Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pondering the future of public transportation

For anyone pondering, mulling over, arguing about, or otherwise using mental capacity on the future of public transportation – and many people are – you should take a look at the recent special edition of the Journal of Public Transportation (available here), which is devoted to the topic.
As you might expect from a compendium like this, some contributions are more pertinent and incisive than others.  I’ll just mention a few highlights I find interesting:
Carol Schweiger explains the concept of “MaaS” – Mobility as a Service – and argues that we should redefine public transportation in terms of mobility rather than modes.
My old friend and colleague Jerry Lutin offers some very practical answers to how transit can adapt to and benefit from the development of autonomous operation technology, including:
·      Collision avoidance and emergency braking,
·      Steering and lane keeping,
·      Bus platooning,
·      Improved service to disable passengers,
·      Precision docking for buses, and
·      Autonomous BRT as an alternative to LRT.
Jill Hough and Ali Rahim Taleqani, in a paper on rural transit no less, go deep into the future, where no transit planner has gone before: flying cars (Jetsons!), teleportation (Star Trek!), and hologram telecommuting (maybe more near term, but I have to say: Isaac Asimov!)
Jarrett Walker is – as always – insightful and thought-provoking.   His essay, “To Predict with Confidence, Plan for Freedom,” bears careful reading.  My supercondensed version of his thesis is that transit planners should worry less about predicting future ridership trends – which is an unproductive task at best – and think more about urban form and the geometry of urban transportation.  I find his notion of mobility as freedom especially compelling.  If you find his arguments fascinating, as I do, you should check out his website, perhaps starting with a lecture/presentation video from Santa Cruz, CA (here).
All in all, plenty to ponder!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hydrogen Fuel Cell trains now in revenue service in Germany

Decarbonizing rail transportation is a challenge.  Electrification is very expensive.  Batteries don’t have enough oomph to move heavy trains.  And the current fossil fuel – diesel – is relatively cheap and efficient.  One proposed solution is the use of hydrogen fuel cells.  And the good news is that real hydrogen fuel cell trains are now in actual revenue service in Germany!
The manufacturer Alstom has provided two prototype train sets to a transportation authority in the state of Lower Saxony in Germany.  These are multiple-unit trains sets used in regional, commuter operations.  They promise to be efficient, very quiet, zero emission, and hopefully economically viable.  (See the story in Engadget here, International Railway Journal here.)
Good luck, Alstom – this could be a big step forward!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

UK Business Chief advocates vigorous EV program

Imagine that the US federal government has been pursuing a vigorous program of supporting electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure.  And imagine that the head of the US Chamber of Commerce has come out and said that the government needs to do more: that the private sector can provide the vehicles, and if the government commits to the infrastructure end, the country can move toward a zero-emission transportation system.  Too much to imagine? 
Well, that’s a rough approximation of what’s happening in the UK, where the head of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairbairn, has just given a speech urging a bigger government commitment to EVs (link here).
Here’s the nub of the speech: “The transition to zero-emissions is not just about ensuring we build the vehicles – that’s only half the story.  The other half is about ensuring demand.  Encouraging people to see that their next car must be a zero-emission car and giving them the confidence to move away from a technology that has defined our lives for a century.  If people are worried about the car’s driving range, the infrastructure, the cost of installing chargers at home, battery longevity or a host of other possible concerns, then they just won’t make the switch. They’ll stick with what they know.  And it’s here that government support goes a long way. Through making vehicles affordable, easing consumers’ range anxiety and joining forces with business to invest in charge-points across our road networks.  And governments can help design the zero-emission vehicle eco-system that makes the low emission choice the easy choice and, ultimately, the only choice.”
Pretty straightforward.  I hope they have better luck making this happen than we are having!