Friday, October 20, 2006

Buy a (Non-flying) Piece of Aviation History

Bidding on eBay has reached more than $3,000,000 for an unflyable, undriveable M400X Skycar prototype from Moller International of Davis, California. The brainchild of Paul Moller, it's been in development for years but is still neither sky- nor road-worthy. Flight tests have tantalized some investors, however, and the company has successfully spun off research into rotary engines using ethanol.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reverse Commuting on Upswing in New York

The commuter trains headed to Grand Central Terminal from the suburbs to the north are still packed each work day morning, but a now cars headed in the other direction -- out of Manhattan -- are also full. A story this week in the New York Times describes changes in job locations and marketing efforts by the railroads.

The result? Less than half of the riders on Metro-North are now traditional suburb-to-Manhattan commuters. And this hasn't come at the expense of traditional commuters as their numbers are higher than at any time since Metro-North began operation 23 years ago. Instead, seats are filled with day-trippers, reverse commuters, and people traveling between suburbs.

Pavement Lousy in Bay Area

In what may come as a surprise to Bay Area drivers, road conditions in the Bay Area have improved during the past year, according to a report issued today by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. But despite the modest improvement, much of the pavement is in a danger zone where further deterioriation will require major rehabilitation.

Said MTC Vice Chair John McLemore, “...our streets and roads are still at a critical stage. There are thousands of miles of streets and roads all around the Bay Area with PCI scores that have fallen below 60, which is the point when pavement begins deteriorating rapidly. So we need to invest in both preventive maintenance to keep the good roads above 60 and in rehabilitation to bring poorer roads out of the danger zone. Given the size of our funding shortfall, that’s a huge challenge.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Does your car have a Black Box?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced yesterday that "automakers must inform customers if their vehciles are equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR)."
The new federal rule, which takes effect starting with model year 2011 cars, will require automakers who have chosen to install EDRs to note in the owner’s manual that the safety monitoring equipment has been installed.

The rule also includes new requirements designed to ensure that the data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety. For example, the rule requires EDRs to be more durable to protect data during a crash. The rule also requires automakers to collect the same type of crash data if they chose to install an EDR (see attached list for all data elements).

A pdf of the full notice can be found here.

via /.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hybrid Buses for the Long Haul?

Live from the Third Rail describes some of Elk Grove's e-tran's growing pains. The Sacramento Bee reports (registration required, Third Rail provides a pdf.) It seems that e-tran's hybrid buses aren't up for the long routes using freeways:
A hybrid-powered commuter bus fleet -- the cleanest in the nation -- would be the heart of what's called the e-tran.

But now, Elk Grove's path to clean-air mass transit has taken a detour. Diesel buses, both chartered and purchased, currently make up nearly half of e-tran's 42-vehicle fleet and most of the daily commute buses to downtown Sacramento.

Instead of cruising into the nation's history books, the hybrid fleet has had trouble accelerating into the fast lanes of the freeways. Instead of comfortable rides, hybrid bus air conditioners have quit in triple-digit temperatures, leaving passengers sweating in ovenlike heat.

Now, only five of the city's 21 hybrids are used on freeways.

"In the quest to be leading edge, you have to take chances at times on new technology," Mayor Rick Soares said. "We took that chance."
So, what's the problem with the hybrids? They perform best during stop-and-go traffic, Tobar said. The hybrid's electric energy booster, an ultra capacitor, works in tandem with a 145-kilowatt generator. That booster is recharged every time a driver applies the brakes.

That's great for intercity transit, but is troublesome on freeways where brakes are less often applied.

"At highway speeds, many of the systems are stressed," Tobar said.

Among the stresses are air conditioners that switch off on ultra-hot days during freeway travel. To relieve passengers, Tobar either pulls buses from service or delivers bottled water in ice buckets to buses on afternoons hotter than 105 degrees.

Still, passengers have been howling. With sunlight beating into bus windows, the hybrids have been compared to rolling hot houses.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

NHTSA's Multitaskers of Horror!

Last month news agencies reported about NHTSA's report about distracted drivers. The report, entitled The Impact of Driver Inattention On Near-Crash/Crash Risk tracked 100 vehicles equipped with video and sensor devices for one year.
A brief analysis of the study shows:
  • Drowsiness is a significant problem that increases a driverÂ’s risk of a crash or near-crash by at least a factor of four. But drowsy driving may be significantly under-reported in police crash investigations.
  • The most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones. However, the number of crashes and near-crashes attributable to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening. Dialing is more dangerous but occurs less often than talking or listening.
  • Reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 9 times; looking at an external object by 3.7 times; reading by 3 times; applying makeup by 3 times; dialing a hand-held device (typically a cell phone) by almost 3 times; and talking or listening on a hand-held device by 1.3 times.
  • Drivers who engage frequently in distracting activities are more likely to be involved in an inattention-related crash or near-crash. However, drivers are often unable to predict when it is safe to look away from the road to multi-task because the situation can change abruptly leaving the driver no time to react even when looking away from the forward roadway for only a brief time.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Gas Crisis in BART Parking Lots?

From the Contra Costa Times:
BART patrons have become targets for gas-siphoning thieves, and police say it could become a neighborhood trend if inflation at the pump continues.

Thieves have drained from a quarter-tank to a half-tank of gas from at least four vehicles parked at different BART stations in the past month, including one Thursday morning in Bay Point, said spokesman Linton Johnson.

Vehicles, which sit unattended for hours in parking lots or garages, are like rows of treasure chests for petrol pirates.

Gas prices have leapt more than 30 cents a gallon in the past month, making it increasingly expensive to keep cars on the road -- especially SUVs whose gas tanks top off at 25 to 30 gallons. A gallon of unleaded was going from $3.20 to $3.30 in the Bay Area on Thursday.

"If these prices continue, it shouldn't be long before it's a trend everywhere," said Walnut Creek police Sgt. Shelly James.

Does this mean locking gas caps will be popular again? It is 1977 again?

An Electric Car that's Faster than a Ferrari?

CNN Money reports that a new electric car has one of the fastest 0-60 mph acceleration speed in the world, second only to the 1001 horsepowerd Bugatti Veyron.
The X1 designed by Ian Wright. Could a high performance car be the key to bringing electric vehicles to the mass market?

At least it's more effecient than the jet-propelled VW bug.

via /.

Toronto's GO Transit Hacked

Tronto's GO Transit (Greater Toronto Transit Authority) was hacked. From Computerworld:
“It was Thursday evening, April 27, about 5:30, and I was leaving Toronto and I was taking the GO Transit train,” said [Stephen] Nicholls, vice president of the National Citizens Coalition. “Each car has a little electronic advertising sign and messages scroll across them and usually it’s something like buy tickets to this event or messages about train safety. But this time the message on the sign was reading ‘Stephen Harper eats babies,’ every three seconds. Stephen Harper used to be my boss and he’s president of the organization I work for right now.”

Nicholls, who lives in a suburb of Toronto, thought the message on the sign was strange and figured it had to be some kind of parody, with some kind of kicker explaining what it meant. But there was no punchline, he said.

“My first thought was maybe I’m hallucinating and that this couldn’t be. So I sent an e-mail to the GO Transit people and I put it on my blog. I never got any messages back from the GO Transit people over the next couple days,” he said. “But people in the blogging community picked it up, and it sort of got all over the place and local media picked it up. Then I talked about it on a radio station and suddenly the GO Transit people were contacting me. They explained that a hacker got into the system and changed the message. Apparently, this person did it with a wireless device [that] costs about $25 ... at any hardware store or any tech store.... They don’t know who it was and apparently it was running all last weekend on different trains.”

The LED signs are programmed with an infrared remote, and apparently weren't password protected all the time. The signs will most likely be protected now though.

Stephen Harper doesn't eat babies.

Monday, May 01, 2006

High Gas Prices of the Future?

ITS' own Robert Cevero spoke with Don Gonyea this weekend on NPR's Sunday Weekend Edition. They discussed what effect higher gas prices may have on transportation. The full piece can be heard here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

FAA saves by switching to Linux

The Federal Aviation Administration and Red Hat issued a press release this week announcing that the FAA saved $15 Million by migrating its systems to Linux. The move made the systems' operation 30% more efficient than the previous system with 50% of the operating costs.

Could more public agencies move to open source systems?

via /.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Clever Car?

This week the BBC reported about the Clever(Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport)Car. Could this sporty two-seater be the answer to so many congestion and pollution problems? Is it at least a step in the right direction?
via /.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

High Gas Price Boosts MTA LA Ridership

The United Transportation Union reports that Los Angeles' MTA has seen an increase in riders since the rise in gas prices. From the story:
From January through March, ridership rose more than 11% on Metro trains and 7% on buses compared with the same period last year, the MTA said.

Citing past experience and statistics, the agency linked the increases to high gas prices, MTA spokesman Dave Sotero said.

"It does correlate with the increasing gas prices. We've seen that over several occasions," he said. "We're making an assumption that ridership gains are parallel with rising gas prices."

The MTA also has anecdotal evidence, he said: Metro parking lots are filling up earlier, and traffic on the MTA's website rose by 10% in March.

A $3 MTA day pass allows unlimited rides on Metro buses and rail lines. "When the price for a single gallon of gasoline equals that of a day pass, it becomes much more affordable for people," Sotero said of public transit in Los Angeles.

Caquinez Bridge is Coming Down.

Today the old Carquinez Bridge is coming down.
The 1927 Carquinez Bridge is dying a slow, meticulous death.

The steel cantilever bridge, which carried eastbound traffic across the Carquinez Strait for nearly 80 years, was replaced in 2003 by a handsome, two-tower suspension bridge and now is being dismantled.

"I wish they'd just blow it up,'' said one person watching the operation, who did not want to be identified. "This is kind of dull. They're being very safe -- slow and methodical.''

That's because the old bridge is one of three bridges spanning the strait between Crockett and Vallejo within yards of one another. The new Al Zampa Memorial Bridge sits to the west of the old bridge, and a 1958 span carrying westbound Interstate 80 traffic sits to the east, leaving only so much room for crews to maneuver. Workers also must be careful not to drop anything into the waters below, which serve as a salmon run and natural habitat for delta smelt.

The Carquinez Bridge built in 1927 was the first steel bridge in the Bay Area. Caltrans determined that the old bridge was unfit for seismic retrofitting, allowing for the construction of the new Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge in 2003.

Goodyear to begin selling carbon-fiber tires

Goodyear announced last month that they will begin selling carbon-fiber enhanced tires in May. From the press release:
In the automotive industry, carbon fiber has been a key material in racing cars and concept vehicle designs. There now is a tendency to use it for regular production vehicles, although the usage is still confined to exotic sports cars.

"Among performance-oriented consumers, carbon fiber is recognized as a substance that raises the product to a higher status," said Bob Toth, Goodyear’s marketing manager for auto tires.

"The integration of carbon fiber in the new Eagle featuring ResponsEdge Technology tire not only helps stiffen the sidewall, but its use resonates with knowledgeable, performance-savvy consumers."

And here is the product information for the Eagle ResponsEdge tire.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More History of Container Shipping

The May issue of TRAINS Magazine has an article about White Pass & Yukon Route. The article has a small section about narrow-gauge container trains and the world's first container ship, White Pass & Yukon's 4,000 ton Clifford J. Rogers which predates Malcom McLean's Ideal-X by a year.

50 years of Container Shipping

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of container shipping.
Fifty years ago April 26, a trucker from rural North Carolina ran an experiment here that forever altered international trade and the global economy.

While many scoffed, Malcolm McLean hired a crane to hoist 58 trailer-sized steel cargo boxes onto a Texas-bound freighter. It was an alternative to the then-ubiquitous "break-bulk" shipping, the costly, pilferage-prone method dramatized in the film "On the Waterfront."
Now, shipping everything from clothing to razor blades to electronics in secured metal containers is the norm. Breakage and theft have been dramatically curtailed, and average shipping costs have fallen from 15% of retail value to less than 1%. At the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's facilities in Newark, N.J. and Elizabeth, N.J., containerization accounts for 94% of the cargo, with break bulk about 1%; automobiles account for the remainder.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Website solves South African logistical crisis

Logistics costs in South Afric represent 14.7% of the country's GDP, compared to 8.5% in the United States. South Africa's State of Logistics Survey investigated the issues facing logistics and freight in South Africa and offered some solutions. Without waiting for an official governement response, new website, offers dynamic real-time solutions for companies looking to transport goods around the country.

Is your city ready for an oil crisis?

Recently SustainLane released their study naming the 50 largest cities prepared for an oil crisis. The top ten cities are:
  1. New York

  2. Boston

  3. San Francisco

  4. Chicago

  5. Philadelphia

  6. Portland

  7. Honolulu

  8. Seattle

  9. Baltimore

  10. Oakland

It's nice to see both San Francisco and Oakland in the top ten. The rest of the list can be found here.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Welcome to TransBlog from the Institue of Transportation Studies Library at UC Berkeley. TransBlog will discuss new developments in transportation research, as well as highlight services and resources for those interested in transportation engineering and planning. Stay tuned!