Citizens want more frequent transit and better services. This is true even of many who never use public transport. They want fewer cars on the road and perhaps don’t fully understand the cost of transit projects and services.
All metropolitan areas have wish lists of new transit projects for which funds are scarce. The public knows their needs and wants: they don’t like long waits at bus stops or train stations. Transportation experts know that passengers dislike waiting for transit service at least twice as much as time spent moving. In other words, in a passenger’s decision of how to make a trip, he or she perceives time spent waiting as twice as long as actual riding. If a car is available, it is usually the first choice.
Funds for proving public transport services are limited. Indeed strong pressure to trim budgets is common. Even when next year’s budget includes an increase, it is eaten by rising fuel costs. It is good to grant workers a raise to stay even with rising costs. There are always demands for cleaner buses, better stations, more security and dynamic signs with real-time information (“Next bus .. 3 min”). These improvements can consume new funds without adding new services as measured in vehicle-hours or runs.
On a larger scale, the same budgetary dilemmas apply to rail planning. It is seldom a happy undertaking because even in the best of economic times, funds are scarce. This is true whether grants come from the central government, from the state/province or local sources. In the U.S., grants from Washington are significant but require diligent help from elected officials. State programs for transit vary widely. Even more diverse are local sources – sales or property taxes, advertising, agreements with schools and major employers, charter services, leasing, etc. The business of mass transit is real and serious. To learn more, visit APTA and UITP.
Automated transit lowers the cost of delivering vehicle-hours of service. Growing APM experience gives evidence that driverless service is also safer, and that the public readily accepts driverless trains, trams or single vehicles. There can also be advantages in more comfortable rides or energy savings. Transit managers, for example, have more flexibility in adding extra service on short notice.
APMs have established a major professional foothold for train automation in the transit industry in Europe and progressive parts of Asia. In North America, there are many lessons to learn from Vancouver’s SkyTrain. In the U.S., sadly, there is no driverless line-haul system save the unsightly, back-alley private monorail in Las Vegas, which has sunk to junk bond status due to cash shortfalls from low ridership. While the three downtown people movers in Detroit, Jacksonville and Miami operate essentially as mass transit, they are not radial corridor service like the vast majority of mass transit.
Elevator operations easily transitioned to unattended mode in the 1960s. A comparable shift will come some day to U.S. transit. Indeed, such an operation is already closeted away in the large New York City subway network, on the 42nd Street shuttle and the Canarsie Line out to Brooklyn. Officially within the corridors of the Federal Transit Administration and the halls and workshops of the American Public Transportation Association and among the researchers within the Academy of Sciences and transit research institutes, unattended trains are of little interest despite the improvements they could bring. No research is conducted on them and there are no plans to do so.
Europeans Open Minded
APTA’s European counterpart – the International Mass Transit Association - is better known by its French acronym UITP. UITP is more open to transit automation, seeing it as a key to providing better train service. There are encouraging driverless metros in mid-level cities of well under one million residents. It is exciting to see mini-metro projects emerging in towns of less than 200,000. And there are a few micro-metros as well, such as a dorfbahn (village metro) in Serfaus, Austria, and the Poma in Laon, France. APM transit is happening in many places.
More advanced APMs lift the level of mass transit to taxi-like service using sophisticated controls. Over three decades of service on the Morgantown PRT has proven safe and well used. It uses van-sized vehicles to provide non-stop service bypassing off-line stations along the way. PRT guideways and stations are modest in scale compared to metros. PRT can be designed to blanket a district with low-wait, non-stop service. The guideway infrastructure can house utilities conduits, creating new sources of revenue to pay for responses to complaints about transit shortfalls.
PRT is envisioned as the primary transit network
for the small English city of Daventry.