Elon Musk and transit: How We Roll, Dec. 21

Songs of Transit: 

No appearances by SF Muni buses in the video but some nice shots of Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco. Great place for views such as this:

I was staying near the 24 Line last weekend. The SF Muni app that allows you to buy a bus ticket on your phone is great. All you do is tap the ticket and hop on and ride. Easier than trying to find parking and cheaper than Uber/Lyft. I thought the service was great.

Law Requires Life-Saving Braking Device. Most Trains Don’t Have It. (NYT)

What We Know About Amtrak 501 (Itinerant Urbanist)

First, I’ll say this: train, plane and bus travel are extremely safe ways of getting around and safer than driving. But train accidents — although rare — demand scrutiny because of their potential to harm a lot of people.

Regarding the Amtrak train crash on Monday near Olympia, Washington: thank goodness more people weren’t seriously hurt or killed, probably owing to the fact the train left Seattle at 6 a.m. on the first day of a holiday week and had fewer than 80 people on board.

As for the links above, the post on Itinerant Urbanist is from Tuesday but is a good roundup with perspective on these type of crashes.

The NYT takes a look at the issue that looms over a crash in which the train inexplicably was running 50 mph over the speed limit for that section of track. Positive train control was installed on this track but not functioning yet. Excerpt from NYT:

In Amtrak’s case, this is a recurring nightmare. The crash this week was eerily reminiscent of one just two years ago in Philadelphia, where an Amtrak train barreled into a sweeping curve at 106 miles an hour before jumping the tracks and rolling over. Eight people died.

That crash, too, could have been prevented by the technology, known as positive train control. But five months after it happened, Congress gave railroads at least three more years to install it.

“Here we are, almost 10 years later, and that deadline came and went,” said Kitty Higgins, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The railroads have been slow-walking it and it still is not implemented. It’s absolutely outrageous.”

The “10 years later” is a reference to the horrible head-on collision in Chatsworth in 2008 between a Metrolink train and a freight train that killed 25 people. In response, Metrolink has been an industry leader when it comes to installing PTC.

The thing that makes this accident so rough is that transportation officials in the Pacific Northwest had been trying to improve commuter rail in a region where traffic is bad. Officials got federal funding for a rail bypass to keep commuter rail/Amtrak separate from freight trains — something that would speed up commutes and allow more trains to run. Sigh.

Elon Musk vs mass transit (Twitter)

And then…

You gotta love the dumpster fire often referred to as Twitter. Signing on in the morning is, as one colleague noted, like walking into a room of screaming people.

The latest Word War started after Musk told an audience last month (as reported by Wired):

“I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time.”

“It’s a pain in the ass,” he continued. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”

Musk should have stopped after the first graph, which is a criticism of transit that probably rings true to many people (85 percent of Americans drive to work). But he kept going and?‍♂️into the ? by suggesting buses and trains are the preferred mode of transport for the Buffalo Bills and Hannibal Lecters of the world.

Which helps explain why the urbanist/transit crowd swiftly boarded the first bus to Tizzyville.

The obvious problem here is that Musk’s proposed hyperloop and urban tunnels could become transit systems (if they ever get built). From a business perspective, it might be smart for Musk not to slag the thing he hopes to sell.

Confession: I’ve become less skeptical about Musk’s efforts than many people. I like that someone is tinkering and thinking about the future of transportation and admire what he’s done with Tesla. In the spirit of  #GreatThingsThatHappenedOnTransit, I humbly suggest to Mr. Musk that sometimes it pays to get out of your own way. Take it away, Bono and Edge…

Things to argue/agree with me about whilst transiting (@stevehymon): I saw “The Last Jedi” and thought it was an entertaining Star Wars film. No spoilers forthcoming. My one critique of the movie is that it’s a tad too long and tried to pack in a little too much plot. Meaning the film was jumping around trying to resolve multiple storylines at the end instead of focusing on the film’s most compelling story and characters.

And that’s all I’ve got. Have a Happy Holidays and May the Force Be With You. I’ll be around next week, when I’ll post our annual year-in-review and begin bracing myself for all the joys surely to come in 2018.


4 replies

  1. Oh my little Musk-rat. Totally disagree with his personal choice in transpo but I agree that his accomplishments are very respectable. I imagine he understands that a full implementation of his consept is probably a long shot but given his ambition I wouldn’t be surprised. I admire his accomplishments can care less about his personal bagage. Anyway his investment in TMB tech has the potential to lessen the burden of projects requiring the technology. that’s what I’m hoping for at least. If he takes it public I’d invest. And with the money saved PTC may be benefit.

  2. Chill out Jared, when you run a company as large as his, employs tens of thousands of employees, and is one of the largest philanthropists in the world, then you can make a rational comment…. Remember that the status quo, Metro and elected officials, really don’t want better, less expensive and more efficient transit systems. It would destroy their business model and would prevent them from going back to the taxpayers for more every several years.

    • Nope, that’s ridiculous. Considering everyone else has to play nice, so does Musk. If all the other companies in his field can sort it out, so can he. He doesn’t get a free pass to be an awful boss because everyone fawns over a rocket that can sit back down if it doesn’t happen to dump rocket fuel into our oceans. “Come on bro, chill out, this guy can literally overwork his employees until they are passing out of the shop floor because he makes neat rockets.” Nope, nope nope.

  3. I have nothing nice to say about Musk. How he treats his workers (and others in general…) is disturbing and speaks volumes to who he is. These comments about his disdain for the public comes as no surprise.