The website is a collection of essays on transportation written over the years. The theme is an optimistic, pragmatic approach to transportation problems. 

It would be great if anything here is useful to others and I am open to corrections and counter arguments.

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Dialog for Designing a Transportation department for an Urban University

The following was prepared for a specific school but has been anonymized.

A sizable institution such as [school] has an opportunity to leverage its transportation resources to do the most good for its students, staff, and neighborhood with the least impact. Obviously the least impactful mile is a mile not driven but the university experience hinges on being in person at a campus and socializing along with learning. To sustainably enable this interaction there are fresh transportation options and solutions at hand.

Does [school] have ESG goals and is it looking at transportation as a factor?

Are there specific electrification goals for university transportation?

[school] should decide what economic, environmental, and social elements of transportation are important, then establish metrics and baselines for each. In general, minimizing use of private full-size vehicles is broadly desirable. Metrics could include:

  • Total number of parking spaces on campus, and per student
  • Ratio of students and staff taking transit or carpooling versus driving alone
  • [school] operated fleet total mileage per year per entire student body
  • Total gas/diesel used by [school] fleet
  • [school] fleet vehicle insurance loss ratio

Cars are typically used about five to six percent of their lives. The other 95% of the time they sit depreciating, parked on an impermeable surface that typically drains stormwater and pollutants into the watershed. Even with battery electric cars those pollutants can include oil, coolant, and brake and tire dust (tires are the lead source of micro plastics in the world).

As to economics, car expenses range from absurdly high payments (including full insurance) for new vehicles to very little beyond gas for fully depreciated yet drivable cars (until they break and must be replaced). In either case, any money spent on cars and gas is money not spent on tuition or books.

Does [school] student parking impact adjacent neighborhoods?

Do they know how much acreage is surface parking?

Where does the stormwater runoff go?

Parking spaces, like cars, also have poor utilization, with each car in the US having about seven parking spaces devoted to it. And about that number of bikes – seven – can fit into a car-sized parking space. Bike racks should be available, sturdy, and monitored.

Is there consideration of creating safe pathways for bikes and pedestrians to and on campus?

[school] could collaborate with the City for bike lanes getting to campus. There is opportunity in that pavement markings need to be refreshed. Also, the City should be asked to add crossing lights at crosswalks. Sidewalks need periodic auditing. Eventually the accommodation and impact of electric bicycles should be studied.

How much do students use transit and ridesharing (Uber/Lyft)?

Students could be push-polled as to their mobility intentions for the coming semester, to both gather numbers for planning but also to educate students as to choices that could supplement or replace their driving to and around campus. [school] could reach out to local rideshare management to establish a relationship but their staff is likely lean and overcommitted. The same could be said for local taxi companies, though they are dwindling in the face of Uber and Lyft.

Has [school] considered promoting student and/or staff carpooling?

There are free apps for connecting commuters within an organization to form carpools. Savings from carpooling is easy to calculate for riders, for [school] it can mean less traffic and fewer parking spots needed. Plus it creates opportunities for socialization amongst riders. One resource to offer within a carpooling effort is a “Guaranteed Ride Home” program which could involve Lyft/Uber.

Have they thought about providing EV charging on a large scale?

Could [school’s] electric fleet be employed as emergency power backup for the campus, and also peak shaving?

Would they consider solar panel canopies over parking; (and someday, solar paving for surface lots)?

Eventually students and staff will expect to be able to charge their vehicles during their school day. This load would be added to [school]’s own fleet and place an enormous load on the local electric grid, which likely will need to be upgraded. It would be prudent to develop a relationship with the local grid operator and [school]’s physical plant office regarding electric vehicle charging loads along with the possibility of photovoltaic canopies and battery storage to buffer the load on the grid.

What is the relationship with the state DOT: City Streets Dept?

From coordinating plowing to street repair, traffic studies and remediation, [school] needs to connect with the City, and perhaps the area Municipal Planning Office and County planners. For instance, if the state DOT or the City needs to restrict traffic that information should be relayed to [school] directly. Every intersection on, and adjacent to campus should have bump outs (and probably stormwater retention gardens) for pedestrian safety.

What is the relationship with the local transit agency?

Transit is key to achieving many obvious environmental, economic, and mobility equity goals and transit appears to be surviving and willing to adapt itself to serve the greatest population. [school] should be a represented stakeholder in any transit proceedings that affect the area. [school] students and staff should have a safe path to transit stations.

 All bus stops on or adjacent to campus should have shelters, eventually with lighting, seats, and countdown clocks. Perhaps incoming students could be given transit cards with a small amount to start.

What is [school] policy and practice toward wheelchair-using students and staff?

[school] can build a Relationship with the wheelchair-using community; engaging them to make periodic audits of accessibility on campus. Accommodating wheelchairs solves for all wheeled traffic.

Have they considered bicycle and or car sharing?

Bicycle sharing is ubiquitous in cities and college campuses, and there are several third party vendors [school] could engage to provide the service on campus. It may be that [school]’s campus is compact enough and the local roads inhospitable enough for longer trips that bikesharing might not yet make sense for [school]. Electric bikes may change this calculation.

A robust car sharing service however could help convince students living on campus to not bring a car to school. Car sharing is a system of renting vehicles by the quarter hour. Ideally vehicles are scattered around the community in parking “pods” convenient to renters. Enterprise can be asked to operate this as they have at other universities (UNM), and Turo and Getaround (peer-to-peer car sharing companies that facilitate rental of private vehicles, like AirBnB for cars) are also options.

Does the transportation department purview include freight shipping and receiving?

If so the department should be in touch with local managers for FedEx, UPS, and the Post Office. If package theft is an issue the transportation department can coordinate a response. Move-ins and outs, construction material and equipment, and office moves would also logically be coordinated by the department. Also food service deliveries should be accounted for.

Are they considering autonomy (for future shuttle)?

What considerations go into designing shuttle routes; what are the O/D pairs and what are the numbers of riders?

Level five autonomy – vehicles lacking steering wheels – is a tough nut to crack and is many years away from general deployment. In the meantime autonomous tech companies have been cherry picking situations where autonomy can begin to work. A campus such as [school]’s could be ideal once the technology has significantly matured. As the [school] shuttle operates in city traffic it would need to be flawless.

Autonomous shuttles could be used to supplement traditional driven buses with off-hour service, paratransit, and/or creating autonomous routes from Campus to transit stations. This could one day be rolled out for campus-adjacent neighborhoods. That said, currently available shuttles’ size, speed and fallibility likely keep them from being appropriate for daytime traffic, simply from a capacity point of view. Drivers do more than drive, they keep passengers civil and informed, they navigate obstacles, and their vehicles can be full size buses.

[school] will have to understand traffic laws, liability (product liability versus drivers’ liability), total cost of ownership, and how riders will interact with the technology. Autonomous vehicles could prove to be an “attractive nuisance”, drawing expensive to fix vandalism. It seems prudent to keep an eye on autonomy developments but not spend real money until the picture is much more clear.

A parallel consideration is delivery bots, be they for food or packages. [school] will eventually be asked to accommodate these bots and should have a policy ready. For instance, what happens when a “bot” confronts a wheelchair on a narrow sidewalk?

Answering the above questions should put a school on the right track.

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NM Carshare Vision/Working Draft

Our mission is to ensure equitable, cost-efficient, truly sustainable mobility, primarily through carsharing.

The net effects of carsharing are money saving, dependability assuring, fossil fuel use avoiding, mobility providing, and space saving. Carshare members can forego all the pitfalls of car ownership while having convenient access to a broad fleet of vehicles. Discrete quarter-hour pricing leads to discrete use of vehicles, saving members dollars they can spend locally, instead of sending to out-of-state carmakers and oil companies. Safe, well-maintained, insured vehicles displace older, less safe, less fuel efficient, often uninsured vehicles.

Conventional vehicle ownership is grossly uneconomical; a car, truck, or SUV is the largest or second largest asset most people have, and it sits depreciating 96% of its life, with an average yearly cost in the high four figures. Combined with all the other alternative modes (e.g. transit, ridesharing, biking, walking, etc.) carsharing offers a credible substitute for private car ownership.

Carshare vehicles get high levels of use and are more likely to be run while warm, therefore emitting less air pollution. Operating a fleet is an opportunity to introduce extremely efficient vehicles in substantial numbers, often offering members the chance to grow familiar with new technology – as in hybrid and battery-power – before making a purchase.

Although carsharing has existed in New Mexico for a number of years, its limited implementation has permitted it to reach only a fraction of its potential. National companies Zipcar and Enterprise Carshare have been here for several years but between them have seven vehicles in Albuquerque. To get to the ultimate build-out of carsharing’s potential will take a grass roots, creative, collaborative, sustained effort that these national for-profit companies would likely never pursue. 

First Year

  • Funding is found to obtain 501(c)3 certification OR a home at an existing entity (e.g. MRCOG or Rio Metro) and pay minimal stipends to Bob and Will for their ongoing work on the following.
  • Partnerships are explored with every regional entity that has a vehicle fleet or serves as a mass destination for drivers.
  • A thorough “best practices” search is made of other carsharing operations around the world.
  • MRCOG helps research optimal Pod locations and vehicle types.
  • A relationship with an established company like eGo in Boulder is established through which NM Carshare operates as a franchise. Otherwise we start building our own relationships with vendors (vehicles, software, insurance), and our own customer service and fleet management capabilities.
  • A business plan is developed which includes pricing (of membership and rental), minimum subsidy from Pod sponsors, and an overall branding offer. Also included are cost projections including 501(c)3 certification (if needed), staff salary, vehicle acquisition, vehicle maintenance, Pod preparation, insurance, operating software (reservations and fleet management).
  • Some vehicles from existing government-owned fleets are selected for donation (or loanation”) to help establish the NM Carshare fleet.
  • Robust carsharing is established with a dozen vehicles and 1.5 full time employees (FTEs). The vehicles are a mix of sedans, small SUVs, and small pickups. Some of the vehicles are used and have been donated by institutions. Others may include a mix of purchased and/or leased new and/or used vehicles based on TCO (total cost of ownership) analysis.
  • Initial Pod locations include UNM campuses, ART and Rail Runner stations, public libraries, Kirtland Air Force Base, Fire/Police stations, and on-street spaces in dense neighborhoods.
  • Volunteer opportunities in fleet and Pod management, and guerilla marketing are delineated and filled.
  • Develop reciprocal agreements with carsharing companies located in other cities to offer members seamless service when in those cities.

Two Years

  • There are about fifty vehicles at about twenty five Pods, including at most Rail Runner and ART stations. NM Carshare employs 5 FTEs (depending on possible outsourcing).
  • With relationships with MRCOG, ABQ Ride, NM DOT, and area Pueblos, work continues to weave the carsharing resource into the region’s overall mobility.
  • The city has instituted a square foot tax on surface parking to limit stormwater runoff and “heat-island” effect created by asphalt paving, increase consideration of parking cost, and bring in general revenue.
  • The city begins to approve new construction of only those parking structures that have a plan for conversion into usable space.
  • UNM designs ideal Pod with solar power, electric charging, member storage, and which automatically “checks in” a car for damage.

Three Years

  • There are about two hundred vehicles at about fifty Pods, including several Santa Fe locations. There are several wheelchair accessible vehicles strategically placed. Even with public funding NM Carshare is not obligated to provide this – as there is SunVan.
  • The NM Carshare app can broadcast rideshare opportunities; automatically link members to form carpools.
  • NM Carshare is breaking even on operations and successfully soliciting foundation and public funding for car acquisitions.
  • Virtually all new downtown and Uptown multi-unit residential construction features carsharing parking spaces.
  • Outreach has begun to other NM Communities such as Las Cruces; Taos to help them consider carsharing.
  • Member surveys show substantial drop in private car ownership potentially saving members thousands of dollars per year.

Five Years

  • NM Carshare is fielding about 300 vehicles in seventy-five Pods along the length of the Rail Runner line. It has its own facilities for vehicle maintenance and some repair.
  • It is exploring self-insurance, perhaps through a pool with other not-for-profits.
  • NM Carshare is making substantial improvements in local air quality with members retiring their older, dirtier vehicles in favor of far fewer and cleaner carshare vehicles.
  • NM Carshare is using its buying power to offer hyper-efficient vehicles across all the types in its fleet. Many Pods are furnished with charging stations.
  • The fleet is broadened to include specialty and vocational vehicles like cherry pickers (bucket lift trucks), stake body trucks, and fifteen passenger vans.
  • NM Carshare has developed a link between donors, volunteers, and mobility justice. Expensive paratransit trips are being eliminated by our enabling good samaritan members to instead drive those customers, volunteering their time and driving ability while NM Carshare provides the vehicle. NM Carshare offers a donation link to help subsidize these trips.
  • NM Carshare develops a reward point program for total safe miles including ability to donate your reward points to a non profit corporate member, volunteer driver, or low income member.

Twenty Years

  • There are about 700 vehicles in the NM Carshare fleet, most of which are a single, battery powered model for economy of scale but which also includes specialty vehicles strategically located around the region. Virtually every neighborhood, employment center, major transit stop, retirement community, and pueblo has Pods.
  • NM Carshare fleet purchases are pooled with other regional entities to harmonize regional fleet planning and secure best pricing and utilization.
  • The introduction of autonomous vehicles has compelled vehicle inspections in New Mexico, even of legacy non-autonomous vehicles so that they are more mechanically predictable in their interactions with an autonomous system. This has sent the most decrepit vehicles to scrap while raising the minimum operating cost of a private vehicle and propelling more drivers into carsharing.
  • Carsharing is second nature and has grown along with transit (an additional North-South BRT route to the Sunport, etc.), bikesharing, biking in general, handicapped sidewalk access, and ride sharing (Uber/Lyft). The confluence of mature alternative modes to driving has substantially changed the region’s mobility habits; fewer people own cars.
  • Electric bicycles have found their place between bikesharing and carsharing; many carsharing members use their own electric bikes to travel to carshare pods.
  • There are secure storage options at many Pods for members’ personal items (child seats, sports and outdoor equipment, etc.).
  • Vacant lots and surface parking have largely disappeared from downtown Albuquerque, and parking garages charge enough to be a factor in one’s choice of travel mode. “Road diets” and square footage tax of impermeable surfaces greatly decreases the amount of unnecessary asphalt with its stormwater runoff (directly into the Rio Grande) and heat retention.
  • Uptown, the Mile Hi District, North 4th Street, and several other neighborhoods have developed their own own walkable TOD cores and supports several pods.
  • New development in the region (the failure of Santolina is a distant memory) is dense and tied to transit, even outside of downtown.
  • As they are no longer needed for parking people are renovating their garages into living space; increasing value of houses an average of $50K (RMI study) and therefore increasing property taxes.
  • Some NM Carshare vehicles are skinned with display panels to show logo, etc. of member company during rental.
  • Carsharing adds to the economic resiliency of the region by decreasing the flow of money to out of state auto manufacturers and oil companies.
  • Autonomous (level 4) NM Carshare vehicles can be remotely summoned from and returned to Pods in many cases, broadening each Pod’s range of convenient coverage.

And into the Level 5 Autonomous future:

  • NM Carshare brand can carry on with autonomous vehicles; it would be the hometown favorite as autonomous services begin to be rolled out.
  • There will always be a role for a nonprofit in the space: ensuring mobility justice and coordinating vehicle use with area entities.
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Using Human Powered Vehicles for Urban Freight Delivery in Philadelphia

It is easy to believe that UPS trucks come off the assembly line with their yellow flashers on. Center City Philadelphia, at most any point during the day, has dozens of travel lanes blocked by double-parked delivery trucks. This will only get worse as we see the conversion of large amounts of office space to residential use along with lots of fresh residential construction. The shipping profiles for residents are different from institutional/commercial entities and “convenience” deliveries to consumers are typically much smaller than business-to-business deliveries, and often happen outside of business hours. This could bring a near constant flow of mostly gasoline powered delivery vans along with their emissions, noise, danger to pedestrians and bicyclists, and need for parking.

At the same time, human- and electric-powered bicycle and tricycles (collectively called HPVs) are beginning to supplant internal combustion-powered small trucks in cities around the world for delivery of retail goods, food, various services, and for waste and recycling pick-up. The transforming downtown population creates a high delivery density that suits bike/trike delivery, which along with new residents’ sensitivity to truck noise in the non-business hours makes clean, quiet, relatively small HPVs look like an smart element in urban freight delivery.

The benefits of at least a partial switch to human-powered delivery vehicles are plentiful. While offering competitive speeds and improved reliability for many short-distance local movements, these vehicles take up far less space both in traffic and while parked, emit no pollutants, are virtually silent, and are much less likely to injure or kill pedestrians or other cyclists (helping us reach the Vision Zero goal of ending pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities). They have almost no maintenance impact on pavement and curbs. Also they add to a region’s disaster-preparedness by not needing liquid fuels or grid power, which can get scarce in emergencies.

Adding cargo cycles to the city’s transportation mix broadens the constituency for cycling infrastructure, just as bike-sharing has done. Thus it becomes easier to justify the expense of creating (and maintaining) bike lanes and taking that space away from motor vehicles. In addition, cargo cycles add a substantial biking presence, making drivers ever more aware of the need to share the road and stay out of bicycle lanes.

The bike/trike option is being proven in Paris and Berlin, where cargo bicycles and tricycles carry about 1% and 7%, respectively, of urban freight. They have been slower to catch on in the US with our generally more-dispersed delivery areas, but pioneers are appearing. Portland’s B-Line started in 2009, and now fields eight tricycles with large cargo containers that can handle 800 pounds.

Manhattan has a fleet of trikes picking up surplus food for a food pantry, and a bakery delivery trike fleet. There are perhaps a dozen other cargo bike delivery efforts across the US, and dramatic growth in convenience delivery could drive similar growth of tricycle delivery.

In Philadelphia there is an existing effort by Wash Cycle and the experience of the recently defunct Pedal Coop. Courier companies typically have not used bikes or trikes for freight, preferring to send a car or small truck. Couriers in Philadelphia generally are employed as independent contractors and use their own vehicles at work, and for commuting, making the choice of trikes, which are expensive and slow compared to bikes, less likely than if the fleet were supplied by the company. Other, non-freight commercial trikes add to the visibility of trikes. Little Baby’s Ice Cream is now operating five tricycles (most built locally).

For large-scale integration of cargo bikes into Philadelphia’s delivery infrastructure there will need to be buy-in from the major players: UPS, FedEx, and the USPS. FedEx currently uses electric trikes in Paris. UPS began as a bicycle delivery company (in Seattle), and used bicycles occasionally in Philadelphia up through the 1980s to deliver overnight envelopes. Currently none of the three major delivery companies is publicly expressing interest in using bike/trikes in the U.S.

That said, a switch from trucks to trikes could free up travel lanes where parking tickets are clearly not enough of a deterrent to double-parked delivery trucks. UPS is said to be the Parking Authority’s largest payer of fines, at over $2MM per year. The other delivery companies likely have similar costs relative to their fleet size, except for the USPS, which cannot be issued parking tickets. In Europe some building maintenance companies have transitioned to cargo bikes, and there is the possibility that their American counterparts could also make this shift. Every day, contractor’s vehicles — typically full size vans — occupy dozens of Philadelphia’s on-street parking spots for entire work days.

Economics can favor HPVs. With depreciation, fuel, and insurance it can cost upwards of $15,000 per year to field a truck in the city. New cargo bikes can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000, with yearly depreciation and maintenance costs in the hundreds of dollars. Workers compensation insurance is substantially more for bikers than it is for drivers, but this is partially offset by having healthier and perhaps happier and more productive employees with less turnover.

Another big plus of fostering cargo bike delivery in Philadelphia is the creation of a market for local bike and trike manufacturers. There are at least three of these within the city limits: Haley Trikes, Firth and Wilson, and Bilenky Cycle Works. Conversely, Philadelphia has virtually no involvement in manufacturing trucks or autos.

A system that emphasizes cargo cycle use will shift spending from trucks and fuel to additional personnel. These employees can include people at the outer limits of employability — ex-offenders and those needing basic job training.

To welcome freight bikes and trikes as part of the urban delivery fleet, Philadelphia should:

  • Convene the major downtown delivery providers to gather existing thoughts on using trikes, and introduce them to current HPV users and HPV manufacturers. Besides UPS, FedEx, and the USPS, there are several other players in Philadelphia’s urban freight delivery. Small- package delivery companies include LaserShip, TimeCycle Couriers, American Expediting, and Heaven Sent Couriers. Large proprietary truck delivery fleets making urban deliveries include W.B. Mason, Singer, and Sysco. Also here and growing are the same-day delivery fleets of Amazon, and Fresh Direct, and other grocery delivery services
  • Collaborate with the Philadelphia Planning Department, Philadelphia Police, Philadelphia Parking Authority, and The Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia to determine how to accommodate and regulate HPVs and their transload needs [The current law in Pennsylvania (introduced in 2013 by former PA state senator Matt Smith) sets a limit of 750 watts for electric assist. These vehicles are allowed to be parked on public sidewalks.]
  • Determine the best regulatory choices for our city and then lead the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in designing new regulations.
    • Should cargo trikes be allowed in bike lanes and if so should there be a limit to their size? The cargo trikes operated in Portland are relatively big dimensionally with a load capacity of 800 pounds. If they accelerate more slowly than bicyclists, will that push passing bicycle traffic into motor vehicle travel lanes?
    • Should cargo bikes/trikes be allowed to park on sidewalks, loading zones, and/or double park in vehicular travel lanes as delivery trucks currently do? Trikes are less than half the width of delivery vans but can still block a lane.
    • What amount of electric assist should we allow? Electric-assist trikes can carry greater loads and have a longer practical range, and may be the best option for high-volume delivery companies switching to trikes. The Commonwealth has imposed a limit of 750 watts for electric assist. Oregon has a limit of 900 watts, and electric assist is not allowed at all in New York. The New York ban appears to be an effort to slow the switch to bikes and trikes in an attempt to foster bike and pedestrian safety. A trike weighing 1,000 pounds moving at 25 miles per hour is potentially lethal if mixed with bicyclists.
  • Explore using Federal funding (through the US DOT, CMAQ, EPA, and possibly DARPA) for research and infrastructure implementation.
  • Engage NYU’s freight bike specialist Dr. Alison Conway to provide hard number predictions and recommendations for encouraging tricycle delivery.
  • Get HPVs added to the Indego bike share fleet and local courier company fleets.
  • Explore a shift of Philadelphia’s municipal motor vehicle fleet to HPVs.
  • Make transload space available. A shift to cargo bike/trikes with less cubic and weight capacity than current trucks would require several centrally located “transload” facilities so that re-loading trikes doesn’t involve travelling uneconomic distances. The UPS, FedEx, and USPS facilities that serve Center City are on the periphery of town; UPS at Oregon and Delaware Avenues, FedEx on Grays Ferry Avenue, and the USPS at Lindbergh Avenue and 74th Street. To foster the growth of cargo cycle use, the city should make space available in city-owned facilities for transload sites. Another option is to set up mobile package depots dispatched from the delivery company’s hub to a downtown parking spot where they “feed” several cargo bikes making multiple “tours”, loading up and delivering packages. UPS has a project using this model in Hamburg, Germany that replaces seven delivery vans.
  • Develop metrics to quantify probable benefits of HPV freight to business owners and to the public
  • Identify future HPV hub opportunities such as West Philadelphia, the river wards, and Manayunk
Articles and Resources

Can Cargo Bike Delivery Flourish in NYC?; STREETSBLOG NYC; 2/2013

The Cargo Bike – Somewhere in Between the Courier and the Truck; The Guardian; 05/2012

The Innovative Delivery System Transforming Gothenburg’s Roads; The Guardian; 11/2015

Sustainable City Logistics — Making Cargo Cycles Viable for Urban Freight Transport; Research in Transportation Business & Management; 02/2015

In 2015 Rensselaer Polytechnic hosted two webinars on using tricycles to deliver urban freight. The first focused on Berlin (https://coe- sufs.org/wordpress/peer-to-peer-exchange-program/webinar11/) and the second on the U.S., specifically Manhattan and Portland, Oregon (https://coe- sufs.org/wordpress/peer-to-peer-exchange-program/webinar12/).

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About Developing a Vanpool System

Below is the information I wish I had before setting up a carpooling project recently in Philadelphia. Our task was to use a Federal Transit Administration grant to assist workers living in the city get to jobs unreachable by public transit.


Obviously the primary reason for sharing the ride to work is financial. When people come together to use a resource they can afford something better than as individuals. When it comes to transportation that can mean driving a new (or new-er) fuel-efficient vehicle with all the latest safety equipment, full insurance, and timely maintenance. Logistically it can mean driving in the HOV lane, arriving on-time consistently and, with enlightened employers, parking by the front door (after all – the pool is probably freeing up several parking spaces).

There are other pluses, harder to quantify but potentially just as valuable to an employer. Any pool at some level is a community, and communities are stronger than individuals. Members of a (healthy) community support each other. They trade information, they keep each other accountable, and let each other blow off steam after a tough day at work. All this can foster better performance, retention, and attitudes toward work.

The broader community benefits as well. Pools take cars off the road at peak travel times, pollute far less and are proven to be safer than individual drivers.



A few years ago a large, multi-city (US) project to provide home-to-work “pools” was undertaken with disappointing results. The project used paid drivers in vans driving commuters to remote, low-wage jobs. A post-mortem study on the project cited constantly changing routes, performance problems with paid drivers and intolerably long commutes times as the big reasons. As soon as workers could find work closer to home, even for reduced pay, they dropped out of the pools, which changed the pool routing, which frustrated more commuters into dropping out.

Commuter-driven pools:

  • Eliminate the massive expense and complication of employing drivers
  • Give commuters more control over and responsibility for the resource for which the are paying
  • As with market-rate pools, put safe, legal vehicles in a neighborhood for the limited use of pool drivers


If you simply want to promote pooling without getting involved with offering vehicles you can set up a regional rideshare database. Before you reinvent the wheel take a look at a couple third-party sites already offering slick ride-sharing tools: GoLoco (http://goloco.org/)


Depending on an agency’s mission, costs can range from merely administrative to that plus a gross operating cost of up to $15K per vehicle per year. Obviously, some companies operate pool fleets at a profit (which speaks well of the overall economics of pooling) and while their audience is limited to those who can pay higher fares, many of their practices should be emulated by non-profits serving those needing a subsidy.

The most important aspect of running a pool operation is having a system for people come together to use a resource. You can help commuters start carpooling merely by connecting them and giving them the framework for cooperating, procedurally and financially.  Other essentially free help you can offer would be to point toward pool-friendly vendors and negotiate as a fleet for all operating expenses. Also the framework you offer commuters could include the ability for other entities to subsidize pools. For instance – a neighborhood group may want to sponsor a pool, and with your help could be alerted when their desired contribution could close the funding gap in starting a pool or keeping one going after individuals drop out.


You may not have any subsidy money for pools; if so skip this. If at least part of your mission is serving lower-income commuters you will probably be covering some of the pool operating costs (in addition to your administrative costs). Offering a subsidy can feel like “losing money”, especially if one comes from a for-profit background, so it’s important to have a clear mission and communicate the value of the resource to commuters.


Jobs should:

  • Pay a decent wage
  • Have benefits

Commuters should:

  • Be generally dependable and able to be part of a group
  • Pay a fare on a weekly basis, just like a transit pass
  • Be able to deal with driving issues on their own, including holidays, sick days, etc.

Pools should:

  • Have backup drivers
  • Not travel more than 1:15 in each direction

Employers should:

  • Contribute at least a nominal amount
  • Facilitate payroll deduction of fares
  • Support the logistics of the pool by letting commuters work similar hours


In an especially enlightened area like Seattle and suburban Chicago you can approach the van-pooling division of the local  transit authority for pool vehicles. Riders simply pay a monthly fare, typically subsidized to some degree.

In some regions money is available for traffic congestion management and/or pollution mitigation. These funding streams are known as Transportation Demand Management (TDM) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), respectively.

The Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) may provide Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) funding. This comes requiring a 100% match from non-federal sources and is paid out as a “rebate” after an agency spends qualifying money. The match can come from several sources:

  • “in-kind” contributions of time and/or equipment (including administrative work space)
  • rider fares
  • employer subsidy
  • agency subsidy
  • funding from state or local Departments of Transportation, Labor, and/or Public Welfare

Another way the FTA provides funding is through their Section 5307 Urbanized Area Formula Program. In exchange for reporting (FTA-funded) vanpool commute mileage to the National Transit Database (NTD), a per-mile amount is paid to an area’s local transit agency. While a substantial amount (a 20 pool program might generate yearly mileage worth about $60,000), the money takes a while to come and can only flow to an area’s FTA-designated transit agency.


People in the pooling business often stress the desirability of employer involvement. Managers who are supportive of pooling will help keep poolers on the same schedule, point new hires to the pool’s existence, and often provide preferred parking to pools. After all – each pool can free up several parking spaces.


Some employers are troubled by the question of liability if they subsidize commute costs. If an employer is on the fence about pooling because of liability, they should contact their insurer and ask what additional coverage for this would cost. It should be nominal, commensurate with the nominal risk.



Of the universe of vehicles available in the US some make much better pool vehicles than others. American vehicles are most popular, mostly because of the economics. For a fleet buyer (operating at least ten vehicles) – especially one funded with at least 50% government money – Chrysler, GM and Ford have the best deals, often several thousand less than similar models from Japan, Korea, and Germany.

In general, different pools put very different loads on vehicles. Vehicles can depreciate so many ways – mileage, abuse, accidents, all three – and a pooling agency should have a replacement plan. Also, vehicle technology keeps moving forward and – especially with safety equipment – there is benefit to keeping current with late model vehicles. Keeping a vehicle for years with careful maintenance is a smart thing for an individual, but often not for a service provider.

Also, a homogenous fleet is easier to support that a motely one. Southwest Airlines figured this out – they operate only 737s (until recently) and that simplicity is a major part of their on-going success.

Possible pooling fleet vehicles are:

8 to 15 passengers (all capacity numbers include the driver):

  • Ford Econoline – by far the most popular.
  • Chevy Express and GM Savannah – essentially identical.
  • Mercedes Sprinter – with it’s fuel-efficient diesel and Mercedes quality the Sprinter would be in broader use if it was cheaper and/or discounted for fleets, but it isn’t.

7 passenger:

  • Chrysler and Dodge minivans; perhaps available with “government” pricing.
  • Hyundai and Kia minivans – recently redesigned, much bigger and better, still less expensive than Japanese minivans, but no “government money” (see above), fewer dealers (important for ease of service) and uncertain resale value.
  • Neither Ford nor GM make minivans. Both may be importing their European models soon; the Turkish-built Ford Transit Connect could be a great wheelchair accessible pool vehicle if Ford adds a third row of seats.
  • Honda, Toyota and Nissan mini-vans are well-built and fuel-efficient, but they carry a big cost premium (about $5000), including on-going costs of repair and maintenance. Plus, there are still fewer “import” dealerships.
  • Mazda 5 – substantially smaller than all the others but well-built and fuel-efficient.
  • Volkswagen Routan – built by Chrysler.

5 passenger:

  • Chevy Impala, Malibu
  • Ford Taurus, Fusion



Leasing, especially full-service leasing takes advantage of the expertise of others in areas where an organization may have little in-house. A good leasing company can recommend appropriate vehicles based on auto industry knowledge; they’ll know factory order cut-off dates (one dis-advantage of fleet buying is typically having to order during the scheduling period for a model, not from dealer stock), and they can probably take over a lot of fleet management tasks, such as warranty and accident follow-up.


Another way to build a fleet is through wholesale auctions. These are scattered around the country and the larger ones can move thousands of vehicles in a day. The vehicles are mostly from rental fleets, well maintained with lots of warranty left. One tip – look for mini-vans with extra window tinting as these were probably delivered and driven in the (typically) snow-free south. Only registered auto dealers can bid but you can probably find someone locally at an independent used-car lot who will buy for you for a flat fee.


If you are operating in an area currently served by paratransit, you can probably point commuters to that resource. Regardless, you may want to have a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and there are a few sources easily searched. New wheelchair accessible minivans can cost $40K to $60K. Some accessibility-conversion companies start with late-model used minivans purchased wholesale, yielding a more affordable vehicle.



Pickup cycles should be as compact as possible to keep mileage and costs down, offer comfortable commutes, and to make it easier to react to driver and route changes. Ideally commuters should be picked up close to their homes (not at, as this typically leads to pools having to wait for riders), and should not have to pay for a transit trip to get to a pickup point. Bicycling to a pickup point is one answer; Seattle’s vanpooling operator provides bike racks on pool vehicles.


A pool works best when commuters are traveling to a single employer. Any difference in work schedule creates problems when commuters work different places. Also, pools traveling to multiple employers have less of a constituency at a given employer for subsidy, payroll deduction, etc.


[AREA] [AGENCY/program name ]      [OPERATOR]                   [APPROX # OF POOLS]

Seattle KC Metro                                       in-house                           >1000

Chicago suburbs PACE                             in-house                           600

Connecticut CT DOT/Easy Street           2-Plus                               300

Michigan Michigan DOT/Michivan         VPSI                                ???

Philadelphia PUP/Commuter Options   in-house                           30

North Carolina NC DOT                              2Plus                               25



There are several fleet fuel card companies in the US but Wright Express (http://www.wrightexpress.com/) is the big dog. You can use their billing to analyze quickly drivers’ fuel use, and see in real time where drivers are buying fuel for how much and what kind. Some drivers have to be broken of the unnecessary habit of using premium gas for pool vehicles. Of course you can track each vehicle’s mileage if your drivers enter data correctly. The cards can have a variety of limits and work at any gas station you’d want to go to.


Insurance cost can range an order of magnitude between different areas of the country. One way to save is to go with a specialty insurer who has made a business in the vanpool industry. Lancer has done this; I’m not aware of any others. The limits are substantial – only vans and mini-vans that get used for the same routes each day – but the rate was substantially less than general business use insurance. Lancer knows that pools traveling consistently with the same drivers and routes present less risk that the general population.

Another way to save on insurance is to pool your risk with other, similar entities and self-insure. States have regulations for self-insurance, and there may be incremental steps to being fully self-insured. Periodically raising your deductible is a move in that direction, too. An insurance agent should be able to guide you through the options.


You might not need tracking for all you vehicles; different pools have different levels of risk. However,  if a vehicle does go missing tracking can help you avoid having to report it stolen, which could make a criminal out of your former driver and perhaps needlessly raise a flag with your insurer.

Also, tracking systems which link to a vehicle’s On Board Diagnostic port can be very helpful with maintenance scheduling. GM’s OnStar does, too, but without the geographic tracking. Lastly, tracking offers fast visual confirmation of expectations for a busy manager and an automatic heads-up when a vehicle strays or exceeds the speed limit (depending on the system). One provider is Networkfleet. Some systems allow tracking based on cell phones, which users allow to be tracked. Obviously this does not necessarily track the vehicle.


An agency tasked with quickly building a carpooling operation may want to avoid the learning curve and outsource to a 3rd-party company. Some of these providers offer vehicles only through employers. A few larger private for-profit companies in the pooling industry are:

  • VPSI – the oldest
  • 2Plus – running programs in Connecticut and North Carolina
  • Enterprise – San Diego


With a conventional, market-rate pool the riders pay the vehicle provider with one check each month. Each pool is encouraged to have a designated banker in addition to primary and backup drivers. The banker opens a checking account just for the pool.  If the rider-ship drops then the remaining riders simply pay more individually to make up the difference.

With non-market rate pools fares are typically paid individually and remain largely steady, perhaps with nominal increases with rider-ship drops, since charging the full vehicle cost defeats the purpose of a subsidized pool.


In Philadelphia drivers also typically act as bankers and collect the fares (often cash) from riders each pay cycle, then deposit the fares in the agency’s bank account with a deposit-only ATM card or by going into a branch.


Ideally, fares are paid through payroll deduction effected by the employer. This not only streamlines processing fares, but allows commuters to take advantage of having their fares taken out pre-tax (up to $230 per month).


There has been a pioneering project in the Seattle area to use JARC funding to cover car share costs for commuters receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF – formerly called welfare) benefits. While commuting is not a great fit with car sharing (payment is by the 15 minute increment), it is a great alternative to pools for traveling to pre-employment training and interviews. Drivers need to be approved by the car sharing company and reservations need to be made for usage, but in general car sharing is a good thing for people to learn about and adopt. Often commuters see the pool as a way to save money to buy their own vehicle, which typically adds thousands to a yearly budget. If a commuter’s off-hours driving needs can be met with car sharing, they can save money, maintenance and accident repair frustration, and always have a late-model, insured vehicle.


Often pooling agencies offer a “Guaranteed Ride Home” (GRH), to help commuters who have emergencies during the work day. Typically a taxi is called and payment is made or subsequently reimbursed by the agency. An agency may want to set up accounts with taxi companies in advance. Also – it’s important not to undermine the concept that the pool is a commitment from both commuters and the operating agency. Providing transportation outside the pool can be very expensive and should be limited. One scheme for providing GRH involves a standing contract to provide free or subsidized rental cars to participants. The problems with this approach make it a poor choice, however. The commuter must have a license and decent driving record, be pre-registered with the rental company, they must wait for the car to be delivered by the rental company and then return the car to the rental company when they are done. If the need is a true emergency, said emergency will probably be over by the time the commuter gets the vehicle.

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Electrification of North America’s Freight Rail Lines

Some of the lowest hanging fruit in the drive for cleaner, more efficient transportation is the eventual electrification of North America’s freight rail lines. Although increasingly common in the rest of the developed and developing world (the Trans-Siberian route is now electrified), only the Northeast Corridor in the US is electrified, and only passenger service uses electrically powered locomotives.

Besides doing a more efficient job with the freight it now handles railroads could absorb a lot more long-distance truck freight – both operationally and economically – with the 15% capacity gain from electrification. Plus there’s the follow-on benefits of 37K miles (the mainline subset of the roughly 150K miles of track in the US) of new electric grid right-of-way closer to fuel sources, and accommodation for future electric passenger service. The fresh income from right-of-way leasing could be a natural hedge against lost coal hauling income, and having railroads as a foundational customer could help the economic argument for new, remote, clean electric power sources.  More efficient propulsion will help to equalize trucking’s advantage of externalized costs.

The savings in carbon emissions from a wholesale conversion of US freight rail lines to electric operation is stunning. FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff estimated 55 gigawatts of power transitioning from diesel to grid power.

Cost estimates for catenary (overhead wire) vary by an order of magnitude (from about $300K to $3MM per mile) and haven’t factored in the efficiencies to be gained with a 37,000 mile learning curve. At the low end, with a cost of about $300K per mile, electrification of 37,000 miles of right-of-way would run about $11 billion.

The impetus for all this will probably not come from the large railroads (who are justifiably proud of the efficiency of their current diesel fleets), but from electric grid operators needing additional capacity, and electric power generating entities needing a connection to the grid . Railroads went through something similar years ago, by letting fiber optic networks run cable within the rail right of way and thereby helping fuel an explosive advance of telecommunications capacity. Railroads would not have constructed the network on their own but reaped the benefit of it as a business tool and a profit center with the ROW rental. As the large railroads seem happy with the diesel status quo, the first iterations of rail electrification may happen among the smaller “short lines”, who tend to be more entrepreneurial.

The grid operators get greatly reduced transmission line construction costs by starting with Right-Of-Way (ROW) ready to go as both politically vetted and partly constructed. Also it gives them access to remotely produced power from solar, wind, hydro, and biomass plants adjacent or close to tracks. The current grid is overtaxed and centered on fewer, larger plants; in the future the grid likely will connect to more, smaller generating sources further away from population centers. Rail electrification creates a large new customer – the railroad – close to the point of generation with usage at times of day (often) complimentary to the peak load.

Additional support should flow from railroad service and supply businesses standing to gain from a switch to electric power; locomotive manufacturers and infrastructure engineering and construction firms at first, and later freight car manufacturers and electric power producers.

Benefits to the rail industry

  • additional propulsion power source brings competition to diesel fuel
  • quicker (about %15) train acceleration creates track space for additional traffic, possible “sprinter” service with short, quickly loaded/unloaded trains running between longer, slower trains.  Below is an image of TruckTrain, an elegant sprinter concept in Britain.

  • higher speed also means better harmonization with coming passenger traffic.
  • zero air and fuel pollution from locomotives and much less noise
  • grid power for: wayside and crossing signals (having grid-connected crossing equipment would be a huge boost to safety), switch heaters, trackside cameras, transponders for freight tracking
  • supplement to liquid fuel for climate control power source (reefers)
  • freight cars can be power generators with regenerative braking, piezoelectric vibration harvesting, and photovoltaic solar roof panels
  • combined constituency for maintenance leads to more robust, secure infrastructure for both railroad and electric grid

Electrification Articles

The Oil Drum ran an exhaustive, terrific article by Alan Drake in July of 2008 which lays out the costs and benefits of, and possible ways to achieve electrification. Here are some highlights:

“Oil can be saved from the diesel that railroads use today (231,000 barrels/day in 2006) and from truck freight (2,552,000 barrels/day in 2006) by switching to electrified rail. Trucks carry about a quarter fewer ton-miles than rail, but with 11 times the oil.The USA has 177,000 miles of railroads, with the Department of Defense classifying 32,421 miles as strategic (STRACNET)… 36,000 miles should cover all of the main lines…”

“Electrifying 36,000 miles of US railroads could take as little as six years…”

“Transferring 85% of truck freight to rail, and electrifying half of US railroads… would save 2.3 to 2.4 million barrels/day. That is 12% of USA oil used today for all purposes, not just transportation.”

“Electrifying 80% of railroad ton-miles and transferring half of current truck freight to rail would take about 1% of US electricity.”

In April of 2009 there was a fresh flurry of interest around the idea of electrifying rail freight lines across the US.

http://www.joc.com/rail-intermodal/special-report-electrifying-freight-rail – Overview of the idea but the links inside go further.

http://railforthevalley.wordpress.com/2009/06/18/electrification-suddenly-in-vogue-again/ – Overview of the current situation in Canada, US, and the UK.

POWERING FREIGHT RAILWAYS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND PROFIT, Electrification—Why and How – Google the above title and it will take you to a pdf that discusses the Canadian railway system.

http://www.joc.com/rail-intermodal/csx-cautious-electrification – CSX and Union Pacific not looking to get involved with electrification, due to large diesel fleet and costs

http://www.joc.com/rail-intermodal/three-minutes-carl-dombek – Interview that discusses the connection between rail electrification and new power lines/grid

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Rural Job Access Mobility

While people often choose to live remotely to save on the cost of real estate, the bad axiom of rural mobility is that most every other expense goes up with distance from density. Regardless (or at least without enough regard), people continue to choose to live remotely without the economic foundation to do so, and many have their circumstances diminished after they make the move, leaving lots of far-flung people needing logistical help with basic aspects of life. Dependable transportation to job interviews and eventually commuting is often crucial for stability.

Programs around the country sporadically address this by offering job seekers grants for the purchase of – or repairs to – a car to get them to interviews, and then work. These are one time “boot-strap” grants aiming to push grantees over the first big hurdle of the working world, after which they’ll be on the road to self-sufficiency – or not.

Likely the end-of-life car will be purchased – or the triage will be performed on a grantee’s owned vehicle – only to have another major expense incurred within months, sidelining the vehicle and wasting much of the grant. Cars wear out fairly predictably, but proper maintenance and insurance are beyond the means (or are simply not the priorities) of many car owners, and the less money someone has, the less likely they will attend to automotive hygiene.

Now without a vehicle, the grantee must scramble for other means to get to work or face joblessness again.

A better approach brings the logic of leasing to the rural job-access world.

Money now directed to problematic grants could instead subsidize lease arrangements between drivers and local auto-repair garages scattered around each state. Local rural auto repair shops are ubiquitous and often represent the apex of frugality and ingenuity while being artists at keeping inexpensive cars and trucks running inexpensively for their neighbors. A standard contract could be developed specifying acceptable car models and conditions, and access to insurance, and each garage would field a small fleet of daily-drivers and spares for cars in accidents or needing heavy maintenance. Garages can source vehicles much more knowledgeably and inexpensively than individuals, and having a profit motive (the difference between the contract’s allocation and the garage’s true cost) should keep abuse costs down, as the drivers will need to account for treatment of the vehicle to the local garages.

Having a managed fleet means bringing huge peace of mind to drivers, with road service, loaner cars, and planned maintenance all part of the contract. Drivers are relieved of ownership and the possibility of losing same to missed loan payments, vehicle title loans gone bad, or lack of insurance. On a practical level, people coming off of public assistance are often in a state of personal chaos and may be solely focussed on dealing with a new worklife while remaining a responsible parent. This leaves little energy for the niceties of car ownership.

A managed fleet benefits the rest of the community by supplanting unsafe and uninsured vehicles with ones that are looked after and legal. Success of a subsidized job-access program such as this could offer a new paradigm for low-cost vehicle use; a version of car sharing tailored to low and middle income rural commuters.

Another benefit of a managed approach to rural mobility is the ability for drivers to tap into ways to decrease their lease fee by driving others (registered to receive mobility benefits) or by making the vehicle available during non-commute hours through some car-sharing framework (e.g.: Turo). As the point of all this is not to subsidize remote living but simply to head off joblessness, vehicle operation could be strictly (even mechanically) limited to commuting, also through car-sharing technology.

Lastly, making the project’s funding and budgeting transparent (while protecting privacy appropriately) could draw donations from the private sector for subsidies targeting specific goals. Much as the “Heifer Project” puts an a la carte face on donating food to third world countries, local employers and others able to control the precise benefit of their donation will be more likely to buy-in.

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