(Post header photo of Muni’s 38 Geary standby lineup taken by me)
PART 3: Overview of public transit concepts – section B (SATA/Lennvale transit overview, stations and ridership, transit core, modes of service, realism and idealism of the project as it relates to transit)
Part 2 dealt with transit at a national and regional level. Drilling down further, nearly every major city (perhaps just “every major city”, without exception) has extensive local transit, ranging from surface street city buses and streetcars to light rail and/or subway systems, to express/commuter buses and rail lines. Bus Rapid Transit has, in recent years, taken off fairly well in a number of cities, and dedicated bus-only lanes are quite common throughout many systems. Participation in the V-Net program requires that fares be implemented within certain ranges; thus, all V-Net transit services (including VN Transit itself) utilize a zone-based system, with fares increasing with the number of zones one travels through. The exact pricing is based on the model used by SATA, the transit agency serving the greater Lennvale metropolitan area. SATA (Sounto Area Transit Authority; “Sounto” is pronounced “soon-tow”) serves a large area in the vicinity of the two Sounto bays (known as “West” and “East” Sounto Bay). The location of the two bays, as well as Lennvale itself, are pointed out on the below version of the Valocea map. In addition, the green circle around the area gives a rough idea of SATA’s jurisdiction. I say “rough”, because as of now, I know so little about where other cities are and what they are like; as I develop them more, the precise extents of SATA’s operational territory will inevitably fluctuate a bit. Still, this gives a good general idea of how large this agency is now:
Note that this territory would be defined by cities that have their local transit system administered by SATA, but also any area where SATAs commuter buses and trains reach (so if you have a city that runs its own transit, but does have a SATA express bus line that reaches it, that city would be included in the circle).
SATA has been a leader in Valocea’s transit development since the mid-20th century (back when it was just something like “Lennvale Transit”, as it did begin life as a transit agency concerned only with transit in that city). The basis for the modern incarnations of V-Net and VN Transit, including the exact specifications required for another agency to become a member, grew out of transit initiatives and policies in this area. Currently, a one-zone trip (which usually covers an area roughly equal to one major city, i.e. in Lennvale’s case, any trip starting and ending within the city limits is one-zone) costs only the equivalent of one US dollar (in whatever Valocea’s currency ends up being called, of course).
One of the key features of the transit model within Lennvale itself is the “transit core”, a series of stations running north-south along the city’s large downtown sector (which is located along the eastern edge of the city, along the waterfront facing Sounto Bay East, and is unsurprisingly the most active part of it, serving as the city’s center for business, finance, entertainment, etc.). These stations contain bus, subway, and light rail terminals situated on multiple levels (with the most common arrangement being to have buses serving surface stations via specialized bus-only lanes, then the light rail one level below, and the subway below that on the bottom-most level). I’m not sure of the exact number of stations comprising the core yet, but it’s likely to be no less than five and no more than ten. The largest of these also serves as the city’s passenger rail hub, an expansive facility integrating all of Lennvale’s ground transit mediums in one place; it is the largest and busiest such facility in the country, and no doubt one of the largest and busiest in North America (going by real numbers, the only rail station that would likely have a shot at beating this one out for daily use is Penn Station in New York City, and I’m actually not sure if it even WILL beat it out. Penn sees 300,000 passengers daily; it will be quite a while before I can crunch all the numbers and really figure out how many daily passengers will pass through Valocea’s larger stations in a single day, but that Wikipedia article calls Penn the busiest in North America “by far”, and the only other station that I could find a figure for that even comes close is Union Station in Toronto, Ontario, which lists 200,000 daily. At the very least, Lennvale’s as-yet-unnamed main station would probably see more traffic than that, thus, it will be second only to Penn, or possibly even busier than Penn).
Services provided by SATA in Lennvale (and many other cities in the region, but this section will mainly focus on Lennvale itself) include:
- Local buses (referred to officially as “SATA Local”), which are defined as being intracity, therefore, the fare to board one is always the minimum, as there is no such thing as a multi-zone trip on a local bus. Mainly, these connect the various sections of a city to each other. Buses used on these lines are a mix of diesel, diesel-electric hybrid, full-electric (trolleybuses), and CNG. Trolleybuses are fairly common in several of Valocea’s larger cities; along with streetcars/trams, development of electric trolleybus infrastructure in Lennvale accelerated for a time in the early-mid 20th century, then slowed and ultimately halted, as the populace and local government of that city and area briefly moved away from a transit-oriented model. This period didn’t last, however, and by the end of the 1960s, transit development began to pick up steam again. In the early 90s, SATA was looking to replace their older trolleybus fleet (consisting mainly of Flyers) with something more modern, and ended up acquiring a large number of New Flyer E60s. Aside from SATA and possibly one or two other Valocean agencies, the only other transit agency in the world to order these buses was Muni in San Francisco, California. While Locals do spend a good amount of time in mixed traffic, sharing the road with cars and obeying standard traffic signals, there are many areas with dedicated lanes. This is especially true in areas that are known to be prone to backups; keeping buses moving through these areas even when general traffic is severely slowed down is considered a high priority, and well worth the trade-off that designating a lane as exclusively for buses, and giving them signal priority a majority of the time, slows down the rest of the traffic even more.
- Express bus service, known simply as “SATA Express”, serve a similar function to commuter rail: connecting the urban core of a metropolitan area with its suburbs and seeing their heaviest use during the morning and evening commute. In the case of SATA, the vast majority of the Express lines link one of the region’s larger, commuter-heavy cities with a particular satellite city or group of cities, with Lennvale having the most lines of any single city. There are, however, a handful of Express lines operated more or less as “intercity light”, which connect multiple areas within SATA’s jurisdiction rather than just providing service to and from the largest cities. Diesel and hybrid buses remain dominant here, while trolleybuses are completely absent (since stringing up trolley wires over the long stretches of roadway between cities and suburbs would be impractical, to say the least). All buses used for this service have a “suburban” configuration internally, with larger, coach-style, mostly transverse-oriented seats, overhead luggage racks, and little standing room (as exemplified by the MCI D4500 and its later variants, which are common on SATAs express routes).
- SATA Metro is about 70% underground subway, with the rest being elevated tracks, sometimes following freeways. It was originally conceived as a replacement for the section of old streetcar lines that ran north-south through downtown Lennvale (those lines were all but destroyed prior to the 1960s). However, during its development, its focus shifted to far-reaching rapid transit, which would necessitate higher speeds and fewer stops outside the core, as well as longer overall lines (with more of an emphasis on being able to cover long distances quickly, including going beyond Lennvale itself, rather than on providing fine-grained, frequent stop service within each district inside the city, which is what the streetcars did). With renewed interest in the sctreetcars leading to their revival, development on the Metro continued with this new focus, transforming into a rapid transit system capable of quickly transporting large numbers of travelers from the outskirts of Lennvale and beyond into the downtown core. Vehicles used are purpose-built subway cars, with a mix of recent, modern additions, and some older vehicles still running (though anything built prior to the late 1980s has been retired by now). The specifics of what manufacturers built these cars are still being worked out; the most likely candidates include Bombardier, Alstom, and Siemens.
- Meanwhile, the redevelopment of the old tram/streetcar system progressed, and more modern light rail was added in, resulting in a mixed service. The current network of light rail and streetcars is known as “SATALight”. In the transit core, modern light rail cars –able to compete with the Metro for speed and station dwell time with how close together the stations are there – act as a sort of second subway, providing additional means to travel between core stations, and relieving some of the pressure put on the Metro during the commuter rush. These light rail cars then leave the core, operating either in dedicated surface rights-of-way (moving more quickly than a city bus on a normal street would, but not matching Metro’s speed), with fairly frequent stops, or on streets in mixed traffic (with basically the same speed and frequent stopping patterns as a Local bus). The old streetcar network, its PCC-style cars restored and retrofitted, is considered part of SATALight logistically, but these are only used on a few specific lines, mostly running to and from certain city sectors, including downtown, without entering the transit core. Overall, these offer services no different than a Local bus, and in some cases could be considered almost redundant next to the combined service offered by Locals and light rail, but they are kept around simply because people love them. Other than the older streetcars, SATALight’s vehicles – like those of SATA Metro – are not yet decided upon. Mainly the same manufacturers that are being considered for Metro’s vehicles are being considered for SATALight’s (though KinkiSharyo is also an option).
- Bus Rapid Transit, known simply as “SATA Rapid”, is the newest addition to SATA’s service types. Operating mostly in protected rights-of-way (with a few level crossings), it serves as a sort of midstep between local buses and the Metro, providing limited stop service that is far quicker than that of local buses, but at a much lesser cost compared to expanding the Metro itself (which must be justified based on ridership; rail expansion makes the most sense when the need for raw capacity-per-trip is high). It also allows SATA to commit to a meaningful transit expansion, beyond simply adding more local bus lines, without committing to a huge cost: they can set up BRT in an area for only a fraction of the cost of expanding the Metro (or even the light rail), and then see how ridership patterns emerge over time with the Rapid service, collecting data to gauge whether expansion of rail into the area might be appropriate down the road. There are only a handful of Rapid lines for the time being, but there are a few more that are being considered. The Rapid lines utilize 60-foot articulated buses almost exclusively, with a specialized internal configuration optimized for the service (more longitudinal seating and fewer seats overall, with more standing room and ease of access to the doors). Diesel-electric hybrids are easily the most common engine type found on Rapid buses, though electric trolleybuses are being used extensively on certain lines as well. In particular, since their introduction in 2007, New Flyer’s DE60LFR and E60LFR have become almost ubiquitous on rapid routes. Standard diesel (non-hybrid) buses are seldom used, and generally only when the need for a substitute vehicle arises (due to a breakdown or other mishap) and no hybrids are available, a situation which is quite rare. Regardless of engine type or other factors, all SATA Rapid lines operate low-floor buses, 100% of the time; the ease and speed of boarding and deboarding provided by such buses is considered essential for maintaining the speed and frequency of the service.
- While commuter rail was mostly covered in part 2 (as part of the discussion on “passenger” rail), it can reasonably be fit into either aspect of the transit discussion, either alongside regional and intercity rail, or alongside local, urban transit, since it’s basically the midstep between those levels. The name of the Sounto region’s commuter railway is “SATA Dash”, which has its roots in an old, private railroad company, which used to operate out of a town called Dashville (which no longer even exists; the town was absorbed into another city sometime in the 1950s, and one of this city’s largest neighborhoods is known unofficially as Dashville). Their rail line was known as the “Dashville Railroad”, but many people simply called it “Dash”. It fell on hard times, along with many of its peers throughout the country, in the early-mid 20th century, and by 1950, was basically defunct. However, the tracks were left intact, including a line that ran right past the site where the Lennvale International Airport was later built. In addition, the company “Dashville Railroad” continued to exist on a technicality, and many years after the railroad’s demise, when SATA was beginning to build up its commuter rail infrastructure, they took an interest in what was left of it, absorbing it and naming the new service in honor of the old. While the SATA version is principally concerned with travel to and from Lennvale, a station located in what used to be Dashville, built by restoring the old station building, is now considered a historical landmark. Today, SATA Dash, while larger than most, typifies many of the characteristics of this class of railroad, with roughly 65% of its trackage electrified (including track shared with regional and intercity lines), a mix of electric locomotives, diesel locomotives, and EMUs (with the latter being more common on routes that are shorter overall, and/or have more stops), and well-engineered network and schedule concepts that allow it to function well as short-distance intercity for leisure travelers, business trips, part-time commuters that don’t travel at the same time as the main commuter rush, and others who would take the train at “off-peak” times (service runs throughout the day and on weekends, simply with a lighter schedule). One common non-commuter use for the service is to get from the aforementioned airport (which is located several miles south of the city) into Lennvale, and vice versa.
Lennvale’s model is the most extensive, and its network sees the most daily use, of any in the country; no other city or metropolitan area has quite that degree of highly developed transit options, though several other systems come pretty close. Nevertheless, transit ridership is quite high throughout Valocea, and in all of the nation’s more densely populated metropolitan areas, taking transit is more common than driving to get to and from one’s job.
Going back to the end of part 1, speaking about the amount of “realism” that will be present in this project: transit presents an interesting case. Certainly their transit systems will be so far ahead of those in the US it will be almost laughable, and those systems will be well used because they are efficient, reliable, and pleasant, and because the people of Valocea actually like using them. This would seem to be a bit of that idealism that I spoke of before. On the other hand, nothing happens in a vacuum, and there are only so many resources to go around. In this case, “resources” includes things like space on roads and in cities; if you have lots of high-frequency bus routes that are very reliable, you have to push something else out of the way to keep them reliable. They need space to operate, and priority over other traffic so that if there is a problem, the bus is not held up if it is at all possible to prevent it. Which immediately identifies what would be considered by some (by MANY in America, no doubt) to be a somewhat significant downside to living in Valocea: the nature of driving private automobiles.
The US has a car culture; Valocea could be described as almost having the opposite. Laws and regulations regarding driving, parking, and vehicle upkeep (i.e. smog) would be tighter, fines and penalties would be steeper, there would be considerably more toll roads, comparatively, the rules of the road would favor transit vehicles (and possibly other municipal vehicles, as well)… if you highly value driving your car a lot, use it to get everywhere and are perfectly happy doing so, you might not like life in Valocean cities all that much. Valoceans, culturally, are used to this. Transit has become so consistent and reliable across so much of the country that the difficulties and expenses of automobile use are not considered problems, and cars are viewed by the vast majority of Valocean citizens as something to be used only if you live in a remote area, or to haul a bunch of cargo that would be too much to take on a train, or for some other specific reason. For most of what constitutes daily life for the average Valocean citizen, transit is more than sufficient, and the 1st class, “among the best in the world” status of the country’s transit at all levels is a point of national pride. In Lennvale and other large cities, the percentage of adults who do not even own a car would be much higher than in the US. Somewhat ironically, this does actually mean that traffic jams are less frequent then would be expected based on the population density of the country, because there are simply fewer cars on the road. Nevertheless, when there is a traffic snarl, buses and streetcars are given priority, and anyone in their car just has to wait it out. Frequent use of one’s car, and finding parking for one’s car in dense urban areas, is simply more expensive and less convenient overall than in the US, and when it comes down to a situation where a decision about land use planning or city sprawl or making changes to an important downtown road or WHATEVER – when a choice comes up between making things better/easier for cars vs. for transit vehicles, the latter win out 99% of the time. Transit oriented development is the standard for Valocean urban planning, and has been for decades; considerations for cars, adequate space for cheap parking, etc. are usually pretty far down on the list of priorities.
Or, put more succinctly: In the “parking spaces vs. dedicated bus lanes” debate, the bus lanes win every time. And that’s how the people that live and work in this place prefer it.
That’s all for part 3! This has really only scratched the surface of everything that could be said about the country’s transit systems, and certainly, as I continue to develop them, I’ll have much more information to post. Part 4 will go through the history of the project – as in, “out of universe” history, of how the project came to exist.