What’s happening at other transit agencies?

Caen's tram is getting a revamp. Rails are in; rubber tires are out. Photo by flickr user michallon.

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.

Detroit abandons light rail dreams, plans BRT routes

In past editions of this series we’ve looked at the woes of public transit in Detroit: poor service, routes that don’t connect and buses that never show up. The latest in the saga is the decision to scrap plans for a nine-mile rail line in favor of a more wide-reaching system of BRT lines, reports DC Streetsblog. Details on the BRT system are still emerging, but it seems that it would provide improved public transit service to much more of the region, linking downtown Detroit to sprawling suburban job centers. Some advocates and boosters had hoped that the rail line would yield more development in the city center. But, as the Transport Politic notes in the rail line’s postmortem, “no rail project, no matter how nice, can singlehandedly reverse the systematic decline of a once-huge city.” Given the magnitude of Detroit’s transit problems, swapping a nine-mile light rail line for 80-plus miles of BRT seems like the smart move to this transit writer.

Caen (France) to switch to light rail
On the flip side of the coin is the French city of Caen (pop. 110,000), which is undertaking plans to convert its rubber-tire busway to a steel-wheel tram, reports the Railway Gazette. The city’s transit agency expects that the switch — prompted by reliability issues with the current guidance system — will take 18 months and cost roughly $220 million. Interestingly enough, the current 10-mile busway is powered by an overhead electrical wire like many rail lines, which is the first time I can recall seeing such a mix of technologies (commenters, do you know of any others?).

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) board votes to award $772m for BART to Silicon Valley project

The extension of BART’s steel and concrete fingers to San Jose via the East Bay is one step closer to reality thanks to an infusion of $772 million dollars from the Silicon Valley transit operator and planner, VTA. Those funds come primarily from local sales tax measures, much like L.A. County’s Measure R. The agency is seeking an additional $900 million through the federal New Starts program — the primary federal mechanism for funding major public transit projects — for the 10-mile first phase to the north end of San Jose. If everything goes accordingly to plan, construction could start as soon as next year and finish by 2017, reportsKTVU.com.

Toronto transit agency considering fare hikes, service cuts in the face of revenue shortfalls

The Globe and Mail bears the bad news: the Toronto Transit Commission is considering increasing single-ride fares by 10-cents and truncating 50 lines in order to fill a $200-million funding gap. Impressively by North American standards, TCC gets roughly two-thirds of its revenue from the fare box — I guess those $121 monthly passes help that cause.

But that’s cool comfort to riders who could see their monthly pass increase to $141 by 2015. TTC chief general manager Gary Webster expressed concerns that such hikes might put the brakes on the city’s transit ridership, which has broken local records for five years running. Without supplemental funding from the city of Toronto or province of Ontario, however, Webster sees no other alternative than the proposed course of action.

Afghanistan opening first major train service, providing key link for US supplies, trade

Today marked a milestone for economic development in Afghanistan: the land-locked central Asian country opened its first railroad, the Washington Post reports. The line runs 50 miles from Mazar-i-Sharif to the country’s northern border with Uzbekistan. While other central Asian countries received rail investments during the Soviet era, Afghanistan was left behind.

Discussions are already underway about extending the line to Turkmenistan as well. While the Post’s article focuses — perhaps understandably — on how the train will improve U.S. troop supply movement, it’s hard to understate how much improving the movement of people and goods can improve economic conditions in Afghanistan in the short and long term.

13 replies

  1. @Bobby McGee

    I think you’re the one who’s not thinking these through. Have you ever considered that we’re not the only city in the world where we have the poor, the disabled, senior citizens and students using public transit? Have you checked into how the most vulnerable get around and what fares they pay in cities with distance based fares?

    Here’s Hong Kong: http://www.mtr.com.hk/eng/fares_tickets/train_service_index.html

    It clearly shows that even with distance based fares, the most vulnerable still get large discounts that cost less than the adult fares.

    How about Singapore? http://www.smrt.com.sg/trains/fares.asp
    Just pick any two stations and it shows how much it costs when buying a ticket at full adult price, the discounted price when using a smart card, and further discounted price for senior citizens and students.

    Let’s look at the Taipei MRT: http://english.trtc.com.tw/ct.asp?xItem=1056377&CtNode=49782&mp=122032

    Just pick a station and it shows you a list of how much it costs to go to each station. It clearly lists a separate column for “Single-Journey Ticket,” “EasyCard,” and “Senior, Charity and Escort Cards.

    Look, public transit is for the masses, it’s not for the poor. We should not be held hostage to unfair flat fare rates just for the sake of poor people traveling longer distances. There are other ways we can deal with this as clearly illustrated on how other cities run public transit on distance fares WITHOUT hurting the poor by providing them with discounted fares.

    To answer your short-sighted views:

    1. No, you have to think this in a formula of [flat rate price riders pay] x [number of riders] = revenue to Metro. The flaw in your theory is that the number of riders will remain constant no matter what the fares rises. If it’s $1.50 now for 100,000 riders, Metro earns $150,000. But there’s no way that can be sustained so Metro may inevitably raise fares to $2.00, maybe even $3.00. Who’s to say the number of riders will remain constant at 100,000 riders at that point when fares rises to that point? Just look at Toronto. $141 for a monthly pass? You gotta be kidding me.

    The better approach would be to change the formula to [variable price based on distance traveled per rider] x [number of riders] = revenue to Metro. By making the fares variable, it encourages short distance riders to take Metro instead of alienating them. Long distance riders will pay more, but that’s the price you have to pay in order to travel farther.

    2. Now here’s the claim that most distance based opponents always bring up. Oh, think about the poor person who has travel 20 miles from East LA to Beverly Hills, the poor will have to pay more.

    No, all Metro needs to do is examine how Taipei, Singapore, and Hong Kong does it: introduce another column of fares that takes in consideration of the most vulnerable of our society. Look, 80-90% of Angelinos are middle class; they can afford higher fares for longer distance rides. But you’re right, there’s 10-20% of the vulnerable that we have to consider. Why not give them X% off the distance fare price as how the other cities does it? If its going to cost $3.00 to travel 20 miles, I’m sure 80-90% of Angelinos can afford it. But for a low income person, give that person a discounted fare to $1.50 which is not any different than now.

    The whole thing is simple; it’s just like how we have two different TAP cards; the regular TAP card and the senior citizen/student TAP card. Why not make it regular TAP card and the discount TAP card for senior citizens, students, the disabled, and the low income qualifier? 80-90% of Angelinos will be on the regular TAP card paying full price. The 10-20% of the vulnerable Angelinos will be using the discounted TAP card which gives them cheaper distance fares.

  2. Flat rate for transit (as opposed to commuter rail) is never going to fly here as it would result in two things that are untenable:

    1. DECREASE in revenue for the MTA–who is already trying to deal with less than expected revenue from the tax increase. Say goodbye to all your future rail projects and other paid for by Metro services (freeway tow truck or fewer Call for Projects and the Muni’s aren’t going to accept LOWER mandated revenue from the county transit taxes because of the lower revenue produced by a distance based fare system

    2.INCREASE in fares to those who can least afford it. OK, you want distance based fare? Well to make up for the loss in revenue for short trips and prevent all the cutbacks listed in #1, the MTA would have to RAISE the fare quite a bit beyond the current flat rate to make up the difference (here come the BRU’s). I don’t think punishing and fleecing a women who cleans housed 16 miles or more away as a way to provide for her family by increasing her fare just because the few hipster-trendies want to only pay 25 cents to go one block (you could walk, you know) is thoughtful way of making anybodies life any easier–except for the lazies who just can’t stomach that they may be subsidizing some of the poorest residents who have some of the longest commutes. I’m sorry, my heart goes to those who wake up at 4AM so they can commute the long miles to work by 7 or 8 (where all the jobs that pay a liviable wage a located, never by where those who have the least can afford live) using our limited Metro, and do the same coming home and are exhausted and caring for kids, and some people have the nerve to say to her, “cough up more grannie, cause I just wanna pay 35 cents for my 6 block commute.” But I’m sure distance based fare proponents would fault our poor Josephina for not living closer to the homes she cleans on Beverly Hills or Century City or Brentwood. Then our poor cleaning women would only have to pay 40 cents for her commute and save her money, but what would her rent be, if the racists landlords even let her consider renting.

    Think these things through, people.

  3. I am in agreement with Y Fukuzawa. Flat rate fares aren’t working, it doesn’t make any sense for one person to pay the same price as another when one the distance they travel varies from person to person.

    It maybe easy for public transit agencies to implement flat rate fares, but all it does in the end is suck away at people’s hard earned tax dollars, increase fares for everybody, and services are cut back due to budgetary constraints. We need a better approach and distance fares are worth trying out; it seems to be working in Asia why can’t we do that here?

    Can’t we just do a test on tap-in/tap-out distance fares and make a comparison against the current flat rate fares? It’s better to do something with real data figures than complaining whether it’s going to work or not based on theory. I say the Red Line and Orange Line is a good place to test it out.

    People with TAP can load up $20 onto their TAP cards, if they go from Union Station to Pershing Square, it deducts $0.25. If they travel from Union Station all the way to the terminus in North Hollywood, it deducts $1.50. I say topping up the card with cash value and having fares deducted based on travel distance is way better than dealing with ever increasing monthly passes.

    Seriously, $141 monthly passes for Toronto!? What’s next, $200!? Where is it going to stop!? Over time, even paying for monthly passes won’t be worth it because the service sucks due to service cuts. At $141 monthly pass ($1692 per year), it’s much more cheaper to just fill up the gas on a motorcycle!!

  4. @Y Fukumama

    Gee is that the best argument you can come back with by insulting and parodying my name?

    All I’m saying is that this flat fare approach does not work and the more we rely on this model is exactly what LA Metro will become with all the other transit agencies out there in the US.

    It doesn’t take a genius to put the two and two together. Every single Asian transit agency from HKMRT, Taipei Metro, Osaka, Singapore, Bangkok, and Tokyo have great public transit systems that earn over 100% in farebox recovery without resorting to higher fares for everyone or cut backs in service. What do they all have in common? They all use logical distance based tap-in/tap-out fares.

    What do all the failing, tax payer subsidized, continuously fare increasing with cut back to service transit agencies in the US and Canada have in common? They all use flat rate fares.

    Doesn’t take an Einstein to figure there maybe a correlation to that?

  5. Boston’s Silver Line runs in its own tunnel downtown (part of the Big Dig) and is powered by overhead catenary wires for half of its trip. It has to switch to diesel when it heads out to the airport because it takes the interstate to cross the harbor. In other news, a lot of the Big Dig debt was foisted on our transit agency (you know, because they’re such cash cows) and it is now so underwater that it makes Phoenix homeowners look rich.

  6. I hope LA Metro takes Toronto’s financial problems seriously. This is exactly what happens when your electeds demagogue about a “war on cars” and reduce transit subsidies in favor of tax cuts.

    Inevitably flat rate fares will just continue to increase ridership numbers, which fund more transit service.

    Is Y Fukuzawa getting paid by TAP or Cubic to spin comments on every article in favor either TAP or change the fare structure to force TAP on everyone???

  7. Carter, That thing in Caen is just Bombardier’s version of “Guided Bus”:


    The nice thing about Caen is that, because the guide rail is steel, it acts as the ground or return for the electric current. So unlike a Trolleybus you see in North America, there is no need for two overhead wires, just one. I’ll bet that as this is converted to light rail, the catenary remains in place because it can be used by the coming Light Rail line.

  8. I hope LA Metro takes Toronto’s financial problems seriously. This is exactly what happens when you overly rely on flat rate fares.

    Inevitably flat rate fares will just continue to make transit fares more expensive with rate hikes, driving away more ridership numbers to alternative means like the scooter and motorcycle, which further necessitates into cutbacks to transit service.

  9. Part of Afghanistan’s infrastructure quickly surpassing parts of the U.S. very much not true.

    • Good point, I’ve certainly ridden on my share of trolleybuses in Seattle and San Francisco. I guess what makes this one different is that it’s on a fixed guideway, like a streetcar on rubber tires.


      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source

  10. With little surprise, Afghanistan is quickly surpassing parts of the US in infrastructure.