23 February 2008

How the Modern Streetcar Works

OK, here is my streetcar post. The goal here is to just show the mechanics of it.

The first hurdle to public transit, especially those of us that ride it infrequently, is we never know how much it will cost and how to pay for it. Modern transit systems like Portland's deal with this by posting easy to understand directions and using machines that take cash and credit cards.

Trimet MAX and bus ticket machine, with a validator to the left. These tickets are also valid on the streetcar:

Then you approach a stop. This is what a stop looks like from the sidewalk or rear side. This one is cluttered with newspaper racks and a bike rack:

Here is the same stop showing the catenary and support post:

Notice how the stop is a raised bump-out in the street:

Since they are located near intersections, they do not remove many parking spaces, yet they do not block traffic because the loading is fast. The loading is fast for two reasons: prepaying and several sets of wide doors at grade.

Here is a less cluttered stop. Notice how there is a step up on this side. Most of the stops have a step at one end and a slope at the other end:

Inside the small stop shelter, there is a map and digital display:

The digital display tells you the time until the next two trains. After looking at this you can decide if you want to run across the street and get a coffee. The displays were very accurate, and I think they track the trains with GPS. I find this function very helpful:

If the display is malfunctioning, or you are a few blocks away, and want to know when the next train comes, you can use this tracking number:

They also list several websites for further transit option info, including cars:

A streetcar approaching a stop:

The entry is level enough for people with walkers and strollers, but if you have a wheelchair, you can push a button and a small ramp pops out. It extends in a few seconds and retracts after the doors shut:

This streetcar is moving away from us, but the front and rear looks the same:

Here is a streetcar mixing in traffic:

Once inside the car, there is a large level area, then this stepped-up area at each end. In this shot you can see where the driver sits. He has his door open, and can keep an eye on things if he needs to, or he can shut the door:

Here is a shot of a typical crowd on the streetcar.

There were many people in wheelchairs or motorized carts, but I didn't get any pictures of them. If you didn't get your tickets outside, there is a machine inside, shown here on the right:

Yellow ticket validator:

The yellow streetcar:

Here is a short video not by me, so you can hear it:

That is how it works. It is very low-barrier, easy to use and thus popular.


Anonymous said...

Can you explain the validation and how it works as opposed to a standard fare collection.

My understanding is that is basically the honor system and that there are staff who randomly check tickets. If you are caught not having a valid ticket then there is a fine (probably pretty expensive).

Is this something that would work in Cincinnati? Or would the collection need to be more systematic and controlled?

Anonymous said...

CityKin -- I am hogging your blog and will stop, I promise. But, I did want to add one other thing that's cool about our transit system and that is that the same ticket/pass/transfer can be used for the bus, MAX and streetcar. So, when I commuted to Hillsboro, my monthly pass got me by bus to downtown and then by MAX from downtown to Hillsboro.

And the validators are little machines located at stops, near the machines selling tickets on the MAX. When you get on the bus, you put your ticket into the fare collector and the driver gives you a transfer which serves as a validated ticket if you're transferring to streetcar or MAX.

Neisha (from PDX)

CityKin said...

Yes, there are random checks to make sure you have a validated ticket. It is understood that some people will not pay, but it speed up the movement so much it is worth it.

I think the same system could work here. Enforcement may need to be more regular at first so people don't jsut assume it is free.

Neisha, I agree that the multi-use of the passes is important. If I understand correctly many people not only buy monthly passes, but some even buy yearly passes, which can save considerable money and make all this purchasing and validating unnecessary.

The idea is to get as many people as possible to buy into the system and utilize it for a variety of trips. Certain types of users start out only using the streetcar but then migrate to using the whole system. Others may start by coming in on the bus each day, but end up begining to utilize the streetcar etc...

Radarman said...

This validation system may work in clean living Portland, but in cynical Naples (the real one - not the vapid Florida sanitorium) only Americans get their bus tickets validated. The Neapolitans trust their official-detecting radar to tell them when an inspection is impending, then trample each other in a mad crush for the little machine. Hard to say what Cincinnatians will do.

CityKin said...

Disorder rules Naples. I think we can do much better.

Anonymous said...

Citykin -- there's no yearly pass, only monthly. You guys don't have monthly unlimited use bus passes? When I lived in the Boston area you could use your monthly pass to bring in another rider for free on Sundays.

Also, don't forget to tell your readers about Fareless Square -- all transit is free in the downtown core. This is highly convenient when a group of us wants to go to, say, Chinatown, for lunch. We just grab the next bus, say "Fareless," ride for a few blocks and then jump off near our dim sum destination.

Good luck to you guys on your transit journey.


CityKin said...

I got mixed-up. There is a yearly streetcar-only pass for $100.


Kevin LeMaster said...

Yeah, isn't Naples covered with mounds of garbage and people protesting in the streets?

We definitely need a better comparison.

Anonymous said...

Now you're schooling me! I did not know about the yearly streetcar pass. That's awesome, especially for the 60-something empty nesters who are moving to condos in the Pearl District and freeing up larger homes in my neighborhood for young families.

Hey this is way off-topic, but if you're interested in what's happening with our schools (the weakest link in our family-friendly city), here' a brand new site that's getting some traffic:


Keep up the excellent work! You're reminding me why I enjoy living in Portland. It would be awesome to see some of this replicated in other mid-sized cities.


Quimbob said...

I am not trying to be a jerk but I am pretty experienced with OTR & Cinti's Metro. Do you foresee a problem with panhandlers hanging out at the ticket dispensing machines ?
Dealing with panhandlers is different when you are standing there on the street with your cash in hand as opposed to waiting til you get on the bus & fork it over to the machine there.

CityKin said...

There are panhandlers in all cities, and machines like these are used in many. For the record I was asked for change 3 times in Portland. One addtional benefit here though is the chance to use credit cards which is often my truthful reason for not giving to panhandlers. Many people just don't carry cash anymore.

Anonymous said...

Also, if you don't want to use the machines (I like the machines), you can wait in line at the transit office. Also, many offices and convenience stores sell transit passes and tickets. I've worked at offices where transit passes are subsidized and also where you purchase them using pre-tax dollars. The money can be deducted from your paycheck.

Neisha (from Portland)