A parisian bus stop

November 19, 2012

There is little piece of urban furniture we interact more than with a bus stop pole, and still this element of the urban fabric is too often neglected (his brother the bus shelter has usually better fortune). Below an essay on the Parisian bus stop pole:

It is in 1922 that Paris and the Seine department agreed to have bus stop installed on the streets. At this time, some are part of lampposts, they will be mounted on independent pole, what is now the general practice, at the time of the replacement of the gas lampposts by electrical ones:

A Parisian bus stop circa 1930, Place St Michel – Side circles present the route number while the sidewalk face present the route followed by the bus (The street face present the bus stop name) side credit photo (1)

Save for the RATP color scheme of the time, up to the 1970, the bus stop shape didn’t changed, becoming a clear Parisian identifier:

Left picture: Bus stop from side adopted a bicolor scheme after 1930- Sophie Litvak model by Georges Dambier for Elle 1952. Right picture: Place St Michel in 1967- Jean Claude Brialy (left), and Serge Gainsbourg (right)

The side circles, will be replaced by a trapezoidal shape somewhat in the 70s. In addition to make a cleaner volumetric form with no protuberance, It provides a distinct shape to the bus stop, easy to discriminate from the road signs, which are mainly circles, triangles and squares.

The definitive and unmistakable trapezoidal Parisian bus stop shape makes it easy to discriminate among the forest of street signs, more noticeably the road signs (circles, triangle and square). Here The Louvre museum stop in 1983 - credit photo left (4)

Today, the same bus stop (slightly relocated at the time of the renovation of the Louvre in 1983-89), has kept the same form. Modern technology able to provide real time information is integrated into it. The color scheme, green jade, is the one used by the RATP since 91.

Nowadays, the same bus stop, carry all the last technology, including the real time information (those bus stop, manufactured by Moviken/Cromateam, are powered by solar panel) but the shape has not changed- credit photo (3)

The Parisian bus stop has many qualities, well epitomized in the picture below:

bus stop at the Louvre. Visible enough, but neither visually or physically obstructive – credit photo (2)

Thought not all bus stop provide real time information, the 11,000 RATP bus stops are now outfitted with 20,000 QR/flash code [5]

Usually, a Parisian bus stop is not lacking of information -clarity of it may be-. In any case, they all come outfitted with QR code - credit photo left (4) right (5)

Lately, the City of Paris, wanting to go one step forward had launched an idea competition about “smart urban furniture”. One of the winner is the ibus stop:

The ibus stop, by Seolane Innovation, preserves the historic shape of the Parisian bus stop, which prove to be versatile enough to allow integration of new technologies

The Parisian bus stop is so versatile, it is used as a flower pot, by some urban gardener activist.

[1] http://fr.topic-topos.com/potelet-d-arret-sorbonne

[2] Richard Cruttwell

[3] flik ruser tobiwei

[4] www.geo.fr

[5] www.blogencommun.fr


the agency overseeing the “guided transportation systems” in France publishes some numbers worth to be repeated [1]. Though that the sample sizes prevent to draw definitive conclusions: we can still exhibit some trends: not surprisingly multi year studies tend to show that subways [2] are order of magnitude safer than LRTs [3]. This said, it is interesting to probe the source of tram accidents, what is provided by the graphs below.

partition and severity of tram accidents per year function of their location along the lines

Accidents partition per mode, and transportation modal share

It appears, that the bulk of accidents happen at intersections where they involve third parties. If car are responsible of most of the conflict, it is mainly, pedestrians and cyclists whose pay a disproportionate human toll considering the transportation modal sharing [11]. Furthermore, a study of the Belgium institute on road safety shows that while tram/pedestrian conflicts represent 2.1% of the overall pedestrian conflicts in Brussels, they result in more than 6.7% of vehicle/pedestrian conflicts with severe injuries [4] while that pedestrians represent more than 50% of the overall fatalities on the french trams network [1]. However, a non negligible number of accidents happen outside platforms and crossings: most of them involve emergency braking of the trams, which are responsible of most of the passenger casualties. The french agency has further detailed the pattern of crossing accident, and provides statistic per crossing:

yearly number of tram accidents per crossing, according to their severity type

Comparison with the US

It can be interesting to compare the french statistic to the American one, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Accident rate comparison between USA and France on LRt and subway network

Though that the accident ratio between subway and LRT witnessed in France is also founded in USA, there is a striking difference in the number of casualties per million of trip.

One explanation to it could be the suicide ratio:

  • statistics are not including casualties due to suicide, but suicide characterization can be different according to the country. Thought that casualties due to suicide are not well documented, anecdotal evidences seem to show that the French authorities are more willing than the North American ones to classify an accident as a suicide: Some officious counting report around 70 suicides per year on the Parisian RATP metro alone [5], when this number is of around 30 in New York City [6], and 15 in Toronto [7]. For purpose of a study on the suicides in the Montreal subway, the researchers have requalified fatalities, considered as accident by the coroner, as suicide [8].

That said, the American LRTs still seem more prone to accident than their french counterpart. We can attempt some explanations to it. .

  • LRT accidents are significantly due to third parties, and eventually the measure of accident/trip is unfavorable to the less patronized US LRT vehicle. This explanation can be countered by the fact that busy LRT lines involve busy pedestrians traffic around their route, hence increasing also the chance of accident.
  • Average speed of french LRTs, usually in the 15 to 20km/h range is significantly slower than their american counter part
  • Design of European LRT could be more permissibe too
    • Front design of low floor european LRT seems less prone to drag pedestrian under the railcar
    • All low floor design reduce the chance of fall inside the car in case of emergency braking
  • More frequent LRT could increase the public awareness of their presence
  • Due to the above factor, French LRT seem also less attractive than their US counterpart to suicide candidate

Compared to even recent American design, the European tram design features all low floor train,with “housed” coupler into an all “soft angle” front design, and offers an unobstructed view fro the driver…all these eventually help to prevent or reduce accident consequences (credit photo, Northfolk LRT: LRTA, Brussel tram in Vancouver: Stephen Rees)

Nantes, a real life example

A tramway accident in Nantes (credit photo: Presse Ocean)

To provide some more reality to the statistic, we provide the example of the Nantes Trams network [9]:
it has opened in 85, has 3 lines, totalizing 42km, and carrying an average of 266000 riders /day.

  • One accident every 2 days
  • One accident in 4 involves injuries

Interestingly enough, according to the Nantes transit agency, their BRT records a rate of accident twice less than their trams, though their buses go faster [9]. It is eventually due to a better designed right of way for the bus than for the trams .

[1] see Accidentologie des tramways, Service Technique des Remontées Mécaniques et des Transports Guidés DES TRAMWAYS, 2006 and
Accidentologie des metros, Service Technique des Remontées Mécaniques et des Transports Guidés DES TRAMWAYS, 2006

[2] French subways include also the “VAL” family of subway

[3] French LRTs include also the guided bus systems

[4] Etude des accidents entre un tram et un pieton en region de Bruxelles-capitale

[5] Suicides dans le métro : deux morts par semaine à Paris, France Info, October 30, 2007

[6] Epidemiology of suicide in the New York City subway system, Sandro Galea and al. , APHA 134th Annual meeting and Session, November 4-8, 2006, Boston

[7] More than 150 people killed themselves in subways from 1998-2007, TTC says, National Post, Rob Roberts, November 26, 2009

[8] Qui se tue dans le métro de Montréal?, Brian L. Mishara, UQAM, Dec 1996

[9] Un accident de tramway en moyenne tous les deux jours, October 7, 2008, Presse Ocean, Nantes, France

[10] The rate per million of passengers is not necessarily the most relevant, but it is the only one readily available from the french statistics, which are averaged on the number of available years after 2003 to provide a more relevant sample size. For USA, to increase the sample size, the accident statistics are the average of year 1994 to 2006, as provided by the BTS 2009 report

[11] Transportation mode share of 14 metropolitan area with tram in France, from “Les deplacements a Nantes metropole Etude N 80, decembre 2009, Insee Pays de Loire, France citing “enquêtes nationales transports et communication 1993-1994, transports et déplacements 2007-2008”, Insee, SOeS and Inrets.

Hynovis or the Hydrogen bus

February 4, 2010

It is a  tale of two approaches:

  • Identify a break through technology[9], find an application for it and pour money toward a demonstration project, hoping to find a demand
  • or

  • Identify a demand, then pour money to develop technologies and synergies to enable an answer to the demand

Both can work, but one involves more risks than the other.

The train’s world example

In the later case, we find the “conventional” High Speed train: the demand is to travel “from down town to to down town” in a “time competitive with air travel” and at a “price competitive with the automobile“: that was roughly the French TGV project requirement back at the end of the 60’s, when the French railways company was also considering to address the congestion on its Paris-Lyon railway line.

There is no really break-through technology in the French TGV, or its direct competitors: they are all trains moved by traditional century year old electrical motor concept, and running on centuries old rail track concept …but there is a combination of incremental advance making the whole product a break through advance in the railway world.

In the former case, we find the magnetic levitation technology. A break through technology associated mainly with train demonstration projects.

Today, there are 1850km of High speed train lines in revenue service in France only [3]. From the original speed of 260km on the first line (Paris-Lyon), the train has accelerated to 320km/h on its later extension toward Strasbourg. To not embarrass anyone, we will not mention the line mileage of commercial “maglev” train [10].

The bus’ world example
Hynovis bus (credit Irisbus)

Hynovis is a concept bus, output a of a french program called “affordable and clean vehicle” from the french government agency PREDIT which has benefited of €120 million in total on the period 2002-2008[4], the Hynovis bus being only one project in that program covering most mode of transportation.

the Hynovis program mandate is to answer to a demand: cleaner bus for sure but must also answer to the need of “fund starved” transit agencies, so the bus cost must be economically justified by

  • the saving on the bus consumption
  • improved operation like
    • reduction of dwelling time
    • improvement of the loading capacity
  • improved social role, like better accessibility for disabled people, improved attractiveness…

This program has teamed the Paris transit agency with a bus manufacturers and bus part providers [6] on the conception of the  bus. As you can see (click for video), the Hynovis design try to answer to all requirement without “break through” technology but presents nevertheless a new product by incremental step on numerous fronts:

  • the improved consumption is provided by an hybrid engine and light weight material
  • reduction of dwelling time is provided by a better circulation inside the bus:
    • A back door moved further toward the rear of the bus, allowed by a rear axles moved under the rear bench, allowing more smooth flow on an enlarged low floor area
    • A twin steering axle fitted with low-profile tires, allowing the central corridor to be enlarged to ~4 feet alongside the front wheel housings, compared to ~3feet for a standard bus (note how this can accelerate the boarding of wheelchair and other strollers)
  • the reorganization of the wheels allow an increase of capacity of 8% [5]

To be sure, the Hynovis innovations don’t come for free, and the Paris agency experiment will tell whether the return on investment worth it or not, but more certainly, the lesson learnt of the experiment will improve the future bus design over the foreseeable years.

The Canadian Hydrogen bus fleet is only one application of a technology in which the federal government has invested $215 million since 2003 [1]. The sole demonstration project will cost more than $110 million taxpayer money for 20 buses [2], and address only one issue (GHG), at the eventual expense of the others.

There is honestly more chance that the hydrogen bus share the fate of the Maglev train than the one of the TGV. In the meantime, incremental improvment in the bus technology allowed by project like Hynovis will allow sustainable (not only in term of CO2 emission, but also financially!) expansion of public transit, at the expense of less environmentally friendly transportation mode, and at the end of the day, the Hynovis concept will have probably a better impact on the environment that the Hydrogen bus [7][8].

What is the best approach?

A subsidiary question could be: Is it the role of a government to gamble with the tax payer money or to address the concern of its citizens?

[1] This as a part of the Climate Change Technology and Innovation (T&I) Program, for the development and demonstration of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies

[2] $45 million from the province and BC Transit, $45 million from the federal government, and $23 from the city of Whistler. Andrew Mitchell, B.C. Transit celebrates hydrogen fleet, fuelling station, Pique newsmagazine, Jan 27, 2010

[3] number from wikipedia in french

[4] the agency budget is in fact of 360 million, from which ~35% are allocated to the affordable and clean vehicle” program. (see predit publication (in French))

[6] Predit Info n 17 in French

[7] and that is discounting the fact that the province consider the Hydrogen bus as part of its much touted “$14 billion Provincial” Transit plan

[8] Worth to mention that it seems also to be the position stated by Stephen Rees in some of its posts and others disgressions and obviously the viewpoint is not aimed at fuel cell, but at technology driven choices rather than economically grounded ones, and could apply to CNG buses as well

[9] Preferably where you think you can develop a competitive advantage.

[10] See also Human Transit take on it and on technology driven approach in general like the monorail.