How are America’s transit agencies going green?

Solar Canopies produce green energy and shade buses at MARTA's Decatur garage.

Solar canopies produce green energy and shade buses at MARTA’s Decatur garage.

Here in the United States, public transportation saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Though a greener option than personal vehicles by far, transit agencies still use large amounts of energy, and produce their fair share of waste, in the course of operations.

You’ve already read what we here at Metro are doing to ensure a more sustainable, energy-efficient system today and in the future. With Earth Day as our impetus, we decided to take a look at how other transit agencies across the country are going green. Below, a few examples:

Did you know Chicago Transit Authority headquarters have been LEED Platinum certified since 2012, helped, in part, by their green roof?

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Culver City staff report on bus routes serving the Expo Line

Report on Expo Line impact on CC bus ridership by sourcemetro

Above is a powerpoint from Culver City on the Expo Line’s impacts on bus ridership. The bottom line: there has definitely been an uptick in ridership since the Expo Line’s first phase fully opened in June 2012.

Equally interesting, there is also some information on potential expansion of bus service to serve Expo Line riders — i.e. bus service between Playa Vista and the Expo Line. Intriguing, for sure.

Transit notes on Berlin, Germany — easy does it

Bus stop with electronic sign.

Berlin bus stop with electronic sign.

On a recent trip to Berlin, I abstained from car travel and instead relied on 7 Euro (about $9) day passes to take me around town on the U-Bahn, the S-Bahn and the bus. I was seldom confused, always on time and saved tons of money. The money part was a good reminder of how expensive it is to drive anywhere. Even though Californians have ample reason to complain, in Berlin gas prices are more than twice what they are in L.A.

The ease and frequency of Berlin transit has a lot to do with the maturity of the massive system that began construction in the early 1900s. Just think what the L.A. system could look like 100 years from now.

Among factors contributing to ease of travel:

Constant updates. As studies have shown, confident travelers are happy travelers. Constant real-time arrival updates on electronic boards in S-Bahn (above ground) and U-Bahn (subway) stations and most bus stops made waiting for the next train or bus comfortable, even when the next one was 20 minutes away.

Names. Station names in Berlin tend to be utilitarian, marking locations or major sites.  Headed for the Zoo? Get off at Zoologischer Garten. Taking a trip to Potsdam? Go to Potsdam Stadt. Off to the Olympic Stadium? Head for Olympiastadion. Simplicity in names promotes clarity.

Clean. There was at least one snack shop (selling beer, of course) in each of the dozens of stations that I used or saw. Lots of people were carrying food and drink. Yet seldom was there trash on the trains or in the train stations.

berlin stick sign

Maps and signs. Train cars had electronic “next station” signs inside the cars. They also had maps that were too detailed to read in a hurry — so relatively useless — but train stations had much larger maps and (best of all) subways had pedestal signs listing stations in order of appearance on the line. So it was easy to glance at the pedestal and determine which train you should board (on which side) and to count the number of stations to your destination. Emergency signs were marked SOS … the universal sign of distress. And when there was more than one train running on the same track, clear hanging signs explained which train went where.

The honor system. Berlin trains operate without turnstiles. And like L.A., traveling controllers check that passengers have purchased tickets and issue citations to those who have not. Tickets are easily purchased with cash or credit card from machines on all train platforms and in subway stations. The machines read out in a variety of languages — as Metro’s do — and are fairly easy to follow, although it took a couple of tries to figure out the system. Tickets are sold by zones but since there are no turnstiles, this too is dependent on the honesty of the traveling public.

Shopping. Some stations — Central Station, for example — are actually destinations, containing restaurants and multi-leveled shopping malls.

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What's happening at other transit agencies?

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.


The Center for Neighborhood Technology put together this handy infographic showing Chicago transit riders what their fares are funding.


Where do your Chicago transit fares go? The Center for Neighborhood Technology shows you

This infographic from CNT clearly and concisely captures what Chicago transit riders support with their fares; it also shows what is true of virtually every large transit agency in the developed world: Labor is by far the largest single cost of transit operations. Why? Because large transit agencies have to employ thousands of skilled and hardworking bus and train operators — not to mention mechanics and other support staff.

S.F. Market Street car ban urged by city agencies

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that city agencies are supporting the implementation of a plan called Better Market Street, a key component of which is eliminating cars from a two-plus mile stretch of the city’s commercial spine. What makes the idea feasible in this corridor is the abundance of transit: BART and Muni Metro run underground; streetcars and a slew of buses travel at street level. The key benefit of eliminating private autos, according to the executive director of the Central Market Community Benefit District, is that it would significantly improve both pedestrian safety and transit performance. The next step is for the various agencies involved to hold public workshops next month.

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What's happening at other transit agencies?

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

DC Metro to add more rush hour trains, with updated map

Washington D.C. Metro has produced this handy video that describes its new service plan for rush hour, called Rush+ (aka “Rush Plus”). The Transportation Nation blog highlights some of the new features: namely, more trains at rush hour on certain lines to reduce crowding and a couple of different service plans for lines that currently share tracks. Check out the video for all the details.

Streetcar headed to downtown St. Louis?

The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, an organization promoting investment in the city’s core, has issued a request for qualifications to have transportation firms conduct a feasibility study for a downtown streetcar. The early concept for the line has it connecting St. Louis’ beautiful and historic Forest Park to downtown via Midtown, the Central West End, and Skinker-DeBaliviere — some of the city’s more walkable, retail-oriented neighborhoods. The line would also potentially link up with the regions light rail system, Metrolink. STL’s Citizens for Modern Transit blog adds: “The feasibility study will include the process of planning, funding and design of the St. Louis Streetcar.”

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What's happening at other transit agencies?

Bus stop of the future, according to urban designer Marc Aurel.

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

The bus stop of the future concept in Paris

Some bus stops are nothing more than a sign planted in the ground. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way — or always will be that way. Transit planner and writer Jarrett Walker highlights a rendering of what a full-feature bus stop could look like situated on a Parisian boulevard. Designed by Marc Aurel, the station turns over 800 square feet of sidewalk into a “a multi-purpose public space [where] you can buy a bus ticket, get information about the neighborhood, have a coffee, borrow a book, play music, recharge a phone, buy a meal to take away, rent an electric bike, stay warm while eating a sandwich, or set up a bag on a shelf to do your makeup.” Click through additional renderings.

San Francisco land-use plan calls for new growth near transit

The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments have approved a road map for how to accommodate the region’s population growth in the coming years, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The key to finding homes for the expected 2.1 million additional residents — all without adding too much traffic and pollution — will be focusing new housing around public transportation. And this will keep the Bay Area in compliance with state law requiring regions to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

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What's happening at other transit agencies?

BART's board has voted to approve a contract to replace its aging rail fleet. Photo by flickr user skew-t.

BART's board has voted to approve a contract to replace its aging rail fleet. Photo by flickr user skew-t.

BART board approves $896-million contract for new rail fleet

The latest in the ongoing saga of BART’s efforts to replace its aging fleet of custom railcars: BART’s Board of Directors has approved a nearly $900-million contract with Canadian train (and jet) manufacturer Bombardier. The San Francisco Appeal online newspaper notes that the contract’s schedule would have the first batch of 410 new rail cars available by 2017, with an option for an additional 366 cars in 2023 – right around when the oldest rail cars in BART’s fleet would be reaching their half-century mark.

Federal Transit Administration announces $5.1 mil to enhance Reno bus rapid transit service

The FTA has awarded Reno a nice chunk of money to improve service on one of its BRT lines that connects popular destinations, like downtown and the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Fox Reno reports that the funding will support the purchase of new hybrid buses and a the construction of a new bus fueling depot. The grant comes on the heals of a nearly $7-million grant from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program for the construction of stations on the BRT line.

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What's happening at other transit agencies?

The Institute for Transportation Development & Policy hopes to define the gold standard for BRT (and Silver and Bronze too). Photo via ITDP.

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

Bus rapid transit systems getting an international rating standard

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy — an organization that “works with cities worldwide to bring about transport solutions that cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce poverty, and improve the quality of urban life” — has released a report card that seeks to standardize the way we assess the quality of bus rapid transit lines.

After all, a variety of bus lines get lumped in together as BRT, despite having very different levels of amenities, speed, frequency, etc. ITDP sought to remedy that by assigning points to different factors that play an important role in the quality of a BRT line. Then, depending on how many points a given line picks up, you end up with a ranking of gold (85–100 points ), Silver (70–84 points), Bronze (50–69 points); anything lower and ostensibly it’s not BRT at all.

The features that will earn you the most points include some of the big time-savers like off-board fare collection, a segregated right-of-way and level boarding. The report doesn’t go through the steps of actually assigning scores to existing services, but it does give a shout-out to the Metro Orange Line for doing a good job integrating bicycling infrastructure.

New York bike share gets a name, price schedule

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday that the city’s soon-to-debut bike-sharing program has a name: Citi Bikes. The New York Times reports that the name comes courtesy of Citibank, which has ponied up for the official corporate naming rights to the tune of a $42 million contribution to the program. That money and other private contributions mean no public funding will be required for the system, which will feature 10,000 bikes docked at 600 stations spread throughout lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.

The Transportation Nation blog breaks down what it will cost you to rent a bike and how that compares to other cities’ bike sharing programs. For $95 per year, all rides under 45 minutes will be free of charge. After that, fees will be tacked on to discourage New Yorkers from hanging onto one bike all day.

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What's happening at other transit agencies?

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.

SFMTA launches Transit Effectiveness Project

The San Francisco agency that runs its network of buses and light rail is holding a series of meetings to introduce the public to its recently-launched Transit Effectiveness Project. The program is designed “to improve reliability and provide quicker trips for Muni customers,” according to the project website. The program in particular seeks to develop a Rapid Muni network — sounds familiar — along the busiest transit corridors in San Francisco. The proposal seems to draw a healthy amount of inspiration from Metro’s own Rapid bus program, which is now going on 12 years. A rundown of proposed changes would speed up buses by reducing sources of delay. Those changes include features that should be a real boon to the transit-riding public, namely: “adding sidewalk extensions and boarding islands; replacing stop signs with traffic signals or other measures; transit stop changes including moving stops, eliminating stops, and adding new stops; traffic engineering changes such as adding turn lanes, turn restrictions, and transit-only lanes; and pedestrian improvements such as curb extensions and other crosswalk treatments.”

Dramatic changes on London streets in the congestion pricing era

Since London implemented congestion pricing in the city center — a policy that requires drivers to pay a fee to offset the cost of delays they cause to others — Londoners have responded with some pretty remarkable travel shifts. A DC Streetsblog analysis of the data found that people are switching to transit and bicycling in big numbers. The latter is up 110 percent since the congestion fee was put into place, and transit riders have benefited from having congestion fee revenues plowed into service enhancements. Streetsblog also has some excellent visualizations of where the greatest decreases in driving have occurred; head over there for the fun maps.

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