Monday, June 18, 2018

The best way to do microtransit? Have transit agencies operate it

This article originally appeared at MobilityLab.org.

We’ve written skeptically about how genuine microtransit services and ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft, are about truly enhancing transit ridership and accessibility.
When I asked four such entrepreneurs what percentage of rides their services provide are “first mile” or to transit, 150 people [in attendance at a recent mobility conference] could hear a pin drop in the silence.
When no good answers or data can be offered in response to such a question, it’s not a long shot to assume the worst. And the worst is? That those entities are actually trying to steal customers from core transit services, like buses and subways, that offer the top societal benefits.
Since microtransit companies talk so much about their services connecting people to transit, it’s puzzling that they so rarely mention specific “first mile, last mile” projects and their results. But with some digging, one can find examples of some good things companies and cities in the microtransit space are attempting.
The Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) just received $12 million from the Sacramento Transportation Authority to begin shuttling people this summer between residential and commercial places that are lacking transit options.
Rides on the shuttles only cost between $1.35 and $2.75 – price points considerably more affordable than taking an Uber or Lyft. And it’s already been working. Since February, ridership has been steadily increasing. (It doesn’t hurt that a commercial hub for riders is the Historic Folsom area, a bustling district billed as “the place where the West came and stayed.”)
The Folsom station is in the right hand side of the service area. Map by SacRT.
Sacramento is hoping people will not only use microtransit to reach the Fulsom business district, but also the nearby train station, which can serve as a major transit artery for the rest of the region.
The city is running their pilot with TransLoc, a North Carolina-based company that builds software to help transit agencies operate their own microtransit services. The company was acquired early this year by Ford Smart Mobility.
Aaron Berdanier, a data scientist who works on microtransit projects for TransLoc, said the project’s target audiences are “people who were not taking the train before because they didn’t have access, and other riders already going to the train station but didn’t have a way to get there.”
TransLoc’s CEO Doug Kaufman added, “SacRT’s success in deploying innovative, on-demand microtransit is a proof-point for the huge potential impact of microtransit across the nation, particularly for riders. We are incredibly excited [that] the success of their pilot resulted in a grant to fund its expansion.”
Berdanier said, “Goals for this pilot were to increase ridership, which they’ve done dramatically, and to plug into this area they didn’t have access for – Citrus Heights. The agency has been very innovative and forward thinking,” he said, noting that this was a great opportunity to enhance Sacramento’s Dial-A-Ride system.
TransLoc also focuses on connecting microtransit to transit hubs in the region between Raleigh and Durham, N.C. In an area with lots of big office parks – including the likes of IBM and Cisco – TransLoc helps GOTriangle make it easy for their riders to use their smartphones to jump on microtransit.
The regional transit center is the green dot in the central right portion of the map, and the agency-selected Microtransit stops are grey dots. Map by GOTriangele. 
Berdanier said 75 percent of those microtransit riders connect into the regional transit hub there (see the map) and then get on a microtransit vehicle to take that last mile to work.
This is another reason why it is so important for transit agencies to become key microtransit players. When transit agencies are the ones in charge of the routes (rather than willy-nilly routes that people could organically take or that even Waze or Google Maps could algorithmically take them), it’s more likely there will be better outcomes (such as fewer traffic jams, healthier travelers, and less air pollution).
It’s encouraging that Uber and Lyft are also beginning to understand the need for transit to be at the center of multimodality. Detroit and cities along the Brightline passenger railway in South Florida have partnered with Lyft to get people to transit stations. And Uber paid Metro in the D.C. region $100,000 to keep trains running later after a recent National Hockey League playoff game.
Photo of people boarding a DC Circulator bus by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Best magazine reads: Quincy Jones offers a true insider’s look at fame, gossip, and rock royalty

After hearing a lot about the GQ feature on Quincy Jones for a few months, I finally got around to reading it, and it’s worth it! Here are my favorite pop-culture insights offered by the no-holds-barred, 84-year-old record producer.

1. He wears a ring that old buddy Frank Sinatra wore on his finger for 40 years.

2. About Sinatra, many of whose records he helped arrange, he says, “He was bipolar, you know. He had no gray. He either loved you with all of his heart or else he'd roll over your ass in a Mack truck in reverse. He was tough, man. I saw all of it. You know, I'd see him try to fight—he couldn't fight worth a shit. He'd get drunk, and Jilly, his right-hand guy, stone gangster, would get behind him and break the guy's ribs.“


3. “Frank was always trying to hook me up with Marilyn Monroe, but Marilyn Monroe had a chest that looked like pears, man."


4. He says Taylor Swift can’t write songs.


5. He says Truman Capote was a racist, even if he later profusely apologized to Jones about what sounded like some racist preconceptions.


6. About Ray Charles, he says he “went 30 years with heroin, and then the police told him he couldn't get his license to play clubs unless he stops. And he did, and then he started on black coffee and Dutch Bols gin for 25 years. Ray, all of his veins were dried up and black, 
and he's shooting himself in the testicles.”

7. He talks about a night Michael Jackson and Prince both made short cameos at a James Brown concert and Jackson blew The Purple One out of the water.


8. He hung out with Joseph Goebbels’ girlfriend and she told him all about how Hitler and most fo the Nazis were huge cokeheads.


9. He was with Jay Sebring a few hours before he was murdered at Sharon Tate’s house by Charles Manson’s gang, and Jones was even supposed to have been there but forgot to go.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hamilton is inspiring in many ways, including rereading about the Revolutionary War



After seeing Hamilton on Broadway, the inevitable next step is to dig back into Revolutionary War literature. I figure one place to start and not go wrong is with acclaimed author David McCullough. 

His book 1776 opens with, in 1775, despite much opposition in the press and throughout the country to the troubling war in America, King George III addressing a whopping 60,000 people in London’s St. James Park. Can you imagine that many people gathering back then?

Having seen the crazed wickedness of George on hilarious display in the musical, some of the small personal details at the start of 1776 are well worth lapping up, such as his “whitest hands ever seen” with a large red ring on them and the four-ton exceedingly elaborate carriage he had made to carry him around London. Many found the King a bit dull and, unlike in the play, he refused to wear a huge white wig, the fashion of the time.

George was steadfast throughout his life, even in his later “mad” life, that America must obey England, even though he had never been a soldier or to America, or the Scotland and Ireland which he often praised.

The play, by the way, is every bit as astounding as everyone says. It was also fun sitting in the 10th row center with the likes of Jerry from Parks and Recreation and film and TV star Alfre Woodard of St. Elsewhere and 12 Years a Slave.











Sunday, April 22, 2018

Escape Campervan-ing, an Arizona safari, and ending Spring Break in Phoenix

I never wrapped up the blog series on our recent family Spring Break #vanlife trek out west. Having already recounted our time in Vegas, Zion, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, and several other places in between, we headed to Rachel’s grandmother’s house in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix.

But first we spent an afternoon north of the city at Out of Africa, a well-done safari in the desert. My favorite animal was the grizzly bear, which we were able to get within an arm’s length and is a majestic and downright pleasant-looking creature. One of several tigers also stretched up into a massive form along a gate next to our walkway. And a baby tiger jumped out from its hiding spot at one point to nearly surprise Zoey and I out of our shoes. But perhaps best of all was when Jackson fed a giraffe right out of his mouth, including a smooch on the lips that incorporated his very long tongue.











I highly recommend a visit to this American/African safari. 

And I should also mention the I-66 shop we visited in Williams, Arizona, if only because of all its pop-culture lunch boxes (and signs).





Finally, anyone who rents an Escape Campervan, which are now available in many cities throughout the country, won’t regret it. The customer service was incredible, the price was maybe even less than renting a typical minivan without a kitchen or pop-up bed, and we were able to pick up lots of groceries and other necessities like a cooler and firestarter wood in our pick-up location where others returning from their trips left the materials in a community-share area. And it was fun to count the other Escapes along the way. Jackson’s final tally was 27, and we talked to many of their occupants about our similar travel experiences.








Sunday, April 15, 2018

It the movie(s) simply can’t compare to the classic book



As readers of this blog know, I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I keep wanting to deny that as I get older and supposedly more mature, but King just keeps being every bit as awesome as ever.

2017’s It has been high on my list of movies to see for many months, but it ends up being a letdown. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it moves slowly in parts, doesn’t develop enough of the kids’ characters, and suffers from perhaps too many shocks and scares.

That said, it is indeed scary, but it would be scarier if it were less scary all the time.

Granted, pulling off a re-creation of one of the great horror books is not an easy task. It’s a long and detailed book. But with a slew of it neglected, the movie should have just gone ahead and been considerably shorter.

The 1999 TV miniseries suffered from different elements. It was long enough to capture better characterizations, but it was far less scary and fairly cheesy.

I’ll still look forward to the supposed sequel being planned for when the kids are adults and It comes back to the town of Derry, Maine on its usual schedule. But probably the best use of my time would be to simply read the book again.

3 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Can we make Grand Canyon visits mandatory for all humans?

The experiment, which we had no idea how it would unfold, turned out to be a success.

Nobody tried to kill each other on our week-long Spring Break Escape Campervan trek across Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

Sure, there were some times like this.



But it was mostly like this.



Our kids weren’t just troopers. They were flat-out buddies. And the van was beneficial because they were much further away from the parents than in our regular car rides.

After an already full Wednesday of hiking, we arrived at the Grand Canyon in early afternoon to explore about a 30-mike stretch along the South Rim.







Although our kids are too little to do major hikes down to the bottom, we did get down a switchback trail a good little ways.





And the day was absolutely stunning weather-wise, turning the sunset into our Grand Canyon highlight. We watched it on a point with far fewer tourists than the other spots we had visited throughout the afternoon.







It’s tough to believe it took me this long to get to one of the Earth’s true wonders, right here in our own country. It should definitely be a requirement that anyone from the U.S. visit the Grand Canyon. All the pictures and postcards capture it well, but they still can’t compare to staring out across that vast space.

We decided not camp for the night and stayed in a hotel about an hour away in Williams, Arizona, which is the starting point for the Grand Canyon train. Promotional materials says it helps keep “about 50,000 cars out of the park every year.” Sounds like a good thing, although as a car-trip expert, that seems like an extremely conservative estimate of how many cars the train actually keeps out of the park. I’d like to know how they make that estimate.

Anyway, after Williams, our trip will conclude further south in Phoenix.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Northern Arizona presents stunning camping and hiking

We arrived early at our next destination, the Wahweap Campground overlooking beautiful Lake Powell (https://www.lakepowell.com/rv-camping/wahweap-rv-campground/) with time to play a little baseball before sunset and a campfire under the stars.





This was great because it’s started a string of daily father-son baseball catch and whiffleball, which are some of the very best ways to bond with a 10-year-old.

Wednesday morning we headed out to get a good look at the nearby Glen Canyon Dam, made famous by author Edward Abbey’s classic Monkey Wrench Gang novel that helped form the anarchist environmental movement decades ago.








We stopped just south of the dam and Page, Arizona for a quick 1.5-mike round trip hike off the highway to Horseshoe Bend, which is stunning but packed with tourists, so we didn’t stick around long. It’s also super scary to be standing at the edge of the steep drop off.








Next up, we hightailed it down to the Grand Canyon to spend most of Wednesday taking it all in.