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Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

At its March 6 meeting, the VTA Board received the Supplemental EIR for the Vasona LRT extension. This $175 million project will add one or two new stations, and expand the Winchester station.

Now you are probably thinking that with Silicon Valley’s massive housing shortage, the VTA would be planning to use these stations for TOD, right?

Sadly, no. Here is the new Winchester Station-and-Park-and-Ride lot:

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And here is the new Vasona Junction Station-and-Park-and-Ride lot:

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And here is the Phase-2 (optional) Hacienda Station-and-Park-and-Ride:

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By the year 2035, the extension is projected to generate 729 new daily transit trips. How awesome is that!

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Here is one group of economists that understands the problem with Buy-America policies. In their paper The Political Economy of Public Bus Procurement: The Role of Regulation, Energy Prices and Federal Subsidies, Professors Li, Kahn, and Nickelsburg report that the American bus fleet is more expensive and more polluting than that of other countries:

This absence of international trade has multiple implications. First, the absence of international competition likely leads to high prices. This could result in fewer buses due to capital constraint and hinder the economics of scale that is vital for public transit (Morhing 1972; Parry and Small 2009). While it is difficult to construct a hedonic bus price regression where we control for key metro bus characteristics, our research suggests that measured in comparable units, buses in Tokyo and Seoul are half the price of U.S. buses and buses produced in China are even cheaper. While cynics might question the quality of China’s buses, it is notable that wealthy and well governed Singapore is importing buses from China.

In the absence of international competition, U.S. tax payers face a higher price for subsidizing urban bus services and U.S owners of the domestic firms that produce the buses gain some monopoly rents. There is a fundamental asymmetry in that a small group of domestic producers benefit from the absence of imports while the costs borne by tax payers are broadly spread out (Stigler 1971, Becker 1985). Based on data from 1997 to 2011, the average price for a U.S metro bus (in year 2011 dollars) was $309,000 with the 10th percentile of the empirical distribution being $104,000 and the 90th percentile at $497,000.

A second implication of the absence of bus imports is extra energy consumption and hence greenhouse gas emissions. The bus fleets in Seoul and Tokyo are both more fuel efficient than in the U.S. The fleet fuel economy of buses in the U.S. was 3.54 miles per gallon (of gasoline-equivalent fuel) in 2011, compared with 4.74 in Tokyo which also operates a diesel-dominated fleet of about 1500 buses. In Seoul, the average fuel economy of 61 diesel buses was 5.05 and that of 7,469 CNG buses was 4.04 in 2011.

Chinese electric bus, being tested for use in Los Angeles. A rare example of a foreign bus manufacturer selling to the US market.

This Chinese electric bus, being tested for use in Los Angeles, is a rare example of a foreign bus manufacturer selling to the US market.

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The Diridon Station Area Plan leaves a lot to be desired. Billions will be spent on bringing BART and HSR into the station — and yet, the San Jose City Council will do little to take advantage of that infrastructure. For the most part, the station area will be a sea of parking.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Even Rod Diridon says the plan sucks:

Missing from the plan itself is Diridon’s larger vision for Silicon Valley. Diridon, currently the executive director of the congressionally created Mineta Transportation Institute, advocates for a Silicon Valley dominated by high-rise, mixed-use towers built on car-free platforms above train stations.

It’s the only way to escape a future clogged with miserable traffic, he says.

The current plan for Diridon Station, while exciting compared to the area’s current uses, doesn’t propel San Jose — and Silicon Valley — forward as far as it should. The development envisioned for the area can be taller and denser, forming a model for future transit-oriented development. “The current plan is the next generation of the modest evolution of San Jose instead of the paradigm shift that would make San Jose an internationally recognized city,”

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Behold! The New WTC Station

Behold…the new platform at the WTC station. This project, a decade in the making, is truly world class leadership in a transit station design. Let’s go over the highlights:

  • Expensive and functionally useless mezzanine level……Check!
  • Long walkway through the station…..Check!
  • Kitschy public art displays…..Check!
  • Support columns plonked directly in front of stairs and escalators….Check and Check!
  • Low hang ceiling above platform…..Check!
  • Dangerously narrow platform spaces…..Check!

Bravo Port Authority. Your clever design will surely be replicated all over the country.

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Good thing eminent domain is being used to protect train stations from TOD:

Progress on acquiring land in the Crossroads Business Park for the 1,500-space parking lot at the planned station is moving along more slowly. Officials had originally expected the station to be open by now, but numerous issues have popped up, with the most recent problems caused by stalled negotiations for land for the commuter parking lot.

The county had been negotiating with businessmen George Lester and Fitz Johnson, who own the property needed for VRE parking. The businessmen recently gained county approval to build 610 apartment units and commercial space next to the station site.

But the negotiations for the roughly 25 acres for the parking lot have proven fruitless. So the county recently asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to handle the property acquisition.

“They can facilitate it better,” said Spotsylvania County Administrator Doug Barnes.

 

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MBTA’s Buggy Railcars

Here is a textbook example of all the problems Buy-America causes for new railcar orders:

A long-awaited fleet of MBTA commuter rail cars, delivered 2½ years late by the South Korean manufacturer, is now so plagued by mechanical, engineering, and software problems that it has to be shipped to a facility in Rhode Island to be fitted with new parts.

Even as a T spokesman described the problems with the cars as “standard operating procedure,” rail workers and their union representatives said the situation is unprecedented, and federal officials acknowledged they are “monitor[ing] the situation closely.”

“In my 40-some years of railroad experience, we’ve never seen problems like this,” said Tom Murray, president of the local chapter of the Transport Workers Union of America.

But Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials say the problems — including issues with doors, air-conditioning, brakes, and signal software — are a normal part of introducing new, more technologically advanced train cars into a transit system.

“Railroad coaches are not like new autos that a buyer drives off the lot,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “Modifications are made as necessary. . . . This is standard operating procedure throughout the transit industry.”

First, you have to marvel at the MBTA blaming the problems on a more “technologically advanced” train car. For God’s sake, these are primitive commuter coaches. To think that toilets, air-conditioning, and doors are some bleeding edge technology!

But Pesaturo is technically correct that all this debugging is “standard operating procedure” for the US transit industry. That is because railcars have to be custom-designed — in order to comply with the Buy-America rules, and the FRA nonsense.

There is a better way. Let’s do what every other transit agency in the world does: use off-the-shelf trains, follow the global standards. Why shouldn’t the MBTA buy railcars just like the new auto buyer?

So it was inevitable that MBTA’s special-snowflake trains would go through a considerable amount of debugging. This will go on for years. It is not only expensive, but dangerous:

Some of the problems center on the control cars, which are designed to be driven by engineers at the front of the train. The cars cannot be used on rail lines owned by Amtrak, which run south of Boston, because the car’s software is incompatible with the signal system. In some instances, signals inside the train indicate that the engineer has the OK to proceed when outside signals indicate that the train must wait. In those cases, engineers noticed that the signals did not match up and reported the problem.

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A Bit Of A Sticky Wicket

London’s busy Victoria line is shut down — because a construction team accidentally poured concrete into the signalling equipment room.

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Putting the Pub in Public Transit

Two great things about Brno: the beer and the trams. Even better is to combine them.

 

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Another Cubic Scam

Transit card, or banking scam?

The contract to replace Chicago’s fare payment system was awarded to the publicly traded corporation Cubic in 2011 by the previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, for $454 million, and implemented with alacrity by the current mayor Rahm Emanuel. I’ll have much more to say about this company and its many dubious works in the next part of this series. For now, consider this. In a separate part of the project, Chicagoans are offered the following opportunity, as advertised on the back of their Ventra cards: “Go beyond transit. Call or go online to activate your Money Network® MasterCard® Prepaid Debit Account and use your Ventra Card for purchases, direct deposit, bill pay, and at ATMs.” This is how the City of Chicago intended to turn its millions of captive citizens over to the commercial banking industry: hoovering spare change from the pockets of Chicago’s marginal communities into corporate America’s overstuffed coffers.

Chicagoans who choose to turn bus cards into bank cards will be socked with hidden fees: $1.50 every time they withdraw cash using your bus-card-cum-bank-card from an ATM,$2.95 every time they add money using a personal credit card. Two dollars for every phone call with a service representative (or, oops, each “Operator Assisted Telephone Inquiry”). Two bucks for a paper copy of their account. An “account research fee” of $10 an hour.

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On the subject of horn blasting, FRA officials will always say that safety is their primary concern. But in fact, the rule can do more harm than good. An egregious example is the iconic tracks in San Clemente, California.

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The tracks run past a beach with heavy pedestrian traffic. With no formal crossings, people just crossed wherever. This was obviously very dangerous, so the city proposed a reasonable solution – formal pedestrian crossings, with audible warning systems and other safety features. Fences and landscaping would discourage crossing, except at the designated locations. The idea was that the wayside audible warning system would provide as good (if not better) safety compared to train-mounted horns blasted from a quarter-mile away.

San Clemente applied to the FRA to obtain quiet-zone status for the crossings, but was not successful. The city then approached the PUC, asking the commission to approve quiet-zone status anyway.

Surprisingly, the PUC went along and the crossings were built. But the BNSF railroad derailed the plan, arguing that the FRA had primary jurisdiction over quiet-zones. BNSF filed a lawsuit against the PUC.

In BNSF Railway v. PUC  Judge Robie sided with BNSF. The result is that trains now have to blast horns whereas they didn’t used to (before crossings were installed). The neighbors are understandably livid about that.

While Judge Robie may be correct on the law, this is still bad policy. In his analysis of the case, UCSD Law Professor Shaun Martin notes:

The opinion might benefit from a recognition that this result is suboptimal. For everyone. It harms homeowners (as well as beach visitors). It discourages cities like San Clemente from enhancing pedestrian safety (since the result will be massive annoyance to its homeowners). It seems not to advance public safety in the slightest. It’s simply the result of an ossified historical structure — the traditional use of horns located on the train — that does not comport with modern technological capacity.

How did we ever get to the point where FRA rules prevent cities from fixing pedestrian hazards?

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