Hard Questions: Should We Ride Mediocre Transit?

We are constantly told that if we want to support transit, we need to ride transit.  Current ridership figures are routinely cited by both supporters and opponents of transit as evidence justifying a proposed level of transit investment.  This implies that by riding transit, or not, we are effectively voting in a consequential poll.

Yet there’s also a lot of mediocre transit out there, especially outside the biggest cities.  Sometimes transit really isn’t the cost-effective and time-effective way to get somewhere.  Even if you don’t own a car, you may be able to afford a taxi for, say, 30% of your travel in your city and at least 30% of your trips require using transit that doesn’t work very well.  Should you use transit anyway, because it needs your vote?

(UPDATE:  I should clarify that just because a transit service doesn’t meet your needs doesn’t mean it’s objectively mediocre.  If you’re trying to do something that not many people do, such as visit an affluent low-density area late on a Sunday evening, a very good transit system may have rationally chosen not to serve that trip.)


Note that you can’t control how your vote is interpreted.  Your ridership may be counted as evidence of why transit should have more service and higher standards of quality, but it may also be counted as proof that the current service is fine as it is, because people are clearly using it.


How do you navigate this dilemma?

47 Responses to Hard Questions: Should We Ride Mediocre Transit?

  1. Cap'n Transit August 9, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    There are additional considerations. If you drive you have a lot of responsibility for the safety of the road users around you. If you take a taxi you’re adding to the number of vehicles on the road and contributing to the chances that someone will get hurt.

  2. Aaron M. Renn August 9, 2009 at 7:16 pm #

    We don’t have a system that attracts riders because we haven’t invested. We don’t invest because people don’t ride. The transit version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma or “All Cretans are liars.”

  3. Daniel August 9, 2009 at 7:26 pm #

    For me, the answer is simple: I’m an advocate, not a martyr. (Nor am I in the business of promoting a mediocre product.)
    Besides, does one extra person using a poor service really mean decision-makers are going to invest in making it better?

  4. Cap'n Transit August 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    I agree with everything that’s been said so far (especially that first guy). That one extra vote isn’t going to make much difference. If transit doesn’t currently work for you, you can still make your desire for good transit known to elected officials and other key decision-makers.
    You can also advocate for related changes to make transit successful, such as TOD, road diets and tolls. A driver who’s willing to pay a toll to fund transit is making a big statement. And you can position yourself to be ready to use transit if it ever serves you, for example by living and working in places where transit could reasonably go.
    I personally lived for a while in a town with a crappy three-loop bus system, and got a car so that I could get a job. Once I had the car, I don’t think I ever took the bus again. But I did take Amtrak and the intercity buses, and as soon as I could, I moved out of there to a place that had real transit.

  5. Dave in KY August 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    You must ride transit enough to know what the heck you’re talking about. But if you’re looking at 70 minute headways to the “international” airport, like we were today, there’s no point in a life of silent suffering. Ride the bike and use the saved time to write more angry letters.

  6. mikenbondi.blogspot.com August 9, 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    I don’t think Sydney’s transport planners are paying any attention to passengers so my ridership won’t make any difference.
    If I write/call/email our transport officials (elected and non-elected) the result is even more depressing, especially when they can’t tell the difference between a train and a bus.

  7. EngineerScotty August 9, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    I don’t think it matters much, at least not for two main constituencies–the general public, or for most elected public officials (excluding those elected to run transit systems).
    There is a tendency to assume rational decision-making among both groups, when I suspect in reality, it seldom exists. Many voters don’t care about transit either way, and the majority that do care, I suspect, are ideologically driven. In US politics, those on the left tend to support it for environmental or social justice reasons; those on the right frequently voice opposition claiming that it constitutes a waste of tax money (a position that is usually ideological in origin; not a referendum on the performance of the transit authority). In addition, there are probably more than a few politicians with ulterior motives; numerous special interest groups spend lots of $$$ (particularly on the anti-transit side) trying to get like-minded officials elected.
    When your position on the issue is ideologically based, you are likely to ignore the data (or denounce it as irrelevant)–or try to spin it to support your preconceived position.

  8. Wad August 10, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    From Webster’s online:
    Main Entry: me·di·o·cre
    Pronunciation: \ˌmē-dē-ˈō-kər\
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Middle French, from Latin mediocris, from medius middle + Old Latin ocris stony mountain; akin to Latin acer sharp — more at edge
    Date: circa 1586
    : of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance : ordinary, so-so
    Note the etymology. Mediocrity implies the quality of something in the middle. So are transit systems only halfway decent, then?
    No. Most people would regard subsidizing what is U.S. transit as the famous Groucho Marx quip about moving up from nothing to extreme poverty.
    Virtually all but a dozen or so transit agencies must first aspire to mediocrity. :>
    I have a solution for these systems who first need to aspire to mediocrity: Policy service.
    Consider it a revolution of a thousand increments. A revolution has to start somewhere.
    This is targeted at the places that do not have the ridership or population density to support rail service of any kind, and/or have some rudimentary form of bus service that is at best marginally useful. In other words, this is for nearly every American transit system.
    Basically, set a basic guaranteed service floor to make transit “fit for human consumption.” In other words, no bus line should ever run less frequently than 30 minutes. Many urban (!) transit systems typically set 60 minutes as their service floor. That doesn’t cut it for anyone except for elderly shut-ins.
    Even 30 minutes is not within the realm of becoming a serious choice alternative to the car. But it helps build a strong base. An hourly bus line has the dilemma of maintaining existing services or cancellation. A 30-minute route will have the ridership base to either keep it where it is or grow to 20 minutes, then 15 minutes, and so on.
    Again, 30 minutes sets a good foundation.
    Second, there should be a policy span of service. No transit agency, anywhere — not even in the sleepiest jerkwater burg — should ever shut down at dusk. Bus service must run at least 16 hours a day. That’s two 8-hour driver shifts, but it also provides needed buses to people who are already customers: service workers. Every city has wait staff, bartenders, cashiers, security guards, domestics and other such jobs. These jobs don’t follow 9-to-5 schedules. This is why 16-hour service is so crucial, and it’s a foundation to providing 20-hour service.
    I wouldn’t go as far as saying 24-hour service is a requirement, because owl service in most cases is unsustainable — even in “24-hour cities”.
    Third, there should be a guaranteed spatial span of service. The bare minimum needs to be 1-mile bidirectional service. Yes, there is the transit agency mentality that a route is a route, and they may try to economize by covering the city with one-way loops.
    As Jarrett pointed out, people don’t travel in loops. A loop is a creation for “reasons of state,” something that fulfills bureaucratic diktats but not the wants or needs of passengers.
    A 1-mile service grid (even when routes cannot actually conform to the street grid) implies that the farthest a person is ever away from a bus stop is half a mile.
    In sum, the Service Policy for all agencies should be:
    1. Minimum frequency of 30 minutes.
    2. Minimum service span of 16 hours a day.
    3. Minimum distance between routes of 1 mile bidirectionally.
    This is within the reasonable grasp of every transit agency everywhere. It can be done cheaply and easily, and these conditions allow any city to become a transit city.
    Yes, I know it’s political will. I am not saying the government has to force this down the throats of every U.S. city, but local residents should push for these measures. And many of them will succeed.
    If you look at last November’s U.S. elections, 23 of 32 transit-related measures passed — a 72% success rate.
    See http://www.cfte.org/success/2006BallotMeasures.asp

  9. jarbury August 10, 2009 at 3:18 am #

    I think that the best way to push for better transit is to show rising patronage levels. So therefore, encouraging ridership of public transport of any kind is good. Otherwise there’s no chance of pushing for better transit.

  10. Courtney August 10, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    Using public transit doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing option for people living in the cities with smaller systems. There are times when using my car is clearly the best option; but I also find times when using the bus or train is as time-efficient or user-time-efficient (i.e. I can use my time not driving on other activities). Sometimes it by foot or bike. Using a variety of modes is the most efficient way to use a city’s transportation system.
    But I also think that if a lot of people use public transit, it does not become complacent. Public transit, unlike highways, is a dynamic system. Bus planners respond to changing transportation patterns and needs. Trains can increase or decrease frequency. The more people that ride a system, the more public support it receives and the more it can grow and respond to customers’ needs.

  11. DJB August 10, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    People should try to live in places where transit is good. If they find themselves in places where it is mediocre and they care about expanding it, they should at least ride it sometimes.
    When you ride you give the system more money to make itself better and you weaken the argument that transit subsidies are pointless because nobody is riding.
    Your individual contribution as a rider is small in comparison to the whole, but it’s small when you vote too. Does that stop you from voting? If you’re not willing to make any sacrifices to promote what you believe in, what kind of advocate are you?
    Practice what you preach.

  12. Mike August 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    Transit is often mediocre for good reasons. In the US, gas and car ownership are priced quite cheaply. So its fairly easy to own a car.
    Ed Glaeser has argued persuasively the reason this country sprawled so much after the end of WW2, was that the real cost of transportation fell by 90%.
    In the US, the places where transit works well are places that were built out before WW2 that have enough amenities to sustain dense central business districts. (NYC,SF,Chicago, etc). In these places land prices have remained high enough that the region can charge for parking which in turn drives transit usage despite the cheap price of gas and car ownership in this country.
    But at current gas prices with current car registration fees, there are a lot of places in this country where lifeline service for the very poor may be the best available option for transit. In these areas, policies to improve transit are completely undercut by the policy decision to tax gasoline and car ownership as little as we do in this country.
    Downtown Fresno lacks the amenities of San Francisco. If the CBD charged for parking, it would just push up the vacancy rate even further while it drove employers to suburban office parks. Fresno is surrounded by a lot of flat open space. On a per sqft basis,an acre of agriculture in Fresno uses more water than an acre in the city of Fresno. Given its geography, land prices will probably never be high enough in my lifetime to support densities needed to sustain high quality transit in Fresno.
    The average bus in this country gets around 4 mpg. When the bus is full, the per person gas mileage on transit is very tough to beat and there are huge enviromental benefits to transit. In a place as dense as Manhattan, even in the non-peak hours, the buses and trains are running relatively full. So the transit system is really green.
    But in a place like Fresno, the buses are running mostly empty for most of the day. On a per capita basis, the transit system is much more expensive to operate and it provides little to no enviromental benefit.
    If gas taxes or vehicle registration fees went up, then there might be some compelling arguments for investing more money for transit in a place like Fresno. But right now I think current gas prices and current vehicle registration fees pretty much mean that further investments in transit in these regions are counter productive. In these types of places, I think the government could probably spend the money more productively somewhere else.

  13. EngineerScotty August 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    In many places, including “green” Oregon; zoning regulations in many locales require that businesses provide certain amounts of free parking for patrons (depending on the nature and size of the business).
    What if such laws were to go away? Might not help Fresno much, but there are lots of places where land is at a premium, but much of it is covered in asphalt.

  14. Mike August 10, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    In SF, you have a lot of hills, so you can find lots of neighborhoods with views. There is also something pretty to look at, either the bay, the ocean and all of the bridges. Additionally people will pay a premium for the year round temperate microclimates near the ocean in that part of California.
    All of that creates amenities that help to make people willing to concentrate in SF and put up with fairly small homes.
    In the Fresno area, everything is flat and for the most part interchangable. Whether you live in Clovis or downtown, you have essentially the same climate and the views in the entire region are mostly the same.
    In Fresno what drives real estate prices are mostly the strength of local public schools. But that is an advantage that new areas can more easily create than can be sustained in older areas as some of the housing stock fails to be maintained in the older neighborhoods. In fact in newer neighborhoods in Fresno there are incentives to zone for bigger homes to price out the low income folks to create neighborhoods with better schools. All of that creates incentives to pancake out.
    If there was no mandated free parking, the area would still pancake out. Absent much higher fuel and auto ownership costs, there really isn’t any factor that would drive Fresno to actually densify. Moreover any development that failed to provide free parking (even if not mandated by code) would fail, because customers in Fresno would just go to the places with better parking.
    Transit like raising cafe standards are a potentially good idea, but we have to get pricing right for transit to become a good idea in practice. Providing more transit in a place where there isn’t demand for it is just wasteful of limited resources. There is no enviromental benefit in running more buses if they are running mostly empty. That is my problem with expanding transit in a place like Fresno. A bus with two passengers in it is worse than a Hummer with two passengers on it because the bus gets much worse mileage than the Hummer.
    When prices are wrong a lot policies that sound good on paper tend to backfire. In this country historically raising cafe (corporate average fuel) standards mostly hasn’t worked because people just drove further from work as their mileage went up.
    I honestly think spending more money to subsidise transit in places like Fresno is a bad idea. It makes a lot more sense to either spend the money in places like NYC and SF where the expanding transit might actually expand ridership or just spending it on other priorities in the Fresno area (improving the local schools).
    But in many places spending more money on transit is just wasteful.

  15. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org August 10, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    Based on my experience working in Sydney, I can assure you that they do count ridership and talk about it as they do planning, especially on local bus services.  The problems that arise in Sydney are on an institutional level — the lack of a coherent agency that has the mandate, competence, and information to make large decisions.

  16. Scott Wood August 10, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    The “only one vote” notion is flawed, both at the ballot box and at the fare box. It assumes you’re the only person contemplating the issue — which is especially bad when you’re encouraging others to think the same way.
    I think riding “mediocre transit” is helpful — good transit takes money, and it’s harder to get the money if existing ridership sucks (even if you argue that ridership would be better with better service). Of course, the particular threshold that one is willing to tolerate in order to lend support is an individual decision (no need to be a “martyr”), but I’d hope that supporters would at least consider whether transit works for a given trip even if the level of service is bad in general.

  17. Scott Wood August 10, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    I’m not sure I agree with the bit about owl service — its value lies not just in the riders it actually carries, but in the people who consider the possibility that they might need to stay late. Even if someone only stays late 5% of the time, but can’t predict when, they could decide to drive 100% of the time if there’s no late service.
    When you combine that with the value it has in providing an alternative to drunk driving, I’d set the ridership bar pretty low for justifying it. I could see dropping down to 60 minute headways during those few hours, though.
    I assume you mean “maximum distance between routes” rather than minimum — that’s a good goal, but it might not be possible in some suburban areas with pathological road layouts (especially if it’s one mile as can be traversed by pedestrians, rather than birds).
    Otherwise, looks good — if only my local transit agency (Austin, Texas) weren’t going broke providing inferior service, and building commuter rail that seems like it will never open, and won’t be all that great even when it does. 🙁

  18. Daniel August 10, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    I suppose it’s shades of grey rather than black and white.
    I’m more inclined to use transit than most, but if the local bus runs every hour, mostly empty, and you’re making a big sacrifice to try and use it, is there really a point (particularly if you have a pass and your using it or not makes zero difference to the system’s revenue)? Is the presence of 2 people on the bus rather than 1 likely to prompt an upgrade, or encourage others to use it? I doubt it.
    Oh, for the times I do feel I have to drive, there is a “More trains = less traffic” sticker on the back of my car 🙂

  19. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org August 10, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    I’d just add, on Daniel’s comment, that when it comes to an hourly bus driving around nearly empty in a low-density neighborhood, the difference between zero riders and one or two has sometimes been significant in my experience — not for justifying improvement but for preventing the service from being cut. When you’re dealing with elected officials who don’t understand transit and just want to avoid complaints, even one person on the bus may be sufficient to save the service.
    Another way to say this is: To save a poor-performing service, it doesn’t matter how high the operating cost per rider is, as long as it’s not actually infinite.
    This is not, of course, the view of the more competent policy-driven agencies, but I’ve seen it happen in agencies that haven’t thought about policy and driven mostly by complaint-avoidance.

  20. Michael August 10, 2009 at 10:29 pm #

    I agree that it’s a hard question, but I’m just not sure it’s an important one. Transit advocates are a small percentage of the population, even the transit-using population, and their advocacy likely speaks much more than does their seat-vote for (or against) transit.
    As mentioned above, we should ride transit enough that we know what we’re talking about. But there is no need to suffer (much) just to support transit. Ultimately, when you want to use transit but it just doesn’t serve your need, it’s the transit system that is making most of the decision for you. When I can walk or bike somewhere, I do that preferentially. If transit is reasonable, I’ll take it, but when it isn’t I won’t worry about my decision to drive.
    “…the current service is fine as it is, because people are clearly using it.”
    If they use that kind of logic, they won’t care about your seat-vote.

  21. Wad August 11, 2009 at 12:19 am #

    Mike, I’m going to go out on a limb and make a case for public transportation expansion in Fresno.
    See my post above about Policy Service. All Fresno’s FAX will get is more bus service. We’re not talking urban rail, or BRT for that matter, but I see that FAX is planning for a service along Blackstone Avenue.
    I’ll ilustrate this point by comparing Fresno with Long Beach, another city of similar population. (In 2008, Fresno surpassed Long Beach to become California’s 5th largest city, but they are both close in population.) Fresno is about 475,000; Long Beach is about 465,000. Besides population, both are also home to a 4-year public university and a 2-year junior college, both of which help provide a bump in ridership.
    The difference, though, is striking when you compare public transit services.
    Fresno: http://www.fresno.gov/DiscoverFresno/PublicTransportation/default.htm
    Long Beach: http://www.lbtransit.com/
    Even with the cities being of similar size, ridership is twice as high in Long Beach. In fact, Long Beach’s Sunday ridership is higher than Fresno’s weekday ridership.
    Here are the NTD reports:
    FAX: http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2007/agency_profiles/9027.pdf
    LBT: http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2007/agency_profiles/9023.pdf
    Is this to say transit is inappropriate for Fresno? No. The data reveal Fresno must invest in transit because it has a better base than even you may think.
    Fresno’s buses are mostly empty. The NTD says otherwise. You might want to call your local grand jury if you doubt these figures. But, according to the chart, FAX carries nearly 33 passengers per hour. That’s a systemwide average; so while the less frequent buses may be running empty, a bus on Blackstone Avenue may be a dynamo. Visually, 33 passengers per hour is a 40-foot low floor bus with all but half a dozen seats filled.
    Long Beach has 39 passengers per hour. The metrics are actually very far apart. Long Beach runs more buses, runs them more frequently and closer together (between Ocean and Anaheim they are spaced about 3-4 blocks apart) and runs them later. Reduce any of these services slightly and the productivity will shoot up.
    Emulating Long Beach is a much more realistic goal than emulating San Francisco. You want to set a goal that’s attainable. San Francisco is unique and cannot be replicated elsewhere.
    What’s one step of having a bus system more like Long Beach Transit? Build up local support.
    Only 27% of Fresno’s operating expenses come locally — 20% from the farebox and 7% through some local subsidy. Long Beach’s local share: 62%. Of that, 23% is from the farebox and 37% is from a Los Angeles County sales tax.
    Use a local sales tax to build a bus service of Long Beach-like levels with Policy Service. Here’s what Fresno could have:
    *A minimum of 20-hour service
    *30-minute minimum service on all lines
    *A weekday grid of half-mile gaps between lines; weekends would have 1-mile gaps.
    *15-minute service spaced on a minimum gap of 2 miles between lines. This means a rider in Fresno is no more than 1 mile or 1 transfer from a high-frequency line.
    This could be accomplished by a very modest sales tax. Fresno could have this for as little as a third of a percent.
    It will also put you closer to Long Beach, because people will use the system more when more frequent service is available. It will also mean more support for things like BRT or even urban rail.
    It’s something Fresno must get very serious about. High-speed rail is coming, and Fresno — already the largest city between the Bay Area and Los Angeles — can’t pretend it is still a cow town when it will likely grow to be a bona fide big city.

  22. Portcanaveral Transportation August 11, 2009 at 1:25 am #

    ‘Objectively mediocre transit’, effectiveness of transit is not determined by its fulfilment of your public transit need. A public transit that meets your need is good, else it is not should not be the case. There are other governing factors that determine effectiveness of public transit.

  23. Limousine Orlando August 11, 2009 at 1:55 am #

    It remains a questionable issue that we should ride mediocre transit or not. We cannot say a transit is mediocre if it is not efficient for a particular person.
    Truly said in the post that sometimes transit really isn’t the cost-effective and time-effective way to get somewhere.

  24. EngineerScotty August 11, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    Owl service does provide one important public service, if nothing else: Keeping drunks off the road when the bars close.
    Unfortunately in Oregon, last call is at 3AM, and Tri-Met stops running well before that.

  25. Beth August 11, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    When you ride transit, especially if you go out of your way to do it despite a bad system, you don’t just add one person’s transportation money to the system. You add a transit rider and hopefully a transit advocate to your social circle. Don’t underestimate your ability to change minds through your example. If you ride transit and talk about it with others, you will open people up to the option of transit who might not have seen it as a viable option before. I lived in Baltimore and worked 13 miles away in the suburbs and rode a line that only ran every 4 hours, so it was a real commitment to make transit work for me. People initially told me all kinds of horror stories about the bus (I’d get killed, robbed etc), but once I was actually commuting with it, they were interested in where the bus went, how often it came by, why I chose to ride it, etc, which gave me all kinds of opportunities for me to talk about transit, the environment and mobility. Just living your life can inspire people to make little changes in theirs.

  26. Brian August 11, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

    After living in a city (Toronto) that has what I consider to be a good transit system, I’ve had to move twice in the past three years to progressively smaller towns, until I’m now in a spot (Kingston, Ontario) where the bus service operates on 30 minute frequencies during the day and early evening and hourly evenings and Sundays. It may be mediocre in comparison to living two minutes away from a subway station, but for the most part it works alright (it helps to have access to a car, and to be living within walking distance of groceries, downtown, the university etc).
    As suggested by other commenters, the definition of mediocre is going to vary across people, and I would add by our expectations. When I first moved here I thought I was moving to a transit wasteland (I can picture some people shaking their heads and saying “You have no idea!”), but in the past year I’ve learned to appreciate what we’ve got here. Mind you, there’s definitely room for improvement, but I would still be stuck in my old assumptions if I didn’t give the system a try in the first place.
    That being said, if the service ran hourly during the day … well, I wouldn’t boycott it completely, it would just be very unlikely that my schedule and the bus’s would align to allow me to take it that often. Maybe some minimum standards like what Wad suggested would help. That idea sparked off a complementary proposal in my head, which is to “certify” transit systems on a Bronze-Silver-Gold scale according to criteria like frequency, operating hours, accessibility, travel time and so forth. I’ll be trying to piece together a frame for this idea over at my blog in the coming weeks.
    By the way, love Beth’s point about acting as a personal example to others by taking transit. We don’t need to be zealots about it, but just by incorporating transit into our lives (when possible) shows others how it can be a part of their lives, too.

  27. Mike August 11, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Long Beach (9,770.6/sq mi) is almost two and half times as dense as Fresno (4,097.9/sq mi). I think that feature more than anything else probably drives the higher rates of transit usage in Long Beach vs Fresno. Long Beach is also surrounded by high density regions in the Los Angeles basin. The closest region for greenfield development in Long Beach is probably somewhere out in Riverside or San Bernadino counties.
    Land is more expensive in high density regions and developers are less willing to pay for free parking. Freeways are also well beyond capacity in high density regions. All of that drives transit usage in a place like Long Beach.
    This is why 7.4% of the population (15,292 people) in Long Beach are using transit to get to work each day.
    Fresno is a comparative island of density in a very low density region. It surrounded by agricultural regions and the freeways on the edge of town have plenty of extra capacity. In Fresno only 2.1% of the population (3,998 people) are using transit to get to work. The reason Fresno will probably lose density going forward is that the ability to convert cheap ag land into housing acts as a ceiling on rents for both households and employers. So as the existing housing stock wears out it will likely be replaced by lower density stuff.
    Between 1980 and 2005 (the most recent time when the table was updated) , there have only been four years where transit buses passengers have used less energy than people in passenger cars.
    The problem has been the types of improvements that well intentioned people like yourself have been advocating for.
    I would argue that the marginal number of riders on the buses that would be added under the transit improvements you are advocating are going to pull the average down in a place like Fresno. When you are providing more early morning and late night service, those buses are likely going to be running mostly empty on those routes.
    When you provide service based upon a grid instead of providing service based upon how many people and how many employment are near a stop, again you are going to be adding to the system more routes that that are running mostly empty for most of the day.
    When you are providing 30 minute minimum service on all lines, again you are going to be adding a bunch of mostly empty buses running a lot more often.
    Whatever enviromental benefits that transit currently offers in a place like Fresno probably would be negated by the policy improvements you are pushing for.
    The Los Angeles Basin is a pretty high density region overall. Traffic is also bad enough in Los Angeles where if you grade seperate the rail in LA, it can be time competitive with driving.
    Fresno isn’t Los Angeles. The problem with adding rail to Fresno is the problem that happened in Sacramento when it started building out rail.
    In Oct of 2005, Sacramento RT opened up a 400 million dollar extention of the Gold Line to Folsom. But look at the results in terms of transit share in Folsom. Transit share went from 1.4% to 1.7%. That is a lot of money to build so little share.
    In Sacramento the numbers were even worse. With commuting share dropping from 4.6% to 3.7% between 2000 and 2007.
    If you want to add rail in high density regions like SF or even LA, that is probably a good idea because because those areas are have bad enough congestion and high enough densities where providing rail probably will help increase share.
    But places like Fresno and Sacramento aren’t really dense enough yet to support rail. How you feed people into rail in these areas is by directing your bus routes into the rail, but that lengthens the average time of potential riders commutes because now they have to wait for a transfer at the rail station.
    Sacramento opened its first light rail cars in 1987 and increased transit funding with a half cent sales tax. Despite the numerous transit improvements to the transit system since then, the share of people commuting to work by transit in Sacramento is still below what it was in 1980 and both the transit tax and light rail improvements have failed to build share.
    The only thing that does work is the occasional periods when gas prices actually spike. This is why I think some sort of gas tax and or dramatic increase in the vehicle regristration fee is necessary.
    What drives these really bad numbers for transit is the type of policy service improvements that you are arguing for right now.

  28. Mike August 11, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Long Beach (9,770.6/sq mi) is about 2.5 times as dense as Fresno (4,097.9/sq mi). Long Beach is also surrounded by a bunch of other high density communities in the Los Angeles Basin. The nearest greenfield area are probably out in Riverside County. Where as Fresno is surrounded by low density agricultural land.
    I think the density is primary reason for the dramatically different levels of transit usage in the two areas. In the high density areas the freeways are full and parking is something that’s expensive to provide so developers want to provide as little of it as necessary. All of that feeds transit usage in Long Beach.
    Between 1980 and 2005, there were only 4 years where transit buses were using less energy per passenger than passengers in private automobiles.
    I see the problem being caused by the types of transit improvements you are advocating, all of which will result in additional routes that are probably going to be mostly empty.
    Late night and early morning service is going to mean more mostly empty buses. Providing service based upon the position of a grid and not the number of households or employers in a region is again going to result in a lot of routes to nowhere. When you are providing 30 minute service on all lines, you are going to be providing additional service in a lot of areas with very few passengers.
    Places with population densities of 4000 people per mile just aren’t fertile ground for rail. You don’t have enough neighborhoods dense enough to support the service. Your best bet for driving service in those corridors is to feed all of your buses into the rail corridor. But when you do that, a couple of things occur.
    First you inconvience your potential riders because instead of having direct bus service, now there trip has to have a transfer and the length of the trip has to increase to include time in the schedule for a transfer. Some of the people will take the feeder buses into rail in a place like Fresno, some will just drive to the park and ride stations and some will just drive to work. The net result is that the buses feeding your light rail system in a town like Fresno are going to be running a lot less full, many will be dropped so you will have less access to transit.
    This is why when low density regions adding transit they fail to increase share.
    Sacramento has opened its first light rail system in 1987. It also increased its sales to tax to pay for transit. Despite increasing funding and building out the light rail system, transit’s share of the commute is down from 1980 before it passed the transit tax and despite the build out of rail.
    It opened its most recent 400 million dollar extention to Folsom in October of 2005. Look at the results. In Sacramento, transit share went from 4.6% to 3.7% after the most recent extention of light rail.
    In Folsom transit’s share of the commute increased from 1.4% to 1.7%
    About the only thing that increases the share for transit in these low density regions is increasing gas prices. This is why I think raising the gas tax and vehicle registration fees are important.

  29. Cap'n Transit August 11, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about this more, and I remembered what’s been happening over the past year all around the USA. Ridership has grown, while transit agencies have slashed their budgets. So what’s the point in riding?

  30. Wad August 11, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    Mike wrote:
    I see the problem being caused by the types of transit improvements you are advocating, all of which will result in additional routes that are probably going to be mostly empty.
    That is the point … in the short term.
    Transit ridership doesn’t work like movie box office numbers. You won’t see riders immediately take to a line and then taper off to the point of cancellation. Ridership takes a while to build, but it will rise. It will only do that at a supply level deemed “fit for ridership.”
    As Aaron said, it’s like the prisoner’s dilemma. When you have service at 60 minutes or worse, you’re basically deciding between keeping empty buses going or canceling service. You cannot get anything accomplished when buses run once an hour.
    Service needs to be at least every 30 minutes. It’s still not attractive enough to leave the house without planning a trip by schedule, but it builds enough of a base to get it to more useful levels.
    Late night and early morning service is going to mean more mostly empty buses. Providing service based upon the position of a grid and not the number of households or employers in a region is again going to result in a lot of routes to nowhere.
    How do people go from Point A to Point B if they drive a car, ride a bike or walk? On the grid! It’s not the method of transportation, but the guideway (the roads and sidewalks) that determines trips.
    It’s also how the buses run on the grid that can determine their ridership. As Jarrett pointed out, people don’t travel in loops. This is not a natural travel pattern, but is a device transit systems use to maximize coverage in a service area. It’s also used when a system needs to facilitate transfers, and the best way to do it is to line up the buses at a central point rather than having passengers wait where buses intersect.
    When service gets to be frequent enough, bus routes can shift to the grid. It’s a more realistic travel pattern. What will happen, though, is a “flight to quality”. Riders will more often than not choose the more frequent service if they can take two or more routes.
    That affects your perception of “routes to nowhere.” A “nowhere” route is where there is no development around a bus stop. Transit agencies try to deviate these routes to a street where there is at least something around a bus stop. A service grid policy reduces the walking-to-a-stop penalty. Spacing routes a mile apart implies the longest possible walk to the nearest bus stop is half a mile. If, however, there’s a situation where on the two parallel routes, one has 15 minute service while the other has 30, more people would choose to ride the more frequent route.

  31. Alon Levy August 11, 2009 at 7:35 pm #

    Mike, population density in the Zurich suburbs is about 4000/mi^2. That hasn’t prevented the people living there from using rail to commute to work.

  32. Mike August 11, 2009 at 11:08 pm #

    Diesel and gasoline are more than twice as expensive in Zurich. I suspect that vehicle registration fees in Zurich are also significantly higher than in California.
    If you tax driving enough, you can make it expensive enough where people will use mass transit. This is why I advocate raising the gas and vehicle registration fees. I think that policy has the best chance of converting transit from something that has a potential enviromental benefit into something that has an actual enviromental benefit.
    The other factor is that a lot of these people are commuting to a high density central business district, where again parking is going to be expensive. That too is going to serve as an additional inducement to take the train.
    People and employers in Zurich want to be near Lake Zurich. There is nothing in Fresno that serves as a comparable amenity to induce people to work or live near Fresno’s central business district.

  33. Mike August 11, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    We aren’t seeing that in Sacramento. In the late 80’s they passed a half cent transit tax increasing funding for transit, they began building out an extensive light rail system that they continue to build out. The share of people commuting by transit in Sacramento is lower in 2007 than in 2000 and the share in both 2000 and 2007 is lower than the share of people that took transit in 1980.
    For the 1980 numbers you will have to look that up from the census data because there isn’t an on line link.
    This is happening in spite of the fact that principle employer in Sacramento is government and the government puts all of its building adjacent to the light rail system and subsidizes the cost of transit passes for employees.
    In low density areas surrounded by lots of open space, new development occurs primarily on the urban fringe. In Sacramento the growth happened in Natomas, in Elk Grove, in western Placer County and in western El Dorado County.
    In more built out areas, the only way to accomodate growth is build more densely. But in areas surrounded by open space, the growth flows to the areas that don’t already have poor schools, where traffic is less and its easier to develop because there is less nimby opposition.
    If we raised the gas and vehicle registration fees, then it would be more expensive to sprawl and the incentives for developers would be to build more densely. But in areas that are surrounded by open space, cities grow primarily by annexation of ag land, not by intensifying land use on existing land. Rents are too cheap too support building higher.
    This is why providing more transit fails to incentivize developer to develop more densely. When the share of transportation by transit is less than 5%, access to transit really doesn’t have much impact on the decision of where developers locate buildings, it just doesn’t provide enough employed users to matter.

  34. Wad August 11, 2009 at 11:41 pm #

    Scott Wood wrote:
    I’m not sure I agree with the bit about owl service — its value lies not just in the riders it actually carries, but in the people who consider the possibility that they might need to stay late.
    I deliberately left out owl service because availability in the period between midnight and 5 a.m. does not influence trip choice in the way it does for other hours of the day. Also, owl services almost never meet performance targets, and there are cheaper ways to provide a similar but alternative transit service, such as subsidized taxi fares.
    I’m not anti-owl service, but considering the costs versus productivity, it’s the last priority. Even for 24-hour cities. It all depends on the city.
    The 16- or 20-hour service, though, is a must.
    I assume you mean “maximum distance between routes” rather than minimum — that’s a good goal, but it might not be possible in some suburban areas with pathological road layouts (especially if it’s one mile as can be traversed by pedestrians, rather than birds).
    Yes, I mean maximum. Thanks for the correction.
    As for those suburban areas you mention — curvilinear arterials with small cul-de-sac collectors or even grid streets but with subdivisions facing away from the main road — you’re already bracing for low ridership. If some service needs to be provided, it can be through a subsidized dial-a-cab, general public dial-a-ride, or flex shuttles. The flex shuttles are cutaway buses operating on fixed routes than can be dispatched to deviate from the route.
    The thing is, though, that you must have very low ridership for all of these services. They start to become very expensive when they become popular, and it becomes politically very hard to acclimate riders to fixed-route service.
    These guidelines must be adapted to local conditions and allow some exemptions for natural and land-use barriers.

  35. Wad August 12, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    Mike, ever hear of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy? It sounds like you are arguing that because transit’s modal share declined in those periods, transit caused the decline. Therefore, transit was a misinvestment.
    I admit, I don’t know Sacramento in detail, but I have a general idea of the problem.
    1. Sacramento RT’s service area is the city of Sacramento and some adjacent communities who opted in to the system by funding local shares.
    Meanwhile, the labor shed for Sacramento stretches not only within the county, but to Yolo and Solano counties to the west, Yuba and Sutter counties to the north, western Placer county to the east, and San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties to the south.
    These areas were planning for commute-shed development regardless of whether light rail was built. RT, meanwhile, had to plan for light rail where it showed maximum ridership potential where existing service was, not for trying to hit the moving target of where the sprawl was going.
    When Sacramento is drawing on so many areas for its commuters, how can RT fail at providing service it’s not even authorized to provide? It’s pretty ridiculous that West Sacramento, just directly across the river from downtown Sacramento, has to have service provided by a different transit agency even though spatially, it’s as close as walking distance.
    RT did not choose its boundaries. The voters did.
    2. Sacramento illustrates my points about needing a policy service and especially the “flight to quality” problem.
    Sacramento provides very frequent service on light rail. However, if you look at the basic bus service grid, the frequencies are atrocious. When you have light rail running every 15 minutes, but connecting buses running mostly hourly, most transit riders are going to orient their trips around using light rail because of the better ride quality. Or they’ll just skip the buses altogether and walk, drive or bike to the light rail station.
    Now that light rail accounts for more than 50% of RT’s boardings, it’s sending the wrong feedback. People will treat this as a success. Really, though, it doesn’t tell you that most of those riders are there because of the obvious gap in bus service.
    3. There’s no truism that density (or service levels) alone determine ridership. There’s a limit to both aspects.
    What if Sacramento became twice as dense but RT service stayed exactly the same? Density by itself is not going to make public transit more attractive if RT had the same levels of service as it does now. Would you reorient your lifestyle around using hourly buses? No.
    Service by itself would raise ridership, but it does take on a big risk. Raising services reduces productivity, and a good benchmark is to compare your agency with agencies of similar population size, density, or similar operating climate.
    The goal is to sacrifice a little productivity in the near term to raise it in the short term.
    Go back to my Long Beach vs. Fresno example. What would happen if Fresno raised its bus service to Long Beach levels? Ridership would increase, but the population density would have a limit on productivity. What would happen if Long Beach reduced its bus service to Fresno levels? Ridership would also drop, but it would fall closer to Fresno levels of usage than vice versa even though Long Beach is 2.5x as dense. Cutting service would have a far more adverse impact on Long Beach than Fresno, while adding service in Fresno would have a far better rate of growth than Long Beach.

  36. Michael D. Setty August 12, 2009 at 10:33 am #

    Most of the discussion here is wrong.
    There is always a bit to learn by even a little bit of analysis!!! Start by downloading each NTD report from the links kindly provided above.
    Taking the NTD summaries as a source, if one looks at per capita provision of service, there is only modest differences in the level of service provided and per capita ridership in Fresno and Long Beach. The service level in Fresno was 0.95 annual revenue vehicle hours (RVH) per capita, and 0.86 in the Long Beach service area. Annual ridership per capita (Rc) was 29.8 in Fresno, and 33 in Long Beach.
    The slightly higher annual Rc per capita in the Long Beach Transit service area is probably explained by the fact LBT provides, on average, more frequent service than FAX. Density and demographics are probably secondary factors.
    These calculations undermine the basis for most of the previous discussion here. BTW, most buses in Fresno run at least every 30 minutes, and there are a handful of lines that are more frequent.

  37. mike August 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    I agree RT isn’t responsible for Solono, Yolo, Placer or El Dorado Counties. In Sacramento county some cities have set up their own transit services.
    This is why I didn’t cite the census transit figures for the Sacramento urbanized area nor the census figures for Sacramento County. I thought those were unfair bases of comparison. I only used the numbers for cities that contracted with RT to provide service and are in the service shed for RT. (Folsom and Sacramento).
    The thing is that RT didn’t set up rail to go where it thought maximum ridership would be. It took over rights of way from freight lines and then ran the light rail system on those freight lines. These areas mostly had warehouses and had few residents or employers. They ran their bus lines into the light rail system to push the numbers up on light rail. But the areas where light rail go in Sacramento were some of the worst transit corridors in the region before light rail was ran through them.
    Sacramento illustrates my problem with transit “improvements”. Before light rail comes to an area, the region is served by buses that provide relatively direct service to employment centers. When light rail comes to town, commute times increase because now they have to include time for transfering to light rail. Some of the riders decide to shorten their commute by driving to the park and ride lots and the number of people on the buses decrease. When budgets tighten, the bus lines feeding the light rail system are now considered underutilized and these routes are dropped. Ultimately transit access is reduced. Whatever efficiency gains are produced on the rail side are offset by the efficiency losses of buses feeding into the rail system running less full.
    This has been the process in Sacramento that has prevented the introduction light rail from boosting the share of people commuting by transit. Light rail cannabilized the bus service.
    This is why I am so down on light rail in low density regions.
    When transit demand is high like Geary Street in SF where frequent buses are running full, I see the need for upgrading to rail. But in Sacramento light rail was introduced in corridors where their was virtually no intrinsic demand for the service. To me that is bad policy driven by people seeking to maximize federal funds. These wasn’t a transit improvement, its just gaming the system.
    The big difference between you and me is that you want transit to increase at all costs. I only want to increase transit if the transit can be provided in a manner that has less enviromental costs than people driving in automobiles. You are willing to add low marginal demand service to pick up any additional potential transit riders, I only want to add to transit in those situations where it can be provided at less enviromental costs than people driving passenger cars. Otherwise I see no reason to subsidize it.

  38. Mike August 12, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    For the purposes of our discussion I think the NTD summary database here obfusicates as much as enlightens. The NTD summary database provides the annual number of unlinked trips. If one transfers from a bus to another bus and then to light rail, that trip counts as 1 linked trip or three unlinked trips (which is possible in Long Beach). If you need to do the reverse the process on your way home, then you have completed 6 unlinked trips as far as the NTD summary database is concerned. So unlinked trips are actually a misleading proxy for the number of people commuting each day by mass transit. This is why I don’t think your annual ridership per capita is a useful number.
    The annual revenue miles is a better number because it just measures how many hours the buses are available to collect potential fares and compares it to the population base of the communities served.
    The census database here is much more germaine to our discussion because it looks at the number of people actually commuting each day in a given area. 7.4% of the population in Long Beach is commuting by mass transit and 2.1% are commuting by mass transit in Fresno.
    What I see driving these ridership numbers isn’t the provision of service, but density.

  39. Scott Wood August 12, 2009 at 7:55 pm #

    I deliberately left out owl service because availability in the period between midnight and 5 a.m. does not influence trip choice in the way it does for other hours of the day. Also, owl services almost never meet performance targets, and there are cheaper ways to provide a similar but alternative transit service, such as subsidized taxi fares.
    Maybe — though I’m a little skeptical that subsidizing taxi service to a meaningful degree would be that much cheaper. Maybe a flex shuttle?
    For what it’s worth, here in Austin (not a particularly transit-oriented city) a couple of owl routes outperform a bunch of regular routes on boardings per revenue hour (http://www.capmetro.org/serviceplan2020/docs/existing_conditions.pdf) — one (481) carries over a hundred people per night during a three-hour service span (12pm-3am), and is popular enough that it runs at 30 minute headways.
    As for those suburban areas you mention — curvilinear arterials with small cul-de-sac collectors or even grid streets but with subdivisions facing away from the main road — you’re already bracing for low ridership.
    Yeah, I know… 🙁
    It’d be nice if, during the design phase for such a development, one could point out such standards and say, “This area will not be able to be provided with bronze-level transit service if you do it this way” rather than a less concrete “this is bad for transit”. They probably still wouldn’t care, though.
    The thing is, though, that you must have very low ridership for all of these services. They start to become very expensive when they become popular, and it becomes politically very hard to acclimate riders to fixed-route service.
    What if it’s clear from the beginning that the nature of the service depends on its load at the time? You’d put in a request for ideal pickup/dropoff locations and a maximum distance you’ll walk. Once the reservation cutoff is reached (which shouldn’t be too far before departure, but far enough to have time to get to the stop or make alternative plans), the system responds with where and when you’ll be picked up — or declines your request if the system is too busy for the deviation requested. Perhaps a best effort could be made to fit in later requests, but with a higher chance of being denied.
    People would still get upset if the system starts to load up to the point where it won’t give them the rides they used to get, but at least it would seem less like an arbitrary service change, and you would have ridership figures behind you when arguing for street network modifications to accomodate them (detractors can’t argue that it’s for something nobody will use). Of course, if ridership stays low, it would just continue to operate as paratransit.
    Most paratransit I’ve seen, however, provides only the minimum level of service for people that can’t get around any other way due to disability or age. They require reservations at least a day in advance, operate during extremely limited hours and days, provide very limited written descriptions of their service (“if you need this, call us”), etc.

  40. Wad August 12, 2009 at 10:01 pm #

    Mike wrote:
    The big difference between you and me is that you want transit to increase at all costs. I only want to increase transit if the transit can be provided in a manner that has less enviromental costs than people driving in automobiles.
    Well, yes, you’ve uncovered my sinister ulterior motive. I would like to see transit increase at all costs. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
    You “only” — meaning you evaluate all transit performance under one single prism, one that seemingly judges all services as a failure unless they ascribe to a standard that they cannot attain anyway — want transit administered if it can be environmentally friendlier than automobiles. Sorry, but that’s playing with a loaded deck.
    I think we are starting to realize 2008 as a paradigm-shifting year. That is of course where so many factors combined to batter our society in ways that we thought were unimaginable. No, I don’t mean the election. I am talking about the finance bubble explosion and the record price of gasoline.
    The finance bubble explosion triggered a panic in capital markets as a whole. This of course had the secondary shock of lost jobs and reduced income.
    How does the price of gasoline tie in? Well, 2008 laid bare the harsh truth that the American lifestyle was built on a foundation of plastic. Most Americans not only had been using credit cards to enrich themselves materially, but when gas prices hit $4, we had learned many Americans had been using their credit cards for their day-to-day needs. Yes, they were charging gas on credit.
    This opened a lot of eyes. Americans realized they were vulnerable, and suddenly the freedom that the automobile provided turned out to be a shackle. Plus over a period of 80 years, we’ve made all alternatives impossible or rotten.
    This is what created a surge in transit ridership last year that most transit systems struggled to manage. This put a lot of new riders onto buses and trains, and you are hearing now calls from everywhere to improve service. Not only the quality, but the quantity of service as well.
    Of course, the conversation has hundreds of cities saying they need light rail and streetcars. I don’t agree with that. That’s overly ambitious for most areas right now.
    What these areas do need, though, is to build up what they have. Mediocre systems need to start thinking good, and pathetic systems needs to bring themselves up to a level of mediocrity (“We’re halfway there!”)
    What this solution is has to be locally determined. What do locals want and what threshold of cost and performance are they willing to tolerate? This is why you cannot dismiss any area not San Francisco or New York because they aren’t sufficiently dense for anything but the automobile.
    For the Fresno example, I cited an adaptable policy service guideline that might be appropriate for them. I never said Fresno needed urban rail. I suggested that they invest in mass transit at a level of service that would make service attractive. With only 40,000 boardings a weekday, a cheaper and more attainable solution would be to expand the bus network to build up ridership.
    It’s a more modest goal, and it would put them close to perhaps Long Beach levels of service. Fresno wouldn’t need to double density. It does need to beef up its service, though, to make taking bus more attractive from a time-waiting perspective.
    That’s just one phase, though. The second is the marginal demand. One of the things transit planners should work into their methodologies is the network effect — well understood in the worlds of computer science and communication.
    Every marginal-demand rider provides a two-way benefit. The rider generally feeds into strong ridership corridors, and the higher-ridership corridor also helps raise the ridership of each connecting lower-performance route.
    This is the genius of the Long Beach Transit service grid. Long Beach is the second-largest carrier in Los Angeles County. Besides its core ridership in the city, it also provides bus service into neighboring Lakewood, Cerritos, Artesia, Bellflower and Norwalk.
    All but a few lines run to downtown Long Beach. The service to the suburbs runs every 30-60 minutes. Pretty bad? But, Long Beach pairs together these 30-60 minute routes within Long Beach to provide frequent service (15 minutes or better weekdays, 20 on weekends) within the city limits.
    Long Beach has many L-shaped routes to accomplish this. The other benefit of this is a tacit policy of ensuring that passengers do not have to make more than one transfer to complete a trip. Riders don’t have to take a bus all the way downtown to complete a trip, as the grid allows them to connect with a bus nearly anywhere in the system.
    How come it works? The frequent trunks help keep the ridership up and the costs down on the suburban tails. It makes the suburban tail lines attractive by allowing frequent connections through a large part of Long Beach, and it allows most riders to complete any possible trip with 1 or 2 buses.
    This is how you develop a strong transit network. Any city, big or small, can have these improvements. A service policy, guaranteeing a basic level of service that actually makes service attractive to riders, helps set that path.

  41. Mike August 13, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    “You “only” — meaning you evaluate all transit performance under one single prism, one that seemingly judges all services as a failure unless they ascribe to a standard that they cannot attain anyway — want transit administered if it can be environmentally friendlier than automobiles. Sorry, but that’s playing with a loaded deck.”
    Why is it impossible? Motor coaches easily do it, why shouldn’t transit buses at least beat the enviromenatl performance of people driving in automobiles?
    If fuel prices are rising and transit is using more Co2 per passenger mile than automobiles (meaning they are are using more gasoline per person than a person in a passenger car), then rising gas prices isn’t going to shift large numbers of people from driving to transit. The cost of providing that level of transit service is going to be rising faster than the increase in gas prices. That level of service in a gas spike is just going to bankrupt your transit agency.

  42. EngineerScotty August 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm #

    I think there’s vast agreement that a fully-loaded bus is going to be better for the environment than all those passengers traveling in separate automobiles (or even carpooling).
    However, your average Hummer or Escalade, even with a single driver and no passenger, is going to have better per-capita environmental performance (energy consumption, carbon emissions) than a mostly-empty bus or train. Transit requires passengers to be energy efficient; this is no big secret.
    Given that many transit agencies provide rides as a social service, as opposed to actual demand–it’s not surprising that in the aggregate, many agencies look bad by these scores.
    I think you’ll find, though that the MARGINAL fuel use per rider for transit–is actually negative. Adding one more passenger doesn’t measurably affect gas mileage; any more than putting a bag of groceries in the trunk will affect the gas mileage of a Honda Accord. However, the extra passenger will increase the denominator.
    The exception to this rule occurs when increased transit usage can only be (reasonably) be met by increasing levels of service–running more busses or trains.
    Rising gas prices DO shift large numbers of people to transit–transit use went up considerably in many US cities when gas hit $4 a gallon. And certainly, many transit agencies DID have to cut service or raise fares in response to rising fuel prices. But the issue there is that most rides are presently subsidized as is (the fare doesn’t cover the cost of the ride); and the taxpayers’ contribution is frequently fixed. (If anything, tax revenues have gone down; due to the recession).

  43. Wad August 15, 2009 at 12:21 am #

    Mike wrote:
    What I see driving these ridership numbers isn’t the provision of service, but density.
    Not so fast there, Mike.
    I know I shouldn’t be dragging this discussion along, but I will check both service provision and density for Fresno. I’ll leave Long Beach alone since I am more familiar with that system.
    Here’s the 2000 census density map for Fresno. While the population grew, the density is likely to match this map:
    As you have said, the density of Fresno is 4,097.9/sq mi. That may be, but as you see in the map, density is obviously not spread evenly throughout the city of Fresno. And it looks like FAX serves the city almost exclusively.
    The beige parts of the map show density of 103 to 1,497/sq mi. The darkest green tracts show a very urban density of 7,786 to 12,048 sq mi.
    Then, I looked at the FAX master plan for bus rapid transit. It’s a huge 20MB PDF, but I found boarding data for the 10 busiest lines in the system. It is on page 34.
    A word of note: The busiest FAX route is 28, but the most productive is 30. Line 30 happens to be the second busiest route, but it is a relatively straight route along Blackstone Avenue. Line 28 attempts to do everything, as it starts east of downtown, goes into downtown, goes north, then east, then north, then east, then north, then by CSU Fresno and into Clovis. It’s a busy route, but it could be chopped up into chunks.
    I’ll strip the ridership but I’ll give the headways. Lines are from highest to lowest.
    28 15wd/30we
    30 15wd/30we
    26 30wd/60we
    38 15wd/30we
    32 30wd/30we
    41 30wd/50we
    34 15wd/30we
    22 30wd/50we
    9 30wd/30we
    20 30wd/45we
    It’s hard to see how density drives ridership on these lines.
    The Blackstone line runs through mostly medium-to-high density census tracts. The only very-high density route is through downtown, but it’s hard to say if this is the major origin and destination for Line 30 riders, not counting transfers.
    Also, note how all but a few of the lines are primarily oriented around north-south service. It appears that riders will try to use these services rather than transferring to a thin availability of east-west buses.
    Also, northwest Fresno is very dense, with a large dark green “beak” (a minimum of 7,786/sq mi.) chewing a high density cluster (5,321 to 7,247/sq mi). Look between Shaw and Belmont avenues.
    For such a dense area, there is no east-west bus service between Shaw and Shields avenues west of Blackstone Avenue.
    Theoretically, density should support bus ridership in this area, including crosstown service.
    Yet in this patch, you have 5 of the top 10 routes providing some north south service. This tells me that riders are bunching up on north-south routes and making long walks to their destination.
    I’ll also leave you with a density example. There is a superdense cluster bounded by Ashlan Avenue, Cedar Avenue, and 1st Street. The lowest density cluster is a part of the airport, but lower density clusters range from 3,519 to 7,247/sq mi, so they complement the high density sector.
    The Cedar bus (38) has a much more favorable density profile than Blackstone (30), yet it still produces fewer boardings despite traveling about the same length in a north-south direction.
    The western flank (34) on 1st Street has the same service levels as 38, but the two routes add up to about the same ridership as the No. 1 route, which meanders everywhere.
    The other thing that strikes me odd is how could Line 26 be the third-busiest route when it has the worst frequency of the top 10?
    Again, there is something in the service profile of FAX that is a result of its ridership outcome. Performance does not always match density, as the most productive cluster of routes is not in the most dense clusters of Fresno. The most dense clusters also don’t have the most frequent or the most logical layout plans.
    These densities should favor transit, but it still looks like FAX’s ridership is greatly tied to the supply of routes.

  44. Mike August 17, 2009 at 3:00 pm #

    Density does matter. It effects how many potential riders a line can pick up. But there are other factors as well, like employment centers and transit destinations as well.
    Line 28, hits downtown Fresno, CSU Fresno, Fresno City Collge and Fresno Pacific University. Why that matters is that colleges in the Fresno area are some of the few areas in Fresno that charge for parking which drives ridership.
    While line 38, goes through a more dense corridor, it does a very poor job of actually hitting any transit destinations. It does a very poor job of serving either downtown or blackstone because the route meanders to and from those destinations in a giant backwards G shape. Moreover while this area is dense for Fresno, its an island of relatively density in a still mostly nondense region. This is why parking in this area is still free which again means that solo driving is still a very affordible option for people in these neighborhoods. There isn’t a high enough concentration of high density neighborhoods in Fresno to drive transit usage.
    This is why only 3998 people are commuting to work in Fresno by transit.

  45. AMIELynch34 July 2, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    If you’re in a not good position and have got no cash to go out from that point, you will require to take the business loans. Just because that should help you emphatically. I get car loan every single year and feel great because of that.

  46. Wish I had a car March 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    Bus line 28 does not actually follow logic. Also, there is no crosstown service between Clinton and Shaw North of Blackstone. I will give a few ideas why. Bus 45 has to serve as a Fruit Ave bus as a west Herndon wannabe, which is why no going west on Ashlan. Long ago, there was a route from hughes to Blackstone on Ashlan, but it got cancelled. Bus 24 used to serve as a Fruit only route, but low ridership made it get cut. It only went north to Shaw Ave and went no further. Bus 28 should go all the way down Maroa, but seems to be designed on a budget. (it is highly unlikely there will ever be a Maroa bus the way it should) Fresno wont put a crosstown bus on Herndon despite the building of a new Walmart supercenter, which is strange since Herndon has a major shopping center or some strip mall nearly at every stoplight. Then you have the city of Clovis, which puts roadblocks to better bus service, since they want you to turn around at Willow, just simply because they dont want FAX buses running thru their town. These are the main reasons why Fresno may not ever have good service, as well as being in a budget crisis. I know we need more crosstown routes NOW. I am not a millionaire, so I could not tell you if a Maroa bus would actually be successful, but an idea north end termination would be around River Park, and going partially where 26 is going now. This would free up 26 to run on the north side of Palm that currently has no bus service.(north of Herndon)

  47. Wish I had a car March 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Also, you have to get the people to ride. One example of not having a full crosstown on Ashlan forces you to take multiple transfers. I was on Hughes and Ashlan, but couldn’t get down because there was no bus 45 waiting for me since service on west Ashlan is completely nonexistant.