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The Transit Advantage

Support Transportation: Vote No on Prop 6

Acumen Building Enterprise, Inc. (Acumen) works on a daily basis to improve California’s transportation system. I urge you to join us and vote no on Proposition 6, to protect transportation and the environment. A yes vote on Prop 6 this November would repeal Governor Brown’s transportation plan funded by gas and car taxes, eliminating more than $5 billion per year in transportation funding.prop-6-posting

A repeal would stop hundreds of road improvement, public transit and bicycle and pedestrian projects, which could be catastrophic. These drastic funding cuts would affect road and bridge travel times, decrease safety and hinder public access to transit, pathways and trails throughout the state. Furthermore, the repeal would negatively affect the environment and air quality and put unnecessary restrictions on future fuel and car taxes.

The Los Angeles Times sums it up: “It’s hard to overstate how destructive Proposition 6 would be for California.

Don’t let our transportation infrastructure crumble and put your safety at risk. Take action this November. Vote no on Prop 6. See the fact sheet for more information.

The Future of Transportation: Autonomous Vehicles, Transportation Networking Companies and Public Transit

Coffee thermos and mobile device in hand, you sit relaxed in the back seat on your way to work. The automated car you are in waits for the light to change from red to green then begins to move through the urban landscape. In the next 3-15 years, autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be the norm for commuting and other trips.

The economics of removing drivers will reduce the traveler’s cost of getting from point A to point B. Hybrid and fully electric AVs will further reduce cost and have a positive impact on the environment. They are also expected to greatly improve safety.

Are AVs really safer?

According to the National Safety Council, in 2017 an estimated 40,000 people in the U.S. died from automobile accidents, up 6 percent from 2015, and this number continues to grow annually. In addition, more than 2 million people each year are injured or disabled because of auto accidents. Clearly, these numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Most automobile accidents are caused by human error (e.g., speeding, distracted drivers, and driving under the influence). Peter Hancock of The Conversation says, “Eliminating this error would, in two years, save as many people as the country lost in all of the Vietnam War.” But as Hancock points out, comparing safety statistics of the preliminary testing of AVs in good weather to human-driven vehicles on different roadways in various weather conditions is not an even comparison. Despite these inconsistencies, the general public needs to be educated about the increased safety associated with AV adoption, yet accidents will not be eliminated by AVs, and automated and electric cars will not resolve congestion problems.

The TNC trend

Another trend that will continue to shape transportation is the proliferation of transportation network companies (TNCs), such as Lyft and Uber, the majority of which provide rides in downtown urban centers or to airports. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority reports in “TNCs Today” that TNCs travel an average distance of 3.3 miles in San Francisco, and significant numbers of TNC vehicle trips occur on both weekdays and weekends.

As TNCs adopt newer vehicles and establish AV fleets, we can surmise that TNCs will be more available and at some point become routine in daily commutes. TNCs are already seen as a good solution for the last mile to major rail or bus rapid transit lines. The removal of drivers from the TNC business model will further disrupt the standard taxi, limo and parking models as well as reduce travel costs.

Looking at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) system that moves more than 400,000 people over the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge every day, it would not be feasible to put that many people into AVs/TNCs crossing the Bay Bridge on a daily basis. Transit planners are looking at alternatives such as building a second tunnel under the San Francisco Bay and ferry service. The situation is similar in New York and other major urban centers throughout the U.S. Greater investment is needed in the major rail and bus infrastructure already in place.

Growing demand for public transit

For example, the eBART East Contra Costa extension to Antioch that BART opened on May 26, 2018 provides much-needed service for commuters. Ridership is 3,000 people per day; however, the new station only has 1,000 parking spaces. The parking lot fills early in the morning, causing some people to continue to drive, seek parking at another BART station or park in the surrounding neighborhoods. Many riders rely on a kiss-and-ride drop-off or a TNC. In 5-10 years, use of AVs and TNCs will most likely offset this parking shortage at the Antioch station and throughout the BART system.

Even if AVs/TNCs solve some public transit parking issues and make restaurant valet parking obsolete, they cannot handle the growing demand for transportation as the population rises. To have the greatest efficiency, protect the environment, reduce congestion and improve mobility, AVs, TNCs and public transit must work together, and public and private organizations will need to invest in the infrastructure to make this possible.

That way, you can get dropped off by your AV, board the high-speed train, then travel from San Francisco to LA in under three hours, coffee thermos in hand while catching up on some reading. You will get to the meeting on time, safely and relaxed. What a great way to move through the day!

AcuFare 135 Reader Enhances BART Customer Experience

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Acumen Delivers: Walter Allen, CEO of Acumen, and Doug Van Blaricom, senior systems engineer, review the first shipment of AcuFare 135™ units destined to enhance BART’s customer service-related ticketing efforts.

In support of San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) operations, Acumen recently delivered the AcuFare™ 135 reader designed to reinforce the customer-service ticketing function in BART’s transit stations.

BART operates 46 stations and it selected the AcuFare 135 reader to assist customer service agents with traveler inquiries regarding their contactless fare cards or devices. For example, when a contactless fare card or device is not functioning properly, a BART customer service agent places the card (or Near Field Contactless-enabled device such as a smartphone) upon Acumen’s AcuFare 135 reader.  The reader gathers the information from the card or device and displays the transit transaction history to BART’s customer service agent so the agent can determine a remedy.

The AcuFare family of readers meets ISO 14443 and ISO 18092 standards.  The AcuFare readers play a pivotal role for organizations or agencies that employ contactless smart card or Near Field technologies in their operations.  The readers can be customized for user solutions, such as security applications.

This Acumen milestone highlights another successful project in which Acumen has supported BART’s design and operations.  This AcuFare 135 implementation continues 20-plus years of a working relationship between BART and Acumen, including projects such as the development and implementation of Bill-to-Bill Changers in all stations, the SFO Airline Employee Discount Program, the BART EZ Rider card, and a High-Speed magnetic ticket encoder.  These are but a few of the successful projects in which Acumen has supported BART.

The AcuFare™ family of readers is available for purchase through the GSA.gov website.

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Acumen 2017 Highlights

Acumen’s current company tagline is “Improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure.”  On the surface it is a statement about our mission to help fix the country’s ailing rails, roads, runways, ports and transit systems.

Dig a little deeper though, and you will see that this tagline also speaks to our passion for enhancing the key conduits and quality connections that keep people moving safely, efficiently and affordably through their daily lives.

Acumen continues to work on projects and support clients throughout California and across the United States, including a recent focus on how we can assist the infrastructure rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The United States has the opportunity to rebuild Puerto Rico as a new model with a decentralized power grid that utilizes solar and wind power.  A transportation system consisting of an improved rail system, electric vehicles and autonomous buses could greatly improve the island’s quality of life.

As 2017 draws to a close, I want to take a moment to review some of the highlights of our efforts and the major projects we support.

Acumen 2017 Recap

  • Alameda County Transportation Commission (Alameda CTC): As a prime consultant, Acumen provides the commission with planning, policy, legislation, communications, and administrative support services. This initiative includes project management and coordination of outreach events and public meetings; pass-through fund program and grant program support; content development, editing, and communications design.
  • San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART): Acumen staff is working throughout the system on more than 50 different task orders supporting such key endeavors as station improvements, the Transbay Tube replacement, Hayward Maintenance Complex design, new wayfinding signs, and a new train control system.  BART remains a long-term and important client and a key way that people connect throughout the Bay Area.
  • We also have numerous staff working on the BART Train Control Modernization Project (TCMP) to assist with the conversion to a Communications Based Train Control System (CBTC). This critical project has catalyzed Acumen’s expertise and growth in the international ranks of train control system providers.  In the near future, BART will have a new train control system working with new vehicles that will improve service and system-wide performance.
  • Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (Samtrans): Provided scheduling, financial control, train control installation and system electrification. Some of this work is preparing the track and wayside equipment for High Speed Rail implementation.
  • Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit), and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA): For Bus Rapid Transit projects, provided program and project controls, scheduling and maintenance services.  These projects are in the implementation and construction phase, which will have immediate positive impacts to local communities and businesses, and in the longer run, generate better services, more riders and positive impacts on global warming.
  • Castroville Bicycle/Pedestrian Path & Railroad Crossing: Provided office engineering support for this project that increased the ability to safely cycle in the Monterey area by eliminating hazardous highway and railroad crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): Provided Electrical Engineering services to New York MTA in support of opening a new Metro-North Railroad link directly into Penn Station and generated critical system resiliency to protect service for more than 275,000 daily customers in the event of natural or other disasters.
  • Acumen’s hardware and software product development efforts advanced tremendously this year by getting the AcuFare RFID system listed on the federal General Services Administration (GSA) schedule. Also, Acumen successfully delivered and now maintains two integrated BART High Speed Ticket Encoders (HSTE).

I am very proud of the direct way that our work reduces the human impacts on climate change and protects the world in which we live.  Public transit continues to be the most efficient and effective way to move people in urban centers.

Thanks to all Acumen staff, partners and transit agency stakeholders for your efforts and support throughout the year.

The Unsung Entrepreneurs of Cuba

Despite a nominally socialist economy, private enterprise is alive and well in Cuba, but what does “Cuban entrepreneurialism” mean for the future of the country?  On a second visit to the island recently as part of a delegation with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, here is what I see as Cuba’s path ahead for transportation and infrastructure development.

The Cuban government provides free or subsidized health care, employment, housing, and public transportation to all citizens.  However, the lack of private enterprise and the United States’ economic embargo mean that ordinary Cubans are often unable to make ends meet.  Official numbers are hard to come by, but a bus driver I talked to in Havana broke it down for me: If we assume the exchange rate is $1 USD = 1 Cuban peso, Cuban citizens receive about $20-$25 monthly as a stipend from the state.  However, it is estimated that the average person needs $300 per month for basic survival.

With most private enterprise off limits, the underground economy is a major source of income for Cubans trying to make up the $275 monthly shortfall.  They transport neighbors and goods from place to place, and barter with friends; they “borrow” cleaning supplies from the state and offer crafts and homemade items for sale.  Tourism-related jobs are highly valued for tips, and gifts from family and friends can be repurposed, sold or traded for hard currency.  There is also a legitimate private sector in Cuba employing roughly 500,000 people out of a population of 12 million.  For example, many restaurants in Cuba are paladares: privately owned and operated eateries inside family homes.

I often find that my most enlightening and memorable travel experiences are conversations with locals — like the yoga instructor I met on my last trip, whose eyes lit up when I told her about my focus on transportation in Cuba. “You have your work cut out for you,” she said.  Indeed, transportation and infrastructure will be pivotal in the development of Cuba over the next few decades.

As my slideshow demonstrates, the state of Cuban transit and urban design is charmingly eclectic, and truly multimodal: rickshaws, jerry-rigged classic taxis, sleek air-conditioned buses for tourists and an antiquated rail system all share space on crowded city streets.  And Cuba’s architectural heritage speaks for itself, with the island boasting some of the best examples of colonial, neoclassical, and modernist architecture in the Western Hemisphere.  In fact, Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with eight other locales in Cuba.

My life’s work has been an attempt to answer the following question: How do we modernize and integrate transportation networks while preserving the legacy of historical infrastructure and maintaining the cohesion of communities?  While el deshielo cubano (“Cuban Thaw”) will open Cuba to the world market, it is important to remember that the island has a long tradition of private enterprise, hard work, and ingenuity — not unlike its neighbor to the north.

As a committed believer in the role of transportation and infrastructure in the development of communities, I hope to be part of the historic effort to transform Cuba’s transit options and urban landscape and improve quality of life in the years to come.