"As a bus comes into a station, for example, and is coming into a block that uses a single bidirectional lane, we have a signal system much like that used in rail that lets the driver know they have to wait for the other bus to get through," Vobora says. "Again, that's not an ideal for the system because it does cause delays, but it was what we could get approved through the original project and it works fine."
Real-time information on the platforms will be installed this summer. "It was partially waiting to find the right technology and technology changes so rapidly, and finding the right signs we wanted on the platform and with the gateway project enough time had gone by and we were finally to the point where we liked what we were seeing," Vobora explains.
EmX is part of a pilot ramp project through PATH in Oakland, Calif. For a vehicle guidance system. Sensors have been outfitted on one of the EmX vehicles and magnets are being mounted into the busway, creating a system where the vehicle is essentially driven by itself, with the driver only controlling braking and accelerating, Vobora says. While a number of tests have been done on the system, this marks the first test in a live revenue service.
"The reason we like it is in the long run it will allow you to narrow the guideway width, which saves on construction costs if this stuff works well. You have to leave a little bit of extra room on the guideways to allow for human skills, whereas if we had a guideway system that tracked perfectly you could narrow that down a little bit," Vobora says.
"One of the big issues in our town is you can't cut down trees that are 50 years old. So we've had to do these kind of meandering routes or lanes that avoided some of these trees; there are some tight movements in and out of the stations. The drivers get pretty good at it, but it still creates a situation where if they are off a little bit they are banging the tires on the platform coming in which causes tire damage or they are just not getting close enough so the gap becomes pretty big. Some drivers can get it down to a few inches others are 12 or 15 inches away and that creates a safety issue. The interest in participating in this project was to have that guidance so the bus comes up as close to the platform and consistently every time so that gap is reduced, much like light rail where it's always the 2 inches or whatever it is."
Vobora anticipates that the bus outfitted for the testing will begin running this calendar year, with approximately six months of testing and data collecting. "Hopefully that will become a model for others around the country."
Lane Transit worked with New Flyer, along with GCRTA, to develop a bus based on its 60-foot articulated design but modified with doors on both sides and a new look. The specially designed New Flyer buses are hybrid electric.
"We looked at a lot of different vehicles and because we wanted to have median stations we had to have a bus with doors on both sides so that was a big part of the initial research and design of our system and we just couldn't find anyone who produced something like that; no one in America did at the time."
Initially, the system operated for free. "The reason we delayed was primarily for a system like ours, the fare machines that a lot of systems buy for rail are really advanced – $50,000, $75,000 or $100,000 machines – and for our application with the limited fare choices we had, we didn't want to make that kind of investment and it really didn't fit on our station platforms very well."
EmX found a unique solution to its fare collection. Working with a French company that builds machines that vend parking tickets, it designed a machine that fit EmX's size and function needs. "They reprogrammed it and changed the face a little bit. It's not ideal, it's a little clunky and there are some revisions we'd like to see in the programming, but for $7,000 or $8,000 a machine, it really fit our budget better and in terms of size fit our platforms better. They've worked out quite well for us," Vobora says.