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Posts from the ‘Public Transport’ Category

A Move for Driverless Mass Transit Hits Speed Bumps

Pilot projects for autonomous shuttles abound. But technical limitations and hostility from labor unions may thwart large deployments.

Wired, 18/08/20

SHARAD AGARWAL HAS a prediction about driverless vehicles: “Autonomous public transportation is going to happen,” he says, “and it’s going to happen sooner than with taxis and cars.”

Agarwal leads the North American division of EasyMile, one of several startups offering autonomous vehicle shuttles to cities and transit agencies. He believes the relative simplicity of transit service makes it ideal for AV technology. With public transportation, “speeds are lower, distances are shorter, and the trips are repetitive,” compared with automobile journeys.

Companies like EasyMile have found a receptive audience among local officials, who were caught off guard a decade ago when another mobility innovation, ride hail, exploded onto the scene and siphoned off transit passengers. Given enough time to develop the technology, Agarwal believes AVs could attract new riders to transit and reduce costs, positioning agencies for long-term success.

That’s proved an appealing pitch to some transit officials, who’ve launched or plan pilot projects in cities including HoustonJacksonvilleLas VegasProvidence, and Frisco, Texas. Even in the midst of the pandemic, local leaders continue to announce new deployments. The enthusiasm on both sides is palpable.

But the benefits of autonomous transit remain unproven, and the idea faces skepticism from riders and hostility from unions.

Consider the experience in Columbus, Ohio, which has tested two AV shuttles in the past two years, with help from a $50 million federal grant. The first test, dubbed the Smart Circuit, involved vehicles from May Mobility running on a 1.4-mile downtown loop between December 2018 and September 2019. Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, a public-private organization that has supported the city’s AV explorations, says that project revealed some limitations of existing technology. Left-hand turns in traffic were a nonstarter, for instance, and a safety driver would always need to be stationed behind the wheel.

Columbus’s second pilot, in its Linden neighborhood, was designed to test the feasibility of AV shuttles providing a “first mile, last mile” linkage between a transit station and nearby housing. That pilot, known as the Linden LEAP, got off to a rocky start in February, when an EasyMile shuttle made a sudden stop that resulted in a passenger, Tajuana Lawson, being thrown from her seat. All Linden LEAP service was quickly halted. The experience did not endear Lawson to AV tech; she later told a local TV station, “If anything drives itself, I’m not getting on it ever again.”

Transit passengers elsewhere seem skeptical too. A recent study found that around half of transit riders in Michigan would be wary of driverless service.

Given enough time, transit leaders think they can win over the public to autonomous vehicles. M. J. Maynard is the CEO of Southern Nevada RTC, the transit agency servicing Las Vegas, which has been involved in three AV pilots. She believes that “one of the best things we can do is to provide an up-close experience that gives people the opportunity to say, ‘Hi, I enjoyed it—I would do that again.’”

The ultimate benefits of AV technology to public transportation remain unknown; there’s only so much you can learn from a demonstration project. EasyMile, for example, has provided shuttles for pilots in 19 states; the shuttles can carry six people and travel up to 12 mph. But Agarwal says the technology will have to advance to match the average 15 mph of a public bus before it’s possible to know how AV tech can improve transit.

https://www.wired.com/story/driverless-mass-transit-hits-speed-bumps/

Public Transit and the Postal Service Have the Same Problem

The USPS and U.S. transit agencies face the same impossible demand: Succeed as both a business and a public service.

Citylab, 01/09/20

If you want to understand the deepest structural problems facing U.S. transit agencies, look at the U.S. Postal Service.

The new Postmaster General is making sudden changes that are reducing the speed of mail delivery, which is certainly cause for alarm. But the Postal Service has always had a deeper problem. Our expectations of it are contradictory. To put it simply, we expect it to be available to everyone, as though it were a public service, and yet we also expect it to achieve high usage at low cost, as though it were a business. Even more urgently, we expect our leaders to protect us from having to think about how contradictory that is.

Transit agencies that provide rail and bus service over a vast metro area have exactly the same problem.

Let’s start with the most interesting thing that public transit and the Postal Service have in common: They are remarkably popular. A stunning 90% of Americans have a favorable view of the Postal Service. Meanwhile, when people in metropolitan areas are directly asked whether to fund transit agencies or new transit projects, they usually say yes. Even on the day that Donald Trump was elected president, voters passed most of the transit funding measures that were put before them in metro areas across the U.S.

Yet journalism often judges both services as being in decline because of falling usage. U.S. transit ridership drifted downward over much of the late 2010s, while postal volumes have been going down ever since the advent of email. These trends are indeed bad news to the extent that postal and transit services depend on revenue from customers. But that doesn’t mean that the justification for these services is getting any weaker. It may just mean that paying for them out of fares or postage revenue is inconsistent with the actual reasons that we value them. 

2019 study by urban planning professor Michael Manville of UCLA asked the simple question: Why do people vote for transit but don’t use it? He looked at Measure M in Los Angeles County, which won more than 71% of the vote in November 2016. The measure expanded a sales tax expected to generate $860 million per year. Only 65% of that was for transit, but as Manville notes, “transit dominated both the coverage and rhetoric of the campaign.”

Manville found that support for the measure tended to be driven by “positive attitudes about transit” unrelated to whether the voter would use transit personally, or even to whether it would deliver congestion reduction benefits that were emphasized in the campaign. He concluded that “the political project of securing transit funding may be … at odds with … the policy project of encouraging transit ridership.”

If transit were a business whose success is to be judged by ridership, then this would indeed be a problem. But maybe actual voters don’t care about ridership that much, and maybe that’s fine. It could be that voters want to live in the kind of place that has effective public transit service, and that they are voting to push the city in that direction. They may also care, for example, about the ability of everyone to get around, including essential workers who are holding civilization together.

Ridership is not a measure of those goals. It goes up and down for all kinds of external reasons, such as fluctuations in the cost of driving or the availability of semi-competitors such as Uber. That doesn’t mean the value of transit to the city is going up or down. Measure M’s transit investments were mostly about long-term city-shaping strategies like major rapid transit lines. If these help foster the growth of dense and walkable neighborhoods, that will produce many benefits that ridership doesn’t measure.

In short, ridership is a helpful metric of some things, just as postal volume is, but if it isn’t connected to why people support the service, then it shouldn’t be our main measure of whether the service is succeeding.

What would it mean to measure postal performance, or transit performance, according the reasons we actually care about them? We would have to think about how we want to balance competing goals of availability with usage. Availability is the defining goal of a public service. Usage (and the revenue it generates) is the defining goal of a business. Of course, revenue isn’t the only reason to pursue usage. For example, transit only reduces car trips to the extent that it’s being ridden. 

The Postal Service is unprofitable because it’s universally available. No for-profit service would ever commit to visiting every mailbox in the nation six days a week, as the USPS is bound by law to do. Likewise, no transit agency that was trying to maximize its ridership would promise regular transit service close to every home across a huge urban region.

That’s because both services are far, far more efficient in some places than in others, for purely geographical reasons that have mostly to do with density.  

Suppose you live out in the country, in the only house at the end of a half-mile-long dead-end public road. The Postal Service may have to drive to your mailbox and back, a mile every day, just for you. If you happen to be in the service area of a transit agency that has promised service to absolutely everyone, then the transit agency will also have to drive that mile, just for you. (If it’s demand-responsive service, they’ll do that only when you ask, but if it’s a fixed route service they’ll go there whether you ask or not, just as the Postal Service does.)

In the time a mail carrier spends driving to your rural cul-de-sac, she could walk up to an urban apartment building and fill at least 20 mailboxes. Likewise, a transit vehicle driving that mile to get to you in the country could be driving a mile down a busy main street, where it might easily pick up 20 passengers in that time.

Because of this difference, postal and transit authorities both get accused of failure on usage-based measures — low usage or high operating cost per customer — because they are doing things that they would never do if usage were their true goal.

When these authorities commit to availability at the expense of usage, they aren’t just benefiting their most rural or outer-suburban customers. Transit services for disabled persons, which are a civil right under U.S. law, also express a commitment to availability even though a comparatively small number of people use them. As for low-income and minority populations, those who live in dense cities benefit from service designed for usage. But more of these groups are now living or working in suburban areas, where the geography is hostile to high-usage services. As a result, social and racial equity will sometimes require services justified only by availability.

What do we want, then, from our postal and transit agencies? How do we pay for it? And how do we measure whether we’re getting it?

In my work as a transit planning consultant, I ask decision-makers this question: “I know that you want both high ridership and service that goes everywhere, but your budget is fixed, so how much do you want to spend on ridership as opposed to universal availability?” Then, we can design a network that matches that balance of goals, and we can show clearly which services are designed for ridership, and which are for availability regardless of ridership. (Some services are a mix of the two, but we can quantify that too.)

Then, to decide whether services are succeeding, you measure them against their actual goal. Where an agency is explicitly trying to achieve high ridership, look at their ridership trends. But if availability is the goal of the service, you’d ask: What percentage of the population is near service? What are we spending to achieve that? In short, are we producing availability cost-effectively?

We should also stop using “efficiency” to mean “efficiency at delivering usage,” as we do when we say that the Postal Service is “inefficient” because it costs so much to deliver a declining amount of mail. Talking that way only gives efficiency a bad name. Efficiency is how much of any good thing you can deliver for the money you have. If the goal is usage, measure how efficiently you’re delivering that for the budget. But if the goal is availability, measure how efficiently you’re doing that.

It’s also absurd to judge postal or transit services by how well they are competing with the private sector, which is always a losing battle. UPS and FedEx compete with the Postal Service in cities, but when a package needs to go to a rural ranch, they sometimes have the USPS deliver it. The Postal Service’s availability commitment — which is central to why it isn’t profitable — also improves the bottom line of UPS or FedEx. Public transportation, too, faces competition from a for-profit sector but can’t act in a for-profit way in response. Transit agencies bear an availability commitment that Uber and Lyft can ignore, in addition to massive compliance requirements tied to federal funding. We can’t judge the results as though a fair competition were occurring.

What does all this mean for funding? If availability is the goal, then funding by the customer is the wrong tool. When we tell postal and transit services to chase revenue — postage or fares — we’re telling them to maximize usage. The way to do that on a fixed budget is to reduce availability, by focusing service only on the places where the highest usage is possible.

Some of the funding sources that transit agencies rely on, especially at the state level, further reinforce usage goals over availability goals. For example, California’s statewide source, the Transportation Development Act, ties some funding to whether local agencies pay a certain share of their costs with fares. That means they must plan for high usage, which usually means less availability. Does the funding authority really mean to tell the transit agency that availability is unimportant, as these requirements effectively do? Is that consistent with why the voters are ultimately supporting this funding? Maybe it is, but this question shouldn’t be hidden in technical documents. It’s an important value judgment that should be debated in public.

Postal and transit services have the same problem. We want them to attract high usage and we want them to go everywhere, but those goals imply opposite kinds of service. Pursuing either goal will cause outcomes that look like failure when judged by the other goal’s measures of success. It’s like we’re telling our taxi driver to turn right and left at the same time. When they can’t do that, we just yell louder and call them incompetent. Is that taking us where we want to go?

Jarrett Walker is an international consultant in public transit network design and policy, based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of the book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit can Enrich our Communities and our Lives, and blogs at Human Transit

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-31/how-public-transit-is-like-the-postal-service?srnd=citylab

BACK TO BETTER MOBILITY: WORK BETTER

UITP, 25/08/20

As the world continues to face the ongoing situation of the coronavirus pandemic, UITP is looking to what life in our cities can be like in a post-COVID world.

It remains uncertain when our surroundings will return to full capacity. What we do know is that our cities may not resemble what they used to when that day comes. A great deal has changed, and could still change. But with a focus on rebuilding, our cities could be made better.

With that concept in mind, now is the time to envision a new outlook by building back better. We don’t need to go back to the same ways: we can resume city living with even better mobility.

During the COVID-19 outbreak UITP has worked alongside our international membership to focus on mobility post pandemic and to work towards defining a new landscape for everyone. Better Mobility is achievable.  

So far in our journey to better mobility, we’ve looked at the ways we can move better and breathe better on our way to getting back to better mobility. Our focus on better mobility is placed into three pillars. Now we’re taking a closer look at working better in a post-pandemic world.

A future without public transport will damage the economy further

For many years UITP has worked hard to place the necessary spotlight on the role public transport plays in financial terms. More and more people are realising how vital the sector is to the global economy. It contributes to making our cities richer by making movement easier. A post-COVID world without public transport will damage the economy further.

During the pandemic, UITP has been working with many other international bodies and associations, politicians and decision makers to highlight the financial aspect of public transport.

We’ve published a series of Open Letters at the global level and to the European institutions calling for a focus on the financial impact and contribution of public transport and local transport services to the global economy. The financial losses faced by the sector during COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on everyone.

And why?

Because public transport, cities and economies thrive simultaneously. We have seen the necessity of public transport services, especially in times of crisis: our cities simply cannot afford to lose their essential mobility services.

The increase of single person, single car journeys is a real possibility. We need mass public transport to be the first choice option for people to make sure our cities remain as liveable as possible.

And how do we do this? We continue to highlight the positives of moving together.

Public transport provides an increased connectivity to public services, work and leisure, allowing more people to travel smoothly within the urban space available.

The math is simple: more people reaching more employment, studies and businesses more easily will result in more opportunities for all. This, in turn, spurs social and territorial cohesion and local developments.

As we process the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the public transport sector, we can be sure that the local passenger transport sector’s ecosystem will be heavily affected in multiple ways, including local public transport authorities, public transport operators, private operators, SMEs, subcontractors, new mobility providers and the supply industry.

The impact relates mainly to the decrease in revenues and the additional costs needed to disinfect and implement social distancing measures in transport vehicles and infrastructure.

Public transport needs support as the role it plays in our cities, our economies and our lives benefits us all.

Investing in public transport will protect millions of local jobs worldwide, as well as boost job creation with new expansion and renovation projects in the pipeline.

Public transport, driven by innovation and service quality, plays a key role in rebuilding flourishing local economies in which all of us may thrive, putting people at the heart.

Our future is in your hands!

Join us on the road to Better Mobility today #BetterMobility

https://www.uitp.org/news/back-better-mobility-work-better

GALILEO 4 MOBILITY: EU-PROJECT COMPLETES MISSION TO PROMOTE GALILEO SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY FOR MAAS

UITP, 05/08/20

GALILEO 4 MOBILITY: EU-PROJECT COMPLETES MISSION TO PROMOTE GALILEO SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY FOR MAAS

GALILEO 4 Mobility, the EU-funded project aiming to support the introduction of GALILEO technology within the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) context, has been drawn to a close. Kicking off in November 2017, the project was funded by the European GNSS Agency (GSA) and sought to promote GALILEO technology to enhance the continuity and ease of shared mobility services in urban environments.

UITP, which led outreach and dissemination of the project, is happy to say GALILEO 4 Mobility (G4M) has successfully completed its mission. Project outcomes show that G4M and GALILEO technology greatly contributed to improve shared mobility services across selected urban areas in Europe, and will continue to do so in many ways.

The core of G4M was in its pilots, with four demonstrations held across Europe to test how the integration of GALILEO technology could improve urban mobility. All pilots contributed in their own way to improving mobility in the area, and many of them will continue beyond the project’s lifetime.

Thessaloniki, taxi-sharing pilot

In Thessaloniki, the demo was led by project partners CERTH/HIT and Taxiway and ran from May 2019 to March 2020. It consisted of a shared taxi-service partnering up travellers sharing the same itinerary, this way discouraging private car-ownership and tackling traffic congestion.

Currently the service is put on hold due to COVID-19, yet first results show that passengers were very satisfied with the service: 91% of the participants showed interest in using the taxi sharing service after the pilot period. Therefore, plans are in the making to re-start the taxi-sharing initiative as a commercial service.

Paris, e-bike & car sharing service

The pilot in Paris (led by Clem’) included both an e-bike and e-car sharing service. In this demo, accurate positioning with help from GALILEO technology contributed to better determining the location of the users and vehicles, also basing the billing for the service on that data.

Even though G4M has ended, the electric car sharing service is still running, and will continue to do so to further improve door-to-door mobility in the area. Furthermore, if the bike-sharing service proves to be successful, this service will also continue in the long run.

Barcelona, MaaS application

Another pilot took place in Barcelona. Led by RACC, it was tested how GALILEO technology improved the accuracy of a dedicated MaaS aggregator application. The app, called CityTrips, gathers the whole mobility offer of the area, including bike, scooter and car-sharing, public transport and taxi; meaning accurate positioning of the passenger and the vehicles is essential to enable a seamless door-to-door journey. The first results of the demo showed that the precision and the acquisition time of the geolocation signal improves when using a GALILEO-equipped smartphone.

Cervello, bus-on-demand pilot

The last pilot ran from February to April 2019, and included a bus-on demand pilot in Cervelló, a small town near Barcelona. The pilot was a collaboration between G4M project coordinator Pildo and public authority Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB), and aimed to tackle the low usage of bus services in the area. A GALILEO-enabled bus complemented the existing lines and ran according to demand.

Also this initiative will continue to run – the service was so successful, that the on-demand bus will completely replace the regular bus line from 2021 onwards. The success of the G4M pilot in Cervelló is strategically critical for AMB, which is having its first experience with on-demand schemes, and will influence  the transformation of many other inefficient bus lines in low density territories in the region.

And G4M lives on in other ways too..

During the project’s lifetime, a call for small-scale pilots was launched, encouraging the development of new mobility services using GALILEO. Now, earlier this month a new bus-on-demand service was launched in Terrassa (Catalonia) as a result of this call. Developed by the Association of Municipalities for Mobility and Urban Transport (AMTU), the City Council of Terrassa and TMESA, the operating bus company, the pilot  uses a GALILEO-enabled platform to operate.

G4M also facilitated the creation of Nemi: an application enabling the operation of demand-responsive public transport services. Nemi makes mobility in low-density areas feasible by providing a software solution that enables flexible bus routes.

Finally, the project’s work will continue through ARIADNA, a new project that to some extent can be considered as a natural continuation of G4M. Also funded by GSA, ARIADNA supports the adoption of EGNSS for public transport and urban mobility by raising awareness on GALILEO and EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service) benefits, and its technical features, among different urban mobility stakeholders.

https://www.uitp.org/news/galileo-4-mobility-eu-project-completes-mission-promote-galileo-satellite-technology-maas

PUBLIC TRANSPORT AFTER COVID-19 CURRENT AND FUTURE CHALLENGES IN 5 MAJOR CITIES

UITP, 13/08/20

On July 22, 2020 UITP held an online seminar “Public Transport after COVID-19 – Current and future challenges. Re-imagining our cities.”

The event was initiated by Baku Transport Agency and Moscow Transport Department but attracted international speakers. Representatives from LondonMadrid and Paris joined Baku and Moscow in a high-level discussion held on the crossway of urban mobility development in post-pandemic times. The theme also attracted 286 participants from 21 countries, including Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, France, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, UK, USA, Uzbekistan and others.

In his welcome word Mohamed Mezghani, UITP Secretary General, stressed that lessons learned show that public transport remains an essential, but vulnerable service, and is still underestimated. The challenge is that in post-COVID times, the task of giving more space to public transport has become even more crucial due to social distancing.

The transport development paradigm has now changed, moving the focus from supply to demand, from transport infrastructure to service, from ready-made to tailored solutions. Demand management will become a priority, IT instruments here can serve to avoid congestion. Buses are now more favoured than rail in some cities as a more flexible service.

Moscow looks towards a sustainable future

During lockdown, Moscow Transport were Guardians of Mobility, and kept working on its regular schedule, along with implementing all kinds of special measures, explained Maksim Liksutov, the Deputy of Mayor of Moscow for Transport. It was furthermore decided  to regularly test all people working for Moscow Transport for the coronavirus. To adapt to new mobility needs, the city bike rental price was lowered by 30%, which resulted in doubling the growth of the service usage.

A significant fall in urban mobility followed the lockdown. Nevertheless, Moscow has decided to continue working on its Transport Development Program, putting further focus on sustainable transport systems’ development. This includes a 450 million euro purchase of around 1,000 ground transport and 550 metro cars.

Moscow plans future public transport development while executing all possible precaution measures in its continued fight against the pandemic

Madrid ensures better preparation for new outbreaks

The Metro of Madrid had a pre-prepared protocol for working in a crisis even before the outbreak, reported Silvia Roldán, CEO Madrid Metro, but the protocol was modified according to the authorities’ requests. For example, to maintain social distancing, the metro had to enlarge its supply, working with a passenger traffic management plan that uses big data to control capacity and crowding in real time. Now they have worked out a standardised procedure for implementing measures according to the alert levels with a wide range of questions starting from mandatory mask use to plan for protective equipment supply.
 

Keeping Baku moving with new innovations

Vusal Karimli, Chairman of the Board, Baku Transport Agency (Azerbaijan) explained that bus lines in Baku had to work while the metro was closed, so bus operators were obliged to work on maximum capacity even in the condition of 60% decrease of ridership, along with 45% decrease of car numbers. The good thing was the 45% decrease in air pollution during lockdown. The transport system was able to operate due to the recent fleet renewal, cashless payment system and new open interchange centres and an intellectual management system.
 

This is not the end of the “city of lights”

Paris limited access to public transport during the lockdown, which resulted in over 2 million euros in losses, said Laurent Probst, Managing Director, Île-de-France Mobilités (France).  They came to an agreement with the French government to compensate the lost revenue. People do not have alternatives in big cities such as Paris, so they do expect people to come back: cars are blocked by constant congestion and bicycles are good for short trips only. The investments and developments in public transport should not stop now, as we have to prepare to move more people.

London remains optimistic for improvements

Tom Page, Head of Business Strategy, Transport for London (TfL) stressed that COVID-19 had a serious impact on London and its public transport. The fall was so severe that for some period they stopped collecting bus fares which is a primary source of funding. The alternative was opening more bicycle lanes. The capacity of buses was limited; in the subway they introduced a one-way system and continue to control the amount of people in the station.  Although we may not have been able to predict this or what comes next, that does not mean we should do nothing, but we must take the opportunity to make the things better now.
 

Moving ‘Back to Better Mobility’ together

All five cities are united by one ambitious and optimistic objective: public transport must survive this crisis to keep cities moving. All five cities were and still are in constant search of innovations to make public transport as safe as possible. They also continue to plan future public transport developments.

As cities around the world struggle to plan for the road ahead, we must not lose sight of long-term, urgent priorities. We cannot go from lockdown back to gridlock. We must build back better with better mobility for all.

Find out more in our sector-wide campaign ‘Back to Better Mobility’which reminds the public and decision makers why we must not stop investments in public transport.

https://www.uitp.org/news/public-transport-after-covid-19-current-and-future-challenges-5-major-cities

Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes

The Conversation 26 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has affected our cities in profound ways. People adapted by teleworking, shopping locally and making only necessary trips. One of the many challenges of recovery will be to build on the momentum of the shift to more sustainable practices – and transport will be a particular challenge.

While restrictions are being eased, many measures in place today, including physical distancing and limits on group numbers, will remain for some time. As people try to avoid crowded spaces, public transport patronage will suffer. Thousands of journeys a day will need to be completed by other means.

If people switch from public transport to cars, road congestion will be even worse than before, emissions will soar, air quality will be poor and road safety will suffer.

Re-imagining our cities

Cities are repurposing streets to meet higher demands for walking and cycling.

But not everyone can walk or ride a scooter or bike to their destination. Public transport must remain at the heart of urban mobility.

We will have to rethink public transport design to enable physical distancing, even though it reduces capacities.

Public transport drivers need protection. Some responses such as boarding from back doors and sanitising rolling stock are needed but don’t reduce crowding. Crowding at platforms, bus and tram stops also has to be avoided.

Crowding on public transport puts lives at risk. A recent study that looked at smartcard data for the Metro in Washington DC showed that, with the same passenger demand as before the pandemic, only three initially infected passengers will lead to 55% of the passenger population being infected within 20 days. This would have alarming consequences.

More measures are needed. There are things we need to stop doing or start doing, and others that need to happen sooner.

Increasing capacities by running more services, where possible, will help. Staggering work hours will reduce peak demand. Transport demand management must also aim to reduce overall need for travel by having people continue to work from home if they can.

Managing passenger flow and decreasing waiting times will also help avoid crowding. Passenger-counting technologies can be used to monitor passenger load restrictions, control flow and stagger ridership.

We need to start trying new solutions using smart technologies. Passengers could use apps that let them find out how crowded a service is before boarding, or to book a seat in advance.

Other solutions to trial include thermal imaging at train stations and bus depots to identify passengers with fever. There will be many technical and deployment challenges, but trials can identify issues and ease the transition.

We need to accelerate digitalisation and automation of public transport. This includes solutions for contactless operations, automated train doors and passenger safety across the whole journey.

Public transport also has to be expanded and diversified to be effective in dense areas and deliver social value to residents. In some areas, it may function as a demand-responsive service and be more agile in its ability to transport people safely and quickly.

Improving resilience

The lessons we have learnt about adapting how we live and work should guide recovery efforts. The recovery must improve the resilience of public transport.

Infrastructure investments, which are crucial for rebuilding the economy, must target projects that protect against future threats. Public transport will need reliable financial investment to provide quality of service and revive passenger confidence.

Importantly, the harm this pandemic is causing has not been equitable. The most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged have been hit hardest by both its health and economic impacts.

While many people are able to work from home, staying at home remains a luxury many others cannot afford. People who need to return to work must be able to rely on safe public transport.

Building on momentum

By the time the lockdown is over, many of our old habits will have changed. The notion that we need to leave home to work every day has been challenged. The new habits emerging today, if sustained, could help us solve tricky problems like traffic congestion and accessibility, which have challenged our cities for a long time.

If there’s one principle that should underpin recovery efforts, it should be to make choices today that in future we’d want us to have made. If driving becomes an established new habit, congestion will spike and persist, as will greenhouse gas emissions. Faced with these kinds of challenges, rash “business as usual” measures and behaviours will not protect us from this emergency or future crises.

Cities that seize this moment and boost investment in social infrastructure will enter the post-coronavirus world stronger, more equitable and more resilient.

Let us commit to shaping a recovery that rebuilds lives and promotes equality and sustainability. By building on sustainable practices and a momentum of behavioural change, we can avoid repeating the unsustainable mistakes of the past.

A Post-Pandemic Reality Check for Transit Boosters

Citylab 6 May 2020

After lockdowns ease, public transportation ridership in the U.S. is likely to remain low for years. But some see a way forward for a new understanding of transit’s role.

In 1918, streetcars were the top urban transportation mode in the United States. And they were packed: Americans made about 140 trips per capita, about 15 billion trips total, that year.

Then came the Spanish flu. As influenza ripped through cities, crowded systems were forced to make health-centric changes, including requiring masks on passengers, limiting streetcar capacity, and staggering commute hours to keep riders distanced. Some vehicles were briefly decommissioned due to a shortage of operators. Still, the popularity of mass transit did not suffer dramatically in the succeeding years — at least not until the Great Depression put a quarter of the country out of work and, later, when the private automobile began to displace it.

What about today? Coronavirus has walloped bus and rail networks. The top transit systems in the U.S. have seen 70% to 90% ridership losses as commuters have been laid off, worked from home, or opted for other means of travel since March. With few passengers, daunting finances, sick operators, and a heightened imperative to sanitize, agencies have dramatically scaled back service. San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Agency has ceased rail operations and eliminated nearly 70% of its bus network. In Washington, D.C., buses are serving just 26 “lifeline” routes and Metro trains are running on Saturday schedules. The New York subway has stopped running 24 hours a day for the first time in 115 years.

Transit’s current situation is partly a reflection of the overall travel freeze on driving, flying, and all other modes during stay-at-home orders in major cities. But when lockdowns ease, there are reasons that transit commuters in particular may not return in force.

First, bus and rail ridership tends to be more sensitive to economic changes than other modes, and the financial effects of coronavirus are poised to stretch long into the future, said Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Second, some proportion of would-be passengers are likely to continue to work remotely, while others may change their commute patterns to driving or biking. “We know that people will be scared to use public transportation from a health perspective,” said Ahmed El-Geneidy, a professor of urban planning at McGill University who has studied transit ridership. Based on what’s happening in China, a post-pandemic car sales boom may be in the offing.  

Third, assuming rider demand and revenue remain low, transit agencies may have to keep service cuts even after lockdowns lift, despite the fact that more vehicles, not fewer, are needed to allow for social distancing. Academic literature shows that such cuts themselves can be rider-deterrents. “There’s an elasticity that shows if you cut service by 10%, you can generally expect ridership goes down 3-6%,” said Greg Erhardt, a civil engineering professor at the University of Kentucky who specializes in travel behavior and transportation planning.

A final and pernicious factor is that 2020 was primed to be the sixth consecutive year of what Taylor calls a “disturbing trend”: U.S. transit ridership has been in decline since 2014, even as transit agencies have added service on the whole. Much of that new service has come in light-rail extensions and some bus-rapid transit lines usually designed to attract “discretionary riders,” or people who can afford to choose between driving and transit, and often financed through sales tax measures.

Explanations for ridership’s downward slide during these years abound. Cheap gas and easy credit for auto loans increased the appeal of car use, while service quality deteriorated on the older parts of transit systems. Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft emerged, and a housing affordability crisis pushed many people outside the range of reliable transit.  

In Southern California, Taylor and his colleagues have found that the largest drops in ridership have come from groups that were traditionally the heaviest, most economically dependent users of transit. Lower-income immigrants in particular have abandoned buses as car ownership among those communities has increased. While the share of discretionary riders has increased slightly, thanks to increased investment into rail and rapid bus service geared toward more affluent commuters, “their added trips are still overwhelmed by lost trips from others,” Taylor said.

Who will ride in the wake of coronavirus? Passengers will inevitably return in dense cities with extensive systems, such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where transit is critical for thriving urban economies to function, Taylor said. But the best indication of the future face of transit may be the people on board right now. And there are still a lot of them: By the end of March, New York City subway ridership cratered to 10% of its usual five million weekday trips, but that still meant it was providing more than 500,000 trips. The 65% ridership drop on L.A.’s Metro buses, reported in mid-April, still equates to 500,000 daily boardings.

It isn’t clear how many of these trips were made by essential workers, but analyses based on census data show that more than 30% of normal transit riders have jobs that have been deemed pandemic-critical. Individuals riding to work right now are also less likely to have the option to drive, and they are more likely to be people of color, as evidenced in photos of crowded subways and buses that have sparked online outrage in recent weeks. Transit, an urban mobility navigation app, has found that 68% of the people using it to plan bus and metro trips right now are women, most of them black and Latinx.

There is one grim new potential reservoir of future transit riders, Taylor said: lower-income households that have bought vehicles in the last few years. Their car-owning status could be vulnerable to an economic downturn.

These circumstances point to a potential shift in the way transit is used, viewed, and potentially funded, experts said. Traditionally, a successful transit system is one with a lot of riders, with packed buses and cars and a large share of revenue derived from passenger fares. But in a world where social distancing means life or death, and a 40-foot bus has an eight-passenger capacity limit, emphasizing ridership and fare recovery as the metrics of success may no longer make sense. Yet the nurses, orderlies, grocery store workers and pharmacists boarding today are proof that transit itself is a critical social institution. “Transit agencies should be switching their brains to serving those riders,” said El-Geneidy. “We have to accept that public transport is an essential service. We can’t think about it as a for-profit organization that can make money from ridership.”

That could create a stronger demand for federal funding for transit, instead of local agencies continuing rely on fares and tax measures tied to projects like light-rail expansions sold to affluent voters with the promise of congestion relief. For Taylor, that may mean something like a reality check for transit-boosters.

“For many years we have a lot of aspirations for transit: We want it to beat traffic, fight climate change, and revitalize communities,” he said. “But the two things it has demonstrably done in last half century is provide mobility for those without — whether that’s due to age, income, or disability — and allow highly agglomerated places function. My educated guess is that we will see the rise of transit as a social service.”

www.citylab.com/transportation/2020/05/public-transit-riders-coronavirus-bus-subway-public-funding/611203/

In a pandemic, we’re all in this together

Citylab, 7 April 2020
Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.

As health authorities tell us to stay at home and to maintain a six-foot distance from one another, public transit ridership has understandably collapsed. A TransitApp analysis suggests that this collapse has now stabilized around 70% below pre-crisis levels, but many major agencies report bigger declines, especially on longer-distance and commute-oriented services. San Francisco’s BART system, for example, has lost 93% of its riders.

The financial disaster transit agencies face is hard to overstate. Most U.S. transit agency revenue comes from fares and payroll and sales taxes, all of which will have collapsed or can be expected to as the effects of the pandemic ripple down through the economy.

There is no silver lining here. The recent federal CARES Act includes $25 billion in emergency funds for transit agencies. This will keep the lights on for a while, but not if the crisis drags on.

In response to this emergency, major agencies are doing their best not to cut service much. Typically, agencies have deleted rush-hour express service (whose wealthier riders are almost all working from home) and have shut down tourism and recreation services. After that, their next step has usually been running Saturday or Sunday schedules every day, which implies reduced frequencies, although San Francisco is turning off some routes to protect frequency and prevent crowding on most-used routes nearby. Based on my informal discussions with many agencies, the service cuts seem to be in the range of 10% to 40% at this point, far less than the roughly 70% drop in ridership.

Even these service cuts aren’t all motivated by the need to save money. The first impetus has been a staff shortage. Bus and train drivers are ill, or afraid of becoming ill, or arestuck at home caring for children who would usually be in school. Even where budget is a consideration, agencies are desperate to avoid major layoffs and furloughs, both because they care about their employees and because they need a highly trained workforce to still be there when demand comes back.

At least agencies can save money by running smaller vehicles, right? Labor is most of bus operating cost, but agencies could save power, fuel, and wear-and-tear. But no: Agencies are trying to run big buses and long trains, so that their few passengers can stay six feet apart, and they’re being criticized when loads are too high. In short, they are intentionally creating the “empty buses” look that so many people misread as evidence of transit’s failure or irrelevance. (Good luck getting that much distance when usingUber.)

Why are agencies behaving this way? Because they are not businesses. And if there’s one thing we must learn from this moment, it’s that we have to stop talking about transit as though ridership is its only purpose, and its primary measure of success.

Right now, essential services have to keep going. It’s not just the hospital, the grocery store, and basic utilities.  It’s the entire supply chain that keeps those places stocked, running, and secure. Almost all of these jobs are low-wage. The people using transit now are working in hospitals that are saving lives. They are creating, shipping and selling urgently needed supplies. They are keeping grocery stores functioning, so we can eat.

In transit conversations we often talk about meeting the needs of people who depend on transit. This makes transit sound like something we’re doing for them. But in fact, those people are providing services that we all depend on, so by serving those lower income riders, we’re all serving ourselves.

The goal of transit, right now, is neither competing for riders nor providing a social service for those in need. It is helping prevent the collapse of civilization.

What’s more, transit has always been doing that. Those “essential service” workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income, have always been there, moving around quietly in our transit systems, keeping our cities functioning. Too often, we have patronized them by calling them needy or dependent when in fact everything would collapse if they couldn’t get to work.

Transit agencies rarely get credit for this work, and journalists rarely stop to consider it. For the last decade or more, the default news story about transit has been about ridership. When it’s down, we get alarmist stories. What are transit agencies doing wrong? How are they going to fix it? The near-universal assumption is that transit should be judged as though it were a business, and that transit ridership is the primary measure of transit’s usefulness or relevance. This assumption has always been wrong, but now it’s obviously wrong. If it were true, agencies wouldn’t still be running so much service right now.

Right now, in interviews, I’m being asked what transit agencies must do after the crisis to get ridership back. The false implication is not just that the return of ridership should be their only goal, but also that there’s something that they could do to bring ridership back to what it was. In normal times, transit agencies can improve ridership by making service more useful — that’s what I do as a consultant — but ridership has always gone up or down for reasons outside their control. That’s never been more obvious than right now.

In fact, there’s good reason to suspect that the return of previous riders could take a year or more. This crisis won’t end overnight. At some point we’ll emerge from our holes and start moving around again, but the virus will still be there and we’ll all be cautious about it. If you had an easy option to drive your own car — a car that you cleaned yourself and whose inner surfaces nobody outside your family has touched — would you choose instead to get into a transit vehicle, full of strangers and the surfaces they’ve been touching?

It’s quite possible, then, that ridership will rise only gradually, and that for some time, most of the people ridingwill be those who we too-often call the “transit dependent.” This term, like its opposite “choice rider,” has always been misleading, because most urban people are not totally dependent or totally “choice.” Instead, we each have a range of travel options with their own incentives and disincentives, and may make different choices for different trips. Some people also “choose transit dependence” by not owning cars even though they could afford one, thus revealing the absurdity of describing all riders as either “dependent” or “choice.”

But even for those with the fewest options, the term dependent has allowed us to imagine helpless people in need of our rescue, rather than people that we depend on to keep things running. Everyone who lives in a city, or invests in one, or lives by selling to urban populations is transit dependent in this sense.

Meanwhile, if we all drive cars out of a feeling of personal safety, we’ll quickly restore the congestion that strangles our cities, the emissions that poison us and our planet, and the appalling rates of traffic carnage that we are expected to tolerate. Once again, we’ll need incentives, such as market-based road pricing, to make transit attractive enough so that there’s room for everyone to move around the city. That will mean more ridership, but again, ridership isn’t exactly the point. The point is the functioning of the city, which again, all of us depend on.

So let’s take this moment to reframe our journalism and commentary around transit issues. Let’s learn from the remarkable work that transit agencies are doing now, and recognize that this is something they’ve always done and that we’ll always need them to do. Let’s look beyond ridership or “transit dependence” and instead measure all the ways that transit makes urban civilization possible. In big cities, transit is an essential service, like police and water, without which nothing else is possible. Maybe that’s how we should measure its results.

www.citylab.com/perspective/2020/04/coronavirus-public-transit-subway-bus-ridership-revenue/609556/

250 km/h ‘high speed metro’ in Guangzhou urban rail plan

Railway Gazette, 17 January 2020

CHINA: The Guangzhou municipal government has approved a 15-year plan to increase public transport’s market share to 80% through the development of a comprehensive urban rail network based on three metro, ‘express metro’ and ‘high speed metro’ networks.

Read more

ON-DEMAND BUS SERVICE LAUNCHED FOR NEW SYDNEY METRO

Australasian Bus and Coach Newsletter 11 June 2019

BUS OPERATOR Busways has launched an on-demand app as a new way to connect passengers with the recently opened Sydney Metro and conventional rail services, it’s reported recently.

Proclaimed as “…public transport that comes to you”, Busways is providing the new on-demand Hino Ponchos to residents in The Ponds and Schofields areas in the growing north-west of Sydney, NSW.

Cooee Busways launched late May, 2019, to coincide with the opening of Sydney Metro Northwest and operates Monday to Friday from 5.00am until 9.00pm, connecting customers with Schofields Station and the new Sydney Metro stations at Tallawong and Rouse Hill, the company states. 

“Integrated public transport options will alleviate commuter’s frustrations with congestion on western Sydney roads when they’re just trying to get to work and back home each day,” managing director Byron Rowe said.

“The Ponds and Schofields are growing areas and the Cooee Busways on-demand service provides a crucial first- and last-mile link to the train and Metro.

“On-demand is the way of the future of public transport and we’re pleased to be able to offer it to residents in need of improved options now.

“Cooee Busways is a safe and reliable pick-up and drop-off on-demand service to and from the local transport hubs,” Rowe explained.

REDEFININING MOBILITY

Passengers will be able to book the service through the Busways Cooee smartphone app, powered by Via, the leading provider and developer of on-demand shared mobility solutions, according to Busways.

They can book a service for travel between a bus stop within the service area and one of three transport hubs: Tallawong and Rouse Hill Metro Stations, and Schofields Train Station.

“Via’s technology is redefining mobility across the globe and we are thrilled to partner with Busways and Transport for NSW to provide residents with a convenient, affordable, and congestion-reducing transportation alternative,” said Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via.

“Via’s powerful passenger-matching and vehicle-routing algorithm is the solution to solving the first- and last-mile challenge, seamlessly integrating into the existing public transit infrastructure to connect residents to transit hubs in their communities.”

HOW IT WORKS

Using the Cooee app, riders will be able to hail a shuttle directly from their smartphone. Via’s advanced algorithms will enable multiple riders to seamlessly share the vehicle, it claims.

The powerful technology will direct passengers to a nearby virtual bus stop within a short walking distance for pick-up and drop-off, allowing for quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours, or inconvenient fixed routes and schedules, the company explains.

“The Cooee Busways service is just a glimpse into the changing-nature of public transport. By simply taking out your smart phone and using an app, you’ll be able to travel where you need to go when you want to,” Rowe said.

https://www.busnews.com.au/industry-news/1906/on-demand-bus-service-launched-for-new-sydney-metro

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