The Inside Track for Transport Designers

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar


Global car ownership passed the one billion mark in 2010, with more than one vehicle per person in the U.S. and much of Europe. Yet despite the fact that Europeans and Americans waste an annual average of 111 hours in traffic jams, public transportation ridership rose only 8% in the European Union and 15% in the U.S. and Canada between 2000 and 2012

Why don’t we design an experience that would beat cars?” asks Bruce Mau, co-founder of Massive Change Network, a Chicago design studio. “Let’s make something that’s exciting for people and makes them want to use it.”

Underground metro systems have installed art, Wi-Fi and heated seats; bus services are now trying similar approaches. Some Paris bus stops, for example, now boast Wi-Fi and charging stations, coffee, bus ticket sales and neighborhood information.

But buses are fighting against the so-called track effect. “People seem to consider vehicles running on tracks as more solid, almost no matter what you do to improve bus services,” says Andreas Røhl, an urban-transport specialist at Gehl Architects in Copenhagen.

If you put in tracks, people will know or feel that this will stay here, it’s a permanent thing,” he adds. “If you’re a developer, then you’re sure this new mode of public transport will stay here.”

Planners can, however, overcome such concerns. Curitiba, in southern Brazil, for example, applied designs used in metros to buses in the 1970s, to create bus rapid transit (BRT). The city’s long, articulated buses run along an exclusive road corridor. They have extra doors to speed access. Tube-shaped bus stations are raised so passengers don’t need to climb steps to board, and fares are paid on entering the station, rather than the bus, further saving time.

“They got the carrying capacity of a subway at about one-hundredth of the cost,” Mr. Mau says.

About 70% of Curitiba commuters take buses, which carry as many as 11,000 passengers per hour during peak times. And that pales compared with Bogotá, Colombia, which tops the BRT ridership ranks with 45,000 passengers per hour. BRT has now been adopted by more than 150 cities world-wide.

This level of efficiency is possible thanks in part to better vehicle interior design, which varies according to local need, says Andrew Nash, director of Vienna-based For example, urban vehicles should be open, with few seats, so people can get on and off quickly, while on suburban routes, riders sit for longer requiring more comfortable seats, he says.

Although comfort and convenience are important, designers cannot just focus on amenities. Mr. Nash recalls a San Francisco company whose buses were fitted with Wi-Fi and USB ports, which went bankrupt after just two months.

Instead, design needs to optimize processes such as more efficient fare-collection machines, and information technology that provides precise arrival information, he says. Applications such as Ridescout lay out a range of travel options, such as walking, biking, driving and public transportation, and calculate the time, money and calories involved.

“Life in the city is increasingly about using different choices at different times,” says Jarrett Walker, president of Jarrett Walker & Associates, a public-transit consultancy in Portland, Ore., and author of the book Human Transit. “It gets us away from imagining that transport options are like teams we belong to: bus riders or bikers or drivers.”

It’s important therefore that we “don’t assume that some sort of design choice—a nicer bus, Wi-Fi, nicer shelters—solves public transport’s problem,” Mr. Walker says. “The problem may be that the service is just useless, that it doesn’t run where needed or at times it’s needed. Network planning has to make sure it’s useful for people.”

“Useful” generally means “frequent,” he adds. “The biggest problem is waiting. We have to design the network around frequency.”

To have frequent and full buses, public transportation needs high-density urban areas, where parking is expensive and inconvenient, and where access to public transit is just a short walk away.

Urban planners can increase density along mass-transit corridors, as has happened, for example, in Toronto as well as Curitiba. “There are ways you can control development around the transit,” to put riders near lines, Mr. Mau says. “That kind of density management is what transit people should be designing.”

In this way, we can challenge the widespread assumption that car travel is always fastest, followed by metro trains or light rail, with buses the slowest. Bus rapid transit in city centers averages 16 to 18 kilometers per hour (kph), which is faster than the 12 kph average of cars in Beijing, though slower than the 25 kph in New York and Singapore. Buses can travel as quickly and reliably as subways if given dedicated corridors, Mr. Walker says.

In fact, it is cars that tend to slow mass transit, by double-parking, blocking tram tracks or just generally creating traffic jams.

It’s not fair that one person in a car has the same right to road space as 50 people in a bus,” Mr. Nash says. “But it’s politically difficult to say we’re giving priority to buses because there are more people on them.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

ENOVIA with SOLIDWORKS User Meetings at SOLIDWORKS World 2016

By Matthew
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Are you attending SOLIDWORKS World 2016 in Texas?  If “yes” then you should also register HERE to join our two-part lunch-and-learn ENOVIA with SOLIDWORKS User Group Meeting that will take place at SOLIDWORKS World 2016 in Dallas!

Check out this video to hear what our 2015 attendees shared about the value of participating in ENOVIA User Group Meetings and communities:

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If you have SOLIDWORKS – plus EPDM, ENOVIA, SmarTeam or other – you are invited to join SOLIDWORKS World 2016your professional peers and the extended team of experts to:

  • Consider the needs of your business – today and tomorrow
  • Discover more about data-driven apps for SOLIDWORKS users and the 3DEXPERIENCE® platform
  • Learn the latest paths and proven methods for launching your journey:
    • Coexistence3DEXPERIENCE Compass
    • Migration
  • Gain insight and best practices from the experience of  real client testimonials
  • Participate in collaborative discussion

Register today for this 2-day, fee-free meeting…and will include a free lunch.

Click HERE to register

Hey…who can say no to free food?  :lol:

Matthew J. Hall

Matthew J. Hall

Matthew Hall is the ENOVIA User Advocacy & Social EXPERIENCE Specialist.  You can find him on Twitter at @mjhall. Connect with ENOVIA at @3DSENOVIA

Disposing of the disposable economy

By Catherine
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Written by Catherine Bolgar

The modern economy’s cycle of production, use and disposal—also known as the churn model—is under strain. “It could continue, but without closing the loop of the circular economy it isn’t feasible,” says Manbir Sodhi, engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S.

But the alternative supply chain—which involves repairing, recycling or disassembling as part of the circular economy—can’t match the current system’s economies of scale for creating new products. “The volumes are too widely scattered,” he says.

The throwaway mentality of today’s consumer evolved from early-20th-century demands for better hygiene. “The earliest disposable [man-made] products were paper towels or napkins,” Dr. Sodhi says.

Instead of using cloth materials that had to be washed, the hygienic replacement was disposable products. Since then, we’ve gone to the phase where the efficiency of production makes it difficult for lasting products to compete.”

However, a new design approach might challenge this mindset. “If you want people to keep products for a longer period of time, you can try to stimulate emotional bonds to the products,” says Ruth Mugge, associate professor of consumer behavior at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

“One way to do that is personalization,” she says. “If you personalize a product, you put effort into it in a way that suits your personality and your identity.

iStock_000020125423_SmallDr. Mugge’s research compared the attitudes of cyclists who painted their bikes with those who didn’t. “If you look at the functional aspects, like whether the bike is still working properly and whether it was worth the money, both groups were equal,” she says. “If you ask whether they bonded with their bikes, those who personalized felt much more attached to the bike than the other group did.

But customization carries risks. If consumers are entirely free to make alterations, companies risk losing control of their brands. “It’s important to give consumers some freedom, but the company is still making the big design choices,” Dr. Mugge says.

Furthermore, though often treasured for years, “bespoke products are really expensive,” says Danielle Applestone, chief executive of Other Machine Co. in San Francisco. “We have to decide we want products that last, but products that last have to be made more cheaply. If you only have $50, you can’t pay $500” regardless of how well that product meets your personal needs.

To bridge that gap, Other Machine Co. produces small-scale manufacturing tools, such as milling machines that make prototypes and customized or small-batch electronics.

“Desktop manufacturing lets you make smaller batches, Just in Time,” Dr. Applestone says. “It cuts down on waste, and you can provide customization at a price point that people can afford.”

Moreover, customers appreciate knowing a product’s origins. “It gives products a story and meaning, so people will want to keep them,” she says.

Similarly, heritage or heirloom design creates sentimental value. People tend to hold on to possessions such as watches, jewelry, paintings or furniture that tell a personal story.

“The tricky part is that while they should be able to last a long time, some you can’t keep a lifetime,” Dr. Mugge says.

New regulations could help extend a product’s life. The Brussels-based European Consumer Organization suggests ways to improve durability and repairability through new product-standard legislation, better consumer information, longer guarantees, greater availability of spare parts and more digital support. Meanwhile, the European Union’s Ecodesign Directive has set minimum durability standards for such goods as refrigerators, lighting and vacuum cleaners.

One appliance maker set its own unconventional benchmark when it advertised its washing machine with a wedding dress, and a strapline suggesting that its machines could outlast the average marriage.

Another way to extend durability is by changing a product’s dimensions or using new materials. This might “make a product more expensive, but if it lasts longer, it will give the brand a positive image,” Dr. Mugge says.

Alternatively, manufacturers could make it easier for customers to access a product’s inner workings or simply replace the batteries. Companies might not intentionally make it hard to fix their products, but the miniaturization trend—especially in electronics—often means that consumers need specialized tools to do so, Dr. Sodhi adds.

“It’s really an issue of consumer mindset,” he says. “People don’t have time or capability to do repairs. At the same time, they have enough money to buy new things. In societies where people don’t have money, they will repair.”


Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe. For more from Catherine Bolgar, contributors from the Economist Intelligence Unit along with industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

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