The Bus Transit Lane Concept Could Provide Real Answers to Funding Woes

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Atlantic Cities recently covered some awesome forays into transportation innovation happening in Tampa, Florida. Idaho could stand to have a conversation about the "BTL" concept.

The concept was put forth as a way to get transit authorities and highway authorities working together for the benefit of all. Traditionally, these two entities have been silo'd in separate spheres.

The BTL is a designated expressway corridor that gives first priority to transit buses. Once the buses are moving, the space will be sold to other drivers. For those who want to zip past traffic congestion, a small toll is a small price to pay.

This approach is smart because it solves the severe funding problems that most transit systems face. It instead creates a system that not only generates its own revenue, but eventually makes a profit as well.

Federal grans would pay for the construction of the corridor, but toll revenue from cars sharing the lanes would cover the cost of operating and maintaining the transit service. Such a system addresses the low farebox recovery rate of American buses--typical bus fares only cover about a third of the costs--potentially removing the need for tax payer subsidies. Simply put, transit would foot the initial bill and cars would take over from there.

Don't imagine that there would be nothing in this for drivers. Every car in the BTL is one less car turning the still-free freeway into a parking lot every morning. The tolls are voluntary, so they're not harming anyone. 

People who need transit could still get it while freeing up tax dollars for other projects in subsequent years. Buses would move faster, increasing ridership and decreasing emissions.

But is such a Win-Win-Win really feasible? Preliminary reports say that it is

  • Revenue projections show that 100% of transit costs would be covered by the BTL system.
  • A 65-mile route would produce a 30 year net revenue of $1.5 billion. 
  • There were three proposed routes. The lowest ROI for any route was 151%. The highest was 617%.
  • 90% of corridor capacity would actually remain open to cars, even if buses ran the corridor once every minute.
  • The least profitable route produced a 375% in ridership. The most profitable route produced an 1826% increase in ridership.

This is exactly the kind of thinking we need to adopt: smart solutions that make transportation work for all of our citizens and that actually create profitable assets rather than costly liabilities. 

Bike Friendly Hotels Offer Vacationers a Green Option

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, a nationwide hospitality chain, is doing something new. The hotel chain is embracing the rise of bike culture by partnering with Public Bikes to outfit a fleet of bicycles that will be available to guests staying at any Kimpton location.

The New York Times recently featured the story in their Travel section.

The two San Francisco-based companies worked together to create a fleet of custom three-speed European-inspired street cruisers that feature cherry red frames with orange and blue accents, cream tires, matching double-walled rims, brass bells and rear baskets.

Guests at all properties can purchase picnic baskets with fare created by Kimpton Hotel restaurant chefs and featuring locally sourced goodies in three themes: light and healthy, romantic shareables, and local flair.

You can see the bikes for yourself simply by visiting Kimpton's website. You'll find a charming photograph of one with a basket already loaded to the brim with mouthwatering food.

Kimpton Hotels aren't in every state, but you can find them coast-to-coast all the same. They're in Washington State, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and Florida. 

So if you're trying to plan your next vacation and any of those destinations appeal to you then you've got a unique opportunity on your hands. If you stay at a Kimpton hotel you'll be able to park your car for awhile, and you'll be able to experience the local flavor of your chosen destination up close and personal in a way that you'd never be able to see it if you spent your whole vacation trapped behind your windshield.

Is The Business World Beginning to Embrace Bike Culture?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

There are some positive signs which indicate a change in the way that the business world views bike culture. According to Entrepreneur.com, the number of bike-friendly offices is increasing.

Formerly considered a recreational activity to be done outside of working hours, many North American companies are now recognizing the benefits of promoting a cycling culture in the workplace. "Bicycling is the new golf," says Bill Vesper, President of the League of American Bicyclists, referring to the ability of bike clubs to promote networking opportunities. Cycling is not only a great way to promote physical fitness, but the social aspect of the sport encourages networking and can boost employee morale.

The league lists over 500 businesses that have implemented bike-friendly policies, 55% of which have under 100 employees. From breweries to tech companies and even law offices, small businesses across the country are embracing the benefits of being bike friendly.

Are you interested in bringing the benefits of bike culture to your workplace? You might not have to spend very much money to make the change. Consider taking any or all of the following measures.

  • Simply let employees know that you support the concept of bicycle commuting. Removing the fear of censure can go a long way.
  • Install bike racks in your parking lot.
  • Install showers and provide lockers so employees can clean up and store work clothing.
  • Keep a few bike pumps on site for employee use, just in case.
  • If you're feeling really ambitious, consider reimbursing employees for bike helmets, repair kits, or new cycling equipment, as some of the companies in the article did.
  • Provide trail maps or suggested routes to the office.
  • Stop asking employees if they have "reliable transportation." A car should not be a condition of employment in most cases.

See if you can brainstorm other ways to promote a sustainable commuting culture, which can embrace public transit and car pools as well as bicycle commuting. You may be amazed at the positive differences in your workplace. 

Will Transit Information Come to Apple Maps?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mobile maps have a lot of power to make transit a more attractive option for commuters. If people can get accurate information about their transit system on their smart phones then they are far more likely to trust and use those systems.

That's why Apple's announcement that it has purchased Hop Stop is such good news. Though Apple will neither confirm nor deny the reason for the purchase it seems likely that it would at least offer the tech giant the ability to offer this much-needed information to iPhone users.

Hop Stop looks up transit directions, maps, schedules, and nearby stations through its website as well as its Android and iOS apps. The company provides his data for 300 different cities and also offers city guides to its visitors. It would only make sense that Apple would buy the company to include this kind of information in its own Maps app, particularly as it would bring Apple maps just a little bit closer in competition to Google Maps, which already provides public transit information [in many cities].

Of course, in order for this to be truly good news, Apple has to fix the app itself, as it has been known to direct users to strange places. Google Maps could also stand to catch up by offering transit information in every city (they do not). 

It's also possible that Apple really does have another reason for the purchase. 

Still, any sign that transportation information is being treated like a priority is a positive one, and we look forward to seeing what happens next.

The Rise of the Bike Commute

Thursday, July 18, 2013

It makes sense that the decline of car culture would come with a corresponding rise in bike culture. The 9Billion.com reports that bike commuting is up by 50% since the year 2000.

This is not as large of an increase as it might seem, however.

Still, only 1% of Americans are biking on the regular, compared to 26% of people in the Netherlands, 10% of the Germans, and 19% of the Danish population. The growth in the United States is of course still positive, and a great indication there will be widespread public support as more cities begin to integrate cycling into the transportation grid.

One of the biggest struggles is going to be creating a grid that allows bikes and cars to more efficiently share the road. As the CSM article mentions, there are a lot of issues between the two groups that make cycling incredibly dangerous for both parties. Bike lanes are relatively "new," so some cyclists may not think to use them, and drivers may think that it doubles as a parking space as well.

These challenges are not insurmountable. As the article shows, other countries have tackled them successfully. Americans can certainly do the same. We will need to start by returning the car to its proper place as a tool, and not as a "symbol of prosperity," a "mark of status," as "freedom" or as a part of our "culture."

We simply need to examine our priorities enough to develop the will to do so. Once we have the will, we can find the way.

Then, we can create a transportation matrix that is cleaner, safer, and more versatile for everyone.