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Norman Sperling
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Skipping Transit Stops

© Norman Sperling, November 29, 2010

Transit ridership soars when the ride speeds up. Here on the peninsula south of San Francisco, CalTrain's "Baby Bullet" doesn't actually go faster than other trains, but it does skip a lot of stops, including the slowing down for them. Ridership is up importantly because it's so fast. It's the preferred transit ... even though it's not cheap, and the San Francisco terminal isn't particularly close to all the sky-scrapers.

The speeding up comes from skipping stops. How about EVERY rush-hour train skipping every other station? First send an "Odds" train that only stops at odd-numbered stations, then an "Evens" train. Every station gets served, and all the trains get to the other end much faster.

Only a few riders go to destinations right next to a station. Most go several blocks away, many a lot farther. At such distances, each destination might be adequately served by 2 or even 3 stations. For riders farther from the tracks, choosing stations depends on taste and parking lots more than economics or speed. For riders connecting to bus routes, there are often close alternatives from several nearby train stops.

Make an app to tell which station is served at which time, so people can pick their train by optimizing either departure or destination. Online data mashups can advise which station to go to, because sensors can report exactly where the trains are in real time, predict arrival times downline, and can also tell (from road sensors) which local streets to the stations are easy or hard to drive through.

Passengers getting personal pickups would have plenty of time to cell-phone their rides to say which station they'll reach, at what time.

CalTrain is strictly linear. But "odds-only" and "evens-only" trains or buses should also speed up sprawling and branching systems. Make apps for them, too. In most cities' networks, transit lines cross multiple times, so passengers could have their pick of transfer stations, to optimize arrival station and time. Online mashups can help passengers pick their best stations and transfers.

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