Tag: Germany

Why I think the juice of Chicagoland transit consolidation is going to be worth the squeeze

I don’t have a doubt in my mind that transit in Chicagoland needs a better network manager. Based on my research and personal experience using their transit, the Verkehrsverbünde (VV) public transport associations in Germany provide the best model for network managers.

VV network managers integrate service in regions of Germany and comprise multiple municipalities and counties and myriad public and private operators. They facilitate a superior passenger experience than anything I’ve used in the United States.

Generally speaking, VVs draw the routes, select the operators for those routes, set and collect fares, distribute fare revenue to the operators, and design most graphics, branding, and wayfinding (online, on the street and at stations, and in transit vehicles). A key aspect is that the associations don’t run the services. Picture this: the existing Regional Transit Authority does all of the service planning work that the CTA, Metra, and Pace, do now; it operates Ventra; it decides the fares and how transfers between operators works; it brings in new operators as needed.

All quotations in this post are from a single source, a new open access article published in a Transportation Research Board (TRB) journal by Kenji Anzai and Eric Eidlin, “Routes to Regional Transit Governance: Researching the Histories of and Cataloguing the Methods Used to Establish German Verkehrsverbünde”.

I propose my own recommendations for transit consolidation at the end.

What are the problems that strong network managers solve?

If you’re in the Chicago metropolitan area and you ride transit here or talk to people who do, tell me if these issues sound familiar (emphasis added):

  • “Like in Hamburg, passengers [in the Rhein-Ruhr conurbation] had to buy two or three different tickets when they transferred from one company’s services to another. This was frequently necessary even on short-distance trips…”
  • “timetables were not coordinated and waiting times for transfer passengers were long”
  • “there was growing consensus in the problem stream [a phrase specific to the paper] that transit needed to be reformed”
  • “Rather than rely on the individual transit agencies to come to reach consensus in the problem stream, advocates focused on affecting policy change in the state government [of North Rhine-Westphalia]”
  • “the cities, counties, and companies of the Rhein-Ruhr region did not at first put aside their own interests in pursuit of the greater good. Parochial thinking was a problem from the start—companies were initially skeptical of the unified tariff system, and it took time for them to realize that by working together they could achieve a system that was more than the sum of its parts” [1]
  • automobilization and “Falling transit ridership led to falling revenues for the transit companies” (referring to a period in the 1960s, not global pandemic-related)

Network managers in Germany have service characteristics and benefits generally unseen in the United States. The world’s first Verkehrsverbund was founded in Hamburg in 1965, nearly sixty years ago, and the benefits were proven within seven years.

Homburger and Vuchic conducted a study 7 years after the creation of the world’s first Verkehrsverbund in Hamburg, finding that travel times had been reduced by 25% to 50%, and people were more willing to make transfers. Except for a few instances, fares also decreased. The rationalization of the bus network resulted in operational savings of up to 20%, savings that—because of economies of scale—persist indefinitely. The ability of the Verkehrsverbund to spend public money more effectively is a great asset from a public finance perspective. Some rail stations saw passenger counts increase by 25% to 110% after the formation of the HVV, and the percentage of passengers carrying monthly passes increased from 42% to 54%, which reduced boarding delays. As a result, perceptions of public transit improved dramatically at this time. Therefore, Homburger and Vuchic concluded the Verkehrsverbund was a success and recommended it as a model for other metropolitan areas to follow.

If the proposed consolidation authority in Chicagoland can eke out those benefits…that is what I mean when I say the “juice is going to be worth the squeeze”.

How German network managers deliver those benefits

VVs are able to deliver these benefits by starting with these common governance characteristics:

  • they are an association or union of transit operators (public and private)
  • they decide the routes, schedules, and fare policies of existing and future services
  • they commission public or private operators to bid on and run routes for contracted durations (managing route concessions is not common to all VVs [2])
  • their shareholders comprise the transit operators, and municipalities, counties, and states, served by the routes

The paper highlights that the formation of a couple of the VVs there was a need for negotiations to “convinc[e] leaders in the largest transit agency in the region [i.e. the CTA] to form a network manager with the other agencies [Metra, Pace] under the premise that joining such an alliance would be more beneficial than staying out”. The City-State of Hamburg was the first to develop a VV, and Max Mross, the CEO of the city-owned transit operator, which provided 70 percent of the rides, “had the unique ability to spearhead such ideas, and he used his power to push through the formation of the HVV”.

An aspirational corollary I’m imagining is that if Dorval Carter wants a better legacy he could lead rather than resist the inevitable consolidation.

There are a few contrasting elements between the situation in Chicagoland (where CTA, Metra, and Pace operate) and the situations in Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia prior to the implementation of their VVs. For example, public transport companies were most likely to be owned by municipalities and routes terminated at city boundaries, the other side of which constituted a new fare for the passenger.

Another contrast is that the shareholders (municipalities and some operators) across the six German regions studied had consensus on the problem definition. I don’t think that has occurred in Chicagoland yet and may be the first, largest barrier to consolidation conversations. Mayor Brandon Johnson, after one year in office, has not acknowledged the issues of the CTA that he controls; the three transit agencies and one oversight agency have all agreed that more funding is necessary but have not conceded that organizational and service reforms are necessary to ensure that additional funding improves passenger services.

A proposed bill in Springfield would craft a new agency called the Metropolitan Mobility Authority. The bill’s adoption – and later implementation of the MMA – would probably go smoothly if there is a political coalition of Mayor Johnson, Governor Pritzker, and the county executives who select the current and future authority board members. Part of forming the coalition is identifying and agreeing to some of the problems of the current formation and service delivery of the transit operators today. In other words, offer something that the transit agencies want in exchange for their affirmative participation in a new network manager.

(The proposed bill implements CMAP’s PART Option 1 while the model I describe represents much of PART Option 2.)

Practical example: Bonn, Germany

I have visited Bonn, Germany, six times. Bonn is in the Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Sieg (VRS) public transport association that includes Cologne and an area of nearly 2,000 square miles. VRS’s member operators provide about 200 million more trips annually in that area than in Chicagoland where it also has one-third of our population.

There are 10 operators in the VRS network, including Deutsche Bahn and SWB, a transit operator owned by the City of Bonn, plus a bike share system operated by Nextbike and included in some VRS passes.

To travel between Bonn and Cologne there are multiple options [3]. One could take the U-bahn light rail line, operated by the SWB (owned by the City of Bonn), but it would be faster to take regional train routes 5 or 26; each departs hourly 30 minutes apart. The two routes have shared stops only between Bonn and Cologne and go in other directions beyond the two cities.

Here’s where the two routes become interesting:

  • Route 5 is operated by National Express, a British company
  • Route 26 is operated by MittelrheinBahn (a brand of Trans Regio which is a subsidiary of Transdev formed by a merger with Veolia)

To the passenger, this distinction is not meaningful. Their VRS ticket – sold through the VRS and DB apps, or made available via an employer program – works identically well on either train. What happened, without being too specific, is that the VRS identified the need for these two routes and tendered their operation to qualified transportation companies. Those companies offered their bids to operate the route knowing that the fare price was fixed by the VRS and the amount of subsidy was also fixed by the VRS and its public entity shareholders. These companies are also aware that they are competing against DB’s high-speed and medium-speed train services as well as the slower, aforementioned light rail line (which costs the same).

I bring this up so that readers can imagine…transit abundance. If suddenly the current RTA or the future MMA opened up routes to additional operators it’s quite likely that no operators would bid on the routes because there are so few riders and little ability to make money. But if the subsidies for the current operators are also made available to new operators who could deliver sufficient service for a lower cost then it could create a market of operators who want to provide abundant transit services. Abundant transit services are a key change the region needs to grow transit ridership; I predict that with Metra adding a bunch of new runs on the BNSF line from Chicago to Aurora that Sunday ridership will increase drastically. Given more or better options, people will take trips they wouldn’t have otherwise taken.

Network managers closer to Chicago

Toronto. You may have heard of Chicago’s twin Great Lakes city to the north, which is even shaped like Chicago if it were rotated 75° clockwise. In the Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area (GTHA) Metrolinx is a municipal corporation (“Crown corporation”) of the Ontario province founded in 2006. Metrolinx operates the contactless card (Presto), the GO commuter rail service that is transitioning to a regional rail system, the Pearson airport express rail link, and several new rail lines and extensions. Metrolinx is also renovating and expansion Toronto Union Station and building bus rapid transit lines.

However, Metrolinx is not involved in local bus and streetcar route planning and service delivery operated by the Toronto Transit Commission. This is a major difference between Metrolinx and VVs as the German network managers are the first and last stop when it comes to deciding where routes exist and when they run.

Recommendations for consolidation in Chicago

  1. If Chicagoland transit consolidation was to more closely align with the VV model, it would need to incorporate the South Shore Line (running between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana) and intercity coach buses (like DASH, which runs between Chicago and Valparaiso, Indiana) into service and schedule planning and fare payment and transfer integration. Example: The Rhein-Main VV is the transit association that covers Frankfurt in the state of Hesse, and spills over into the state of Rhineland-Palatinate where Mainz is.
  2. The state legislators who support the bill should be prepared to use their power over the state’s transit authorities and the public purse to create an “influx of resources” to induce members’ entry (the operators and the counties that choose board members) to the consolidated organization. What does that mean? In Hamburg, prior to the establishment of the VV, Deutsche Bahn (DB), the federal railway operator that operates all long-distance trains and most suburban trains (now under contract to the VVs, see note [2]) demanded that the new VV pay for a new central trunk line, subsidize the suburban rail network, and give it veto power. There are plenty of potential and proposed transit expansion projects that the state legislature can choose from to fund to ensure broad support for the consolidation: regional rail that runs more trains all day between suburbs and Chicago; a new tunnel under the Loop that would create Metra lines through downtown so people don’t have to change trains as they commute between suburbs; increased bus service across the board (responding to operator unions being against the consolidation idea because they believe it will mean fewer jobs). From the article: “Both the [Hamburg] city-state and DB agreed on the problem, but disagreed on the terms of the policy package that would be the solution.” In Chicagoland, I think we need to continue working on identifying and agreeing to a consensus problem stream.
  3. The four transit agencies (the three operators plus the Regional Transportation Authority) have also stressed that more funding is needed but the state legislature should “make large infrastructure investments conditional on establishing a network manager”.

Notes

  1. This part continues: “It may have taken several years, but the stakeholders did eventually build enough mutual trust that they began reaching agreements that laid the groundwork for further cooperation.” I said in my WTTW interview that the benefits may not be seen for several years, implicitly referring to the hard work of integration. The Rhein-Ruhr VV started nine years later, and I hope that Chicagoland can consolidate faster. At the moment, CTA president Dorval Carter seems obstinate in the face of demands for reform and specifically is skeptical of consolidation. (The Hamburg VV formed in five years and the Hannover VV formed in one year.)
  2. In this post I am using a simplified view of verkerhsverbünde. Universally across Germany they are fare and branding integrators but not all of them are engaged in route and service planning or contracting services to operators. That is taken care of by ÖPNV-Aufgabenträger (Wikipedia article in German). For example, Verkehrsverbund Mittelsachsen in Chemnitz has the dual role that I’ve been using in this post; refer to this article about how VMS has contracted operators for some of the regional rail routes. The Berlin-Brandenburg also has the dual role while the VRS in Cologne/Bonn, used in my “practical example”, does not do the service planning and contracting.
  3. A shortcoming with VVs is when there are two in adjacent regions, like the Cologne/Bonn part of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Rurhgebeit part of the same state (Duisburg, Essen, and Dortmund). Each has a separate VV – VRS in Cologne/Bonn and VRR in the Rurhgebeit – and there are many people who regularly travel between the two and the ticketing for passes is more complicated. I don’t think this is a potential problem in Chicagoland as long as some Indiana services are included in the future network manager because there is not a similarly large and adjacent region with an overlapping service area.

Berlin day 2 itinerary during my 2012 trip

Olympic stadium, as seen from the entry plaza. View all 88 photos in this set.

A Chicago friend designed my two-day Berlin itinerary, whether he knew it or not. He visited Berlin in March 2012 and sent me an email a week before I left for Europe describing in detail the various facets of the city, including transportation, I should visit. This itinerary is a mesh of his suggestions and what I actually did on Friday, August 31, 2012.

Take the S-Bahn to Olympiastadion. Make sure you note all the unused, but remarkably nice platforms. On exiting the station (toward the east) you get some great views of S-Bahn tracks and covered third rail heading into the city. Walk around the east side of the stadium (and think about how this is a place where Adolf Hitler opened the Olympics and the first television broadcast was done of, making a major plot point in the movie Contact).

Olympiastadion S-Bahn station platforms. The U2 line continues, but some trains may terminate at these platforms for events. 

I walked into the Olympic Stadium, walked 80% of its circumference, and noted all of the statues, some of the stelae, and read most of the historical information stanchions. I saw the swimming arena, which is still in use today (it seems to be a membership club, although not exclusive). The diving platform’s stair design has changed noticeably. The stands haven’t changed: they are covered in what looks like moss.

Disqus throwers statue by Karl Albiker. The accompanying sign said it was sculpted to show how powerful and masculine German male athletes (and Germans in general) were.

I then made a long walk to the north and west, past a Berlin football club and equestrian areas, towards the bell tower and Langemarckhalle (which is partly a memorial to the Langemarck battle in WWI, but now an exhibition about how that memorial was a myth and propaganda to encourage students to join the military). The ticket to get into Olympiapark also gets you on the elevator to the top of the bell tower (Glockenturm), giving you splendid views of the city in all directions. In the Maifield between the bell tower and the stadium, men were playing cricket. This humungous grassy area was used for youth rallies during the Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) era. From Wikipedia: “Maifeld (Mayfield) was created as a huge lawn (112,000 square metres, 28 acres) for gymnastic demonstrations, specifically annual May Day celebrations by Hitler’s government.”

Playing cricket in Maifield.

After another long walk, I exited the park and made my way to the U2 Olympia-Stadion station (note how the S- and U-bahn stations have slightly different names). This is where the U-Bahn museum is (it has weird hours, don’t expect it to be open), but before you enter, you can walk around the station house and get some INCREDIBLE views of an U-Bahn rail yard and shops facility.

The dreary-looking Olympia-Stadion station east of the Olympic Park.

Next, my friend told me, ride the U2 inbound to Eberswalder Straße (toward Pankow from Olympia-Stadion on the U2 line), and walk under the tracks a half-block south to the little stand with the tables outside. He wrote to me, “Have a spicy currywurst and a beer. You won’t regret it.” I ate it and drank a Berliner Pilsner and I didn’t regret it.

That spicy currywurst and beer under the U2 tracks. 

Next, walk back up to Danziger Strasse. Get on the eastbound/southeastbound M10 tram toward Warschauer Strasse U+S-Bahn stations. But get off at Frankfurter Tor, not the terminal.

Then, do this walk:

View recommended walk in a larger map

You’ll get a good view of some Soviet architecture on Frankfurter Allee, a cute walk through a gentrifying neighborhood with tons of lovely little shops, then see the massive, gritty S-Bahn station, the M10 Tram terminal, and the U-Bahn elevated terminal. (You’ll also walk past the hipster hotel my friend stayed in, Hotel Michelberger.) Then, you’ll end up seeing the Berlin Wall and East Side Gallery just before you cross the water from East Berlin into West Berlin – a profound act, to my friend, considering that it was not possible when we were born – and have a nice walk under the U1 el tracks up to a great elevated station.

Soviet architecture.

The beautiful Oberbaum Bridge taken from the north bank of the River Spree, near the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. 

I didn’t walk under the U1 el tracks, but instead walked west along the East Side Gallery and then north on Andreasstraße. I stopped at a grocery store to get some grub and then boarded the U5 at Strausberger Platz, changing at Alexanderplatz U+S Bahnhof to the U8, getting off at Pankstraße and walking a block to the apartment I was staying in.

Artwork on the Berlin Wall. 

The name “Pankstrasse” written in a cool typeface.

N.B. I bought a day pass to use all transit minus Regio, IC, ICE intercity train service. I could use buses, trams, U-bahn, and S-bahn. I never waited more than 9 minutes for a train or tram. The average wait was probably 3-4 minutes. The day pass cost me $8.20. I was given access to a bicycle, which I rode on Thursday night with my hosts, but after walking around and taking transit all day, I declined to get it. I felt that I would be able to get around the city just as fast (or faster) by taking transit (yes, shocking, I know). I also wanted to ride lots of trains. Here’s the full gallery of photos from the day.

Railfan at heart

An ICE3 train is headed towards or away from the Hauptbahnhof in Köln (Cologne), Germany. The photo was posted by peters452002.

I am a railfan by any definition of the word. I cannot stop looking at pictures of trains. I look at Flickr every day and follow many contacts in Europe and Japan who post photos of trains. I’ve never attempted to describe why I think they’re beautiful and I’m not going to start here. I’ve been fascinated by things on tracks for as long as I can remember.

I was very happy to choose DB for my trip from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to München, Germany. Here’s a photo of the front of the train at Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Here are my other DB train photos.

N.b. I bring this up now because (1) I really love this photo that I spotted in my contacts feed, and (2) I explained what railfans and train foamers are to a friend after breakfast today.

Europe: A year ago at this time

A year ago during Christmas, New Year’s, and today, I was on my 18-day trip through Europe. To share that trip (again), I’ve been uploading more photos from the trip to my Flickr. I’ll double the number uploaded in a couple of days. A year ago on January 3rd, I traveled from Bremen to Wuppertal, Germany, and then to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with train transfers in Venlo (at the border) and Eindhoven.

Italy

I added a bunch of new photos from Italy, mostly from the mountain bike ride I took in Como and Brunate with my friend’s brother. This was December 27, 2010.

Matteo and I on a mountain above Lake Como and very near the border with Switzerland on Monte Boletto. View on OpenStreetMap

A panoramic view of Lake Como and central Como. Brunate is a village on top of the mountain in the middle. We took the funicular up there

Germany

I also uploaded new photos of Bremen, Germany. I added many more pictures of the Valentin submarine pens, the ferry ride across the Weser River into Vegesack, and the trams that run constantly 24/7.

The tram station in front of the Bremen Haupthbahnhof (central station). Notice how familiar the people are with walking near and around the trams. View this on OpenStreetMapThis was January 1, 2011. 

What the submarine pen looks like from the land side, south of it. Read more about these storage facilities of Nazi submarinesThis was January 2, 2011. 

From the Weser River ferry into Vegesack I saw this enormous shipbuilding facility with a yacht parked out front. It appears comparable in size to the submarine pen. This was January 2, 2011. 

More photos

The list above contains the dates for which I uploaded many photos recently. Here’s the full set of photos and here’s a collection of the different topics.

Past posts about this trip

I’ve written many times about this trip. If you want to read more, I suggest you go to my index of all trips I took in 2009 through 2011. The different cities and countries are linked there. But here are a couple other posts that are more than photos:

Bikes on trains, Bremen, Germany edition

As part of my “continuing coverage” of how bikes are welcomed (or not) on transit, I’m pointing out how bikes are accommodated on trains in Germany.

My friend and I rode our bikes from central Bremen (the name of the city and its state) to the Valentin submarine pens in the north part of the state (the smallest state in Germany), a 22 miles journey. View an approximation of our route through a rural part of North Germany. The map shows a ferry from the west side of Weser River to the east, which we took. I think it cost 1€ per person, one way.

On our way back we took two trains:

  • A shuttle train, essentially, from Bremen-Farge to Bremen-Vegesack. Operated by NordWestBahn. 18 minutes trip.
  • A Regionalbahn train from Bremen-Vegesack to Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station). Operated by DB Regio. 23 minutes trip. This trip required an extra ticket, just for the bicycle.

Both trains have designated spaces for bicycles as well as “seat belts” with hooks on the end for wrapping around your bike and then to a pole or to the belt itself.

Our bikes on the first train to Bremen-Vegesack.

Our bikes on the second train to central Bremen.

The train station at our final destination, Bremen Hauptbahnhof (central station).

Find more related photos: