The relatively poor service, low productivity and high costs of most transit systems has led to an excessive dependence on the automobile in most urbanized areas. Although automobiles satisfy the needs of many people at acceptable costs, growing numbers of people cannot afford the high purchase, operating, parking and insurance costs of these vehicles, or they are unable to operate them. Also, automobile dependence is producing unmanageable road building and upkeep costs, as well as serious environmental problems.
Buses, light and heavy rail have proven to be troublesome even in places where their use has been considered most advantageous - the most densely settled and traveled business cores and corridors of urban areas. Even in these places their use typically requires heavy subsidies. The weaknesses of conventional systems are even more evident in the medium and lower density parts of the metropolitan area, where an increasingly large portion of the population now lives and works. The productivity of such systems is too low, with the result that they are commonly considered uneconomic where they are now located and unacceptable for needed expansions of transit service in poorly served areas. Some automated, large vehicle, "people mover" technologies are perceived as inadequately productive and too costly for use in meeting expanded transit needs in the medium/lower density suburbs.
Systems are needed that can provide significantly better service at significantly lower cost through automation, smaller guideways and stations, higher seat utilization ratios, shorter trip times and more places linked in service networks. However, policy-makers are hobbled by the lack of demonstrated options for improving and expanding transit service. Thus far, investment in research, development and demonstration projects to encourage advanced transit concepts - several plausible candidates exist - has been negligible.
ATRA seeks to assist governments, transportation and related industries, and research centers by helping to identify the importance of closing this gap, encouraging the development of highly service-effective and substantially lower cost advanced transit options for this purpose, and helping to probe the utility of such options as may be developed. Five means for responding to the above concerns have been identified:
There are unmet needs: (1) for productive transit that uses personnel and material resources far more efficiently than present systems are able to do; (2) for service that enables patrons to reach many more destinations than is possible now, puts stations nearer to the origins and destinations of patrons, and brings vehicles more frequently and reliably; and (3) for systems that minimize life-cycle costs and provide smaller, less environmentally destructive guideways and stations that can be built more quickly and less disruptively than those required by conventional rail systems.
The present lack of consensus on these features and how they would affect the use (and, thus, the revenue/profitability) of a transit service that provided them is a major reason why entrepreneurs, investors, manufacturers, consultants, and governments have not been able to move forward with development and adoption of advanced transit systems.
People will motivate industry or governments to action on behalf of "advanced transit" only if they understand how it could give them significantly better service than they can get today. "Advanced transit" will, of course, be understood better as specific systems are demonstrated that clearly are significantly more effective in cost and service provision compared to present urban transit systems for a particular service, or when they can provide service not yet provided.
The lack of accepted means for validating such new systems is a major impediment to their consideration and acquisition by urban policy-makers and to their support of sources of venture capital.
Advanced transit is impeded by product liability worries, patent and monopoly concerns, standardization questions, lack of a perceived market for substantially different technologies, institutional and personal biases and commitments relative to existing technologies and the resources invested in them, and an absence of well-developed methods for validation of new service concepts and technologies.
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Last modified: September 11, 2002