Transit: Simpler, more efficient
In the 21st century, new vehicles and technologies that we can hardly envision now will be available to transit services. The effectiveness of these innovations will rest in making wise decisions about how to best apply them.
Consumers are accustomed to getting more for less. Computers are a prime example. Faster models with more capacity become available every few months for the same, or less, money as their predecessors.
As with computers, in the next century, transit agencies must broaden their product range by encouraging more transportation options – buses, light rail, streetcars, shuttle vans, car sharing, carpooling and high-occupancy vehicle lanes. They also can enhance safety and comfort with clean, well-lit stations. And, they can ensure that transit planning creates easy links among various modes of transportation. In short, they can develop a consumer mentality by thinking: How can we use technology to give transit riders more service for the their money?
New technology, in and of itself, is simply a means to an end. Agency officials should ask themselves how that technology makes transit safer, easier to use or simpler to understand for their riders. One existing technology is the satellite global positioning system (GPS). With GPS on board buses or other transit vehicles, dispatchers can see where individual vehicles are along their routes. That is helpful in many ways, but, perhaps most importantly, it improves security. Additionally, using GPS, dispatchers can instruct operators to speed up or slow down, keeping them more precisely on schedule.
Among other benefits: Real time monitors installed at transit stations can give customers information on exactly when their bus will arrive, rather than when it is scheduled to arrive. Studies show when riders know how long the wait is, they perceive actual waiting time as shorter. Customers are more satisfied because uncertainty is gone.
Bus rapid transit can be created through combining GPS technology with roadway improvements. Through a combination of exclusive bus lanesand satellite-triggered traffic signaling devices, buses will move through traffic faster and provide better service.
Another technology, electronic fare cards, works like a bank debit card and could simplify boarding for both riders and operators. In addition, transit will be made more accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities. Already, low-floor buses and light-rail trains make boarding easier and faster.
New types of vehicles, which offer quieter service and greater efficiency, will increase transit options in the future. For example, hybrid buses use a small diesel engine to produce electricity and backup power. Electric motors provide most of the power, while a diesel engine kicks in during heavy acceleration. The buses operate more cleanly and quietly and use less fuel than conventional buses. Additionally, passenger vans can be used as custom shuttle vehicles to get riders from a transit center to their office or neighborhood provides greater flexibility to a transit system and offers better service.
Transit in the future also will be affected by land-use planning. In the 20th century, tax dollars created vast expanses of pavement trying to serve commuters who saw the highways as an opportunity to live ever farther from central cities. Efforts in the next century must focus on creating transit links that knit communities together rather than encouraging further sprawl.
Some states, such as Oregon, require municipalities to create a boundary around metropolitan areas, outside of which land is protected for rural purposes. Within the boundary, land-use planning is linked to either existing or planned transit corridors. Both residential and commercial development is oriented toward transit corridors, creating easy transportation links between work and home.
By offering more transit choices in the 21st century, we can ensure greater mobility for more people and ease the highway gridlock that plagues many cities today.
Fred Hansen is the general manager of Portland, Ore.’s Tri-Met transit system.