Valocea Project – history of public transit during the late 20th and early 21st centuries (part 1)

Following on from this post, in which I described what the character of Lennvale as a city is, we now turn our attention to Valocea’s public transit. This post (which is presented in two parts, because it’s REALLY long) details out the history of Valocea’s ground mass transit from the 1960s to the present. It gives an overview of the general nature of transit during each decade, focusing on significant developments, though it generally does not go into great detail about each specific era (which would require many posts of this size). As mentioned above, this is quite long – mainly I just wanted to get all of this information written down somewhere so it wouldn’t all just be vague notions in my head. Of course, I figured I might as well post it here, too, despite how huge it is, so without further ado, here we go…

Starting in the early 60s, Valocea’s government began taking over the assets of various rail operators, consisting of what was left of a number of independent, private companies, most of which had fallen on hard times or shut down completely (and none of which really wanted to continue trying to run their passenger rail lines. This isn’t dissimilar to what happened with the many private rail operators in the US). For a time, it appeared that some of Valocea’s larger metropolitan areas would be proceeding down a similar path to the one taken by the US: a mass move away from rail travel (on a small scale, such as with tram systems in cities, as well as on the larger, intercity-rail scale). However, this path was not followed through, due primarily to fierce opposition from Valocea’s population. They liked having extensive rail and transit systems, and many citizens advocacy groups had long been pushing for improvements to the existing national rail system, which had generally been adequate, but inconsistent, as the private, for-profit companies that each controlled a small piece of the country’s railways generally didn’t cooperate with each other, spent large amounts of their operating budgets on advertising, and were prone to frequently changing the parameters of their lines in reaction to changing market conditions or moves by their competitors (so from month to month, one could not count on the frequency, stopping pattern, and other factors of a given rail line to be consistent). During this period in Valocean history, many of its larger cities were in transition, wanting to expand and trying to determine just what the best way was to do so. There was a great deal of movement during this time – of people, of materials, of ideas. All of this spelled trouble for these railway companies – as the demand for transit grew, the service model the companies used became less and less viable, meaning that the rail lines themselves were often either overwhelmed by the demand or were running near-empty trains, as the populations in their service areas had already given up on them. The buyouts by the government began in 1960, and at the time, the ultimate fate of these railways assets was unknown; the possibility existed that they would be mostly used for expanded freight rail or torn up to make room for other infrastructure. The voice of the citizenry, having long expressed a desire for more reliable public transit, managed to mobilize – this was their last chance to rescue the concept of expanded and improved passenger rail. By the end of the 60s, after some but not a huge amount of rail infrastructure dismantling had taken place, they swung back around and began to head in the opposite direction. There were other factors aside from pure public will that came into play, as well: the growing dominance of the automobile over in the US, for example, was met with a more mixed reaction in Valocea. It is a much smaller and more densely populated country than its two large North American neighbors, and concerns about the sustainability of an automobiles-as-primary-transport-for-everyone model surfaced very quickly. Additionally, Valocea was an earlier adopter of more stringent regulations regarding the consumption of fossil fuels as well as emissions standards for cars, making the cars themselves, as well as the gasoline that powered them, more expensive and troublesome to produce and maintain within Valocea, driving up costs and turning away some auto industry companies who might otherwise have pursued footholds in the Valocean auto market. The ultimate effect of all of this was that the Valocean auto market was much smaller between the 1950s and 1990s – per capita car ownership was considerably lower compared to the US and Canada.

On top of that, airplanes, an important aspect of the passenger railroad decline in the US, weren’t integrated into Valocea’s travel method portfolio to anywhere near the degree as they were in the US. For one thing, domestic air travel within Valocea was never considered a high priority, given the country’s size. Additionally, airports require much more dedicated, focused-use space at the point of passenger embarkation than the infrastructure required for trains or buses, and with Valocea’s major cities still in their transitional period, space was at a premium. Relatively few major airports were actually built prior to the 1980s, and those few airports that were capable of handling international air traffic handled all such traffic; this had the effect of funneling literally all tourists (and much of the mail, as well) arriving by air into only a few specific locations. These travelers then needed some way to reach other destinations throughout the country, and in the wake of the collapse of most private railways, the remaining ground transportation option – roads – were themselves now beginning to see a sharp spike in usage. The patterns of national population and international tourism for a western country such as Valocea were already clear by this time: both would continue to grow, not shrink. All of this only reinforced the reversal of fortunes for trains, as the realization that they were the best option for that transportation need sunk in. Urban transit systems in the larger metropolitan areas were undergoing a similar shift – some of them had been private, some run by local government, but all were now also in transition alongside the cities they served. So, at this time, a decision was reached among the powers that be in the Valocean government and the largest transportation agencies: they would attempt to greatly expand and improve, rather than dismantle, the country’s rail-based transportation networks, and at the same time, push for (and assist with) similar restructuring and improvements of local and regional transportation options. Following on from this, the government’s transportation department (formally called the “Valocean Transportation Commission”, which follows the pattern of governmental agencies which in the US are known as “Departments”) was given new responsibilities, more budgetary powers, and an overall larger role in Valocean national policy than ever before. Most significantly, all of the rail assets that had been acquired, or were in the process of being acquired, by the government from various private companies were turned over to the VTC (the idea being that some of it would be kept for the VTCs own intercity and freight rail plans, while some would in turn be handed off to local or regional agencies that were either forming for the first time, or re-asserting their significance, in the wake of the private railroad decline and transit movement shifts), which was then tasked with creating a single national agency to manage all national-level public transit and rail operations. This agency, simply called “Valocean Rail Services” (VRS), was formally established in 1968. An ambitious plan was crafted, one that involved a long-term commitment to improve the transit situation throughout the country, not over a matter of years, but over the next two or three decades. It was a long-form plan with a huge level of complexity that would require more money than any other single government undertaking in the nation’s history and wouldn’t produce all or even most of its potential benefits for some time. Naturally, it had serious doubters, but in the end, the plan was given the go-ahead. Several of Valocea’s larger metropolitan areas signed on, committing their resources to help move the plan forward, hoping to reap the benefits of it within their local transit systems.

During the 1970s, new initiatives in the Lennvale area led to a restructuring of many of their services and policies. Naturally, this did not occur overnight. A decade earlier, Lennvale had been one of those areas that had looked poised to possibly turn away from passenger rail; a surface tram network that had existed for some time, carrying passengers between downtown and the city’s outlying areas, had been on a slow decline, and was considered for complete shutdown, with the tracks being removed or at least ignored in favor of other developments. But, the city was also one of the first to begin re-investing in rail and transit after the shift back in the other direction, and was the first to sign on to the VTC plan. Partially as a result of this, Lennvale (rather than Valocea’s capital city) ended up being the seat of much of the planning and coordination that took place during the process that occurred over the next three decades. Throughout that period of time, Lennvale would continue to confirm its role as essentially the leader of the country’s new found pro-rail/pro-transit movement, building out their infrastructure and executing a complete long-term overhaul of policies when it comes to fares, service distribution and routing, and frequency patterns. The tram network was examined, and plans for expanding it ultimately led into not only the restoration of the trams, but also the building of a true metro system, which began construction in 1965. Then, in 1970, Lennvale’s commuter rail service was established (as was typical of the many commuter and regional rail lines that cropped up around the country between the 1960s and 1990s, it began by utilizing track that had once been used by a now-defunct private rail agency, and then expanded upon it later). Utilizing a combination of existing infrastructure handed over to the “Lennvale Transit System” (the agency’s official name at that time) by the VTC and new infrastructure acquired or built after 1970, LTS established and then expanded a rail network intended to offer mainly express services during rush hour between Lennvale and its main suburbs. Initially, the form of this service was much the same as existing national train services: diesel-locomotive hauled passenger train cars. It was not the first commuter rail operation in Valocea, but it did grow quite fast, surpassing existing commuter systems in terms of total route length and annual passenger volume by 1980. It also sparked renewed interest in the concept; many new commuter rail operations sprung up in the wake of the creation of Lennvale’s service. As time went on and more rail services were introduced or restored, alongside the rise of bus services, more and more people used the services, as cars remained a very expensive and not always feasible alternative. This meant more revenue for the operating agencies, more good will being spread by those who began to rely on these services regularly, and more pro-transit attitudes permeating throughout the Lennvale area, and in turn, the country. Just as the citizens and city governments of other metropolitan areas began to look to Lennvale as the example to follow, so too did the VTC itself in some ways. Close coordination between the still-relatively new VRS and the LTS resulted in many practices developed by one to be shared with the other, in addition to the greater connectivity and scheduling coordination that such communication allowed.

Around the Lennvale metropolitan area (LMA) itself, the transit agencies of several medium-to-large cities ended up merging into the LTS, so that scheduling and other concerns would all ultimately be managed by one main agency, which would allow for more precise coordination with the expanding commuter rail. In 1980, the LTS changed its name to “Lennvale Metropolitan Transit”, to better reflect the fact that it now controlled transit operations in more than just Lennvale itself.

The 1980s was the most difficult decade of the entire reformation process. Nowadays, this period is colloquially known as “The Pinch.” The meaning behind this use of the word is twofold: one is simply the concept of being “in a pinch”, i.e. being in trouble, which referred to the fact that the 80s saw more difficulties with transit than either the previous or following decade. The second part is tied to the sport of baseball, which had been growing significantly in popularity since the 60s and had became a truly national phenomenon, with the sport’s level of interest almost beginning to rival that of the US by the mid-80s. A “pinch-hitter” is a player who steps in to substitute for another player who was about to step up to bat. The player being substituted for is removed from play for the rest of the game, with the substituting player taking his place. Due to the numerous instances of vehicle reassignments, line rerouting, unexpected delays and measures taken to compensate for them, etc. that occurred within LMTs system (as well as others around the country, including VRS), most especially between 1983 and 1986, this concept was jokingly applied to the situation. Someone would say, “Seems like they’re always sending in a pinch-hitter” as a way to describe the chaotic situation with a given transit agency. The phrase caught on and spread, leading to the decade’s place in Valocea’s transit history being summed up with the name “The Pinch.” And, of course, the reasons for the high instance of problems was the continued efforts by these agencies to expand and reform. Sometimes they would try applying a new method to some aspect of their operations; sometimes these new methods didn’t work out as planned. Service expansions meant planning and construction, which invariably leads to disruptions to the existing services in some form (and of course, such expansion projects don’t always finish on time). These were essentially the “growing pains” of Valocea’s public transit. Still, despite these shortcomings, the VRS presented a single service that connected multiple cities, one that offered a level of efficiency and inter-coordinated usability that the old collection of private operators couldn’t provide. Even with the delays and other issues, the system was seen as being an overall improvement over what they had before, if only just barely, especially given that the VTC never stopped emphasizing that everything was part of the larger, long-term plan, and that things would improve if people didn’t give up on it. It was a hard sell, but generally speaking, the people of Valocea stuck with it, able to acknowledge that moving from the former transportation model to something larger, more complex, and more interconnected, was what they had asked for, and was something that would take a lot of time and effort to get right. Similarly, LMT and other local and regional systems also chalked up a lot of the problems they were experiencing to their ambitions for a larger, better transit system, and their attempts to work toward that. And again, for the most part, people were able to grin (or sometimes scowl) and bear it.

In 1981, the first line of the TGV, France’s high-speed rail service, opened to the public. While Japan had been operating high-speed lines for some time before this, Valocea had been in no shape to even consider attempting to build such a service in the 1960s or 70s. Thus, the timing of the TGVs inaugural run made Valocean transportation planners and operators take notice, and it was decided that, in addition to continuing to expand and improve the country’s conventional speed rail, a high-speed system would also be beneficial. Preliminary feasibility studies were commissioned, and formal planning by the VTC was underway by 1986, but they proceeded cautiously, deciding to put off actual construction work until some of the acknowledged problems that existed with the current VRS system were solved, or at least improved.

During the 70s and 80s, another major shift occurred. Valocea had been active in various science and technology research fields since the early 20th century, with several of the country’s universities having gained notable reputations for their scientific and technology programs over the years. However, during this time period, several breakthroughs were achieved by Valocean scientists and engineers in two main areas: furthering the advancement of computer micro-architecture, and developing new concepts for the use of computers in rail vehicles (i.e. train protection and control systems). Between 1975 and 1985, Valocea’s status within various computer-related industries shot up; by the mid 90s, they had become recognized as one of the premiere countries in those fields (and remain so today). This led to a huge uptick in the country’s ability to generate capital via export, which in turn led to a similar uptick in the budgets of these transit agencies.

In 1988, Lennvale Metropolitan Transit placed an order with New Flyer Industries (NFI) of Canada for a large number of transit buses – this order was the largest single order of buses in the country’s history. This had an immense impact on the ability of LMT to meet not only the demands being placed upon it by ever increasing ridership, but also the expectations within the agency, as they continued to take steps to improve the scope of their service area and the quality of the service itself. The reliability of Lennvale’s Local bus service increased markedly, with not only a larger total fleet, but also a larger number of newer vehicles that required less maintenance and could be more easily kept on the road for longer. In addition, LMTs Express Bus service (serving as a commuter bus network linking Lennvale with a few suburbs and smaller cities around the LMA, but until this time, consisting of only a few lines) was expanded greatly with the addition of these new buses. Between 1988 and 1990, the number of Express lines more than doubled, along with increased frequency and greater reliability. This was a key transit development for LMT, for three main reasons – one, most obviously, it provided another reliable service that the area’s residents could use to get around. Secondly, it laid the groundwork for the current Express Bus network and presented an effective model for other metropolitan area transit systems to emulate. Thirdly, it also had a positive impact on the LMTs commuter rail service. This service, which had been expanding rapidly but also suffered from a lot of the growing pains that characterized the mid 80s, was a key component in LMTs ambitions for the future. With the expansion of the commuter bus services, some pressure was taken off of the rail side, allowing them a little more breathing room to conduct maintenance and make changes to the system.

Meanwhile, the total jurisdictional area of LMT grew even more, not only in terms of the number of cities that signed on to have their local transit run as part of the larger LMT organization, but also in terms of the extents reached by the longest commuter rail and bus lines. During 1987, the organization concluded that even “Lennvale Metropolitan” was no longer adequate to describe the scope of all of their operations, and it was decided that another name change was in order. In 1988, shortly before delivery of the first wave of buses from NFI, the new name was decided upon: SATA, “Sounto Area Transit Authority.” The name comes from the fact that while not all of the cities that have transit run by the organization can be considered part of the “Lennvale Metropolitan Area” proper, they are all part of the “Sounto Area”, which is a more loosely defined area that addressed a city’s proximity to either Sounto Sound (which Lennvale itself sits next to) or Sounto Bay, which is several kilometers north of the sound. Around the same time, the commuter rail service (which until this point had been simply “LMT Rail”), received a name change, as well. Back during the early 20th century, during the era of private passenger railroads, one such entity was a railway concerned primarily with transportation within and around a medium-sized city called Dashville (whose location was within the Sounto area not far from Lennvale). The city itself no longer exists; the land comprising it ended up becoming part of a larger city in the area that was incorporated later, with “Dashville” being a well-known section of that city. The railroad, headquartered there, was called the “Dashville Railway”, but most of its riders called it “Dash Rail”, or even just “Dash.” Like many of its peers, it fell on hard times, and was effectively defunct by the 1960s. However, the company itself continued to exist (and remain the owner of some of the former rail line’s infrastructure) on a technicality, and ended up playing a small role in regional freight operations during the 70s and 80s. Taking an interest in the name (and wanting to expand the commuter rail right through the former Dashville), SATA ended up absorbing all of that infrastructure, and the commuter rail service became the “SATA Dash”.

Coupled with these changes were more precise definitions about the different branches within the organization. For each medium or large city, any services that run only within that city (and immediate surroundings, i.e. into adjacent smaller cities or towns) were identified as being that city’s transit, whereas the commuter services, which weren’t divided up into individual systems but were considered all part of one regional network, were identified as being SATA services. We can use Lennvale as an illustration of this:

  • Local buses serving frequent-stop routes within the city of Lennvale (rarely leaving the city limits) are known as “Lennvale Local” bus services, but are still identified as being run by SATA (the SATA logo is placed on the buses and signage, but not as prominently as the identification of the locale and type of service).
  • Light-rail and tram services, which now fell under the name “SATALight”, were similarly branded. Lennvale’s light-rail network is the “Lennvale SATALight.”
  • The metro/subway system (which snakes through Lennvale and reaches out into several surrounding cities and suburbs withing the LMA) is the “Lennvale Metro”.
  • Rail and buses serving as commuter/express services are not identified as being “Lennvale” services, even though the majority of these routes terminate in Lennvale, or at least pass through it. Rather, there is “SATA Express”, which is considered one large network of express bus routes serving the entire Sounto area, and “SATA Dash”, which is treated in a similar way – one coherent network of commuter rail lines serving a number of stations in Lennvale and throughout the Sounto region.

All of the above are ultimately owned and operated by the larger organization known as SATA, but each branch runs its services semi-independently (partly due to the simple fact that some of these transit types have different needs and challenges, and of course, different cities or metropolitan areas will also not all share the exact same parameters when it comes to running the transit).

By 1990, “The Pinch” was over. At this point, many of the problems holding the various services back during the 80s had been ironed out. SATA and the VTC had learned from every mistake, and now were well on their way to creating truly impeccable transit systems. Other cities, while still usually lagging slightly behind Lennvale in their transit developments, nonetheless followed suit, making incremental improvements to their systems overtime. In early 1990, the organizational structure of VRS was reexamined and ultimately somewhat rearranged. The country’s state-run freight rail operations, which had previously been considered their own, entirely separate branch within the VTC, were folded into the same organization as that which ran passenger rail services. Based on this restructuring and expanding of responsibilities, including integration of freight rail as well as the increasing proliferation of intercity bus lines (meaning that technically, the agency was no longer just a rail operator), a new name was selected for the organization: Valocean National Transportation Network, abbreviated as V-Net. Operators of regional rail lines, which had been mostly run as arms of regional governments following the transition from private to state-run rail operations (which, while they are all distinct, do not have anywhere near the level of autonomy or power of the US states, since Valocea is a unitary state, not a federation), were pulled more fully under the larger V-Net umbrella. Such services had been problematic since their inception, and the agencies running them were restructured as regional arms of V-Net, rather than completely separate entities administered wholly by regional governments. It was thought that, given the greater experience and success of V-Net at running passenger rail lines, allowing them to ultimately manage the assets of these railways would increase their level of efficiency and ridership (and this ultimately proved correct). On top of the restructuring and expansion, this new incarnation of the national transportation agency would work much more closely with agencies at the local level, coordinating the sharing of resources and funding for procurement of vehicles and other needs, as well as serving as a unifying body through which various agencies can communicate to maximize connectivity between agencies whose services overlap (i.e. so that if you have a local agency whose city buses take you to a rail hub, from which you can catch a regional train to a station in a larger city, and from there get a V-Net intercity train, the scheduling between those three levels of service would be tailored to smooth out such connections as much as possible). In order to fully participate in this program and reap all the benefits of it, agencies had to adhere to certain standardized policies for fares, scheduling, service patterns, etc. (many of these requirements ended up being based largely on the operational characteristics of SATA). There was room for flexibility within these parameters, to allow for the different circumstances that might surround one agency versus another, but by and large, they were similar across the board. This membership program was essentially an expansion and formalization of the close coordination that had already been occurring between V-Net (and VRS before it) and Valocea’s largest local transit agencies. The idea behind all of this was to further cement the “Transportation Network” concept. The end goal (which really dates back to the reformation plan that began at the end of the 1960s) was to create a situation where “Valocean transportation network” referred not only to the services run by the state itself via V-Net, but to all of the country’s transportation options, at all levels, so that one could treat these different levels and types of services as all being part of one large network of transit services that can be used in tandem with one another, and can be relied upon to connect across city and regional lines in logical ways.

(continued in part 2)

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One thought on “Valocea Project – history of public transit during the late 20th and early 21st centuries (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Valocea Project – history of public transit during the late 20th and early 21st centuries (part 2) | Saito Nexus

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