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Public Transportation And Energy Efficiency: Marseille’s Sustainable Mobility Initiatives
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Cars and planes make sense for short and long distances, but for intercity travel, they don’t come close to high-speed trains.
I have no hostility towards cars and planes. For years I’ve depended on local travel in a succession of trusty Honda Civics, and for years I’ve flown intercontinentally at least 100,000 miles each year. In these two extremes – a drive to an Italian food store, a flight from Winnipeg to Tokyo – cars and airplanes rule.
Energy intensity is key. When I’m the only passenger in my Civic, it requires about 2 megajoules per passenger-kilometer in city driving. Add another passenger and the figure drops to 1 MJ/pkm, compared to a half-empty bus. Jet airlines are efficient, typically requiring around 2 MJ/pkm. With full flight and the latest aircraft design, they can do it for less than 1.5 MJ/pkm. Of course, public transport is superior: At high passenger loads, the best subways need less than 0.1 MJ/pkm. But even in Tokyo, which has a dense network of lines, the nearest station can be more than a kilometer away, too far for many elderly people.
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But none of these modes of transportation can be equal to the energy intensity of intercity high-speed trains. These are usually on routes of 150-600 km (about 90-370 miles). The old model of Japan’s pioneering bullet train, that is
(“new main line”), having an energy intensity of about 0.35 MJ/pkm; Fast design-the latest train-the French TGV and German ICE-typically require only 0.2 MJ / pkm. It is an order of magnitude less than an airplane.
No less important, high-speed trains are fast. Lyon-Marseille TGV covers 280 km (170 miles) in 100 minutes, from city center to city center. By contrast, a commercial flight schedule of roughly the same distance—300 km from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Boston’s Logan Airport—is 70 minutes. Then you need to add a little more 45 minutes to check-in, 45 minutes for the trip from Manhattan to LaGuardia, and 15 minutes for the trip from Logan to downtown Boston. That brings the total to 175 minutes.
In a rational world, which values convenience, time, low energy intensity and low carbon conversion, high-speed electric trains would be the first choice for such distances. Europe is a natural railway country, and it has already made that decision. Yet even though the United States and Canada lack the population density to justify a dense network of such connections, they have many pairs of cities that are suitable for high-speed rail. But not one of the couples has a fast train. Amtrak’s Acela line isn’t even remotely suitable, as it averages only 110 km/h (68 mph).
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There was a time when America had the best trains in the world. In 1934, 11 years after GE built its first diesel locomotive, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad began running its streamlined stainless steel Pioneer Zephyr, a 600-horsepower (447-kilowatt), eight-cylinder, two-stroke diesel-electric. unit. This power allows for
To beat today’s Acela in its Boston-to-New York City run by hitting an average of 124 km/h in more than 1,600 km-long run from Denver to Chicago.
Is it a bit unrealistic to expect a comeback? Is it possible that a century from now, in 2034, we can have a sleek high-speed train with an average of 300 km/h between Boston and Washington, D.C., between San Francisco and Los Angeles, between Toronto and Montreal?
Join the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to engineering and applied science and get access to all articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →» The number of riders using transit in the US continues to decline. But comparisons with French cities show that the American experience is not universal.
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Transit ridership fell again in the United States in 2018. Overall, the nation’s transit system lost 2 percent of its riders the previous year—about 200 million fewer trips, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The number of people riding buses and trains has fallen sharply since the last peak in 2014.
American transit ridership is cyclical, but since the 1950s, Americans have been car-dependent. That car dependence is a product of a vicious circle: Reliance on cars encourages the development of car-focused urban environments, which, in turn, encourage more car use. About three-quarters of workers commute by car alone across the country, and that has remained true since 1990.
Recent changes, including the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, undoubtedly have limited transit capabilities. Numerous studies have shown that ride-hailing has increased congestion, slowed buses, and taken people off transit in cities like New York and San Francisco. Moreover, in cities like Los Angeles, cheaper vehicle acquisition options and expanding who is allowed to obtain a license have reduced the appeal of transit. Finally, poor service provision among transit operators is a major problem; since 2004, the number of vehicle miles provided by the bus system has decreased by 3% in the New York metro area, 10% in Miami, 12% in Chicago, and 15% in Los Angeles.
To evaluate this question, I collected data on total transit ridership in the 30 largest cities in the US and France* between 2002 and 2018 (including bus, commuter rail, ferry, and paratransit services). For the US, I used information provided by the National Transit Database; These 30 urban areas accounted for about 89 percent of national ridership in 2018. For France, I contacted the transit agency and examined the online report (I did not include the TER regional rail service, since it operates beyond the city). Unfortunately, the French data are incomplete, but they still tell an interesting story about the lack of transit performance in the US. about 500,000 versus 3.1 million.
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In the graph below, I chart the ridership performance of all 30 US and French urban areas between 2002 and 2018. The heavy lines show the change from 2010 for the US area average (black) and the French area average (blue). (This is not
Between 2002 and 2010, both countries saw an increase in transit use in their major cities. Average US city ridership increased by 6 percent during that time (although it peaked in 2008). In some cases, the increase was even more dramatic; New York’s ridership boomed by 20 percent during this time. French cities increased their passengers by an average of 30 percent.
These trends have diverged dramatically since the Great Recession. While the average French urban area saw an increase in passengers by 32 percent between 2010 and 2018, the US region saw an average decrease in passengers of 6 percent.
Average ridership by city has decreased every year in the US since 2014. It has increased every year in France since 2000.
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Transit ridership changed in each of the ten largest US and French regions between 2010 and 2018 (2017 for some French cities due to the availability of sufficient data; see below the same post and graph, but the Bay Area and Seattle were added). The ten largest US metropolitan areas accounted for 71 percent of national transit ridership in 2018.
In three US urban areas-Boston, Houston, and New York-riding increased (although Houston’s ridership is considerably lower now than it was in 2006). In seven other regions, the number of passengers decreased, with Los Angeles leading numerically (decreasing the number of annual passengers by more than 100 million), and Atlanta and Miami leading in percentage (losing 26 and 22 percent respectively).
From the ten largest French urban areas during that period, on the other hand, ridership increased in transit services.
Perhaps more interesting is transit ridership per capita, which adjusts fares on bus and rail services to the number of people.
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