crowd economy, environment, public transit, sharing economy
Comments Off on Transit Geek Images: Bike Sharing in Minneapolis

bikesharingHappened to be in the land of 10,000 Lakes (Minneapolis) recently and tried the bike sharing service near one of the MetroTransit stations.  Bike sharing really seems to be taking off in densely populated urban regions – especially in Europe.  I have tried bike sharing now in Washington, DC, Paris, Minneapolis, Montreal, Chicago, and New York.


Bike sharing has taken off exponentially in the United States after being introduced in some of the more progressive European urban areas.  In some ways this is amazing given the potential pitfalls of the service – from the unpredictability of the bicycle availability to the same “last mile” problems we face in public transportation with proximity of bicycle stations.  Weather in the US also heavily influences the usage patterns for bicycle sharing.


If you don’t think bicycle sharing is becoming big in the states, take a look at this cool data visualization that @chris_whong did on 5 days worth of bicycle trips in Washington, DC.


Interestingly, the industry is so successful it is facing bankruptcies and problems similar to other emerging technologies like electric vehicles and renewables.  Some of the issues are related to supply chain issues, but others are simply the result of a new economic model following a hype cycle similar to that of other types of technologies.  Regardless, it seems that bicycle sharing is here to stay.

emerging technology, innovation, public transit
Comments Off on APTA Emerging and Innovative Technology Committee: 2014 Rail Conference


The APTA Emerging and Innovative Technology Committee met yesterday to discuss ongoing work this year related to both Senior/Disabled Assistive and 3D Printing Technologies.  The session on 3D printing was excellent, with new participants chiming in with great ideas for what the committee could achieve in this topic.  From prototyping components, to Buy America support, to solving problems with older parts, 3D printing has huge promise for the public transportation industry.

innovation, public transit, research
Comments Off on EU-US Symposium on Transportation Research

ladefenseI was fortunate to be invited to participate in a symposium between the European Union and the United States on improving the adoption and use of transportation research globally.  The meeting included both public transportation and highways and roads organizations, and included members of agencies, universities, and private companies from all perspectives in the transportation industry.


Highlights included a presentation by Natalia de Estevan from Transport for London on  implementing the results of their Research and Development (R&D) efforts in an urban setting (“people don’t just experience our service, they feel it“), Chris Martin from Bosch talking about Vehicle to Infrastructure communications, and a cool discussion of electric vehicle charging using energy from regenerative braking of trains by Luiz Lopez Ruiz from Spain’s Administrator of Railway Infrastructure (


There were also presentations by the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR), the University of Maryland, MBTA, and others.   Of special concern for the symposium participants was the question of why other government-funded and sponsored research more successfully reaches adoption while transportation entities are far slower to adopt the results of research.  For example, research related to space, health sciences, and education all have proceeded to adoption and commercialization.  Unfortunately, transportation research significantly lags behind these other industries.


Members of the symposium identified a number of contributors to this dynamic, including the smaller pool of funding, that transportation infrastructure in many ways is invisible and not engaging for the public, and the life cycle of the infrastructure and process does not lend to quick adoption of innovation.

innovation, public transit
Comments Off on New York MTA goes live with OnTheGo panels by Control Group

onthegopanel-editOne of the coolest transit technology projects I have seen recently just went live in New York for the MTA – interactive touchscreens called “On the Go” by Control Group.  These capacitive screens behave similar to a smartphone, with the user being able to actively engage with the screen based on the location of the device.  The user interface is beautiful and intuitive, providing quick and relevant information to the user.


Control Group is an innovation incubator with diverse interests in many different industries, and they bring that knowledge now into the public transit world for New York MTA.  This device is different than the static or dynamic message boards found typically at most agencies (and, disclosure, made by my company’s subsidiary NextBus) in that the user can actively engage with the device.  They are funding much of this development based on shared advertising revenue, thus decreasing the capital investment by the agency.


I encourage everyone to take a look at this cool company.

public transit, sustainability
Comments Off on German Infrastructure Projects

One of the most impressive things the US Delegation on energy efficiency in public transit saw while on our visit was the Germans’ commitment to greening their cities and improving their public transit options. Again and again, our German American Chambers of Commerce delegation saw audacious infrastructure projects designed for sustainable, livable cities.  Each project seemed destined to both improve the efficiency of public transit balanced with a commitment to creating more walkable and better use spaces.


One example was the Stuttgart 21 project.  This project – while certainly plagued with its share of politics and protests – has a plan to transform the Stuttgart landscape by creating an underground “through rail station” to replace the current terminus design.  A main feature of the project is to recover the industrial space used by the current above-ground tracks for multi-use, mixed purposes.


The project intends to relocate the majority of the train station underground, and to provide state-of-the art green and clean tech within the facility.


Interestingly, from the outside the value of this bold project for the community seems so high that one wonders at the protests from the Green party that would naturally support a project based on such livability goals.  This is where the world economy begins to take its toll on grand vision – the costs of the project exceed €4.5 billion.  Given all of the economic woe in Europe, this does seem an immense amount of money to which to commit.  Corruption, dissension, and politics led to significant protests about this project, and even dramatic changes in the German political sphere as a result.  However, at the end of the day, the region voted in favor of moving forward with the project.


As a sustainability professional, the Stuttgart 21 project has the potential to be a shining example of how a focus on livability can improve a city’s landscape.  Hopefully the project architects and engineers will not abandon the sustainability principles that make this program so attractive as they settle into the realities of construction.

I was honored to be invited to give two presentations this year at Oracle’s OpenWorld 2012. While they will be available through the OpenWorld content site, I thought I would just share them on slideshare for anyone interested. The content is somewhat repetitive from the Collaborate presentation earlier this year, but does incorporate some lessons since the project went live.  The second was our feature on the implementation of the Environmental Accounting and Reporting module in JD Edwards.


Please see Oracle’s website for the presentations.

environmental accounting, public transit
Comments Off on NCTD Wins Oracle’s Eco Innovation Award

It was very nice to see that my former employer won an award at Oracle’s OpenWorld for “Eco Innovation” this year. Many good advancements were made in the last 5 years while I was the CTO/CSO on the sustainability plan, from the installation of over 500 kW of renewable power, to changes in lighting and recycling, to the installation of the environment accounting tools to facilitate the Climate Registry, APTA, and federal reporting. So I was very happy to to see the accolade, and to see the Environmental Accounting and Reporting Program Manager Fred Knapp get to accept the award. Little transit District playing with the big boys like Hitachi Consulting, Schneider Electric, Korean Air, Infosys, and Ricoh once again.


It was a bittersweet moment, to know that the effort was being acknowledged while also knowing that I walked away from the program I created. You always hope that the program is more than the vision of one person and that the organization will continue to commit to the plan even after you leave. It will be interesting to see what happens with Sustainability and public transit in San Diego county in the next 5 years.

public transit
Comments Off on US Delegation to Germany on Energy Efficient Public Transit

During the month of September, I was very fortunate to participate in an American delegation to Germany on “Energy Efficient Public Transit.”  The delegation, sponsored by the German American Chambers of Commerce and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, met with a variety of entities that focus on providing innovation in the transportation industry, several of which I will feature over the coming posts.


One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the European Innotrans conference in Berlin.  While visiting over 100 booths, I was able to interview several companies on their new ideas that would lead to more efficient and greener technologies for the public transit industry.  However, I was struck by how focused the “emerging technology” efforts are around vehicle weight.  The reason is clear – fuel usage is the single largest carbon contributor for any public transit entity, so reducing the fuel use through weight reduction and streamlining is an imperative.  Several manufacturers, including Bombardier, Siemens, Stadler, GE, Hitachi, Hyundai, and others, focused on reducing weight by being creative in the bogeys and the heavy industrial components of rail cars.  They also are spending a significant amount of time on new composites – which is also a focus of US APTA Bus Committee members.  Companies like Wawrzaszek ISS featured in the image provide composite materials designed to reduce the weight of internal car components and shells.  These newer materials significantly reduce weight without compromising on the safety of the vehicles.


Interestingly, I expected to see emerging technologies that were not yet adopted in the US given that the European market is more robust and strives to achieve compliance with a more rigorous environmental standard.  However, there were few vendors that offered a dramatic shift in technology.  Instead, it felt like all were attacking each and every component of the vehicle for any opportunity to reduce the weight.


One exception was the General Electric booth which featured the first EPA Tier 4 locomotive to hit the market – their Evolution Diesel locomotive.  While this vehicle is targeted exclusively toward the freight market right now, they did commit that they are in development for an equivalent vehicle for commuter rail.

public transit
Comments Off on On-Board Ticket Sales

We have been pushing hard to implement on-board ticket sales for our COASTER commuter rail line.  We gave ourselves a timeline of less than 6 months to get this accomplished, and I am proud to say that my Project Manager Donna was able to push the tools live right on schedule.


There is of course a difference between the technology being ready, and the company being ready.


Happily, the team has now demonstrated this product successfully across several special events.  The adoption rate by customers has been very high even with little publicity.  This is one of those technologies whose time has come, and we are very lucky to have a solid business partner Ryan from the company CooCoo to usher these tools in.


Finally, we have the ability for customers to purchase tickets online, to buy onboard the vehicle, and to even receive text and smartphone-based tickets.


For every project there is a downside as well, and in this instance it is that we were unfortunately unable to integrate this with our other ticketing systems.  Our tap-card, RFID-based ticket vending machines and validators rely upon a very different technology – one that has to function regardless of whether we have connectivity.  The tolerance for failure on these systems is far lower than on a smartphone app.


So this also unfortunately means additional devices that our fare enforcement and security teams have to carry.  As if they did not already have a Batman-worthy belt of devices to work with.  Inconvenience to our employees always loses to convenience for our customers.


If you are interested in learning more about online ticketing, please check the NCTD website.

hardware, infrastructure, public transit
Comments Off on No good deed goes unpunished…

A few weeks ago I wrote an update about our new Wi-Fi service onboard the COASTER Commuter Rail.  Less than 6 weeks later, negative press:  North County Times: WiFi Connections unsteady on Amtrak, Coaster.


This is not really a surprise.  I mentioned in the last post that this is a cellular technology provided by T-Mobile, and that cellular is imperfect.  I also talked about the original approach to the service versus what was pushed into production.  This is an example of how sometimes less is more – higher density in fewer cars rather than low density in all cars would have resulted in a better experience for a smaller number of customers.


Time for a new business case analysis…