Why the Bus Got So Bad, and How to Save It

By John Surico, CITYLAB

TransitCenter’s Steven Higashide has created a how-to guide to help city leaders and public transportation advocates save struggling bus systems.

“…the biggest problem [with public transit] in most cities is that we don’t run enough service. You could use federal transportation funding to buy a bus, or stripe a bus lane, but you can’t use it to hire a bus operator, or dispatchers, or people who are planning bus priority projects. In the book, I write about this really bizarre set of affairs in the [2008] stimulus package, where cities all over the country were using federal stimulus dollars to buy buses. At the same time, they had to lay off all of their bus operators. That’s not really doing anything to further equity for people on the ground.”

If you had flicked through the cavernous layers of New York City transit Twitter last Thursday morning (and practically ever since), all you would have seen were buses.

There they are, speeding down Manhattan’s 14th Street on freshly painted red lanes devoid of private car traffic, which is now banned for most hours of the day. This was the first glimpse of a true bus-centric street in America’s largest city, a feat of traffic engineering that fended off civil lawsuits to become a reality. The busway is now over a week old and has already increased the speeds of one of the city’s pokiest routes. In hindsight, its mission statement—give buses priority, and they will move efficiently—seems so painfully obvious, that it now seems difficult to believe it took this long to pull off.

But in another way, the battle to clear 14th Street for the workhorse of mass transit is par for the course. Public buses supply 4.7 billion rides every year in the U.S.*, and get very little respect in return. Buses, anywhere, are typically ignored in the media, in federal funding debates, and in industry discussions on mobility and sustainability. When they are mentioned, it’s usually with a negative association: grueling delays, declining ridership, and service cuts. Given all the buzz about “shared mobility” as the future of transportation—Ubers, scooters, and one day, perhaps, autonomous cars—the mode that’s already helping millions of people split rides gets left out of the conversation.

What’s the matter with the bus, and how can it claim its rightful place in the urban landscape? In his new book, Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit (Island Press), Steven Higashide lays out the answer. “Most of what we hear about the bus in the United States is demoralizing,” he writes. But it doesn’t have to be, says the author, who’s the director of research at TransitCenter, the New York-based transit think tank and advocacy organization.

CityLab caught up with Higashide to talk about how federal transportation policy let buses fall behind, what makes a world-class bus system, and what advocates, elected officials, and riders need to do to have their ideas heard and implemented. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Read more at https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/10/better-bus-system-public-transit-book-cities-federal-funding/599776/

E-bikes are wildly popular in the Bay Area. Can they really replace cars?

By Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle

When Liza Lutzker threw her daughters a back-to-school party at the Berkeley Rose Garden, she and her husband packed all the provisions on their electric cargo bikes: two boxes of firewood, food for 30 people, a water dispenser, plates, napkins, glasses and two kids.

Then they rode 2 miles from their home on Milvia Street to the terraced amphitheater on Euclid Avenue, high in the leafy-green hills. Six years ago, Lutzker would have hauled everything in a car. Now she travels almost exclusively by foot and bike.

Her family illustrates a culture shift in the Bay Area, where e-bikes, once conceived as a luxury item, are becoming a widely accepted form of transport. Enthusiasts view them as an option for commuters or for weekend warriors who want speed and distance with less work. In the case of cargo e-bikes, they’re a solution for the types of trips that suburban parents once made in minivans: grocery shopping, school drop-off, shuttling kids to soccer games — even getting to BART, which has begun filling its parking lots with housing.

The trend is picking up globally, though it’s become particularly noticeable in Marin County, Berkeley and San Francisco. That pleases e-bike riders and merchants, even as it highlights the deficiencies of local roads, where collisions are frequent and some bicycle lanes are marked only with a picture of a bicycle.
Continue reading “E-bikes are wildly popular in the Bay Area. Can they really replace cars?”

Jeffrey Tumlin Named SFMTA’s New Director of Transportation

KQED Radio, hosted by Scott Shafer

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has a new director of transportation, Jeffrey Tumlin. Tapped by Mayor London Breed earlier this month, Tumlin will be the agency’s fifth director when he begins the job on Dec. 16. The SFMTA currently has a $1.2 billion annual budget, employs more than 6,000 people and serves about 714,000 passengers each day. We’ll talk to Tumlin about his plans for the agency, including his pledges to fill bus driver shortages and fix the subway, and we want to hear from you: what are your biggest issues with the SFMTA and what are your hopes for this new chapter of leadership?

Link to 51 minute interview

Six Secrets From the Planner of Sevilla’s Lightning Bike Network

Michael Anderson, Streetsblog USA

Here’s one way to understand the story of biking in Sevilla, Spain: It went from having about as much biking as Oklahoma City to having about as much biking as Portland, Oregon.

It did this over the course of four years.

Speaking last week at the PlacesForBikes conference, one of the masterminds of that transition — which is only now becoming widely known in the United States — filled in some of the gaps in that story.

Manuel Calvo had spent years in Sevilla bicycling activism and was working as a sustainability consultant when he landed the contract to plan a protected bike lane network for his city. The result was the Plan de la Bicicleta de Sevilla, mapping the fully connected protected bike lane network that would make Sevilla’s success possible.

But as Calvo explained in his keynote Wednesday and an interview afterward, the story might not have played out that way.

Here are some things for U.S. bike believers to learn from Calvo’s account.

Read the rest at https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/05/07/six-secrets-from-the-planner-of-sevillas-lightning-bike-network/#new_tab

Free Transportation Or Better Transportation?

Excerpts from an article by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica

Free public transportation may not be the panacea for urban congestion many advocates think it is …. an experiment with free transportation in Austin, Texas between October of 1989 and December of 1990 …. found significant issues, not the least of which was that buses became rolling homeless shelters. The report summary concluded,

In the fare-free demonstrations in larger systems reviewed in this paper, most of the new riders generated were not the choice riders they were seeking to lure out of automobiles in order to decrease traffic congestion and air pollution.

The larger transit systems that offered free fares suffered dramatic rates of vandalism, graffiti, and rowdiness due to younger passengers who could ride the system for free, causing numerous negative consequences. Vehicle maintenance and security costs escalated due to the need for repairs associated with abuse from passengers. The greater presence of vagrants on board buses also discouraged choice riders and caused increased complaints from long-time passengers.

In other words, the promised reward — fewer cars on the road — did not materialize and the costs of operating the public transit system increased significantly. The TransitCenter has examined several cities that have implemented free public transit programs and found mixed results. In Dunkirk, France, the plan has seen ridership increase 85%, but in Tallinn, Estonia, a similar program saw only a 3% rise in ridership. In general, TransitCenter suggests, people are perfectly happy to pay for public transportation if it is efficient, clean, and timely. It says on its website,

“When researching our forthcoming report, Who’s on Board 2019, we surveyed 1700 transit riders in seven different cities across the US. What we heard is that most low-income bus riders rate lowering fares as less important than improving the quality of the service. This suggests that if a transit agency had to choose between devoting funds to reducing fares or to maintaining or improving service, most riders would prefer the latter. The idea of making transit “free” turns out to be less appealing to the public than making improvements to transit.”

What are superior and sustainable ways to move the needle on ridership? Making transit fast, frequent, and reliable. In just a few short years, Seattle has nearly tripled the number of people able to walk to frequent transit, and ridership continues to climb. Ridership has also been gaining in San Francisco, where SFMTA has an ongoing program to speed up buses. Cities like Austin, Richmond, and Columbus are redesigning their bus networks to better connect people to jobs, and seeing ridership growth as a result.

TransitCenter says the cost of parking or accessing cities by car can make a big difference in the number of people riding public transit. In London, congestion charges have led to an 18% increase in people taking the subway. In Los Angeles, Phil Washington, CEO of LA Metro recently created a stir when he proposed a similar congestion charge could raise $12 billion a year — money that could be used to fund free public transportation with plenty left over. Under his plan, buses on major routes would come every 90 seconds. The plan is a long way from being adopted but it has created lots of healthy debate, which is a good thing. TransitCenter concludes its latest analysis of the value of free transportation this way:

Free transit makes for a terrific news hook. But the only way to see the full benefits of transit – like improved air quality, less congestion, and more vibrant cities is for people to actually start riding transit in substantial numbers. To this end, agencies should immediately make transit more accessible by offering discounts to riders who need them the most. More employers should be compelled, whether through penalty or incentive, to subsidize transit passes.

But what advocates and policymakers should actually be focusing on is a multi-pronged approach to make driving less attractive, and undoing policies that make driving feel free. Cities and transit agencies should work together to raise parking rates and replace swaths of curbside parking with transit priority streets.

And while congestion pricing isn’t feasible for most US cities, large metro areas with robust transit networks should start laying the groundwork. Funneling money from these pursuits directly into improving transit will yield precisely the type of benefits sought by proponents of free transit.

The Takeaway

The takeaway is this. The paradigm that says anyone should be free to drive into any city at any time — a notion that became firmly rooted in the American psyche after the explosion of suburbia after World War II — needs to be a blown up and replaced with a new one that emphasizes public transport options that meet the needs of most members of society at affordable prices. The age of the car is ending. It’s time to move on to what’s next.

And let’s not forget that any new public transit options need to utilize zero emissions vehicles, whether they are buses, ride sharing vans, or other vehicles. There is no point in making it easier to get around if doing so results in a dying planet.

Source: https://cleantechnica.com/2019/12/08/kansas-city-is-first-major-city-in-america-to-offer-free-public-transportation-is-that-a-good-thing/

Scooters Offer Chance to Rethink Urban Rights of Way

by William Fulton, California Planning & Development Report

From Central Park West to San Diego’s hip North Park neighborhood, cities are removing parking spaces, replacing them with bike lanes, and getting pushback from residents and business owners.

In urban neighborhoods across the country, well-capitalized electric scooter companies are invading, sometimes met with support from policymakers who see them as a useful transportation mode and sometimes met with resistance from residents and politicians who view them as a safety hazard and little more than metal street litter.

What’s really going on here? Depending on how you look view transportation, bikes and scooters are the key to future, clean urban mobility or a sideshow that distracts from maintaining mobility across large metropolis. But I think the basic problem – the reason we’re having a hyper-emotional discussion about these transportation modes on both sides – is that we’re not framing the issue right.

The problem isn’t that bikes and scooters are necessary or that they’re a menace. The problem is that, in urban locations across America, we need an intermediate mode of travel between cars and walking – an easy to way to travel between a half-mile and two miles. In the transit business, this is called the “first and last mile” problem. Cars are a hassle and walking is too far, so these intermediate modes need a right of way, whether they are bikes, scooters, Segways or vehicles that haven’t been invented yet.

On urban streets, we know how to accommodate cars that go between 25 and 45 miles an hour, which often also wind up parking on the street. We also know how to accommodate pedestrians (though we don’t always do this well), who tend to travel at about three miles an hour. What happens when somebody shows up in a small vehicle that travels 10 to 15 miles an hour? They either travel in the street, where they’re too small and too slow to navigate amidst car traffic comfortably; or they travel on the sidewalk, where they are too big and too fast to travel amidst pedestrian traffic comfortably. And where do they park?

What’s happening is that cities are taking space away from cars – parking spaces – in order to give it to these intermediate vehicles a thoroughfare. (The most persistently amusing example of the problem this creates is police cars parking in bike lanes).

Read more at http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/20190829

The importance of reducing VMT by 1% per year

by Steve Birdlebough

Many cities and counties are adopting emergency declarations regarding the Climate Disruption crisis. Some places have shown progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their water and power sectors, however it seems much more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector.

Reports and studies by the Air Resources Board tell us that during the next 15 years it will be necessary to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by more than 1% per year for each California resident. Merely shifting people into electric vehicles will NOT achieve the needed reductions in GHG emissions. In part, this is because many vehicles now on the road will be emitting greenhouse gases for years to come.

A 1% per year reduction in driving may seem small, but steady reductions in our collective driving habit (vehicle miles traveled [VMT] per capita) will become significant.

The SCTLC can play an important role by educating local policy makers about equitable strategies to reduce driving while maintaining a healthy economy. Depending on the geography, work force, and economic drivers, policies to be considered are:
– Support climate-friendly sharing of autos, electric bicycles, scooters, etc.
-Make more employers aware of the benefits, and ways to manage telecommuting.
– Convenient, attractive & safe trails for bicycles, horses, and pedestrians
– Make low cost transit passes and free shuttles widely available
– Improve the quantity and convenience of bus, train and shuttle services
– Cease subsidizing automobile parking (progressively unbundle parking costs)
– Build most new residences near shopping, work places, and public transit
– Avoid construction or expansion of roadways that invite more congestion

In November, 2018 we saw the power that groups and chapters exercised in defeating Proposition 3 (the pay-to-play water bond). The Transportation & Sustainable Communities Committee is urging every chapter and group to engage policy makers in efforts to significantly reduce per capita VMT and GHG emissions related to
transportation.

City councils and boards of supervisors should begin to receive VMT per capita progress reports annually. Within a few years, candidate interviews can present an opportunity for discussion of these issues.

Fixing potholes could suck up all the new “Measure M” money

A Pavement System Preservation report is summarized on page 22 of the SCTA’s TAC agenda for this Thursday, September 26.

The report says that an additional $964 million would be needed over the next 30 years just to maintain existing pothole conditions for all of Sonoma County—$32 million per year! That’s about $7 million per year more than the money raised last year by the current 1/4-cent transportation sales tax (Measure M, enacted in 2004).

If we expect to rebuild roads in all of the jurisdictions of the County to achieve a “state of good repair” over the next 30 years, $75 million would be required every year—more than twice as much as is needed just to keep the number of potholes from increasing.

Clearly, policy makers made a mistake decades ago, when they allowed so many developments with so many roads to be constructed. They should have calculated the burdens that such projects place on public treasuries.

Last week we saw the Board of Supervisors approve up to 1,900 new accessory dwelling units. But the planners say the impact of several thousand more autos would be “negligible.”

Where does it all stop, and how do we get adequate funding for bike-pedestrian trails and more transit into any extension of the Measure M sales tax?

Should electric vehicle drivers pay per mile?

Laura Bliss, CityLab

Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

More than 1 million electric cars are now zipping (quietly) around the United States. That’s still a tiny fraction of the nation’s 260 million-strong vehicle fleet, but EVs hit a sales record of 208,000 registrations in 2018. As more mass-market plug-in models hit the showrooms, more charging stations pop up, and the menace of “range anxiety” fades, new EV drivers are born every day.

But are all those Bolts, Volts, Leafs, and Teslas paying their fair share for the asphalt they drive on? The Highway Trust Fund, the federal government’s purse for road maintenance, depends on the 18 cents per gallon U.S. motorists pay in gasoline taxes. But it’s nearly insolvent, in part because Americans drive more fuel-efficient machines than before. So states like California, Washington, and Illinois are mulling a “mileage tax,” where drivers pay a fee based on the number of miles driven, rather than the amount of gas they burn. Oregon, where a pilot program asks participants to pay 1.7 cents per mile in lieu of paying a gas tax, is the example to follow.

Yet the question of getting plug-ins to pay up may be trickier than it seems. In a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Lucas Davis, a professor of business and technology and a director of U.C. Berkeley’s Energy Institute, and James Sallee, a professor in the school’s department of agricultural and resource economics, estimate that while the U.S. does indeed forgo millions in tax revenue thanks to EVs, instituting a special tax on electric vehicles might produce unwanted side effects.

Read more at https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/07/electric-vehicles-gas-tax-mileage-fees-highway-trust-fund/594466/

Cars & Other Motor Vehicles

by Joel Woodhull

Conflicts
Cars have many obvious virtues. They are the mainstay of our transportation system. They are deeply imbedded in the ways we live and will likely remain so for a very long time.

Being associated with the idea of freedom came early in the 1900’s. Privately owned traction companies and railroads were viewed as rapacious monopolies. The automobile became the symbol of democracy and freedom. It enabled the common man to get out from under the domination of the transport barons.

But an interesting reversal has taken place over the last 50 years. The automobile was so successful, in accumulating hidden subsidies to bolster its virtues, that its numbers overwhelmed its facilities.

Today there is widespread agreement that there are far too many of them. Even their advertisers recognize how much people dislike being inundated by car traffic, and therefore often depict cars on roads all by themselves. Lonely cars have become the dream, while real cars become ever more gregarious.

How much driving is there in Sonoma County? The recent Footprint project found that the per capita annual VMT in the county is about the same as in the U.S. as a whole. But it varies quite a bit within the county – with residents of rural areas imposing the greatest VMT burden on the County. We used the data used earlier in the Footprint project to map the averages in different zones of the county.

Patterns of travel
Sonoma County is unusual in having a high percentage of people who both live and work within the county. Tables based on data from MTC show intercounty commutes for seven decades, between Sonoma and Marin and other counties of the Bay Area. To print the tables, download PDF file.

There isn’t much data collected on auto travel, except for the journey to work, which is typically the longest daily trip for workers. But we can get a partial picture of County travel from published data. From the U.S. Census we can see whether people that live in the cities and other named places drive or use other means to get to work . You can compare your town with towns elsewhere in the U.S. with an easy-to-use database provided by the Iowa-based organization, Bikes-At-Work.

Car-Sharing
One of the bright spots in the efficient use of automobiles is car-sharing. By getting away from the personal relationship we have with cars, we not only free ourselves from that co-dependency, we ameliorate one of the major faults of a system based on personal cars — it is a huge waste of space. Since most cars spend their time idly taking up valuable space, any form of sharing will reduce that inefficiency.

A number of car-sharing organizations have come about within the last decade. In November 2002 there were 18 of them in the United States, serving more than 12,000 members, according to an article in the L.A. Times.

For a detailed background on the niche of car-sharing, see “Carsharing; Vehicle Rental Services That Substitute for Private Vehicle Ownership” in the TDM Encyclopedia of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI).

A view of the rapid development of car-sharing worldwide can be seen at the website of the Car Sharing Network. For Bay Area developments, see City CarShare.

Reducing Congestion
Certainly the most interesting recent action to reduce congestion took place in London, where Mayor Ken Livingstone, assisted by Robert Kiley, a former C.I.A. official, business leader and transit expert from New York City, drew a cordon around central London and began charging car drivers a hefty fee to enter.

By most accounts in the last year, this program has been a success, and other cities are looking at emulation. It may be unlikely to ever happen in Sonoma County, but it is at least instructive as to the possibility of taming the automobile. See New York Times article of April 20, 2003.

Better Efficiency
In the very near term, one of the simplest steps people can take to help reduce the pressure on resources is to step up to higher fuel efficiency. This is particularly important for owners of SUVs that by now have realized they don’t really need their special capabilities. Those who wait until world events get ahead of them may have to give those things away. Hybrid cars from Toyota and Honda in Japan have been on the market long enough now to see a developing market.