New Model for Transportation - Take 2

My post from last week: We Need a New Model for Expanding Transit received a long, thoughtful response from Paul Minett: Co-founder, CEO and President at Trip Convergence Ltd. He was responding not to my post here but to my sending similar thoughts to an industry list serve called transp-tdm (TDM stands for Transportation Demand Management, and there is a whole industry of professionals who work in this field). I have edited Paul's response slightly, but have hopefully captured his thoughts and ideas:

Well said, Steve. And since you asked, here is what I think. I think the score card you propose is all wrong. This is not (or shouldn't be) a 'cars vs transit' issue, nor should it be a 'vehicle miles per gallon' issue. Eventually we will be forced to restructure how we achieve 'accessibility', and how much 'mobility' we actually need. In the meantime switching cars for buses or trains is like the proverbial 're-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic': eventually they all become obsolete.

It has been suggested (by
Jonathan Levine, for example) that 'accessibility' is made up of 'proximity', 'connectivity', and 'mobility'. We get what we focus on, and while the focus is on 'mobility' that is what results. A concerted effort to improve 'connectivity' could reduce the need for so much 'mobility'. On the other hand, within 'mobility' sits vehicle occupancy.

It amazes me that when some people look at a jammed freeway they see the solution being to add more vehicles (ie buses). There is enough rolling stock already out there. And it could all be getting 100 passenger miles per gallon, just by filling up the empty seats. We recently got almost 200 passenger miles per gallon on a trip from Portland to Salem: four people in a Prius.
Eventually we must reduce the amount of 'mobility' we consume.

In the meantime we need to put lots of thought (and action) into strategies that increase average vehicle occupancy, and reduce total vehicle counts, and reduce the amount of 'solitary mobility' we consume. Possibly the most energy efficient transport available is the van owned by a worker who carries eight or ten co-commuters for most of its journey, and then parks up while the worker does his job, until doing the return journey.

Highly efficient buses that deadhead empty to collect the next load are only half as energy efficient on a per passenger mile basis as the same buses operating full in each direction. During peak the loadings might justify the deadhead, but outside of peak it becomes questionable.

As a starting point we could all focus on mechanisms to increase the rewards for sharing rides, increase the cost of driving alone, and simplifying the process of sharing rides. We are one of many businesses focused on finding solutions to make progress in this area, and it is not plain sailing. Many seem to be offended that private companies might make a profit in this space. But perhaps more to the point, we find a lack of discretionary time and budget in the offices of the organisations that should be interested in working with us. And when there is funding for innovation the processes to bring it about are complex and very slow. Only the most dedicated stay the course.

I think it is great that you have opened up this discussion. I hope others will find time to comment because this is a fundamentally important issue.

Thanks, Paul, for your ideas and helping to push the transformation to sustainability this blog and millions of others seek.

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