

Cities around the world are changing to become more “walkable”. As more and more people move to cities, the benefits of encouraging people to walk are clear. Aside from making the urban environment more pleasant, safer and less polluted, improving a city’s walkability can also ease traffic congestion and improve public health.
This is a particular challenge in cities built for cars, so there’s been lots of research to find out what sort of features make a city more attractive to pedestrians, and encourage them to walk further and more often: whether it’s the size of urban blocks, the quality of the pavement, the presence of trees or street furniture or initiatives such as car-free zones.

But while planners and researchers strive to work out what makes urban spaces enticing to pedestrians, they often overlook the fact that people’s decisions about where to walk, and when, are not only determined by the physical qualities of the environment. In fact, new research suggests that these choices are strongly influenced by other people.

Under the influence

There’s already lots of evidence that people are highly influenced by their friendship groups. As early as the 1970s, an American sociologist called Mark Granovetter suggested that the spread of rumours, adoption of new tech and job searches were all influenced by a person’s social network – especially their “weak ties” with acquaintances.

At the same time, two other American sociologists, Paul Burstein and Carl Sheingold, found that political voting patterns were also significantly influenced by a person’s social network. Even more recently, researchers discovered that you are more likely to be obese if your social network contains obese friends.
There’s clear evidence that there’s a social dimension to walking, too. For example, a child is more likely to walk to school if they have a sibling or friend to walk with. Gender, class and the distance to work all affect whether or not a person chooses to walk. And people prefer to go with friends when walking for leisure in the city.

More than that, in new research I conducted with colleagues at ETH Zurich and the University of California, we looked at how the routes people choose to take when walking can be influenced by others; we call this phenomenon “social wayfinding”.

Social wayfinding

Perhaps the clearest example of social wayfinding is when two or more people are walking together, trying to reach a destination. They might plan where to go, identify landmarks along the way, and discuss their choice of route together.

This activity becomes less social when one person leads the way, and others follow along; whether that’s a guide leading a tour, or a person leading a friend to their house. Both of these are examples of “strong” social wayfinding, because decisions about where to go are directly and intentionally influenced by other people.
Social wayfinding also happens when pedestrians take hints from others, which influences their choice of route. When a walker believes that other travellers might share the same destination – for example, when they follow fellow supporters from the train station to the football stadium for a match – he or she may simply go with the flow.

Similarly, the movement of people through a gap between two buildings might indicate a shortcut you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. This is what we call “weak” social wayfinding.

Timing also plays a role. For example, directions or guidance can be given before a journey, or while walking (over the phone, for example). It can even be that the past movements of others leave “social trails”, which can indirectly inform pedestrians where to go – like the worn tracks across grass, which might hint at a shortcut through a park.

The social city

Of course, people navigate using many different types of social wayfinding during the course of their walk. Apps such as Google Maps or Citymapper can also be used in a social way: although they’re typically designed with a single navigator in mind, in reality it’s not unusual for two or more people to be using a device at the same time, passing it around, discussing the instructions and jointly making decisions about where to go.
To create walkable cities, of course it’s important for planners and city leaders to understand what sort of physical features encourage people to walk more. But acknowledging how social interactions influence people’s choices about when and where to walk would give leaders a much more realistic understanding of people’s behaviour – and put them in a better position to encourage walking as a means of getting around.

Understanding how other people influence wayfinding could also clear the way for many exciting technological innovations, which could make cities easier to navigate. Social trails could be mapped by digital apps or physical markers, and signage could be dynamic, possibly even functioning like an online recommendation system – for example, by flagging quieter routes during busy periods of the day. Wayfinding aids such as maps, signage and apps can be tested on groups, as well as individuals, to make them more useful in both settings.

By being more responsive to the social influences, which affect where people choose to walk, urban planners and leaders could gain valuable information about the way people use the city, and make smarter decisions about what to build, and where.

https://theconversation.com/making-cities-more-walkable-by-understanding-how-other-people-influence-our-journeys-111767

Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists

The Conversation, 8 February 2019

Designing for bikes has become a hallmark of forward-looking modern cities worldwide. Bike-friendly city ratings abound, and advocates promote cycling as a way to reduce problems ranging from air pollution to traffic deaths.
But urban cycling investments tend to focus on the needs of wealthy riders and neglect lower-income residents and people of color. This happens even though the single biggest group of Americans who bike to work live in households that earn less than US$10,000 yearly, and studies in lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Boston have found that the majority of bicyclists were non-white.

I have worked on bicycle facilities for 38 years. In a newly published study, I worked with colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston groups focused on health and families to learn from residents of several such neighborhoods what kinds of bike infrastructure they believed best met their needs. Some of their preferences were notably different from those of cyclists in wealthier neighborhoods.

Cycling infrastructure and urban inequality

Bike equity is a powerful tool for increasing access to transportation and reducing inequality in U.S. cities. Surveys show that the fastest growth in cycling rates since 2001 has occurred among Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American riders. But minority neighborhoods have fewer bike facilities, and riders there face higher risk of accidents and crashes.

Many U.S. cities have improved marginalized neighborhoods by investing in grocery stores, schools, health clinics, community centers, libraries and affordable housing. But when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, they often add only the easiest and least safe elements, such as painting sharrows – stencils of bikes and double chevrons – or bike lane markings, and placing them next to curbs or between parked cars and traffic. Cycle tracks – bike lanes separated from traffic by curbs, lines of posts or rows of parked cars – are more common in affluent neighborhoods.

Compared with white wealthier neighborhoods, more bicyclists in ethnic-minority neighborhoods receive tickets for unlawful riding or are involved in collisions. With access to properly marked cycle tracks, they would have less reason to ride on the sidewalk or against traffic on the street, and would be less likely to be hit by cars.
In my view, responsibility for recognizing these needs rests primarily with cities.

Urban governments rely on public participation processes to help them target investments, and car owners tend to speak loudest because they want to maintain access to wide street lanes and parallel parking. In contrast, carless residents who could benefit from biking may not know to ask for facilities that their neighborhoods have never had.

Protection from crime and crashes

For our study, we organized 212 people into 16 structured discussion groups. They included individuals we classified as “community-sense” – representing civic organizations such as YMCAs and churches – or “street-sense,” volunteers from halfway houses, homeless shelters and gangs. We invited the street-sense groups because individuals who have committed crimes or know of crime opportunities have valuable insights about urban design.

We showed the groups photos of various cycling environments, ranging from unaltered streets to painted sharrows and bike lanes, cycle tracks and shared multi-use paths. Participants ranked the pictures according to the risk of crime or crashes they associated with each option, then discussed their perceptions as a group.

Studies have shown that awareness of criminal activity along bike routes can deter cyclists, and this is an important concern in low-income and minority neighborhoods. In a study in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, I found that African-American and Hispanic bicyclists were more concerned than white cyclists that their bikes could be stolen. Some carried bikes up three flights of stairs to store them inside their homes.

From an anti-crime perspective, our focus groups’ ideal bike system was a wide two-way cycle track with freshly painted lines and bike stencils plus arrows, free of oil or litter. Conditions around the route also mattered. Our groups perceived areas with clean signs, cafes with tables and flowers, balconies, streetlights and no alleyways or cuts between buildings as safest. They also wanted routes to avoid buildings that resembled housing projects, warehouses and abandoned buildings.

For crash safety, participants preferred cycle tracks separated from cars by physical dividers; wide cycle track surfaces, colored red to designate them as space for bicyclists; and bike stencils and directional arrows on the tracks. In their view, the safest locations for bike facilities had traffic signals for bikers, clearly painted lines, low levels of traffic, and did not run near bus stops or intersections where many streets converged.

Rules for the road

We compared our results with widely used bicycle design guidelines and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles to see whether those sources reflected our participants’ priorities. The guidelines produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the National Association of City Transportation Officials provide engineering specifications for designing bicycle facilities that focus on road elements – paint, delineator posts and signs – but do not describe design features that would protect vulnerable humans bicycling through an environment at night. Our study asked people about what kinds of surface markings and features in the surrounding area made them feel most comfortable.

As an example, our groups preferred street-scale lighting to brighten the surface of cycle tracks. In contrast, tall highway cobra-head lights typically used on busy urban streets reach over the roadway, illuminating the road for drivers in vehicles that have headlights.

In higher-income neighborhoods, cyclists might choose bike routes on side streets to avoid heavy traffic. However, people in our study felt that side streets with only residential buildings were less safe for cycling. This suggests that bicycle routes in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods should be concentrated on main roads with commercial activity where more people are present.

Decisions about public rights-of-way should not be based on how many car owners or how few bicyclists show up at public meetings. Our study shows that city officials should create networks of wide, stenciled, red-painted, surface-lighted, barrier-protected, bicycle-exclusive cycle tracks in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods along main streets. This would help residents get to work affordably, quickly and safely, and improve public health and quality of life in communities where these benefits are most needed.

https://theconversation.com/bike-friendly-cities-should-be-designed-for-everyone-not-just-for-wealthy-white-cyclists-109485

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