Posts Tagged 'Muni'

The Oakland Airport Connector: Bringing cable cars back to the Bay Area! (maybe)

Cable Car at Doha International Airport (planned)Despite all the controversy, the BART Oakland Airport Connector project in the San Francisco Bay Area is an exciting project. This is because BART, the agency in charge of building the project, is using an open bidding process that allows for anything from maglev trains to cable cars to be used. So, does this mean that BART, ‘the most advanced system in the world’ (at the time it was built) might actually build a cable car? Yep! And this website thinks that’s a good thing. DDC – Doppelmayr Cable Cars, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Doppelmayr Garaventa Group (a company that primarily makes chairlifts and gondolas) makes just the right kind of train for this project.

DCC Cable Car at Birmingham International AirportThere are several advantages to this technology. First of all it is simple, even simpler than the cable cars in San Francisco. That’s because the cables are fixed to the cars. So there is no wear and tear on the cable, or jerky motion, when the cable car needs to stop and go. Because the technology is so simple it’s quick and easy to construct. It is also very reliable and it is affordable too.

One of the biggest advantages of this technology is that the train cars are so light weight because the engine is located at the station rather than in the car itself. This means that the guideway doesn’t require as much concrete reinforcement and is much cheaper to build. The light weight also reduces wear and tear on the cars and the tracks which reduces maintenance costs.

DCC Cable Car at Birmingham International AirportThis technology would require just one or two trains. Because the length of the railway needs to be over three miles, two trains would probably be best for this project in order to decrease headway times (the time interval between trains). This doesn’t mean that two tracks need to be built though – just one track would suffice, except for a short distance to allow the trains to pass halfway between the airport and the Coliseum BART Station. (Although two tracks could be built to make the system even more reliable).

Cable Car at AirportThe trains used in these systems are completely automated, which further reduces operational costs. Additionally, because only one car would pull into either terminus station at one time, it is possible to build very simple, low cost stations. Furthermore, passengers can board and exit the train from both sides, which reduces dwell time (how long the station spends at a station) and lowers headway time.

MGM Cable Car in Las Vegas

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Capital Costs vs. Operational Costs: the general state of misdirected anger

Oakland Airport ConnectorRail projects are expensive. Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Area: Despite the fact that BART is having budget difficulties they moving ahead with a $500 million 3.2-mile Oakland Airport connector, a $3.4 billion rail car fleet replacement and a $6 billion extension to Silicon Valley. MUNI, which is also in the midst of a budget crisis, is moving ahead with $1.58 billion 1.7-mile surface/subway expansion program. It should be no surprise then that the amount general outrage directed at this apparent disparity between these ‘elitist’ projects and the service cuts faced by the same agencies seeking these glamorous expansions is growing.

What is lacking in this debate however is that these rail projects have lower operating costs than the services they are meant to replace. For example BART has one of the highest fair box recovery ratios of transit system in the country! Furthermore these projects increase transit capacity, speed and reliability and thus are able to entice more people to switch modes.

Making a statement with transit

These projects also make a statement – they’re massive monuments to transportation. They’re immovable and permanent. This is important because people who are willing to give up their car need some reassurance that transit is there for them. Switching modes is perhaps one of the hardest and most life altering changes that a person can make; the automobile is almost an extension of a person. To give up one’s car, for many people, is to give up a part of oneself – a part of one’s identity. That void needs to be filled, and a bumpy, impermanent bus route just won’t do it – not even if you label it BRT.

Rail. It WorksNow, I know that there are people out there outraged that I am concerned about people who have cars when there are people out there who barely have access to, or who may no longer be able to afford the bus. There is no excuse for the transit services to be cut, especially when ridership is at such high levels and global warming is peaking its’ ugly head. Everyone should be outraged by this! However, the solution is not to attack the projects that put transit on the right track for the future. These projects will allow buses to be replaced by trains that cost less to operate and simultaneously allow for increased reliability and capacity. These projects are the way forward. We should support them.

No Good.

IMAGE CREDIT: BART; BART; Flickr by ‘Will aims to rage’ and ‘pbo31’; Charles Cushman

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SF transit fares rise to $2: roadways remain free

Paying More For This?Following the lead of transit agencies around the country the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA), the agency that operates Muni, will raise fares by fifty cents and cut some services beginning July 1st. The new fare will be $2 and there will also be an increase in the price of a Fast Pass, the transit agency’s monthly pass. Like other transit agencies around the country the SFMTA is faced with falling government subsidies in the wake of the economic crisis and needs to increase fares to cover operating costs.

The problem is not that $2 is too high for transit. The problem is that driving a personal vehicle is too cheap. Despite what many people think, using public roads and freeways is not a right – it’s a luxury. The government doesn’t provide limitless free TV, it doesn’t guarantee that anyone can have a good job, a college degree, or for that matter free health care. Why should limitless roads and freeways be viewed as a right when these other services are not?

It’s true that the private sector would not build a system of roads and freeways the way the government has and there are some fees for using roadways (such as the gas tax and vehicle registration fees). However, it’s a mistake to assume that simply because a service is public, that it should remain essentially free- It’s OK for the government to make money, or at least receive some revenue for a service, especially if it can send a price signal for people to use a good or service in an efficient quantity.

The problem with the SFMTA announcement is that it sends the wrong price signal. Raising fares to cover transit operating costs is something that needs to be done, and that’s OK. However, fare hikes need to be complemented by increased transit assistance for the needy, markedly improved transit services, and above all by roadway toll fees – toll fees that are something close to the true cost of using the private automobile on a roadway. If such a toll were charged people would make efficient decisions about which mode of transportation to use and transit would be relatively more attractive. But, raising fares on transit without simultaneously raising fees for the automobile only makes the car ever more attractive. This is the wrong direction for San Francisco and America.

There is hope on the horizon: keep your eye out for the vehicle-miles tax (VMT). It’s what transit needs to be competitive.

IMAGE CREDIT: Source Flickr, by Steve Rhode.

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The HOT Lane: San Francisco Bay Area MTC moves forward with congestion pricing

The MTC’s Plan
On Wednesday the MTC of the San Francisco Bay Area boldly added an 800 mile high-occupancy toll, or HOT lane, network to its 25-year regional plan. These new lanes act as High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) (a.k.a. carpool) lanes but when there is extra capacity it is sold using an electronic toll. Traffic always keeps moving in the HOT lane because the lane uses congestion pricing: as more users begin to use the lane the toll rate automatically rises to deter more cars from using the lane before the decelerating effects of congestion set in. The first phase of this $3.7 billion project will install FasTrak electronic toll collection sensors on the entire 400-mile HOV lane network already in place in the San Francisco Bay Area. This will effectively convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes. Subsequent phases will widen freeways to makes space for new HOT lanes rather than convert mixed flow lanes to HOT lanes.


Good for Transit? – Yes.
Besides having a really a sleek acronym, HOT lanes are a rather attractive idea. The MTC claims that the funds raised from the tolls will help improve the HOV network (now be called the HOT lane network) and that this will reduce congestion and emissions, and provide “a reliable travel option for express bus and carpools.” While, the MTC is somewhat amiss to claim the plan will “reduce” emissions, these new lanes do help transit gain a strategic edge over the automobile: In a way these lanes act as a kind of transit-first guideway because even when there is congestion on the mixed-flow lanes, and people really want to use the HOT lanes, the prices of the HOT lane will rise deterring automobile drivers but never the buses that will be whisking by parked cars on the freeways.


This might sound great, but it’s not the primary way the HOT lane network will support transit. Why? Rail. Take a look at the MTC’s Regional Rail Plan released last September and compare it to the Regional Hot-Lane Network announced today – there are clear similarities: these rail corridors parallel and compliment the freeway system. This is no coincidence – these corridors were designed to work as a transportation system that breaks the funding divide between roads and transit: the MTC envisions the HOT lane networking partially funding their nearly $50 billion rail proposal (see page 25).


Building more freeways is not the right way forward, but it’s (somewhat) inevitable for the time being. At the very least HOT Lanes provide a way to recoup the costs of, and even earn a profit from, freeway expansions. Transportation projects can earn money – the bridges in the Bay area alone earn over $400 million per year. If the profits from HOV lanes are used to put transportation on the fast track then they’re an excellent idea.


What’s Next?

There are gaps in the MTC’s HOT lane network, mainly either in San Francisco or directly connected to it. This is due to the high cost and infeasibility of adding lanes to these roads and bridges. Thus, the only way to expedite any sort of HOT lane network on these sections of roadway is to convert existing mixed-use lanes to HOT lanes. This has been studied, but it isn’t being done because of the experience that Santa Monica had in ‘taking away’ mixed flow lanes for use as HOV lanes.


Although the conversion of lanes in Santa Monica initially failed to reduce congestion and lawsuits were filed, by the time the lanes were converted back to mixed flow lanes, the HOV lanes had begun to work – people had switched to carpooling and taking the bus, it just took time. While this website promotes transit, there’s nothing wrong with getting freeway traffic to flow again. Let’s hope the MTC’s project is a success because if it is it may open the door to converting mixed-flow lanes to HOT lanes. Not only could this create a huge windfall for transit it would help avoid the tragedy of the commons on our freeways – a situation where nobody can get anywhere at all.






© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Patience Is A Virtue

On the slow track

San Francisco’s Central Subway Delayed Two-Years
The San Francisco Examiner reports that the Central Subway project will be delayed two-years and cost $278 million more ($1.58b total) then expected. There is some ‘good’ news though: the federally mandated study that arrived at these figures gave a green light to project funding thus allowing project officials to comment that, “This project is very much on track.”

At SwitchingModes.com we promote Putting Transit on the Fast Track. While we support the Central Subway project, we are dismayed at this rate of progress. Of course, that is just our subjective opinion. That is why we calculated the expected average speed of the 1.7 mile project from now until the 2018 completion date announced today: The project is moving along 0.179 miles per year; 0.0148 miles per month; 0.000041 miles per day; and just 0.00000169 miles per hour. This is just 2.566 inches per day! In other words, the Central Subway might be on track, but it’s certainly not the fast track.

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

BART: increasing system capacity without a new transbay tube

BART, beyond capacity

BART, beyond capacity


A novel proposal
As early as 1911 visionaries proposed an underwater tube across the San Francisco Bay. At the time the plan was fanciful thinking – not realistic. Yet, not only was the tube built, it has been such a success that the San Francisco now needs another tube to keep up with demand. Unfortunately building a new tube won’t come cheap. But, if a proposal by SwitchingModes.com can be realized, edgy taxpayers in California might be able to breathe sigh of relief. READ MORE>>>

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.,



© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and/or concepts without express and written permission from this websites’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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