Opinion: Constructing QUARTA’s Trams was the biggest waste of taxpayer money in recent Quentins History

QUENTINSBURGH- The following is an opinion editorial by recently hired QDOT transit planner Greg Sullivan, who specializes in helping find cost-effective transit/roadway solutions. The contents do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PWN News.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about QUARTA potentially wasting taxpayer money with a few of their big infrastructure projects.

A lot of the discussion arose again when QUARTA announced plans to put emergency call buttons at every QLine Metro entrance, in every metro station, in/at every park and ride, and at all major bus stops and transit centers. I think this is largely unnecessary. Quentinsburgh is one of the safest cities in the world, and QUARTA is one of the safest transit systems in the world. Most metro stations already have these buttons on the platforms, and transit centers and park and rides usually have either existing buttons, a staffed building, or phones that already serve this role. But it’s an understandable move. QUARTA has been safe for years, and it seems like they’re making sure that continues to be the case. I still think that the cost may be worth more than the benefit in a system already known for safety, though.

I think there’s also a strong argument that QLine metro lines 11 and 12 (constructed originally as lines 10 and 11 and running most recently as lines 9 and 11) were a waste , as the area seems like bus rapid transit, like QLine 15 off the coast, may have been a more effective and more reasonably priced alternative that would have worked very well in the area. While the area is growing, it’s still not big enough to have truly needed a heavy rail line, even if it’s just a local one. These lines could have been built as BRT and simply rebuilt as a light rail as density and demand grew enough to warrant it.

But there’s one part of the QUARTA system that is the single biggest waste in the system’s history, and that’s the construction of the 3 stand-alone trams; the PlaneTrain, the Fairgrounds Tram, and the Geolympiad Shuttle.

For one, these trams aren’t linked to the main metro system track-wise. They don’t use the same train cars (in fact, they don’t even use the same company! Tram cars are made by Starmobility, while subway cars come from Chang y Sainz) and thus cannot be linked into the main system. You can see evidence of that along the Geolympiad Shuttle, where the tram LITERALLY runs ALONGSIDE the metro line 2 for two whole kilometers. That’s TWO MILES OF REDUNDANT TRACK. There’s also a one-station redundant stretch along Clayton Road.

This also leads to “island routing”, or lines that literally seem to go nowhere productive and can’t be expanded without certain parts being redundant. Take the Fairgrounds Tram, for example. QUARTA has been looking for a way to extend it and make it more effective for years. The problem? The subway system surrounds the tram and serves the area well enough that there’s nowhere to expand the tram without it being an even bigger waste of money than it already is.

But the biggest problem is the fact that PRACTICALLY NO ONE RIDES THEM.

As implied by the names of the three trams, the Fairgrounds Tram, Geolympiad Shuttle, and PlaneTram, these lines were built for very specific venues and in some cases, very specific events as well.

The Geolympiad Shuttle tram got huge amounts of riders DURING the 2016 Pancontinental Games in Quentinsburgh, as visitors/spectators used the tram to get back and forth from venue to venue. Ridership was easily in the hundreds of thousands. But that ridership only lasted through the Geolympiad itself. Currently, the most ridership on the entire line is Read University students using it as an extra way to get across campus or a way to connect to nearby metro lines that do not come far into campus. A little extra amount comes from those going to Quentinsburgh Firestorm baseball games, or the Horizon Plaza Mall and Hotel Complex (also built for the Geolympiad). Ridership today? only 5,000- on a good day. To make matters worse, the area is already surrounded by subway routes. Something as simple as a couple infill stations and a really reliable bus circulator could have done the trick, for the Geolympiad and even today for the occasional rider.

The Fairgrounds Tram is even worse. There was no real big event that warranted even the consideration of such a cost-ineffective transit project. The Quentins State Fair has seen declining visitors year after year, especially as Thrill Planet becomes more accessible, and less and less events are being hosted at the Quentins Fairgrounds. Yet we have a tram that was built especially for the Quentins Fairgrounds. Ridership, at best, is around 100 on a good, non-fair day, most going to either a small expo at the fairgrounds or trying to transfer between QLine Metro lines 1/14 and line 2 without going downtown. During the state fair that number can reach as high as 500 daily (yayyyyyyyyyyy *sarcasm*). The tram was built with the capacity of handling 15,000 passengers or more daily. A bus could have EASILY done the job.

The PlaneTram is easily the most effective and cost-worthy tram of the three, being used by hundreds of thousands of passengers every day. I wouldn’t call it a waste persay. But the same need could have been easily and effectively met by a frequently running airport shuttle bus, without the cost of new construction.

To be clear, I’m not referring to QUARTA’s small but successful trolley system. The Downtown Trolley has been running surprisingly well after some route tweaks, the James Street Trolley has greatly improved surface transportation in downtown Quentinsburgh, and the Waterside Park Tram (which, ironically, is actually a trolley) provides a quick connection to Waterside Park Isle and to Quentinsburgh Beach. All three have proven to be valuable assets to the system.

But the three standalone trams, as well as the costs of continued operation, have been a weight around QUARTA’s ankles for a long time, and will continue to be until they figure out what’s the best financial decision for the trams.

 

QUARTA beta-testing Stop Request buttons at bus stops serving multiple routes

QUENTINSBURGH, FREEDEMIA– Bus riders waiting at stops home to multiple routes may see a new feature coming within the next month. QUARTA, with the help of Trenchent company Trannovation Solutions, LLC., is rolling out Stop Request buttons to bus stops across the city.

This is being done primarily with the idea of saving time and making bus service more efficient. Currently, if there’s someone waiting at a bus stop home to multiple routes, every bus has to slow down, just in case the person at the stop wanted that particular route. This leads to a lot of lost time- many times, the individual is waiting for a particular bus, but every bus in between still has to slow down and pull towards the bus stop, just in case.

The idea behind Trannovation’s StopRequest Kiosk, a post designed to match the design of the QUARTA bus stops and with a button to request each route, is that the rider can request which bus they need from the bus stop ahead of time. This means only the route requested by the rider will have to slow down and pull over.

To use an example, let’s say Jimmy is waiting at a bus stop home to routes A, B, and C. Jimmy wants to get on route C. Currently, Jimmy would just wait at the stop visible to the drivers of approaching buses, and they would automatically slow down and pull to the side. While Jimmy can wave them off, signifying he doesn’t need that route, by that point the buses have already reduced speed and got ready to pull over and stop. If Jimmy’s route C comes after routes A and B, then riders on those buses lost time that the bus used to slow down. While this seems like only a little bit, when that happens ten to twenty times along the route, it adds up.

However, with the new StopRequest Kiosks, Jimmy can directly select “Route C” from the bus stop, signifying that you want only the C bus to stop, freeing up routes A and B to skip the stop entirely unless someone is getting off. This means that coupled with new dedicated bus priority lanes, routes A and B can literally pass the stops full speed (unless someone is getting off) without pulling over, because they know that Jimmy is waiting for Route C. This could make a huge difference in timing and efficiency of each route. Little tweaks like that can help the QUARTA bus system run far more efficiently.

While QUARTA’s QLine Metro has become exceedingly more efficient in the past few years, QUARTA’s bus network has lagged behind. Along major corridors like Capitol Blvd West, many have crowded onto the subways because of the long commute times on the local bus. This has greatly improved with the creation of bus priority lanes, (lanes where only buses and cars immediately turning right are allowed) but it still needs large improvements to be an efficient and appealing alternative for commuters.

QUARTA hopes to have the entire system fitted with the first phase of these stop request buttons (on most major lines/corridors) by February, and the whole system if the test period is successful by June 2017. Trannovation is also rolling out this new system in Trenchent and San Grande as part of Lake Area Rapid Transit (LART), and Laneston and Vandover’s VAULT (Vandover and Urban Laneston Transit) is supposed to start testing in January 2017. Trannovation is also working on an app version that allows individuals to request a bus to stop from their phones or mobile devices. However, the app is still in development and is not being publicly tested. Employees of QUARTA and LART will have a chance to test out the first version of the app come mid 2017.

Roadway improvements along urban NW Freedemian Coast progressing steadily

VANDOVER, FREEDEMIA– Drivers today were able to drive for the first time on the new Vandover East Thruway. The freeway, also known as Unionway 308, connects from U-208 to U-108 and creates a new north-south freeway through central Vandover while creating a strong alternative for through traffic going to Laneston or Nature.

The project is part of a larger set of improvements to thru roadways along the northwestern Freedemian coast to ease traffic on the stretch of Unionway 4 between Laneston and Quentinsburgh. Several other projects are underway, including the widening and improving of parts of M-82 through Mathersboro, M-13 up through Haroldsborough and Fort Elwood, and southern Dansels Road (now M-23B) through southern Vandover. Improvements to M-23 (Laneston Lake Pkwy) in Laneston and Vandover are also underway.

One portion of the bigger project, the construction of the M-282 just east of Mathersboro, is nearing completion. The freeway will connect the U-204 directly to the M-82 to improve access to Mathersboro and create a stronger alternative to Unionway 4. The freeway then continues to provide a better connection to the relatively new Walter Sanderson International Airport.

The overall project, known as the Secondary Coastal Corridor, is a partnership between the Quentins Department of Transportation, the Reeds Department of Transportation, and the Freedemian Department of Transportation (since the project crosses state lines). While the overall goal of the Freedemian government is to continue to improve transit alternatives (such as the MetroWest Commuter Rail and Greenleaf Bus Lines) the need for alternative automobile routes along the most urban part of the nation was large enough that even the commuter options weren’t enough to fix the problem alone.

The project also has renewed interest in enacting tolls on U-4 between Laneston and Quentinsburgh, as there will not only be several viable commuter options, but a new roadway alternative as well. The Freedemian National Legislature is supposed to meet later this week to make a final decision, a meeting which originally wasn’t supposed to happen until January. A recent vote done during the Monday general elections passed with 68% in favor of the tolls as long as an effort was made to improve alternative routes.

road-improv-corridor
A diagram showing the current bottleneck situation (U-4 corridor in red, current alternatives in yellow-brown) and the alternative that the Freedemian Department of Transportation (and state departments) are trying to create with current projects. The area highlighted in green is undergoing new construction and road improvements. The green line indicates the corridor that they hope drivers will start to use as an alternative when complete.