The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

The Case for Jitneys

xTransit: Getting people in and around cities in road vehicles, smaller than full sized buses, driven by real human beings, dynamically shared with others, and aided by state of the art communications technologies -- and all of that as no less than the only way to offer "car like" mobility in most of our 21st century cities without killing the cities themselves (the old mobility way).
What follows here (3 Jan 2005) is the beginning of our collaborate work in this area, which is much needed to help us all to understand better how all of this fits in with the New Mobility Agenda that we now need to use to drive transport and related decisions in our cities. We are calling it for now a "WorkPad". Keep reading and you will see how it is intended to work. And then, one hopes, you will pitch in to help us all make this into a more complete and more useful set of information tools for the much needed transformation process in our cities around the world.
Short History
This is the latest focus program of the New Mobility Agenda and The Commons, which just got underway on the last day of 2005 to make an important, to us, symbolic deadline. (Thus making it the on-schedule fourth in a series of ten year world surveys and support programs reporting on these technologies and their prospects, the first of which carried out in 1975, with new reviews in 1985 and 1995. We are nothing if not persistent.)
If you are looking for some of the historic building blocks that have in their various ways opened the way for what is now going to take place far more quickly than probably even you think: "Old" New Mobility Agenda, which you may know in the past, including such as shared taxis, dial-a-ride, DRT, Demand Responsive Transport, paratransit, and the long list goes on. Take any and all of those, and then complete the logistics/communications chain with internet and mobile phones -- and a no less important wholesale redefinition of the legal and regulatory context -- and there you have it: xTransit.
Here's how Ron Kirby and Kisten Bhat of the Urban Institute diagramed it in 1974 in their path-breaking report: Para-transit: Neglected options for urban mobility (ISBN: 0877661219).

And what's the big difference with these same concepts many of which have been around for decades? It's the technology, stupid! Stay tuned and get involved.

What is xTransit
The job of this section of the WorkPad -placed here merely to get the discussions and serious work going and with no pretensions of being in any way definitive - is to rough out the main antecedents and eventual raw materials and components of a well working xTransit system. It is being posted at this point as part of the process of starting to define and development useful materials and perspectives on this important and as yet hugely underexploited mobility asset.
If you want to see an example of the sort of thing that we are targeting to provide under this heading, our World Carshare project at is the best example that we can cite today.
Please give us your comments and suggestions, both as to points of details and more broadly.
What xTransit is not:

'Normal' cars, 'normally' used (SOV etc.)
Motorized two/three wheelers
Scheduled, fixed route transit service
Walking, running, etc.
Antecedents/ways of getting around:
In any old order for now and just to get us going. What the following have in common is that they all are, or could be, candidates for, group ride services, more or less well articulated, more or less well supported by SOA technology. For now we cluster these in groups of roughly like concepts and operations:

Taxis (even in the single client variant, as least as an antecedent)
Group Taxis
Line Taxis
Shared Taxis (also called, among many others: Colectivos, Públicos, Peseros, Jeepney, Matatu, Gush Texi, Dolmus, Public light bus, Shirut, Molue, Bemo, Tro-tro, Poda-poda, Danfo . . . and lots more)

Lift-sharing (in UK also called carsharing. Watch out!)
Demand Responsive Transport
Dial a Ride
Dial a Bus
Taxi-Bus (Also Buxi, Busphone, Telebus, RufBas, ReTax, Sammel-Taxi, Texxi, etc.)
Accessible transit services
Special Group Mobility Services

Shuttle buses
Feeder services
E&H group transit
Medical transport

Arguably does not belong here since in actual use it serves a single customer/purpose. That said there are a number of important overlaps and common issues, including the IT components of both.
Goods/freight delivery

Small package and message delivery
Grouped goods delivery/Clustering
Freight Village
The other half of the xTransit equation:the logistics link:

Central dispatching services
Back-office systems and services
Call centers and processing
On board information and communications systems
Advanced traveler information systems
Internet/website information (may or may not be interactive)
Internet/website reservation/ordering (interactive)
Ride matching
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)
Mobile phones
Mobility centers

xTransit: - Start here: Fair Mobility for the Transportation Majority

"Who needs it?" "Why bother if it's just for a few people?" "Let's concentrate on the big problem."
In the world of human mobility there is not one "big problem". There is, for better or worse, just an ever-changing heteroclite confluence of a very large number of people, daily life realities, needs, possibilities, and desires. The old mobility vision of society is essentially one of striding workers, with jobs, fixed hours, trips, roads and the list goes on - all of whom to be served by our "normal transportation arrangements".
Then there are "the rest": the old, disabled, poor, etc., etc., and they too our bleeding hearts somehow figured out need to be catered to as well. Well, let's give them a bit here and there too. But most of our money is going to be spent on providing mobility arrangements for "normal people". That's right, isn't it.
No, it's not at all right. It is wrong. It is wrong because it is grossly unfair and uncivil. And it is also just based on a false precept. Why? Because that splendid vision of society simply does not jibe with reality. It never did in the past, and as our societies age it increasingly is absurdly contrary to reality. Here is the surprise, the kicker:
The "transportation majority" is not what most people think, transportation planners and policy makers included. The transportation majority are all those people who increasingly are poorly served by the mainline service arrangements that eat up most of our taxpayer money. And each year, as our populations age this majority grows in numbers.
Here is a generic short-list of the people who make up this too now all too silent majority:
Everyone in your city, country or electorate who does not have a car
Everyone who cannot drive
Everyone who should not drive (for reasons of a variety of impediments such as limitations associated with age, psychological state , , , ,)
Everyone who cannot responsibly take the wheel at any given time (fatigue, distraction, nervousness, some form of intoxication. . . )
Everyone who cannot afford to own and operate a car of their own (And remember that costs a lot of after-tax money)
Everyone who lives in a large city and for reasons of density, public health and quality of cit life needs to have access to a non-car mobility system
Everyone who would in fact prefer to get around by walking, cycling or some form of shared transport who cannot safely or readily do so, because all the money is being spent on the car-based system which is fundamentally, and financially, incompatible with these "softer" and more healthy ways of getting around
Everyone who suffers from some form of impairment that makes driving or even access to traditional public transit difficult or impossible
All those who are today isolated and unable to participate in the life of our communities fully because they simply do not have a decent way to get around.
And -- don't lose sight of this! -- you in a few years
And how are we going to provide for their mobility needs. Well for starters, by putting aside our old vision of the market and opening our eyes to the reality of the market. So let's get started.
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The strategic context of xTransit
"How street space is allocated, priced, and managed tells people how to travel".
- Michael A. Replogle, Environmental Defense, 5 Jan 2005 and said right here
A full and proper understanding of the actual context of this thing we are calling xTransit is vital to figuring out what if anything to do next with this concept and way of helping people to get around in our cities, and, yes, small communities as well. Without the context by way of background this is only one more of those many ideas, maybe good, maybe bad, that we can chat about forever and as the damage from the old dysfunctional system continues to mount day after day. But as I hope you know that is not what we are trying to do here at the New Mobility Agenda.
For a pretty good and fairly detailed introductory overview on the overall problematique as we see it, we can refer you to the "Here's our problem" opening section of the Kyoto World Cities 20/20 Challenge at But in the meantime and with one eye to the clock, what about accepting the following as a rather good surrogate for the rest when it comes to the dysfunctionalities -- thereby putting aside for the moment our very real concerns with pollution, economic costs, health impacts, taxpayer burden and the long list goes on (as you will see if you turn to the full treatment)? But let's simply for the purpose of putting xTransit into perspective think about all this for now as if the only problem that concerns us immediately is that of . . . the (egregious) space requirements of the "old mobility" (that is car-dominated) system.
The key to the New Mobility Agenda in cities lies in what is basically a two pronged approach: (a) aggressive, strategic infrastructure management and (b) parallel creation of a wide range of first class, desirable alternatives to the old mobility system which is now to be gently moved out of the city (or more realistically be greatly reduced in target areas and times), all while being left as a personal option for other transport as people may wish. (Bearing in mind that recent studies provide evidence that Swiss and German city dwellers who get to work and into the center by non-car means, nonetheless for the most part continue to own and use own cars for less dense travel and in the off peak).
The strategy is to withdraw steadily street space from "normal mixed use" and transfer it to more space efficient users, via programs of signage, traffic management, surface treatments and compliance monitoring. And this long list runs all the way from people walking and cycling in safety to traditional scheduled public transport plying fixed routes. That's a beginning, but is not going to be enough in most cities and their environs where the actual pattern of origins, destinations, and times of desired travel has exploded to a point that new means are going to be required to cater to at least a portion of this growing total.
Which is where xTransit in all its varieties comes in: space efficient transport (that in most cases has yet to be fully developed and put into place) that is by dint of load factors a rightful participant user of the new high density streets and lanes.
That's the broad strategic vision; now for the details.
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Why has it lagged?
When the first demonstration systems began to appear in the mid/late sixties, most ran into the dual problems of: (a) the technology was not there yet; and (b) insufficiently entrepreneurial skills on the part of the organizers. What was achieved however is that these first systems broke the ice and various groups and people started to look more closely at these group ride, 'third way' concepts.
An even less successful series of attempted innovations -- PRT or Personal Rapid Transit Systems (these entirely off the road, on their own guideways and (too) ambitiously computer controlled from start to finish) -- which despite being the beneficiaries of one, two, even three orders of magnitude more investment also bit the dust. But they too started various players around the world to thinking about high levels of service, and the ways in which new technologies might provide the glue to keep them together.
But the most important barriers that have delayed the progress and on-street introduction of these systems have been above all the result of the many ways in which the old system protects itself form innovation and change. Here are some of these which have been at times examined by researchers, public sector agencies, entrepreneurs, activists, and others hoping to create a more open framework for innovation in this badly constrained sector that is transport in cities.
Which brings us to what is doubtless going to be the most important single target, challenge and eventual contribution:
"Channeled thinking" on the part of the authorities and most others concerned in shaping the transport context of the city
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Next steps
Some of the key issue areas that now need collective attention if xTransit is to advance in time to make a difference, both as a global concept and in its various parts:
Better knowledge of preconditions for success
Insitutional, legal, regulatory and other barriers (incl. local ordinances)
Integration, coordination issues
Financing: Who pays what
Role of fairbox
Integration of fares with other carriers
HOV priorities
Labor union (resistance)
Trade resistance (mainly from taxi operators)
Insurance, liability
The model for our collaborative efforts: Perhaps, until something better pops up, our collaborative efforts over the last decade via the World Carshare Consortium?
It might also be useful to recall that this is an example of what we call a Self-Organizing Collaborative Network, for which you will find further background in the also in-progress Wikipedia entry on this here (own window). You might also wish to have a look at their entry on Knowledge Building, which relates closely albeit without the ever-important component of collaboration for change.
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Some reading and references
Print references:

This list has to be considered as partial and indeed misses out on the many good non-English languages sources that have been cared out on our subject. But we have to start somewhere. We list these for now in the order in which they originally appeared to make their contributions to this new field. Note that after about 1980, most references to "paratransit" increasingly refer to what is sometimes called "handicapped transport", in particular in the US and Canada.

Para-transit: Neglected options for urban mobility, Kirby, Bhatt et al. Urban Institute, Washington DC, 1974

Paratransit: Survey of International Experience and Prospects, Britton et al. EcoPlan International. U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, 1975

Small city para-transit innovations, Connie A Garber Dept. of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina. (1976)
Demand responsive transportation planning guidelines, Cady C Chung Mitre Corporation, Reston VA. 1976
Paratransit: an assessment of past experience and planning methods for the future, by Mary Gallery, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration, 1979

Paratransit: Changing perceptions of public transport : proceedings of a workshop held in Mount Gambier, 20-23 February 1979. Australian Government Pub. Service, 1980.

Jitneys: A complement to public transportation, Carlos R Bonilla, Transportation Center, University of Tennessee. 1981

GSM paratransit vehicle tests, M Smith. Transportation Development Centre, Cambridge, Mass. 1983

Taxi-based paratransit technology/operations packages in Europe, Francis E. K Britton, Technology Sharing Program, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, Washington DC, 1985

Urban Transit: The Private Challenge to Public Transportation, Charles A. Lave. Pacific Research Inst, Los Angeles. 1985

Technology and Business Opportunities in the Taxi Industry: An International Survey, Francis E. K. Britton. EcoPlan International, Paris. 1987

Assessment of computer dispatch technology in the paratransit industry, John R Stone, Technology Sharing Program, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1992

Paratransit in southeast Asia: A market response to poor roads?, Robert Cervero, University of California Transportation Center, Los Angeles. 1992.

TaxiCom '95: International Survey of Leading innovational Taxi Communications and operations Approaches. Britton, Rozen, Murga, et al. Federal Transit Administration, Dept of Transportation, Washington, DC, 1995.

A Handbook for Acquiring Demand-Responsive Transit Software, TRB, Washington DC. 1996

Paratransit in America, Robert Cervero, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1997

Evaluation of automated vehicle location technologies for paratransit in small and medium-size urban areas, Gary S Spring, Transportation Research Board, Washington DC, 1997
Contracting for Bus and Demand-Responsive Transit Services: A Survey of U.S. Practice and Experience, National Research Council , Washington DC. 2001

Flexible Urban Transportation, by Jonathan L Gifford, Pergamon Press, 2003

Intermode : Innovations in Demand Responsive Transport, Department for Transport, London, UK (PDF 1675 Kb) August 2004.
Web references:

Innovations in Demand Responsive Transport (UK)

VTPI on Taxi Service Improvements and on Shuttle Services

Google 1: "Demand Responsive Transport/Transportation/Transit/Taxi (with exclusions to narrow toward usefulness)

Google 2: "Shared Taxi/bus/transit (with exclusions to narrow toward usefulness)

Google Ride Finder

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