Monthly Archives: October 2008

Cutting Fares – the Solution to Slow Bus Service?

New York City has experimented with the Select Bus Service in the Bronx, which offers payment at the bus stop while you wait for the bus, and boarding at all bus doors. Sounds great, but it wouldn’t work in Manhattan with its crowded sidewalks that often leave pedestrians walking in the street or competing with bicyclists for bike lanes.

Another solution to the oft-times depressing slowness of a cross-town bus (M23, oh how we love thee!) would be to eliminate fares altogether along the cross-town bus routes. I figure that:

  1. Most people who ride the bus across Manhattan are trying to get to a subway line, whether it is from another subway line or from their starting destination; and
  2. Many people choose to walk because it is faster to walk across Manhattan than to take a bus. Even in the winter. Especially when there’s more than 10 cars on the road and it is winter!

In my unscientific observations, it takes longer for a bus to load passengers who all must pay on-board than it does for the bus to go from one stop to another. This is especially true on busy cross-town routes like the M23.

Obviously, the Regional Plan Association was reading my mind, because they proposed cutting fares on cross-town bus routes to the MTA recently. The main problem at this point is that the MTA is cash strapped, and may see this as giving up valuable fare dollars.

The cash-strapped MTA could speed bus trips and cut expenses – by not charging fares on some Manhattan routes, a respected think tank suggested Thursday.

As all bus commuters know, trips can be agonizingly slow, partly because of the time it takes for riders to dip a MetroCard in the reader or plunk coins in the farebox.

Eliminate that process on routes like the M34 and the M42, on 34th and 42nd Sts., and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still might not absorb a big loss, according to the Regional Plan Association. Here’s the logic.

For most crosstown bus riders, the trip is just one leg of a larger one that includes the subway. Transfers between the buses and subway trains are free. So, bus riders can simply get on without paying, according to an association report on possible mass transit upgrades.

“Most of the people riding those buses are taking the train, so you capture the revenue anyway,” said Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow at the association.

Any revenue losses probably would be offset by improved efficiency, Zupan said. Bus trips would become quicker, meaning fewer buses would be needed.

At the least, the MTA – which faces a $1 billion budget gap next year – should study the idea, Zupan said. An MTA spokesman declined to comment.

A concern about cutting the fares on cross-town routes only is, “What happens if demand goes up?”

Some people will walk no matter what, and some people will transfer to the bus. Since the MTA wants advertising on its subway cars, why not put advertising on its buses, too?

How about raising the fare? While raising the fare is not a popular option, the average rider uses a MetroCard, which gives them discounted, unlimited rides for a 30 day period. Why not charge more for MetroCards? As long as the rider is not paying the base fare for each ride, they probably will not fuss too much about higher fares.


Bike Dispensers in the Netherlands

I can’t WAIT for these to come to the US!

A Bikedispenser is a fully automated bicycle rental station. This means that at locations where you would like to have or use a bike such as a train station, transportation hub or parking garage, you can rent a bike very easily, quickly and simply. For architects or urban planners, the Bikedispenser meets the need to store a substantial number of bikes (50-100) in a compact and safe environment. The technology of the Bikedispenser also enables underground installation upon specification.

Below: Bike being dispensed from storage. Use your Bike Dispenser card (kind of like a debit card) to activate the rental process. As the bike comes out, press OK and enjoy the ride. A rental is about $4 for every 20 hour period, so for the choice rider who only needs a bike for an hour, that’s only 20 cents!

Below: The inside mechanisms that makes the Bike Dispenser work.

Below: Turning your bike back in is easy, too. Just put your bike on the track, press OK and watch the machine bring the bike back inside the storage area. The bikes also have RFID (radio frequency ID), so the operators can track down their bikes and bring them home.

Would something like this work in the US? Maybe in New York City (my second home) or dense downtowns, but most places don’t have the density to support bicycling as an alternative to driving.

Colleges might find this technology useful for their bike rental programs.

How do I get around?

Since I am going to talk about living car free, then I guess I should tell you a little about how I get around without a car.

First things first, I live in New Brunswick, a small (in size) town in New Jersey, which has a connection to the Northeast Corridor and good access to New Jersey Transit and county buses.

I also have Rutgers’ FREE campus bus available for my use when I am not walking. I do think biking is a great idea, but I am deathly afraid of “me vs. a car,” so I do not bike here.

Friends often ask me, “How do you get your groceries?” I get my groceries delivered via Peapod, which is a service from local grocery store Stop and Shop. The fee is about $6.95 to $9.95, and they deliver 7 days a week between 7am and 10pm. You order online, pick your delivery time, and just wait for your delivery.

If I need to do major non-food shopping, I can take either a NJ Transit bus or a county shuttle bus from the train station directly to one of several of shopping centers nearby. I have several options to get coming home – I can either get a taxi, take the NJ Transit bus or the county shuttle home. It really depends on how much I purchased or how lazy I am feeling that day. Taxi rates start at $6. The most I ever paid was $10 and that included a big tip for the guy carrying my bags up to my apartment.

Any other places I like to go – the mall, the movies, dining – I can do with either walking, taking a bus or shuttle, the train or a combination thereof. The train runs pretty frequently during the day and even on the weekends/holidays.

While a less hardy soul would be depressed at being stuck in Penn Station after missing a late night train and having to wait another hour for the next train out of NYC, I take it all in stride. Penn Station is a perfect people watching place and has lots of food options for folks like me who love junk food.

I don’t miss having a car most days, but on those cold, windy and rainy days of winter, I might change my tune!

Colleges offer free bikes for students as long as you are car free!

From the New York Times:

The University of New England and Ripon College in Wisconsin are giving free bikes to freshmen who promise to leave their cars at home. Other colleges are setting up free bike sharing or rental programs, and some universities are partnering with bike shops to offer discounts on purchases.

Some other universities, including Emory, are offering free rentals to students and staff to encourage alternatives to driving on and near campus!

This is a great idea, in my humble transit-friendly opinion. A quick aside here – a friend of mine goes to school in the Midwest, and he’s car-free. Every day, he gets bike off of the community rack, goes to class, rides around campus, etc. then brings it back to the same rack he got it from. Not only is this bike sharing program free, but he feels like he’s in control of his time because he doesn’t have to take his campus transit.

Campus buses are notoriously crowded around here, so I’d welcome a bike rental program or giveaway to go with my uber-expensive tuition!

The only problem I foresee with a program like this is that people may try to steal these bikes because they are expensive, so it might be reasonable to look for less expensive bikes to give away to students.

Bicycle Shop

What impact will the 2008 Election have on America’s transportation network?

It really depends who gets in the White House how the American transportation network will be affected by the 2008 election. Will transportation infrastructure get more or less funding? Whose plan will work to provide the best combination of funding and plans for improving our infrastructure?

Should the new president consider a “New Deal” type plan to provide jobs in our lagging economy AND improve our infrastructure? Will we get the high-speed rail network from Boston to DC?

Let’s keep in mind we need almost $2 trillion dollars over 5 years to bring our transportation system up from a “D” to an “A”.

John McCain, the Republican nominee, advocates shifting financing from earmarks to high-priority projects. Sounds like a good idea, but earmark programs may be essential programs that are refunded every year.

The Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, has proposed creating a federally-funded bank to invest in improvement projects. Sounds great, too, but the economy has gone south and credit sources and savings have dried up.

Read more about the candidates’ plans for fixing our transportation infrastructure. What are your thoughts?

If we get $2 trillion (in the best case senario), what would you allocate the funds to/for? Bike trails? Public transit improvements? More highways? Strengthening bridges?


This blog will be a place for me to post my thoughts on living car free – or being transit friendly, as well as developments in America related to public transit and alternate modes of transportation.

If you have suggestions, feel free to comment or email me. Your feedback is appreciated!