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3D Simulation of Civis in Eugene, OR.
Light rail projects are spring up all over America, but they can cost tens of millions of dollars. Now an exciting new concept that blends the low costs and flexibility of transit buses with the advantages of light rail may revolutionize mass transit for a fraction of the investment.

The Promise of the Next Generation Bus Rapid Transit

The next generation of Bus Rapid Transit system is embodied by the Civis from France pictured above.

By Bill Moore

It's a bright, sunny Spring morning in Eugene, Oregon as you head off to work. Three blocks from your home is a Lane Transit District BRT stop. You check your wireless Handspring PDA to see when the next "train" is scheduled to stop. LTD's wireless information system assures you that the next "train" is only three minutes away. You check your watch. It's 7:24 am.

At precisely 7:27 am, the inbound commuter "train" pulls into your stop. Extra wide doors open and a couple people get out. You step aboard the low floored vehicle, point your Bluetooth-equipped PDA at a similarly-equipped ticket counter device. You electronically transfer the price of your ticket and take a seat. Swiftly, quietly, without a wisp of pollution, the rubber-tired, articulated bus heads for the next stop, unobstructed by other traffic because it operates on its own dedicated lane system like that envisioned in this 3D computer rendering., courtesy of LTD.

Exactly 18 minutes later, you arrive at your stop, just two blocks from your place of work. The ride has been smooth, quiet and trouble-free. You¹ve even had time to check your email and see what your stock portfolio is doing since the market opened on the East Coast two hours earlier. So far, your investments in fuel cell stocks are doing well.

Taking the Dream To Reality

If the folks in Eugene, Oregon have their way, the scenario I just described may soon become a reality, ­ at least the Bus Rapid Transit aspect, if not the wireless ticketing part. According to their web site, Lane Transit District is on track to become one of the first communities in America to introduce the next generation of BRT in the form of the Irisbus Civis electric bus.

The Civis is the brainchild of MATRA Transport and Irisbus of Europe. It combines the best elements of an articulated transit bus with the convenience of a street car or light rail system, but without the huge investments of the latter. Lane Transit District estimates they can build the BRT for as little as 4%-10% of the cost of a comparable light rail system. This will make it possible to construct the first pilot phase without any additional revenues above its current budget projections.

Phase one of the project is envisioned to run from West Eleventh Avenue in Eugene, past the campus of the University of Oregon, along Main Street to east Springfield. A small fleet of community-friendly buses will feed the system.

The first Civis was recently placed in service in Clermont-Ferrand, France. It will operate along a 6.5 km corridor that links the SNCF train station in Clermont-Ferrand and the towns of Chamalieres and Royat.

Several things make the Civis unique. It is steered by an optical guidance system developed by MATRA that automatically insures the vehicle is properly aligned in each station. Following a simple painted line on the roadway, the system is so accurate, the Civis stays within a few centimeters of its centerline position. It's like being on track system without the cost of the track, MATRA claims.

The vehicle uses a low-floor design and extra wide doors to help move passengers quickly on and off the vehicle, much like a modern light rail system. According to the US Department of Transportation, one of the keys to the success of any public transit system is finding ways to reduce travel times. The Civis and other BRT concepts seek to do this for example by moving people on and off the bus as quickly as possible. The low floor design also makes it easier for handicapped individuals to use the system.

Another important part of the next generation BRT concept is the incorporation of dedicated traffic lanes and signal priority. This allows BRT vehicles to avoid normal traffic congestion points. The Eugene concept illustrated on the Lane Transit District web site shows a specially constructed pavement system that can only be used by BRT vehicles. The designers even envision replacing much of the pavement with grass since the optical guidance system and curbs will keep the rubber bus tires from driving on the grass. This further reduces the construction cost of the system and its ecological impact on the community. Heat generating pavement would finally give way to grass, again.

Giving BRT vehicles priority at electronically controlled traffic signals will further improve the transit time for system riders. Traffic lights would be set so that when a BFT arrived at an intersection it could safely proceed through without stopping. MATRA reports that the average operational speed of its Civis system is 22 kph.

Electrically-powered Civis

According to MATRA, the Civis uses electrically-powered hub motors. However, what isn't clear is where the power comes from. EV World could find no references to how electrical power is provided the vehicle, whether it is generated onboard through a hybrid-electric drive system ­ a logical application ­ or through a caternary system like that used for street cars and electric buses.

Clearly, systems like the Civis would be ideal candidates for direct hydrogen fuel cells. This would provide independent, pollution free power for the vehicle. The vehicles could be fueled at night using off-peak electric power from the Pacific Northwest's largely hydroelectric-powered grid. This would make the Civis virtually pollution free and powered by a renewable energy source.

Eugene isn't the only American community taking an interest in Civis and BRT systems. MATRA announced that the city of Las Vegas also plans to introduce the Civis. The French city of Rouen also announced in 1999 that it too would introduce the Civis system as part of a 26 km system with 49 stations that will ultimately use 57 Civis vehicles.

Other US cities developing pilot BRT projects include Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, the Dulles Corridor outside Washington, D.C., Hartford, Honolulu, Miami, San Juan and Santa Clara in California.

EV World plans to continue to monitor this promising new technology, especially the Civis concept and report on it periodically.

Meanwhile, back in Eugene, Oregon,you¹re ready to call it a day. The stock market has closed and your stocks have done reasonably well considering. You plug your earphone into your PDA, select your favorite MPEG music files and wait for the BRT due to arrive in a couple minutes.

As strains of Andrea Bocelli lift your spirts, you wonder why you ever owned a car.

Times Article Viewed: 16198
Published: 31-Mar-2001

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