Safety on Buses; Fuel-Cell Vehicles; Lahore Metro

Early this month, a bus driver in Brooklyn was stabbed by an angry passenger after the driver refused to give the man a transfer pass. The rider hadn’t swiped his MetroCard in the first place. The driver was killed.

Now, MTA’s New York City Transit is considering whether to install partitions in buses that would separate drivers from passengers and ensure greater safety for drivers, who often complain of being assaulted by riders. This is an interesting approach, and it would make the bus driver separated from the “life of the bus,” probably meaning assault would become less frequent.

But there’s another, perhaps more useful solution that would not only lead to fewer driver assaults but also that would speed up bus routes. What if all bus routes had offboard payment systems? This would mean paying for your MetroCard on the street and then getting on the bus where it might – but probably wouldn’t – be checked by an MTA transit agent. This system is already in operation on the BX12 Select route up in the Bronx, and it lets drivers do what they should be doing in the first place – driving the bus.

In an increasingly stressed economic period, too, this system may be necessary. Larger numbers of riders are going to stressed about paying for their transit passes, and the bus driver’s presence as ticket-checker acts as a threat on the bus. The bus driver should be the riders’ ally, rather than their antagonist. Let a separate transit agent, checking tickets on the side, do the messy stuff.

Meanwhile, Burbank, California is planning to test the operation of a plug-in hybrid-electric hydrogen fuel cell bus (phew!) starting in the Spring of next year. It will be run in a downtown environment, meaning that it will have a slow-moving route, the perfect testing grounds for this first-of-its-kind new technology. It will also have easy access to the hydrogen filling station in the city center.

The bus will be manufactured by Proterra Technologies of Colorado, which has a very high-tech looking bus on offer. The company claims that the technology is similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid – but the main difference is that instead of a gas engine operating alongside the electric batteries, in this case, a full cell running on hydrogen will run along with the batteries. This makes the system emissions free (if we ignore how the hydrogen is produced), and is a rather thrilling step towards the next generation of transit vehicles. If buses can be converted to hybrid-hydrogen-electric operation, the significant pollution (both air and noise) that they currently produce will be eliminated in cities across the country and make these vehicles better neighbors. Exciting news!

Finally, news from Pakistan: the city of Lahore is currently constructing the first line of its new metro system. The 27-km long Green Line, have of which will be in subway (the other half on elevated tracks), will be complete by 2011. The construction is proving to be challenging, though: the system’s trackage may be interfering with the construction of the structural supports of a number of new high-rises under construction in the city.

This is, by the way, the second of two major mass transit systems currently under construction in Pakistan. The other is the Karachi Circular Railway, which will serve the city of Karachi with a number of new lines.

Both systems have been inspired by the dramatic success of the recent Delhi metro in India’s capital.

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by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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