From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the technologies that allow people to commute in about 30 minutes have defined the shape of cities.
From March next year, commuters in the tiny nation will not be charged for trips on its trains, trams and buses. Marc Auxenfants crunches the numbers of such a move.
The move to free transport has attracted a great deal of international attention. “If the country had launched a promotional campaign, it would have cost millions,” comments economist Michel-Edouard Ruben. “With this announcement, Luxembourg just achieved a worldwide ad campaign for free.”
But he feels the style outweighs the substance. “Free transport is a false, fashionable idea,” he argues. He feels the money would be better spent on rent subsidies or social housing.
Constance Carr, a senior postdoctoral researcher at the University of Luxembourg, voices similar views, saying: “Free public transport is a complex issue and fees are not the problem.” She highlights high-priced housing as the key social issue, saying rising costs are driving people out of the city to border areas. Making more land available for housing would be one potential solution, she says, but whether land owners would support that “is a big question”.
I was faced with that today when my train broke down. It was interesting to see people dash for their cars or call an Uber. What I think is missed in this is that if everyone manages to make their own way, there is no expectation of the transport company to have any sort of backup. So I waited.
Although I waited for 30+ minutes for the replacement bus, I eventually got to work and everything was ok. Sometimes we worry so much that we forget what it means to wait and that sometimes it is about the masses.
The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.
Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage. So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too.
I talked to a dozen people who live along the tunnel’s route, and most said they hadn’t witnessed any extra noise or traffic. But none had been informed ahead of time that a private company would be digging a tunnel beneath the street. Some only learned about the tunnel in mid-2018—not when the digging started, in 2017—because the company purchased a dilapidated house on 119th Place for nearly $500,000 in cash.
Yet, in many ways, the tunnel is a triumph of privatization. Plans to extend the Los Angeles Metro system under the Sepulveda Pass first went on the ballot in 2016, after years of planning; the project itself won’t be completed for decades, because of federal and state regulations. Musk just needs to find the money. Since the Boring Company is private, it is able to avoid the years of tedious environmental reviews required when the government tries to build transit. It is also exempt from “Buy American” requirements necessary for projects that receive federal funding. This allows the company to try a new technology much faster than if the government got involved. Musk’s SpaceX was able to lower the cost of space travel through private rocketry, and the Boring Company hopes to do the same for tunneling, a spokesman told me.
Musk seems more interested in finding a convenient test site for a bold idea, one that he believes leapfrogs existing technological options, rather than doing the tedious work of improving an old system.
The speed at which all this is happening in China makes me wonder why we speak about ten year plans in Melbourne, Australia.
In part this scenario of a station in a field reminds me of the discussion of the development of infrastructure before people in Stockholm:
In contrast, places like Vällingby, a Swedish suburb outside Stockholm built in the 1950s, were sited around a new Metro station. Building rail infrastructure through built-up areas is extremely expensive, but building it through farmland, before new neighborhoods are built, is comparatively cheap.
By as early as 2028, it’s projected to be Australia’s biggest city. By 2050, it will have grown to 8 million — the size of London and New York.
“It’s the fourth-fastest growing developed city on the planet today,” demographer Bernard Salt said.
“If we don’t invest, and continue with this rate of growth, then we collapse under our own weight. You end up with a Bangkok situation — where you have an extraordinary level of growth and congestion, and you simply cannot move around the city.”
Service drives demand. When riders started to switch to the car in the early postwar years, American transit systems almost universally cut service to restore their financial viability. But this drove more people away, producing a vicious cycle until just about everybody who could drive, drove. In the fastest-growing areas, little or no transit was provided at all, because it was deemed to be not economically viable. Therefore, new suburbs had to be entirely auto-oriented. As poverty suburbanizes, and as more jobs are located in suburban areas, the inaccessibility of transit on a regional scale is becoming a crisis.
The only way to reverse the vicious cycle in the U.S. is by providing better service up front. The riders might not come on day one, but numerous examples, from cities like Phoenix and Seattle, have shown that better service will attract more riders. This can, in turn, produce a virtuous cycle where more riders justify further improved service—as well as providing a stronger political base of support.
In 1969 a bold new vision for Melbourne’s public transport system was presented to the state government with a deadline for completion in mind; the year 1985. It’s not clear why the Melbourne Metropolitan Transportation Plan set its target date a modest 16 years past the publication of the plan. Perhaps to coincide with a mid 80s visit from Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen when throngs of double denim fans would descend on the city and demand an efficient train ride? Whatever the reason, the public transport developments that emerged from that plan have more than outlasted the ’80s rock star era, in fact, almost fifty years on and it continues to transport millions of Victorians in and out of the City every week.
It’s been almost six years since I rode in one of Google’s self-driving cars. I think about all the data that Google has amassed since then – all the mapping data and geolocation data and sensor data and historical data and traffic data and all the machine learning that their machines are supposedly doing with that. Why, it’s almost as if the problems of navigating the world with AI are much, much harder than engineers imagined.
Personally, I’d prefer to see greater investment in public transportation than in cars, and I’d rather hear stories that predict that sort of future.
Interestingly, that might be a more logical space for automation, especially trains.
A plan to build a multi-billion-dollar underground rail loop connecting Melbourne’s western and eastern suburbs via the airport, and link all major train lines, has been unveiled by the Victorian Labor Government.
Citymapper now supports dockless transport options such as Ofo bikes in London and San Francisco’s Bird electric scooters, offering an insight into the future of transport in cities
Simply being profitable doesn’t necessarily mean floating transport is good for a city, and the growth of the sector has been a bumpy ride. A big problem is that pavement is a shared space, and a limited resource. The overcrowding problems San Francisco has seen with Bird scooters are mirrored in London by Ofo bikes – a model where users abandon their vehicles wherever they want inevitably results in pavements littered with out-of-service rides.
I am taken by Hern’s closing remarks concerning reliability over flexibility.
Ultimately, floating transport is going to have to learn another lesson that conventional transportation bodies have taken to heart: flexible may be fun, but cities run on reliable.
This leaves me thinking that sometimes what is required is community and sometimes that involves patience. What is the cost to the public/private transport industry when everyone relies on private personal transport models like Bird or Uber?
Final designs for Melbourne’s five new underground train stations have been unveiled, with Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan predicting they will become new landmarks for the city.
It will be interesting to see these spaces when finished and how they will change the surrounding environment.
This issue is only amplified by the capacity on the Sunbury line. I would imagine that this is only going to increase with the development of land between Caroline Springs and Melton. Really they are in need of ramps similar to Sunshine Station.
The 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan was a road and rail transport plan for Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria, Australia, instituted by Henry Bolte’s state government. Most prominently, the plan recommended the provision of an extensive freeway network, much of which has since been built.
It is intriguing to think about this about what it might look like in the future. Some talk about fluidity of public transport in the future, will this put a stop to things such as train lines. Time will tell.