Podcast #66 – Riding the Green Line with David Levinson | streets.mn

I appear on the streets.mn podcast with Bill Lindeke.


green line 3The podcast this week is a conversation with David Levinson, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota [ed. Twin Cities, not Duluth]  . David is also a co-founder and regular writer here at streets.mn, and his work focuses on transportation networks and measurements efficiency for different road and transit systems.

We sat down last week in a very special place… in a pair of seats on the rear car of a brand new Green Line train.

We hit record right when we got on the train at Saint Paul’s Union Depot and hit stop as we exited in the new Interchange station by Target Field in Minneapolis. So not only did we have a great conversation all about David’s research, the pros and cons of the Green Line, and the future of transportation in the Twin Cities, but this podcast also has scientific value as a temporal measure of our trip.

Plus we got to have a random conversation with the pleasant fellow in front of us in the LRT car, who had taken Twin Cities’ “transit system” all the way from Apple Valley. At one point he asks us, “Have either of you two ever been to a city with a good public transit system?” So there’s that.

The link to the audio is here! Thanks for listening.

Lisa Schweitzer Part 3: Farecards

Lisa continues her deconstruction of my CityLab post in Part 3, discussing Farecards and technology.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

She writes:

Most transit companies already do require smart card use, and I’m not sure what seasonal passes get anybody, even providers,that monthly or weekly passes don’t, except if you buy for longer periods of time, the transit company gets to use your money longer than if you buy week-by-week. The only thing I think might matter here are school-year passes that, if you purchase them in August, you can a better deal than if you buy month-by-month, and you don’t necessarily want a full yearly pass. It probably makes more sense, for example, for me to buy a pass like that than my yearly pass because I don’t commute much in the summer. Unless I am missing something, this is a minor point.

I dispute her point in the absence of evidence. Most transit agencies have smart cards, and some heavy rail systems require them (BART, DC Metro, MTA). My sense of most bus agencies is they don’t require them – Twin Cities MetroTransit certainly doesn’t, hence the time saving advantages of having them. Boarding times are reduced from 6 seconds to 2 seconds per customer with smart cards if I remember a recent term paper correctly.

I would go further and say we should have pre-payment via stop-based farecard reader, i.e. all significant bus stops should have arterial BRT like payment.  (This should be coupled with a reduction in the number of bus stops). Pre-payment is faster of course.

The advantage of seasonal or annual unlimited passes vs. unlimited weekly passes is seemingly minor (reduced transaction costs for the agency, but more importantly reduced mental transactions cost for customers). However, it is an important psychological difference. This gets back to my Club Transit post, where users should be thought of as members rather than one-off riders. Sure some riders (students, faculty) might save a little bit with seasonal vs. annual passes, but what you want (as an agency) is continuous automatic billing, not having to go through a weekly/monthly/annual process to sign up members.

I fully agree that there should be “one card to rule them all”, and further my membership in MetroTransit should be reciprocal at other agencies. But I suspect most people who use transit only use transit in one or two cities per year, so this would be relatively minor. The embarrassment of certain California metro areas not being able to standardize on fare cards across agencies is not widely replicated (fortunately), and obviously there should be intra-metropolitan inter-operability even if inter-metropolitan inter-operability is still a dream. Again this is a case where contracting out (to Visa or Mastercard, e.g.) might be valuable.