Public vs private efforts to build transit along 405: How We Roll, Dec. 4

Things to read whilst transiting: 

Also, check out this fine Steve Lopez column on Angelenos decamping for more affordable climes, especially Vegas.

Dept. of Sportsing:

•If you’re from Georgia and Oklahoma and for some reason are reading this: we’re looking forward to serving your transit needs. No tears spilled here about not having to host a bunch of lost Buckeye fans trying to find the nearest Applebees to our transit system. Which might be…

•Both the Rams and Chargers continue progress toward hosting playoff games. I’d love to watch but…if the NFL doesn’t suspend New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for his amazingly dirty, filthy hit that may have concussed a helpless Bills player, I’m done watching NFL football. You can’t say you’re serious about reducing head injuries and let that play go with only a 15-yard penalty. Geesh. On a happier note, nice writeup on the Chargers in Peter King’s MMQB.

Elon Musk releases plans for tunnel transportation system: Long Beach to Valley at 125 mph (SGV Tribune)

Credit: The Boring Company. The red part is what the Boring Co. Would like to build initially whereas the blue lines represent a conceptual route.

More details on The Boring Company’s plans for those tunnels they want to dig along the 405 — and beyond. A recent video from the company showed cars zipping through the tunnel on giant “skates.”

Now, according to plans filed with the city of L.A., it’s actually transit pods zooming through the tunnels that would initially run from Inglewood-ish to the San Fernando Valley and then possibly to the new football stadium in Inglewood and DTLA, Union Station and even Dodger Stadium.

I honestly don’t know what to make of all this. Along the 405 we have both private and public entities — Metro on the public side — pursuing a transit system. The Metro Board, in fact, on Thursday approved a contract with a firm for an advanced technical study on possible routes for a rail system between the Valley and Westside.

The Boring Co. seems to be trying to make it appear they’re a step ahead. Of course, they’re proposing a type of transit system unlike any other that currently exists. Thus far, a lot of their activity has been restricted to their own property in Hawthorne and they haven’t had to deal with an environmental study process that at Metro typically gobbles several years. Hard to say exactly what they’re funding situation is. Or isn’t.

Your thoughts?

Should public transit be free? (Fast Company)

The article argues that free fares will give you a bump in ridership but you get a bigger bump with better service.

Why self-driving cars will kill the T? (Boston Globe)

Here’s the most provocative graphs from the top of the magazine article by Tom Keane, a Boston freelancer:

Environmentalists and planners love public transit. Those who ride it? Not so much. Trains, trolleys, and buses are crowded and inconvenient. They don’t run on your schedule, they run on theirs — sometimes, anyway. Check out the grim faces of your fellow passengers the next time you’re on the subway. And for many riders, a trip via public transit means a time-consuming series of hops — foot to bus to train to another train to bus and then back on foot. Little wonder the latest numbers from the MBTA show a 2 percent drop in train ridership and a 6 percent drop in bus ridership.

By contrast, a car is convenient. You start and end where you want. While driving, you can talk on the phone or sing as loudly (and badly) as you please. Nevertheless, we Bostonians suffer through 409 million trips on the T annually. Why? Because owning a car is expensive — almost $8,500 a year. And, of course, the congestion.

Not so with AVs.

The writer has zero skepticism about self-driving cars. He says we’ll mostly subscribe to a self-driving car service instead of owning them, thus we can get rid of parking lanes. They’ll be faster, he says. And they’ll be cheaper than transit.

I have zero problems with him floating his hypothesis. I have a lot of problems that he blindly accepts what self-driving car proponents are saying.

One other thing: I know a lot of people believe that self-driving cars will kill car ownership. The idea is we’ll subscribe to a self-driving car service and pay a monthly fee to use them, presumably with different levels of service. For example, X amount of money gets you so many miles per month and so forth.

No one has any ideas what those fees are. I have an extremely difficult time thinking they’ll be cheap, especially for those who want to travel 1,000 or more miles per month (like the typical motorist already does). And there’s this: if self driving cars are so awesome, why won’t people want to own one?

America crowns a new pollution king: transportation (Bloomberg)

Good News/Bad News. The change is because power plants have been getting cleaner. So have motor vehicles. The problem is that has been offset by Americans driving more than ever.



8 replies

  1. Chapel Hill has a population of 59,200, is 19.6 square miles and runs 24 lines on weekdays and 9 on weekends. (Our Expo line had weekday average ridership of 58,800 in October.)

    Charging, even a little, gives you some sense of ownership. Yes, there are some people who then think they own the train, taking up multiple seats, listening to loud music, littering, threatening other passengers with knives, but it might be worse if it were free*. (see “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” by Chris Anderson.)

    *All things I have personally witnessed in my 18 months of riding the train plus sales of live turtles and incense and a lot of regular, loud dance troops. Thankfully I have not witnessed people defecating, having sex or brawling on a train, but to hear the Fans of Metro Rail people talk on Facebook, it sounds that happens too frequently on some lines.

    If you’re going to increase ridership, you need to look at the people who drive today and ask “What would it take for you to give up your car?” Chances are, they’re not going to say “That $3.50 a day is killing me.” They’re going to probably mention security, cleanliness, reliability, proximity, speed, personal freedom, privacy, and maybe an aversion to being so close to many people. Whether or not those things are even true, it’s the perception we’re fighting. (Watch “Life Lessons from an Ad Man” by Rory Sutherland on for more on perceptions and his thoughts about British Rail.)

  2. Really boggles my mind thinking that there’s no rail service to dodger stadium. I see why but reasons seem greedy to me.

  3. Two Metro news items this week that bring a smile to this 5-hour-daily rider: plans for an overhaul of the Union Station restrooms and apparently Verizon is now working on the Purple/Red line. Smiling

  4. As usual, Steve, you have noticed and commented on some not-always-recognized points regarding public vs private transportation, especially now that self-driving vehicles may at some point be added to the mix. What I see is that there is a lot of speculation about factors for which we do not yet have information, and, as is usually the case, will not really know until after they are implemented and operational.

    It is also important to recognize that at some point self-driving vehicles may well include a mix of private and public, as well as individual and multiple passenger transit, including self-driving buses, and even trains without operators.

    Important questions for which there are no provable answers yet, include these: Safety is paramount. Not only for passengers, but also for people outside of the vehicles, such as pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as people in other vehicles. Efficiency and overall cost of owning/renting/maintaining/insuring/fuel/etc. Average speed of operation, which will mainly be affected by external factors, including the first point of safety. The old rule that you cannot go any faster than the car in front of you still applies to self-driven vehicles. And, the safety factor that self-driven vehicles must acquiesce to all other vehicles in 360 degrees on all other sides under all possible conditions means that they will frequently be slower and often come to a full stop whenever there is any doubt. Frequent stops that may not always be an absolute necessity with an aware driver might only add to congestion, such as on the 405 during rush hour.

    Many considerations exist that we need better answers to before committing to self-driving vehicles.

    • The Boring Company’s plans.
      OK, it sounds feasible – it plans to use electric-powered vehicles in tunnel and we know that works.
      But why the top speed of 125 mile/h? The maglev between Shanghai and Pudong International Airport has a top speed of 270 miles/h: it takes 3 minutes to reach that speed which it holds for 52 seconds before decelerating for the terminus. My point? You need distance for high speed to be worthwhile.
      Cost. We know that a 90km tunnel is being planned under the Baltic at a cost of €9bn, so we know you get 10km (6 miles) of tunnel for €1bn ($1.2bn). If it’s 25 miles from Long Beach to DTLA, that’s a cost of $5bn. If you could borrow at 1%, the interest each year is $50bn. At a fare of $50, that means a million trips a year just to repay interest on the loan for the infrastructure.
      Does that sound reasonable?