Transportation headlines, Monday, May 11

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Lamont "Artist" Woods. Photo by Zocalo Public Square.

Lamont “Artist” Woods. Photo by Zocalo Public Square.

Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: I’m thinking about art always, Manchester Boulevard to Hollywood Boulevard.

Doing the math on California’s bullet train fares (L.A. Times) 

A skeptical look at claims by the state that the bullet train will enjoy fares less than $90 one way between L.A. and S.F. should the line open by the target date of 2028. The predicted price is cheaper than other high-speed rail systems around the world, reports the Times. Will people still take the train? Probably. If it’s somewhat speedy and you can skip having to deal with the airport, I bet people will tolerate wiggly prices as long as they aren’t sky high.

Coming soon to a highway near you: a truck with a mind of its own (KPCC)

Keep in mind that no trial lawyers were interviewed for the segment. Despite the headline, the gist of it is that the same hands-free driving being developed for motorists — who would still be behind the wheel — are also in the works for big rigs. As the NYT reported recently, the same issue will probably be in play: figuring out how much autonomous current state laws will allow. I’m guessing state lawmakers won’t be giving trucks a free pass on this one, fearing instead a really bad “news at 11” moment from a local highway.

Semi-related: two self-driving cars in California got into minor accidents while self driving under 10 mph, reports the AP.

End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile (The Guardian) 

Lovely Lyon, France. Photo by Net Circlion, via Flickr creative commons.

Lovely Lyon, France. Photo by Net Circlion, via Flickr creative commons.

Long article and good read about the role of cars and cities — mostly focused on Europe and Asia. The article begins with an interesting stat about Lyon, France: the number of cars entering the center city has dropped 20 percent in recent years, mostly due to improvements in transit, walking and biking (and with no congestion charge). The article tilts to the more optimistic sources, many of whom say that people want good mobility more than they just want mobility by car.

Seattle to new buildings: give tenants transit passes (CityLab)

The City Council will consider a new ordinance requiring developers of new residential buildings in center city neighborhoods near transit to offer transit passes or passes to bike share or ride share services. Developers already have the option not to build parking in their buildings, although some still do as a way to lure tenants. Seems like a good idea that would work in some of the denser and more transity parts of our county.

A map of songs about cities (Javier Arce)

Javier’s map offers links to Spotify playlists of songs about particular cities. L.A. is a no show, but plenty of other cities get the treatment — although many of the songs merely have the city’s name in their title rather than songs about capturing the city’s spirit or je ne sais quoi.


Quasi-transity things…


Nice but short appreciation of Kodak Tri-X film in Wired — the film that Readers of a Certain Age likely used in their high school and college photo classes. Above is a pic I shot over the weekend of the Los Angeles River as it passes through Glendale using a digital camera but one of those VSCO presets designed to mimic Tri-X. As for the pic, I was going for the can-you-believe-they-call-this-a-river thing. Plus, I’m secretly obsessed with electrical transmission towers, which I believe are just transformers laying in wait. One tower to rule us all, people!

Let’s say testing for the second phase of the Expo Line was in the 1960s (as it probably should have) and I was Jimmy Olsening for the local dog trainer. That would probably be a Tri-X moment, too:


•Things to listen to on transit: NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast tackles the new Avengers movie. Funny thing: the enthusiastic response from the quartet makes me want to see the film even less. I think my next visit to the multiplex will involve a certain foul-mouthed Teddy bear who needs a beer a lot more than he needs vengeance.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for my less-transity tweets and pics.

27 replies

  1. Agreed with the comment above.

    The dining car on the Pacific Surfliner can go away. It’s nothing more than an onboard convenience store that sells stuff that can be bought at any supermarket anyway and hardly a full dining experience made by a gourmet chef. The last time I was on the Pacific Surfliner, they were selling Cup O’ Noodles for $3.00. What a rip-off! And no one was using the service at those prices either, the dining car was dead empty. I’d rather bring my own Cup O’ Noodles that I can buy at my local supermarket for $0.79 and just get some hot water instead.

    The cost to operate and use up one full car length just for a “dining car” on the Pacific Surfliner can easily be changed to add more passengers and remove the cost of proving that dining car “experience.”

    Thing dining car on long routes should remain, but for short routes like the Pacific Surfliner, it’s not needed and will be hardly missed.

    • SLO to SAN a short route? The Café car is only using the bottom of a car and sometimes I don’t have time to stop at a 7-11, so being able to get drinks and the Cheese Board is very much appreciated. High prices? Just consider it extra money for Amtrak. You know what Gov. Ronald Reagan said about taxes, that the price of freedom. (Of course, he stopped saying that when a state tax collector admitted that Ronnie didn’t pay any state income tax–but was the thought that counts.

  2. That’s partly because the Acela has no “coach”; it’s all “business class” and “first class,” while the Regionals are “coach” and “business class.”

    If Acela weren’t more expensive than the Regionals, it would be overutilized, and the Regionals would be underutilized.

    Most of the NEC trips I’ve taken have either been too short for Acela to be cost-effective, or involved stops that aren’t serviced by Acela. Which is why the only Acela trip I’ve ever taken was a run between Boston and Philadelphia, the same trip as my first visit to New York City.

    • The Acela is not really meant for personal travel like yourself, it is meant for business travel which in itself is a key market for transportation. People do not travel just for leisure, for the most part a large portion of the transportation market is geared for business travel.

      Furthermore, it is a reasonable price considering Boston South Sta. to NY Penn costs around $90 one-way on Acela which is an acceptable price point for many business travelers when the other option is slugging your bags all the way to Logan and taking an expensive and dinky commuter jet flight to JFK or La Guardia with the joyous (sarcasm) benefits related to air travel, let alone in winter times when weather delays clog up the nation’s air traffic control system.

      The Acela option between Boston and NYC is highly valued for many business travelers and is one that I find most enjoyable to get a short relax with less hassle in a busy work schedule. And it is definitely something I would like to see here between SF-LA-SD as well.

      The price has to be reasonable and equally as “fast” as air travel, in which I define “fast” meaning including all the time wasted with the hassles involved with air travel today.

      • You seem to have missed the point of my post. Of course Acela is intended for business travelers, to get them off the highways and out of the air. In my own travels, it’s occasionally cost-effective, but more often than not, even if I’m going between stations it services I’m not going far enough to where it would save me more than a few minutes, I’d consider a Boston-NYC run to be marginal at best (e.g., trip time 3:40 on Acela 2153 vs. 4:11 on Regional 95); I’d consider a NYC-Philadelphia run to be not even remotely worth the extra fare (1:10 vs. 1:22, same trains); Boston-Philadelphia, on the other hand is worth it (5:05 vs. 5:33), and Boston-Washington definitely so (6:42 vs. 7:50).

        My point is that there simply isn’t the budget to replace all (or even a significant fraction) of the rolling stock used for Regionals with rolling stock capable of Acela speeds, and that without a significant fare difference, the Acelas we do have would be overloaded with passengers out to save a lousy twelve minutes on short runs, and the only people on the Regionals would be those headed to or from places like Mystic or Trenton.

        As to the elimination of full diners, well, Amtrak and NARP are both well aware that decent on-board food is a major selling point of long-distance train travel, and so are those who are actively seeking the extinction of the American passenger train. That’s why NARP is fighting to stop further degradation of on-board food service, while the enemies of passenger trains are trying to accelerate that degradation.

        As to elimination of conductors, we’ve only recently reached a point where E-ticketing actually works on trains (although that still puts it way ahead of the airlines, where E-ticketing is nothing more than an illusion of paperlessness, and a way for the airlines to use YOUR paper instead of THEIRS). Having a conductor on board allows trains to service stations that are little more than a mostly-unsupervised concrete platform in some vacant lot. Adding faregates to those stations would mean that somebody would have to at least remotely supervise them, and somebody would have to maintain them. And eliminating those stations would make catching the train much less convenient.

      • “As to the elimination of full diners, well, Amtrak and NARP are both well aware that decent on-board food is a major selling point of long-distance train travel”

        I do not consider LAUS to San Diego Santa Fe Sta. or Boston South Sta. to NY Penn Sta. to be “long distance train travel.” One cannot apply the same logic of these short Amtrak routes in the same ballpark as long distance Amtrak services such as the Southwest Chief LA to Chicago or the Coast Starlight route of Los Angeles to Seattle, in which a dining car service would make sense.

        Amtrak routes that are short enough such as the Pacific Surfliner and the NEC, which are suited for business travel that link two major cities not so far away and can be done in about 3 hours are better off utilized to increase passenger ridership rather than provide “full service” train experience. They are more than adequate not to need any full dining car service when that extra car can be a normal passenger car that can add more passengers.

        Quite frankly, I use the Pacific Surfliner and the NEC many times and have never had any need for the dining car service on those routes. I’m not riding these trains for the “wow” factor or the “ultimate” train experience. It’s just another method for me to get from point A to point B with less hassle compared to the alternatives of air travel or driving. And I don’t eat on the plane or while driving between LA and San Diego or Boston and NY anyway so why would I expect such a service on Amtrak also?

        I’m fine with buying a bento box at Famima! at Union Station or grabbing a panini at NY Penn Station and eating on the train for a ride that only lasts 3 hours or so. I don’t expect full service nor I do see a grave need for it, and if removing the dining car and adding more passenger cars to these routes will make the fares a little cheaper, I’m all for it.

        “That’s why NARP is fighting to stop further degradation of on-board food service, while the enemies of passenger trains are trying to accelerate that degradation.”

        Quite honestly, I do not share this big enthusiasm for full service or passenger experience on rail or on planes as you do. I remember a time pre-9/11 when airlines still gave out hot food for all passengers on all domestic routes in the US. Those days are long gone and personally I do not care nor miss it.

        If I want to eat something, I’d rather just have a food cart brought to me and pay for it if I want to rather than expect a full course meal. If getting rid of a full course meal means that much cost savings to reduce my fare, I will take cheaper costs than full service.

        If I really wanted full service for whatever reason on such a short ride, I will pay extra or use my miles or points to upgrade myself to business or first class. Other than that, the bottom end is “is it cheap.” Everything else is secondary.

        And if it’s cheap, I’ll suck up any inconveniences. If getting rid of dining service on Pacific Surfliner or Acela ends up reducing fares by $5 one way, I prefer that over the possibility that I can get something to eat for a 3 hour ride. So I miss not having a dining car between LA and SD or between NY and Boston. Big deal, I can survive 3 hours without eating.

  3. In the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington), Amtrak’s Acela service, the closest thing to HSR in the US, costs a lot more than the 50¢ per mile the Los Angeles Times article suggests. A one-way trip from NYC to Philly would cost around $50 based on that formula; that’s the current price for an Amtrak Regional train, the slower route along the NEC. That price was what I paid three years ago when I was in a rush to get to Philadelphia; an Acela train ticket from “Apple Grande” (as you would say, Steve Hymon!) to the Liberty Town is at least twice as much.

    Having said that, I am rooting for California High-Speed Rail to become a reality and be successful enough to become a good alternative to both driving and flying.

  4. Somewhere out there in some landfill (sadly) are some pictures taken in the LA River channel on actual Tri-X, in just about the same spot. Taken by me, with an old manual camera, for my photography class in high school. I grew up in Glendale, only a few blocks from the river, so the neighborhood kids and I were often down there. It was dangerous and stupid, but that was the 70s and early 80s for you.

    • Hi Eric;

      After I’m off the government clock, I will take a minute to mourn your long lost Tri-X. I actually found some of mine from high school last year. It was interesting to see what a horrible photographer I was in high school! Kidding aside, too bad your film is lost — would be interesting to see what the river looked like back then. It’s such an interesting place down there: half river, half something else.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. Re: autonomous vehicles

    “I’m guessing state lawmakers won’t be giving trucks a free pass on this one, fearing instead a really bad “news at 11″ moment from a local highway.”

    “Daimler says the Inspiration, the first self-driving truck licensed to roll on public roads — highways and interstates in Nevada — is the future of trucking and may hit the market before autonomous cars, according to the Associated Press. Drivers will still be human, but might be called “logistics managers.””

    Well it seems from the article that NV seems to be embracing it. And all 50 states and their legislators do not think the same way. Each state has their own DMV laws and regulations, even have different ages in when they can get drivers licenses. I’m sure CA doesn’t want to be left out in this emerging sector when other states might be interested in this as well. If CA says no and piles on lots of restrictions but NV or AZ says yes or has little or no restrictions, gee where do you think the autonomous driving company is going to start doing their business in?

    “Semi-related: two self-driving cars in California got into minor accidents while self driving under 10 mph, reports the AP.”

    Of course, if you read the article it says the car was not in self-driving mode and that they were caused by human error.

    Perhaps you need to think how this technology may apply to Metro, not as a technology that works against you, but to your own benefit as well.

    If autonomous driving becomes a reality, then you too will benefit from this with autonomous Metro buses. Then you won’t need to hire bus drivers anymore (or if still need a human behind the wheel, far less pay than today because the job won’t be so tedious and it’ll be something anyone can do) and that will drastically reduce your labor costs for the benefit of us all.

    Of course, the unions will not like it, but eventually some jobs do disappear due to technological advancements. You don’t see a lot of lamplighters, typesetters, elevator operators, typists, and switchboard operators these days, right?

  6. Let’s remember that the ticket prices of the Bullet Train 15 years from now is based on average prices today via air service. Those prices can vary. Recently a trip from LAX to SFO ranged from $71-$475. There really is no way to know what ticket prices will be in 15 years for any mode as prices are not based any longer on cost + profit, they are now based on what the traveler will pay with their back against the clock. But for the past 50 years prices on all the world’s Bullet Trains have faired well against airplane ticket prices. IF you don’t have to arrive 1 hour early, take your shoes off, be X-rayed and the train will get you to your destination in about the same time but in much more comfort, with wifi (if we are still using wifi in 15 years) and food, the train will win out as it has everywhere on earth.

    • “IF you don’t have to arrive 1 hour early, take your shoes off, be X-rayed and the train will get you to your destination in about the same time but in much more comfort, with wifi (if we are still using wifi in 15 years) and food, the train will win out as it has everywhere on earth.”

      Considering the hassles involved in just getting on the plane itself, it’s really not much different than taking the plane or the HSR.

      Factor in:

      1. Having to be at the airport 2 hours early
      2. Getting through TSA security checks
      3. Waiting at the gate
      4. Boarding by number
      5. Cramped seats
      6. Still more waiting for other passengers to board
      7. Still more waiting for pushback
      8. Still more waiting for taxiing to the runway (the dreadful “we’re number 10 for takeoff” = 3 minutes per plane = 30 minutes of wait time)
      9. All for 45 minutes in the air
      10 .The same thing repeats itself upon landing (the dreadful “there’s still a plane at the gate”)
      11. And if you checked in your bags…ugh

      The time and hassle involved does not stack up to just walk to the platform, get seated and train already starts moving to your destination.

  7. Nitpickery note: It’s actually the city of L.A., not Glendale, in that L.A. River photo. It’s, of course, Bette Davis Picnic Area – part of Griffith Park. The river center-line was the L.A.-Glendale boundary, but during Flood Control channelization, the river was moved south, somewhat into Los Angeles, so now both banks of the river (in that photo) are the city of L.A. – very close to Glendale.

    • Thanks for clarification. I thought at the picnic area I saw a sign up about it being Glendale, at least in the park area. Probably good to have entire river in one jurisdiction. I will say in the river’s defense that there is a wide variety of birds in this stretch (along with a lot of trash). Unfortunately didn’t have my telephoto lens with me. Next time!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • just downstream (a block below the Riverside/Zoo/Victory bridge) there is a stretch (including under the 5 Freeway to nearly the 134 Freeway) where the north/east bank is in the city of Glendale for about a mile.

  8. Oh, and I think I shot exactly one roll of Tri-X. Too grainy for me, even when I was shooting B&W negatives, and I never really developed (no pun intended) any skill with an enlarger. But I’ve souped my own slides, both Ektachrome and Panatomic (now THERE is a complex process: B&W slides require a minimum of 5 chemicals and no less than 3 water rinses)

    • Extachrome is also a good film! A friend of mine uses it when he doesn’t feel like digital. I have a couple of film cameras but never use them — results with the full frame digital are too good! 🙂

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  9. Given that the quoted bullet train prices compete with the cheapest air fares, and undercut refundable Amtrak fares, I think they’re way too low. (I also think the air fares are too low; fuel-wasting short-hop flights like that really ought to be taxed to subsidize high speed rail.)

    • “I also think the air fares are too low; fuel-wasting short-hop flights like that really ought to be taxed to subsidize high speed rail”

      Respectfully disagree.

      The prices between LAX-SFO are low due to fierce competition with over 6 airlines flying between them all with multiple flights per day. It’s not my problem that the LAX-SFO sector is the busiest air travel route in the US with over 7.7 million passengers being carried between the two cities in 2013 and every airline wants in in that route because of it’s lucrative market, let alone the long haul transfer opportunities at both LAX and SFO.

      The only competitor to airlines today is driving yourself on the I-5.

      Compare that to another short haul route such as LAX-SAN whose average fare costs $400 roundtrip for a flight between cities that are only 101 miles apart.

      So what sets apart that LAX-SFO airfares should be taxed heavily while LAX-SAN should not? What about flights at secondary airports like Burbank and Oakland? Should we tax LAX-SJC too?

      On the other hand, they are more than welcome to introduce another competitor to the lucrative LA to SF market, via HSR. At $90 one-way to San Francisco, I will ride it than deal with the hassle of air travel that is involved to just get on a flight (going through TSA security, waiting at the gate, boarding, cramped seats, waiting for pushback, taxi to the runway, “the gate is still occupied” etc.) for a flight that only lasts 45 minutes in the air and many frequent flyers would do so too.

      • Plus, planes that disappear, fall out of the shy or are even flown into mountains on a psychotic whim.