Conversion of Line 1 to automatic operation will occur without shutting down service.
Paris’ Métro Line 1 carries 725,000 passengers a day and has been the city’s most heavily trafficked line since it opened in 1900. Yet continual ridership increases have made congestion a mounting problem, so the city is working on automating the line to augment capacity. Some trains will run without drivers beginning next year, and full conversion will be complete in 2012. The city’s process to convert the line provides an example to other cities with old systems needing to substantially improve operations.
The conversion process began in 2007 with the commencement of work to redo platforms to assure that trains line up correctly. Last March, Bérault station was equipped with automatic platform doors six feet tall that open and close with the arrival and departure of trainsets. These doors, which align with train doors, are standard on new automatic subways around the world, and ensure that passengers make it into the trains; trains cannot depart unless both vehicle and platform doors are entirely closed. The lack of conductor means that the system must be designed to be safe and almost fail-proof.
By summer of next year, all stations on the line will be equipped with the doors; the transit authority installs two doors a night on each platform without disrupting service whatsoever. The use of these platform walls has a number of benefits: reduced delays, far less trash on the tracks, and suicide prevention.
New trains similar to those used on the decade-old automated Line 14 will be brought into operation beginning at the end of next year and slowly replace the existing trainsets, which will be moved to other lines in the system. This means that Line 1 will have both automatic and driver-operated trains operating simultaneously for a year and a half. The primary advantage of the decision to install trains gradually is that it means the system never has to be shut down and it provides a testing period during which problems with the automated system can be compensated by replacing automatic train service with vehicles operated by drivers.
Paris’ investment in a faster, more reliable Line 1 is part of its overall renewal operation, which has been underway for the past ten years. The city has renovated virtually all of its stations since 1999 and is in the process of replacing the majority of its train fleet. The city’s confidence in an automated train system has been confirmed by the success of Line 14, which has been highly popular and suffered few technical difficulties since it opened in 1998. The city’s planned radial circumferential rapid transit line will be completely automated when it opens in 2020.
The French city’s experience demonstrates that a conversion process doesn’t have to be intrusive. New York’s attempt at automating its L Train, a process that began in 1997, has been plagued by repeated delays, and the system still doesn’t function properly.
The key to success on Line 1 in Paris is its staging. The computer-operated control system necessary for trains to move without drivers was installed earlier in the decade. Stations are being renewed one-by-one, and will include necessary devices to improve automation, including the platform doors which New York won’t have. Finally, driverless trains are being incorporated into the system one by one over a relatively long period, meaning that problems can be squeezed out over time. Managers of other older systems should attempt to emulate Paris.
Speedy pedestrian connection between metro lines was plagued by problems
At Montparnasse-Bienvenüe Station in south Paris, travelers can transfer between four metro lines. The problem is that customers attempting to make the connection between lines 6 and 13 — located under the Montparnasse high-speed rail station — and lines 4 and 12 — located several blocks north — must travel through a 600 foot-long tunnel built in the late 1930s. Outfitted with moving walkways moving at less than 2 mph, that’s almost four minutes of travel time for those not walking.
In 2002, hoping to improve the situation, Paris’ metro agency (RATP) decided to install a high-speed walkway (video) in the center of the tunnel capable of moving people four times as fast. At 7.5 mph, it provided a tunnel traverse in less than a minute. But for all its promise, the experiment failed too often because of technical problems. On Wednesday, RATP announced that it would shut down the project and replace it with a conventional walkway by 2011.
As far as I can tell, Paris’ moving walkway was the fasted operated commercially anywhere in the world, and its success could have meant faster commutes in airports, transit stations, and large buildings everywhere. It represented a new advance in a field that has been moving at a crawl for decades, but which could have transformed the sometimes punishing act of changing lines at hundreds of major transit hubs.
Yet, it was not to be. The original speed of the walkway had to be reduced to 6 mph after customers repeatedly fell when attempting to adjust to the speed in an acceleration zone. The technology, invented by French group CNIM, was simply not up to the task of working day-in, day-out, and it was more often out of service than in operation; RATP will sue CNIM to get back some of the project’s initial 4.5 million Euro cost. The new conventional walkway won’t be exciting, but at least it will work.
The Toronto Airport, feeling a similar urge to speed up the movement of pedestrians, introduced its own super-fast walkway last year, capable of about 5 mph. Though not as quick, Toronto’s walkway uses a different technology: a “moving pallet system” in which the panel on which a person stands accelerates independently to full speed. Paris’ connection, with the exception of the 10 meter acceleration zone, operated at one, full speed and was therefore more subject to pedestrian falls and system breakdowns. Toronto’s newer system may be more capable of withstanding the crush of thousands of daily passengers, but only time will tell. If it works, subway systems with cash on hand will emulate it, because a four minute transfer between lines like that at Montparnasse is simply too long not to address.
Image above: High-speed moving walkway in Montparnasse Station, from Flickr user Daniel Sparing
20-minute service at 15-minute frequencies to be offered in 2015
Paris’ Roissy-Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) is the world’s second-busiest airport by international passenger traffic (fifth overall), but it lacks a direct, express connection into the city center via train. Rather, it offers slower regional train connections via the RER B and TGV high-speed rail services to other cities in France – just not Paris. This oversight, which makes it almost as quick to get to CDG Airport from Lille, in far northern France (220 km in 50 minutes on the TGV), as from center city Paris (26 km in 35 minutes on the RER), is a result of a TGV bypass around the capital, which happens to run directly under the airport.
But the French government wants to correct the problem with a new express train that it has been planning since 2000. Unique in French history, the project will be entirely financed, constructed, and operated by a private consortium, likely to be the construction group Vinci, which was the only company to bid for the right to build the line. The 32 km-long service will operate on its own tracks (7.7 km newly constructed) parallel to RER and TGV lines, and require the construction of a new tunnel through northern Paris as well as a new terminus station at the airport. The 600€ million project will only commence after currently planned improvements to the existing RER line have been completed.
By 2015, the project will offer trains running between the Gare de L’Est (East Station) in Central Paris and Terminal 2 at the airport in twenty minutes, at a frequency of every 15 minutes. Ticket prices may be up to 20€ one-way, far higher than the 8€ or so charged for an RER ride.
Typically, I’m steadfastin my opposition to private ownership or operation of public infrastructure. There are very good reasons not to let profits undermine the service quality of utilities such as mass transit.
Yet, I highlighted the problems with using federal government ARRA stimulus funds for the Oakland Airport Connector out in the Bay Area two months ago, and the same problems would apply here if this project were being built with the funds of taxpayers in France. Airport transit connectors are generally used by the wealthier elements of society, their high construction costs prevent the building of better-used lines, and they often generate less ridership than expected. In other words, spending big money connecting an airport to a city center via fast train involves big risks and produces little social equity.
So what’s exciting about this project is that it leverages only private funds to pay for a project for which the public has little reason to pitch in. Vinci, along with its partners Keolis, Axa, and La Caisse des Dépôts, will spend its own money to build the project, purchase its own train equipment, and make its own profit (or lose its own money). Since airport service is already provided by the relatively cheap RER and since these new trains will be used by the better off (mostly tourists), I see no reason not to allow a private company to take financial risks to make it happen. The government’s willingness to share right-of-way seems like a fair concession for a project that will increase transport options to the airport, but which doesn’t require a public sacrifice. All in all, a pretty good deal.
New circular route around city core would improve suburb-to-suburb commuting
Last night, Christian Blanc, France’s minister of Development in the Capital Region announced that the state would invest 15-20 billion Euros over the next 10 years for the construction of the world’s longest automated rapid transit line, at 130 km and with 60 stations. The minister made the announcement of the state’s commitment at a day-long presentation of proposals by architects for “Le Grand Paris,” an attempt to unite the city and the surrounding suburbs through governmental reforms and infrastructure improvements. The Paris’ city core is currently cut off from its suburbs by a ring road.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about the potential for a new transit line that would circle the city without entering it because of the growing number of suburb-to-suburb commutes, the continued development of the dynamic business center at La Défense on the west side of the city, the creation of science and technology cores in the south at Saclay and in the north at Le Bourget, and the continued need for improving the social equity between the poor northeastern sections of the suburbs and the wealthy western areas. RATP, the city’s mass transit authority, has proposed a project called Métrophérique, and the region of Ile-de-France has proposed the Arc Express; both projects would ring relatively closely to the city’s outer limits and hit the densest areas of the suburbs.
The state’s commitment seems assured based on Mr. Blanc’s speech, which argued that the project could be completed by 2020. He said that some private funds would be used to fund the lines, though it was left unsaid whether “private” actually means a commitment from the state-controlled but organizationally private RATP and SNCF (state railways). But President Nicholas Sarkozy’s endorsement of the project is the first major state action for improved mass transit in the Paris region since the creation of the RER program, whose first phase of regional rail tunnels through central Paris was inaugurated in 1969.
Mr. Blanc’s proposal, which would cost far more than the region’s less lengthy plans, would focus on connecting La Défense with the city’s three airports and the scientific/university zone in the southwest suburbs. The lack of investment in the close-suburbs has angered some in the regional legislative body, who argue that the areas of the region with the most need for improved transport are those suburbs near to the city. Mr. Blanc’s plan would steer towards connecting the region as a whole, a job already fulfilled by the RER. The problem is that those existing regional trains all head into Paris, something that this plan purposefully avoids.
The map above shows the region’s plan and the state’s plan superimposed on top of the existing and planned RER network. There are significant arguments for Mr. Blanc’s ideas – the two Parisian airports need better connections to La Défense; and the Saclay and Noisy subclusters, as well, will benefit from more transit access. Additionally, both plans provide increased levels of service to La Plaine, north of Paris, a growing business district in one of the region’s poorest neighborhoods. But the region’s plan serves areas that are far more dense than the far southwestern and northeastern areas that would be served by Mr. Blanc’s.
Even so, a state commitment for up to 20 billion euros in investment is incredible. The French, who for years have failed to invest in the infrastructure of the Parisian suburbs, are finally making a big commitment rivaling any transit project in the world. For hundreds of thousands of people throughout the region, this plan will dramatically improve commutes.
To make the project even more useful, the Ile-de-France region has been investing dramatically in smaller capacity expansions on the RER, tramway, and métro throughout the region. As shown in the map below, the city is planning four métro extensions, one RER expansion, and nine tramways. Many of those projects are already in construction. The sum total of all of these projects being built is a far better-connected region in which people living outside of the city of Paris will be able to take advantage of transit options that are just as efficient and reliable as those within Paris itself.
» Moving transit funding towards a sustainable source – in and out of economic downturns
The budget crisis affecting American public transportation agencies – a result, principally, of a decline in tax revenue – confirms the need for both a more stable source of income and tighter control over expenses. In this post, I’ll take New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority as an example, and compare it to a significant foreign peer – Paris’ RATP, which runs the city’s métro and buses. In the process, I hope to give some explanations for the crisis in which many U.S. transit agencies find themselves, and provide some structural remedies for the problem.
The MTA is facing a $1.2 billion shortfall, which depending on the outcome of the deal I discussed yesterday, may or may not be reduced to a $750 million shortfall. This deficit comes at a time of record subway ridership and is therefore not the result of declining fare receipts but rather the result of fewer tax revenues than the agency had expected when preparing its budget in previous years. About 3/10 of the agency’s total revenue for its operating budget comes from dedicated taxes or fees, with the other 7/10 the product of fares, tolls on MTA bridges, and local and state subsidies.
Half of the taxes that fund the MTA come from New York State’s Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance Program (MMTOA). In this year’s budget (PDF), the agency expects revenue from MMTOA to decline from $1.7 billion in 2008 to $1.4 billion in 2009, though both numbers are way up from the $982 million recorded in 2005. MMTOA funds come from a 1/4¢ sales tax, a corporate tax surcharge levied in the New York metro region, and a petroleum and transportation industries tax.
MMTOA represents the bulk of MTA revenue and the biggest explanation for why its balance sheets are so far in the red, but the MTA will also lose revenue this year from the Urban Tax (from $557 million in 2005 to $500 million in 2009) – a fee on real estate transactions – and the Mortgage Recording Tax (from $745 million to $380 million), a fee recorded on mortgages made in the city.
Other components of MTA revenue have remained relatively flat over the same time period. State and local operating assistance, which provides a total of about $400 million each year to the agency, remains the same; meanwhile, receipts from the Petroleum Business Tax, a part of MMTOA, have inched up from $561 million in 2005 to $626 million in 2009. Revenues from tickets have increased from $3.6 billion to $4.2 billion with a fare increase; toll revenue from bridges and tunnels, transferred to mass transit as a subsidy, has increased from $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in the same period.
Thus, MTA’s overall budget has been able to rely on stable funds from fares, toll collection, and the tax levied on gas-based businesses. On the other hand, revenue from sales taxes, corporations, real estate transaction taxes, and mortgage fees have fluctuated wildly in recent years with the rise of the real estate boom and now its quick fall. Relying on tax revenue that changes with the state of the economy makes managing the transit system difficult. Transit agencies need to provide similar services every year, no matter whether the economy is up or down. If the MTA is to establish a stable funding program, it must be able to rely on a stable source of revenue.
Let’s compare the MTA’s revenues and expenses with those of a foreign peer that does not face similar fiscal difficulties – Paris’ RATP, which remains in the black, even during this economic crisis. RATP runs the city’s métro, tramways, and buses, as well as some of its RER regional express trains. It is funded by a regional organization run by elected leaders throughout the Paris region called Stif that collects tax revenue and government subsides for the entire region; in 2008, its total budget was 7.5 billion euros, making it equivalent in size to the $10 billion MTA. Most of Stif’s funds are distributed to RATP, though some are given to SNCF, the national train company, as well as to a few private bus operators in the city’s suburbs. The chart below compares the RATP’s expenses with those of the MTA, and Stif’s revenue with that of the MTA.
The chart demonstrates that both Paris and New York get about 2/5 of total revenue for running transit services from fares. But while New York’s system relies on income generated from tolling the city’s bridges and tunnels for a large percentage of total revenue, Paris relies much more on local taxes and government subsidies, which contribute about 3/5 of total funds, versus only about 4/9 of the MTA’s.
I won’t be discussing expenses much in this post, but the chart demonstrates that MTA is overloaded with payroll expenses as compared to RATP, suggesting either that MTA pays its employees too much (especially in overtime), or that it has too many workers. RATP’s spending is more evenly distributed, and lower in cost per passenger mile provided. I’ll let others come to conclusions about how MTA can reduce operating expenses.
The real question for us, then, is how Paris’ Stif is able to maintain fiscal balance: how is it funded, and why does its system work more efficiently than that of the MTA?
About 2/5 of Paris’ transport funding comes from the versement transport, a tax collected on salaries in the Paris region. The fees are highest – at 2.6% – in Paris and the neighboring rich département (similar to a county) Hauts-de-Seine; they’re lower, at 1.7%, in two poorer neighboring départements, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne. In the four départements on the edge of the region, the rate is 1.4%. Having the tax rate vary by location, with people who are more likely to be able to take advantage of public transportation paying more, makes a lot of sense. The region’s decision to tax the poorer départements bordering Paris at a lower rate also serves as a social equalizer, attempting to encourage investment in less-well-off areas.
The versement transport was first instituted in the full Paris region in 1991, and the amount charged on salaries has risen four times sense. The tax only applies to people working for companies with more than nine employees; it is designed to give a break to small shops and enterprises.
One-seventh of total Stif funds in 2008 came from government subsidies, far higher than the 1/12 of funds the MTA is likely to receive for its 2009 budget. 51% of Stif’s funds come from the regional body, 30% from the city of Paris, 7.7% from the Hauts-de-Seine département, and less than 3% from each of the other départements. The national government also contributes some funding, especially for subsidies for transportation for the poor and the young.
So, on the surface level, Stif appears to be funded much like the MTA, with funds coming from dedicated taxes and from government subsidies. There are two important differences, however: one, revenue from the taxes that pay for transportation in Paris are less likely to vary significantly during economic downturns; two, the government subsidies are designed to compensate when tax revenue falls short.
MTA’s reliance on sales and real estate transfer taxes puts it at a great risk of loosing expected funds, because consumption of consumer products (sales tax) and of property (urban tax) decreases dramatically during recessions; so do the balance sheets of corporations, which the MTA also taxes. On the other hand, taxes on income do not see changes that are nearly as significant, especially in France, where firing people is incredibly difficult. As a result, Stif can be confident that it will continue to receive funding from taxes, even during bad economic periods.
Just in case, however, government contributions are designed to make up for tax shortfalls. As the chart below demonstrates, the government subsidy to Stif remained at around $1 billion Euros between 1990 and 2004, while funding from the versement transports increased from a little above $1 billion Euros in 1990 to $2.5 billion in 2004 (data from Stif). This increase was due to inflation and also because of the increase in charges on income over the years – the government has made a priority to focus revenues for transportation on salaries, rather than from general revenues. The stable increase in income generated from this tax, even during the early 1990s recession, is demonstrated below.
Though salaries in the Paris region have not hit a serious downfall since the versement transports was instituted, local governments are mandated to increase subsidies if needed. If the transit agencies in the Paris region, such as RATP, need to increase service to provide for demand but tax revenue can’t keep up, the regional body and the governments of the city of Paris and the départements are required by national law to make up the deficit.
Paris’ system for transit financing provides an instructive look into how American public transportation systems could go about finding more efficient and stable sources of revenue. As we have seen in recent months, the sales tax revenues most agencies rely upon have collapsed in the past year, and the result, all over the nation, are service cuts and increased fares. Those aren’t solutions when more than ever we need transit service to provide the alternative mobility the American people need.
Therefore, a funding system with a stable tax base that is not as likely to fluctuate with economic problems is a necessity. In addition, government entities at the local and state levels must make a financial commitment to ensure the continued funding of transit agencies, even when recessions hit. Making an effort to incorporate the fiscal advantages of the French system detailed above will bolster the health of our own transportation networks.