A Fantasy of a Sane Transit System, Part III.

by Rustin Wright.

Daviesville begins to build.

As they begin to experiment they realize that some of how mass transit is built is artifacts of decades old problems which have long had solutions or presumptions of conditions which don’t always apply.

For example, mass transit vehichles have massive, heavy, complicated roof designs. After all, back in the nineteen-fifties when this last got any real attention, those were, for heavy duty fleet vehicles used in all seasons, a pretty smart choice. But we have modern plastics now. UPS trucks, for example, have long since switched over to tops made of translucent plastic. Like enormous Rubbermaid totes, when something drops on them, it bounces right off. They let through natural light. And they cut weight and fuel costs. So some of the trolleys built for the small, experimental systems in the towns around Daviesville experiment with this in various forms. The rooftop design that they settle on is thick, translucent tubes about as big around as a baseball bat, which are laid in rows, left to right, the length of the vehicle and then covered with a sheet of rigid clear plastic to improve aerodynamics. Look up when riding in one of these and you see the sky above you through what looks to be an arched sheet of ribbed cloudy glass.

Mass transit vehicles are also designed on the premise that durability, at ANY cost, is always cheaper/more desirable than the alternative. So handrails on cenventional buses and light rail vehicles have massive nodes where they join of welded, machined stainless steel. Each costing as much as lunch for a dozen people. And heavy. Windows are framed so that five teens can attack one with an axe and there will still be a working window after five minutes. Which is great and all but multiplies costs to a terrifying degree and reduces the number of potential suppliers to those same, vast, obscenely expensive, slow to fill orders megacorporations.

For the first, small, scratchbuilt systems for the surrounding small towns windows are quite literally low cost aluminum picture frames bought at the local art supply store and held in with quick releases bought in bulk for them by the local bike shop. Should one or more windows be damaged while the vehicle is in service somebody will drive over on a scooter from the maintenance barn with more windows and meet the vehicle at the closest stop. Since the entire town is less than three kilometers across, this will never take more than a couple of minutes. Two or three minutes to swap out each damaged window with an intact one, and the vehicle is back in service. Just eight or ten dollar picture frames like the mall uses to frame a cheap oister. But with two sheets of acrylic, one at the front, one at the back, and a rubber gasket between them to keep them from rattling from vibration.

When Cuba was forced to implement mass transit very quickly on a tiny budget they built what become known as “camels”. Eighteen wheelers with the massive cargo trailer in the back reconfigured as a sort of bus passenger compartment. As implemented in Cuba under a desperately poor totalitarian regime, these were something of a fiasco. But they can be made from converted conventional freight trucks in as little as a few weeks for very little money. So Daviesville builds a few dozen of these and uses them, along with leased passenger buses, to start developing routes. Key to how these routes are developed is strict adherence to two principles, one following from the other. Firstly, that citizens take from three to seven years to change basic behaviors like switching from car to bus. Or even sometimes, to a lesser degree, to switching from one transit route to another. And secondly, that changes in service which are not clearly understood and/or do not result in clearly understood changes in available service, can do enormous damage to the credibility of a given route, of a transit agency, and even of the idea of using mass transit at all.

So, first of all, route changes are minimized. Any plan which requires changing a route had better be pretty damn solidly justified. But when a route IS to be changed, it is publicized well ahead. Not just on the agency’s site, but with 15 inch by 20 inch signs at each stop. In, of course, day glo colors and done by a local printer.

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