Posts Tagged: Multimodality



Thought Experiment: The Cost of Multi-modality

Whether we’re talking about Light Rail, Urban Gondolas, Monorails or PRT systems, I’ve recently begun to hear an argument against multimodal transit systems that I’ve yet to hear before: The cost.

From a transit agency accountant or city finance perspective, multi-modality is nice in principle but incredibly costly to implement.

Let’ s walk through this issue with a simple thought experiment:

Imagine you’re in charge of a 30 year old transit agency in a medium-density, medium-sized American city that’s worked exclusively with a fleet of ~200 buses over those decades. Recent population growth and an infusion of money from the Feds allows you to expand both your service level and coverage.

You have two choices:

Your first choice is to stick with what you know and buy another ~ 50 buses. The buses option isn’t ideal. The curvilinear layout of your road pattern means buses routes will be highly circuitous and indirect, thereby increasing travel times and headways between vehicles.

On the flip side, you’ll only have to hire a handful more mechanics and make a relatively minor expansion to your maintenance and storage yards. You’ve already got all the equipment you need; and well-functioning procedures and processes are already in place. In other words: There’s no learning curve.

The cost savings associated with no learning curve mean you can expand the system to a relatively great degree. But the bus compromise mentioned above suggests your expansion plans will generate only marginally more ridership.

Your second option is to go with a different technology. For the purposes of this thought experiment, it doesn’t matter which. You could go with Light Rail, Gondolas, the CableRailGyroCopter, the Dutch Superbus, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that whatever your technology choice, it will provide a superior level of service to the buses you’ve been running for the past generation. The route alignment will be direct and will likely cause a decent increase in ridership.

The catch is that your agency has no history of dealing with any technology other than bus. That means there’s a learning curve – a steep one.

You need new maintenance facilities, new processes, new drivers, new mechanics, new schedules, new everything. Not to mention all the consultants you’ll have to pay to understand and realize this brave new transit world. After all that, there’s not much money left over to actually build the transit system. That means you’ll only be able to build half as many kilometres of new transit lines than if you went with the simpler bus option.

That situation is further reinforced by the lack of economies of scale you will experience in Operations & Maintenance that will inevitably drive up your per trip cost per rider. Were you to go with bus, your per trip cost per rider would actually decrease due to the economies of scale you would experience upon opting for the first choice.

So which do you opt for?

I currently know of no research that delves into this issue of the cost of multi-modality in public transit, but think it to be a fascinating area that’s worth exploring. If you know of any such research or have any personal/professional experience in this area, please give us your thoughts in the comments below.

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Medellin to Build Two Urban Gondolas – Integrated Into A Light Rail Line!

Metro Medellin's planned LRT/Tram line (in green) and two new Metrocable lines (in Purple and Pink).

Metro de Medellin is in no rush to slow down.

The transit agency of this Colombian metropolis has been expanding their public transportation system at breakneck speeds for the past 15 years and things just continue apace.

The agency recently released plans for their Corredores Verdes (Green Corridor) Light Rail/Tram plan. Their approach is a three-pronged strategy to connect the western district of the city with downtown and includes:

  • An ~ 5 km long LRT/Tram system with 8 stops that terminates/originates at the central San Antonio Metro station. The connection to San Antonio will allow easy transfers to both Linea A and Linea B of their impeccably-operated elevated metro system.
  • Two Urban Gondola lines (Metrocables) serving hillside barrios. The lines will be ~ 1.5 km long and have three total stations each (two terminals and one intermediary station).

Of particular note is Medellin’s approach to ticketing along the route. If the agency’s promotional video is to be believed, the LRT system will adopt a technique created and popularized by Curitiba’s famed BRT system.

Rather than have LRT drivers deal with ticketing, on-vehicle ticketing agents or a policed honor-system, enclosed station platforms will be equipped with turnstiles allowing for people to pay their fare prior to queueing for the tram. This approach speeds boarding and increases efficiency dramatically:

Curitiba's BRT system - the first to pioneer enclosed platforms at street level with ticketing and turnstile features. Image via Wikipedia.

Medellin's planned LRT system appears to borrow the ticketing approach used by Curitiba. Image via Metro de Medellin.

Metro de Medellin is quickly gaining a reputation for being one of the most innovative transit planning bodies on the planet and this project should only solidify that reputation.

The agency is a poster-child for multi-modality and non-conventional thinking. With Medellin’s recent acquisition and expansion of the Metroplus bus service combined with the addition of the LRT/Tram, this agency will soon seamlessly blend four separate technology modes (Metro, LRT/Tram, Urban Gondola and BRT) in order to provide public transportation for 2.5 million people.

This is how you do multi-modality:


Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.