Edulakanti R.,URS Corporation |
Ricks K.,Nelson Nygaard
Transportation Research Record | Year: 2014
The intercity bus industry has grown significantly in recent years and has become an increasingly popular option for people traveling to and from New York City. Hundreds of intercity buses depart from New York City streets daily. Although these buses provide a useful, low-cost transportation option for New Yorkers, the fact that the buses were legally able to stop in any "No Standing" zone led to disruption to the local traffic network through increased sidewalk and street congestion. The New York State Legislature passed a law in August 2012 allowing the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement a permit system for intercity bus operators. The New York City DOT has developed a rule that requires intercity bus operators to apply online for a permit from the New York City DOT before the operators can make on-street stops in the city. Bus operators must submit detailed operating information to the New York City DOT, in addition to a permit fee based on the weekly number of arrivals and departures at the proposed stop. The permit-approval process includes the New York City DOT evaluation based on public health and safety criteria and consultation with local community boards and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where appropriate. Following an application period, police will be able to enforce the law against intercity buses not carrying permits or not properly utilizing their assigned stop, and thereby the city can manage this industry within the constraints of federal and state laws.
Deakin E.,University of California at Berkeley |
Frick K.T.,University of California at Berkeley |
Shively K.M.,Nelson Nygaard
Transportation Research Record | Year: 2010
Ridesharing programs are widespread across the United States. Dynamic ridesharing is a newer way to share rides on the fly or up to several days in advance using cell phone or computer messaging to make arrangements. This paper describes research conducted to assess the potential for dynamic ridesharing for travel to downtown Berkeley, California, and the University of California, Berkeley, campus. The study provides insights about the opportunities and challenges presented by this travel option. Data were collected from statistical and geographic analysis of the downtown and campus travel markets, and surveys and focus groups were administered to employees and graduate students. The study found that about one-fifth of commuters who drive alone to the campus would be interested in using dynamic ridesharing at least occasionally and live in areas where matches could be found. They would prefer to arrange a shared ride at least the night before rather than immediately before the trip is made. Many of these travelers were unaware of current rideshare services, and some would be willing to find a regular carpool partner. Finally, if parking charges are fairly high and parking supply is limited and regulated, financial incentives and carpool parking subsidies greatly increase interest in dynamic ridesharing.
Stover V.W.,Nelson Nygaard |
Christine Bae C.-H.,University of Washington
Transportation Research Record | Year: 2011
Gasoline prices in the United States have been extremely volatile in recent years and rose to record high levels during the summer of 2008. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. gasoline price for the year 2008 was $3.26 a gallon, which was the second highest yearly average in history when adjusted for inflation. Transportation agencies reported changes in travel behavior as a result of the price spike, with transit systems experiencing record ridership and state departments of transportation reporting reductions in traffic volumes. This study examined the impact of changing gasoline prices on transit ridership in Washington State by measuring the price elasticity of demand of ridership with respect to gasoline price. Ordinary least-squares regression was used to model transit ridership for transit agencies in 11 counties in Washington State during 2004 to 2008. The price of gasoline had a statistically significant effect on transit ridership for seven systems studied, with elasticities ranging from 0.09 to 0.47. A panel data model was estimated with data from all 11 agencies to measure the overall impact of gasoline prices on transit ridership in the state. The elasticity from the panel data model was 0.17. Results indicated that transit ridership increased as gasoline prices increased during the study period. The findings were consistent with those from previous studies on the topic.
News Article | April 7, 2015
Paris has a pollution problem. Instead of the smoke from Gauloise cigarettes and the aroma of freshly baked bread, the air is packed with smog, an issue that got so bad one day last month, the city forcibly halved traffic by allowing only cars with odd-number plates to drive. Paris is working toward less authoritarian, more considered solutions, including a program that gives drivers up to $11,400 if they trade in an old diesel for an electric car. It changed its public transit fare system to charge passengers equally, whether they’re staying in the city center or commuting in from the far suburbs. And this week, the City of Lights unveiled a bold, $164 million plan to make itself “the cycling capital of the world” by 2020. The goal of the plan, which goes to the city council for approval April 13, is to triple the share of all trips made by bike from 5 to 15 percent. To get there, in the next five years, it wants to double its network of bike lanes to 870 miles (partly by making many lanes two-way) and drop speed limits on many streets to 18 mph. It would create 10,000 secure bike parking spaces and offer financial incentives for those buying electric and conventional bikes. Becoming the cycling capital of the world may be out of reach—cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen are well ahead of Paris when it comes to share of trips made by bike—but the plan deserves credit for both for its scale and its scope. And there’s plenty American cities can learn from it, says Evan Corey, a senior associate at transportation planning firm Nelson\Nygaard. “It’s ambitious,” Corey says, which isn’t surprising for this city. Paris has one of the world’s largest bike share systems, and it’s been rolling out extensive pro-pedestrian initiatives in recent years. This new plan looks to improve just about every aspect of the cycling experience, and backs it up with the necessary cash. Providing a good cyclist experience—so pedaling around the city feels safe and comfortable—is key, says Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, a coalition that works against sprawl. More bike lanes should do that, especially the five proposed “highways” that will be almost entirely protected from car traffic, on some of the city’s biggest corridors, including the Champs-Elysées. It’s also key to build a real transportation network, Anderson says. “Way too many places are just thinking about cycling in terms of individual facilities, rather than as integrated systems” that actually take you from one place to another. Paris seems to get that as well: Along with all the extra lanes, the plan calls for making biking into and out of Paris safer, with traffic calming measures at the busy intersections around the city’s edge. That makes cycling more practical for inhabitants of the largely impoverished suburbs. The 10,000 new parking stations would make the end of any trip easy instead of a pain. The financial incentives to buy bikes are especially helpful, Corey says, because promoting cycling is all about eliminating reasons not to get on two wheels. It’s easy to forget or overlook, but the money it takes to get a bike in the first place is one of those disincentives. (Paris’ Velib bike share system also helps on that point, but while it’s affordable at $32 per year, it’s not free.) In the US, “if you look at any transportation survey, people don’t think that the answer to congestion is building more roads,” Anderson says. “They think of it as more transit, more biking, more walking, more choices.” That’s especially true among the young, affluent people cities want to lure into their tax bases. So what’s the takeaway for US cities that want to encourage cycling? It should not be that it takes more than a hundred million dollars to make it safe and practical. First of all, that’s not really an option. “Our funding context is quite different from what’s being done in Europe,” Corey says, and it’s unrealistic to think an American city would be willing or able to drop that kind of cash in just five years. The good news is that investments into things like encouraging walking and biking “are often really, really, cheap” Anderson says, especially compared to building infrastructure for cars. “You can actually make significant impacts on transportation behavior with relatively small amounts of money.” What’s important is to make sure that whatever money is spent goes to attacking barriers to cycling in a thoughtful way. That’s what the Paris plan does best: The ideas presented aren’t new, but they consider each step of the process, from buying a bike to parking it. And it thinks about different use cases, including tourists and commuters, those in the city center and those in the suburbs. Any plan that matches its scope, whatever the scale, will help encourage cycling. You might not get “Paris-level results,” or the world’s best city for biking, Corey says, “but you can still get a lot of bang out of your buck by spending more on bicycles, transit and walking.”
News Article | March 31, 2015
Leap, a luxury bus service that lets affluent San Franciscans commute between two of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods while sipping fancy coffee and enjoying free WiFi, strikes many people as the epitome of Bay Area douchebaggery. But the service offers compelling lessons mass transit would do well to heed.
The service, which charges people six bucks a ride (five if you buy in bulk), is one more player in the crowded, and proven, field of privately run transportation services. As long as people have been moving around, there have been gypsy cabs, jitneys and paid shuttles of every description. Leap is, cost and amenities aside, really no different.
Still, it would be hard to find a better symbol of the cultural and socioeconomic divide the go-go-go tech industry has brought to the Bay Area than seeing people pay handsomely to enjoy a Blue Bottle-serving, Internet-providing, proletariat-shunning transit system. Especially when the city’s own bus line runs the same routes.
Go ahead and drop the pitchfork, though, because it could make your commute nicer too. Leap and others like it (including Via, which takes people pretty much anywhere in Manhattan for $5, and Chariot, which charges $93 for a month’s worth of unlimited rides in San Francisco) are doing many things public transportation agencies can, and should, learn from. These private transit firms have an eagerness to try new things, embrace new technologies and, most importantly, to fail.
“Transit agencies are inherently risk-averse,” says Paul Supawanich, a transportation consultant at Nelson Nygaard. “One key thing that could be learned from these new companies is their ability to try something, adjust, and iterate quickly.”
The whole notion of public transportation is relatively new. The New York subway system, for example, was for many years a loose network of privately owned lines until the city bought them all in 1940. Integrating and making private systems public ultimately made sense, and government funding carried the caveat that these services be run for public good. Safety and reasonable efficiency become the priority, Supawanich says. But guaranteed funding and no real competition left little incentive to aim any higher.
And so many of our bus, light rail and other transit systems deliver service that’s generally acceptable, but hardly amazing. A 2014 survey by San Francisco’s MTA found 64 percent of riders deemed service good or excellent. Eighty-five percent of Seattle’s public transit riders are “satisfied.” New York’s MTA found a satisfaction rate of 74 percent in 2014, but admitted this month that service is declining even as fares are rising. But ridership has increased in each of these cities as the cities have grown. For many residents, public transit is the only practical way to get around.
But even if the experience is great, there are gaps in service. Buses and trains simply cannot go everywhere, all the time. That’s where the private sector comes in. New York has one of the nation’s most comprehensive public transit systems, and its subway system alone carries 5 million passengers daily. Yet there is no quick or easy way to reach John F. Kennedy or LaGuardia airports. That gave rise to a cottage industry of shuttle buses. Elsewhere in the city, “dollar vans” carry 120,000 people a day, says Sarah Kaufman, adjunct assistant professor of planning at New York University. Via offers $5 rides in a luxury SUV anywhere in much of Manhattan.
“What’s great about these shuttles is that they offer public transit solutions for people who would not normally take transit—places where it’s inconvenient, inefficient, or overly stigmatized,” Kaufman says. And this, ultimately, is good for everyone, because it eases congestion, reduces emissions and generally makes life better for all of us. Leap may reek of elitism, but having those people in one bus instead of many, many cars or cabs is a good for everyone.
For the most part, these services find and fill gaps in mass transit, at a price point matching customer needs. Those that don’t are eventually supplanted by competitors.
It isn’t like a transit agency like the San Francisco Muni doesn’t realize it could do better. And you’d like to believe Muni (and other agencies) wants to do better. But in many cases, they are held back by their own inflexibility and mandate to be all things to all people.
Mass transit agencies typically have established, entrenched user bases. That makes change—be it adding or abandoning routes, reallocating resources, and doing pretty much everything else—difficult. They tend to be large, bureaucratic operations with many stakeholders. Riders. Employees and their unions. Elected officials. Funding agencies. The list goes on.
“Agencies have a lot of process they have to go through to make any changes to their service,” says Ratna Amin, director of transportation policy at the Bay Area planning nonprofit SPUR. There are reasons for that process—including everyone’s right to voice their opinion and taking the time to weigh benefits and disadvantages—“but often the rider suffers.”
Then there are jurisdictional and engineering limits, funding often languishes and services get cut when things get tight. Federal, state, and local laws dictate what kind of service agencies have to offer. Because these are public agencies spending public money, there’s a lot of public scrutiny—which really means criticism. “There’s really an expectation that things shouldn’t fail,” Amin says. “So it’s hard to launch a totally new way of doing things.”
All over the country, public transit ridership is growing rapidly, far outpacing population growth. But funding hasn’t kept up, especially since the 2008 financial collapse, and particularly with regard to money coming out of Washington. Cities “are stretching themselves to raise their own funds and to innovate,” according to a 2014 report from Transportation for America. “But without a strong federal partner the twin demands of maintaining their existing infrastructure and preparing for the future are beyond their means.”
Private transportation models can be successful because they’re free of those constraints. They don’t have to worry about pleasing everyone. That gives them far more latitude. Startups like Leap are infusing transit with the culture of Silicon Valley, which at its best is about fresh ideas, moving quickly and iterating solutions.
Beyond the leather seats and premium coffee, Leap has done several things to make getting around easy. Riders can pay via smartphone, so there’s no need to carry around a transit card or cash. You can check in via Bluetooth, so you don’t have to touch your phone. Leap runs express service, saving riders time. It doesn’t follow a timetable, but instead dispatches buses every 10 to 15 minutes. Riders can track their location in real time, and know at a glance how many seats are available. It selects routes based on where its potential riders are, and where they want to go.
These are hardly revolutionary moves, but they present an experience altogether different from mass transit. This isn’t to say it’s time to privatize public transportation and let the whole thing go under if it can’t make a profit. But with freedom to fail comes freedom to innovate, even if it’s on a small scale.
Many of the things people would like see improved already are on the minds of transit officials, Amin says. Things like flexible service and routes that change as demand does. Smartphone payment systems. Developing routes based upon crowd-sourced data. One way to move beyond ideas to reality to to adopt pilot programs to relatively quickly and easily see what works, and iterate upon it.
One area ripe for experimentation, Kaufman says, is moving people with disabilities, who have a legal right to affordable transportation. Today, paratransit riders must request a ride one day in advance; the bus arrives within a 60-minute window. Getting to a doctor’s appointment shouldn’t be like getting your cable installed. But providing truly accessible vans to a scattered population is expensive and and hard to do efficiently. Agencies should have the freedom to experiment.
There are some good examples for others to follow. This year, four cities in central Florida are trying a “Flex Bus” system that riders can summon to carry them from commuter train stations to their final destination. Like many public transportation projects, its rollout has been delayed, but it’s still a new approach to moving people around.