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Public Transit Immanent Inadequacy

Updated: Feb 5

The urban transit is either over- or under-used.


the peak-hour in the urban public transit
"Building community" with the urban public transit

The passengers are either squeezed during two-three hours of ridership surge or only a few are thinly scattered on a bus in the rest of its 18h shift, when energy use per passenger-km (Wh/km), therefore pollution, dwarfs the eco-damage by a car (the estimate below).

Even subsidies and cross-financing (e.g., tolls) don't cover public transit's total capital and operating costs.


Considering the social importance of the transit, merely discussing its financial and ecological toll is "politically incorrect" and gets dangerous when a cheap populism displaces a scientific reason.

The right question is:

Cannot all the urbanites walk or cycle around, helping Earth by dispensing with big and heavy motorized vehicles, whether a car or a bus?

And the answer is:

The urbanites can pedal personal vehicles, FELA, over 20 km in an acceptable 20-30 minutes using the current transport infrastructure at dozens-fold energy efficiency.


Let's get real about urban public transit. The following is my reflection on Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue article.


Infrastructure Costs

The aging infrastructure imposes growing costs. The losses caused by service disruption from repairs, accidents, or terrorism are hard to monetize, just as the harms from passenger's frustrations. The money-saving delays in the upgrades drive the total costs and risks (the proverbial "stitch in time saves nine" works here). The more intensive traffic and extensive the road network, the less the public transit cost efficiency and the higher the eco-footprint.

Opposed to cyclists and buses, compact, agile, and fast FELA mingles fine with the cars. So, FELA increases the capacity of road or parking by 6 or 20 accordingly, and by cutting 20-30x axle load (determinant of infrastructures' longevity), FELA saves a fortune on infrastructure maintenance.

Energy Consumption

In the Life Cycle Assessment, vehicle weight and size are prime drivers of the embedded and used energy, thus of the consequent eco damage. A car's weight is 20x its payload. Such absurd resource intensity incites the development of new modes, but a human factor and cultural prejudices get in the way of rational and technologically feasible options.

Struggling to find bus efficiency metrics, I ran my computer model and got 15 kWh/p*km in off-peak and 1.3 kWh/p*km during peak demand. To put these numbers in perspective, a car uses 0.8-1.2 kWh/p*km, and an electric car needs 0.2-0.3 kWh/p*km.

Keeping up with cars, a FELA pilot pedals at 0.0045kWh/km assisted with a battery of similar input, i.e. 0.01 kWh/p*km combined.

The sources, claiming the doubled efficiency of public transit vs. cars, account for the rail transit, leaving out the railway capital costs justifiable only for the intercity high-speed rails, yet to be built in North America.

Granted, FELA is 2-3 times heavier than a bicycle, but FELA outperforms cyclists 2- 4 times in a much easier, safer, all-trip-conditions ride.


Commute Times Get Longer Where Transit Modal Share is Higher

The average commuting time in Western Europe is 38 minutes, 25 minutes in the U.S. This figure goes as high as 45 minutes in the UK.

On average, riding transit is 40% slower than driving.

Just think of it: cruising at 40 kph, a vehicle that weighs 20x of its payload stops every 200m for 20-60 sec, turning 400 kJ of its kinetic energy into heat, CO2, and rubber dust. This is the definition of the outrageous waste of everything a man can think of.

Urban transit averages crawling 10-15 km/h during rush hours. When I was a captive bus passenger, I hated myself for opting out of my bike.

City permeability for FELA is high as for a cyclist, but being car-agile yet off-road, FELA cuts even the driving commute time.

The Other Urban Transit Challenges

1. As the ill-planned or uncoordinated land use causes urban sprawl and activities scattered, the total costs and inconvenience of public transit increase. So, funding transit doesn't result in an adequate ridership rise. Expanded outskirts restrict the residents' access to public transit, making them car-dependent. This problem gets more pressing for the aging retirees and their social services.

The elders can ride FELA long after becoming dangerously unfit drivers. With mobility independence, they stay productive and happy longer.


2. Over-funding (i.e., diminished pay-off), under-funding (i.e., unmet demand), and transit stagnation are common. Still, the transit developments don't ease congestion: Although transit accommodates more people per land footprint than cars, those stop-go-big-sluggish-boxes clutter streets so much that even cyclists avoid commutes along tram lines. Effective passenger flow is much less than OEM occupancy of transit vehicles suggests.

Agile, compact, and "door-to-door" FELA is as nimble as a motor scooter but much cleaner and safer for all.


3. Post-industrial urbanites are sporadic trippers, especially in our gig- or part-time job economy, which conflicts with the initial public transit purpose to [uninterruptedly] move masses to and fro between areas of jobs and housing districts.

Subsidized fares to incentivize ridership are futile: according to stats, people who can afford cars, despite the public transit. TTC (Toronto Transit Committee) translates by a pragmatic wit as "Take The Car". As a TTC user, I can share my tragic-comic experience.. next time. As a publicly owned, accessible, or equity-motivated service, urban transit doesn’t prioritize profitability, nor can it physically.

I avoid TTC whenever I can. Occasional one-two hours cycle-commute on empty-summer-night streets is a thrill vs. tedium of walking-waiting-riding-waiting missed transfer-riding again-still walking.

As I imagine myself pedaling FELA uninterruptedly at 50-70 kph through the illuminated night city, the adrenaline rush makes me feel like a man (which is not good without adequate physical response, btw).


4. The capital-intensive infrastructures, especially the subway, lag behind the ever-changing demands. Notice (on the pic.) that Bus Rapid Transit needs separate lanes, stations, and under-/over- passes for passengers. All of that is costly and intrusive. Cases of BRT failure prove its dubious efficiency.

Like Hwys, BRT lanes are prone to an "induced demand" problem. Such a capital- and maintenance-heavy infrastructure can not be resilient nor in sync with everchanging community needs.

Now, mentally replace motorbikers and the BRT in this picture below with FELAs, and considering their 100-200x resource-efficiency, try to find objections to FELA promotion as an active personal vehicle in a city.

Bus Rapid Transit infrastructure
Bus Rapid Transit is very intrusive

5. The requirement for direct connections conflicts with the concept of adjacent transits ("transfers" in Toronto). "The first and the last miles" micro-mobility devices are slow and unsafe toys. Shared scooters or bikes, being abandoned, litter the streets. MIT estimated that undocked e-scooters are even more polluting than cars. So, inconvenient transit gets outpaced by cars, and you can't break this tendency with the "Let's go green!!" slogan or commercials.

These problems are solved also: FELA is not just a "door-to-door" vehicle but truly "indoor" for it is compact and clean. Feeling adventurous, you can climb stairs in it, or even drag it into the elevator.


6. Even a well-cushioned budget can get overrun due to many unpredictable factors, e.g., labor union negotiations, design blunders and incompetent management. The inefficient oversight of the contractors converges to extract as much rent as possible from a Cityhall.

Yes, in this case, FELA threatens this demoralizing, Earth-killing "job creation".

But a homo-sapience gets priorities straight. Earth can't sustain that many of technology-abusing humanoids. As Jacque Fresco said, "Sh*t must go" [for us not to be cursed by our children].


7. For those who doubt the definition of public transit as the subsidized harm to Earth, here's my estimate of TCO (total costs to operate/own) for $400,000 diesel bus of 12 years depreciation at 50,000 km/year mileage: It is $130k/year. The salary of operators and logistics push it to $200-250k/year. To break even at $3/ticket, the average occupancy of a Toronto bus must be 20 passengers. I've seen ten or fewer passengers in off-peak hours (see the pic.) In pandemic times and well after, the ridership plummets even steeper and stays low longer. Savings from cutting services can't offset fixed costs.

Note that we haven't accounted for the transit-affected transport infrastructure costs that are not in the case of FELA.


urban transit off-peak occupancy
Off-peak occupancy of a city transit

8. Suited for long travel, flat fares discourage short trips. Electronic fares and incentives (e.g., air miles with the purchase of a monthly pass) are designed to promote public transit. Yet, the rising inflation-adjusted public transit costs undermine all that "patchwork".

Even used as a base technology in the share-scheme, FELA has a huge cushion (200-300x less TCO) and it'll take forever before this promotion-inflation factor can be noticed.

9. Legacy costs, e.g., trade union negotiations, are not reflected in the fare. New subsidies cover the past debt rather than public transit improvements. So, a stringent budget forces transit agencies to raise fares, defer maintenance, and break labor contracts.

This factor is irrelevant for FELA as a substitute for public transit. As for FELA-sufficient fitness, anyone who can walk to a bus stop, wait on it, ride as a straphanger in stop-go or turns, etc., will excited to pedal power-assisted FELA-trike and re-live the carefree [carfree] childhood.


10. Self-driving cars, supposedly "door-to-door" and on-demand, are so better at resource utilization that they will displace public transit for good. However, the convenience will boost the use and aggravate congestion. Recent Automatic Emergency Braking systems tests on modern cars showed absolute failure to stop without hitting a dummy. That happened in well-arranged stadium settings, let alone real street situations. Tesla claims autopilot is not designed to replace the driver when two guys were cut in halves with truck trailers.

FELA can be automated even easier than 50x heavier and 100x more complex (by parts count) cars, but only a few exceptionally lazy or physically impaired will deprive themselves of muscle joy and navigation games.


11. Public transit, particularly underground or "hyper-loops", is ultimately vulnerable: when someone gets on the railway, a few adjacent stations are closed for investigation, and dozens of thousands of passengers get stranded for an hour or two. It's my experience as a Torontonian, not just a FELA developer's speculations to promote it.

In tubular [underground] infrastructure, shock waves from exposure or toxins/viruses propagate with little dissipation, meaning huge casualties from a portable explosive or toxins-dispensing device. The verdict is that a smart, resilient, and sustainable city must not be public-transit-centered but based on distributed mode, ideally personal vehicles that don't require guideways.


12. Obviously, economical transit is the one of high ridership. Such transit exposes passengers to risks of pandemics and terror attacks. Thus, as paradoxically it may sound, the better public transit, the worse the city's resiliency. An economical, ecological, and even strategic solution to this conundrum is applying distributism, i.e., for personal mobility in its minimalistic form - FELA.

Being less car addict than the prior generations, the millennials use public transit more, choosing to live in higher-density areas. Thus, the transit is challenged even by demographic reality, so it won't serve urban mobility long.

Regarding the effective speed (it accounts for one's working hours to pay off TCO), FELA is 3.5x as effective as all conventional modes of transportation.


We can not get rid of urban public transit, but ultimately, smart cities can, must, and eventually will do without big, heavy vehicles.


Just nail it: FELA is the solution to cut GHGE by 20% with enormous positive externalities in many areas of human conditions.

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