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I notice a pattern in these comments, in that many assume that their city is typical of the whole country. There are transit systems where service is routinely adjusted to meet load standards, call-n-rides are computerized and there are friendly taxi drivers who keep their cabs clean, volunteer to take low-income women to a charity Mothers Day breakfast, etc. After 50 years of private, public and non-profit transportation work, I'm not a fan of the steadily increasing burden of regulations -- both major parties add to them in each administration. HOWEVER, there's nothing magic about setting up a parallel system that operates on a pirate basis. In the 1930's a British libertarian thinker correctly guessed that deregulation would result in demands to directly subsidize safety-net service. In the 1975 Oregon Intercity Bus Study, we found that the old system of cross-subsidizing rural routes from main line revenue was breaking down, and concluded that it would be more honest to subsidize some service than to continue asking the low-income big city-to-big city passengers to bear the costs. This process was given a jump by airline deregulation, which nearly killed long-haul bus traffic. As a result, today we have 5311f programs and state funding in some cases. Looking at the micro-transit interaction with regulated transit and taxis, we need to ask who will bear the costs if the regulated carriers wither away. Some examples: 1. At the (regulated) Gray Line of Portland, as dispatcher I was prepared to get a bus and driver -- a "big" bus -- for forest fire crews ASAP. If we didn't, say because they always trash the bus, we'd be in trouble. At Uber, on the other hand, the fire crews would have a low score, so who would come round to take them to the fire lines? 2. When my dad's hotel burned to the ground on 23 Apr 78, in the middle of the night an Edmonton Transit bus driven from the garage by a serviceman pulled up to provide a warm respite for the survivors. In a few minutes he was relieved by an operator who came from home in a cab. Uber's premium pricing would have kicked in for these peopled huddled on the street in their pajamas. 3. In the nicer Denver suburbs, police dealing with drunks don't have a pick-up wagon like the big city. They call a regulated taxi and send the drunk home. How does Uber deal with that? And so forth. Yes, someone will pay for a solution. For example, instead of an expensive transit driver, we'll pay a fireman or a policeman and buy special purpose vehicles to do these jobs. It's nice to see private enterprise doing what it does best, but there is no net free lunch unless we're willing to go the whole Third World route and give up our expectations. Perhaps it would be more cost-effective overall to back off of some regulations than to pretend we can benefit by a transport system half-slave and half-free.
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To clarify a few points. 1. The original Edmonton LRT was modeled after three systems that were built in the 1950's - Montreal for the underground pedways, Toronto for the infrastructure, and Cleveland for the rail r.o.w. alignment with bus feeders and parking. These original influences were modified by influences from Germany and historical North American streetcar and interurban practices. It was renamed Light Rail in 1977, about a year before it opened. [Edmonton's largest ethnic group during the approval process for the first line was German and it and Calgary had over-the-pole air competition to the Continent before most U.S. cities, so a large part of the non-transit professional part of the public knew about the general idea.] 2. What was different from the North American ancestors was that in 1962 Edmonton had begun developing the timed-transfer focal point concept for its bus and trolley coach lines, which permitted a lower density Western city to offer convenient transfers -- "civilised" connections, as Llew Lawrence of Edmonton Transit. 3. In regard to Canadian higher ridership, it's a result of numerous policy and legislative differences that I won't take space here for, but it has long been noticed that there is a tendency for northern U.S. cities to do better, too. The biggest difference is the lack of Federal intervention in urban planning on the U.S. scale. 4. Although trolley BRT in a city where natural gas generated power is available might make sense, the current management spent a lot of effort in getting rid of the residual trolley coach system, in spite of city policies to the contrary. This is somewhat similar to West Berlin, when money was flowing in to build U-Bahn lines to replace tram lines in the 1960's and 70's. In both cities, the management became fixated on NOT considering the forbidden alternative further. I came along in 1976 and had the privilege of working with the people in Edmonton Transit who set all this into motion. They were also responsible for selecting the Siemens-DueWag car, which was to become the standard North American LRV. Edmonton also pioneered self-serve / Proof-of-Payment fare collection in North American rail practices and adopted numerous other technical experiments and innovations during that era, until it went into hibernation with the 1982-83 energy crash. Calgary, the more risk-taking of the two cities, continued its progress and overtook Edmonton in that era.
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Apr 26, 2012