Friday, November 30, 2007

At least 5 seriously hurt as trains collide in Chicago

At least 5 seriously hurt as trains collide -

Breaking news now of an Amtrak Grand Rapids - Chicago train collision with the rear Norfolk Southern train. Reportedly 10 have been taken to a trauma unit while 100-150 are walking away. Amtrak has a 3pm update on their site.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

When do I pay on a Port Authority bus?

My apologies for those not in Pittsburgh, but bear with me for some incredibly local transit nerdery. If you're not interested in how to pay your fare on a PAT bus, feel free to move to the previous entry about the Pyongyang Metro.

It happens to both new Pittsburghers and long time residents. They get on the bus, fumble for their wallet, and finally find their ID or pass to show the driver, who immediately yells back "PAY WHEN YOU GET OFF!" Then next time, you waltz right on by with the driver yelling "HEY! You have to pay!" like you jumped a turnstile. Confused?

This issue is one that is raised over and over again at the beginning of every year at my university, which gives bus passes to its students. Here's what the Port Authority of Allegheny County says:

Fares are collected as the rider boards on an inbound, or downtown-bound, trip and as the rider exits the outbound, or suburban-bound, trip. This policy is in effect at all times on the T and until 7:00 P.M. on Port Authority buses.

Buses with scheduled outbound Downtown departures after 7:00 p.m. and before 4:00 A.M. fares are collected as the rider boards the bus. This is known as "pay enter - outbound".

Wow, thanks PAT. That clears it right up. Ok, so it's not completely incomprehensible but it still may be confusing. Here's how to break it down:

1. Does the bus/trolley that you're getting on begin/end in Downtown? If no, pay when you enter. If yes, continue to step 2.
2. Are you heading away from Downtown? (It doesn't matter when you got on, it only matters which direction the bus is going.) If no, pay when you enter. If yes, continue to step 3.
3. Are you riding a bus? If no (you're riding the T) pay when you leave. If yes, continue to step 4.
4. Did your bus start its trip downtown between 4am and 7pm? If yes, pay when you leave. If no, pay when you get on.

Ok? Here's a better way:

If your bus enters downtown: pay going in going in to town, pay going out going out of town. Oh, if it started downtown between 4am and 7pm. And if the bus doesn't go crosstown. Damn it, it's not getting easier.

Ok, third time's a charm. Maybe I should say why this wacky system exists. Currently, all rides on buses within downtown are free between 4am and 7pm. If you're downtown during the day, people just waltz on and off of buses, both sets of doors open all the time, it's quite a scene.

But how does the Port Authority make sure everyone pays? By making people who are heading downtown pay when they get on since no passes are checked and no money is collected downtown. Likewise, people going home can't pay when they are downtown, because what if they're getting of 2 blocks later still in the free zone? Therefore, pay when you get off going out of town.

This is irrelevant for buses that don't go downtown like the 59U, those who don't let off downtown like the 28X, or those who operate after the free zone has ended for the night. In those circumstances, you always pay enter. The T is free downtown all the time, so the time restriction doesn't matter.

Still confused? One more tip: If the driver is covering the farebox with his/her hand, pay when you get off. And thank the driver for sparing you this in-depth analysis. Or just show it anyway, but beware of mean drivers and those who don't know the policy themselves. I've had pay-leave rides on the 59U and the EBO, both do not enter downtown. Oh well. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pyongyang Metro - The secret subway

North Korea (known officially as Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) is well known as a secret state of human rights violations, famine, and nuclear aggression. But this isn't an international policy blog. This is one about transit. So let's talk about a fascinating rapid transit system that might not even exist: The Pyongyang Metro in North Korea's capital city.

Simon Bone's excellent Pyongyang Metro website has lots of information, pictures, maps, and news stories about this peculiar system. The city also has a tram/trolleybus system that pretty much runs on right-of-way since there are few cars in Pyongyang. Visitors to the city are often shown the Metro, but they all seem to make a 1 stop journey between the the same two stations and few pictures online show others. The stations shown are beautiful and are filled with patriotic music, large murals, all-female attendants, and (possibly staged) well-dressed people going in and out of the station. This raises suspicion that either the metro puts on a show for foreigners, is in disrepair, is not operating outside of showing foreigners due to cost or power shortages, or doesn't exist at all outside of the "show stations." Ok, so maybe the last one is a bit of a stretch, but this is a city that would have had the world's tallest hotel if only it wasn't a concrete shell. Take a look at some interesting links and see for yourself:

- A online travel site offers a partial tour of the subway
- Beautiful photos from a Russian site, but again, of the same two stations
- BBC reporter describes the metro "with old East German trains complete with their original German graffiti." No pictures show this, so perhaps the reporter saw the side of the metro citizens see.
- System map
- Strange video showing the metro, but of only one station
- This site reports to show some other stations, showing that it may not only be a prank on foreigners
- Photos that show another station
- Trip report from Last Known Location, mentioning people getting off a train only to get back on it again and a perfectly filled train and station that seemed to vanish immediately when the foreigners left...
- Some facts from

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rapid Transit to Oakland: Pipe Dream since 1985

Joe Grata (always a great read) of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes about County Executive Dan Onorato's plan to link Oakland to Downtown via rapid transit. The Transit Action Team (which consists of local business leaders, government officals, and 3 of the Planeteers) drafted a plan that connects Oakland, Downtown, and the Airport. (pdf of plan)

The plan is very short on details, and of course the naysayers at the Trib are wondering why we don't forget the whole "mass transit" thing and sell the T to Kennywood.

Now why hasn't someone thought of rapid transit in Oakland before? Oh right, they had it all written up and submitted to the government until the Republicans got in to County Council during the 1990s and shoved us the charred remains of the plan (The Dreaded North Shore Connector.) Here's a great City Paper article about the history of the "Spine Line," the connection between Downtown and Oakland. You can also read the submitted proposal from 1993 (pdf) thanks to Chris Briem. The FAQ from the Port Authority has some interesting info also, of course they don't blame the Republicans like the CP article does.

The real question is why does every plan for transit have to include some wacky new technology that is expensive and probably expensive to service? Light rail works. It's in a lot of places. It's a friggen streetcar for crying out loud, and those have existed since the 1800s. But no, we always have to look into magnetic levitation single car driverless electric floating elevated monorail and everyone wonders why the bill comes back for $10 billion dollars.

So we'll keep hoping for better transit. Now if you don't mind, I have a 61C to catch, and the first 4 that pass me by are going to be filled, so I better get a move on.

Also of note:
a great series in the P-G from 1999 about the future of Oakland, including ideas from leaders about transit. Some of the ideas discuss turning a parking lot near Hillman Library into a park and having "a grand entrance into Oakland." Sounds a lot like Schenley Plaza.

CORRECTED 11/29: The link now goes to the correct Grata article about Onorato's plan. The previous link referred to the Spine Line being resurrected in the recent mayoral debates. You can read that article here.
Also, I would like to note that the city leadership resurrected the North Shore Connector, not the Republican County Council. Peak Direction regrets the error.

Onorato orders transit funding freeze

Onorato orders transit funding freeze: "Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato yesterday announced he will withhold funds to the Port Authority until it restructures its labor costs, even if the two new taxes he proposed to fund mass transit are approved."

Can he do that? Evidentially the council is not sure. The ATU contract renewal could be pretty interesting. *cough* strike *cough*

UPDATE: ATU President says "If [Mr. Onorato] thinks this collective agreement is so important, he should be at the table, and not his staff."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pittsburgh Transit Blog Roundup

So what's the internet been saying about Pittsburgh Transit n'at?

- Interesting outsider perspective on Pittsburgh transit compared to Prague

- Dear PAT, you make me want to buy a car... a blogger responds to fare hikes

- Laurels and Lances discusses the problems of "free" University rides (followup)

Google Transit Isn't Perfect

Google Transit is incredibly useful for navigating Pittsburgh's transit system, the Port Authority. Except when it tells you to swim across the Ohio River to get to the Carnegie Science Center. Better keep that "beta" on the site Google.

NOTE: Updated map 12/9 because it actually changed to recommend 54C. Changed to image so it loads faster.

November service changes and 59U notes

Nothing too big in the November service adjustments, with the exception of the mall reroutings mentioned a few posts down.

One note is the discontinuation of Century III Mall service on the 59U route. Yes, Century III Mall is an almost dead mall that probably attracted few to take the 1 hour venture from Oakland. (One man's 2001 venture on that route is chronicled here.)

But of note is the fact that the 59U was created to link Oakland with Century III Mall before the Waterfront development existed. The 59U was created during an apparent time of experimentation between the Port Authority and the University of Pittsburgh in the mid 90s. Searches on the internet and sightings on Bus Stop signs also show the existence of a 12U, which went from Oakland to Ross Park Mall. I could have sworn somewhere I read an old article that the 12U only ran every 2 weeks on Saturdays, which is one of the dumbest service plans I have ever heard of. According to Save Our Transit many U-Buses bit the dust in 2002 but the 59U persevered.

I have actually taken a few 59U buses all the way to Century III Mall. They were a bit more convenient than transferring but near the end of their life they only left the mall every 2 hours only on weekends. They also forced Century III Mall riders to slowly move through the Waterfront development on their way to the mall. I only noticed a few taking it from Oakland, most passengers were getting on at the Waterfront, and other routes offer Waterfront-Century III mall service. What I had heard of were people getting lost by taking a Century III bound bus at the Waterfront rather than an Oakland bound one. Now that would be scary for a non-native college student.

The good news is the deletion of the Century III Mall leg actually added some much-needed trips to the weekend schedule. There are now 5 more to the Waterfront and 3 more to Oakland on Saturdays, with the last bus leaving the Waterfront at a more realistic 12:04am compared to 11:12pm. So I applaud the Port Authority. The next step is to make Friday-only schedules for the "college student" buses (59U and 54C to the South Side and Strip District), since ridership has to be higher on Fridays compared to Tuesdays, even though all weekday schedules are the same. Are you listening Port Authority?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sesame Street - Subway

Classic Sesame Street song about the New York City Subway and the perils of taking the express train.

Tandy Subway

Tandy Subway

The only privately-owned subway line in the United States, shut down in 2002 when the connecting mall lost most of its tenants. Wikipedia article about this fascinating part of Ft. Worth, Texas transit. Nowadays a company would just charter a bus from a store to parking lots. But you know, there's something about riding a subway that just might make people not mind parking far from their destination.

Bus stop move angers shoppers at three area malls

Bus stop move angers shoppers at three area malls - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Our first story comes from the always-transit-friendly Tribune-Review. Ok, so they'd love to see downtown workers either walk to work or park in garages 30 stories high. And where's their pledge to never ride the North Shore Connector which will have one of its 2 new stops right next to their building on the North Shore? But I digress.

Here's another example of driving away customers simply because they ride a bus. Simon Malls are telling bus riders they'd prefer to have them walk farther away than to clog up their entrance. Never mind all the elderly that ride buses. Never mind the workers who take the bus. Nope, only teenagers ride. Argh.

Welcome to Peak Direction

Hello everyone. This is Peak Direction, a blog about transit. Currently I reside in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but I hope to post news and commentary about public transportation all around the world. Thanks for reading!