Bus to the Future

bus

Every couple of years some new-fangled technological solution pops up claiming to fix all of our transit woes. We’ve long been promised flying cars and still we need to people on the ground. Today cities are hoping that ride-sharing apps will fill in the void left from poorly funded public transit while industrialists like Elon Musk want to tunnel under our cities. Regardless of these “advanced” solutions we still need to support mass transit. Over at City Lab they’ve decided to launch a series on celebrating one of the most efficient urban people movers” the bus.

Because it turns out that when rubber-tired fleets are treated as a mighty social good, people willingly hop on. See the Minneapolis “A Line,” where buses are essentially held to the standards of rail service: They get first-go at traffic lights, accept boardings at every door, and stop every half mile, rather than every block. Look at all of the citiesfollowing the example of Houston, which overhauled its bus route network in 2015 and saw a 15 percent Saturday ridership spike in the first year; Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York City are all taking their cues. And look, perhaps most of all, at San Francisco, Phoenix, and Seattle, the only major cities where bus ridership meaningfully ticked up last year. All have city-wide plans to fund and improve service. What’s been missing in most cities is this type of attention.

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Electric Busses Save Tonnes of Energy

streetcar

The implementation of electric busses into public transit fleets continues to grow – and it’s happening too quickly for the oil industry. Obviously the oil industry doesn’t like sustainable energy sources; however, public transit systems do. The efficiency gains of an electric bus fleet are evident and as a result less oil is being consumed. Chinese cities are the quickest at buying up electric busses and as a result the costs of adding these efficient vehicles to a fleet have gone down globally.

For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. This year, the volume of fuel buses take off the market may rise 37 percent to 279,000 barrels a day, about as much oil as Greece consumes, according to BNEF.

“This segment is approaching the tipping point,” said Colin Mckerracher, head of advanced transport at the London-based research unit of Bloomberg LP. “City governments all over the world are being taken to task over poor urban air quality. This pressure isn’t going away, and electric bus sales are positioned to benefit.”

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Go Ride the Bus, Busses are Great!

When is a bus not a bus? When it’s a trackless train.

Busses are a great solution to traffic congestion, so much so that bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are growing the world over. The problem with getting more money into BRTs and expanding them is the baggage of the word bus. It turns out that many people have negative associations with the idea of taking the bus, however if the same vehicle is called something else then it gets support.

How projects are described and packaged can affect the way people feel about them, which is why a slick video with CGI-rendered trackless trains might be so alluring to city leaders desperate for new narratives. But if transit is going to succeed, the rail-bias cycle needs to break. And it actually can, studies have found, when buses are as good as trains. The Orange Line, a BRT that runs along a closed corridor through L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, has spacious cars, frequent service, dedicated lanes, and smooth connections to bus and rail; it’s tripled its original ridership estimates. In a 2009 report by the U.S. DOT, some Orange Line passengers said they didn’t even see it as a bus at all, but something closer to a train. Part of that is due to how the system was marketed and branded—the Orange Line was always portrayed as an extension of L.A.’s Metro rail system, rather than as a regular part of the bus network. But it’s also because this bus is objectively superior to most others.

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Lose Weight by Taking the Bus

Obesity is a health problem in North America and this is due to modern lifestyle choices. One choice is to live far from work and commute using a car (this has led to environmental problems in addition to health problems) which means that people physically move less than before. Some new research now points out that you can lose weight and keep it off by ditching the car and taking transit!

So now you can better manage your weight while reducing pollution!

In the study, which looked at 40,000 households throughout the country, men weighed around seven pounds less when they used public or active transit, and women weighed about 5.5 pounds less.

The researchers controlled for a range of other reasons that someone might weigh more or less–like diet, activity at work, fitness routines, and age.

“From the analysis we performed, it is not possible to ‘explain away’ our findings by saying that active commuters are more likely to be young, urban, wealthy, for example, and therefore thinner for these reasons rather than how they commute,” says Flint.

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A Call to Think Bigger About Transit

The way we get around in North America is changing from a work-home orientation to a node based network with multiple destinations. At first cars were used to fulfil this but as traffic worsens we need to rethink how we all get around. The solution, of course, is to kick the addiction to owning cars.

This raises bigger questions about the role of TOD in shared transport networks. One of the reasons services like Uber and Lyft, not to mention autonomous cars, make some planners nervous is because they don’t have a fixed node associated with them. So how do we continue to plan around them and for them? What is their relationship to transit? And, by extension, to transit-oriented development?

To answer these questions we need to re-think what transit is, just as we’re re-thinking what TOD is. If a chain of autonomous vehicles with vehicle-to-vehicle communications operate in a train-set type format, is that functioning just as transit would? Is that more or less efficient than the current local bus systems in some cities? I know this scares some people to talk about, and the answer often seems to be some sort of litmus test as to whether or not you really support public transportation, but I think to have an honest conversation we have to get rid of the sacred cows.

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