A Transportation Solution for Municipalities
If you could solve your region’s commuting problems without any of the disadvantages of major construction projects would you be interested?
How about providing door to door transportation on demand for the majority of the area’s commuters?
How about implementing such a program that would provide immediate benefits not only to commuters but to everyone in the region through cleaner air, less congestion, and reduced taxation?
And what about doing all this with a program that came with no net cost to taxpayers?
There is a solution that will achieve all these things. How? Simply by replacing a proportion of single-occupant commuter vehicles with cars that are half their width. Narrow Commuter Vehicles (NCVs) double roadway capacity and quadruple parking capacity. NCVs have the footprint of a motorcycle but with all the comfort and safety features of a four-wheeled car. They give drivers the flexibility to go where they want, when they want, taking what they want along with them.
Some of the Issues
We all know the problem. Fixed route public transportation is of limited use in suburban areas. That’s because buses work best in high-density areas, while rail—either above or underground—has a limited geographic range. It goes efficiently from point A to point B, but people have to get to point A. And low-density suburban housing means that commuters would have to travel extended distances just to get to public transit stops. Add to this the fact that the majority of commuters travel during two peak times—morning and evening—with very limited transportation demand during the rest of the day. This means that fixed-route transportation has limited practical application for suburbanites.
Suburbanites also tend to have higher than average incomes. With that comes an expectation that time is valuable. They justify the need for the flexibility of having their own vehicles. Note that roughly 90% of commuter vehicles are single-occupant and that approximately 80% of workers travel alone to and from their jobs.
There’s an old saying that the three things that matter in real estate are location, location, location. For commuters, the three key issues are convenience, convenience, convenience. Ask any of those commuters who travel alone, why they don’t use public transportation. Despite many answers, they all come down to convenience: public transportation doesn’t get me where I need to go in a timely, cost-effective, comfortable manner. It takes away my independence, I can’t carry the items I need with me, it doesn’t take me directly between my home and my destination. I still have to travel to/from the transit stops, and I can’t deviate from the scheduled route.
No matter how fast we build roads, private vehicles expand to fill them. Part of this is due to the nature of the construction itself. Every new highway removes existing housing and forces people to move further out from city cores. Extending roadways further out to serve these people encourages more housing development in the outskirts. Eventually, capacity is reached on the new roads and the process repeats itself.
Meanwhile, every new project creates bottlenecks during the construction process. Commuters who live through the inevitable construction-related slowdowns may see the ultimate benefit, but are frustrated in the process—not frustrated enough, though, to consider alternative commuting options.
The Boston, Massachusetts “Big Dig” is a classic example of the wastefulness of this approach. A projected couple of billion-dollar tunnel project wound up taking 20 years and costing $20-billion. It only makes way for 130,000 cars per day from one point to another, ignoring the rest of the traffic and parking problems throughout the city. And it only helps during peak commute time—maybe four hours a day. The rest of the time it is a significant overbuild for traffic requirements.
Traffic lanes carry approximately 2,000 vehicles per hour. As they reach capacity, traffic studies show that a 10% addition in number of vehicles drops the average speed by half. What is needed is a solution that doubles lane capacity during peak commuting hours but doesn’t disrupt the surrounding areas by adding travel lanes that are unnecessary for the remaining 20 hours per day and on weekends.
This is where Narrow Commuter Vehicles come into play. NCVs more than double lane capacity from 2,000 to 4,400 vehicles per hour according to a University of California-Berkeley and Booz-Allen-Hamilton study funded by the California Department of Transportation. Had they been available in volume production, it would have cost a tenth as much and taken one tenth the time to simply give away 100,000 NCVs for free in Boston. In volume production, the Tango NCV would cost about $10,000 plus a battery with 100-mile range for an additional $10,000. Furthermore, giving away Tangos would not have caused any disruption due to construction during those 20 years.
In a recent study in Belgium, it was determined that adding just 10% of the number of motorcycle-sized vehicles to the traffic mix would reduce bottlenecks by 40%. A study of the Auckland, New Zealand, area showed that if 25% of single-occupant-vehicle commuters switched to NCVs congestion would be eliminated.
So How Do We Get 25% of Commuters to Switch to NCVs?
Of course, as people see the benefits of driving NCVs—the reduction in congestion, the time savings, the reduced parking costs because four will fit into a standard parking space—and as the production volume results in affordable vehicles on the open market, people will choose the option for themselves. The fastest way to facilitate a switch, though, is for government entities to purchase a fleet of NCVs, which could be done for a fraction of the cost of a typical infrastructure construction project.
Looking at the numbers, let’s imagine that commuter traffic flow in your area is 60,000 vehicles a day. 25% would mean 15,000 standard-sized cars to be replaced with NCVs. If the government entity covered the entire cost of $10,000 per vehicle plus $10,000 per battery pack, that 15,000 cars would require an investment of $300M.
Of course, for maximum benefit, 25% saturation should be achieved as quickly as possible. The beauty of this solution, though, is that even a significantly smaller saturation (10%) will show immediate benefit. And as the benefit becomes more clear, more people will want to participate.
Cost Recovery Potential
All taxpayers, not just commuters, would benefit from the program through improved traffic flow, reduced air pollution, and elimination of the disruption caused by normal road-building projects. However, there are certain distinct benefits for anyone willing to participate in a program like this. First, they would have a car that is safe, affordable, enjoyable to drive, and dedicated to their use. Second, their parking requirements would be quartered, which should come with a commensurate cost reduction. Third, because the Tango NCVs are electric, they don’t have the gasoline or oil change costs associated with standard cars, just the cost of the electricity. At a $0.10/Kwh rate, this equates to $0.04/mile fueling cost. (At $3/gallon and 30 mpg, on the other hand, fuel would cost $0.10/mile). Finally, commuters would save the wear and tear on their own vehicles.
These user-specific benefits open up the possibility that governmental agencies could actually recover some or all of their investment in a fleet of NCVs by leasing them to participating drivers. Assuming the average commute is roughly 30 miles per day round trip, fuel for this daily trip is approximately $3.00 or $15/week. The same trip can be made in an all-electric Tango NCV that has a 200 km range, for only $1.20 or $6/week. If only used for commuting, the savings would be $9 a week, to which could be added the potential savings in parking fees. If an individual saved half of a $50/week parking fee, or $25, total savings for fuel and parking would be $34/week. By charging that amount of rent to participants, the commuter would be cost-neutral; the governmental agency could recoup 85% of its investment over a 10 year period. Most commuters would probably be willing to pay more for the convenience the program would offer them, meaning that governments could break even, or even make a profit on their initial outlay.
NCVs lend themselves to car-sharing programs that allow users to reserve and utilize vehicles for limited times as needed. Such programs are beginning to be found in major cities and are popular with urban-dwellers who don’t want the nuisance of owning a car in the city. Providing a fleet of NCVs would add yet another level of personal public transportation service that meets the needs of those who aren’t adequately served by fixed-route public transportation.
Governments themselves can also benefit from a fleet of NCVs. Because of their small footprint, a few dedicated parking spaces near government offices can hold enough NCVs for a number of trips by staff members. NCVs make ideal vehicles for inspectors, parking enforcement staff, and others who spend a lot of their days in their vehicles, need the security to carry material with them, and travel alone.
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be
merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5
minutes thinking about solutions.”
― Albert Einstein
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