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Electric Buses: Challenges and Opportunities

Uploaded: Sep 8, 2019
Did you know that all new buses purchased in California will be zero-emission starting in 2029? The goal is to have a fully zero-emission bus fleet by 2040. China is leading the world with 400,000 electric buses, while the US has just 300 (most of them in California). What will it take to transition all 12,000 buses in California’s public transit fleet, and what do we gain?

I had the pleasure of talking with Adrian Martinez about this topic. He is an LA-based attorney for the environmental organization Earthjustice, where he has focused on air quality since 2004. He has spent his career working to ensure that we meet our own “clean air” standards. That doesn’t seem like a high bar, but he has his work cut out for him. You can see how often air quality standards are not met in the LA area, over 140 days per year by current standards.


Source: South Coast Air Quality Management District

The problem has been getting worse over the past few years, in part due to warming temperatures. (1)

Buses and other large diesel vehicles are a big part of the problem. Mr. Martinez points out that the transportation sector not only accounts for 40% of our greenhouse-gas emissions, but also 80-90% of smog-forming pollutants. Trucks and buses are outsized contributors. While they represent only 7% of vehicles, they account for 20% of emissions, and are the largest single source of nitrous oxides (a precursor to smog) in the state. (2)

By electrifying buses, we can improve both our greenhouse-gas emissions and our air quality. We also address a persistent social inequality, since low-income households tend to live in urban areas and near highways where air quality is worst. Seniors, children, and people with asthma are most affected. Advocacy on their behalf by Mr. Martinez (aka the @LASmogGuy) and others has led LA to set a 2030 target for a fully zero-emission fleet, about ten years ahead of the state.

California estimates that transitioning our public transit fleet to zero-emission vehicles will be the equivalent of removing 4 million cars from the road by 2050. The buses have 20-25% the lifecycle emissions of diesel and natural-gas buses. (3) And while the cost of the bus can be 50-100% more up front, savings on fuel and maintenance make the overall cost similar. Bus and even utility companies are coming up with lease mechanisms that spread the upfront cost over a longer period. The real cost is in the charging infrastructure. As one example, Philadelphia found that it would cost $1.5 million to set up a substation near their bus depot to charge 20 vehicles. (4) The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has identified a number of sources of funding to help California cities get over the financial hump, but the difficulty of setting up adequate charging is slowing adoption of electric buses.


Source: CARB presentation on zero-emission buses

Other challenges with electric buses include hills and cold, which reduce battery range significantly. Bus pilots in several states have struggled to get the battery capacity they were promised due to these and other challenges, such as air conditioning. Mr. Martinez says the electric buses are getting better every year, but I asked him about hydrogen-power. He said those buses are very expensive, though their costs may improve in the same way that costs of electric buses have come down. Hydrogen fuel-cell technology is a clearer fit for trucks. Ports, for example, are very interested in using hydrogen to power their very heavy freight trucks.

Burlingame-based Proterra is one of the leading electric bus manufacturers in the US. The San Jose airport has ten of their buses running the short circuit around the terminals, parking lot, and rental car agencies. I tried one out the other day, and the bus seemed fine. I was a little surprised to find that it was not particularly quiet. In addition to the vibrations you would expect from a large bus, there was a pretty high whining sound at times, I think when it was accelerating. But the lack of belches of noxious exhaust is wonderful, both when you are being dropped off and also when you are driving behind the bus.


Interior of a Proterra bus at SJC

Electric buses are a win on three fronts: greenhouse gas emissions, particulate emissions, and environmental and health improvements for low-income households. So I asked Mr. Martinez what the biggest pushbacks are. We’ve already talked about the cost of the electricity infrastructure, which is considerable. Another objection is the rare earth metals used in the batteries. Biomethane is often pushed as an alternative for buses because it does not need new infrastructure. So-called “renewable gas” buses have higher emissions than electric buses, given their less efficient engines and methane leaks in production and distribution. Biofuel is costlier than diesel and somewhat hard to come by, so it is often blended with diesel, reducing the emissions benefits. How should we trade off the cleaner electric buses with their higher infrastructure cost? At the end of the day, Mr. Martinez says, we need to reduce demand for fossil fuels, and the sooner the better. Clean electric buses lean into the energy infrastructure of the future, and merit our investment. (5)

It is early days, but California is generally a good place for these buses and has set aggressive goals. The Los Angeles area is leading the way, but we are seeing some progress locally with SamTrans (ten buses promised a year ago, though SamTrans was not available to update me on progress) and the Mountain View Community Shuttle (see earlier post). School buses and delivery trucks are not far behind. (I cannot wait until the omnipresent UPS and FedEx delivery vehicles are electric!) This is a nice win for the health and livability of urban communities in particular, and for our planet more generally, as we build out our electric grid.

Notes and References

0. This is the third in a series of posts on buses. The first was on long-haul buses, the second on local buses, and this one is on electrification.

1. In the Bay Area, we are fortunate to have a much smaller issue with ozone (in the summer), and particulate matter (in the winter). You can find historical data here.

2. Information about the disproportionate contribution of trucks and buses comes from a writeup by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

3. The Union of Concerned Scientists has evaluated lifecycle emissions for different kinds of buses in different parts of the country (really, different power grids). This stat comes from this infographic, where our network is represented as WECC California (CAMX).

4. City Lab reviews here and here some of the challenges cities have in establishing an electric bus program. This fact sheet lists some of deployments (existing or planned) in the US.

5. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a recent fact sheet on biomethane, which argues that the best use of biomethane is to produce electricity or hydrogen for zero-emission vehicles, because those processes lose less energy, plus biomethane is relatively hard to come by.

Current Climate Data (July/August 2019)

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Comments

 +   2 people like this
Posted by What about Caltrain?, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Sep 8, 2019 at 9:58 am

One would think that if any transit service could run on electric batteries, it would be Caltrain. Its territory is flat, the weather is mild, and there's only 50 miles between SF and SJ. It's 77 miles if you go all the way to Gilroy. The conditions are ideal for electric battery use.

Yet, Caltrain decided to go with an overhead electrical infrastructure, which added many years, millions more in cost, required cutting down many trees to provide wire clearance, and introducing a whole bunch of conflicts with existing rail infrastructure, including positive train control and constant warning time system which Caltrain still hasn't figured out how to get all to work together.

All that money could have been spent on additional batteries or trains that would be needed during the day while batteries that were spent needed time to recharge.

Using batteries make a lot more sense.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by What about Caltrain?, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Sep 8, 2019 at 10:15 am

I have another comment separate from Caltrain.

The tech buses that travel between SF and Silicon Valley every work day are ideal to be converted to electric battery first among all mass transit providers. These buses are active only during the morning and afternoon commutes. While they idle midday and overnight, they could be charging.

I'm now wondering why the tech companies have not done this already...or at least encouraged their transportation providers to do so since no tech companies own these buses. They are certainly rich enough to afford it and their utilization is high. The capital cost for purchasing a bus is high, but the operating costs will be lower making the total cost over the bus lifetime lower. There is a need for charging infrastructure, but I'm sure there are tax breaks available that would defer that cost.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 8, 2019 at 10:21 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Caltrain -- It's interesting you mention the choice between batteries and overhead charging. This article from The Atlantic's CityLab talks a bit about that, but in the context of buses, not trains. Apparently "in-motion charging" is popular in Europe, and you can read a bit about why. Given trains are so much heavier, I can imagine overhead charging having similar tradeoffs, but I don't know much about it.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 8, 2019 at 10:53 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Caltrain -- Great question! And school buses too. Interestingly, Proterra has partnered with Van Hool (which makes a lot of the private commuter buses I see driving around here) to make an electric version. They have also partnered with Daimler to make electric school buses. I bet we see some soon around here.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 9, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Stanford's Marguerite Shuttle is electric. They got 10 electric buses in 2014. See Web Link

I understand Palo Alto is considering expanding its shuttle operations. Why not have the Palo Alto Shuttle go electric? The daily route is short, buses could charge overnight at the Municipal Services Center, and subsidies might be available from BAAQMD or other sources.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by BRT Please, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 9, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Electric buses are great, but could be much better if taking the bus was actually a more convenient and cheaper way to get around than driving.

Bus-only lanes can enable buses to move faster than cars, making them more a more appealing option. Bus rapid transit was proposed along El Camino, but the plan was nixed because cars reign supreme.

Indianapolis' new electric bus routes have been very popular, as the buses speed past cars in traffic and have 10-20 minute headways. Web Link

Electric buses are great, but unless we have the political will to make buses better than driving, they will have little impact.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 9, 2019 at 8:13 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Arthur -- Thanks for the info, I didn’t know that! I checked with Marguerite, and they said that at this point 41 of their 66 buses are electric. I hope to talk with them on Thursday about how it is going, what challenges they have, what benefits they are seeing. I will update here in the comments, or maybe a mini-blog-post. I agree that it seems our shuttles could also be electric.

@BRT -- Mr. Martinez made that same point, that bus-only lanes are important for buses to take off. We have not been successful here (the El Camino bus lane proposal “fizzled out”), and they have had mixed success in LA. (The Orange Line is working great, but the one on Wilshire Blvd is filled with cars. They are trying another one now.) Mr. Martinez pointed to the Emerald Express in Oregon as a good example, where it is so good it is apparently increasing property values. I should probably do a post on what makes them successful or not, and whether we can make buses better without making driving worse than it already is.

BTW, I just learned from another reader that AC Transit has one of the largest hydrogen-powered bus fleets in the country. Who knew! I'm excited to learn more...

Thanks for the great comments...


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 10, 2019 at 6:49 am

The proposed bus lane on El Camino was supposed to be for VTA buses only. I would be very much against a lane just for VTA.

Most European bus lanes that I am aware of are for buses of all types. City bus routes, long distance buses, tour buses, private shuttle buses, etc. are all using the same bus lane and bus traffic is faster than the other vehicle lanes. For example, the motorway spur from the M4 into Heathrow airport has a bus lane which includes local buses, long distance buses, private buses, hotel shuttles, car rental shuttles, etc. The bus lane has traffic moving at the speed limit, the other lanes are at an almost standstill. I sit on my bus from a local city and get to pass all the cars, delivery trucks, etc. that are not moving. As we enter the airport perimeter, the bus lane has priority traffic lights. It means that going to Heathrow airport by bus is quicker and more reliable than getting a ride to the airport from a friend or even a taxi.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by BRT Please, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 10, 2019 at 10:47 am

The Indianapolis program is only for the public bus (it operates like a light rail, but it's a bus) and seems to be working extremely well. Disappointing that “resident" wouldn't support a bus lane unless it is also allowed to be filled with hundreds of tech shuttles. Perhaps a rule that only buses open to the public are able to access the lane would be more appropriate.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 10, 2019 at 3:28 pm

BRT

What you seem to forget is that for each tech shuttle with employees riding on our roads, there are less cars on the same roads. What would your rather have, buses that can move efficiently and effectively move people to where they have to go, or dedicated bus lane for VTA only and tech buses that are not full clogging up the other lanes while the techies drive to work because the buses are no quicker than driving.

We need efficient modes of transport that will get people where they need to go quickly and efficiently. If bus travel gets them there quicker than they can drive they will be more popular and the more buses using an express bus lane the better for those who are unable to use them on any given day.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by BRT Please, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 10, 2019 at 4:50 pm

I don't follow your logic. The tech shuttles are excellent and already serve to take many cars off the road--without a bus-only lane. The shuttles also benefit from avoiding some of the hassles of public transit: they're free, they often have nicer amenities, and they have fewer stops before your destination because everyone is going to the same place.

It seems odd to make your support for bus-only lanes contingent upon access for private, exclusive shuttles. In my view, public transportation should be elevated above private options if we want to make it a viable option for everyone.

If public buses were superior to tech shuttles, perhaps techies would take public transit to work instead of private shuttles. Doesn't sounds like a bad thing to me for people of all socio-economic statuses to ride public transit.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by What about Caltrain?, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Sep 10, 2019 at 6:38 pm

@BRT
I'm with Resident on the bus lane issue. While the buses are free for tech workers, they are not free for the businesses that run them. If the buses ran faster, more employees would use them, lowering the per employee cost of running the bus service. It would also ensure employees can be more productive during the day spending more time at the office or at home rather than sitting in traffic.

In the end, we all benefit with less traffic on the roads, less air pollution, less wasted time on the roads, and less stress.

A reasonable compromise if you're still against letting private buses in bus lanes is to charge a toll for private buses. Public buses can use the lane for free.

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong. I believe the main reason why public buses can't travel from SF to Silicon Valley is because the bus systems are run by the individual counties, not a Bay Area regional government agency. For example, SF County would not want SamTrans to be making a numerous stops in SF. If it did, that would cannibalize SF Muni's service. If SamTrans buses go to SF or Santa Clara County, they make very few stops. Those stops are intended to be a destination for San Mateo originating riders only.

And that is the reason no public agency offers bus service between SF and Silicon Valley. It crosses two county lines. It's possible to offer multi-county bus service, but very hard to do even if there is a clear need for multi-county bus service. You need adjoining counties to come to an agreement on a board, staff, cost-sharing, tax income to fund the transit, and goals.

Tech workers do take Caltrain and BART to work, but those services suffer from last mile issues. They need to take a bus or Uber to get to the Caltrain stop, take Caltrain, then take another Uber or employer shuttle to work. That's a lot of transit stops which is not as convenient as driving straight to work from home. The employer shuttle eliminates at least one of those transit stops, maybe even both in some cases.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 11, 2019 at 8:38 am

The discussion here is worthwhile and I think we are closer in thinking that in disagreement.

BRT, the only reason I mentioned tech buses is because you had mentioned them. I think the tech buses are a good thing. One of their limitations is that they are subject to the same delays as every other vehicle. At times when I have sat in heavy traffic that is barely moving I notice that the tech buses are stuck in the same traffic and not moving. The carpool lane gives them very little advantage in heavy traffic say after an accident not only when they are in operation, but also outside those hours.

I like Caltrain and in particular I like the idea of the light rail, but they are both limited by being on a dedicated rail. In the event of an incident on the tracks, no trains can move usually in either direction. They are tracks that can move high numbers of people but are limited to the trains that are using them and no other vehicles.

Bus lanes have advantages over this. The number of buses that could use them is basically infinite (in the same way that the other lanes are infinite). If an incident happens in a bus lane, the buses just leave the bus lane and enter a different lane. In a true emergency situation with police, it is possible that any bus that needs to leave a bus lane to clear an accident, for example, could by the police be given priority, to enable those buses move quicker than other vehicles around the obstacle.

A bus lane can additionally be used much more flexibly, such as say getting to Shoreline for a concert, or to Stanford for a football game. Adding extra vehicles for a large event is possible. I know that Caltrain uses a special station at T & C, for football, but I am not sure how that works in practice for other trains in the schedule. I think there are special trains during Levis events also, but again what does that do to the regular schedules?

Tech buses are limited to the employees so they cannot be called public buses. But should similar types of bus routes be invoked to serve the public as a whole. If bus lanes could improve travel times with priority over other traffic it would make those buses much more popular for regular commuting as well as event trips.

A dedicated bus lane that is only for VTA buses in my mind is not like a train track. I am not familiar with the rail service you mention, but a rail can only be used by the trains designed for that rail. In other words, Caltrain can not use BART tracks and VV. Having a VTA only bus lane would not help private shuttles and I think that would not be the optimum use of such a lane. It would not help say a business or school wanting to move a large number of people for an event on a one time basis or even on a daily schedule.

Marguerites do a good job moving people. They are buses that are in fact public buses as anyone can use them regardless of their Stanford connection. I think this is a good model for other shuttle services. But if a dedicated VTA bus lane was invoked, the Marguerites would not be able to use them. I think it would make sense that the Marguerites should be treated the same as a VTA bus, and in addition, school buses, tech buses, tour buses, etc. should receive the same treatment making them more attractive for people to use as they can then advertise the real possibility of getting people where they need to go faster than solo driving.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 11, 2019 at 10:44 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

There is a group looking at "Bus Rapid Transit" lanes on 101 (among other things, see here), and that group includes not only public agencies but also private employers. It takes money to create and enforce these lanes, and presumably the private employers would contribute because they stand to benefit a good deal. And it helps the public as well, especially if we can get some real public bus service going up and down 101.

101 seems like a great candidate for BRT because there is a lot of congestion at certain times, causing buses to be late; there are many lanes; and there are many buses carrying plenty of people. (Those are some of the typical criteria that are used for deciding whether or not to invest in BRT.)

I am a fan of BRT. It is cheaper than light rail, it is more flexible (in terms of routing and outages), and it is supports a greater diversity of vehicles (for example, hydrogen and electric). I don't know enough about El Camino to know if it makes sense there, but 101 seems like a no-brainer.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Transit reality, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 11, 2019 at 1:07 pm

Slowing down 99.9% of our commuters so 0.1% of our commuters can go faster does not improve the efficiency of our transportation grid or reduce pollution.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 11, 2019 at 2:10 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Transit. That is a super important point. What criteria should we use to determine if a dedicated lane for buses is a good idea? I've been reading up some on that, but what criteria would you use? For example, you might say it's worth it if the average speed per person goes up by a certain amount. And you might add "in the next 3 years" or something, to give the market a chance to react. (The nice thing about these lanes is it's easy to undo them if they aren't working.) Or maybe you have both a "right now" and a "in 3 years" goal. Or maybe your criteria are based on per-passenger emissions rather than speed? Or ...

Also curious to learn what you think of HOV lanes, or the new Express lanes (HOV + pay-to-play) that are coming to our area soon. Similar objection? Or different because ... ? My understanding is that we are adding the payment option for solo drivers because they are not always well used. The idea is to guarantee 45 mph. The fee for driving solo varies depending on how crowded the lane is. This is coming to our section of 101 soon. (From here.)


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Sep 11, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Several postings have touched on what I think of as "the transition problem." It crops up in a lot of situations we're facing these days, including transportation and housing.

We have transportation system "A" today. We can imagine transportation system "B" that's better. However, if we choose a transition from A to B that passes through a situation that's significantly worse than A, not only do we face a lot of (completely justified) resistance, we risk a complete breakdown of transportation in the area, with serious economic, social, and environmental consequences.

Traffic delay is very nonlinear -- adding a little bit of traffic can increase delays a lot. Here's a short, interesting presentation on that subject: Make Every Day "Columbus Day" in the Bay Area (Web Link) 3 to 5% less (or more) traffic demand yields 50 to 70% less (or more) delay.

So, getting back to buses, we can imaging a system that makes better use of buses that has advantages over our current system. But if the transition to that system increases traffic more than a little, it probably wouldn't be a good idea.

This suggests that taking an existing lane away in order to make a bus-only lane is a bad transition strategy. Instead, we could concentrate on making bus-only lanes only where they can be new additions, or only where sufficiently-heavy use can be guaranteed (for example, by corporate services). Or (I think someone mentioned this above) we could apply other incremental strategies, like equipping buses with traffic-signal priority controllers, or leveraging transportation management associations (TMAs). If successful, then over time traffic might decrease enough to permit reassigning existing lanes, and we'd have a virtuous circle.

Since this blog post is specifically about electric buses, it's interesting to ask whether they have some special advantages that other buses wouldn't have. One thing that comes to mind is that they're viable in enclosed spaces, like enclosed roadways and tunnels, that might not be acceptable (or worth building) for general traffic. Maybe some readers have better ideas.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Bus-only lanes make sense only if they carry at least as many people as the cars they displace, and those cars stay home. Else they are a bust.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 12, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Curm -- Thanks for taking a stab. I admit I don't understand this well, but that strikes me as a low bar. Let’s say there are 3000 riders per lane per hour at peak. (I am inferring that from some Caltrain numbers I see, for example page 29 of this pdf. Maybe I'm misreading?) An average commute bus holds, what, 30 people? (I am averaging between the single-decker and double-decker buses.) So that would mean 100 buses per hour, or less than two per minute, at peak. Isn’t that pretty easy to hit when you include corporate and public buses on 101 and put them all into one lane? It's a pretty empty lane too...

Good comments...


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Express Lanes, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 12, 2019 at 6:36 pm

Converting the carpool lanes on US 101 south of Whipple Road to Express Lanes before adding Express Lanes north of Whipple Road is bass ackwards. The right order is to extend the corridor and then add more cars to it. Otherwise, it will all be for naught because of the clog at Whipple Road.

And I don't understand what the benefit is of adding more cars to the carpool lanes on 101 and 85. Those lanes can be quite full during rush hours now.

Will Express Lanes mean better enforcement, because that's the biggest problem with carpool lanes now: carpool cheats.

Express Lanes were a success on 680 because they were an added lane. Where has it been shown that converting existing carpool lanes to Express lanes by adding more paying cars somehow speeds traffic?

An improvement would be to add an onramp on 101 southbound at San Antonio Road and put a merge lane between San Antonio Road and Rengstorff and close the 101 southbound ramp from Charleston. The 101 southbound Charleston/Rengstorff interchange has the most accidents on our region of the corridor and results in the most delay in our region of the corridor. Why didn't that happen when the auxiliary lanes were added? Because Mountain View wanted our cars going by their stores and because Palo Alto didn't fight for it.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 12, 2019 at 6:53 pm

@ Sherry: Re Hydrogen Fuel cells. See Web Link and Web Link


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 13, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Express: Those are some great questions/observations. We need a traffic blogger! A few things that might help some…

There is some information here on the benefits of pricing and the tradeoffs between widening and converting a lane. The basic idea is that pricing something encourages more efficient use of it. Plus the proceeds can be used to support more efficient means of transportation. Since the cost is sensitive to the speed of the lane, the additional drivers should only be using spare capacity.

I agree with you, I don’t see how it works without adequate enforcement, and allowing solo drivers has to make that more difficult. According to the Mercury News, experts estimate around 20% of HOV vehicles are cheating on average. That article has a lot of information on things they are trying, like video-detection, carpool app submittals, and so on. Some progress is being made: citations went up 80% in the last year because of some contracts they signed to increase manual enforcement. But it sounds to me like we’re a ways from figuring this out.

@Arthur: Thanks for the pointers. If/when I get to this, I’ll definitely ask both about safety and about how the hydrogen is generated, which I see as the two main issues with using hydrogen (well, as well as lack of availability).


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
12 hours ago

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,, on Sep 11, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Many thoughtful points- thank you.

>> We have transportation system "A" today. We can imagine transportation system "B" that's better. However, if we choose a transition from A to B that passes through a situation that's significantly worse than A,

Exactly. We need to get from "A" to "B" without making things actually worse for single-occupancy-vehicle drivers. Part of that -must- be educational. Not to be repetitive, but, the whole saga of metering lights on 85 must be recalled. People do not intuitively understand many aspects of traffic engineering, and, they especially don't understand queueing-related issues such as the effects you describe below:

>> Traffic delay is very nonlinear -- adding a little bit of traffic can increase delays a lot. Here's a short, interesting presentation on that subject: Make Every Day "Columbus Day" in the Bay Area (Web Link) 3 to 5% less (or more) traffic demand yields 50 to 70% less (or more) delay.

I've recently had reasons to drive from south Palo Alto to the Stanford Hospital neighborhood early in the morning. 12-14 minutes despite traversing some of the street furniture that haters hate. When traffic was very bad on a (Tuesday?) morning, more like 35-40 minutes. Long delays at major intersections with massive traffic queued up in all directions.

In my personal experience, road furniture has zero effect on end-to-end time, except where a couple of traffic circles might actually reduce delay slightly.

>> Since this blog post is specifically about electric buses, it's interesting to ask whether they have some special advantages that other buses wouldn't have.

Reduced GHG production, reduced photochemical smog production, and reduced diesel particulates mainly. The advantages are so literally clear that we should go electric whenever and wherever we can ASAP.

Which leads me back to this (out -of-order) point:

>> This suggests that taking an existing lane away in order to make a bus-only lane is a bad transition strategy. Instead, we could concentrate on making bus-only lanes only where they can be new additions,

I think "we" should seriously consider removing parking from the entire length of ECR from San Antonio to University and add a dedicated electric-bus-only lane in each direction. That would keep the width for cars as three lanes wide while significantly speeding up buses. That would give people an incentive for riding the bus. I would make it for all registered electric buses with N (we need to decide N) passengers with trained drivers. Bigger than SuperShuttle size buses, and, all bus drivers should be trained to optimize flow and reduce delay for all buses.



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On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

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