New infrastructure approaches to BRT

 

BRT

Introducing Jorge Suarez

Today our city mobility colleague Jorge Suarez presents a “guest blog” on the subject of new approaches to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) infrastructure. Jorge recently moved to Sweden to join the City Mobility team. He has been responsible for implementation of BRT solutions in Latin America. Below he shares some of his experiences to present a fusion with Electromobility ambitions of cities.

- Edward Jobson

New infrastructure approaches to BRT

By Jorge Suarez

Jorge Suarez

Recently, I did a business trip to Bogotá along with other City Mobility colleagues. I was happy to see the new Transmilenio feeder going into the airport, and the trunk line taking you to the city center through Avenida 26 in 20 minutes. I left my native Colombia some 10 years ago and Transmilenio, certainly a strong influence on my career in transportation, continues to impress me. Transmilenio is such a well thought-through solution: its concept combines bi-articulated buses, dedicated stations, multiple stop points (key to high-capacity), real-time passenger information and, more recently, wi-fi at stations. A distinguishing feature of Transmilenio is the intergration of public space and bike use.

In this same visit, I was lucky to use a new service running through iconic Avenida 7 in its opening week, using the first Volvo hybrid buses in Bogotá. Bogotá aims to improve its fleet technology and this is the first step towards electrified public transportation. I was impressed at the underground Transmilenio stop in front of the National museum. I am more and more certain that cities will have to invent new creative ways to use scarce urban space to build infrastructure. Electromobility opens the door for innovative use of urban space as electric buses enable zero-emission, low-noise zones and the use of indoor bus-stops.

BRT Transmilenio

Transmilenio station on Avenida 26 with bike underpass

 

Public investment should not be the only solution for infrastructure. When you have 50,000 people coming into a terminal, such passenger flow becomes an important market opportunity. People tend to need to buy things or run errands during their journey so this opens up the possibility for retailers to install themselves in the terminals. Transport operators can invest in commercial space and have a share of the rents to improve their business profile as a whole. The city can, in return, ask for urban space improvements. The other opportunity is the integration of housing and office buildings with bus terminals, so-called Transit-oriented development. For Volvo, this ultimately means that we as manufacturers should think outside the box about how buses insert themselves in urban landscape. We are, thus, able to advise cities and customers on infrastructure design so it is compatible with bus operations.

Underground stations

Underground stations

Images: MSN News; El Espectador.

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Prioritizing bus paths

Shanghai night sky

Shanghai night sky

Last week my city mobility colleague, Magnus Broback, made a presentation at a seminar about public transportation in Shanghai and we took the opportunity to visit some of our contacts while visiting. As an old city that is still growing, Shanghai struggles to find a balance between efficient public transportation and city planning.

The old part of the city is especially crowded with all types of vehicles running in the streets. The traffic moves slowly and becomes disorderly in the crossings. However, in some areas main corridors have been defined, which makes the pace quicker with traffic lights controlling the flow. In these sections buses are prioritized and often given the priority of way in separate lanes.

Volvo/Sunwin bus

One of the thousands of Volvo/Sunwin buses in Shanghai

On small roads close to the city center, buses have little priority and frequently get stuck between cars. This leads to low speed leads and fewer passengers, which, in turn, results to lower priority given to the buses.

How can a city find methods to prioritize the street space for the benefit of the society?

If we compare three cars to one 12m bus, they actually occupy about the same space on the road, 35 sqm. Cars carry on average 6 people and the bus carries 30 people. This is not only a question about congestion: the time lost in traffic per person should be valued equally.

How can society find simple principles to compare the right to priority for different road users?

Value of time for travel: in literature we can find different standards for defining the value of travel time. For travel to work, I find it is logical to use the GDP per capita per working hour as a base. This gives us a measure that can be locally adapted for each city, but still easy to understand and use.

In the table below I compare the hourly cost for the number of persons occupying 35 square meters of street space.

Table: Value of travel time

All costs in $ GDP 2013 Work hours Three Cars

6 persons*

One Bus

30 persons*

  US$ per year Cost per hour Cost per hour
Brazil 12118 1766 41 206
Canada 43146 1710 151 757
China 9828 1850 32 159
Germany 39468 1397 170 848
India 3991 1841 13 65
USA 52839 1700 186 932

*global rough average

The assumption is that the hourly cost is defined by GDP per working hour in each country. The consequence is that the value of a street occupied by frequent bus traffic is about five times higher than the value for a street of cars, assuming that the capacity difference is used fully. I see a counter in front of me where the cost is ticking constantly.

Now, the interesting question arises…

If a car user wants to get prioritized what is a reasonable price for the street space from the perspective of the society?

I would reason that the difference in time-value is one important factor. The car users need to buy the time from alternative use and, at the same time, transportation capacity needs to be taken into account. 

The value of time is frequently used to compare priority of new investments. The question is whether this line of thought can be used to prioritize road space for different means of transportation and for different times of the day.

Is the value of time for different means of transportation a number that is useful for making educated decisions on using prioritized lanes and planning infrastructure?

On Wednesday evening, my travel companion for this journey, Magnus Broback, and I decided to have dinner in the city. The bus stop outside the lobby of the hotel was crowded with two buses running different routes, clearly marked by Arabic numbers 184 and 642.

Most people walked to the bus stop from the surrounding residential areas, while others came by bike. Seemingly a constant flow of passengers embarked the buses. At this time of the day, nobody seemed to exit the bus at our stop.

When passing the metro station earlier the same day, we saw a bus terminus with lots of routes delivering travelers to the subway. We assumed that at least one of the buses would take us the 3548 meters (the accuracy delivered by my nerdy habit of logging travels by GPS) to the nearest metro station. However, all the signs at the bus stop were in Mandarin, which neither of us can speak or read. We decided to ask the concierge for help.

The following conversation took place at the desk in the lobby of the hotel:

Me: Which bus can take us to the metro station?

The receptionist: You want to go to the metro station? Where are you heading?

Magnus: We are going to the city center.

The receptionist: I will call you a taxi.

Me: But, we want to take the bus and the subway.

The receptionist: The taxi can take you to the metro station.

Magnus: Is it bus route 184 or 642 that stops at the Technology and Science Museum station?

The receptionist: No you cannot take the bus.

Me: Why?

The receptionist: You will get lost.

We left the hotel without further discussion. It was getting dark, so we decided to take a risk. We decided to jump on the first bus that arrived, bus 184. It was most user-friendly. A lady, with a small red flag that she stuck out of the window to show her location, was selling tickets on-board the bus.

The price was 1 Yuan each, which was very cheap. As the bus was getting more crowded, the lady moved around to check the tickets, including the digital tickets found on smart phones, which were used by most. During our last leg, the bus was getting too crowded for moving around and we helped by passing money and tickets between new travelers entering the bus and the lady with the red flag. We followed the bus path street-by-street and found that it took us to the station after 4 stops along the way.

The moral of this story has many implications. Buses in general are perceived as complicated. The large number of routes makes few people aware of which route is heading for which terminus. There is a feeling that the bus may escape the route and not head for the right stop. We people in the bus business have a lot of work to do to make the systems more transparent.

 

 

 

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Don’t panic

population

”Don’t Panic” is the phrase on the cover of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. This is possibly the best advice that can be given to mankind, according to the author Douglas Adams

“Don’t Panic” is also the title of a recent documentary made with Dr. Hans Rosling. The message is that we are facing severe challenges, but simultaneously, there is also a flicker of hope with our slow and steady progress in the right direction. This is something that most of us, particularly who have not recently gone to school, need to be updated on.

I had mixed feelings after the ”Transforming Transportation” conference in Washington DC in January. On the one hand, I could feel the determination and passion of the delegates to make a change to reverse the increasing trend of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but on the other, a sense of frustration near to panic crept into my mind.

The growth of population in combination with increasing urbanization is a major concern.  This also affects the ever growing demand for transportation. In 1950, the global urban population was 750 million people. Today, the urban population has increased to 3.7 billion people. This means that the population in cities has had a fivefold increase in 63 years!

Table: World population and urban population

 Year Global
population
billions
Global urban
population
billions

1950

2,5

0,75

2013

7,1

3,692

2025

8,1

4,698

2050

9,3

6,252

2100

10,8

8,64

Like always when forecasting future developments, the information is not 100% reliable. However, when studying the most accurate data available (from the UN), we can find that population growth is actually forecasted to slow down compared to past trends. The second derivative is negative, today!

I plotted the graph below to analyze the relative growth development of the urban population. If the global urban population has grown fivefold in the past 63 years, my analysis indicates that in the next 86 years we can expect a 2.4-time increase of the urban population. Yes, in absolute numbers the growth is actually higher than the past 63 years.

If the assumptions are right, it shows that from a “relative change perspective”, we are over the worst part!

Figure: World population and world urban population versus time.

Figure: World population and world urban population versus time.

Now, note that there will certainly be a very wide distribution function in the growth of cities. Some cities will actually shrink, while other cities will increase 10 times their size. If we ask the political leaders in each city, it seems that most cities have the ambition to grow more than the median/average. This will of course not happen.

The most tricky part is to forecast urbanization in a developed country. If we assume that by 2100 world trade has evened out most of the local differences, the natural conditions for agriculture, mining and urban activities will determine the degree of urbanization in each part of the world.

With the help of Gapminder, I chose some reasonably developed countries with a normal trade balance like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Ireland. It seems that any number between 60% and 90% of urbanization is identified as normal.

Urbanization is, however, also strongly affected by fashion. With the risk of over simplifying reality, it seems that today’s preference is to live in big cities (we know this by studying how much people are prepared to pay for their living). This may change in the future. Clean, cost efficient and silent electric hybrid buses may be an enabler.

Figure: Historical development of the urbanization from 1984 to 2011, in some selected countries.

Figure: Historical development of the urbanization from 1984 to 2011, in some selected countries.

There are still some severe challenges ahead of us, but there is no reason to panic. Considering that mankind actually has gained a lot of experience from city planning and public transportation in the last 63 years, I feel that we are creating a lot of good examples of efficient cities, new and old, to learn and develop from.

References:

Population data and forecasts

Forecast of population 2050

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Green Gothenburg

Gothenburg

Green Gothenburg

This week Business Region Göteborg, which has the mission to create long term sustainable growth in the Gothenburg region, hosted a full day seminar dedicated to the electric hybrid bus technologies and services.

The focus of the day was primarily on the ElectriCity bus project that is run by a close partnership between Västtrafik, (public transport authority in Region Västra Götaland), Göteborg Energi (City of Gothenburg), Johanneberg Science Park (Chalmers), Lindholmen Science Park (Chalmers), Business Region Göteborg and the Volvo Group.

The electrification of buses is a qualifier for:
Silent, clean and potentially carbon emission free bus travel

Which in turn is an enabler for:

  • Indoor bus stops
  • Bus services close to residential areas sensitive to noise
  • Bus services in tunnels that need costly ventilation

and much much more…

I liked the inspiring ideas from the Science parks that look at new business opportunities in connection to making the public transports more attractive for the users. Ideas that provide answers to challenges such as indoor bus stops, connected services to the journey, personal travel advice (such as an accident on the route can generate a recommendation for a new route) or reservation of a bike in a bike pool close to the terminus.

Fredrik Persson

Fredrik Persson (Göteborg Energi) is demonstrating the electric charging station at Redbergsplatsen.

Ulrika Bokeberg at Västtrafik moderated the meeting and led the panel discussion that involved Nils-Olof Nylund (VTT Helsinki), Rolf Hagman (TOI, Oslo), Leif Magnusson (VGR, Göteborg), Kåre Albrechtsen (cph-electric, Copenhagen), Lotta Brändstrom (Göteborg Energi) and myself.

With the exception of Helsinki, it seems that most cities focus on promoting electrombility for cars instead of electrification of the bus fleet. This is somewhat hard to understand since most buses are used more than 10 hours per day while most cars are used less than two hours per day…

 

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175 billion dollars

Image

The Transforming Transportation conference took place in Washington DC this month. The event is organized and hosted by Embarq, ITDP, The Worldbank, The World Resource Institute and a number of development banks. This was my first time attending this event.

I found it an exciting new challenge to learn a lot of acronyms and phrases all at once. I can tell you that MDG, for example, stands for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Another thing that I noticed was that the presentations in general contained very very large numbers… In fact, the numbers thrown around were so large that they need to be translated into a more down-to-earth way.

Below I have played around with the numbers to give you an understanding of the potential impact this amount of money could have on transportation:

175 Billion Dollars: Is the total number to be invested on sustainable transport over 10 years.

450 000 is the number of Volvo diesel-electric hybrid buses that can be purchased for 175 billion dollars.

1 600 000 is the number of Volvo diesel-electric hybrid buses that can be purchased for 175 billion dollars provided that just the additional cost for the hybridization is financed.

355 tons of CO2 is omitted from each hybrid bus.  If the new hybrid buses are used to replace diesel equivalents, Volvo hybrid technology will lower fuel consumption by 30% on average under real world conditions. An average bus runs 1 000 000 km during its life time. With the average diesel fuel consumption in city traffic being about 45 liters per 100 km, the total fuel consumption totals at  450 000 liters during the life time of the bus. A 30% saving equals 135 000 liters in fuel.

160 000 is the number of buses that can be introduced every year. This is roughly all new buses in the whole world (longer than 10 meters) for the next 10 years, globally.

135% return on capital is the outcome if we assume that we save $1.35 in lower cost for fuel for each dollar invested in diesel fuel. This effectively means that an investment in hybrid buses not only lowers the carbon dioxide emissions by 3.5 kg CO2 per dollar invested,  but the investor also  gets 135% interest return on capital over 12 years (the expected average life time of the bus).

The Volvo 7900 hybrid

The Volvo 7900 hybrid

 Now, if we assume that we use the money to purchase new hybrid buses to replace the need for new cars (rather than replacing old diesel buses) the full price for a modern hybrid bus is about $400 000 (varies a lot depending on market and specification).

Further, each bus has a global capacity average of 20 passengers (~20% filling factor) and each car that will be replaced carries on average 1.4 passengers (a global value, excluding drivers that are not travelling themselves, like taxi drivers). An average modern car emits 150 g/CO2 per kilometer on a yearly basis. This means that the hybrid bus lowers carbon dioxide by 66 gCO2/km.

If we would assume that the 175 billion dollars would be used to invest in additional 420 000 hybrid buses for increased capacity to replace cars, the CO2 saving per dollar turns out to be $0.31 per kg CO2. If the price for the corresponding cars is included in the calculation each bus generates a local profit of $2 per $1 invested in the hybrid buses, climate gains and fuel savings not regarded in this example. Let me estimate that the capital return over twelve years for society will be about $4 per $1 invested.

The rational for the high cost efficiency for investing in climate efficient hybrid bus technology is straightforward. A bus is utilized 12-18 hours per day generating tons of savings (355 to be precise).

Mind you, I’m just a chemical engineer by profession and the numbers above are generated by simple straightforward calculations without including index compensation. This exercise needs to be done properly by people that understand acronyms like IRR and NPV. Never-the-less, the margins are on a level that should be interesting for anyone, with or without targets, that has an objective of lowering emissions of greenhouse gases.

On Friday morning I took a taxi from the hotel to the venue at the Worldbank.

The driver asked me if I heard about the freezing temperatures and the snow they had last week.

He continued: “Do you know how cold it was?”

I responded : “I heard on the news; it was below -10 degrees F.”

The driver said: “No, it must have been even less, in fact it was so cold that the lawyers had to keep their hands in their own pockets.”

Global ambassador for road safety, Michelle Yeoh, closed the event

Global ambassador for road safety, Michelle Yeoh, closed the event.

The event was closed by celebrity global ambassador for road safety, the actress Michelle Yeoh.

 

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Buses are democratic

Congestion

Investments in public transport help to relieve congestion.

I recently had the unique opportunity to meet with two ministers in India and dicuss different aspects of public transportation and buses in general.

Our lengthy dicussions produced many different insights into the topic. Here is what I discovered…

Politicians have the responsibility to act on behalf of all citizens. All citizens pay tax in one way or another, be it by Value Added Tax (VAT) on purchases or from a percentage of your salary. From a taxpayers perspective, the public use of money is a matter of realizing that value.

According to the first minister, “when we spend public money on roads for cars, the majority of the voters will not be able to receive a direct benefit from the investment”.

In India, most citizens don’t actually own cars, which means that benefits received from building highways for cars is limited. However, in many cities the congestion is severe and all travelers (on bikes, two wheelers, three wheelers, cars or buses) would benefit from less congestion.

According to the second minister, “visibility of the benefits received by society is essential for investments in infrastructure”.

If we build a high speed train between two major cities very few citizens will be able to afford the travel even if it would be heavily subsidized.”

Where we see a clear economic benefit but weak benefits for the citizens, there would be good opportunities for the private sector.”

I thought of this discussion after watching an excellent TED seminar by Enrico Peñalosa, “Why buses represent democracy in action”.

In short, the seminar discusses how public financing of cost efficient public transport is actually more democratic from a citizen’s perspective. It is interesting to find that there is a lot of similarities between both the reasoning of the Indian ministers and Mr. Peñalosa from Latin America.

A very different example of public transport is found in Jungfraubahn, in Switzerland. The railway was inaugurated in 1912 as a private investment, and has later been extended to include further rail and ski lifts in the valley.

Tourists pay 177 CHF per journey (a two way ticket). With a profit of 26 million CHF in 2012 (according to the home page), the investment has paid off. This is a good example of a railway that is not sponsored by taxpayers even when the amount of people using this mode of transport is relatively limited. Most of us can agree that Jungfraubahn does not require public subsidies.

I have been searching for an adequate measure to describe the degree of benefit citizens receive from investments in public transport, but have not come up with one so far. This is certainly a topic that would be of interest all over the world.

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Funiculaire

Furniculaire top station

Funiculaire arriving at the top station

Last week, I got the opportunity to visit Switzerland. Switzerland is probably the country with the best public transport in the world. It is affordable and highly attractive at the same time. The high standards are achieved by a combination of systems, buses, trolley buses, trams, trains and different kinds of cable cars.

Entrance to the Funiculaire at the station in the valley

Entrance to the Funiculaire at the station in the valley

After having taken the train from the airport in Zurich (Kloten) to the Central station in Fribourg,  we went on one of the bus routes in the steep hills of the city. It is a really challenging area in the winter. So far all good. However, next we came to the “Funiculaire”. It is unique in many ways.

Petroleum lamp

Every detail is still maintained the petroleum lamp for example is still using petroleum kerosene to light up the cabin.

The propulsion is achieved by balancing the weight of the two cabins. Waste water is filled into a tank at the upper cabin. The additional weight is used to accelerate the trains both the one going up and the one going down. They are connected by a cable. The most unique thing about the Funiculaire in Fribourg is that it is still 100% in its original shape. Even if this might be considered to be more culture than public transports it a highly appreciated part of the public transport system.

 

 

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