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Keeping America Moving

By John Addison (10/11/08). A record number of Americans are saving thousands per year by using public transportation from one day per week to living car free. In 2007, a 50-year record of 10.3 billion trips per year, saving over 4 billion gallons of car gasoline use. 2008 will set a new record that may approach 11 billion trips as more commuters leave their cars parked to brave standing-room-only train and bus rides.

Fifteen thousand who run global transportation systems convened in San Diego from October 6 to 8 to examine a range of strategic issues and to review 800 exhibitors at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Expo.

As transportation managers accommodate record numbers of passengers, they face challenges. Most transportation funding is spent on highways, not on public transportation. Fare revenue is only a fraction of budgets. Loss of property and sales tax funding is forcing operators to cut budgets. Diesel fuel prices have increased 166 percent in four years.

Buses designed to stay on the road for 12 years are being kept in operation longer. When new buses are ordered, reduced fuel cost is a priority. 63 percent of buses ordered in 2007 were alt-powered using hybrid technology, natural gas as a fuel, or both. City light-rail is typically powered by electricity. Public transportation is increasingly using renewable energy (RE) by installing more solar power and contracting for RE with public utilities.

The shift to fewer car miles on highways and alt-powered transportation is helping the nation need less oil. U.S. use of oil refined products in transportation is estimated to be reduced 5 percent this year. Should rail and public transit resolve their budget crises, oil use will drop further.

Member organizations were encouraged to overcome all obstacles in accommodating record riders by Dr. Beverly Scott, APTA’s new Chair and also CEO of MARTA in Atlanta. When federal funding of public transportation expires in 2009, APTA will ask the new Congress for a $123 billion 6-year funding package.

Pushed to the wall, several major transit systems are making politically unpopular fare increases. Some are cutting routes, frequencies, and making layoffs.

In his speech, Jim Simpson, Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) Administrator encouraged executives to consider public-private partnerships (PPP). At the Expo, I visited with Veolia (NYSE: VE), the world leader in transportation service contracts and management. Veolia has 120 contracts to run transportation in 30 countries for annual revenues of about $8 billion.

A good example of an effective PPP since 1993 is Veolia’s partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada. I have personally been impressed in using their bus rapid transit while attending Las Vegas conferences. During the life of this partnership, ridership has increased from 15 to 60 million per year. At the APTA Expo, on of Las Vegas’ new 62-foot rapid transit vehicles was on display, looking more like a bullet train than a bus. The vehicles are designed by Wright with ISE doing the hybrid-electric drive systems using Siemens components. Fifty of the new vehicles will be delivered to Las Vegas.

For transportation operators that cannot make capital expenditures, PPP can provide a way for private corporations to buy needed equipment, then utilize the rail and buses as part of service contracts. Unfortunately, the expansion of public-private partnerships (PPP) envisioned by the FTA goes in the face of some of its obsolete legislated rules for funding.

In the long-term public transportation will serve a growing number of Americans because of increasing oil prices, plus increased preference for urban living by the young, by families, and by retiring boomers. As transit stops being a neglected child compared to highway funding, it will meet the financial challenge of expanding routes and increasing frequency by adding rail, adding buses and employing more drivers and maintenance professionals. Significant growth will reduce or oil dependency, make people more productive, and unclog the streets and freeways. Even those who never use transit will benefit from lower gasoline prices, less time in gridlock and breathing cleaner air.

Significant growth will be supported by high speed rail linking suburbs and linking transportation systems. Jim Simpson, (FTA) Administrator, regularly takes the 3 hour Amtrak Acela regularly from New York to Washington, D.C. Often he cannot get a seat as record demand soars ahead of investment in more rolling stock. Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million people in fiscal year 2008. The company has posted six years of ridership and revenue growth, recently benefiting from high gas and airline prices. The number of trips over the past year increased 11% and revenue 14%.

On November 4, voters in 33 states will be making decisions about approving transportation funding. In California, voting on Proposition 1A will decide if the nation has a second high-speed rail system that could cover 800 miles and carry forecasted ranges of 32 to 68 million annual rides by 2020. It will cost far less than the alternative of expanding highways and airports. Should voters give the system the green light, the $10 billion of California taxpayer funded bond will need to be matched with $10 billion federal and $10 billion of public-private partnership money. The system will be electric, using no petroleum.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile. The IRS allows you to deduct 58.5 cents per mile for business. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, insurance, and tickets add up. Most households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year.

More Americans will save thousands by using public transportation. For some it will be one day per week, for others it will be the primary way that they travel. City and regional systems are offering trip-planners, dynamic maps, and realtime GPS information to those using the Internet, text messaging, and smart phone technology. I have frequently used Google Transit to plan trips that have several transit legs. Enjoy the savings of time and money from public transportation.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with over 100 articles and reports about vehicles and transportation. Disclosure: the author is a modest long-term stockholder in Veolia. All his stock holdings are getting more modest every day. John now uses transit more frequently than his car.

Thirty Billion Fewer Miles

By John Addison (7/18/08). Faced with record gas prices, American fuel use is at a five-year low. Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles since November than during the same period a year earlier.

Americans joined their employers’ flexwork and commute programs. Families and friends linked trips together and rarely drove solo. Everyday heroes kept their gas guzzler parked most of the time and put miles on their other car which gets forty miles per gallon.

Although public transportation is effective in a compact city, it is a challenge in suburban sprawl such as Southern California, home to nearly 24 million people stretched from Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

When I grew up in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles that is famous for its Rose Parade, my father had one choice to reach his L.A. job; he crawled the stop-and-go freeways to work and came home exhausted from the stressful traffic. While attending recent conferences in Los Angeles, I was able to take a more pleasant journey from Pasadena. Each morning, I walked two blocks, waited an average of five minutes, and then boarded the Metro Rail Gold Line, a modern light-rail that took me to Union Station in the heart of L.A. From there, I took L.A.’s modern and efficient subway to the conference hotel, a half-block walk. All for $1.50 (and system-wide day passes are just $5.00).

Later in the week, I added one transfer to the Blue Line, and then walked two blocks to the L.A. Convention Center. Although a car trip would have been somewhat faster at 5 a.m., I got door to door faster than cars in rush hour gridlock. L.A.’s light-rail and subway form the backbone for effective intermodal travel.

The L.A. Union Station is also the connecting point to train service from all over the U.S., servicing Amtrak and efficient local trains such as Metrolink. L.A. Union Station also offers express bus service to L.A. Airport. In the past, I have used Metrolink to travel from Irvine and from Claremont. Metrolink is seeing a 15% increase in ridership this year.

In a few years, L.A. Union Station may also be the hub for the type of high-speed rail now enjoyed in Europe and Japan. Southern California travel time will be cut in half. Travel from L.A. to San Francisco will be two hours and forty minutes. High-Speed Rail Report

1.7 million times per day, people travel on Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro). Although light-rail is at the heart of the system, 90% of the rides are on buses, not light-rail. Much of the bus riding is similar to light-rail, using pleasant stations, pre-paid tickets for fast boarding, electronic signs that announce when the next bus will arrive, buses that seat 84 to 100 people, and some dedicated busways. Metro is using bus rapid transit that once only succeeded in South America. The Secrets of Curitiba

Although Southern California is highly dependent on foreign oil, Metro is not. Its fleet of over 2,550 buses represent the largest alt-fuel public transit fleet in the nation. Over 2,500 buses run on CNG. The natural gas is pipeline delivered to 10 Metro locations.

Last year, when I met with Metro’s General Manager Richard Hunt, and he discussed ways that more people would be served with clean transportation. He shared how Metro will move more riders at 4-minute intervals at the busiest stations. Like other major operators, Metro is under a California ARB mandate to start making 15% of its replacement fleet zero emission buses (ZEB). Metro has evaluated all of these potentially zero-emission alternatives:

• Battery electric
• Underground-electrified trolley
• Hydrogen fuel cell
• Hydrogen-blended with CNG

Currently, the most promising path to meet the ZEB requirement will be battery-electric buses. Under consideration are lithium-ion batteries operating with an electric drive train. The configuration could be similar to the six 40-foot New Flyer ISE gasoline hybrids currently on order. Metro is working with CalStart, a non-profit leader in clean transportation, and a consortium of Southern California transit operators.

Diesel and CNG buses normally need a range of at least 300 miles to cover routes for 16-plus hours daily; battery electric buses would be better suited for six to 8 hours of daily use during peak service periods (morning and evening rush hours). Ranges of 100 to 150 miles daily would be appropriate for peak battery electric use. Theoretically, with a bigger investment in batteries, advanced drive system maker ISE could actually build electric buses that meet a full 300 mile range by putting a remarkable 600kW of lithium batteries on the roof of each bus.

Critics of electric vehicles claim that oil is merely being replaced with dirty coal power plants. This is not true. There is excess grid-electricity at night. Metro already uses several MW of solar roofing with plans to expand. Coal is less than 30% of California’s electric grid mix, with megawatts of wind and concentrated solar power being added to the grid. Vehicles with electric motors and regenerative braking have reported fuel economy figures that are 300% more efficient than diesel and CNG internal combustion engine alternatives.

Yes, even in the sprawling 1,400 square mile region that Metro must service, transit is growing in use while total emissions are declining. Riders are freed from their oil dependent cars, save money riding transit, and can now enjoy the ride and breathe the air. A dollar spent on public transportation is going farther than spending ten bucks on more oil.

Copyright © 2008 John Addison. Some of this content may appear in John’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Green Lights for Better Buses

by Richard T. Stuebi

Some elements of the Cleantech Revolution are iconic: wind turbines, solar panels, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, the Toyota Prius. Other elements are just plain invisible.

Global Traffic Technologies (GTT) clearly falls into the latter camp. As profiled in the May 5 issue of Forbes, GTT sells what are called “traffic signal preemption systems”. In other words, systems that smartly switch traffic lights from red to green (or vice versa) depending upon traffic needs at that moment.

So, in cities like Calgary that have adopted these systems, a full bus during rush hour can trump a red light, leading an upcoming light to turn or remain green just for the bus to pass through. This functionality also allows the bus system (and each of the bus stops) to maintain a running tally of where each bus is currently located.

Frankly, this type of system is not rocket science, involving a fairly straightforward combination of GPS, cellular telephony, and some software and switches. Not surprisingly, the cost is by no means exhorbitant: GTT’s Optimcom system costs $5300 per intersection and $3000 per vehicle.

Even though the technology is not radical, the benefits can be substantial. Each of Calgary’s buses with the system is saving about 2000 gallons of fuel per year. Perhaps more importantly, these types of systems can significantly reduce travel times and thereby encourage more ridership — taking a lot of cars off the road, lowering aggregate fuel burn and emissions much more significantly than just the per-bus reductions indicated above.

So, the Cleantech Revolution extends also to that least glamorous of technologies: buses. Let’s hope that more bus systems investigate and adopt this class of solution. If buses can’t quite achieve the same level of passenger appeal as trains and subways in terms of comfort and speed, there’s no reason that the timeliness of their routes can’t be dramatically improved, and attract much more ridership.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

The Secrets of Curitiba

By John Addison (4/30/08). Talking with the former Mayor of Curitiba and architect, Jamie Lerner, is like talking with Santiago Calatrava about designing buildings or having an imagined conversation with Frederick Olmsted about designing parks. Jamie Lerner designs cities. More accurately, he helps all create a strategic vision of cities for people, not cities for cars.

I talked with Jamie Lerner at the EcoCity World Summit after he delivered his keynote speech to political leaders and urban planners from over seventy countries.

As one of Brazil’s most popular mayors, Lerner was elected three times. He helped transform Curitiba from collection of shanty towns to a beautiful and sustainable city of about two million. At a time when many Latin Americans were disenchanted with their politicians, Jamie Lerner had a 92% approval rating. Following his success as mayor, he served as governor of the state of Parana for 8 years.

In the late sixties, Curitiba had a contest for the best urban design for their city’s future. In 1968, the city incorporated many of the ideas of young architect Lerner into the Curitiba Master Plan. In 1971, he was appointed mayor of Curitiba.

Facing a budget crisis, he had to search for big ideas that could be implemented with little money. He greened the city by involving citizens in planting 1.5 million trees. He solved the city’s flood problems by diverting water into lakes in newly created parks. He lifted some children from poverty by paying teenagers to keep the parks clean.

Educating and involving children are at the heart of solving most problems, from poverty to transportation, observes Governor Lerner.

Any leader will tell you that change is likely to be met with strong resistance. Thinking like an architect, Jamie Lerner wanted to beautify the city with pedestrian boulevards that were car-free. Shop owners were up in arms, fearing that the change would destroy them. Then Mayor Lerner convinced some to take part in a thirty day trial. Shoppers loved it. Before the trial ended, the merchants asked that the pedestrian zone be expanded to include more streets.

Like most cities, Mayor Lerner saw a city with clogged roads that divided where people lived from where they worked. Jamie’s wisdom sparkles with humor, “A car is like a mother-in-law, you must get along but not have her run your life.” He envisioned solidarity. Ecocity Videos

Lerner got the city moving. Curitiba could not afford the light-rail systems of Europe and the U.S. which often cost more than $20 million per mile. Curitiba invented rapid transit using buses.

Bus rapid transit is successful for many reasons. Payment is simple, fixed price regardless of distance traveled. For those without prepaid passes, payment is made when entering bus shelters not while boarding the bus. Curitiba’s shelters are inviting transparent tubes with LED lighting that allow all to wait in safety. Express buses travel on dedicated lanes on major streets. The buses are double articulated to carry up to 300 people per bus, and up to 50,000 per day. Buses arrive frequently. Inviting pedestrian walkways and bikeways bring people to the stations.

Since implementing bus rapid transit, Curitiba’s population of people has tripled, yet its population of cars has declined thirty percent. Governor Lerner explained that there were only 25,000 daily passenger rides on Curitiba buses in 1974. By 2008, there are more than 2.4 million passenger rides daily. In Curitiba, bus rapid transit is far more popular than cars. 85% of the systems use the rapid transit.

Jamie Lerner, the inspiring architect and governor, has been invited around the world to help with new urban design and transportation solutions.

Transit is getting more popular in the United States, with gasoline now at record prices in all fifty states. Increasingly the United States is adopting the secrets of Curitiba. In Los Angeles, when Richard Hunt, Executive Vice President of LAMTA, showed me the Orange Line, the lessons of Curitiba were everywhere. Stations were safe and inviting. Electronic signs displayed minutes until the arrival of the next bus. Fares were paid before boarding the bus, so that there would be no cue delays as people paid drivers. Articulated buses use dedicated bus pathways. During peak hours, buses arrive every three to seven minutes.

The Orange Line has been so popular that ridership not expected until 2020 was achieved in seven months. Soon LAMTA’s bus rapid transit system will cover 35 southern California cities and cover 420 miles.

Bus rapid transit invites millions in U.S. cities such as Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Boston, Orlando, Miami, Oakland and Kansas City. As America falls into a recession while oil and gasoline prices soar, rapid transit and smart growth urban development provide solutions.

Jamie Lerner has an answer, “cidade não é problema; cidade é solucão.” The city is not a problem; the city is a solution. Cities like Curitiba are model solutions from driving less and enjoying life more.

Copyright (c) 2008 John Addison. Permission to reproduce this article is granted when this copyright notice is preserved. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.