Public Transit for the Suburbs
People simply want to go where and when in the most convenient manner.
This is an overriding motive that affects everyone more than all of the other factors combined, including environmental concerns, exercise, and self-image.
Using Einstein's maxim, studying the problem thoroughly before trying to come up with a solution, let's investigate the following factors.
In dense cities, cars are too inconvenient due to traffic congestion and high parking costs. Therefore, alternatives such as buses, subways, walking, bicycles, and scooters make sense. Still, even in dense urban areas some opt for cars so they can have a “portable locker,” flexibility, or simply feel safer than they do using other methods.
Can any form of public transit work in the suburbs?
What are the factors that affect one's decision on what form of transportation to take, or what tool to use for the job of getting to work or going shopping?
Here are some factors that affect one's decision, whether consciously or subconsciously.
1. How close is it to home?
2. Can I carry what needs to be carried, including groceries, children, etc.?
3. Do I need to have storage space with me for things that I might need where I am going?
4. Does any part of my trip require carrying one or more extra people?
5. Is it safe?
6. Does it keep me out of the weather?
7. Is it convenient at the location that I'm traveling to, i.e., parking or close enough to walk?
8. Is the same method available for my return trip when I need it?
9. Is time wasted waiting for the transportation to be available to me on my schedule?
10. How much does it cost to get where I want to go and back?
11. Is it comfortable?
12. Can I read or sleep while traveling?
We have a number of options to choose from when deciding what tool to use.
Obviously the ideal option is to have a transporter that moves us and whatever we want to bring with us, instantly to the destination of our choice. Since that is still science fiction, what is the next best thing? It may not be too far in the future when we are able to summon a car, van, or truck of the appropriate size for our trip considering how much, or how many people we need to travel with. A self driving vehicle could arrive at your doorstep exactly when you need it. For the next 30 years or so, however, we need to make a decision based on the options listed above.
Our choice of transportation then, depends on the surrounding circumstances. Someone living in the Central Business District is unlikely to make the same choice as a person living in a suburb or in the country.
There is no more convenient way of commuting for most suburban dwellers than the personal car. Walking or bicycling to public transit lines is usually too inconvenient due to distance, exposure to weather, and discomfort. Motorcycles are rarely used because of the following factors: danger, lack of protection from weather, having to wear a helmet and other protective clothing, lack of carrying capacity, and the skill required to ride one.
The problem can be simply stated as time and resources lost due to traffic congestion, and the difficulty and cost of parking. When it can take an hour and 45 minutes to drive 25 km from Manurewa to the CBD, as it did for me one Friday morning, something is seriously wrong.
The Cause of the Problem
It is virtually impossible to adequately serve the vast majority of suburbs with traditional means of public transit. The cost and time to build it puts it completely out of the realm of practicality. There can certainly be arteries of efficient public transit running through the suburbs, but the average distance from a person's home to the nearest rail is so distant that it is unlikely that many commuters will walk to the nearest station. Of course one could drive and park at a station, however, once someone is in their car, there is a high likelihood that they will complete their journey that way rather than park and ride a train, unless it's much more convenient for them to do so, because of parking or other factors mentioned above.
Since cars have become the only reasonable option for busy people who have the means to afford them, they have dominated the suburbs for commuting and shopping.
A Solution is Possible
The traditional solution is to build more, and wider motorways and parking structures. This is a daunting problem, as the cost to taxpayers, the upheaval of the existing infrastructure during construction, and the time it takes to complete the improvements, never keeps up with demand.
Of course traffic engineers are constantly thinking about how to better utilize the current infrastructure with traffic lights at on-ramps, dedicated lanes to entice carpooling, etc., however, all of these seem to be like bailing out a sinking boat with a teaspoon.
What is needed is a way to make a substantial increase in the utilization of existing infrastructure.
Is this possible?
Yes, it is.
Here is the reason.
Because roughly 90% of cars causing congestion are single-occupied, the existing infrastructure is substantially underutilized. According to a University of California, Berkeley and Booz-Allen-Hamilton study, funded by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), narrow cars, under one meter wide, can flow at 4,400 VPH (Vehicles Per Hour) per lane, as opposed to only 2,000 VPH as is the maximum capacity for standard cars. Observing a pack of motorcycles, it is obvious that they too can travel at well over double the VPH per lane as standard cars. This is done naturally as they stagger to fill up the lane.
It is not necessary to have a double-width car that takes up a whole lane to have the benefits of a personal vehicle.
It is also not necessarily a requirement that the car be owned by the commuter. A personal public transportation alternative could provide them to commuters at much lower cost than any other public transportation option.
The Solution to the Problem
A narrow car that is safe, affordable, available, and enjoyable to drive, is the solution to the problem. This car, with the exception of affordable, now exists. The key is that there need to be enough of these vehicles on the motorway to make a significant impact. So how do we get approximately 15,000 of them (the estimated number required to relieve congestion in the Auckland area) to replace standard cars?
The fastest way to implement this is to have a government entity lease them out to commuters. The government entity, which would normally be responsible for building more infrastructure, could arrange for the ultra-narrow vehicles to be built and leased to commuters for a tiny fraction of the cost and a fraction of the time needed for such construction projects; and without causing extra traffic delays due to construction. The resulting reduction in congestion would benefit all taxpayers, not just those driving the leased cars.
We believe that a lease/rental program is the best option for encouraging large numbers of people to adopt this personal public transit solution. By renting, they will not need to make an expensive or long-term commitment to the vehicles. Driving them will show the benefits. Not only will the electricity to charge them be significantly less expensive than petrol, the parking costs will also be reduced since they take up only a quarter of the space required by a typical car. Participants will continue to enjoy the freedom of having their own vehicles.
Options for Personal Public Transit
Adding options to other forms of public transit is the fastest way to end traffic congestion.
Consider a couple of options. One is to have a car share program, much like the programs that are becoming prevalent in major cities all over the world. These programs allow one who is signed up to look on their smart phone for the nearest vehicle to their location, and reserve it for a few minutes until they get to it. They then drive it to wherever they want and leave it there, until someone else rents it. Most of these trips are single-occupant and could therefore be best served by a narrow vehicle that could park in 1/4 of the space and take up less room on the roads and motorways.
Many people, however, want the luxury of having their own personal space that travels with them. The convenience of storing things, i.e., having a personal traveling locker, is worth the trouble of having to find a place to park. Again, this could be well-served with a narrow car that could be rented by the month.
For all these reasons, we believe that an ultra-narrow vehicle that is safe and keeps the driver protected from the weather is the best answer to suburban commuter requirements.
“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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