Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Transit by Smart Phone App? Let’s Take a Pass; Plus, State Dismisses Bombardier Complaint

Snazzy video is built on concentric circles of misconceptions.
It’s come up before, so we can expect it to come up again – the idea that a city’s cross-town transportation needs can be satisfied with “personal mobility” solutions anchored by your iPhone.

Honolulu Magazine floated this “personal transit” concept last September with what we dubbed the Shaxi-Pool solution – a combination of shuttles, taxis and car pools. The suggestion that our high-capacity requirements can be met with shuttles dispatched to one’s door with a phone call is simply incredible.

The HumanTransit website, which we’ve previously recommended, looks at this utopian transit “solution” under a headline “how urbanist visionaries can muck up transit.” It begins:

“Architects and urban visionaries play an incredibly important role in a leadership-hungry culture. They have to know a little bit about almost everything, which is hard to do. But for some reason, certain segments of the profession have decided that the basic math and geometry of transit isn’t one of those things they need to know, even when they present themselves as transit experts.”

Some Honolulu architects fit that description and have proposed their own transit plan for Honolulu centered on at-grade rail, a concept we’ve taken pains to criticize many times, -- such as here, here and here.

Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker invites readers to watch a video from a Los Angeles architectural firm – a nicely produced and clever piece of computer-generated eye candy that he calls “a concise summary of all the crucial mistakes that you’ll need to confront in much ‘visionary thinking’ about transit.”

“Gensler (the LA firm) imagines that a demand-responsive style of transit, in which you make a request on your phone and the transit system somehow deviates to meet your personal needs, is scalable to a vast, dense city where the transit system is already very crowded much of the time.”

That’s what Honolulu magazine imagined, too: “Forget train tracks and bus lines. Imagine a network of on-demand shuttle buses. From your home or your phone, you send the network a request to go somewhere….”

Walker is describing Los Angeles in his Human Transit post, but the points apply just as well to Honolulu, which has a bus system that frequently runs near or at capacity. Here’s how he addresses the concept of calling up delivery of your transit ride just like you’d order a pizza:

“In Gensler’s Los Angeles, every transit trip must be reserved. Do you really want to have to make an appointment with a single vehicle and driver, because that’s the onoy way to make any use of all the buses swarming around you on unpredictable paths? Or might you prefer a simple frequent transit corridor where so many buses are coming all the time, in such a predictable pattern, that you can take any of them, and are thus almost guaranteed a vehicle soon even if one breaks down?”

Spend a few minutes with Walker’s Human Transit site watching the video and reading his commentary. You’ll have a handful of responses to use if someone’s idea of pau hana conversation is how to save billions by not building rail and instead planning our city’s transit around smart phone apps.

Win Some, Lose Some

The State has denied Bombardier’s appeal of the City’s disqualification of the company’s bid to build, operate and maintain the Honolulu rail line.

Yesterday’s hearing by the Hawai`i Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs contained some colorful language to describe Bombardier’s behavior during the bidding process, as reported by Civil Beat.

“Was there a hammer involved that needed to be hit over the head?” asked an attorney for the City. “You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make a horse drink,” opined a representative of Ansaldo, the winning bidder.

On the plus side, Bombardier has received a $330 million order from the Chicago Transit Authority for 300 additional rail cars.

Sumitomo, the other losing bidder, has its hearing today; we’ll update this post with those results.

1 comment:

sumwonyuno said...

It's fine if there are companies that can provide that kind of service, but it's not a replacement for rail + better land uses.

What makes it different than just calling a taxi now? Just because you can use your smart phone instead of a regular phone call?

Flexibility and efficiency tend to be mutually exclusive in designing systems. Also freedom isn't free; one person's freedom tends to interfere with another's (see rush hour traffic).