How We Roll, July 25: are fixed-route buses a thing of the past?

News story:

We’re seeing a lot more deals for Pokemon players. I’m not a player but I hand it to the developers: they figured out how to monetize this sucker from several angles.

Perhaps good news for riders of the Metro 20 and 720 buses.

Obviously not the way that Nextbus is supposed to work.

Nice empty bus.

A frequent request.

And on to the news….

Master Plan, part deux (Tesla)

Does Elon Musk understand urban geometry? (Human Transit)

Elon Musk of Tesla sticks to mission despite setbacks (NYT)

The traditional fixed-route bus. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The traditional fixed-route bus. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

As you may have heard, Tesla founder Elon Musk last week wrote a blog post explaining how the company’s plans to expand electric car and battery production and make some of their cars more affordable. Musk also wrote that Tesla plans to produce an electric truck and electric self-driving buses:

With the advent of autonomy, it will probably make sense to shrink the size of buses and transition the role of bus driver to that of fleet manager. Traffic congestion would improve due to increased passenger areal density by eliminating the center aisle and putting seats where there are currently entryways, and matching acceleration and braking to other vehicles, thus avoiding the inertial impedance to smooth traffic flow of traditional heavy buses. It would also take people all the way to their destination. Fixed summon buttons at existing bus stops would serve those who don’t have a phone. Design accommodates wheelchairs, strollers and bikes.

Taking strong exception to the above is Jarrett Walker, a transportation planner who designs bus networks. On his Human Transit blog, he says the idea of more, smaller buses taking people point-to-point is basically a fantasy that will only add to traffic in cities and make congestion worse for everyone:

So a bus with 4o people on it today is blown apart into, what, little driverless vans with an average of two each, a 20-fold increase in the number of vehicles?   It doesn’t matter if they’re electric or driverless.  Where will they all fit in the urban street?  And when they take over, what room will be left for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, pocket parks, or indeed anything but a vast river of vehicles?

Jarrett does believe that Musk’s vision may work in some places: the outer ‘burbs and rural areas. Otherwise, he thinks that frequent bus service on busy corridors serving a network is the way to go for cities — the key phrases there being “frequent” and “network.”

The big issue here is whether you believe that fixed route transit — which has been the norm for many decades now — is an anachronism doomed by emerging technologies OR whether you think that fixed route buses have stuck around this long because they actually work.

I believe the latter. But I think that fixed route buses have left themselves open for futuristic wishful thinking because really frequent service and bus lanes/BRT are the exception, not the rule, in most of America. With so many agencies trying to stretch coverage to cover as many streets as possible, that probably won’t change — until something changes about the way America funds transit.

L train to shut down in Manhattan for 18 months beginning in Jan. 2019 (NYT)

The long-dreaded announcement is being made today that the tunnel must be closed to fix Hurricane Sandy-inflicted damage to the tunnel under the East River. There are currently about 225,000 boardings on the average weekday on the subway that links Manhattan to Brooklyn and those riders will likely have to move to buses or other subway lines.

When I lived a block from the L Line in the early ’90s, the L Line was remarkably unbusy — and it was usually quicker to walk from West Village to East Village. But then hipsters discovered Williamsburg and L ridership began to soar. Of course, the L Line extends far beyond Williamsburg — almost to Jamaica Bay — and a long subway ride is likely to get longer for many Brooklynites.

They really do care about us (Cycling in the South Bay) 

An angry, funny and mildly profane reaction to a proposal by Rancho Palos Verdes residents to close a public street to bikes to help protect the safety of cyclists. The post also has a fun counter-proposal: if safety is really paramount, perhaps the major freeways in the South Bay should be closed to cars to protect motorists. 🙂

Transit maps: Apple vs. Google vs. Us (Transit App)

The new app says its transit maps will be better: “We wanted the prettiness of Apple’s slow solution, but the scalability of Google’s automatic process. In short, we wanted algorithms to draw beautiful transit maps.” The post also explains what many of you already know: Google Maps are sometimes not exactly accurate.


3 replies

  1. Just for the record, the Transit app (@transitapp) is not new, just their integrated system map feature is. And this app is vastly superior to any other out there (sorry, Metro…and every other app developer), and works in most major cities (and plenty of less major ones). I’ve used the Transit app exclusively for more than two years. I’d love to see Metro work on integrating system alerts with their features and providing better open source data rather than continuing to pound away at your own app. Other cities/agencies have used the “here’s our info and feeds” model to great success rather than spending a bunch of money to develop their own unique, but rarely better, app. Something to consider. Always a challenge with big agencies and procurement policies – too far down the path of “well we already bought this expensive trip planning software”, etc.

  2. What’s happened to the train icons on the Go Metro app?

    They disappeared last week and only the bus icons remain. The were a good way of getting something close to real-time schedules for the trains since the Next Bus app doesn’t include real-time train schedules.

    It’s a big loss for those of us who walk “first-mile, last-mile” and could time when leave home or work to by the times on the app.