Bus Photo of the Month: November 2017

Gillig Advantage/BRT 4061

Gillig Advantage/BRT 4061

Location: Medical Center Station, Bethesda, MD
Operator of Vehicle: Ride On (Montgomery County Transit)
Date of Photo: October 6, 2017

Exactly one month ago, Ride On, the county operated bus system in Montgomery County, MD, launched its first limited stop service, Route 101 or the Ride On Extra.  This route uses a special fleet of BRT styled Gillig Advantage buses.  I’m not a huge fan of WMATA’s “MetroExtra” branding for several reasons, but I really like how Ride On has taken this brand from another agency in the area and applied it to itself.  The paint scheme and name is clearly derived from WMATA, and to Ride On’s credit, the paint scheme makes it clearer that an approaching bus is a limited stop one than Metro’s scheme.  In its first month of service, I had three occasions to take this service, and found the trip to be extremely speedy, though I was admittedly riding against the peak direction of travel each time.  The buses have WiFi and USB charging ports on board, but I did not use either feature any of the times I have been on these buses.  The buses also still have that new bus smell, so be sure to check it out soon if you want to experience that, too.  The Ride On Extra currently operates between Lakeforest Mall and Medical Center Station during weekday rush hours.

For more photos of the Ride On Extra, please click here

Kansas City’s Train Themed Restaurant

When I visited Kansas City in May of 2014, I read about a peculiar restaurant that I suspected would be worth my time to try out.  It is called Fritz’s, and it has two locations in Kansas City, KS as well as a location in the Crown Center in Kansas City, MO.  The restaurant is certainly one of a kind as patrons place their orders by telephone and then have their food delivered to them by train!  The restaurant’s website explains this system was developed by its founder in order to reduce labor costs and wasn’t necessarily meant to evoke a train theme, but over the years it has gained a reputation for this theme!  The train that delivers your food is far from the only train related thing in the place.  There are model trains running around the entire restaurant, the menus have a train motif, and so on.  I don’t remember the food being particularly memorable, but that might be on account of my not eating meat, and burgers seem to be their specialty.  But if you find yourself in Kansas City, it is definitely worth checking out!

I made a video of my food being delivered when I was there but I can’t seem to post it successfully to this site, so I am sharing two other videos that I found on YouTube from other customers so you get a sense of what the food delivery system here is like.


For more information, including locations and other information, visit Fritz’s website at www.fritzskc.com.  

System Review: San Juan, PR

Siemens 25 at Sagrado Corazon, March 20, 2016

I was in Puerto Rico for a week of vacation back in March.  The reality of public transit in Puerto Rico is that outside of San Juan, whether you are a tourist or resident of the island, you really need to drive to get to where you are going.  Formal, organized public transportation is pretty much nonexistent outside of San Juan, and even intercity public transportation is often limited to “publicos”, shared vans that operate on an ad-hoc basis.  However, within San Juan itself, the transit system can be relied upon and is a less harrowing experience than trying to navigate the city streets by car.

The bus system, Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses de Puerto Rico, operates a mix of Orion Vs, Orion VIIs, and Gillig Advantages, equipment that you’d find pretty much anywhere else in the continental United States.  The fleet itself has about 200 buses and there are about 30 routes criscrossing the city.  Unfortunately, despite the picture you might make based on reading those statistics, the utility of the system is a bit more limited.  Service ceases to operate by 9 PM on weekdays and 8 PM on Saturdays, and only two routes have any Sunday service to speak of.  Also, bus stops have no information about what routes stop there, there are no posted schedules, and there is no real time information available for passengers, one really needs to know where he or she is going ahead of time.

Artwork at the Sagrado Corazon Station, March 20, 2016

There is one rapid transit service on the island, the Tren Urbano that serves San Juan and some of the surrounding area.  However, the line is practically useless to anyone other than people living or traveling along its single route, and I know people who are from Puerto Rico who have never set foot on it.  Unlike the bus system, Tren Urbano operates 7 days a week.  However, service is quite limited outside of rush hours.  I rode on a Sunday when the trains ran every 15 minutes, though with a slight decrease in frequency, the line could be operated with only two trainsets instead of the three that I saw in operation.  Most of the line is elevated, but there are sections with stations in open cuts as well as s short underground segment.  The trains didn’t feel especially fast, especially considering the age of the system (it opened in 2004) and how straight much of the track was.  As is often the case with new stations, each one featured artwork, and I liked some of what I saw quite a bit.  Unfortunately, the 15 minute headways deterred me from exploring any stations other than the two end of the line stations (I parked at Bayamon, rode to Sagrado Corazon, and rode back to Bayamon to return to the rental car).  The trains themselves were comfortable.  The system is operated automatically, but each train has an operator on board to control door operation and make announcements despite the presence of automated announcements as well.

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Perhaps most noteworthy in the entire Puerto Rican transit experience is that both the buses and Tren Urbano use fare media identical to New York City’s.  Same fareboxes on the buses (they don’t accept bills in Puerto Rico either) and same vending machines on the Tren Urbano, down to the graphics on the touchscreens!  I didn’t try using my Metrocard as payment, but it sure felt likely that they would have worked had I tried!

I hope to see an expansion of the Tren Urbano to make it more useful to more people in the traffic choked San Juan area and expansion of the bus system hours to make it more useful in the evenings and on Sundays.  Additional information for wayfinding would also be helpful for tourists and residents alike.  However, the system could be relied upon within San Juan itself for most of my needs while I was there..  Outside of San Juan, I was glad to have a car.

Check out all of my photos from my trip in the Puerto Rico section!

Out with the Strippenkaart, In with the OV-chipkaart

Since 1980, the same ticket can be used on both this tram in Rotterdam and the Metro in Amsterdam (pictured below)

With the advent of smart cards and “open payment systems”, some might be wondering how long it will be before individual transit fare cards for each city are replaced by a single card that can be used anywhere.  In the Netherlands, that day came over 35 years ago.  Six years earlier, the the government standardized transit rates (as opposed to letting individual cities set their own rates).  When the “strippenkaart” (literally meaning strip ticket) was introduced in October of 1980, a single ticket could be used on pretty much any non-NS transit vehicle in the entire country.  You just had it stamped by the driver or conductor or at a validator for the number of zones you were going to travel.  When you ran out of strips, you had to get a new ticket.  This was the system that was in place when I was in the Netherlands for the first time in 2008, and I used my strippenkaart throughout the country during the four days I was there.

However, even during that visit, things were starting to change.  The country was starting to move to smart card technology and began to gradually introduce the OV-chipkaart over the span of several years.  An initial beta test of the technology was conducted on the Rotterdam Metro in 2005, and the OV-chipkaart was the only fare media valid on that system by the time I was there in 2008.  By mid-2010, all Rotterdam and Amsterdam fares were paid with OV-chipkaart, and the strippenkaart was phased out incrementally in the rest of the country by November 2011.

Since the Dutch national tariff system is still zone based, passengers must not only tap their OV-chipkaart at the start of a journey, but also when they exit a vehicle.  If transferring, they must tap in again on the second vehicle and the card calculates the appropriate fare.  However, in order to ensure that travelers have enough money on their card for a long trip, a minimum of 4 EUR (4.42 USD at the time of this writing) is required to board a bus, tram, or metro and 20 EUR (22.12 USD) is required for a trip on NS, and one cannot board if only a lesser amount is available on the card.  It also costs 7.50 EUR (8.29 USD) just to purchase the card itself, which is more expensive than most other places that require you to purchase your transit card.  By comparison, Smartrip in Washington, DC is 2 USD, a Metrocard in New York City is 1 USD, an Oyster in London is 3 GBP (3.,97 USD), an anonymous Rav-Kav in Israel is 5 NIS (1.29 USD), and a personalized Rav-Kav is issued at no cost.

The old strippenkaart were not valid on Dutch railway trains (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), however the OV-chipkaart is now valid on NS and paper tickets are no longer available for travel within the Netherlands (paper tickets are required for international travel).  Like with the buses and trams, one must tap in and tap out at the start and end of a train journey.

In theory, the idea of a nationwide farecard is a nice idea, and I think such things will become more common as time goes on.  However, for someone only spending a few days in the Netherlands, the OV-chipkaart has a high upfront cost, requires high balances in order to be valid on all modes and especially intercity trains (a bit of an issue for those hoping to have a zero balance after traveling to Schiphol Airport at the end of a trip), and finding out about tourist passes is difficult.  I’m impressed at the Netherlands’s ability to set up a nationwide ticketing system in the 1980s and the fact that they updated it to be a smart card system in recent years, but the ease of use, especially for visitors, could be improved.  However, as “open payment systems” that allow the use of credit cards or smartphones as fare media become more widespread, perhaps the upfront costs for tourists can be eliminated as those technologies are introduced.