Oddities

03
Aug

2011

Transit Innovativeness: Bamboo Railway

The Bamboo Railway or “Norry” in Battambang, Cambodia is truly a testament to human ingenuity and creativity. In this part of the world, where resources are scarce and government run train service is untimely and unreliable, this informal form of transit is an inexpensive and convenient mobility option for many.

For this simple (yet highly effective) design, here’s what you’ll need to start your own operation:

  • a set of old unmaintained and underutilized colonial railway tracks in Cambodia
  • a bamboo flatbed
  • self welded steel wheels
  • a small go-kart/water-pump engine
  • a simple wooden foot brake

That’s it!

Probably the most unusual and imaginative form of transport that I've ever come across. Image by Flickr User Paul Carson / Embikei Images

For the past decades, residents have used this service day in and day out with vehicle speeds reaching up to 50km/h (almost 4x the speed of Toronto’s streetcar!). However, like most things, it appears that this antiquated but highly reliable and efficient system is coming to an end. Old tracks are to be replaced in the upcoming years as part of an overall revitalization project. Hopefully, some remnants of the bamboo railway will remain – it’d be a shame to lose something so unique and special.

If you want to see more, check out this Youtube video.



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21
Jun

2011

Swiss Teen Builds Scooter-Car, Promptly Has Scooter-Car Confiscated By Police

Swiss engineering at its finest.

'Respect' is too poor a word to describe what this kid deserves. 'Reverence' is probably more apt.

Last Friday night a 17 year old teen was stopped by the police in the Swiss town of Jonschwil when they noticed the local Töffli-Bub (Swiss German slang for “scooter boy”) driving around town in a homemade “scooter-car.”

It seems the inventive young man had created his Töffli-Auto by welding the rear end of an old Renault Clio to the front end of a moped. According to the youth, the Moped-Car can travel at 25 km/hr and has a fully-functioning brake system that has to be seen to be believed.

And how are the local authorities planning to celebrate this young man’s creativity and ingenuity?

Well for starters, the Töffli-Auto is likely to be destroyed; he’ll probably face a fine of up to 2,000 Swiss Francs; and there’s a good chance he’ll lose his existing Töffli driving license.

Way to keep a kid motivated, Switzerland. Way to go.



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16
Jun

2011

Jeff’s DIY Funicular

Over at Makeprojects Jeff describes how he designed, built and installed an 100-foot long wood and steel pipe funicular for the purposes of “people/firewood/beer moving” at his family cottage.

And despite Jeff’s wood and steel pipe funicular looking about as safe as one can expect a homemade wood and steel pipe funicular to look, it’s apparently safe enough for Jeff to allow his young daughters and wife to ride it, thereby suggesting . . .

  • a) it’s remarkably safe.
  • b) Jeff’s daughters and wife have a death wish.
  • c) Jeff is not a very good husband or father.

Let’s hope it’s the first. Take a look:




Luckily for anyone else who’d like to build one for themselves, he’s included a handy step-by-step how-to:

Home-Built Funicular (Motorized People-Mover System)



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03
Jun

2011

Koblenz Rheinseilbahn: Alternate Reality?

What . . ? I mean, it certainly looks like the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn . . . sort of . . .




 

 



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18
May

2011

Public Transportation’s New Years Mystery

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how the differing usage of the terms public transit, transport and transportation led to very different levels of interest across english-speaking cultures around the world. I had planned to follow-up on that post earlier, but such follow-up admittedly slipped my mind due to the large surge of interest the Calgary gondola concept generated.

As such, I’d like to follow-up today. Take a look at these graphs:

 


The three graphs are from Google Insight and show the relative interest in the search terms “public transportation,” “public transport,” and “public transit” across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Notice anything odd?

For some reason, interest (as defined as volume of web searched via Google) in public transportation, transport, transit, whatever is intensely cyclical. Even more odd is that the cycles are reversed depending on what half of the globe you’re in.

Strangely, in America and Canada, interest is almost always at its lowest during December and January and highest during the summer months of July and August.

At first I assumed it had something to do with the Christmas holidays. After all, transit usage would understandably be at its lowest during the New Years season. But that doesn’t explain the other half of the mystery:

Australian interest in public transport, conversely, is at its highest during December and January and almost always lowest during the months of July and August. The exact opposite of that which is observed in North America.

Since Australia observes the same December/January holidays as North Americans, there is therefore no reason to believe the holidays have any bearing on web-related interest in public transit.

So then the question is this: What’s causing this phenomenon and why is it different in North America than Australia?

My guess is it has to do with two things:

  • The seasons are reversed in North America and Australia. But that doesn’t entirely do it for me as Australian seasons are far more uniform than much of the populated areas of North America.
  • The school years are reversed in North America and Australia.

But that’s as far as I’ve got. Any ideas?

 

 



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16
May

2011

Thought Experiment: Should Roller Coaster Designers Design Public Transit?

Image by flickr user Mike D.

Disclaimer: This post in no way, shape, form or description advocates using roller coasters or thrill park rides as mass public transit.

Should Roller Coaster Engineers and Theme Park Designers participate in the design of public transit?

Probably an insane idea; no doubt completely and 100%. But also probably worth exploring, if only in a space as limited as a short thought experiment on a niche blog.

To begin, a presumption: Thrill Ride Engineers and Designers are very much in the same business as Public Transport Planners.

Though neither is likely to admit it, both at their cores are in the business of moving people in pursuit of a larger goal. Neither move people just for the sake of moving them.

Public Transport agencies move people for a whole host of reasons: Increased mobility, social inclusion, economic development, decreased car emissions, traffic reduction, etc., etc., etc. Rarely, however, do transit agencies consider such things as enjoyability to be an important motivator behind transit planning decisions.

Roller Coaster Designers, meanwhile, move people in order to evoke a feeling from riders. That feeling can be awe, terror, joy, whatever, but the fundamental work of a Roller Coaster Designer is to provoke an emotion in people that would not exist if not for the environment and motion that designer creates.

Yet despite their implicit similarity, the metrics used to measure success in each industry are completely different: The first is quantitative, cold and mathematical. The second is qualitative, experiential and emotional.

A second presumption: Public transit ridership is at least in part dictated by the enjoyability of the ride itself.

Public transit ridership is oftentimes low in western society. Furthermore, people who ride public transit tend to do so grudgingly and are only willing to pay a few dollars at most per trip. If we believe the second presumption to be true (which it may not be), then we can logically assume that part of the reason for this low ridership and grudging acceptance is due to a dissatisfaction with the enjoyability of the system itself.

On the flip side, groups of families and friends will travel great distances for the privilege of attending a theme park, spend hundreds of dollars to do so and be willing to stand in lines of an hour or more for the thrill of a two minute ride. Again, the enjoyability of the ride experience must therefore be high enough such that large volumes of people are motivated to endure significant hardship merely for the pleasure of a short ride.

This isn’t to say we need roller coasters instead of public transport (though some people will surely decide that’s exactly what I’m saying).

It is to say, however, that if ridership and ride enjoyability are connected then in order to increase public transit ridership we must therefore improve the experience of public transportation. It might therefore be wise to consult with individuals who actually understand those emotional things which are currently lacking in our assumptions and models about public transit ridership.

Hence Roller Coaster Engineers and Theme Park Designers.

Humans, after all, are emotional creatures and it seems logical to engage with people who understand how the emotional experience of transportation impacts a human’s heart, mind and soul and how we can best calibrate those experiences to best align with a transit agencies’ need for increased ridership.

And again, just because the internet has a way of twisting people’s words: This was a thought experiment. I don’t believe we should be replacing public transit with thrill rides and roller coasters.



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21
Apr

2011

Japan’s First Class Bus: The Willer Express

Now this makes sense . . . Japan’s Willer Express is offering plush first class seats that look more like business class pods on an airline.

Equipped with wireless internet, reclining seats, LCD screens and blankets this could actually make long-distance bus travel palatable.

Japan's Willer Express First Class Bus Service. Image via Oh Gizmo!

Of course these are the premium coaches; Willer Express also has a wide variety of different seat configurations and you’ll notice that some of them aren’t even equipped with a washroom. But let’s leave that point aside for the moment.

Let’s look at the first class vehicles and ask ourselves a few questions:

ONE – Could such an idea be applied to public transit?

TWO – If so, how?

THREE – What price could you charge users of such a system? Twice the standard fare? Three times the standard fare? How would that compare to the price of driving to work every day?

FOUR – What would the implications on ridership be if a transit agency were to implement such a Premium (Freemium?) arrangement?

I think there’s something here.

 



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