Archive for May, 2009



Berkeley Professor says HOT lanes will lose money and infuriate drivers, but he overlooks his own findings

Pravin VariyaPravin Varaiya of UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department claims that HOT lanes will loose money and infuriate drivers by making traffic worse. This is a blow to the San Francisco Bay Area MTC and this website which has vehemently supported the HOT lane proposal.

Yet, Varaiya’s assessment of HOT lanes is flawed. The East Bay Express says that,

He concludes that the new toll lanes will lose money for two main reasons. In less-congested areas, not enough people will use them. And on the Bay Area’s more-congested freeways, heavy demand from carpoolers won’t leave enough room for those single-occupancy vehicles that would pay the new toll.

The first flaw with this argument is that in less congested areas he is using current data, not future growth trends. Furthermore he completely neglects that these same areas generally do not have carpool lanes already in place. As such, they are part of the second phase of the HOT lane proposal that will build new lanes, but not for about a decade. The levels of congestion will almost certainly change by then.

The second flaw in Varaiya’s critique of HOT lanes is that he neglects to take into account that adjustments can be made. He says that in the areas were congestion is a problem carpool lanes require just two people in a car to use a carpool lane which makes them just about as congested as any other lane. He then points out that because of this there is limited space for toll paying single occupancy vehicles without causing congestion in the HOT lanes themselves. He neglects to mention that in this scenario the MTC will almost certainly change the requirement to three people per car to qualify as a carpool. This would reduce congestion in the HOT lane and simultaneously increase congestion on the other lanes, thus making the HOT lanes appealing to toll paying passengers.

It should be noted that Varaiya is basing his assessment of HOT lanes from previous studies that show carpool lanes are ineffective in reducing traffic and encouraging people to carpool. From these studies he also found that there is unused roadway capacity in many carpool lanes that could be used to reduce congestion on some freeways if these lanes were converted to ordinary freeway lanes (mixed flow lanes). In all probability Varaiya is right on this issue. Yet, this only supports the case for HOT lanes. Rather than simply granting the extra capacity over to all freeway users, why not sell it? This achieves a better result than simply turning the lane over to mixed flow use because when needed a HOT lane raises the toll to discourage drivers from using the HOT lane. Thus, a HOT lane is impervious to congestion. Because a lane that is full, but not congested, moves far more people then a congested roadway this means that since people using the HOT lane are taken from the mixed flow lanes, more people are taken out of the mixed flow lanes if a HOT lane is used than if that lane is simply converted over to a mixed flow lane.

So what alternative does Varaiya propose to ease congestion? He proposes signaling, specifically like that used on the Bay Bridge. However, the Bay Bridge signaling works because it can signal all drivers across the entire freeway, but this is not possible on most freeways. For a similar plan to be effective throughout the Bay Area every freeway would need signals on each freeway entrance and everywhere a freeway merges with another freeway. However, if signals where installed wherever freeways merge, this would create a backup on the freeway people are merging from – such a signaling system would not work. Yet, without this type of signaling system it is impossible to control the traffic flow on an interconnected freeway network. That is why signaling used only at on ramps does not eliminate freeway congestion, despite its’ extensive use in places such as LA.

Given the facts that Varaiya lays out, his assessment of the HOT lane proposal may be correct. However, he does not address the the fact that things can change. This makes his assessment of the HOT Lane proposal wrong. Furthermore, he completely neglects to mention how freeway lanes that do not become congested, such as HOT lanes, benefit transit and encourage people to switch modes.

New BART cars: demo model by 2014

New BART carsBART is moving forward with its’ fleet replacement. The full roll out is expected to take 20 years and cost $3.2 billion. The new trains will feature more doors, smaller seats, and more standing area. BART board members will meet this Thursday to discuss how to begin moving forward with the plan.

Demo units are should be rolling by 2014 if BART plans go to plan (they very often don’t). A fleet of 20 cars could be rolling by 2017. By 2028 BART plans to have all the new cars on the tracks.

New BART cars

The fleet replacement is likely to bring out some interesting designs because BART trains are longer, wider and faster than any other metro system in the world. For these reasons the fleet replacement will also be more expensive than other fleet replacements because the new cars will have to be designed from scratch. Some elements from the original design may be used, but because BART used new technology in the original train design the technology has some flaws. Now will be the chance to work those flaws out – the new cars won’t just be cosmetically different.

Innovative designs by Kistel

Here are list of some of the changes that can be expected with the new cars:


  • Independent axles: this should help eliminate screetching sounds around corners and reduce maintenance.
  • More doors: this should reduce dwell times at stations by getting passengers in and out faster.
  • Smaller seats: BART uses larger seats than other metro systems. Reducing the seat size will allow more passengers to board the train.
  • More standing space: In addition to smaller seats, there may be fewer seats so that more passengers can stand.
  • Improved ATC (automated train control systems): this could allow for driverless operation and lower headway times. This means lower operational costs and more trains. It also means more space for passengers on the trains.
  • Visual Displays: passengers have complained about not being able to see what station they are at. New display boards would display station names, time and other relevant information. These displays may be flat panel TV screens that allow other information to be shown, possibly advertisements and news.
  • New look: BART prides itself in its’ image. The new trains will probably look sleek.
  • Wireless Connectivity: BART has already began rolling out a WiFi system. They have also been aggressive in providing coverage for cell phone carriers. The new trains may improve connectivity options.
  • Plastic Seats: the comfortable cushioned BART seats are expensive to maintain and hard to clean. Plastic seats can solve these problems and make the cars lighter.
  • Articulated cars: the new cars may be linked together without the door between cars. This requires putting the train axles at the joint of the cars, but allows passengers to move more freely between cars and increases space for passengers.
  • Lighter weight: although BART used advanced technology when the trains were built, new materials and design technologies may allow the cars to be lighter. This would reduce maintenance costs on both the cars and the tracks.
  • Green technology: there is likely to be some element to the new cars that is ‘green’.

UPDATE 5-7-2009: Check out the link to the BART’s New Rail Cars page.

UPDATE 5-8-2009: Take a look at what the next generation of BART cars might look like in this video (July 17th, 2008).

IMAGE CREDIT: Top right, BART; middle left, CBS news

New York transit rescued at last

Paying More For This?The New York MTA has been facing the possibility of large fare increases and deep service cuts, but a funding agreement has finally been reached. The main source of revenue? Payroll taxes (34 cents per $100). Fares will also go up by 25 cents. A taxi surcharge of 50 cents, increased car rental fees, diver’s license fees, and vehicle registration fees will also help fund the cash strapped agency.

This is an important development because $1.53 billion will come from the payroll tax alone. This is a stable funding source whereas sales taxes, the more common method of covering transportation costs, are not. However, there are still problems ahead for the agency. The budget plan will not help cover the capital costs to complete certain projects and because the tax is not fixed to any price index, inflation and rising costs will effectively lower the tax year after year. This means that in just two years the agency may need more money to cover operating costs.

Another problem with this plan is the specific type of tax that will be levied. Finding new funding mechanisms is good, but a lot of people, especially a lot of rich people, don’t earn their money from pay roll taxes. Another problem is that this tax is a flat tax which means even the poorest of the poor will have to pay the same rate as the rich.

Nevertheless, this plan is pretty good. The trains and buses keep coming and a new source – a better source – of revenue has just been created for the New York MTA. Perhaps this will spur a new trend around the country.

© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.

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© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
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