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JAMES ROBERT DEAL ATTORNEY PLLC
PO Box 2276, Lynnwood, Washington  98036-2276
Telephone 425-771-1110, Fax 425-776-8081
James@JamesDeal.com

June 7, 2013

REQUEST FOR COMMENT AND STUDY:
A FLEX VAN TRANSIT SOLUTION

 

Governor Jay Insley
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

Dear Governor Insley,

I have sent this Request also to Lynn Peterson.

Can you please see to it that this proposal receives due consideration. I am asking that it be the subject of a feasibility study.

Sincerely,

James Robert Deal

WSBA Number 8103

 

TRANSPORTATION: FLEX VANS MIGHT BE THE SOLUTION
by James Robert Deal

 

What can we could do to alleviate traffic congestion, both on freeways and major arterials? How can we deliver better transit service, especially to those who cannot afford to own their own cars? How can we move people from their homes to transit centers and back again?

The typical answer to this question is to improve mass transit. However, no matter how money we spend upgrading our buses and trains, mass transit will attract more riders only if we make it easier for passengers to get to and from mass transit stations.

Lynnwood Transit Center, for example, has 1,368 parking spaces but every last one is occupied as early as 8 a.m. From many parts of Lynnwood it is not easy to get to the Lynnwood Transit Center by bus. Some passengers do get there by bus, some by bicycle, some on foot, and some by being dropped off (at the “kiss and ride”), but most drive to the Transit Center. If they find no place to park, most drive on to their destinations. And so the number of passengers who can be served out of Lynnwood is limited, and that will be the case even when light rail reaches Lynnwood a decade from now. (Why can China build a train line in a few years while it takes us 25?)

The question then is how we can get more riders to and from transit centers and light rail stations and thereby reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) on roads and freeways? The solution I propose is a flexible and spontaneous “flex van” program which, as part of their role, would carry commuters from their homes in the morning to the transit centers and back home at the end of the day. Flex vans would solve what I call “the last mile problem”.

The Lynnwood area would be divided into a dozen or so zones, with vans “orbiting” each neighborhood zone. A van would probably pick you up within ten minutes, and you would enjoy a chauffeured (but shared) ride in an energy efficient van.

A flex van program could do more than just carry commuters to and from transit stations. It could be expanded to more general use and pick people up wherever they are and deliver them to wherever they are going – within reasonable limits of course.

Transit agencies would sell a pass which would include flex van door-to-door service. Through smart phones or pagers, flex van pass holders could summon a ride to and from grocery, doctor, work, transit center, and home. We now have the computing power to make such a flex van program work. Private companies and organizations are already implementing this idea. See http://www.rideshareonline.com, http://zimride.washington.edu; http://www.side.cr; https://www.enterpriserideshare.com , and https://www.erideshare.com. There are others.

For those too poor to own a car and who are completely dependent on public transit, a flex van program would be life changing.

Some will say that a flex van program would be expensive. I respond: More expensive than what? More expensive than widening the freeways? More expensive than converting every transit center into a multi-story parking garage, as was done at Mountlake Terrace? More expensive than the wasted hours we spend stuck in traffic? More expensive than most of the buses here in Lynnwood driving around mostly empty most of the time, burning fuel, depreciating rolling stock, and carrying few people? More expensive than our current transit system, which is subsidized around 80% by our sales taxes? More expensive than driving a single occupancy vehicle, which costs on average around $745 per month to finance, operate, maintain, and insure?

People would buy a flex van pass because they cannot afford a car. Others who have cars would buy a flex van pass because it would cost them less than driving and would be more convenient. Many people have bad eyesight or other disabilities and cannot drive or would prefer not to drive.

Many would go back to being one-car or even no-car families. If a person owning no car really needs a private vehicle from time to time, he can rent one from one of the many car rental companies such as http://www.zipcar.com or from the transit system.

Because a flex van program would deliver the highest quality transit service, people would be willing to pay more for it than for an ordinary transit pass. With more people using mass transit, the system as a whole would cover more of its operating costs and need less in subsidies.

Bus rapid transit is a fine idea, but it cannot work if streets are too crowded with cars for BRT buses to be rapid. Again, the solution is to make it so easy to get to BRT that riders will gladly leave their cars at home, which they will do if they can get from transit what they now get by driving their own cars – door-to-door service.

A flex van system might solve our ferry problems. Flex vans would carry commuters to and from the ferries. Buses, vans, and rental cars would be waiting on either side to carry us on to our destinations. With fewer vehicles using the ferries, long ferry lines could be a thing of the past.

Although a flex van program would add a lot of vans to the road, it would take even more single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) off the road. If we are serious about reducing carbon emissions and achieving the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, nothing will accomplish more than getting a large number of our commuters to leave their SOVs at home. Freeways and arterials would flow uncongested, probably without imposing congestion taxes. Those who choose to drive will be able to do so.

We have thousands of school buses which sit around mostly idle most of the time. Flex vans could be used to supplement or replace school buses. Currently our children must walk several blocks and wait in the dark and the rain for their buses. Instead, flex vans would pick them up at their front door in the morning and deliver them home after school. School districts would save money; children would travel more safely; parents would worry less.

On lightly traveled bus routes, in outlying areas, and at night, all those mostly empty buses would be parked. Flex vans would use “fuzzy logic” to pick up and deliver people. Such a system would attract more ridership than do the buses – because it would deliver a complete service.

Our current transit system delivers you from Point A to Point B, but it does not get you to Point A nor take you on from Point B to your destination. Our current system offers commuters a fragmented transit service, and that is why most people decline to use it.

Our long-term goal should be to develop a train, bus, car pool, van pool, flex van, and rental car system that would provide fast, safe, non-stressful, affordable, and environmentally responsible transportation to most parts of the city, county, and eventually the entire state.

For further discussion of these possibilities and to follow links, please visit http://comprehensive-transportation.blogspot.com.

End

Sincerely,

 

James Robert Deal, Lawyer

WSBA Number 8103

Click here to read response from Department of Transportation.

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