Welcome to “The Mobile City,” our weekly roundup of noteworthy developments in urban transportation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sent riders fleeing from buses and trains all over the country and around the world, but as the economy recovers and some workers return to their offices and businesses, an automotive industry analyst says that many of those riders will eventually come back as health and safety fears subside. However, the analyst adds that transit agencies will need to maintain their stepped-up cleaning schedules and expand new payment technologies for this to actually happen.
Some of the riders who have never left include many with physical disabilities. We’ve gotten used to giving up seats in the front of the bus for such passengers, but we may not always be aware when a disabled rider is on board. One such rider decided to raise awareness of passengers like her by designing a sticker reminding others that they should offer these passengers a seat, too.
And transit agencies also push ahead with plans to serve more communities and carry more riders in the years and decades ahead. One of those is the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which runs the storied South Shore Line from South Bend to Chicago. That agency expects to begin construction next fall on its first new branch line since the railroad began passenger service began in 1908.
Auto Industry Analyst Says Riders Will Come Back to Transit and Shared Rides in Due Time
The consulting firm Deloitte recently advised its automotive-industry customers that they can’t expect everything to come up roses because people have opted to drive instead of ride to work. Trends that were pushing new-car sales downward before the pandemic have not abated, supply-chain disruptions continue to hamper new-vehicle production, and job-security worries mean that more people plan on hanging onto the cars they already own for longer.
The report caught the attention of Smart Cities Dive, which contacted co-author Joe Vitale for his thoughts on how transportation in general will fare as the recovery proceeds.
Vitale, who heads Deloitte’s Global Automotive Sector research team, had some potentially reassuring news for mass transit agencies that Smart Cities Dive passed on to readers in its report on the Deloitte study.
The chief piece of good news: Many riders will eventually get over their fears about health and safety and return to the buses and trains.
“As we get to some ‘new normal,’ I think there will be a portion of the population that will go back to saying, ‘I feel safe now getting into a shared vehicle,’” Vitale told the publication.
But, he advises, transit agencies and ride-hailing companies will have to continue the stepped-up cleaning regimes and further expand contactless and remote payment options in order to retain rider confidence. The new technologies, he added, would mean “more efficient [and] more effective” service, further enhancing their appeal as alternatives to driving.
Not All Disabled Riders Use Wheelchairs, A Disabled Rider Reminds Us
Transit riders have gotten used to giving up seats at the front of buses to elderly and disabled riders, and transit buses now all have provisions for riders in wheelchairs.
One such rider in San Francisco, however, uses a wheelchair when she doesn’t have to, because otherwise, she might not be able to get a seat on a bus.
Catherine Callahan, who was born with spina bifida, told Fast Company, “If I didn’t get a seat right away on public transit, I wouldn’t be able to stand. I’d be on my butt, immediately.”
Callahan worked with Bay Area Rapid Transit to create a sticker to remind other riders that “Not all disabilities are visible.” The sticker also asks those riders to give up their seats for the wearer.
Callahan’s sticker is designed to help others with invisible disabilities who may have trouble getting seats to give voice to their needs. It’s inspired by similar buttons developed for users of Transport for London services.
Even though the sticker was developed for use on BART, it is not tied to the agency specifically and can be used on any public transit service anywhere. They can be obtained on the website of Transit Supply, sticker designer Chris Arvin’s online transit-fan apparel and collectibles boutique. Riders can purchase a sticker that can be affixed to a BART transit pass for 35 cents or a sticker with a lanyard for 95 cents. They can also download a PDF of the sticker that they can print themselves free of charge.
Work Set to Begin on New South Shore Line Branch in Fall 2021
Built between 1901 and 1908 as the Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway and once part of Samuel Insull’s Chicagoland transportation and utility empire, the South Shore Line, also known as the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend, is known to fans as “the last interurban.” Parts of the 90-mile-long commuter-rail route from downtown Chicago to the South Bend airport still run down the middle of city streets.
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which owns and operates the line, has plans to get rid of those remaining single-track and street-running sections. It also plans on building a new, eight-mile (12.9-km) extension that will extend service southward from Hammond into other Lake County communities.
The Times (of Northwest Indiana) reports that the NICTD anticipates receiving a $355 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration this coming September under the terms of a full funding grant agreement being finalized now. The grant would supply the last piece of a $933 million funding package needed to build the West Lake Extension, which would run from the existing line at Hammond to new stations in Munster and Dyer.
The West Lake Extension will be the first new extension of the South Shore Line in its history. Assuming the grant arrives as planned, construction of the extension should begin in October 2021. The completed line and its three new stations, including a relocated station in Hammond, would enter service in 2025.
The project to double-track the line from Gary to Michigan City, which would also eliminate the street-running section in Michigan City, is set to begin in July 2021 and open in 2023.
Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #mobilecity.
Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.