01 February 2009

Public Transit Part 2 - Starting Fresh

I've asked before: can we fund public transit without Tickets, Tariffs, or Taxes? The obvious follow up question is: how can we reduce the cost for public transit?

The challenge for many of the old subway systems is that the technology has changed, and they are left with an infrastructure that must be maintained. For example:

  • Boston, London and Toronto (to name a few) used to use coal engines. This meant that the tracks could not be enclosed in glass because the space was needed for ventilation.
  • Without enclosed tracks, you can't automate the trains with robotics for safety reasons
  • The ventilation system is based on the movement of the cars. Enclose the tracks and each subway stop needs to be redesigned and equipped with new HVAC systems. Very Pricey.

Unfortunately, public transit is typically built after the need is causing pain. Municipalities start with buses until they get overloaded, then they move to trolly cars, and then finally to rapid transit.

But if you were to build a new rapid transit or public transit system in a budding city, how would you build it? Here are my suggestions:

  • Developers should band together and build corridors through new developments. In the short term it could be used for public parks. When the city grows, it can be resold to the city - at a premium - to make easy access to the suburbs.
  • Focus on skytrains instead of underground subways. This makes it more subject to the elements, but substantially decreases in the implementation cost
  • Use smaller cars of various sizes (2 person, 4, and 6 person) that are queued at each station and can be introduced into the transit system on-demand. This requires robotics and queue planning (so that empty cars are available at source stations at all times). The result is higher variable cost, and lower fixed cost.

Any other suggestions?