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Developer Promotes High-Tech Alternative to Streetcar

A Boise developer wants the city to consider Navya's driverless buses, shown above in Las Vegas. (Photo by s.savanapridi for the City of Las Vegas)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects and ideas worldwide.

Developer Advocates Alternative to Proposed Boise Streetcar
In the nine years since Boise Mayor Dave Bieter first suggested the idea, a downtown circulator streetcar line that would improve mobility in the Idaho capital has garnered support. The Boise City Council has officially endorsed the idea, and this past summer, it voted to commit a total of $3.5 million to study potential ridership and identify possible funding sources. Current cost estimates go up to $120 million.

A local developer is now urging the city to consider a rail-free, high-tech alternative to the streetcar, Boise Weekly reports.

Clay Carley, who is pursuing several redevelopment projects in downtown Boise, argues that driverless shuttles are the way to go. Specifically, he’s recommending the city consider adopting the autonomous 15-passenger electric shuttle vehicles developed by Navya, a French firm that has deployed driverless shuttles in European, Australian and Southeast Asian cities and launched a pilot shuttle project in Las Vegas.

Carley touts the driverless shuttle option as less expensive, easier to implement, and easier to extend or modify than a streetcar. “It looks like a rail-in-the-ground streetcar system could cost up to $120 million. An autonomous system could be a tenth of that cost. More importantly, operationally it would be so much less, when you consider the savings in fuel and personnel costs,” he told Boise Weekly. He even went so far as to predict that “rail-in-the-ground technology is going to be obsolete in 10 years.”

For its part, the city is willing to consider all options for a downtown circulator. City Communications Director Mike Journee said, “By the time we move forward with a circulator, an autonomous vehicle could be a viable option.”

Carley participated in a series of city-sponsored focus groups where he raised the idea of autonomous shuttles as a streetcar alternative.

Philippine Government OKs “Mega Subway” for Manila
The first phase of a Japanese-funded project to build a second rapid transit line serving the Philippine capital of Manila has gotten the go-ahead from the Philippine government’s economic development agency, the International Railway Journal reports.

Artist rendering of Manila subway train

The Philippine National Economic Development Authority approved a longer and costlier version of the Mega Manila Subway’s first phase, a 25-km (15.5-mile), 13-station north-south underground line from Mindanao Avenue to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The Philippines Department of Transportation recommended adding the airport station to the initial phase.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency is providing a low-interest 40-year loan to cover the project’s cost of 355.6 billion Philippine pesos ($7 billion U.S.) Contractors should break ground for the line in mid-2018 and take seven years to build it.

Twin Cities Met Council May Toss Bids for Southwest LRT
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the star-crossed Southwest LRT project may be dealt another setback, albeit a temporary one.

A Sept. 11 article states that Metropolitan Council Chairwoman Alene Tchourumoff recommends the body reject all four bids it received to build the line connecting downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie at its Sept. 20 meeting.

A light-rail train pulls into a Minneapolis station. (AP Photo/Janet Hostetter)

Tchourumoff said that the bids, which ranged from $797 million to $1.08 billion, were not only too high but also “unresponsive,” meaning that they didn’t meet the requirements set out in the request for proposals. She declined to say how they failed to meet the requirements.

Should the council follow her recommendation, council staff would use “innovative cost reduction strategies” to bring the total project budget down, she continued. These strategies would not include elimination of stations or changing the route.

The 14.5-mile, 15-station Southwest LRT project is the largest public works project in Minnesota history. Since planning for the line began, the project has been plagued by controversies over routing and cost estimates that ran as high as $2 billion. If the council votes to toss the bids, it would not be until March 2018 that a new contract would be awarded. The delay will add $12 million to $16 million to the project’s cost.

The article concludes with a statement from Tchourumoff’s predecessor, Adam Duininck, that it’s still a possibility that the entire project could be scrapped.

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