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Charging Electric Vehicles Part 1: Charging Stations

October 21, 2019 Featured, Transportation Comments Off on Charging Electric Vehicles Part 1: Charging Stations

Though I’ve had a couple of car-free periods, I’ve owned a car most of the nearly 37 years since I got my driver’s license. All my 17 vehicles have had an internal combustion engine (ICE).

I’ve wanted a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric vehicle (EV) for a while now. We even had a Tesla Model S at our 2014 wedding.  Eventually we’ll have a more more fuel efficient vehicle.

A friend’s new Tesla Model 3 on South Grand

More and more friends now have EVs. Recently a friend picked me up for lunch in her new Tesla Model 3 (shown above). Another friend and his wife are new owners of a Chevy Bolt. As an apartment dweller the idea of home charging seems challenging, if not impossible.

Last month I shared the following on this blog’s Facebook page:

Would be nice to see a former/current gas station in St. Louis go this direction…“The first gas station in the U.S….

Posted by UrbanReview ST LOUIS on Friday, September 27, 2019

Here’s a direct link to the CNBC article.

The St. Louis region has hundreds of current and former gas stations, it would be nice to see just one make the switch. But where? With most EV owners charging at home at night, with some able to  at work during the day, is there a need for such a charging station?

I remember when this former BP gas station was built at Lackland & Midland, it closed sometime between 2008 & 2012.

One thing is certain, as society switches from ICE vehicles to EVs many more gas stations will close. There just won’t be the need for some much of our metropolitan area devoted to refueling ICE vehicles.  Perhaps as we transition from ownership to autonomous vehicles, that we just summon as needed, current gas stations will become places for these vehicles to wait for the next customer.

The St. Louis region does have EV charges spread around, but many are hit or miss. If everyone is charging at home and their EV gets over 200 miles on a charge why bother with public charging stations? Well, an owner might drive more miles than originally planned. Others might be visiting St. Louis and want to add to their available distance.

A Chevy Bolt EV charging at 620 Lucas in downtown St. Louis.
Google Maps & PlugShare.org list this auto body shop at St. Charles Rock Rd & Hanley as a place to charge your EV. Perhaps when they’re open…

With EV prices now within reach of Millennial and Gen-Z buyers they’ll become more common. More manufacturers are releasing EVs, or will within the new few years. These include a second Porsche EV, the first of five Volvo EVs, and future ID models from Volkswagen. Ford is planning several EVs, including a Mustang-inspired crossover.

To facilitate sales when EVs arrive in Ford showrooms, they recently announced access to a charger network:

Ford doesn’t currently offer any electric vehicles, but it announced Thursday that, once it does, it will offer the largest North American network of electric vehicle chargers of any automaker — including Tesla.

Unlike Tesla, though, Ford didn’t build this charging network on its own. Working with EV charging companies Greenlots and Electrify America, Ford has created what it calls the FordPass Charging Network. When needed, users will be directed to one of the network’s chargers using an app or in the vehicle’s central touch screen. (CNN)

It’ll be interesting to see if two years of free charging helps move Ford EVs. In a future post I’ll look at issues & solutions regarding home charging, including at apartments and on street. I’d also like to do a post on redeveloping former gas stations.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Opposed To Loop Trolley Bailout

October 16, 2019 Featured, Public Transit, St. Louis County, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on Readers Opposed To Loop Trolley Bailout

I’m a huge fan of modern streetcars, like the line in Kansas City, but I’m indifferent to “heritage” trollies that use vintage or reproduction of early 20th century equipment. They’re great for nostalgia buffs, Instagram-worth photos, etc. Actual transportation?  Sorta, mostly for tourists.

Loop Trolley 001

Many comments I read online said the Loop Trolley was a bad idea from the start. Yes and no. Most of the established businesses in the Delmar Loop are further than a quarter-mile walk from the Delmar MetroLink (light rail) station — that’s the maximum distance most people are wiling to walk.  The #97 MetroBus runs on the Delmar portion of the Loop Trolley, but it only runs every 30 minutes. Plus, many in our region view the bus as poor people transit. And the bus doesn’t encourage millions in new dense infill construction the way expensive fixed-rail projects do.

New construction on a site long occupied by a gas station. Delmar & Skinker. The Loop Trolley’s power line is visible. August 2019.

So providing a rail system to get people the last mile to/from a transit station was actually a good idea. The problem was Joe Edwards, the Loop’s longtime advocate, insisted the vehicles be vintage trolley cars — not better modern streetcars. Modern low-floor streetcars are easy to board & exit — including for those of us using wheelchairs. Families pushing strollers also find modern low-floor streetcars to be very convenient. Vintage high-floor trolley vehicles, are the opposite.

Joe Edwards as Mr. Rogers, from Facebook. Original source unknown.

At one point a consultant on the project told me he was pushing to future-proof  the design so modern streetcars, known as trams elsewhere in the world, could eventually replace the vintage cars. Unfortunately, he didn’t prevail. Had the system been built for modern low-floor vehicles it would be straightforward to make the system actually serve local transit needs, with a future expansion east on Delmar. But no, we’ve got a system that’ll only work with vintage cars that Seattle no longer wanted.  Seattle does have a nice modern low-floor streetcar system.

Some project info from the Loop Trolley website:

Who owns and operates the trolley system? 
The Loop Trolley is owned by the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District (LTTDD) and will be operated by the Loop Trolley Company, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

How much did this project cost to build?  
The construction budget for the Loop Trolley project is $51 million, or $17 million per track mile. This is on the low side in comparison to other recently constructed streetcar systems such as Cincinnati ($36.76M/track mile), Tucson ($28.26M/track mile), Kansas City ($25.35M//track mile) and Portland ($22.43M/track mile).

How is construction and operations funded:
The primary construction funding came via a $25 million FTA Urban Circulator grant. Funding also comes from other federal grants (CMAQ, STP), a TIF, New Market Tax Credits, St. Louis County Transportation Fund, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, and Loop Trolley Transportation Development District sales taxes and donations. A combination of fares, advertising and LTTDD sales taxes will fund operations.

Who supported the effort to restore trolley service in St. Louis?
In addition to the Federal Transit Administration and the Loop Trolley Company, other supporters include St. Louis County, Great Rivers Greenway, Washington University, the City of St. Louis, University City,  the Missouri History Museum, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, Citizens for Modern Transit, our congressional delegation, The Loop Special Business District, and many businesses, neighborhood groups and residents. 

Now the very non-profit says they need $700k to prevent becoming insolvent. The city already said no, now the St. Louis County Council doesn’t plan to take up the request. There was a time Joe Edwards could do no wrong, so he got his way on this. Too bad politicians, business executives, etc didn’t learn to say no to Edwards — at least have modern low-floor streetcars from the start or be able to add them later.

Here are the results from the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: St. Louis City & County should equally help the Loop Trolley Co. so it doesn’t become insolvent.

  • Strongly agree: 7 [11.86%]
  • Agree: 4 [6.78%]
  • Somewhat agree: 5 [8.47%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [1.69%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [5.08%]
  • Disagree: 11 [18.64%]
  • Strongly disagree: 28 [47.46%]

The Post-Dispatch Editorial Board agrees with the majority.

It was bad business from the beginning for the trolley’s promoters to have failed to foresee the low rider interest and economic challenges that led to the current crisis, and it’s bad business for the region’s leaders to keep throwing money at it. If this project is still as viable as its promoters claim it to be, let private sources cover these shortfalls. The taxpayers have done enough.

I’m torn.  I was hoping the trolley would spur new development in the city portion of the route, but this land may sit vacant for years to come.  Abandoning a project after tens of millions have been invested will have repercussions for decades to come. But I know money shouldn’t go to the non-profit that got us to this point.

Perhaps Metro (aka Bi-State Development) can take it all off their hands? Then your local monthly pass, 2-hour transfer, or Gateway Card will work for fare payment. Other than Metro, I don’t see a solution — not necessarily a good solution, but an effort to try something different to save face as a region.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis City & County Help The Loop Trolley Co.?

October 13, 2019 Featured, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis City & County Help The Loop Trolley Co.?
Please vote below

The Loop Trolley, a short tourist ride featuring historic trolley cars, hasn’t met projected ridership numbers, causing budget problems. They’re asking for financial help.

The struggling Loop Trolley Co. is facing insolvency if it can’t come up with $200,000 by November and another $500,000 to operate into next year, its president said Saturday.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told the County Council in a letter on Friday that the trolley company asked the county for the funding after the city of St. Louis refused to provide it.

The trolley will also reduce service starting Thursday to help make up for budget shortfalls, John S. Meyer Jr., the trolley board president, said in an email on Saturday. (Post-Dispatch)

Today’s poll is about this topic.

This poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight. Results and my thoughts Wednesday morning.

— Steve Patterson

 

First Look At Metro’s Revised Bus Service (aka Metro Reimagined)

October 2, 2019 Featured, Public Transit, STL Region, Transportation Comments Off on First Look At Metro’s Revised Bus Service (aka Metro Reimagined)

I’ve only begun looking at the new “Metro Reimagined” bus service in St. Louis City & County, haven’t even ridden a bus yet this week. I do recall other riders discussing it last Friday at the bus stop. One woman, who also lives just north of downtown, was upset about the west end of the #97 Delmar bus getting cut in St. Louis County. It will mean more walking for her to get to work.

The #70 Grand MetroBus is the busiest bus line in the region, partly due to being the only route frequent service. August 2012

Here are the four tiers used to organize the MetroBus routes:

  • Frequent: 10 high-frequency routes offering service every 15 minutes or faster
  • Local: 35 routes offering 30-minute service
  • Community: 6 routes that provide important connections in low-ridership areas
  • Express: 6 routes providing direct connections with limited stops to key destinations

My first place to start was asking “Will I be impacted?” by this change. The short answer is yes — every bus rider will see changes to service. Some positive, some negative.

Moving from Downtown West to Columbus Square in December 2018 means I have fewer bus routes available — basically the #32, with the southbound  #40 another 1/10 of a mile further away than the southbound #32. The northbound #32 is considerably closer than the northbound #40.

Since moving I’ve rarely used the #40, the #32 is my primary bus route. Both routes are considered “local” routes, now with 30 minute frequency during weekdays. The service was every 40 minutes, so 30 minute frequency is an improvement.

The other bus I use is the #90 Hampton, when I visit my doctor 4x per year. While it’s listed as a “frequent” route with 15 minute service that only applies to the northern portion of the route from Riverview to Forest Park. From Forest Park to Gravois-Hampton service is every 30 minutes. I think service has been every 40 minutes, so another slight improvement.

Another bus I used to ride often is the #99 downtown trolley, introduced in

Me exiting the Downtown Trolley on the day it debuted in July 2010. The bright wrap ceased being used a few years ago. Photo by Jim Merkel

The recent Sunday Poll asked about this new plan:

Q: Agree or disagree: Metro’s new ‘Metro Reimagined’ with more frequent bus service will result in significant ridership increases.

  • Strongly agree: 0 [0%]
  • Agree: 2 [7.14%]
  • Somewhat agree: 4 [14.29%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 3 [10.71%]
  • Disagree: 5 [17.86%]
  • Strongly disagree: 9 [32.14%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 2 [7.14%]

More than 60% didn’t think this will lead to a significant increase in ridership. That’s fair, I think the primary goal was to better serve existing riders — to stop losing ridership.

Riders in some parts of the county will see less service.  My intention is for future posts to look at what’s working well, and what’s not.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Book — ‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide

September 30, 2019 Books, Featured, Public Transit, Transportation Comments Off on New Book — ‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide
‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide will be available October 10, 2019.

I’ve known for a while that today’s the day Metro rolls out the biggest change to bus routes in decades. I wasn’t sure how I’d evaluate the changes then last week a new book shows up: ‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ by Steven Higashide.

From publisher Island Press:

Imagine a bus system that is fast, frequent, and reliable—what would that change about your city?

Buses can and should be the cornerstone of urban transportation. They offer affordable mobility and can connect citizens with every aspect of their lives. But in the US, they have long been an afterthought in budgeting and planning. With a compelling narrative and actionable steps, Better Buses, Better Cities inspires us to fix the bus.

Transit expert Steven Higashide shows us what a successful bus system looks like with real-world stories of reform—such as Houston redrawing its bus network overnight, Boston making room on its streets to put buses first, and Indianapolis winning better bus service on Election Day. Higashide shows how to marshal the public in support of better buses and how new technologies can keep buses on time and make complex transit systems understandable.

Higashide argues that better bus systems will create better cities for all citizens. The consequences of subpar transit service fall most heavily on vulnerable members of society. Transit systems should be planned to be inclusive and provide better service for all. These are difficult tasks that require institutional culture shifts; doing all of them requires resilient organizations and transformational leadership.

Better bus service is key to making our cities better for all citizens. Better Buses, Better Cities describes how decision-makers, philanthropists, activists, and public agency leaders can work together to make the bus a win in any city.

Though I have a hard time post-stroke reading a book cover to cover, I dived into the introduction and some chapters. Here are the contents so you can see how it’s organized:

  • Preface: My Own Bus Story
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: We Need to Unleash the Bus
  • Chapter 1: What Makes People Choose the Bus?
  • Chapter 2: Make the Bus Frequent
  • Chapter 3: Make the Bus Fast and Reliable
  • Chapter 4: Make the Bus Walkable and Dignified
  • Chapter 5: Make the Bus Fair and Welcoming
  • Chapter 6: Gerrymandering the Bus
  • Chapter 7: Technology Won’t Kill the Bus—Unless We Let It
  • Chapter 8: Building a Transit Nation
  • Conclusion: Winning Mindsets and Growing Movements

The introduction agues we must reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation — public transit it how we accomplish that goal. Specifically, the bus is how we reduce greenhouse emissions by reducing car trips — including Lyft & Uber trips.  Higashide also points out that civic leaders, business leaders, and transit agency executives & board members don’t ride the bus in their regions. Non-riders think adding wifi, for example, will make a difference. Frequency and convenience is what matters. If the bus runs every 15 minutes that’s great — bus not if you need to walk 5 blocks on each end of the trip.

If you’re interested in learning about the importance of bus service is to a region, and how to improve it,  I suggest getting this book when it comes out October 10th. Read more about author Steven Higashide here.

I’ll be using this book as a guide for my first look at Metro’s new bus service on Wednesday morning.

— Steve Patterson

 

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