Does the future of travel lie in London’s ticket barriers or Berlin’s passenger trust?

Ticket barriers at London's Cannon Street tube station. Photo: Getty

In Berlin, tourists from London, Paris, Madrid, or even Moscow may be surprised to find that upon leaving Schönefeld Airport, there are no ticket barriers greeting them at the nearby S-Bahn stop. Instead, all passengers are kindly reminded that before boarding their train, they should “validate” their travel with a stamp from one of the nearby machines. Anybody who forgets to do so is met with the less friendly reminder that the penalty fare for such an act is 60 euros. And I should know, because I’ve paid that very price. So why employ such a system?

Although disconcerting at first, relying on ticket validation does make rather a lot of sense. Passengers can purchase as many tickets as they want, whenever they want, and simply stamp one every time they take a ride on the public transport network – be this by bus, tram, U-Bahn or S-Bahn. Day tickets are stamped when travellers take their first journey of the day, and are valid thereafter. This system, with its lack of physical barrier between the passenger and the train, is a vestige of a time before ticket barriers, when inspectors were the only way of ensuring passengers had paid for their travel.

Passengers in Berlin can still be prosecuted for travelling while in the possession of a ticket that they haven’t yet validated, because there’s no way of telling how long they’ve been doing so. Effectively, riding with an invalidated ticket is no different to going completely ticket-less; tickets are only “spent” after being validated, and could otherwise be used over and over again. A system of validation doesn’t necessitate thousands of inspectors, but does require a greater element of trust. In Berlin, even if fare evasion isn’t a problem, it’s always a worry.

Fare dodgers cost Berlin €20 million in 2015 alone, with 18.3 per cent of Berliners “sometimes” riding without a ticket, according to one survey –  although a more reasonable estimate puts the figure at somewhere between three and five per cent. If correct, this would mean the German capital’s rate of fare evasion is on a par with that of the London Underground – surprising, given the British system makes doing so much harder, and threatens to charge up to 16 times as much.

Because, while it’s claimed that physical barriers reduce fare evasion – and as such are being employed by more and more public transport authorities – the jury’s still out on their effectiveness. For starters, if passengers feel as though they’re receiving a good service, they’ll often be more than willing to pay for it – regardless of whether or not they’re forced into doing so. Moreover, removing ticket barriers – which are often predatory, imposing structures – fosters a better relationship between the city and the people, with the opposite being true when security is hardened to keep fare dodgers out.


What’s more, ticketing systems that don’t employ barriers enjoy several distinct benefits, including that it's just all-round easier to design stations without having to think about where to put them. Consider King’s Cross at rush hour; you might not realise it, but there are several different (and potentially time consuming) routes in and out of the station, with the aim of directing passengers in certain routes to prevent dangerous crushes at the gates. In Berlin, this is hardly a worry – you just get off the train and leave the station. The threat of a crush never really comes up, because there’s no comparable choke point.

This relative design simplicity means that stations without ticket barriers are less cluttered, and as such reaching sub-surface lines requires only walking down some stairs to a platform where all the necessary amenities are integrated. This removes the need for a large building at surface level, which can make construction more costly, especially when land costs are at a premium.

It remains that paper ticket validation is less convenient in the long term than the likes of the Oyster Card, but Germany has travelcards too, and they’re easily merged with the validation system. However, the necessity of ticket inspectors still means higher costs are incurred, and their implementation on busy public transport systems can often be cumbersome. For example, in Berlin there’s more room for ticket inspectors in the less busy outer zones – leading to a peculiar form of fare evasion discrimination.

Perhaps then, the best case scenario lies somewhere in the middle, for which we only need look to the humble London bus. In a time before Boris, the driver would have to print a ticket for every rider. When hop-on hop-off Routemasters were reinstated, they added a conductor for fare protection and health and safety. When this proved uneconomical, the hop-on feature was removed – but in its wake all London Buses became ticket-free in 2014, with contact with the driver often reduced to the dulcet tones of the Oyster card reader. All possible barriers between the passenger and the journey were removed, in favour of a single touch.

Of course, that a bus driver in London is able to see the entire vehicle from their seat makes policing passengers much easier. Security on public transport is only being ramped up, but if it means less barriers between paying and getting moving, that’s almost certainly a good thing. For commuters in Tallinn, Estonia, public transport is free of charge – on the condition that their travel card is irrevocably tied to their social security number. If that doesn’t tell us where we’re headed, nothing will: one day, we won’t need barriers or inspectors for our tickets. All we’ll need is ourselves.

 
 
 
 

Self-driving cars may be safe – but they could still prevent walkable, liveable communities

A self-driving car, driving itself. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

Almost exactly a decade ago, I was cycling in a bike lane when a car hit me from behind. Luckily, I suffered only a couple bruised ribs and some road rash. But ever since, I have felt my pulse rise when I hear a car coming up behind my bike.

As self-driving cars roll out, they’re already being billed as making me – and millions of American cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle passengers – safer.

As a driver and a cyclist, I initially welcomed the idea of self-driving cars that could detect nearby people and be programmed not to hit them, making the streets safer for everyone. Autonomous vehicles also seemed to provide attractive ways to use roads more efficiently and reduce the need for parking in our communities. People are certainly talking about how self-driving cars could help build more sustainable, livable, walkable and bikable communities.

But as an urban planner and transportation scholar who, like most people in my field, has paid close attention to the discussion around driverless cars, I have come to understand that autonomous vehicles will not complement modern urban planning goals of building people-centered communities. In fact, I think they’re mutually exclusive: we can have a world of safe, efficient, driverless cars, or we can have a world where people can walk, bike and take transit in high-quality, human-scaled communities.

Changing humans’ behavior

These days, with human-driven cars all over the place, I choose my riding routes and behavior carefully: I much prefer to ride on low-speed traffic, low-traffic roads, buffered bike lanes or off-street bike paths whenever possible, even if it means going substantially out of my way. That’s because I’m scared of what a human driver – through error, ignorance, inattention or even malice – might do to me on tougher roads.

But in a hypothetical future in which all cars are autonomous, maybe I’ll make different choices? So long as I’m confident self-driving cars will at least try to avoid killing me on my bike, I’ll take the most direct route to my destination, on roads that I consider much too dangerous to ride on today. I won’t need to worry about drivers because the technology will protect me.

Driverless cars will level the playing field: I’ll finally be able to ride where I am comfortable in a lane, rather than in the gutter – and pedal at a comfortable speed for myself rather than racing to keep up with, or get out of the way of, other riders or vehicles. I can even see riding with my kids on roads, instead of driving somewhere safe to ride like a park. (Of course, this is all still assuming driverless cars will eventually figure out how to avoid killing cyclists.)

To bikers and people interested in vibrant communities, this sounds great. I’m sure I won’t be the only cyclist who makes these choices. But that actually becomes a problem.

The tragedy of the commons

In the midsize midwestern college town I call home, estimates suggest about 4,000 people commute by bike. That might not sound like many, but consider the traffic backups that would result if even just a few hundred cyclists went out at rush hour and rode at leisurely speeds on the half-dozen arterial roads in my city.

Technology optimists might suggest that driverless cars will be able to pass cyclists more safely and efficiently. They might also be directed to use other roads that are less clogged, though that carries its own risks.

But what happens if it’s a lovely spring afternoon and all those 4,000 bike commuters are riding, in addition to a few thousand kids and teenagers running, riding or skating down my local roads? Some might even try to disrupt the flow of traffic by walking back and forth in the road or even just standing and texting, confident the cars will not hit them. It’s easy to see how good driverless cars will enable people to enjoy those previously terrifying streets, but it also demonstrates that safety for people and efficiency for cars can’t happen at the same time.


People versus cars

It’s not hard to imagine a situation where driverless cars can’t get anywhere efficiently – except late at night or early in the morning. That’s the sort of problem policy scholars enjoy working on, trying to engineer ways for people and technology to get along better.


One proposed solution would put cars and bicycles on different areas of the streets, or transform certain streets into “autonomous only” thoroughfares. But I question the logic of undertaking massive road-building projects when many cities today struggle to afford basic maintenance of their existing streets.

An alternative could be to simply make new rules governing how people should behave around autonomous vehicles. Similar rules exist already: Bikes aren’t allowed on most freeways, and jaywalking is illegal across most of the U.S.

Regulating people instead of cars would be cheaper than designing and building new streets. It would also help work around some of the technical problems of teaching driverless cars to avoid every possible danger – or even just learning to recognize bicycles in the first place.

However, telling people what they can and can’t do in the streets raises a key problem. In vibrant communities, roads are public property, which everyone can use for transportation, of course – but also for commerce, civil discourse and even civil disobedience. Most of the U.S., however, appears to have implicitly decided that streets are primarily for moving cars quickly from one place to another.

There might be an argument for driverless cars in rural areas, or for intercity travel, but in cities, if driverless cars merely replace human-driven vehicles, then communities won’t change much, or they may become even more car-dependent. If people choose to prioritise road safety over all other factors, that will shift how people use roads, sidewalks and other public ways. But then autonomous vehicles will never be particularly efficient or convenient.

The Conversation

Daniel Piatkowski, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.