North America

Game of Thrones’ Lessons For Cycling Advocates

I know, I know, but I’ve decided to do this anyway. Here are the lessons:

1. Winter is Coming 

In the North, cycling advocates may need to make a choice between separated bike lanes and seasonal bike lanes. While separated bike lanes are preferable, seasonal ones may be more politically viable. A seasonal compromise between cars and bikes could consist of cyclists getting a bike lane for three quarters of the year, and then that bike lane becoming a car-parking lane in winter. This would allow older drivers to park near their destinations, in order to lessen their risk of  slipping on ice when walking to or from their cars.

2. Beware of Dragons 

Another choice cycling advocates may sometimes face is between bike lanes on streets versus bike infrastructure at intersections (lanes, or boxes, or signals). While bike lanes on entire streets are obviously preferable, it might be more politically viable to focus on intersections first. It is in the lineup to red lights, after all, where in cyclists’ minds cars can resemble sleeping dragons: an unfurled mass of danger, with a curvy, slithering shape, their scales pushing up tightly against the curb in some places, threatening to crush you when they finally wake from their slumber when the light turns green. 

3. Your Allies May Kill You… 

While cars are often the fundamental cause of bike accidents, it is other cyclists themselves, the ones who think they are Lance Armstrong, who are often the proximate cause. As a normal cyclist, you may sometimes spend so much attention trying to safely navigate car traffic, that you will let your guard down and forget to be prepared for a much faster fellow cyclist trying impatiently to overtake you. Or, in GOT terms, coming to stab you in the back.

This is a problem, particularly if we want the Baby Boomers to be able to continue cycling into their seventies and beyond — and especially as faster e-bicycles proliferate. Ideally, we would have bike lanes wide enough for faster cyclists to safely overtake slower ones, or else have slower car speeds in order to allow fast cyclists to safely use car lanes to overtake slow cyclists.  But advocating for wide bike lanes or slower car speeds is obviously no easy feat. Which brings us, finally, to:

4. …But You Still Need Allies 

With car-sharing, many people may soon have the option of using electric micro-cars — ultra-lightweight, relatively slow ‘cars’ that are far more environmentally and economically sustainable than conventional vehicles — that they would not want to buy but would be happy to use. This, of course, would be just one part of the technological phenomenon that is also bringing cities devices like e-scooters, e-bikes, modern e-wheelchairs, and perhaps many other mobility options as well.

As usual, while it might be preferable for cyclists to have a lane for themselves that is separate from all these other vehicles, it might be much more politically viable to advocate for a single wide lane in which cyclists, micro-cars, e-bikes, electric-assist pedal cars, and any other such device would all be able to use. This might also be more environmentally beneficial, as many drivers will probably be more willing to start using a comfy micro-car themselves, rather than start using a bicycle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chutes and Ladders: A high-tech and low-tech idea for subway stations

 

Chutes

Companies like ThyssenKrupp have lately been developing maglev elevators: elevators powered by magnetic levitation rather than hoisted by cables. The possibility that maglev elevators might become widely used has created excitement because, unlike conventional elevators, maglev elevators could be used efficiently even in extremely tall buildings. Even more exciting, can move horizontally in addition to vertically, like a Wonkavator.

One of the most significant potential uses of maglev elevators, however, has been overlooked: their potential to clear subway platforms far more efficiently than normal elevators, and in some cases maybe even more efficiently than escalators or staircases.

Normal elevators, of course, are terrible at getting people out of crowded subway stations quickly. They tend to cause lineups (or scrums) to form outside their doors. This is because only one elevator can operate within an elevator shaft at any one time.

Maglev elevators however could act more like vertical escalators. They can allow multiple elevators to run within the same elevator shaft, which means that so long as you have at least two elevator shafts side by side, one with elevators going upwards and the other with elevators going downwards, multiple elevators can circulate so as to reduce lineups. As soon as one elevator has started to move upwards, another can immediately arrive and open its doors to let in new passengers.

This does not necessarily mean that it will be any faster to use the elevator – though it could become much faster, in cases where the elevator shaft spreads out horizontally at surface level in order to allow multiple elevators to let people off and on at the same time. But what it does mean is that people would be able to get off of their subway platform and onto an elevator more quickly. This, in turn, could mean more comfort and safety within crowded subway stations, and the ability to have trains pulling into stations at shorter intervals.

These elevators could also be very useful for disabled subway passengers, not only by reducing platform and elevator crowding but also because the ability for elevators move horizontally as well as vertically might, in some subway stations, mean that passengers would no longer need to transfer from one elevator to another in order to travel between street level and the subway platform.

One type of station where maglev elevators might be particularly useful could be for trains or bus lines that run in the median of a highway. Maglev elevators could help people access these stations by moving up, across, and then back down (or, if the elevator ran in a tunnel under the highway, down, across, and back up) in order to get people from the side of the highway to the station.

Eventually, perhaps, maglev elevators could also help allow subway lines to be built deeper underground, and at odd angles to the streets above them. This might, in some cases, allow subway lines to be built as diagonal shortcut routes below their cities’ grid-patterned streets, deep enough to avoid the basements of the buildings above them.

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Ladders

Of course, the use of maglev elevators remains annoyingly speculative at this point. In certain situations, there may be lower-tech ways to achieve similar goals:

  1. Retractable staircases

Downtown subway stations tend to have passengers getting off trains in the morning and back on trains in the evening. As a result, they have a much greater need to clear their platforms quickly in the morning than they do in the evening, and a much greater need to provide spacious platforms in the evening than they do in the morning. Having some of their staircases be retractable (verybasic examples can be seen hereor here), so as to provide a greater number of staircases to help clear platforms in the morning, but fewer staircases taking up precious platforms space in the evening, could perhaps be a decent idea

2. Space beneath staircases or escalators

Another idea to address the trade-off between the number of staircases (or escalators) and the amount of platform space available could be to better utilize space beneath staircases or escalators. Here’s an example of space being used below an airport escalator, for example:

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3. Actual Ladders

The worst, but also most fun, solution of all could be to have a bunch of short, sheltered ladders to allow people to climb up and out of a station at the same time.

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In theory, ladders are the most space-efficient way to move upwards. In theory, you could have hundreds of ladders fit in a single subway station, allowing a platform to be cleared immediately. Theory is great.

 

 

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All Transit Articles

Some of these ideas are much sillier than others. I’ll leave you to decide:

Transit Oases
The Bus Train Bike Lane: A Bus-Bike Lane for the Smartphone Era
Car-Sharing Vehicles Doubling as Sheltered Bus Stops
Game of Thrones’ Lessons for Cycling Advocates
The Three Card Monty 
Next Man Up: The Passenger-Driven Bus 
Bus-Bike Lanes: Can I Interest You in a Time-Share? 
Trolley-Trucks and Autonomous Cargo Handling 
Like Night and Day (E-Commerce Transit)
An Electric Car/Bike Lane Plan, for Cities like Toronto 
Toronto’s Railways to Nowhere (Semi-Autonomous Cars)  
The Witching Hour 
RoRoRo Your Car 
Superhighway in a Box 
Numerology and Public Transit 
The Private Sector
The Intersection of Yonge and Danforth
Devil’s Advocate: Elon Musk 
Travel by Hibernacula 
Night Moves 
Chutes and Ladders 

Coming Soon (Hopefully):
The Roombus
Facelift
Tortoise v. Hare, 2K19
The Wine Cellar
The Lucky Bus
Unferries
The Parkway
Double-Decker Buses for Short People
Gaga For Gondolas
Customs-Built Transit

 

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How Amazon Should Adapt The Lord of the Rings

The Internet has come a long way since the fellowship of its earlier years, but some things do not change: Why have a blog and not use it to give unsolicited opinions about how to adapt The Lord of the Rings?

At 250 million dollars for Amazon to buy the rights, plus an 100 million dollar budget per season (the same as Game of Thrones) for five planned seasons, of books that are not at all easy to adapt, which already have a fan-beloved movie trilogy, with a dubious plan to use invented prequel material that expands on the appendicidal adventures and man-elf love interest of a young Aragorn, and a stunning example of how this sort of thing can go wrong, namely the recent Hobbit movie trilogy, this could end up being the biggest bomb, or at least the lowest quality per dollar spent, in the history of television.

Luckily, there could be a way to pull it off. Here are the three simple suggestions to follow:

  1. Do not make up filler material, whether or not it is derived from the books’ Appendix. The stories in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings can provide at least four, if not five, seasons of content  
  2. Start with the Hobbit (3-4 hours long). Unlike the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit is an incredibly easy and fun story to adapt to the screen, and has never had an adaptation that was good or that was even remotely similar to the book
  3. Animate the Hobbit using Tolkien’s own artwork (see below) for inspiration. Then, when you come to The Lord of the Rings, partially and gradually transition to a more realist, though still psychedelic or grandiose, style of animation. Viewers may be more indulgent of the lore-filled plot and dialogue this way. And it will help to distinguish this adaptation from the live-action movie trilogies 

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To get a sense of how difficult, but also how great (at least, for fans of Tolkien) a detailed adaptation of the Lord of the Rings could be, I strongly suggest listening to the audio-drama version made by the incredibly talented Phil Dragash. He single-handedly narrated the entire books, voiced all of the characters by mimicking the actors from the movies, and skillfully added in the music from the movies throughout,  as well as other sound effects. It’s 48 hours long.

[There has, by the way, been a short Russian film made of one of Tolkien’s children books, Mr. Bliss, animated using Tolkien’s own illustrations. Here’s the trailer for it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itzcNwJ-y3M]

 

 

 

 

 

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All Sports Articles

2019 Playoffs: 
The Holy Month of Sports Begins

Basketball: 
Should Openers be used in the NBA Playoffs? 
Professional Time Wasters
Offense-Defense for 48 Minutes
Cornerstone Players

Hockey: 
The Spiral of Death
Goalies and Garbage Time 
Robots and NHL Expansion 
Back to the Lake
The Londons’ Knights

Other:
Everyone for Tennis? 
Keynesian Sports Fans 
North Korea and the Olympics Curse
The Eternal Question
Gunslinger
Wall Ball 

 

 

 

 

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Transit Oases

One of the most fitting aspects of the phrase “transit deserts” – areas drastically underserved by public transit – is the mirage-like effect you get when, straining your eyes toward the suburban horizon, you trick yourself into thinking that the headlights of an approaching car is actually the bus you desperately want to arrive.

Today, however, as transit apps get more accurate, the era of transit mirages may be nearing an end. You can now simply look at your phone, or in some cases at a television screen at your bus stop, to see when the next bus will arrive.

In many cases, transit apps might also put an end to another desert-like quality of public transit: waiting in uncomfortably cold or hot temperatures. Equipped with accurate information about when the next bus is likely to approach, passengers might have the option of waiting for their bus indoors a short walk away from their bus stop.

This might have significant implications for the public or private sector. The public sector could, perhaps, create transit oases: indoor waiting areas that passengers could enter by using their transit passes to pre-pay their bus fare, or outdoor parkette spaces where people could wait with shade, nice surroundings, picnic tables, etc.* Or the private sector could provide a similar service, maybe combining transit waiting areas with laundromats, convenience stores, cafes, etc.

*[Alternatively, they could have car-sharing cars parked near bus stops, which would double as sheltered bus-waiting areas. That way the cars could also be available for use as “first-mile/last-mile” vehicles, in areas where walking to and from bus stops can be difficult]

Because some transit apps have even begun providing information about how crowded each approaching bus is, having a more comfortable waiting area of this sort could also give passengers the option of waiting a bit longer than they need to, in order to wait for a less crowded bus to arrive. This could be very useful: public buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses further behind it. With transit apps, people could simply wait to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

Similarly, transit apps can give passengers real-time information about express buses, which could help allow passengers to let a normal bus go by in order to wait for an express bus approaching after it.

Another common challenge in transit deserts, where waiting times are often long and uncertain, and where bus journeys are often long as well, and often require multiple transfers, and often involve seniors or babies, is the lack of bathrooms at bus stops, and the lack of accessible public bathrooms in general. Transit oases could be a godsend, then, for those who cannot hold their water like a camel.

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Should “Openers” Be Used in the NBA Playoffs?  

Last year the bold (and desperate) Tampa Bay Rays shook up the MLB by playing an “opener”: a relief-style pitcher who plays the first inning of the game.

A somewhat similar, even bolder experiment should perhaps be tried in the NBA playoffs.

Instead of teams saving their best players’ heavy-minute performances for games late in a series – Lebron James, for example, played all 48 minutes in Game 7 of the semi-finals last year; it was the 339th time since 1984 that a player had played an entire game — why not instead have them play big minutes early in the series?

It is true, teams employing this strategy would risk their star players running out of gas late in the series (not unlike how the Tampa Bay Rays risk blowing leads late in games because they have already used up one of their best relievers in the first inning).  Yet they would also increase the odds of getting to play in a long series in the first place. Even better, they would increase the odds of their team winning a series quickly, which would actually allow their stars to play far fewer minutes overall than they otherwise would.

An extreme illustration of this: 45 minutes per game in a 4-game sweep = 180 minutes total; 40 minutes per game in 7 games: 280 minutes total (plus two or three more airplanes). As is often the case in life, if you work hard early on you might save yourself work overall.

It’s a simple set of questions: Is it better to concentrate, rather than spread out, your best players’ minutes on the court during a series? The obvious risk to concentrating minutes is that tired players could become less effective or more prone to injury. Nevertheless if it is better to concentrate them, why not do so as early as possible, rather than wait until late in the series to do so?

 

 

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Professional Time Wasters

Usually, the goal of a basketball game is to outscore your opponent. There are certain cases, however, where a second goal is also at play: buying time for your best players to get a much-needed rest on the bench during a playoff game.

Star players tend to play many more minutes per game during the playoffs than they do in the regular season. The games are more important, there are no games played on back-to-back nights, and there are fewer flights between games. In this year’s playoffs, the leaders in minutes per game, Paul George, Damian Lillard, and Nikola Jokic, have been playing 40 minutes per game. (Lillard and Jokic played 58 and 56 minutes in a quadruple overtime game). Lebron James’ career playoff minutes per game is 42. In Lebron’s 21 career playoff elimination games, he averages 45 minutes per game.

It would be ideal if, during those few minutes of game-time when these superstars are resting, their backup players would enter the game and consistently outscore their opponents. But that is not the only way a bench lineup might be effective. They could, perhaps, also be effective by simply slowing down the pace of the game, shooting late in the shot clock, grabbing offensive rebounds to reset the shot clock, or drawing fouls that stop the clock altogether.

Consider two hypothetical bench lineups. One is an above-average bench lineup which usually outscores its opponent, but occasionally gets outscored by its opponents by a lot. The other is a merely average bench lineup which outscores its opponent only fifty percent of the time, but, because it excels at slowing down the game, almost never gets outscored by its opponent by a lot.

On teams which have dominant starting lineups and superstars, the merely average lineup might actually be preferable to the above-average lineup, as it would almost never cough up a big lead created by its dominant starters. There is, moreover, the issue of $$: above-average players are in high demand, so they tend to cost a lot of money. Merely average players who excel only at slowing down the game are not in demand, and so might be purchased on the cheap.

Of course, this is not to say that teams should want their bench lineups to be merely average. But it does mean some teams might benefit from targeting certain skills and strategies for their benches: scoring late in the shot clock, offensive rebounding, drawing fouls, defending in such a way as to make opponents shoot later in the shot clock, etc.

This idea raises some interesting thought-experiment questions. For example:

-how much could you slow the pace of the game without sacrificing too much effectiveness? (The average possession length in the NBA this season ranged from OKC’s 12.9 seconds per possession to Cleveland’s 15.5 seconds per possession. In the playoffs, it has ranged from OKC’s 12.7 seconds to Denver’s 15.5).

-How high could you theoretically get your offensive rebounding percentage? (Denver had the highest offensive rebounding percentage this season, 30.8%. The highest in the playoffs has been Philadelphia, 31.2%).

-How much could you increase your offensive rebounding percentage without giving up too many transition opportunities? (The Clippers and Nuggets tried to grab offensive rebounds on an estimated 70% of their shots in these playoffs; the Raptors only on 46% of shots).

-When and how often is it worthwhile to foul in transition to stop the clock? How often would fighting for offensive rebounds lead to a stopped-clock situation as a result of fouling, being fouled, a jump ball, or an out-of-bounds? (Out-of-bounds stoppages on contested rebounds might be ideal, as they are most likely to lead the refs to waste a lot of time looking at the replay to see which team touched the ball last in a crowd under the net).

Obviously, many of the skills that would allow a lineup to excel at slowing the pace of play would overlap with those that make basketball lineups good in general. But the overlap is far from a perfect one. By focusing not just on creating the best possible bench lineup, but also on creating the bench lineup most capable of wasting time, you might be able to free up roster spending in order to land the big fish superstars you need. All your bench has to do then is waste a handful or two of minutes, to let those superstars catch their breath.

 

 

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The Private Sector

How’s the bathroom business doing, Jim? Well, the profitability ratio stinks, but there’s a lot of liquidity.

Nothing is more common as having to go to the bathroom, yet there are few examples of for-profit bathrooms in our otherwise profit-oriented cities. Even though bathroom access is often bartered indirectly – “customers only” comes to mind – such access is almost never charged for outright.

Outside of sports arenas and shopping malls, bathrooms also tend to be quite small. This is understandable, given the high cost of commercial real estate. Nevertheless it runs somewhat counter to the natural economy of scale that is bathroom installation. Once you have already ripped up the floor and sorted out the plumbing, the cost of each additional toilet or sink may be comparatively low.

There are, perhaps, reasons to think that for-profit bathrooms will become more common soon:

  1. Micropayments

    Transaction costs are the scourge of any high-liquidity, low-margin market, and the bathroom business is no exception. If you are planning to charge a dollar (say) per person, then obviously you are not going to turn a profit if you have to hire somebody to man the till or pay a transaction fee to a payment systems company. Only with an automated, extremely low-cost payment system might for-profit bathrooms actually work.

  2. Bathroom Apps

    By telling you where nearby bathrooms are, apps could allow bathrooms to be findable even if they are in relatively out-of-the-way locations where real estate is not so pricey: in basements, second floors, side streets, etc. Apps could also let people reserve the use of a bathroom immediately ahead of time, or at least check to see if there is a bathroom available.

  3. Transit Tech

    As transit systems introduce features like, for example, two-hour transfer passes, their passengers will be able to get off a bus or train to use bathroom without being charged a double fare. Transit apps can also help in this regard: passengers can now check to see when the next bus is coming, and so can estimate whether or not they will have time to use the bathroom without missing it. This will also allow passengers to wait indoors for the bus when the weather is bad; and in some cases, perhaps, do so near a for-profit bathroom.

  4. Robots

    It might also be possible to automate much, or at least part of, the process of cleaning a bathroom, which could go a long way towards making a public bathroom profitable. Expensive bathroom cleaning robots might also make public bathrooms more of an economy of scale; the toilet-to-robot ratio would increase the more toilets a bathroom has.

  5. Babies, Boomers, Bloggers

    [Okay, I may be tipping my hand here by including bloggers in this group]. Demographics and technology really are changing where many people do (their) business. The Baby Boomers are getting older. Many of them are approaching partial or full retirement and seeking to work or relax more in public spaces close to their homes, rather than continue making long commutes five days a week. Mothers too (and sometimes fathers), with fewer children and better computers and careers than ever before, are spending more time in public spaces with their babies. They need places where they can breastfeed and change diapers, and bathrooms large enough to fit in strollers.

Of course, a profitable bathroom does not need to be a for-profit bathroom. It could instead be that bathrooms will become more common, cleaner, or less costly for the public sector to provide.

 

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The Car-Sharing Sheltered Bus Stop and Seasonal Bike Lane

In recent years there have been two excellent new technologies, car apps and transit apps, which have nevertheless been unable to successfully solve traffic problems. Transit apps, which tell you when buses or trains are coming and, in some cases, tell you how crowded each bus is*, are useful but are still no antidote to challenges such as getting to and from bus stops or waiting for buses in bad weather. Car apps, which can summon lifts or carpools or make it easy to rent a car, tend to do little or nothing to alleviate traffic jams, and can also be relatively costly or inconvenient, especially in bad weather when there are no vehicles nearby, or when demand for lifts outstrips supply.

*This is very useful because buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses behind them. With this information, people can simply wait a tiny bit longer to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

What might be needed, therefore, is a way to use these new technologies to get to and from transit, especially in bad weather, and make it easier to wait for buses in bad weather, and do so without adding to traffic jams that block more efficient modes of transportation such as buses or streetcars or (in good weather) bikes.

Here, then, is a possible solution: have car-sharing cars double as sheltered bus stops in bad weather.

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Such a system could have a number of advantages:

  1. In suburban areas where people do not live near bus stops and where streets are not designed well for pedestrians, the car-sharing cars could be used to help people get to and from bus stops.
  2. In the event of an unexpected delay in the bus or streetcar system (e.g. a subway line is temporarily shut down or a streetcar line is temporarily obstructed, leading buses to become overcrowded) or if there is a sudden change in the weather (e.g. a sudden rainstorm), or if you have a personal emergency (e.g. you really have to go to the bathroom and your bus is late) you could have the option of simply paying to drive a car-sharing car to your destination
  3. the car-sharing car would not necessarily need to be a conventional car, but could instead be a tiny one-seater car, or an electric-assist pedal-car, or even an enclosed bicycle or tricycle. This would work very well on streets where there is a bike lane or a street-parking lane. Indeed, this would be ideal for a street in which a bike lane becomes a parking lane during winter. People in the winter want street parking so that they don’t have to worry about slipping on ice, and want sheltered bus stops where they can stay warm while they wait (often for a long time, since bus delays are more common in winter). When the weather is nice, on the other hand, people do not need street parking or sheltered bus stops, so the parking lane could instead become a bike lane. This bike lane could then be used not just by regular bicycles, but also by the car-share enclosed bicycles and tricycles and pedal-cars and one-seaters.
  4. The cars would not contribute too much to traffic jams or air pollution, as the cars would be used mainly to get to and from buses, and as most of the cars could be very small, lightweight, and possibly electric or pedal-powered or both.
  5. If they are electric, the car-sharing bus stop parking spots could perhaps double as charging stations. A car-sharing sheltered bus stop charging station might be an ideal charging station from both an economic and environmental point of view, because slow-charging batteries is better than fast-charging and as lightweight vehicles are far better than conventional electric cars
  6. The cars could perhaps also be vehicles that would facilitate carpooling. You could, for instance, have a car-sharing van or minibus that would serve as a sheltered bus  stop but could also be driven itself (if the bus or streetcar was running late, etc. etc.), if the passengers were willing to split the cost of driving it and if one of the passengers is willing and registered to drive it and then drop it off at another bus stop

It is not just car-sharing technologies that could make this idea viable, but also transit apps.

By having the cars equipped with these apps, people will able to use them as sheltered bus stops without needing to have a clear view of the horizon to see if a bus is approaching. Even though these cars would ideally be located immediately next to bus stops, the ability to know in advance when a bus is coming means that if necessary they could be located a bit further away from the bus stops, on an adjacent side street, without the risk of people missing their bus.

That might not even be needed though, since the car-sharing bus stops might not need to take up much more space than the current public bicycle-sharing systems often do, particularly if one-seaters or pedal-cars are used. (In Toronto, there are already 360 public bicycle-sharing stations, even though few people use them in the winter or during heat waves). People would then be able to use their transit passes to unlock the car’s door by prepaying their bus fare, so that the cars would not be misused too much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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