Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for June 11th, 2007

City’s White Elephant Now Looks Like a Transit Workhorse

with one comment

New York Times

Published: June 11, 2007


It is the only Personal Rapid Transit system in the world. And it was very expensive, and very controversial for quite a while. But now looks like not such a bad idea after all.


Riders can push a button and select which of the five stops they want on the system’s 3.6-mile route; it is like a horizontal elevator that can go 30 miles per hour. The driverless, 21-passenger fiberglass cars, gliding on rubber wheels and powered by electric motors, pick up riders and deliver them to their stops quickly, bypassing intermediate stations along the concrete and steel guide way. It is this individualized destination option that sets it apart from other cities’ systems.


Now I know that no one is going to build another one of these any time soon, but the idea behind it is worth exploring. And maybe with the progress of technology, something that works like this can become a feasible alternative. For we need really good, convenient and non polluting transit in the suburbs. And it needs to be as simple to use as an elevator and as reliable. And the PRT, whatever else its faults, has been very reliable indeed. It needs to be able to take people from where they are to where they want to go. Transit does not do this now. It takes you from somewhere fairly close, but probably neither pleasant nor convenient, after a wait of great variability, usually slowly and by an indirect route, to somewhere remote where you have to change to another vehicle which then wanders around a bit and drops you again not quite close enough to where you would like to be. The walking and the waiting can both be made more pleasant, though that is usually outside the remit of the transit provider. But the need to get an economic load militates against non-stop, direct service which is what people want.


As I keep repeating, we need something faster and more convenient than a bus but cheaper than a taxi. And, of course, safe. For everyone. Cars actually fail us nearly as badly as buses. They are a tremendous nuisance to everyone, including the driver. They cost a great deal – and even then the car owner does not pay anywhere near the social cost of the chosen mode. They take up huge amounts of space – when moving or parked – and they spend nearly all of the time idle, waiting to be used, representing a huge waste of capital, tied up unproductively. They kill and maim more people than our current military activities and at a rate that would be totally unacceptable for planes or trains. Car pools, car sharing, car co-ops all give a hint of the direction we need to move in, but first we have to break our economic dependence on car ownership. And that is not going to be accepted readily by the organizations that owe their existence to car ownership.


I want a car that comes when I call it, takes me where I want to go, and then vanishes from my life until I need it again. I don’t want to have to invest $20,000 in acquiring a car, or $9,000 a year in payments and operating cost. I don’t mind sharing it for some or all of the ride, provided that the people I share it with behave themselves. I should be able to bring along some stuff on some trips. It should be able to carry groups of us when we want to travel as a group or family. I don’t want to drive it. I want to use my in transit time reading, or watching or interacting with a screen with headphones on, or just watching the passing scene.


It seems to me that it is within our technological horizon to have cars which drive and park themselves. Either plug themselves in or otherwise refuel. Know where they are and can communicate with some central booking and directing computer. Be monitored, and kept from all collisions. And it seems to me that when we develop such a system not just the suburbs will be better places to live.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2007 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Transportation

Bus-only lane ineffective, study shows

with 6 comments

Vancouver Sun

The study talks about bus travel times in absolute terms. My gut instinct tells me this was one of those studies that was designed to produce the results it did. Note that there is nothing about travel time variability or reliability of service. There are a lot of bus service quality issues where absolute speed may not be the most important variable. For example, how do journey travel times now compare between modes? Is the schedule now more reliable. Was the schedule adjusted to take account of the bus lanes? What other bus priority measures were introduced or are needed? What enforcement of the bus lane was there? All it takes is one parked car and the bus lane is useless. Frankly I am not impressed.

However, it won’t be so easy the next time TransLink ask for sole access to parts of city streets during rush hour, LaClaire said.

There are plans for B-line services to be extended down Hastings to Simon Fraser University and along 41st Avenue.

“We’ll take a look at them and if our studies show a similar result we’ll probably recommend against putting in bus lanes,” he said.

See what I mean?

The Math

Lane capacity on an urban road with signalised intersections 1,000 vehicles per hour

Average vehicle occupancy in Greater Vancouver 1.3

Passenger throughput of curb lane, general traffic 1,300 persons per hour

Bus capacity peak periods B Line 60′ artic ~100 persons (full and standing)

99 B-Line scheduled bus frequency 1 bus every 4 minutes = 1,500 persons per hour – plus all the other, less frequent 40′  bus routes on Broadway (#9, #16, #17) say 1000 pph total = 2,500

Success on a city street should be measured in people moving capacity, not vehicle capacity or speed: looks to me like the bus lane doubles what the gp capacity can do.

And if the lack of intersection capacity is the issue, give the bus a “cigarette” light (white banner actuated by the bus) and keep the crossing light against peds until the bus has cleared.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 11, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Transportation