Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.
VLT Light Rail Opens In Time for Rio Olympics
While Rio de Janeiro’s fourth metro line will open just barely in time for the 2016 Olympics with limited service, another rail transit project will be fully operational when the games begin.
The English-language Rio Times reported May 17 on the opening of the initial line of the city’s VLT light rail system on Sunday, May 22. The line runs from Santos Dumont airport to the Praça Mauá, a public plaza in the heart of Rio’s port district that was rebuilt and expanded after an elevated waterfront freeway was demolished in 2013.
During its first week of service, two trains will operate along the seven-station line from noon to 3 p.m. on weekdays. The hours of operation will extend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays for the second and third weeks, with seven-day service from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. coming in week four. Service hours and the number of trains in operation will increase gradually each week from that point until the Olympics begin in August. By then, the system should have eight trains operating at 15-minute intervals from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.
Passengers can ride the VLT for free through the end of June, after which the fare will be 3.80 reals ($1.06 U.S.), the same as for the city’s buses. The VLT uses a proof-of-payment system where riders validate tickets at machines on board the trains, again as they would on the buses.
After the Olympics, the city will add three more lines and 30 more trains to the system, which will operate round the clock every day by 2017. The R$1.2 billion ($336 million U.S.) system will have 28 km (17.4 miles) of route when fully operational.
Tampa Transportation Sales Tax Goes Down in Defeat
A vote last month by the Hillsborough County Commissioners not to put a long-discussed but controversial 30-year, half-cent transportation sales tax on the November general election ballot has thrown plans for mass transit expansion throughout Florida’s Tampa Bay region off track, and maybe even out the window, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.
A Tampa streetcar runs through the city's historic district. (Photo by Joe Giannotti)
The proposed sales tax would have funded Go Hillsborough, a plan that calls for extensions of Tampa’s streetcar line, new and improved bus routes and a light-rail line that would have connected with one neighboring Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) is planning to build. Go Hillsborough is also the transit complement to the Florida Department of Transportation’s equally controversial Tampa Bay Express road construction plan, which would add more than 50 miles of toll lanes to Interstates 4 and 275 in the county.
Both Florida DOT and Pinellas County officials quoted in the story said the shelving of the sales tax referendum would make it more difficult to implement improved transit service. Voters in Pinellas turned down a similar one-cent sales tax for transit in 2014, but the county has proceeded with planning for a future light-rail line that would ultimately connect the two core cities of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area.
Tampa officials were blunter in their reaction. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said of the commissioners’ vote, “I think, in essence, they threw the city under the bus. Or the lack of buses. It was hugely disappointing.” Buckhorn also said that the effects of this decision would ripple throughout the region for the next 20 years.
The county commissioners are considering alternative tax plans that would raise less money over a shorter time period. Florida law prevents cities from raising taxes on their own.
Commuters wait to board a women only compartment of a metro in New Delhi. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)
Driverless Train Testing Comes to Delhi
Last week, the World Bank announced it was no longer distinguishing between “developed” and “developing” countries, as the distinctions between the two groups are increasingly blurred and development gaps within countries are becoming greater than those among them. One more piece of evidence for the removal of the distinction began testing in India’s capital city this week.
Railway Gazette International reported that India’s Minister for Urban Development, Venkaiah Nadu, and the chief minister of the Delhi city government, Arvind Kejriwal, officially started the first test run of the trains for the Delhi Metro’s new Line 7 on May 17.
The 81 six-car train sets Delhi Metro Rail Corp. ordered from Hyundai Rotem — 52 for Line 7 and 29 for Line 8 — are designed for driverless operation. At the outset, the trains will be operated by drivers stationed in removable cabs, with driverless operation awaiting the installation of communications-based train control on the line.
The cars are also equipped with passenger information screens, dynamic route maps, WiFi, USB sockets and LED lighting that automatically adjusts to ambient light conditions.
The first train sets of the 41.8 billion rupee ($620.8 million U.S.) order began arriving on the property in mid-2015. Lines 7 and 8 are being built as part of the third phase of the Delhi Metro’s expansion plan.
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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.