News

On Positive Train Control


flickr photo shared by m01229 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

It's been almost a week since the Philadelphia train derailment and people the question remains - would postive train control prevented the incident

What is potive train control? The Federal Railorad Administation (FRA) defines it as: "Positive Train Control (PTC) systems are integrated command, control, communications, and information systems for controlling train movements with safety, security, precision, and efficiency." Its deployment is mandated in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 by December 31, 2105. There is still a ways to go. 

The Association of American Railroads notes the enormity of the task

PTC is an unprecedented technical and operational challenge. Since enactment of RSIA, railroads have devoted enormous human and financial resources to develop a fully functioning PTC system over the 60,000 miles that are subject to the PTC mandate. Progress to date has been substantial. Railroads have retained more than 2,400 signal system personnel to implement PTC and has already spent $5 billion on PTC development and deployment. Railroads expect to spend more than $9 billion before development and installation is complete.

A GAO report from 2013 outlines a number of challenges facing OTC roll out, echoing AAR's concerns about the complexity of the system and the timeline not being feasible. 

The week before the Philadelphia derailment, the FRA also issued a research brief about PTC across shared networks that could be used by multiple railroads. 

For more research about PTC you should go check out TRID

 

Amtrak Train Derailment in Philadelphia: Time to think about rail and infrastructure safety

Photo credit: AP 

Last night Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 frp, Washington to New York derailed in Philadelphia killing 7 and injuring more than 200 passengers and crew. The cause of the derailment is not yet known but the data recorders have been recovered and are currently being analyzed. This has been one of the biggest passenger rail crashes in recent times and investigators are looking at a number of factors. It should be noted that while rail fatalities have climbed in recent years, derailments are rare. You can find more rail safety data here.

Vice President Joe Biden, one of Amtrak's Northeast Regional's biggest proponents gave an emotional reaction. Today Congress rejected a funding increase proposal to Amtrak to make capital improvements. The last time Congress passed an Amtrak bill, it was after another fatal train crash - the 2008 Los Angeles Metrolink crash.  This week was also dubbed "Infrastructure Week" by USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx as he's been campaigning for increased investment in our nation's infrastructure needs. (For a take on the current state of the US's infrastructure needs, check out Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (NSFW)). 

 

California's new ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets.


flickr photo shared by Malingering under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order establishing the state's greenhouse gas reduction target 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 (Executive Oder B-30-15).  This new executive order is another step reducing California's greenhouse gas emissions after the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) which set reduction targets to 1990 levels by 2020. LBNL models predict we're on target to meet the 2020 goals but will need more effort ot meet the ultimate 2050 goals. 

Research in this area demonstrates that to achieve 80% greenhouse gas reductions by 2050 that moving to low-carbon and renewable energy will be important, but also investment in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Integrated climate protection into planning and land use policies, such as smart growth planning, will also help California meet its targets. Much of the technological innovations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 hinges on the role of electricity to move away from carbon based fuels across economic sectors. And yes, high-speed rail could also be part of the solution

Connected/Autonomous Vehicles, Ownership, and DMCA: What will vehicle ownership mean in the future?


flickr photo shared by sidehike under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Today Wired ran a story about John Deere's assertion that purchasing one of their tractors is "an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle." The key issue is not the hardware, but the software and the ability to access and modify it.  Using DMCA, many vehicle manufacturers are submitting comments to the Copyrights Office that modifying their software in a form of piracy. So legally, is this the end of ownership as we know it?

The questions and concerns about this legal development has been brewing for some time, but as the internet of thing comes closer to being a reality more people are calling into question our existing copyright and patent system and their limitations. (Even John Oliver discussed patents!)

This issue has been on the radar of USDOT's ITS JPO for a while now, especially the policy implications for connected and automated vehicles. The critical issue is the balance of open source software and concerns about cybersecurity and safety. Some of the promise of connected/automated vehicles, is the rich big data environments they will operate in but how can the industry cooperatively get there despite concerns about privacy and innovation? There is also the looming issue of liability for connected/autonomous vehicles, much of which hinges questions of safety and the perception of risk. 

It will be interesting to see how all of this develops and the rules are made. 

Accessibility and the Sharing Economy: Leap, Uber, Lyft and ADA requirements


Creative Commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by pix.plz

The disruption of traditional transportation by startups like Uber and Lyft has created waves and caused many cities and agencies to re-examine how they regulate taxis and the livery system. Now it looks like upstarts like Leap and Chariot, aiming to disrupt public transit, may be on the same course. 

It was reported today that last month a complaint was filed with the Department of Justice because Leap has failed to make its buses accessible to wheelchairs. This echoes similar concerns that has been expressed about Uber and Lyft. It is important to note that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require automobiles to be accessible, while other types of vehicles (vans and buses) must be accessible. 

Transit is crucial in providing accessible mobility options for people with disabilities, which is important to the quality of life. There has been much research focused on how to improve these transportation networks, including using taxis as a potential form of paratransit. TNCs like Uber and Lyft have improved accessible for some groups, it has been inconsistent. This review of Uber from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) points out the service works well with iOS, but that they Android app is not accessible. There is also the issue that riders with guide dogs might be refused a ride and "there appears to be no legal recourse that can be taken under the ADA at this time." The AFB has since filed a lawsuit against Uber and the DOJ now says Uber must comply with ADA. These sorts of regulatory growing pains seem to be a part of disruptive transportation companies maturity, which is why the complaint filed against Leap isn't very surprising. 

The Leap case also raises the existential question - what does it mean to be a transit service? Part of Leap's argument is that they do not provide transit, rather they connect riders with an operator. This is the same position Uber and Lyft have taken with regard to its relationship with riders and drivers, which also has a lawsuit in the courts. Leap and Chariot are basically modern jitneys that compliment existing services and jitneys are not exempt ADA requirements.

Traveling this Winter? We are. Library closed 12/23-1/19.

292:365 - Closed Security

Now that the Fall Semester is over, lots of students are packing up and flying home for the break. We here at the ITS Library will also be leaving town, and the library will be closed from December 22, 2014 through January 19, 2015. We will reopen on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 1:00PM. (Will we see you at TRB?)

If you are one of the 5.4 million travelers who are flying this week, it's a good idea to rfresh your memory with current TSA guidelines and recommnedations. There will be some changes ahead for the TSA after this Holiday crunch as Transportation Secuirty Administrator John Pistole steps down at the end of December after 4 1/2 years in charge.  Pistole leave a legacy safe skies and socken feet. A recent GAO report recommends that the TSA should take additional steps to determine its program effectiveness. Will 2015 be a year of change in airport security? Stay tuned. 

Oregon's New Opt-In Mileage Tax Pilot

Interstate 5 from the Portland Aerial Tram

This week Oregon DOT (ODOT) announced the public trial of a proposed new mileage tax. They're calling it a Road Usage Charge Program and it will beging July1, 2015. They are looking for 5,000 volunteer drivers to launch the program, which will be trailblazing user-based fees like this. 

New funding structures for transportation are needed as it's not clear how much longer the federal gas tax will last, which is especially problematic given the depletion of the Highway Trust Fund. To cover the challenging gap between current funding and what is needed to maintaining the current U.S. transportation system, new finding models are emerging. Road pricing, often implemented as tolling, is a very common method. Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) based taxes are another user-based method which is being discussed nationally, though Oregon is the first state to take steps to implement such a tax. Critics of these methods argue that such taxes penalize fuel efficient vehicles, or that they are regressive taxes and social inequities must be accounted for. The equity question is currently a very active research topic.  

This past spring, a mileage tax for California drivers was introduced in the state Senate. SB-1077 was voted by the Senate and Assembly, and approved Governor Jerry Brown in September. 

Everybody loves bus bunching.

Corporation Atlanteans at Moreton Shore

Or more realistically, everybody loves to complain about bus bunching - when two or more buses (usually on the same line) should be evenly spaced out, but are right behind one another. Here around UC Berkeley AC Transit's 51b in the line most people complain about bunching (they're working on it!), but every transit systems has its own problem line(s). 

Earlier this week WBEZ's Curious City examines bus bunching in Chicago. They provide an easy to understand animation that demonstrates how minor service delays cascade to bus bunching. Bookmark it to share with your friends next time they lament about the topic. 

The topic is also beloved by transit researchers, particularly at ITS Berkeley. From systematic analysis of why bunching occurs to ways to solve the problem. And as always, you can find more research on bus bunching at TRID

A Brief History of GTFS

Time within each minute that Muni buses are typically reported at each location

Hang out around transportation geeks enough and you'll hear people throwing around the term GTFS. People throw it around on Twitter like crazy. It's an important part of the transit data landscape, so let's take a look at it. 

GTFS is also known as the General Transit Feed Specification. It was originally known as the Google Transit Feed Specification and was used to integrate transit into Google Maps, but the name was changed as more people began to use GTFS beyond the Google platform. GTFS allows agencies to easily publish their route data so that it can be used for trip planning, data visualization, and improved accessibility. For a good history of GTFS, read this chapter from Beyond Transparency

Portland's TriMet was one of the first agencies to really implement GTFS to much scuccess. And soon others like BART and MBTA followed suit. For a comprehensive list of agencies with GTFS feeds check out the GTFS Data Exchange. One of the more recent GTFS developments has been the launce of GTFS-realtime which, as the name implies, allows agencies to provide realtime information about transit services to users. 

A company spun out of ITS Berkeley research has extended GTFS to include operational data. VIA Analytics recently launched VTFS, which is based upon GTFS but also has AVL data. They also have visualization and tracking products, and they're all open source.  

 

Everybody has an opinion on reclining airplane seats

Open Seating

Recently a flight from LGA to JAX was diverted due to passengers engaged in a seat reclining battle. It was the latest in a string of diverted flights stemming from passenger disruptions over the right to recline. A flight from EWR to DEN was diverted to ORD because a passenger used the Knee Defender to prevent the seat in front of them to recline. A recent flight from MIA to CDG was diverted to BOS after a passenger became upset when the seat in front of them reclined, and they lunged at a flight attendant. 

There is yet to be agreed upon rules for airplane seat reclining. Many say it boils down to being civil. Others are calling for reclining seats to be banned from airplanes because it's been demonstrated that passengers can't be civil.  Even Miss Manners has weighed in - she blames airlines for installing seats so closely together that nobody is happy. 

Today on Slate, Christopher Buccafusco and Chris Sprigman look at the economics of seat reclining. How much would you pay for the person in front of you not to recline? How much would you pay for the right to recline? They conducted an online survey to answer those questions, and they found out:

Recliners wanted on average $41 to refrain from reclining, while reclinees were willing to pay only $18 on average. Only about 21 percent of the time would ownership of the 4 inches change hands.
...
When we flipped the default—that is, when we made the rule that people did not have an automatic right to recline, but would have to negotiate to get it—then people’s values suddenly reversed. Now, recliners were only willing to pay about $12 to recline while reclinees were unwilling to sell their knee room for less than $39. Recliners would have ended up purchasing the right to recline only about 28 percent of the time—the same right that they valued so highly in the other condition.

They go on to say that this is basically the "endowment effect" as described in the 1990 paper by (Berkeley professor and Nobel laureate) Daniel Kahneman, Jack L. Knetsch and Richard H. Thaler, "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem."

Decreasing seat size is just another way airlines engage in revenue management, along with itemized fees for everything. Airlines are already using dynamic pricing for fares. They also employ tactics to maximize flight frequency and aircraft size, though this can often lead to flight delays (which often results in higher fares). The boarding procedure is another area where airlines can be more cost effective, minimizing the time to board and turnaround time.

But will any of that get you more leg room on your next flight? 

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