Tag Archives: MBTA

Streetcar v. Bus


world.nycsubway.org: The PCC Car – Not So Standard.

Great article on how the “standard” PCC streetcar really wasn’t.  I love the PCC car and it’s what comes to mind when someone says “streetcar”, but sadly it was too late to save the industry.

In 1929, what would become the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee started work on a new car design designed for the new environment of almost-but-not-quite mass motorization.  Private automobiles not only competed with the street railways, but physically got in their way.

Unfortunately, the stock market crash occurred about 20 minutes after they convened (kidding, but the crash was in 1929 after the initial meetings) and that slowed things down and bankrupted more railways.  As a result, the design didn’t get into production form until 1936.  Fortunately, it was a hit (for everyone except Brill, but never mind).  Several different car builders built them licensing ERPCC’s patents – you can read more about that at the link.

Anyway, as popular as these cars were and are — PCCs are still in regular revenue service in Boston and in heritage service on SF Muni’s F-Market line — there weren’t that many of them, some 5000 of them per the list above.

STCUM 24-004
STCUM 24-004, a c.1984 GM New Look

Is there an analogous model in the rubber-tired world?  I would say yes:  GM’s New Look.  This model replaced what was retroactively named the “old look”.  Those older models, seen from a distance resemble a PCC car, which probably wasn’t a coincidence.  The New Looks were in production from 1959 to 1987, far longer than the PCC, and there were more of them built.  Almost 10x more — 44000 and change.

Unlike the PCC car, which was built in several other countries, the New Looks seem to have only been built in the USA and Canada, meaning that the model’s impact on the North American transit industry was even larger.

Of course, the New Look is two decades newer and it was designed by a large industrial enterprise riding a wave of popularity, profit, and volume that they would never see again.  So not the same scenario.

Still, the New Look was very popular and can be seen in the background of just about every urban location shot seen in a TV show from the 1960s to the 1980s.

And then there’s this:

Ahhhhhhh !!!!!!!


“What I Learned Riding One of Those New Private City Buses – CityLab”

MBTA crosstown busBridj bus

Article: What I Learned Riding One of Those New Private City Buses – CityLab.

We’ve been through this before; they’re called jitneys.  The street railway companies fought tooth and nail against them 100 years ago because they were a direct threat to their business.  The jitneys went away, even where they weren’t illegal, but the street railways died anyway, since their real competition was the private automobile, which took away the passengers and clogged the streets.

OK, so jitneys didn’t have WiFi (because, for the most part, radio didn’t exist), and they didn’t have algorithms to predict where routes should go (because there were no good coders back then) , but they are still cream-skimmers in that they’ll be taking customers away from the MBTA.

Does that mean they should be banned?  Of course not!  If they can do the job better than the T then so be it, but the T is going to serve routes and populations that a profit-motivated service never will because the T’s motivator is (or should be!) moving people and not  profit.

The article mentions traveling from Brookline to Kendall Square in Cambridge and how, if you took the T, you’d have to take a trolley in to Park St and the Red Line out to Kendall/MIT whereas the private bus takes you there directly.

Amusingly, the Route 1 Mass Ave bus featured in the article (and reproduced above) almost makes that trip as it runs from Harvard Square along Mass Ave, and then thorough the South End crossing a number of rail lines.  But if you look at the T’s map, you’ll find a CT2 bus — CT for Crosstown — that makes almost the same route as described for Bridj passing through both Brookline and Kendall Square (well, a few steps away) without going downtown.

So if the service already exists what does that say?  It says to me that Bridj is more along the lines of a service that wants to serve passengers who don’t want to share a vehicle with those people.

Yeah, I said it.

“The Many Languages of Transit Platform Signs”


Article: The Many Languages of Transit Platform Signs – CityLab.

I’ll stipulate right up front that including the NYCTA in this is silly.  Four hundred and sixty-eight stations on ten lines served by 24 different services is seriously different from any other rapid transit system in the USA.  So just ignore it.

On the subject of WMATA’s DC Metro (which at least has different services running along the same lines going to different termini) I really don’t understand the move towards directional signage.  As the article says, their system isn’t cartesian, it’s more like spaghetti; what does “westbound” even mean?  And when you’re in DC’s CBD, you’re underground anyway.

Seems to me that pointing to a service’s terminal is the simplest way. If a passenger is trying to navigate, they can see where they have to get off (Quincy Center, say) by comparing where they are (Harvard Square) to where they need to be and then following that line to its end to see which direction they need to go based on the terminal.  Yes, this assumes a line chart or map in the station but you have to give a few hints.  So you go to the platform marked “To Braintree” and get on a train that goes to the same place (not on one marked Ashmont!).

Sometimes not enough attention is paid to wayfinding but I don’t see how moving from terminal names to directions is going to help.