21 Oct

A good read about the failure of public goods and transportation

Philip Brewer sent me this link via email of a commuter trying to take a closer look at the craziness of being a super commuter, and why a self-driving car isn’t the techno-utopian fix, really:

“I spend a decent amount of time trying to optimise my travel through audiobooks, podcasts, and phone calls made while driving. I also gripe about the commute probably far too often to my friends, who are considerate if not entirely sympathetic. (It’s hard to be sympathetic to a guy who has the job he wants, lives in a beautiful place, and simply has a long drive a few times a week.)

Hearing my predicament, one friend prescribed a solution: ‘You need a Google self-driving car!’ The friend in question is a top programmer for a world-leading game company, and her enthusiasm for a technical solution parallels advice I’ve gotten from my technically oriented friends, who offer cutting edge technology that is either highly unlikely to materially affect my circumstances, or would improve some aspect of my commute rather than change its core nature.”

and this:

There’s something very odd about a world in which it’s easier to imagine a futuristic technology that doesn’t exist outside of lab tests than to envision expansion of a technology that’s in wide use around the world. How did we reach a state in America where highly speculative technologies, backed by private companies, are seen as a plausible future while routine, ordinary technologies backed by governments are seen as unrealistic and impossible?

The irony of the Google car for my circumstances is that it would be inferior in every way to a train. A semi-autonomous car might let me read or relax behind the wheel, but it would be little faster than my existing commute and as sensitive to traffic, which is the main factor that makes some trips 2.5 hours and some 4 hours. Even if my Google car is a gas-sipping Prius or a plug-in hybrid, it will be less energy efficient than a train, which achieves giant economies of scale in fuel usage even at higher speeds than individual vehicles. It keeps me sealed in my private compartment, rather than giving me an opportunity to see friends who make the same trip or meet new people.

– See more at: http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2013/10/15/google-cars-versus-public-transit-the-uss-problem-with-public-goods/#sthash.vpTNQP6e.dpuf

(Via Google cars versus public transit: the US’s problem with public goods | … My heart’s in Accra.)

16 Oct

A bus that goes where you want it to

The developed world ‘discovers’ the mini-bus. In the Virgin Islands we called these dollar taxis (or dollar cabs?, some people called them ‘safari buses,’ they were these structures bolted to the back of pickup trucks, on the bench 10-15 people could sit facing each other) and a physicist once studied the patterns of minibus transport systems and found that they were more efficient than anyone had hitherto realized. I’ve always found their lack of presence particularly noticeable in the US, though I gather in parts of NYC they’re unlicensed and illegal and sketchy (and proof that demand is there).

“Like other private taxi or pick up services, Kutsuplus is made to allow users a bit more flexibility in city traveling but with a lower price point. Through a smart phone app, a user can set a departure time just minutes in the future. The app issues a ticket after withdrawing money from the wallet, and draws a walking map to the departure stop.”

(Via The newest in city mobility: a bus that goes where you want it to : TreeHugger.)

10 Oct

Intercity travel is latent, but here’s a promising development or two via buses

This map of Megabus hub and spoke operations demonstrates the correct analysis of America 2050’s US megaregions.

First, MegaBus:


America 2050’s US megaregions and areas of population focus:


Their estimates for how to set up a passenger rail network:


I find it fairly uncanny how closely MegaBus is emulating that (and MegaBus has been tinkering with the connections on that map a lot, making it look closer and closer to the 2050 network connection map).

Sadly the MegaBus system outside the NorthEast Corridor isn’t easy to use (I tried testing their app out) and doesn’t figure itself out in terms of how to make connections happen.

But Wanderu, a Kayak for bus travel, is starting to get all the non-Megabus buses together into an API, and it’s very interesting. There’s a hunger for intercity travel that is latent and just beginning to be paid attention to…

15 Aug

Public Transit and density multipliers getting more study, with amazing economic benefits

Density and moving people around in density is the most critical innovation and economic enabler. The city is technology, and a force multiplier. So is transit:

“Every time a metro area added about 4 seats to rails and buses per 1,000 residents, the central city ended up with 320 more employees per square mile — an increase of 19 percent. Adding 85 rail miles delivered a 7 percent increase. A 10 percent expansion in transit service (by adding either rail and bus seats or rail miles) produced a wage increase between $53 and $194 per worker per year in the city center. The gross metropolitan product rose between 1 and 2 percent, too.

On average, across all the metro areas in the study, expanding transit service produced an economic benefit via agglomeration of roughly $45 million a year — with that figure ranging between $1.5 million and $1.8 billion based on the size of the city. Big cities stand to benefit more simply because they have more people sharing the transit infrastructure. They also tend to have more of the traffic that cripples agglomeration in the absence of transit.

‘As to how big it is,’ says Chatman of this hidden economic benefit, ‘it’s most likely to be large in places that have congested road conditions, transit networks that are at capacity — those kinds of places — and probably less in smaller cities without very much road congestion.’

Chatman stresses that because his method is so new, the results must be replicated before they’re accepted. He also knows that some people will question the causality of the data: How can the researchers know, for instance, that transit alone is responsible for agglomeration? In response, Chatman points to the controls he and Noland installed in their statistical models — and to the fact that he’s been critical of rail as an economic investment strategy in the past.

‘Put it this way: I’m a skeptic on this stuff, and I was surprised to see these results so robust,’ he says.”

(Via Public Transit Is Worth Way More to a City Than You Might Think – Eric Jaffe – The Atlantic Cities.)