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The Mercury News has published an article on the plague of HOV cheaters. Speaking on behalf of the MTC, the article describes the problem as unsolvable — and that the region should just accept a 39% cheating rate.

The Merc describes various “Buck Rogers” gizmos the MTC has tried, everything from phone apps to “laser-guided” cameras, to attack the problem. Of course these technologies are expensive vapor-ware — which completely misses the point. There exists a very simple and very inexpensive solution to the problem that requires no new technology:

The core concept that would permit automated, electronic enforcement of occupancy relies on changing the definition of an eligible carpool. Instead of allowing any vehicle with three or more occupants, a revised policy would limit eligibility to pre-registered carpools. Such carpools would be required to have a transponder. Thus, the only enforcement required on the HOT lane itself would be ordinary electronic toll enforcement: communications equipment to interface with the vehicle-mounted transponder and video cameras to make an image of the license plate of any vehicle without a valid transponder/account combination. The only other enforcement required would be periodic verification that the carpool is still in operation, as originally registered. Thus, enforcement would be off-road, not on-road.

Shifting from casual to registered carpools would return to the original trip-reduction purpose on which the creation of HOV lanes was based: providing an incentive for fellow employees to share rides to work, leaving one or more vehicles at home and thereby reducing congestion on the roads during peak periods. Over the last several decades, a number of studies have found that large fractions of those traveling to work as carpools were in fact “fam-pools”—members of the same family who would be traveling together in any case (and whose carpooling therefore does not reduce peak-period vehicle use). For example, one analysis of data from the National Personal Travel Survey and the National Household Travel Survey found that fam-pools constituted 75.5% of all journey-to-work carpools in 1990 and 83% in 2001.

Metro-area ride-sharing agencies are the most likely entity to register eligible carpools and to work with employers to audit their continuing existence (and hence eligibility for free or reduced-rate access to HOT lanes). Such agencies already have experience working with employers on carpooling and vanpooling programs. The ongoing existence and operation of vanpools is monitored and audited, since the vehicles are often provided by a public agency and must be retrieved if the vanpool ceases to operate or drops below a threshold number of participants. Many of these agencies are supported, in whole or in part, by the state DOT or other public agency, so this new role could become part of their ongoing contractual obligations.

This is such an obvious solution, one has to wonder why it is never discussed within the MTC. It re-enforces the notion that the only purpose behind carpool lanes is to greenwash highway widenings.

And by the way, if you are wondering where this radical idea comes from, the above quote is from the Car-bitarians at Reason. You know things have really gone off the rails when Reason makes more sense than the ‘progressive’ planners at the MTC.

EBT-L-CHEATERS-06XX-03

MTC staffers testing out an ‘occupancy-detection’ camera.

 

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Over the years there have been some pretty bad pedestrian safety PSA’s. But this one from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is stupendously bad. No kid should ever have to worry about giant monster trucks blasting down a neighborhood street. What makes this ‘educational’ video especially bad is that the NHTSA has broad regulatory powers in this area, but chooses not to outlaw dangerous vehicles.

BART fare evasion has become the cause celebre, with the agency given a blank check for security-theater. A partial list of projects includes $60 million to secure stairwells at night and $18.4 million for new fencing. BART may even spend $200 million replacing faregates with newer models.

According to BART officials, the fare-evasion costs the agency $25 million per year. That might sound like a lot, but in relative terms it is 5% of ridership (which compares favorably to other big city metros).

What if I told you there was another transportation system in the Bay Area with a much worse cheating problem? A large network covering the whole Bay Area, whose evasion rate was a whopping 24 percent?

I’m referring of course to the HOV highway network. MTC studies find that 24% of vehicles in the HOV lane lack the necessary number of passengers.

And whereas BART fare-dodgers don’t slow up trains, HOV cheaters very much clog up highways — to the point where average speeds in the HOV lane have slowed to a crawl. This in turn slows public transit and other buses, with large economic cost.

Unlike BART, the HOV lanes operate on the honor system and there are no plans to change that. So despite the rampant cheating, don’t expect Caltrans to install toll-booths or K-rail to “harden” HOV lanes.

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Caltrain is now installing overhead catenary, as part of the electrification project. The next step will be to test/validate the electrical systems.

Overhead catenary systems (OCS) is a mature technology, with a large and established market of products and services to test line voltage. Being in Silicon Valley, one might expect Caltrain to use the most advanced of these technologies — or not:

The traction power substations and an overhead contact system (OCS) must be verified to be mechanically and electrically compatible with the new bi-level electric multiple unit vehicles (EMUs). Rather than bringing two new systems online simultaneously, PCEP staff determined it would be in the PCEP’s best interest to first test the traction power system and OCS using a used electric rail vehicle. This staged approach will greatly reduce the likelihood of exposing the new EMUs to possible 25 kilovolt-ampere (kVa) traction power abnormalities.

Staff recommends the purchase of two used electric locomotives: one that will be utilized for testing and the other that will be utilized for replacement parts. After the purchase from Mitsui is complete, a separate contract with Amtrak will provide overhaul services for the electric locomotives, as well as storage, acceptance testing and commissioning, training, and transporting the locomotives to CEMOF.

The budget for the work associated with both contracts is $1.5 million.

Upon completion of the electrification system testing, scheduled for 2020, the Caltrain will dispose of the used locomotives.

So the plan is to spend $1.5 million refurbishing two 40 year-old AEM-7AC locomotives, and use them one-time to do a “smoke-test” on the electrical system — and then throw them away! It is hard to imagine a more expensive and ridiculous way to do line testing.

AEM-9791

AEM-7AC being recycled for parts

Oh, Canada

Saskatoon City Council gives in to NIMBYs, and removes a cycletrack from downtown:

City crews are already hard at work removing bike lanes from Fourth Avenue N in Saskatoon. In April, city council voted to remove the protected bike lanes from the street after members of the public complained.

The dedicated bike lanes were added to the city’s downtown two years ago as a way to keep cyclists safe and a way to promote cycling in the downtown. Detractors were concerned about the lanes limiting parking spaces and creating an unsafe, confusing situation for drivers.

Previously, council had wanted to begin expanding the city’s bike lane network by 2021, but that plan’s timeline now seems to be up in the air.

This was a parking-protected cycletrack, so the complaints about loss of parking is bizarre. And just for giggles, here is the Saskatoon Climate Action Plan.

Other than some vague references to some Green New Deal, Presidential candidates have avoided talking about transportation policy — with one exception. Sen. Mike Gravel has published a 21st Century Transportation Vision to his campaign web page. For a candidate considered quixotic and unserious, he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to transportation policy.

At a cost of over $30,000 per space, parking garages are the most expensive way for passengers to reach a BART station. BART also gives that parking away at below-market cost. The most vocal advocate for parking garages is BART Director Debora Allen. Allen also opposed the BART-housing bill. So it is strange to see the SF Chronicle describe her as a fiscal conservative:

Director Debora Allen, the board’s fiscal conservative, also hailed the appointment as a major improvement for the transit agency. She was heavily involved in the search for candidates.

“While some colleagues and staff began the selection process with some trepidation—uncertain that the IG [Inspector-General] position was necessary and concerned it had been forced upon BART — the process of developing the job description and listening to highly qualified inspector general candidates from across the country helped them understand the potential operational improvements an inspector general could bring to the agency,” Allen said. “The selection process brought us together to focus on what always should be front and center: the continuous improvement of the transit services we provide.”

Indeed, the job of the IG is to reduce costs at the transit agency. But what are the chances the IG recommends changes to car-centric BART stations, which consume huge operating subsidies?