Events, News & Blog

Why Public Transportation Works Better Outside the U.S.

Author: Jonathan English

When it comes to the quality of public transit, comparisons between American cities and international counterparts are usually met with a simple response: “It’s different over there.”

These differences, the argument goes, are vast and fundamental: Europe is far more densely built, and its older cities—settled centuries before the automotive age—will always be innately transit-friendlier. In Asian cities, meanwhile, explosive urban growth has been accompanied (and accelerated) by massive government investments in urban rail networks. But the U.S. boomed in the 20th-century’s automobile age, and the private car is still king; most American cities and their suburbs are utterly dependent on them.

How did transit become such an afterthought in Americans’ transportation habits? I addressed that question in detail in an earlier CityLab piece. But to briefly summarize: Transit everywhere suffered serious declines in the postwar years, the cost of cars dropped and new expressways linked cities and fast-growing suburbs. That article pointed to a key problem: The limited transit service available in most American cities means that demand will never materialize—not without some fundamental changes.

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Valley Link rail project approved for environmental and design funds

Author:Mischa Wanek-Libman

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Board allocated $10.1 million to the Tri-Valley – San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority at its Sept. 26 meeting to complete environmental work and initial design of the Valley Link rail project.

Valley Link is a planned project that would connect the Bay Area Rapid Transit District’s (BART) rapid transit system and the Altamont Corridor Express’ (ACE) commuter rail service. The route would use 12 miles of abandoned rail right-of-way and would initially extend from the planned ACE N Lathrop Station in the San Joaquin Valley through the Altamont Pass. A second phase would extend service from the North Lathrop Station to the ACE and Amtrak Stockton Station.

“This action is about connecting people with housing and jobs. It’s about improving our economy and protecting the environment,” said MTC Vice-Chair and Regional Rail Authority Chair Scott Haggerty.

The regional rail authority explains that the rail connection would provide a highly economic way to close a significant passenger rail gap, as well as improve the overall mobility in this key freight movement corridor between the San Joaquin Valley and the Port of Oakland.

Mayor Pro Tem Veronica Vargas of Tracy, who serves as the vice chair of the regional rail authority, commented “MTC’s decision demonstrates the megaregional approach that is being taken by agencies on both sides of the Altamont Pass to keep Valley Link rail service on track for a potential start date in 2024.”

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Bay Trail Openings: Hercules and Pinole

Santa Rosa CityBus plans to buy 4 electric buses, in 1st step toward a zero-emission fleet

Author:KEVIN FIXLER

With nearly $3 million in federal money, Santa Rosa CityBus will begin to shift gears toward going electric.

The city’s transportation and public works department recently learned it was awarded $1.78 million in Federal Transit Administration dollars dedicated to improving the nation’s bus safety and reliability through vehicle and infrastructure upgrades. Santa Rosa also came away last year with about $1.2 million through the competitive grant program and now plans to use the total pot to buy its first four zero-emission buses.

“We were lucky. We didn’t think we would be able to strike gold twice,” said Jason Nutt, director of Santa Rosa transportation and public works. “We need these types of windfalls to be able to keep up with the program.”

Under a proposed regulation from the state’s Air Resources Board, a governmental agency that works to fight climate change by reducing air pollution, cities and counties across California would need to deploy full zero-emission bus fleets by 2040. To push that process along, the policy calls for a quarter of new bus purchases to be electric starting in 2026, with all purchases meeting the requirement three years later.

The benchmarks are included in the proposal because federal rules require the useful life of a heavy-duty transit bus to be 12 years or 500,000 miles — whichever comes first — and the state’s operators would need time to plan. Many cities, including Santa Rosa, get more years out of their fleet through consistent maintenance, and out of necessity because of insufficient funding to replace vehicles every dozen or so years.

“Our buses hang around for a while,” said Rachel Ede, a deputy director of the city’s transportation and public works department who oversees transit. “We’re able to keep them up and running for 15 years.”

Some of the city’s current fleet of 32 mostly diesel or diesel-hybrid coaches go even longer than that. The four electric buses it plans to buy will replace those remaining from model year 2002 or possibly one or two of the 2008s, while four new “clean diesel” buses already on order will remove all of the 2000 models from the rotation.

Continuing to buy the latest diesel technology option is a part of the long-term strategy, because of the higher cost of electric models and need for new infrastructure such as charging stations. The clean diesel models have a price tag of about $500,000. The electric buses still run about 50 percent more, Nutt said, and the upkeep, lifespans and distances they can travel between charges still aren’t as reliable as their predecessor technologies.

Over time, however, the hope is zero-emission models become cheaper and easier to integrate into existing fleets. The belief is as more operators make the transition and better understand the power needs and facility upgrades required to run all electric, it’s only a matter of time before that happens.

In the meantime, Santa Rosa is trying to join Sonoma County Transit — which received its first electric coach in September — as an early adopter before it becomes a state mandate. Following study and pending City Council approval this fall or winter, the city plans to leverage state vouchers worth $150,000 per bus and take delivery of four zero- emission models and related charging stations in the next two years.

“Our goal to keep a healthy fleet on the road,” Nutt said. “The makeup of that fleet is dependent on the outside criteria we’ve got to meet. But especially in California, as we move toward the elimination of fossil-fuel vehicles and increase miles per gallon for current gas and diesel engines, it means a shift to all electric.”

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L Taraval Rapid Project

In response to numerous collisions and reported safety concerns, temporary enhancements and community engagement are currently underway to make Taraval better for everyone who depends on it, including the Muni riders who make 30,000 trips on the L Taraval each day. This is the first step towards much-needed rehabilitation on Taraval Street that will replace infrastructure like the worn rails, overhead wires, water and sewer lines, as well as repave the entire street beginning in 2019.

When construction begins, it will last approximately two years and service on the L Taraval will remain throughout with a combination of buses and trains. Once completed, the corridor will boast new transit priority traffic signals, bulbouts to make pedestrian crossing safer, new trees, enhanced crosswalks, safety boarding islands, increased accessibility,  and unique wayfinding elements. All of these changes will make Taraval more inviting for everyone that uses it.