First Steps to a Colorado Hyperloop Will Be Via Buses

It’s good to see progress! From the ashes of a old bus program along I-70 called FREX, a new FREX will emerge with WiFi and Toilets! Thank you CDOT! The Denver Post describes the setting:

Buses with passengers from Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Glenwood Springs — and points in between — will be among those scheduled to eventually roll into the newly revamped Denver Union Station transit hub.

The commuter bus service over the state’s most-traveled corridors will be provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation and should start early next year at a cost of $10 million.

CDOT says its bus system, which will be run by a private contractor, is a needed first step in providing a statewide transit system.

“It really pulls Colorado together unlike anything before,” CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said.

The CDOT system will be the second coming of the Front Range Express — or FREX — bus system, which daily shuttled Colorado Springs commuters to Denver.

FREX was discontinued in August 2012 because of budget woes in Colorado Springs, which funded the service.

CDOT’s 13 new buses will accommodate 50 passengers with reclining seats, fold-down tray tables, Wi-Fi and 110-volt electrical outlets, and bike racks. Most important, they will include restrooms.

Read more: CDOT buses will find a home at Union Station – The Denver Post

Also, the Colorado Springs Gazette has an editorial that has more information:

The Front Range Express, which shuttled passengers between Colorado Springs and Denver on luxurious buses, may be back by late 2014.

“This is imminent. It’s not pie in the sky. We are down to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s,” said Les Gruen, the Colorado Transportation Commission’s Colorado Springs representative.

Craig Blewitt, director of Mountain Metropolitan Transit, wrote in an email he’s hopeful the service will operate as early as October 2014.

“The commuter bus service will have three segments: Colorado Springs to Denver, Fort Collins to Denver, and an I-70 segment connecting mountain resort towns to Denver,” Blewitt wrote. “The Colo Springs to Denver segment restores FREX. The other two segments are totally new.”

The bus service would be funded by FASTER, a bipartisan transportation funding law enacted by the Legislature and former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009. It increased transportation revenue with a $2 daily car-rental fee and a new weight-based vehicle registration system.

The proposed buses will be larger than the previous FREX buses, which were not small, and will contain restrooms.

The CDOT proposal for restoration of service, which must be approved by the Transportation Commission, came after CDOT hired a consultant to study demand.

The old FREX service was of extraordinary value to professionals who commuted between Denver and the Springs. The average household income of regular FREX riders was $72,000.

Even though Denver and other communities benefited from the service, it was disproportionately subsidized by Colorado Springs. Although City Council tried to keep the service functioning, Mayor Steve Bach refused to sign a contract because he wanted the money for better bus service within the city limits. Politically, it made no sense to subsidize high-wage professionals at the expense of more than 4,000 Social Security recipients and low-income residents who needed more bus service in town.

Still, the loss of FREX probably made Colorado Springs a less appealing residential and business location among those who want easy and affordable transportation to and from Denver. It just makes good sense to link the state’s two largest cities with routine bus service.

Like most cities, Colorado Springs wants more jobs for young, highly educated professionals. Regular shuttles to and from Denver – a city that can attract professionals from the likes of Chicago, New York and San Francisco – make Colorado Springs a more attractive option. One can live and work in the Springs, enjoying majestic views and seemingly endless outdoor recreational opportunities, and get cosmopolitan amenities by merely boarding a bus for a short ride up I-25.

For Springs-Denver work commuters, the bus provides an hour each way to work on laptopd or tablets – something they cannot do while driving cars.

Extending the service to Fort Collins only stands to make it more useful to people all along the proposed route.

The old FREX was a fantastic service with a nonsustainable and unfair means of financial support that burdened Colorado Springs. What CDOT proposes – a state-funded service along a corridor of millions of Colorado residents – makes good sense. By all means, use FASTER proceeds to restore Front Range bus service as soon as possible.

Even  the Westside Pioneer had an article:

A FREX by any other name?
A weekday commuter route between Colorado Springs and Denver, which ended for financial reasons a year and a half ago, will return late this year or in early 2015, based on a January vote of the Colorado Transportation Commission.
But unlike FREX (short for Front Range Express), the new, as yet-unnamed service will need no subsidy from the City of Colorado Springs. It will be funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) from an annual allocation of operating funds from the Statewide FASTER Transit Pool, according to Michael Timlin, CDOT bus operations specialist.
Individual fares will also be charged (amounts to be determined).
Frex had been costing the city about $1 million a year until Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach overrode City Council on the issue in the summer of 2012, saying the money should be used instead on fixed-bus routes. A few hundred people a day rode the Frex buses.
In an e-mail Feb. 3, responding to a set of questions submitted by the Westside Pioneer, Timlin described the CDOT plan, as follows:
“On Jan. 16, 2014, the Transportation Commission approved the funding [to operate an] express bus service. CDOT will become a ‘transit agency’ and will contract with a private provider to operate the service, much like Mountain Metro Transit does.
“There are actually three corridors that are the focus of the new bus service, Colorado Springs- Denver, Fort Collins-Denver, and Glenwood Springs-Denver.
“While we are targeting operations start-up [from] late 2014 to early 2015, much is still in development in the way of station stops, schedules, etc. I can tell you that the service will concentrate on park-and-ride lots and service will terminate/originate at Denver Union Station, with at least two pick-up/drop-off stops in Colorado Springs with one in Monument.
“Fare structure, while still a work in progress, is expected to be commensurate with the FREX service.
“The vehicles are anticipated to be 45-foot intercity- type motorcoaches with air-ride suspension, wheelchair lift, lavatory, 50-seat configuration for extra leg room, WiFi, reclining seats fitted with fold- down tray tables, cup holders, foot rests and a 110-volt dual-power outlet for each dual seat unit.
“CDOT is not making a $10.9 million investment for a ‘test’ program. Unlike FREX, the CDOT service has an annual allocation of operating funds from the Statewide FASTER Transit Pool . However, in the unlikely event performance goals are consistently unmet like ridership growth, farebox recovery, on time performance, revenue, and expenses, the Transportation Commission has the option to make changes like eliminating service in one or more routes, or terminate the service entirely.
“Sometime this Spring, after we have selected a ‘brand’ we will begin public out-reach and communications and gather public input on service levels, fares, etc.”

Any State funded transit solution that offers citizens cheap and reliable rapid transit along the front range is good for the future Colorado Hyperloop! As one commenter to the Gazette Editorial says “HALLELUJAH! So glad that our state government has more sense than the city. Next up: commuter rail from Pueblo to Fort Collins.” Indeed!

Cautionary Budgeting for Colorado Hyperloop Because of DIA and RTD

Budgeting for massive projects like airports and regional surface transportation networks are never easy. Traditionally, these transit services are a financed because they are a public service. A good example of this is with RTD’s Denver Union Station project via the Denver Business Journal.

Regional Transportation District will celebrate the completion of the $480 million project that will form the hub of a transit network spanning the Denver metro area. Commuters will start rolling into the station on Monday, May 12.

“We’re ahead of schedule and under budget,” Jerry Nery, RTD’s project manager for the effort, said Friday during a media sneak peek at the project.

Sounds inspirational, but now take a look at the front page article on the Denver Post telling of a muted panic of the DIA project.

The estimated cost of Denver International Airport’s showcase project is climbing again, this time to as much as $730 million when “related” costs are included. On Monday, airport spokeswoman Stacey Stegman confirmed that overall project costs could grow 5 percent to 10 percent.

Read more: The Denver Post

Clearly these two projects are different, but because of the DIA project turning into a development for development’s sake project (looking at the pointless hotel), it will negatively affect the Colorado Hyperloop’s chance at being funded through the legislature. Seriously, why should the City of Denver fund something like this:

““We have a smaller range of things that can be value-engineered,” she said. “It’s not like we can lop off another floor of the hotel again.”
Day said DIA is leaning on the construction companies to help the airport keep costs as low as possible. DIA officials also reviewing the finishes in the hotel to see if there’s anything that can be trimmed from the budget.

Keeping Users of the Colorado Hyperloop Happy

How to keep the users of the Colorado Hyperloop happy?  Fix things that people complain about! The Denver Post article describing how RTD had more complaints this last year than the year before is enlightening.

People mainly complained about the timeliness of the buses and also bus drivers being discourteous.

In order for the Hyperloop to be working efficiently, timeliness has to be fixed. It has to be better than Swiss, Germans or Japanese trains.

Security and personal problems will always arise with a massive transit system. Luckily there will be no drivers of the hyperloop as it be controlled by computers. Hopefully, the Colorado Hyperloop will be a model to other public transportation systems with the lowest number of complaints.

Finally, RTD and the Colorado Hyperloop will need to keep users with disabilities at the forefront of their customer service.

Bruce Abel, RTD assistant general manager, told the board the agency recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, over access issues on RTD buses. RTD drivers will now be more stringent about not allowing passengers with strollers or carry-on bags into wheelchair access areas in trains and buses, Abel said.

Read more: RTD gets more complaints about operations – The Denver Post
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The hyperloop could be an amazing option for transportation for people with disabilities. With options like pre boarding into the hyperloop pods, it could minimizes time and hassle for their travels.

Colorado Hyperloop Will Be Popular

More people in the United States are taking public transit, according to this NYTimes article by Jon Hurdle. The reason for the increase is complex but identifiable.

Stronger economic growth is playing an important role in the increased use of public transit, as more people are using the systems to get to an increasing number of jobs, the association reported, and transit agencies are nurturing growth by expanding their systems or improving services.

“We’re seeing that where cities have invested in transit, their unemployment rates have dropped, and employment is going up because people can get there,” Mr. Melaniphy said.

Could a Colorado Hyperloop be a jobs magnifier for the state? The article continues, not on New York City’s mega subway, but with RTD!

In Denver, the Regional Transit District topped 101 million passenger trips last year, its most ever, helped by an improving economy and an increasing acceptance that public transit is an attractive alternative to the automobile, said Scott Reed, a spokesman for the district.

One of the challenges is simply getting people to try public transportation, Mr. Reed said, but when they do, “they find it is so much easier than they had feared.”

The 14-mile light-rail W Line connecting Denver, Lakewood and Golden, Colo., opened in April, and by the end of the year, it was carrying about 15,000 passengers a day, as planned. The line is part of a FasTracks expansion program, which will consist of 122 additional miles of light and commuter rail, 18 miles of a bus rapid transit system and a doubling of park-and-ride facilities, all scheduled for completion in 2016.

The estimated $7 billion cost is being paid for in part with a 0.4 percent sales tax, which voters approved in 2004. Nationally, taxpayers are increasingly willing to finance public transportation improvements, Mr. Melaniphy said.

In the last two years, more than 70 percent of transit tax initiatives have succeeded, he said.

I think the tax debate muddles the article, but it is clear, if you build transport systems, people will use them. The Front Range is incredibly car heavy right now. We need to move to ultra fast, medium to far distance, cheap transportation. Coloradans have to start planning future transport like the Hyperloop.

Colorado Hyperloop and the Denver Station

Denver will be critical in a front range hyperloop. It has the highest population, the busiest airport, and  possibly the most complex urban planning and laws. The precise location for a hyperloop in the city is of extreme importance. The incredible speed that the pods travel dictate a strait hyperloop shot into the city.  In my head, I thought it would be appropriate to put the hyperloop station next to I-25. That would also put it approximately next to Union Station, the epicenter of all public transportation in metro Denver and regionally.

The images of the recently updated Union Station are breathtaking.  The  platforms are totally futuristic. Unfortunately, the train/rail technology is totally not futuristic.  When Amtrak starts using the facility, as 9News reported,  it will once again feel like a hub of opportunity and possibility.

The “other” rail and transportation hub in Denver is nearing Completion. The RTD’s East Rail Line, from Union Station to DIA is said to be 60% complete. DIA’s unnamed station has some serious baggage. The project has taken a life on its own. First, is the fact that it wasn’t built when the airport was built. Second, is that the managers of DIA and the developers of DIA seem to be tapping into public funds at their own accord. The Denver Post wrote an eye opening piece outlining the underbelly of this mega transportation infrastructure.

“The $544 million price tag for Denver International Airport’s showcase hotel and train terminal construction project does not include at least $128 million in what airport management calls “additional related” costs, putting its real cost 34 percent over the $500 million budget proposed three years ago.

As the cost of the project rose, airport officials have insisted it remains on or close to budget. But in order to do that, they have excluded related costs and apparently cut spending in other critical areas. During the past two years, DIA management slashed more than $200 million from the airport’s runway-repair budget and other long-term maintenance projects, a Denver Post investigation found.”

Read more: Denver airport cuts maintenance as costs of showcase project rise – The Denver Post
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Seriously, why build a pointless hotel when it will take money out of the runway-repair budget? I highly recommend the article. It touches on the interplay between DIA staff, Airlines, the Denver City Council and former employees. It ends on the quote:

‘It’s either a visionary project or a lesson for the rest of us.’

Hopefully, the Colorado Hyperloop will never be like the DIA project. But the echos of 1995, and DIA’s missteps are still sailent on this final upgrade to the DIA’s mega project. .

Hyperloop Must be Built on Site

The first Hyperloop to be built will have huge development costs. Development and construction costs might be diminished if the hyperloop were to be built and developed on site. Unfortunately, I think people are being scared away from even attempting to undertake the hyperloop due to these costs.

“It’s not the manufacturing costs worrying them,” he said. “The costs they’re worried about are the development costs.” A big part of that development cost would be to build a prototype that would highlight for engineers things Musk didn’t account for or anticipate in his proposal, things that could come out only in real-world tests.

But, I think they are underestimating innovation. Having manufactures build huge pieces transportation infrasturure offsite increases delays, and decreases innovative design.  Two examples, one from Boston and the other the local Denver RTD commuter rail:

A long-awaited fleet of MBTA commuter rail cars, delivered 2½ years late by the South Korean manufacturer, is now so plagued by mechanical, engineering, and software problems that it has to be shipped to a facility in Rhode Island to be fitted with new parts. 

The other example is from the great Denver Urbanism blog.

Inevitably (and understandably so), questions are raised as to why the shells for the trains are being made somewhere other than the United States. In response, RTD has stated this:

“There are no U.S.-owned builder of electric commuter rail cars. However, Hyundai Rotem also will be assembling these cars in the United States with home-grown parts and labor. After the steel shells are fabricated in Korea, they are being shipped to Hyundai’s assembly plant in Philadelphia for the rest of the work. They comply with Buy America rules, and most of the major components are built in America including the wheels and trucks, braking system, propulsion system, train control system, floors, seats, doors, windows, HVAC and others.”

Read more about the East Rail Line at the Denver Transit Partners.

It all comes down to the policy of whoever is building they hyperloop, but I think it needs to be innovative and be built on site.


Front Range Hyperloop Policy Highlighted by East CO Secession

The below post is mainly from material from this article in the New York Times.

“New Colorado? Rural Voters Approve Secession Idea
The nation’s newest state, if rural Colorado residents had their way, would be about the size of Vermont but with the population of a small town spread across miles of farmland. There wouldn’t be civil unions for gay couples, new renewable energy standards, or limits on ammunition magazines.”

First, “conservative prairie towns with the more populous and liberal urban Front Range, which has helped solidify the Democrats’ power.” Interesting to note but not ground breaking.

Second, the Secession area is “five counties share borders, covering about 9,500 square miles and have a combined population of about 29,200.” Seriously, just 29,000 people is like a city population between Wheat Ridge and Fountain CO or even less than half of Burlington, VT. Small town.

Third, “More than 80 percent of Colorado’s 5 million residents live on the Front Range. The counties that voted to secede currently only have two state representatives and one state senator.”

If the Colorado Hyperloop is made along the front range I can imagine it would carry around 29,000 people in less than half a week. For example, RTD carries from January-December 2012 has a average weekday boarding of 328,109 and an annual boarding of 99,142,849. These new commuters will change change how rural Colorado comes more into the fold.

Hyperloop Halloween Five: Boston Vs Denver Transit Planning

Hyperloop Halloween Part Five: Boston vs Denver’s Goals for Transit Improvement

News that the Mayor of Boston is going to work on investing in rapid transit.

“BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick is announcing a series of major transportation infrastructure investments that include new cars on the subway and open-road tolling on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Patrick is scheduled to make the announcements Tuesday during an address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Patrick says the investment will stimulate economic growth and opportunity for commuters, residents and businesses, enhance accessibility, and ease traffic and congestion.

The governor says the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will launch a $1.3 billion procurement program to replace and increase the capacity of the Red Line and Orange Line trains.”

Im sure the development of the hyperloop will be costly but… not nearly $1.3 billion…

Then an editorial in the Denver Post surprised me.

“The numbers are startling.

It would cost the Regional Transportation District half as much money to start up nearly 100 miles of enhanced bus service in the northern suburbs as it would to build 11 miles of light rail from Westminster to Broomfield.

That is a preliminary finding, as reported by The Denter Post’s Monte Whaley, from the Northwest Area Mobility Study, an effort by RTD to weigh its options when it became clear it would take 30 years to build the Northwest Rail Line from Denver to Longmont with current revenues.

Read more: Sobering figures in RTD Northwest rail study – The Denver Post”

Well both studies in transport will be scrutinized but I think the Mayors of the cities that the hyperloop will go though as well as the state Governor, should take a leading role in implementing any transit project. The Hyperloop could perhaps be solely a Governor  backed project. Having the Executive branch lead the high quality public transportation system along the Front Range Urban Corridor just makes sense.

But in the end, the Denver Post editorial ends on:

“We’ve said before we want folks in the northern suburbs to get the rail they were promised if possible, and we have been open to the idea of an additional, metrowide sales tax to finish the job.

Another solution could be a statewide tax issue for transportation, preferably user fees like fuel taxes to pay for roads and transit.

But we also agree we can’t have the Northwest Line at any cost.

Read more: Sobering figures in RTD Northwest rail study – The Denver Post “