Updated: May 3, 2021
The urban transit is either over- or under-used.
The passengers are either squeezed during two hours of ridership surge, or scattered on a bus in the rest of its 18h shift when energy use per passenger-km (Wh/pkm), therefore pollution, dwarfs one of a car (the estimate below).
Even subsidies and cross-financing (e.g. tolls) don't cover the total capital and operating costs of the public transit.
Considering the social importance of the transit, the mere discussing its financial and ecological toll is "politically incorrect" that gets dangerous when adjectives of a cheap populism displace 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 it is a car or a bus?
The correct answer is:
Yes, the urbanites can pedal personal vehicles, FELA, over 20 km in acceptable 20-30 min 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.
The aging infrastructure imposes growing costs. The losses caused by service disruption from repairs or accidents or terrorism are hard to fully monetize just as the harms from passenger's frustrations. The money-saving delays in the upgrades drive up the total costs and risks (proverbial "stitch in time saves nine"). The more intensive traffic and extensive the road network, the less the transit efficiency.
Oppose 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, and by cutting 20-30x axle load (determinant of structures' longevity), FELA saves a fortune on the maintenance.
In the Life Cycle Assessment, vehicle weight and size are prime drivers of the embedded and used energy and consequent pollution. A car's weight is 20x its payload. Such absurd resource-tensity incites the development of new modes, but a human factor gets in the way of technologically feasible options.
Struggled to find bus efficiency metrics, I ran my computer model. I got 15kWh/pkm in off-peak hours and 1.3kWh/pkm during peak demand. To put that in perspective: a car uses 0.8kWh/pkm, 3x an electric car. Keeping up with cars, FELA pilot pedals at 0.0045kWh/km assisted with a battery of similar input. The sources, claiming doubled efficiency of public transit v. cars, account for rail transit leaving out the railways capital costs that are justifiable only for the intercity high-speed trains, yet to be built in North America.
Granted, FELA weighs 2-3x as of a bicycle, but FELA outperforms cyclists 2-4x in a much cozier and safer 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 to think - cruising at 40kph, a big heavy vehicle stops every 200m for 20-60sec.
During rush hours, urban transit averages crawling 10-15 km/h. Being a captive passenger in this situation, I hate myself for opting out of my biking.
City permeability for FELA is as for a cyclist, but being car-agile and fast, 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 in access to the transit, making them car-dependent. This problem gets more pressing for the aging retirees and for 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 passengers' flow is much less than OEM occupancy of transit vehicles suggests.
Agile, compact, and "door-to-door" FELA is nimble as a motor-scooter but much cleaner and safer for all.
3. Post-industrial urbanites are of sporadic trips, especially in our gig- or part-time jobs' economy, which is in conflict with the initial transit purpose to [uninterruptedly] move masses between areas of jobs and housing districts.
Subsidized fares to incentivize ridership are futile: to stats people, who can afford it, just drive. TTC (Toronto Transit Committee) translates by a pragmatic wit as "Take The Car". As a TTC user, I can share my own tragic-comic experience.. next time. As a publicly owned, accessibility, or equity-motivated service, the urban transit doesn’t prioritize profitability nor it physically can.
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 a man (which is not good without adequate physical response).
4. The capital-intensive infrastructures, especially the subway, lag behind the ever-changing demands. Notice (on the pic.) that Bus Rapid Transit needs the separate lane, stations, under-/over- passes for passengers. All of that is costly and intrusive. Cases of BRT failure prove its dubious efficiency.
Just like Hwys, BRT lanes are prone to an "induced demand" problem. Such a capital- and maintenance-heavy infrastructure can't be resilient nor in sync with community needs.
Now, mentally replace motorbikers and the BRT on this picture with FELAs, and considering their 100-200x resource-efficiency, try to find objections to FELA promotion as an active personal vehicle in a city.
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 even more polluting than cars. So, inconvenient transit gets outpaced by the cars and you can't break this tendency with the "Let's go green!!" slogan or commercials.
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 unions negotiations, design blunders, and incompetent management. The inefficient oversight of the contractors converges to extract as much rent as possible from a city-hall.
Yes, in this case, FELA threats 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" [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. 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 been seeing 10 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, we haven't accounted for costs of the transit-affected transport infrastructure that are not in the case of FELA.
8. Suited for travels, flat fares discourage short trips. Electronic fares and incentives (e.g. air miles with purchase of a monthly pass) are designed to promote public transit. Yet, the rising inflation-adjusted costs of public transit undermine all that "patchwork".
Even used as a base technology in 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 transit improvements. So, a stringent budget forces transit agencies to raise fares, defer maintenance, and break labor contracts.
This factor is absolutely irrelevant for FELA as a substitute for the 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 gladly pedal power-assisted FELA-trike to re-experience care-free childhood.
10. Self-driving cars, supposedly "door-to-door" and on-demand, are so better resource utilization that they will displace the transit for good. However, the convenience will boost the use and aggravate congestion. Recent tests of Automatic Emergency Braking systems 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 that 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 game.
11. Transit, particularly underground or "hyper-loops", ultimately vulnerable: when someone gets on rails, a few adjacent stations are closed for investigation and dozens of thousands of passengers got 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 infrastructure, shock waves from exposure or toxins/viruses propagate with very little dissipation meaning huge casualties from a portable 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 the better public transit, the worse city's resiliency. Economical, ecological, and even strategic solution to this conundrum is in 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 for long.
In terms of the effective speed (it accounts for one's working hours to pay off TCO), FELA is 3.5x effective as all conventional modes of transportation.
Currently, we can not get rid of the 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.