In most industries, the term "consultant" means a person who gets paid a lot of money to come in and answer questions. Now the debate on whether or not this person is as useful as their salary would make them out to be will rage until the end of time.
In the transit industry there may be consultants of that nature, but the consulting firms that most agencies deal with are the ones who help bring into fruition the capital projects that allow agencies to grow and serve the constantly increasing number of riders. They do much more than that, but for the basis of this article, we are going to focus on their efforts in transit planning, analysis, engineering and construction.
We've consulted with several leading consulting fi rms and asked them a series of questions. What we've touched is the tip of a very large iceberg, but it should give some insight into a few of the matters they deal with on a daily basis.
We asked, "How has the current world climate (increased fuel costs and security concerns) affected transit planning?"
"Transit planning is affected in several ways by the current world economic climate," says Susie Younie, David Evans and Associates' transit marketing manager. "First, as fuel prices rise, individuals who are dependent on automobiles for their primary transport may begin to look for alternatives including public transportation.
"Second, communities which are largely auto dependent begin to look at investments in public transportation to soften the effects of higher fuel prices on their commuting workers and others. Third, transportation professionals must review their cost estimates for current and future projects to validate the assumptions they made for material prices and cost escalation."
The answer as far as reviewing cost estimates seems to be, "think green." "As the environmental impact becomes more apparent, 'green' or 'sustainable' practices of creating healthier and more resource-effi cient models of construction, renovation and operation are fast becoming the preferred alternative," says Dan Kahn, systems engineering manager from Washington Group International.
"By nature, transit is a green industry," says Stephen Polechronis, DMJM Harris senior vice president, "but there has been a signifi cant uptick in demand for enhanced green design for transit and that has certainly affected planning."
"While public transit can be an efficient conveyor of people, there is always room for improvement," admits Kenneth Linn, STV's chief of transportation planning. "Increasingly, transit systems are seeking to utilize more energy-efficient methods of delivering transportation - from using diesel hybrid buses to adopting 'green' architectural and LEED concepts in new buildings and facilities to cut energy use. Employing these measures also has salubrious side benefits such as reduced emissions and positive community relations value.
"The increase and acceptance of transit- oriented development (TOD) clusters around transit nodes is a realization that transportation planning and land use go part and parcel - indeed this link has always existed but has eroded during decades of auto-centric land-use planning. Today, many areas are encouraging a return of TOD land uses, and the growing acceptance by developers and builders to build, and banks to participate in TOD financing, in such an environment has meant that institutional hurdles are falling."
"Increasing fuel costs also affect planning and project development decisions from the transit operator's point of view," says Stephen Beard, HDR's director of transit planning. "For example, if fuel prices stay high it might make sense to spend more capital dollars on an electrically powered light rail system rather than commit to more diesel-fueled buses. The decision point for the long term economic viability of capital projects moves in relation to estimated fuel prices. Planning must give more consideration to risk factors on future fuel costs."