Tag Archives: bus

Return to me

I am finally returning to this strange passion of mine–the world of transit.  In the coming weeks, I intend to post pictures and commentary from recent trips to Chile, New York, San Francisco, and Dallas, where I rode transit and made observations.

Before getting into the specifics of those transit systems and my trips on them, I would make a few general observations, both about those systems and about transit in general.  My perception, backed by some data, suggests that we have something of a paradox in public transportation today.  More people than ever want to use it, and more of it, in their daily lives and for special trips (i.e., high speed rail out of town), but funding lags.  But to me, if a city like Dallas, one of the more sprawling and “transit-unfriendly” I have seen, can add three light rail lines and a commuter rail line to Fort Worth, that says something about the bright future of transit nationally, if not worldwide.  Whether for financial, environmental, moral, logistical, or other reasons, people want alternatives to driving themselves where they want to go.  What’s important is for people to accept the need for upfront investments in public transportation that lead to a tremendous amount of additional value in their cities and states, that put money back into their pockets, time back into their days (in the ideal scenario), and the like.

I’ll say more about all of this later.  For now, here’s a quick update from South Florida, which I visit frequently.  While at first it might not seem so significant that a bus is dropping stops and running express, the report claims that this change in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area is significant: “The service was launched last January as the first true regional cross-county bus service that allows riders to take a single bus deep into the heart of the adjacent county without having to switch to another bus after they cross the county line.”

And returning to the idea of money in people’s pockets, “”I am looking forward to experiencing a shortened ride to and from the downtown area,” said Marc Cohen of Pembroke Pines. “Even in a gas efficient vehicle, a round trip in and out of Miami will run about $6 in gas. If you want that express lane, add another $4. There is an obvious saving of time, money and gas here. Who can complain?”‘

Beyond taking away reason to complain, my hope is that South Floridians begin thinking more about a reason to switch.  In all my visits to South Florida, it is obvious that much of the region does not lend itself nicely to transit.  You have limited walkability and long stretches of major roadways with lots of traffic signals.  So, to make transit competitive with driving, at least on the basis of how long it takes, is not easy.  I applaud the South Floridian initiative, in this case, to recognize the need to connect the cities of the region and to put in place measures to enhance the riding experience–dedicated lanes, sensors to change traffic lights for buses, etc.  I hope it helps ridership and changes the way South Floridians view transit.




I rode Austin’s #4 bus up and down West 5th and West 6th streets yesterday for lunch.  As a transit geek, I carefully planned my ride–which is to say I made sure I knew how early to get a bus to arrive at the right time and when I’d need to leave to avoid a long wait.

So, had I not finished my lunch in an hour or a bit less, I would’ve been waiting for a bus for perhaps 25 or more minutes, depending on whether the bus was on time.  I might also have been stuck taking a bus that dropped me a healthy distance from my destination–leaving me with the tough decision about whether I could afford to be away from the office for, say, 2.5 hrs rather than 1.5 hours (the drive would’ve been five minutes max each way).

I want my bus agency to consider a route system that makes this less of a challenge.  Here it is:

  • Run buses up and down major streets with much greater frequency.  In other words, have a #5/#6 bus that runs up and down 5th and 6th streets.  Have a #15 that handles 15th street.  Have a #22 bus that does 2222.  Create the expectation that a rider could get a bus going up and down those streets every, say, 10 minutes or less for much of the weekday–maybe 15-20 minutes on the weekend.
  • Time your routes so that someone could grab one bus to go north/south, get off at the intersection they’d otherwise turn onto in a car, and then grab a connecting bus within a few minutes.

The most recent proposed service changes propose eliminating some routes that, based on my experience, are very intricate, convoluted, and lengthy in their ride times.  The #9, for instance, takes a long and winding road from West Austin to downtown and into Travis Heights.  You could more easily fulfill the needs of folks in that area by running frequent buses up and down Exposition, a major street, and up and down 5th/6th/Lake Austin.  Walking/biking to and from bus stops might increase a bit, and transfers would definitely increase, but so would ease of travel.

It’s just difficult to convince someone that it’s worth waiting so long for a bus–or waiting so long to get where you want to go on the bus.  The route changes I’m suggesting should also include changes to stops–buses should stop less frequently, and the Capital Metro 2020 plan is thinking along those lines.

Another factor to consider is that as Austin tries to build a transit culture, it needs to make bus travel more convenient and easy, particularly as a way to connect rail to destinations before any further rail gets built.

More to say, but I have real work to do.  Thoughts/comments welcome.

I hear a train a comin’…

This may be one of the more important moments for a transit geek like me.  My hometown, Austin, has rescheduled the launch of its commuter rail “Red Line” in next couple of weeks.  Viewed out of the context of a larger system, the line has limited appeal.  It represents the transit agency’s plan to utilize track it already owned to start the system and build upon initial successes.  But it doesn’t go to many of the City’s hot spots (or areas of high density).

Nevertheless, it’s been five and a half years since Austin voters approved this line, and I firmly believe it prove to be quite popular.  That, in turn, will give city leaders needed momentum headed into a potential transportation bond referendum this November that would, in theory, fund additional rail in the future.

Having said all that, I am just as interested in sustained improvements to bus service as I am in the build-out of rail.  It is undeniable that rail provides benefits to communities like ours that buses cannot–namely, the more permanent nature of rail lines stimulates economic development at levels far greater than a new bus line can.  In a time when budgets like ours are barely hanging on, any boost to the city’s property tax base would be a welcome one.  But the upfront costs for rail are obviously much higher, and the timelines much longer, than improvements for bus service.

Capital Metro has wisely undertaken master planning for bus service, and I hope that the “less sexy” changes associated with that effort go into effect quickly.  The more frequently buses arrive, and the more efficiently they take passengers to their destination, the more people will get out of their cars and onto transit more permanently.  That will, in turn, spur greater investment in a more robust multi-modal transportation system.

I certainly don’t expect Austin to become anything close to car-free anytime soon, but I do believe a set of minor and major changes to the transit system could make a significant dent on car congestion.  That, of course, means Austin could avoid sanctions from the Environmental Protection Agency for poor air quality, and we would be able to function better with our existing road system, which experts say is about as built out as can be.

Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Transit?

With apologies to Abdul Salaam El Razzac, who said a version of my title in the movie “Pretty Woman”, I thought this article was a pretty interesting and, at times, depressing and scary look at transit in Los Angeles.  Check out these passages; the premise is that the guy will get around in LA for a week using only transit and see how it goes.  This is obviously potent material for the argument about how transit succeeds or fails, in large measure, based on how land gets used. 

My grand scheme hit its first speed bump after the first hour. I’d taken the bus from West Hollywood, where I was staying, to a bus stop near the Getty Villa, but as I approached the steep driveway leading up to the museum, two stern-looking security guards stopped me. Walking up the driveway would have taken no more than five minutes, but the guards said I had to wait while they radioed for a shuttle. The result was that in this wealthy, beachfront community of movie stars, I arrived unceremoniously at the Getty in the back seat of a four-door pickup truck.

On a couple of my days, I spent more than four hours sitting on buses and trains, feeling I was doing a lot more newspaper reading than sightseeing.

I did meet one Angeleno who prefers public transit to a car—a movie producer who lives in West Hollywood next door to my friend’s house, where I was staying, and he agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a preconceived idea that if you take the bus, you’re a failure,” he said. He ticked off things he likes about the bus. “I can read, I can get up to date on my iPhone, I can watch videos on my iPod. There’s a lot that can be done with someone else driving.” He warned me repeatedly not to reveal his name. “In the entertainment business, if they knew I took the bus they’d never talk to me,” he said, explaining that he hires a car and driver when going to a studio.

One of L.A.’s best-known public-transportation enthusiasts is Michael Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and 1988 presidential candidate, who now teaches public policy three months a year at the University of California, Los Angeles. “When I tell people in L.A. that I take the bus to the airport, they have no idea what I’m talking about,” Mr. Dukakis said in a telephone interview. “Freeways were a choice we made nationally,” he added. “But people are starting to ask, ‘What are we doing?’It’s clear public opinion is changing, but once you have these urban development patterns based on highways, it’s pretty tough.”

Michael Brein, a Honolulu psychologist and writer, has written 14 guides on how to tour U.S. and European cities by public transit; his latest is about Los Angeles, where he visited more than 200 attractions (the guide is available by download at michaelbrein.com). “I did the whole shebang by public transit,” he brags. His advice: “Visit L.A. a section at a time,” spending the whole day in one area before moving to the next.

My five-day L.A. adventure ended up costing less than $30 in public-transportation fares. My final stop was in Pasadena to see the Huntington Library and Gardens, a vast estate with a European painting collection housed in an old mansion and acres of botanical gardens. By this point, I expected to be used to taking public transit. But I hadn’t dreamed of an itinerary like this: a bus to Hollywood to catch the subway, the subway to Union Station, the Yellow Line light rail line to Pasadena, a local Pasadena bus and then a mile-long walk to the Huntington. When I was ready to leave, the sun was baking hot, and the driver of a lone taxicab at the entrance offered to take me to the Gold Line station for the outrageous sum of $10. I hopped in without a second thought.

Labor of love

They’ve resolved the transit strike in Philadelphia with a decisive union vote, and I was a bit surprised to read this line from the union boss: “The work stoppage began at 3 a.m. on Nov. 3 and left city bus, trolley, and subway riders scrambling for alternatives. Many crowded onto jammed Regional Rail trains; others were stranded with no way to get to work.

The lack of warning infuriated riders, and union president Willie Brown later acknowledged that the timing had been bad.”
He didn’t apologize–that would probably be considered bad labor politics–but he did acknowledge that a strike is more than politics.  It affects a person’s daily life.  And people miss that about transit generally–that when we make decisions about whether to maintain and/or improve transit, we change people’s lives.

No more kicks…on route…66?

I don’t actually know whether Chicago officials are cutting route 66 specifically, but the Chicago Transit Authority is making massive cuts that will affect thousands of lives, or more, with layoffs and route changes across the board.  The waits in between buses will increase, but I have to say they’re still much shorter than a lot of important routes in Austin (I could routinely wait 40 minutes, and they’re talking more like 20-30).

Here’s an interesting passage:

Anne Marshall, 35, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she finds it disturbing that a city the size of Chicago is struggling to maintain its public transportation.

“I choose to take public transportation, but there are many people who do not have a choice,” said Marshall, who relies on public transit when she wants to travel downtown from her West Loop home.

A, there still are choice riders that elected officials and transit officials have to consider; we still have to make the pitch to people who can afford a car or taxi or private driver.  And B, cuts to transit hit people where it hurts and can be as significant as cuts to housing, food, etc., if it costs someone their job.  But, as is well-known, lower-income people often are perceived to have less influence or less of a voice in public policy.  That, I believe, must change.  Austin has some efforts afoot to change it–a bus riders union, for starters.

CTA officials say they know service cuts will be an inconvenience but maintain they are necessary to keep the transit agency functioning during an economic downturn that saw tax revenues plummet.

“This is not anything that is just a CTA issue, the city is going through its challenges, the state is going through its challenges,” new CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson said.

“Everybody is trying to figure out how to manage their way through these difficult times.”

What bothers me is the extent to which the CTA is leaning on both the macroeconomy and existing sources of revenue drying up, instead of broadening the conversation, particularly much sooner than a crisis like this.  To me, it’s as basic as a conversation a family might have about how to invest/spend/save its money–you’re not going to put it all in one place.  Transit agencies have to diversify and save and spend judiciously to ensure they can do well in feast and famine.  It’s not clear that’s happening.

Ride, riders ride, upon your mystery…train?

I was very encouraged by this post about trends in transit ridership–particularly because lots of cities are seeing increases in riders that aren’t New York, Chicago, Boston, or Washington (or others with really robust systems).

Of course, some macro trends like oil/gas prices and the economy could have driven numbers more than improvements.  But I think transit systems deserve some of the credit–particularly cities like Charlotte, who added urban rail for the first time in North Carolina.

And then there’s this cautionary tale: “But the jumps seen from 2006 to 2008 in America’s second-tier metro areas suggest the possibility of a more transit-tolerant future. Under the right circumstances, the demand for transit is there. But until the economy turns around and transit systems see their budgets rebound, slashed services and raised fares will likely stifle the rate of increase in transit commuting.”