LSN Community News: Transit Technology Buzz

Goog2.jpgGoogle’s new Latitude tool: useful for ParaTransit?

Here’s an interesting dose of outside-the-box transportation thinking that recently bubbled up from the Livable Streets community. Smart ParaTransit — a group that "targets new ways of getting people in and around cities in road vehicles, smaller than full sized
buses, driven by real human beings, dynamically shared with others, and
aided by state of the art communications technologies
" — is intrigued by the potential of Google Latitude:

Google now offers a service that uses the GPS hardware found in smart phones (such as the iPhone, Google Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile handsets) to pinpoint your position on a map and share that information with your friends… The same technology can be used to pinpoint the location of any location-aware transpo resource: a bus, subway, taxi, car-share, or parking space, and share that with the public (as well as display it at bus stops, subway stations, taxi stands (we can dream, right?) etc.

For more on Smart ParaTransit, read Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton’s five-part series exploring the idea and how it might work. If you’d like to strategize or chime in on the discussion, join the Smart ParaTransit group.

And on a different note, we’d like to give a warm welcome to all the new LSN members from Jacksonville, Florida who joined in unprecedented numbers this week.

  • garyg

    I’m surprised advocates of conventional transit (buses and trains) would support paratransit rather than oppose it. Paratransit threatens to take riders away from buses and trains, making them less economically viable and reducing their political support. The ultimate form of paratransit is the single-occupant taxi.

  • Advocates of conventional transit usually see it as part of a multimodal system. And we are eager to see new forms of transit extend to places/times where old transit doesn’t go. And we are not taken in by divide-and-conquer tactics.

  • garyg

    But paratransit is unlikely to be limited to demand that conventional transit cannot satisfy. It is likely to take riders away from buses and trains. It provides some of the benefits of travel by private car (or taxi) for a lower cost. The more efficient paratransit becomes, the more train and bus riders are likely to defect to it.

  • But Gary, why wouldn’t some drivers defect to it as well? The people who favor it certainly see it as an alternative to car dependency.

  • garyg

    But Gary, why wouldn’t some drivers defect to it as well?

    Some probably would. But that won’t help buses and trains.

  • Gary, since neither of us is able to provide data to support our assertions, this is all speculation.

    I don’t think your speculations will convince transit advocates that there are too many transit options in America. Transit ridership — those old-fashioned buses and trains you deride — is now at levels not seen in decades. We have more bodies than ever and few new seats to put them in. People are also driving less, despite the recent pullback in gas prices. All that is certainly backed up by data.

    Given the fact that energy will only get more expensive as peak oil, the forms of transportation that will probably shrink the most are the most energy-intensive ones. Thus paratransit would gain ground over private cars and taxis.

  • garyg

    Gary, since neither of us is able to provide data to support our assertions, this is all speculation

    Seems like pretty plausible speculation to me. Why wouldn’t you expect paratransit to take riders away from buses and trains as it becomes cheaper and easier to use through new technology?

    Transit ridership — those old-fashioned buses and trains you deride — is now at levels not seen in decades.

    That probably has something to do with the record high gas prices of a few months ago. The population has of course grown dramatically since transit ridership was last this high, so ridership per capita has fallen dramatically. Most large transit agencies seem to be facing severe budget problems and are considering, or are already implementing, fare increases and/or service cuts. That’s probably going to have an adverse effect on ridership.

    Given the fact that energy will only get more expensive as peak oil, the forms of transportation that will probably shrink the most are the most energy-intensive ones. Thus paratransit would gain ground over private cars and taxis.

    I think a more likely response is a shift to more fuel-efficient cars and taxis. Maybe you’ve seen those new “Green Cab” Toyota Prius taxi fleets that have appeared in many cities over the past few years. Obama is proposing to spend billions of dollars in investments and incentives to accelerate the shift to more fuel-efficient automobiles.

  • “The population has of course grown dramatically since transit ridership was last this high, so ridership per capita has fallen dramatically.”

    A provocative thesis, and I congratulate you on that. Now, data, please?

    “Obama is proposing to spend billions of dollars in investments and incentives to accelerate the shift to more fuel-efficient automobiles.”

    Exactly how Obama plans to balance investments in cars and car infrastructure vs. transit and transit infrastructure remains to be seen. I will admit that his opening stimulus move — throwing money at the states with no guidance — is not promising. But his campaign website frankly advocated a more balanced approach. By the end of his (first?) term, we’ll see what he really has in mind.

  • garyg

    A provocative thesis, and I congratulate you on that. Now, data, please?

    It’s hardly provocative. Just common sense, really. But if you insist….. Here’s APTA’s press release reporting that transit ridership in 2007 was the highest in 50 years:
    http://www.apta.com/media/releases/080310_ridership.cfm

    And here’s historical U.S. population data from Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

    As you can see, 50 years ago, the U.S. population was about 179 million. Today, it’s about 300 million. So we have about 120 million more people than we had 50 years ago, but about the same number of transit rides. Hence, ridership per capita has fallen dramatically.

  • Excellent try, Gary, but the only thing you’ve demonstrated is that the growth of transportation in the U.S. since shortly after the end of World War II has been largely car-dominated. We knew this — we knew the interstate highway system was built in the 1950s — we knew about single-use zoning and the metastasizing of suburban sprawl. All this is old news.

    Here’s what’s happening now: Car sales are plummeting. Both domestic and foreign carmakers are losing money. People are driving less. Demand for transit is up. Our liquid fossil fuel supply has peaked. Exurban real estate is rapidly losing value and population — and the most car-dependent places are the ones suffering most. You don’t seem to have assimilated any of these provable and well-documented facts.

    Gary, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, people who exchange views on this blog are generally interested in promoting transit, walking, biking, or some combination of those things (the first two in my case). Admittedly, what we discuss often arises as much from our hopes and aspirations as from provable facts. But exactly what are your hopes and aspirations — what do you hope to achieve here?

  • garyg

    Excellent try, Gary, but the only thing you’ve demonstrated is that the growth of transportation in the U.S. since shortly after the end of World War II has been largely car-dominated.

    Huh? The growth of transportation in the U.S. since shortly after the end of World War II certainly has been largely car-dominated, but I didn’t demonstrate that. I demonstrated what you asked me to, namely, that per capita transit ridership has fallen dramatically over the past 50 years. I don’t know why you’re still questioning this. 50 years ago, there were about 10 billion transit rides in a population of about 179 million people. That’s about 55 rides per capita. In 2007, there were about 10 billion transit rides in a population of about 300 million. That’s about 33 rides per capita.

  • garyg

    Here’s what’s happening now: Car sales are plummeting. Both domestic and foreign carmakers are losing money. People are driving less. Demand for transit is up. Our liquid fossil fuel supply has peaked. Exurban real estate is rapidly losing value and population — and the most car-dependent places are the ones suffering most. You don’t seem to have assimilated any of these provable and well-documented facts.

    Real estate prices are down almost everywhere because we’re still coming out of a housing bubble and because we’re in the worst economic recession since the 1980s. Possibly since the 1930s. Suburban/exurban housing has fallen the most because that’s where most of the housing growth occurred prior to the collapse of the bubble in 2006. The problem was compounded by record high gas prices in the summer of last year. From 2000 to at least 2006, over 90% of the population growth in the United States occurred in suburban/exurban areas. Less than 10% of it occurred in central city areas. Transit use has increased somewhat over the past few years, but transit provides such a tiny share of our total transportation that that increase has had virtually no impact on overall transportation patterns.

  • Gary, I don’t find your arguments persuasive. I will ask this question a second time and call it a day: What do you hope to achieve here?

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

No, Uber’s Not Going to Replace Buses, But It Can Complement Them

|
Not a day goes by without a raft of stories about “new mobility” providers — ride-hailing companies like Uber or car-share services like Car2Go that have tapped into recent technological advances to provide new ways to get around. In a new report, “Private Mobility, Public Interest” [PDF], TransitCenter deflates some of the hype surrounding these services while laying out […]

Google Transit Mapping Comes to New York

|
This morning a number of public officials, including Governor David Paterson, joined Google co-founder Sergey Brin in announcing his company’s new city transit mapping tool. The service covers MTA subway and bus lines, along with PATH and New Jersey Transit routes. New Yorkers (including yours truly) who have been frustrated in the past by Google […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Ethel Rubenstein, 69, Killed by Driver in Borough Park Last Night (WNBC, AP) Hit-and-Run Driver Kills Antonio Ramirez, 40, Where DOT Rejected Slow Zone (Post, WNBC, News) Witnesses: Taxi Driver Ran Red, Critically Injuring Self in Midtown Crash; NYPD: No Charges (News) MTA May Consider Articulated Subway Trains, Which Boosted Capacity in Toronto by 10 Percent (NYT) Jimmy Vacca Is […]