Newsletter: Transit Review

Yo folks,

Some of you may be happy, some may be not-so-happy about the fact that this blog does not have email newsletters. To be honest, email newsletters telling people what has been published may or may not work. However, what does work, is a newsletter, one that has some good content.

Presenting, Transit Review. (No, unlike the earlier post about a new magazine titled Transit, this ain’t no joke)

A weekly newsletter, (currently planned for the weekend) Transit Review is basically a a quick write-up of what’s going around in the commuting scene, giving what I hope can be considered a fresh new perspective of transport and commuting. After all, you need to get to work right?

I promise not to spam you, but merely make you read a small write-up (not more than 1,200 words I promise).

So if you think you’re game to be made a Transport Zombie like me:

Go ahead; sign up. Be nice, share this page as well.

Note: If you came from Facebook Instant Articles, you probably won’t be seeing the sign-up form below this. In that case, please visit the following link to sign up:

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Local Economies, Explained

Alright, I know this isn’t really bus-related, but it is transport economics related. So here goes.

Men selling goods at a traffic signal in Mumbai
Men selling goods at a traffic signal in Mumbai. Image copyright Vikramdeep Sidhu, CC-Attribution 2.0 Generic, available on the Wikimedia Commons.

Ever head of the local economy or the local ecosystem? Or its variants: The Traffic Signal Ecosystem or the College Ecosystem?

Any establishment that witnesses footfalls develops an informal ecosystem around it. The traffic signal ecosystem is among the best visible examples. At a traffic signal, it is not uncommon to find people selling toys, books, newspapers, flowers. The same is often visible at railway level crossings. Similarly, the temple ecosystem sees people selling flowers, camphor, fruits and other offerings outside a temple. A college ecosystem sees numerous housing units (hostels), eateries, stationery shops, tea shops, juice stalls, chaat vendors, etc. in the vicinity of a college.

If one were to take a stroll outside Andheri station in Mumbai, they would see umpteen outlets ranging from book stores, newspaper vendors, tea stalls, juice vendors, eateries, vegetable vendors, shoe stalls (cobblers), people selling stationery, clothing, jewellery and more. This is more or less the same across all major railway stations from Mumbai Central to Ahmedabad Junction to New Delhi. It is common sense that any major project will develop an ecosystem of this sort around it. A popular joke says that when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he was greeted by a Marwadi tea vendor. Point proven.

Whenever any government announces a major development project (mostly infrastructure), it is invariably met with a lot of scepticism and criticism. While scepticism stems from corruption within the system, delays in execution and the fact that some money is siphoned off within the political and bureaucratic ecosystem, criticism is more often than not based on unfounded claims.

To give a context to this discussion; I am referring to an article carried by Swarajya in January this year about the economic benefits of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (HSR) corridor, also known as the Bullet Train. While the direct benefits of the project to the economy of the belt has been discussed earlier, there are a few things that need to be addressed. As with any announcement related to a major infrastructure project, it met with a fair amount of scepticism, and predictably a lot more criticism, for various reasons. Among the various phrases thrown out describing the project, were “White Elephant”, “Showpiece”, “Waste of Money”, and “Hypocrisy” (due to the two cities being connected). Let us address these issues, keeping just the ‘Bullet Train’ in mind.

The Formal Impact

The formal impact refers to the people formally associated with the project once operational. Metro projects employ hundreds of staffers. Metro projects employ engineers, maintenance workers, public relations spokespersons, security staff, ticketing and administrative staff, locomotive pilots, etc. Given the magnitude of the project, plus the level of automation involved, the number of people formally employed will be huge. The engineers form a bulk of any mass transit project, and have a round-the-clock duty to ensure that services run uninterrupted.

Why can’t the money be used elsewhere?

On one hand we demand better services from the government, and on the other hand, we criticise it when it decides to spend money on a project that will benefit thousands.

These big ticket projects will definitely go forward in getting more people employed, be it in the formal or the informal sector.

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Stuck In Traffic? Here’s Elon Musk’s Boring Way To Move Vehicles

Boring? Why not!

Nobody likes being stuck in traffic, especially in large cities. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX too, got stuck in a traffic jam. The net result? He started The Boring Company.
What is this Boring business all about?
Unlike other players in the transport sector, such as Uber who are looking to develop aviation-based transport solutions within cities, Musk’s approach is somewhat lower than expected.
The Boring Company, also known as Tunnels R Us and To Be Continued, is a tunneling firm formed in 2016 after Musk tweeted out that traffic was driving him nuts and that he would build tunnels to escape traffic.

Tunnels under a city, that’s it?
Not quite. TBC has a more comprehensive plan in store. It’s a vast network that involves a lot of tunneling, construction and automation.
TBC’s plan is simple:
One, start tunneling under the city. Build a network of tunnels along with access points.
Two, build a network of guided pathways under the ground, that operate using these tunnels. There are select entry-exit points where the tunnels can be entered from above the ground.
Three, a system of automated ‘carts’ will allow vehicles to drive onto them, take them underground and enter the network.
Sounds familiar? Indeed, the last time Musk was stuck in a traffic jam, in 2013, he came up with the design of the Hyperloop, a futuristic high-speed transport system which he then explicitly open-sourced, allowing anyone to work on a prototype. The system is being designed for speeds of up to 200km/hr, and knowing Musk, will in all probability work on the principle of Magnetic Levitation, which is also the backbone of the Hyperloop.
The system is still in its initial stages however. TBC is currently building a tunnel that is 30 feet wide, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep under SpaceX’s corporate headquarters in Los Angeles as it would require no additional permits. In February, a photo of the tunneling was posted on Twitter.

Why a tunnel based system?
Musk has stated in the past that the existing system of transport is largely two-dimensional, and that the tunnel system would be able to set up a three dimensional transport network. He said that without tunnels, everyone would be stuck in traffic forever, adding that it would be the ‘key’ to solving the urban gridlock. He also said that tunnels going 20 or 30 layers deep would be suitable for any city, no matter how big it was.
Musk has stated in the past that the existing system of transport is largely two-dimensional, and that the tunnel system would be able to set up a three dimensional transport network. He said that without tunnels, everyone would be stuck in traffic forever, adding that it would be the ‘key’ to solving the urban gridlock. He also said that tunnels going 20 or 30 layers deep would be suitable for any city, no matter how big it was.
Going up versus going down
At the same time, Uber has been advocating an aviation-based on-demand transport system. While an aviation-based transit system within a city may seem more feasible than a tunnel-based one, getting a working aircraft that can fly short distances with multiple stops is equally far into the future. At the same time, aviation is highly fuel-intensive, a constraint that terrestrial, ground-based transit systems can overcome.
At the end of the the day, Musk’s boring plan is similar to an underground metro rail system, except that it carries cars instead of people. It is like a cross between a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system and a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT).
It is still unclear whether the system will work on magnetic levitation or not, but given that the proposed speeds are in the range of 200km/hr, one would assume that it would have to be maglev-based.
Too futuristic?
The system is certainly too futuristic a design. Musk’s last idea, the Hyperloop is still years away from commercial operations, and this too is of a similar nature.
There are lot of problems that need to be solved before it can be practically viable. Current tunnel systems under the ground are usually limited to a few levels deep. Having 30 levels is a huge challenge. Further, such a vast network of tunnels has never been done before. The most crucial requirement- ventilation underground at such depths need to be looked at.
However, what makes it more practical than Uber’s plan is the very fact that it is a grounded system, similar to road and railway networks. A system that is grounded is more efficient in the long term as well as safer in the event something goes awry.

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