How to solve the "last mile" problem in traffic

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lukas_wu

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I'm a student of the Vienna University of Business and Economics and we are currently working on an innovation research project on how to solve the so called "last mile" issue in traffic. The "last mile" issue is the fact that it's often difficult and inconvenient to get from the public transport station to your home or office without using a private car.

I'd really like to hear your opinion about the topic. What could be a good solution? Do you know a person who is very active in that field and maybe has already developed some interesting concepts?

I'm looking forward to your replies.

Thanks and best wishes from Vienna!
Lukas
 
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stut

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Gruess Gott!

I think part of it is a question of attitude. People become very used to door-to-door transport, and I'm constantly surprised at the number of otherwise fit & healthy people who wouldn't even consider walking as little as half a mile. An element of this is the time it takes (and another the weather) - I suppose it's whether you consider walking as part of journey as part of a commute, or as time to yourself (many of these people will think nothing of spending an hour staring into space on a treadmill...)

Another excellent solution, for me, is cycling. From home to station, personal bikes work, and in city centres, public cycle hire schemes are excellent (like the CityBike scheme in Vienna, to give an example, although schemes like London and Paris do have greater coverage). Where this isn't possible, folding bikes work extremely well.

Not everybody can or will cycle, and there are some locations very badly suited to it, but allowing for a seamless transfer between public transport and cycling, and improving walking routes around stations*, could be of great benefit to many.

* It takes over 5 minutes just to cross the road outside King's Cross. That's not right!
 

Oracle

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We have that problem here: buses are infrequent and stop early in the evening and start late. For me it means a walk, which is nice, or a car trip. However, as our local station is handy for villages in the surrounding countryside a car is essential. One major village is otherwise a three-mile walk just to its centre. That is why so many people use the free car parks: one local authority-owned and the other railway-owned.

Where I used to live unless I got a lift from my wife it was a mighty walk. The station car park was busy! The surrounding area has had thousands of new homes built and no thought to road passenger transport to get to/from the station but when a bus was provided it ran empty and was withdrawn.

Southampton Airport Parkway station is a classic example of how there can be a case of the 'last seven miles' with a multi-storey car park just built to cater for those who drive along the motorway in order to get a train to commute on. There are taxis as well and they do a good business as few people take a bus.
 

radamfi

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The Dutch have invested in massive cycle parking (including paid for secure parking) at rail stations meaning that 40% of rail passengers arrive by bike. Despite that there is still a massive shortage in parking so there is a commitment to spend 100 million euros per year on the continual expansion of rail station cycle parking every year until 2020.

Regular commuters can leave another bike at the destination station and Dutch Railways also have a bike hire scheme where bikes can be hired at most main stations instantly by swiping a card.

See hembrow.blogspot.com for several blog posts on Dutch cycle parking and the world leading Dutch cycle provision in general.
 
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tbtc

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This is a big problem, so I'm interested to see someone looking into it.

If I can be crude and split bus deregulation into two halves...

  • In the first half (say '86-'98) we had a huge increase of "minibus" routes running into housing estates, getting much closer to where people lived.
  • In the second half (say '98-'11) there was a move towards frequent "main road" services, with one busy route replacing a variety of services (some of which ran closer to where people lived). The Glasgow Overground (1998?) is a good "line in the sand" for this.

Some operators have tried to combine frequent "main road" services with minibuse shuttles that covered the back streets (Trent Barton on the 1, First Manchester on the 67). Thats one way of doing it, so that the longer distance passengers aren't disrupted by diverting round every estate. But I don't think either still runs (?) - maybe the inconvenience of changing buses put people off?

Commuters who drive might only walk 100 yards a day, due to the short distance from bed to car and car to office. Public transport obviously can't offer that convenience, and I'm not sure how best to.

Best of luck with your studies
 

tbtc

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Oh, and mention also of Taxibus - the Stagecoach service from Edinburgh to southern Fife (Dunfermline area) which operated as a cross between a bus and a taxi - diverting to drop people off (or collect them from pre-arranged places), within an agreed area, with the fares dependant upon how many people were on board (with a minimum and a maximum).

A rare attempt to combine the frequency of "mass transportation" with the flexibility of a taxi (that can serve individual houses).

Again, it didn't work, but was an interesting idea.
 

stut

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Oh, and mention also of Taxibus - the Stagecoach service from Edinburgh to southern Fife (Dunfermline area) which operated as a cross between a bus and a taxi - diverting to drop people off (or collect them from pre-arranged places), within an agreed area, with the fares dependant upon how many people were on board (with a minimum and a maximum).

A rare attempt to combine the frequency of "mass transportation" with the flexibility of a taxi (that can serve individual houses).

Again, it didn't work, but was an interesting idea.
Sounds similar to the "Flex" bus service that operates along Cape Cod:

http://www.capecodtransit.org/flex-route.htm
 

tbtc

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142094

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Active transport (walking and cycling) has a big part to play, but re-integration between different forms of public transport is what is needed. Deregulation was one of the worst things that has happened to this country and we only need to look to countries such as Germany and the Netherlands where transport is a lot more cohesive and works better as a result.
 

bb21

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Some operators have tried to combine frequent "main road" services with minibuse shuttles that covered the back streets (Trent Barton on the 1, First Manchester on the 67). Thats one way of doing it, so that the longer distance passengers aren't disrupted by diverting round every estate. But I don't think either still runs (?) - maybe the inconvenience of changing buses put people off?
First 67 featured on Buses a few years back detailing all the problems it faced and it was axed before long. I will upload a copy if I can find it.

Trentbarton seems to prefer the Trunk+Local Connections models as seen with Rainbow 5 (now Indigo) and its Connect 5 Toton connecting service, and Rainbow 1 and its Connect 1 (I believe it was called). Of course the Connect 1 no longer runs.
 

HSTEd

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Short of encouraging huge apartment complexes based around a railway/mass transit station there isnt much taht can be done to encourage people to use public transport.
 

142094

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Short of encouraging huge apartment complexes based around a railway/mass transit station there isnt much taht can be done to encourage people to use public transport.
There are plenty of ways - too many to list, but there has to be either a carrot or stick.
 

lukas_wu

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Thank you very much for all your great replies! It's good to see that we have chosen a problem that interests a lot of people. I really like your ideas and useful links.

In this part of the project we are trying to find technology driven innovations.
So, do you think that new developments in technologies like IT or telecommunication could be used to better the situation and offer new solutions?
 

stut

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So, do you think that new developments in technologies like IT or telecommunication could be used to better the situation and offer new solutions?
What are you thinking of?

On the consumer side, decent bus tracking (like London's "Countdown" service) is very useful, but only addresses one small problem.

There is plenty route planning software out there, and again, it works very well, across different modes, but there will always be a large percentage who just can't or won't use it.

On the service side, I'd have thought that a number of GPS-type applications could be rather useful - co-ordination between connecting services, real-time journey estimates (to allow for flexible resource planning) - even to allow dynamic routing of services, as discussed upthread.

An app telling you when the next bus is, and on-board wifi aren't going to cut it, though.
 

Deerfold

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First 67 featured on Buses a few years back detailing all the problems it faced and it was axed before long. I will upload a copy if I can find it.

Trentbarton seems to prefer the Trunk+Local Connections models as seen with Rainbow 5 (now Indigo) and its Connect 5 Toton connecting service, and Rainbow 1 and its Connect 1 (I believe it was called). Of course the Connect 1 no longer runs.
Nor does the Connect 5 unfortunately.
 

142094

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So, do you think that new developments in technologies like IT or telecommunication could be used to better the situation and offer new solutions?
Not sure if you are familiar with the concept of Intelligent Transport Systems (research being pioneered in several Uk universities) but some of the big things are smartphone applications and other things to show walking/cycling routes compared to using a car. Real time information about congestion and trip journey times is also going to be important in future years.
 

W-on-Sea

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Technology COULD help, but in most of, at least, England, outside London, there are more fundamental things to be tackled first, principally concerning the lack of co-ordination between different forms of transport- sometimes as basic as buses stopping a few minutes walk away from railway stations, rather than directly outside them, and too many bus services not running after 6pm, and the limited interavailability of tickets...

Good journey planning apps definitely help matters...even if presently existing ones like traveline are flawed...while the ibus system in London, which announces bus stop names in advance, making travelling by bus much more user-friendly...these sort of things can help
 

jon0844

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Herts County Council did at least acknowledge that if a bus stopped too early, it wouldn't be used during the morning or midday - as people won't set out if they can't get home (and 6-7pm is too early in the week if people would use a bus to get to/from work).

As a result, in Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City we do seem to have quite a few buses that run quite a lot later, going via the train stations, including our estate that has a bus that runs until 2335. We don't have night buses, although the University does run some buses through the night in term time.

Cutting services too much doesn't save money - it marks the death of the service completely, and quite quickly too. Once you can't rely on a bus, you'll feel compelled to seek another method of transport.

I wish all buses were centrally managed by councils, like in London, and then tendered out. The tax payer would then subsidise the quieter services, and benefit from the profitable ones. Those quiet ones are often paid for by the council (as HCC does on many late night buses) but the private operator reaps the rewards in the day. Is that fair or logical?

It's also the council that is investing in fitting GPS and new ticket machines (and then smartcards) that will improve information. It won't be long until my bus app will go from simply giving the timetable to giving live running info (and not before time!). Once again, the tax payer is funding this!

I don't know if we'll see bus stops announced in advance at any time in the future, but the new machines installed on Uno buses do show the driver that information now. If the local buses allow people to pay with their contactless cards, not needing to worry about having exact money (or at least some coins or a £5 note for those that do give change) then you may begin to get people to give buses a try
 

Zoe

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This is why in the future driverless cars will be very useful. The only issue is that people may prefer to stay in them for all of the journey and not just go to the station to get a train.
 

jon0844

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FFS do you have to hijack every thread with this nonsense?

Why would a driverless car be any different than a car with a driver to get to and from the station? Whether your own car, or a taxi.
 

Zoe

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FFS do you have to hijack every thread with this nonsense?

Why would a driverless car be any different than a car with a driver to get to and from the station? Whether your own car, or a taxi.
It's not nonsence, the point here is that it will be a form of transport available to everyone at the station and will take them to their door.
 

jon0844

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It is absolute nonsense. It may happen in the next 10-15 years in controlled conditions, but you're dreaming if you think cars will be driverless by 2020 while mixed in with cars that still have drivers.

It is not going to happen. It will cost an absolute fortune to implement, just for people who buy cars for their own exclusive use. For a public taxi system, you'd have to introduce a way to ensure the cars were clean, safe and secure - which would probably mean every car going back to a depot to be serviced. That would be even more expensive, so how can you say it would be cheaper than a cab driver that can work as many hours as s/he wants?

But this has all been said before and you still go on about it, to the point that it's getting tiresome.

Why not just have driverless helicopters as an even quicker way of getting around, or personal planes? I mean, once you've developed the technology then those things are just as possible, right?

We have the technology for a car to read road signs and stick to lanes, as well as spotting fairly obvious obstructions, but just go into London and look around any street (with tourists and cyclists) and imagine how a computer could cope with all of that (clue; you'd be stationary most of the time or jumping like a kangaroo as the computer went mental). However smart a computer will be in 10 or 20 years time, it won't ever be able to manage dealing with such variable conditions - so we'll have to take all cars and bikes off roads, and stop pedestrians being able to come in harms way, to have any chance.

In other words, a system like the pods at Heathrow but on a vastly increased scale - and stupidly expensive when rolled out beyond those controlled routes. And of course, at risk of all sorts of problems when a vehicle breaks down, or someone decides to vandalise the system.

For all that nonsense, you may as well just build loads of tram routes. That would also cost loads, but would be far more sensible (and cheaper than your idea).
 

Zoe

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It is absolute nonsense. It may happen in the next 10-15 years in controlled conditions, but you're dreaming if you think cars will be driverless by 2020 while mixed in with cars that still have drivers.
It is not nonsence that in the next 10-15 as you say it could be done in controlled conditions. In some city centres it would not be completey out of the question to make some areas completely free of traditional vehicles with dedicated automatic vehicles taking people from a rail station to their office.
 

Deerfold

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It is not nonsence that in the next 10-15 as you say it could be done in controlled conditions. In some city centres it would not be completey out of the question to make some areas completely free of traditional vehicles with dedicated automatic vehicles taking people from a rail station to their office.
It doesn't do a lot to solve the pollution problems. Why would anywhere want to encourage this on a large scale as opposed to, say, encouraging buses/walking/cycling?
 

Zoe

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It doesn't do a lot to solve the pollution problems. Why would anywhere want to encourage this on a large scale as opposed to, say, encouraging buses/walking/cycling?
Driverless cars would most likely be electric (limited range of electric cars wouldn't be a major issue in a city) and would at least need to use less resources than human driven cars as they would not be sitting in drives doing nothing. Many people after a long rail journey will have quite a bit of luggage and unless there is a bus stop right next to where they live then driverless cars will be a much easier option for them. Driverless cars have the benefits of public transport in that they will be available to anyone that wants to use one (you won't need to own one) but they will also be available at any time and take you right to the door. It could also be the case that larger driverless vehicles would be used so if several people wanted to go to the same destination then they would share the same vehicle.
 
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jon0844

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So we'll have loads of these things (useful for that late night train taking back loads of football fans who want to get home, when on any other night there's hardly anyone on it at all), and they'll also now come in all different sizes and configurations too?

And they'll all be available at any time? In any location? And they'll be cheaper than a taxi or bus? And they'll always be charged up, and capable of driving wherever you wish to go?

Dream on!

However technology advances to make some, or all, of that possible - you're forgetting a whole load of other factors, like logistics, cost, safety, practicality, whether anyone would even dare get inside one (the same could be said for the Heathrow pods, but they're in a very strictly controlled 'safe' environment) and so on.
 
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