General

Covid-19: My Letter to Colleagues and Clients

This letter went out to our colleagues today:

Friends and colleagues.

First of all, we are deeply grateful to everyone working in public transit agencies right now.  Frontline staff are taking personal risks, while everyone is having to think fast and abandon usual procedures.  If you are in the midst of this, thank you for everything you’re doing.

The goals that justify our work have turned upside down.  I never thought I’d hear transit managers tell people not to use their service, or that the mandate of social distance would have us running big buses and long trains so that they would be as empty as possible.  All our old instincts for how to run good transit systems suddenly feel wrong.

Like many of you, my team and I have been thinking about how Covid-19 changes what we do, how we do it, what stories we tell, and what questions we ask the public.  I wanted to take a moment to share our thoughts as they stand right now.

The most important fact about Covid-19 is that our recovery will be gradual, and we will emerge from it into a different world.  Experts tell us to expect a tentative and slow recovery, in which people may fear the virus for several years.  Here are some of the changes we think are coming.

  • New public understanding of goals.  In a recent Bloomberg Citylab article I argued that at the moment, transit’s role is neither to attract riders or to serve people’s needs; it’s to protect essential services that are holding civilization together.  In a pandemic, we are all transit dependent in this sense.  The crisis will change the conversation about public transit, and we need to be ready to tell new stories about why transit matters now, even if the traffic congestion that motivates more affluent riders to use our service takes years to return.
  • Demand for interim outcomes.  For several years, as demand returns in unpredictable ways, transit agencies will need to make quick decisions about how to restore service in light of changing demands.   We are reviewing all of our approaches to see how they can produce insights fast enough to guide those decisions.
  • No “existing system.”  Most planning studies compare a proposed future to the existing system, but that system no longer exists.  In general, planning will need to rely less on pre-crisis data and more on an understanding of post-crisis demand, including a lot of listening and clear thinking about goals.
  • Outreach that is all online.  There will be no in-person meetings for a while, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do outreach.  Everyone is learning how to do more things online and by phone.  Religious services, community meetings, clubs, and many other such events are all happening online, so “going to where people are” may mean visiting those virtual spaces with them.  People are spending more time on social media, so the payoff of deep investment in communicating that way may increase.  Pollsters are noticing  that people have become more willing to answer the phone.  People want to engage, though we’ll need to find ways to include marginalized and less-wired communities in these conversations.
  • Outreach with faster turnaround.  Expectations for exhaustive public outreach may need to be balanced against the need to make some decisions more quickly, such as about interim service restoration.  The public will appreciate being consulted, even briefly, such as via text or social media.  It will be more urgent than ever to ask the public just the right question, so that the answer we get is influential on our work.
  • New reasons for redesign.  We are probably heading into a period of reduced funding combined with urgent expectations.  It’s more fun to plan service in the context of growth, but I have done many redesigns in the context of crises, and these have often given the agency a better structure on which to grow when resources and demand return.
  • Reduced resistance to change.  One of the most hopeful impacts of Covid-19 is that we may hear less anger about disrupting people’s habits when we change service.  Everyone’s habits are already disrupted, so it is in many ways an ideal time to make changes.  Some people will still feel entitled to the old service just as it was, but there will be powerful arguments – moral and data-driven – for why the new situation is different, and demands new thinking.

Our team has already made some happy discoveries about how to do great planning while keeping social distance.  For example, we’ve long emphasized the importance of “Core Design Retreats,” where we lock ourselves and key staff in a room for several days to sketch a new network.  I’d never have imagined we could do this in a Zoom meeting, but now we’ve done it, to redesign the bus network in Norfolk, Virginia, and we’ll do it even better next time.  Even the big stakeholder workshops that we’re known for, featuring interactive games, may be possible online.  We’re working to develop those tools now.  I think we’ll all be surprised by what becomes possible.

Like many, we are concerned about what this may do to our business, though we feel lucky compared to friends who work in tourism, restaurants, or the arts.  If we do see a slowdown in planning work, I’m committed to keeping our team together.  To do that, we’ve tightened our belts, and I’ve reduced my own salary, until we are sure our demand has fully returned.  When you need us, we will be here.

In the end, if there’s anything that gives us confidence, it’s that we have built our practice on questioning established planning habits. We will not get stuck trying to do things the way we’ve always done them.  We are ready to improvise and build new methods fast, so we can help you cope with the present and move toward the future rather than simply return to the past.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everything you’re doing to help us emerge from this crisis into a better world.

All the best.

 

Cutting Transit Service During the Pandemic: Why? How? And What’s Next?

Most of the goals that we expect public transit to pursue have just turned upside down.  Ridership was an important goal two months ago, but now public transit agencies are telling customers to stay away if they can, restricting service to “essential trips.”  These trips are critical, though, to the functioning of society.  You could even argue, as I did in Citylab recently, that transit is helping prevent the collapse of civilization.

But now transit authorities are having to cut service.  This post examines why, and how they should do it.  It’s long, so there’s a table of contents:

Contents

  1. Why Cut Service?
  2. Why Not Shut Down?
  3. What Service Should be Cut?
  4. What Agencies are Doing, and May Do
  5. Three Stages of Adaptation and Recovery

 

1.  Why Cut Service?

Why cut service at all in this situation?  There are two compelling reasons:

  • Staff availability.  Some critical staff are sick, and it’s likely that every transit employee is at least worried about being sick.  So right now, there just aren’t enough people showing up for work.
  • Saving money.  In the US, the Federal CARES Act will keep transit agencies whole for a couple of months but requires them to continue paying all their staff.  But the financial prospects are dire in the longer term, so some agencies are trying to save money so that they can keep going a little longer if the federal funding dries up.  In countries where no emergency funding is being provided, many agencies will run out of money very soon if they don’t cut their service dramatically.  (Vancouver’s TransLink, for example, has been told not to expect support from the Canadian federal government, and will have to “deconstruct” much of the network as a result.)

2.  Why Not Shut Down?

This is a brutal time to be a bus driver.  Already some services have been shut down by union action and some labor leaders are demanding more shutdowns.  Some transit systems — such as the one in Windsor, Ontario — have shut down completely with no particular attempt to provide alternate solutions for the “essential services” workers.

Apart from the workforce safety issue, would it be cheaper to shut down transit and just subsidize Uber-Lyft rides for all essential services workers? That math only works if you truly lay off the workforce.  This is not what the unions have in mind, and in the US it’s expressly prohibited for agencies taking the Federal CARES act rescue funds.  It also means that when economic activity resumes it will take more time to get the agency restarted, potentially creating a long period when lots of people need transit and it’s just not there.  Meanwhile, while keeping people 6 feet (2m) apart is certainly hard on public transit, it’s impossible on the Uber or Lyft.  You’d need a van to carry just one passenger in addition to the driver.

3.  What Service Should Be Cut?

Easy Options

If service has to be cut, how should it be cut, and with what priorities?  Two cuts are really obvious and most agencies have done them:

  • Tourism and recreation services.  These markets have vanished.  San Francisco, for example, has replaced its cable cars with buses.  Many downtown circulators and trolleys, especially those justified by tourism, have shut down.
  • Service usually added for rush hour, unless it’s the only service to an area.   The “essential service” trips that are still on transit happen all over the clock with very little peaking.  The huge nine-to-five peak created by white collar workers is nearly gone, and of course the school peak — a big one in many agencies — has disappeared entirely.  Peak-only service is expensive, so it’s a logical first thing to go as long as people along those routes have a local service option to complete essential trips.

Difficult Options

  • Cut frequencies.  Most agencies have done it. but it’s dangerous.  A common misconception is that if you cut frequency, people still have “access.”  But lower frequency means longer waits for connections, so this can cause massive increases in travel times.  A trip that takes longer than people have in their day might as well not be served at all.  A good guideline, which several agencies are following, is to cut very frequent services to run only every 15 minutes, the worst frequency at which connections are still viable, but resist cutting further.
  • Abandon service to some areas entirely, while focusing on “essential” destinations.  Many agencies have plotted the locations of essential services, especially medical centers, and retained only routes serving those.  The problem here is that the workers who need to get to those places live everywhere.  To make all essential trips possible, you need a degree of citywide access, at least to all areas where incomes match the typical pay of essential workers.
  • Cut duration of service.  This totally abandons some essential shift workers, especially in the 24/7 medical world.  Most transit agencies were already offering little or new overnight service, and closure of restaurants and entertainment has eliminated most of the ridership of evening service.  But further reductions of span can still be a problem for essential services workers, who may have to travel all over the clock.
  • Increase walking distances consistently.  In a grid network where there are routes about every half-mile or 1 km, just turn off every other route, so that walking distance to transit increases but everyone still can get to some service.  More on this interesting option below.

4.  What Agencies are Doing, and May Do

The most common quick response to the crisis has been to go to Saturday or Sunday schedules.  This effectively does a bit of everything on the “difficult options” list.  It’s totally reasonable as a quick response.  Saturday and Sunday schedules already exist, have already been approved by both union and management, and are relatively easy to turn on.  The normal process of writing, approving, and implementing a schedule takes months, with procedures that tend to be strictly defined in labor contracts.  Many agencies have found their unions to be motivated to help make things work in the crisis, but that approval process still takes time.  So it’s understandable that using weekend schedules was the thing that could be done fast.

Still, several agencies have already managed to implement more carefully designed service cuts.  Cleveland’s RTA, for example, has completed a service cut with revised schedules reflecting detailed thought about every route and how to make a minimally functional and connective system.  In their case, the suburbanization of low income means they can’t cut any coverage, but they’ve turned off their downtown shuttles and carefully chosen frequencies for each route to optimize travel times.

It’s critical that transit agencies do these designed reduced networks they have time to think about it.  Many transit agency Sunday schedules are just the daytime network run less frequently, and often don’t work very well because it can take an hour to change buses.  But transit agencies will be running on reduced demand and resources for some time, so more careful design is needed.

San Francisco and Philadelphia (within the city) are among the cities where the cuts have tended to protect frequency bhy increasing walking distance — though of course this works best in old cities that are relatively walkable.  San Francisco has turned off many routes and thus increased walking distances to about a mile but in return its frequencies are 20 minutes or better everywhere, so once you’ve walked to a functioning route you can be on your way.  Their new “Core” network doesn’t immediately show a consistent route spacing, because their initial design was limited to turning existing routes off or on, but if this goes on I wouldn’t be surprised if they start doing modest restructuring to improve the amount of useful service they can provide with such reduced resources.

5.  Three Stages of Adaptation and Recovery

From what agencies are doing, and the facts behind them, I think we can identify three stages that agencies are going through, or likely to go through, as they deal with the combination of (a) suddenly needing to cut service and (b) retaining the ability to slowly grow service back as demand returns, knowing that the pattern of new demand may be different from the old.

Stage 1.  Emergency cuts.  These cuts, mostly done by now, are necessarily rushed and crude, such as going to weekend schedules.

Stage 2.  Designed cuts.  When time permits, refine the schedules to better reflect actual patterns of “essential services” needs during the emergency.

Stage 3.  Strategic design.  While Stage 2 generally works with the existing network structure, this stage may revise routes or even redesign some services.  You would do this, though, only if you think that redesign will probably continue making sense as demand returns.

Everyone knows that when this crisis passes, they will emerge into a different world with different patterns of demand.  The usual controversy around network changes, where we disrupt patterns that people are used to, will no longer apply, because nobody’s used to anything at the moment, and we all know the new world will be different from the old.  We can anticipate some reasons that the return of service will need to follow new patterns:  People who can drive will be slow to return to transit, but people without a good option of driving will show up in much greater numbers.  So service priorities optimized for the latter may be the best way to bring service back, and that’s not always what existing route structures are designed to do.

In short, like all crises, this is an opportunity.  And because this is a big and enduring crisis, the opportunity is big and enduring too.

 

What’s Wrong with an Empty Bus?

Why is this bus in Paris empty? It’s parked at the end of the line.

When people want to imply that public transit is irrelevant or failing or wasteful, they always point to relatively empty buses or trains.  To the layman it certainly seems as though buses with few passengers aren’t achieving much.

This common line is based on two false assumptions.  It assumes that empty seats indicates waste, which they usually don’t, and it falsely assumes that ridership is transit’s only measure of success, which it isn’t.

The Math of Efficiency: Run the Biggest Bus You Will Ever Need

In fact, when a transit agency runs a relatively empty bus, they’re doing what they’re told to do, and they’re doing it efficiently.

Transit operating cost is mostly labor.  The cost of a bus is in the driver, not the size of the vehicle.  So it doesn’t cost much for the vehicle to be bigger than needed.

But it costs a lot for the bus to be too small.  Then you have crowding, or you leave passengers behind.

Demand for transit goes up and down during the day, and on different parts of the route.  It also goes up and down for unpredictable reasons.  A school decides to have a field trip, and a normally empty bus is suddenly packed.  Nice or bad weather can change ridership patterns suddenly.

Buses and trains cannot dynamically shrink or expand to match these changing demands, and since the operating cost lies mostly in the driver, there wouldn’t be much to gain by doing that.  For example, you might propose that after the morning rush hour the big buses should be replaced by smaller ones.  But the cost of paying a driver to take a bus back to the base and take out a different one far exceeds any cost in running a larger bus than you need for a few hours.

So transit agencies are smart to run the biggest bus they will ever need, even though that means the bus will be empty at some hours, or on some parts of the route, or even on some days when demand is lower.  They may even run a bigger bus than a route ever needs, because there are also massive inefficiencies in having too many different kinds of buses.  Smart agencies have thought this through and what they are doing, in my experience, mostly makes sense.

Ridership Is Not Transit’s Only Measure of Success

If public transit were the only goal of transit, it would look very different.  For example, it wouldn’t serve many parts of the city, because high ridership is just geometrically impossible in those places, for reasons we explain here.  For example, it would delete a service that almost nobody is using, and it wouldn’t waste five seconds on people’s complaints that they really need or deserve that service.

The boards of directors who govern transit agencies — who are either elected officials or their appointees — never tell their staffs to run the agency this way.  They want ridership, but they also want a lot of other things that often justify running low-ridership service.

The 2020 Covid-19 epidemic proved this point.  Instead of shutting down and laying off most staff, as a profit-making business would logically do, most big city agencies did their best to run service, not just to keep their staff employed but also to enable those “essential service” workers to get around, so that the city could keep functioning.  To do this, and to encourage social distance, they ran intentionally “empty” buses and discouraged people from riding them.  In this, transit revealed itself to be the opposite of a business.  It’s a utility, an essential element of the functioning of a city.

 

 

 

Covid-19: What if Transit Runs Out of Money?

The sudden decline in travel due to fear of Covid-19 is obviously affecting public transit.  Preliminary and unpublished numbers shared with me by two US West Coast agencies showed ridership losses of 30-50% from pre-crisis levels.  We’ll see plenty of published numbers soon. The sudden fall in gas prices at the same time could make the ridership impacts even worse.

This is a good time to remind ourselves, and our favorite journalists, that ridership is always volatile and heavily driven by factors outside an agency’s control.  There are many things transit agencies can work on to improve ridership, but (a) those things together amount to a minority of the total forces governing ridership and (b) ridership isn’t the sole metric of success for transit agencies, and sometimes not even a predominant one.

However, transit agencies can do things that will cause ridership to fall further and stay down longer:  They can cut service, as they will be tempted to do now.

It’s not hard to see the dangers:

  • Declining fare revenue, due to lower ridership.
  • Declining tax revenue, due to economic slowdown.[1]

So what should transit agencies do if they start to run out of money?  Cut service?  If so, how?

First, let’s distinguish between service and capacity.  If revenue falls, many urban transit agencies can trim rush hour capacity without affecting customer mobility very much.  If you’re running a commuter bus every 7 minutes at rush hour, cut that to 10 or 12 or whatever the loads support.  Because peak commuters mostly plan around the schedule, the impact on travel time is trivial, but you’ll save something.  Peak-only service is very expensive, so you can save a lot by trimming that.  What’s more, preliminary numbers I’ve seen show commute ridership falling much more steeply than all-day local ridership, which suggests that the peak should bear the brunt of any temporary service cuts.

By contrast, when you start cutting all-day and all-week service, by reducing frequencies, you start to dramatically reduce the usefulness of network, and this is the most efficient way to drive riders away.  You also trigger social justice impacts, because lower income riders tend to be all-day, evening, and weekend riders, not just peak riders.

Remember, the riders you drive away due to service cuts will stay gone until the service improves again, while those who are just working from home will come back post-crisis if the service is still there.  

Second, if money runs low, you have to question the schedules of your infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure projects are so complicated and involve so many possible points of failure that they require a concerted effort to maintain momentum. All the messaging around how inevitable the project is, and how certain the opening day is, can make it sound like nothing can be slowed down in response to a crisis.  Of course, some contracts do impose costs for slowing and stopping, and those have to be considered.

But if infrastructure work continues while service is being cut, you’re driving away current riders for the sake of future riders, and if the goal is ridership, that makes no sense.  It can also be a social justice problem.

Why do I have to point these things out?  Influential people often tend to be peak commuters, so they defend peak service but care less about all-day service.  They also tend to be invested in infrastructure, and don’t want to hear that those projects might have to slow down.  To many of them, all-day service can seems easy to cut by comparison, since that affects people who don’t comment as much.  But apart from trimming peak capacity, that’s the sure way to turn a temporary crisis into a more lasting one.

 

 

 

[1] These impacts will be cushioned if agencies have (a) a lot of pre-sold fares, such as employer programs and (b) tax sources that rely on less-volatile sources like property or income tax, as opposed to payroll or sales taxes.

 

Working on Climate Change? I Have a Question

Like many people, I’m terrified of climate change and see it as an important reason for my work.  But when I listen to climate activists, or the politicians they have trained, I’m puzzled by a word that they use.  It’s planet.  We have to “save the planet,” they say.

On the surface, there are two obvious problems with this word choice, so there must be some more subtle reason for using it, one that I need to be enlightened on.

First, the everyday meaning of planet, the one we learned in high school, is something like “a sufficiently large ball of matter orbiting a star.” If that’s what a planet is, then climate change doesn’t threaten the planet. Earth as a ball of rock will be fine.

So when we say “save the planet” we’re using planet in a newer and different way to mean something like biosphere — the sum of all life.  Actually, the meaning seems purposely fuzzy: do we think climate change will destroy all life on earth, or just destroy lots of species, or destroy our civilization, or destroy us?

In my work as an explainer, I try not to coin new words, or create new meanings of words, if there’s any way I can avoid it.  There’s an unavoidable rush of power when you create a word or meaning.  However worthy the reason for your coinage is, it sounds like you’re telling people that they’ve been talking wrong all their lives and only you are talking right. Because the way we talk is semi-conscious and hard to change, people can feel that attack subconsciously, not even articulating why it bothers them.  But like many subconscious responses it can make them defensive, which keeps them from getting to where we need them to be.

Second, many people who don’t care much about the “planet” care very much about civilization, including mainstream conservatives.  Apart from some survivalists and those awaiting an imminent Rapture, conservatives want to conserve their society — to keep it from changing too rapidly.  If we wanted them to hear us, it seems to me, we’d speak of climate change as a threat to civilization.

Speaking that way, we’d also be talking about something that we can be pretty sure about. Nobody can predict the biological consequences of climate change, but we know what happens when the support systems of civilization collapse, because it’s happened many times in history: Starvation, mass migration, wars (and personal violence) over declining resources.  Far more people would be horrified by this prospect than are horrified by threats to polar bears — however much the latter, and biodiversity in general, may matter to you and me.

Climate change has a moral dimension, regarding whether we have the right to destroy other life, but the most acute climate anxiety is about fears for ourselves and our children, not fears for the “planet.”  It’s about looking at your children and wondering if they’ll starve, or kill and die in wars, or live in patriarchal bands where rape is routine — all things humans have done repeatedly under similar pressures.  We have a robust genre of apocalyptic literature increasingly focused on imagining a world in which civilization has collapsed. If you wanted to alarm conservatives into action, it seems to me that you’d talk about this.

So why do I so rarely hear advocates or politicians say that climate change threatens civilization? Why do we keep using the word planet?  Please enlighten me.

Are Uber and Lyft Increasing Traffic Deaths?

[Update:  Joe Cortright of City Observatory has published a critique of this study]

When Uber or Lyft starts serving a city, more people die in crashes.  This is the horrifying finding of a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBUR) paper by John M. Barrios, Yael Hochberg, and Hanyi Yi.  From the abstract:

We examine the effect of the introduction of ridehailing in U.S. cities on fatal traffic accidents. The arrival of ridehailing is associated with an increase of approximately 3% in the number of fatalities and fatal accidents, for both vehicle occupants and pedestrians. The effects persist when controlling for proxies for smartphone adoption patterns. … These effects are higher in cities with prior higher use of public transportation and carpools, consistent with a substitution effect, and in larger cities. These effects persist over time. Back-of-the-envelope estimates of the annual cost in human lives range from $5.33B to $13.24B.

This chart says it all:

Figure 2. Barrios et al, “The Cost of Convenience: Ridehailing and Traffic Fatalities”  NBER 2020.

 

For each of the studied cities, the vertical red line represents the arrival of Uber or Lyft (whichever arrived first) and the dots are the traffic accident rates.  The rate not only starts going up after Uber or Lyft arrive.  It is still going up two years later.  The paper goes into great detail, separating out possible related causes such as increasing cellphone use by motorists.  The correlation is pretty strong.  It is true of both the number of crashes and the number of people who die.

The authors find other evidence that isolates Uber and Lyft as the cause.  In particular:

… the effect is concentrated in [ridehail]-eligible vehicles (relatively new, four-door vehicles) and is not present for accidents involving [ridehail]-ineligible vehicles (two-door vehicles).  [p5]

One common selling point for Uber and Lyft is that they reduce drunk driving, but on balance, no:

We find that accidents and fatalities related to drunk driving do not decrease [after the arrival of Uber or Lyft]: if anything, we find evidence of a small increase … [p5]

I hope this all isn’t true, but if it is, it matters.

A few factors probably at work here.

Shifting trips from public transit to Uber or Lyft — which is definitely happening in major cities — means more than just increasing traffic.  It means shifting people from a very safe mode of transport to one that is more dangerous, to the customer and to others on the street.

It’s not just that big transit vehicles are more crashworthy.  Your bus driver has been selected and trained for safety, and is probably randomly tested for drug and alcohol use.  Bus drivers also have training in anger management, so they know how to control the strong emotions that come up as things happen in traffic.

Uber and Lyft promise you none of these things.  Drivers must have a clean driving record and criminal record, but beyond that the only promise of safety (for yourself and others) is that dangerous drivers get low ratings.  What’s more, customers demand contrary things with their ratings.  I give a low rating for driving over the speed limit in cities, because I value human life, but others might give a low rating for driving so slowly.

What I find, as a frequent user of both transit and Lyft, is that the safety of Lyft drivers is very diverse, and that the bad ones are very bad.  Safety also varies dramatically by region.  At home in Portland I rarely get a driver whose phone isn’t mounted on the dashboard, but when I use Lyft in Texas and Florida, most drivers have the phone in their laps, and drive along looking down.

Uber and Lyft are very useful, but we are learning more and more about their negative impacts: higher traffic, weakening support for essential public transit, and now, well, more people dying.  Where does this end?

 

Miami-Dade: Una Nueva Red de Transporte Público, Plan Borrador

This page is available in English here.

 

Durante el último año hemos estado trabajando en el proyecto Better Bus para rediseñar el sistema de autobuses en el Condado de Miami-Dade, Florida, en colaboración con el grupo de interés local Transit Alliance. Este es un caso inusual ya que Transit Alliance está usando fondos recaudados para pagar por gran parte del proyecto, aunque Miami-Dade Transit ha sido un miembro activo del equipo desarrollando un plan que ellos pueden implementar.

El plan borrador de la Nueva Red ya se publicó y está listo para recibir comentarios del público. Puedes leer el informe completo aquí.  Esta Nueva Red se diseñó considerando los comentarios que recibimos del público en la fase de los Conceptos el otoño pasado. Siguiendo los resultados encontrados en este proceso de participación ciudadana, la Nueva Red refleja un cambio en el balance entre más frecuencia y cobertura, resultando en más servicio de alta frecuencia (que aumentaría el número de usuarios). Esta Nueva Red se creó en conjunto con Transit Alliance, el Condado, empleados municipales, y en particular empleados de las Ciudades de Miami y Miami Beach, quienes han ayudado a guiar el rediseño de los trolleys municipales.

El periódico local, el Miami Herald, publicó un buen artículo sobre la Nueva Red y las mejoras principales que afectan positivamente a la mayoría de la comunidad de Miami-Dade. Si vives en Miami-Dade, deberías revisar la Nueva Red y tomar la encuesta antes del 31 de marzo.

Previamente, publicamos un Informe de Opciones que destacaba una de las mayores deficiencias del sistema actual, la falta de una red frecuente. La Nueva Red crea una red más frecuente en las partes más densas del sistema a través de la consolidación de rutas muy cercanas unas de las otras, cambiando la función entre algunas rutas del condado y los trolleys (especialmente en la Ciudad de Miami) y algunas reducciones en cobertura, particularmente en municipios que ya tienen servicio de trolley.

A continuación podrás ver unas secciones de la Red Existente y la Nueva Red en el centro de la región (haz clic para ver los mapas completos de ambas redes).

la Red Existente

la Nuvea Red

En esta nueva red, 368,000 residentes más están cerca de una ruta frecuente, lo cual hace que el número total de personas cerca de servicio frecuente suba a 25%. En la Red Existente, solo 11% de los residentes viven cerca de una ruta frecuente.

El poder de la red frecuente significa que hay una expansión significativa en los lugares a donde la gente puede ir dentro de un tiempo razonable. A continuación, hay una animación que compara los lugares a donde una persona en Liberty City (NW 12th Avenue and 62nd Street) puede llegar en 45 minutos en transporte público y caminando. La zona gris muestra a donde una persona puede ir hoy, con al Red Existente. La zona azul claro muestra a donde una persona puede ir con la Nueva Red. La red frecuente en la Nueva Red provee una expansión muy grande a tu libertad si vives aquí. Podrías acceder a 60% más oportunidades (trabajos y servicios) y 55% más personas.

Podemos evaluar este cambio para todas las personas y todos los lugares del condado. El resultado se muestra en el próximo mapa. Las zonas azules muestran en donde la gente puede acceder a más trabajos y las zonas rojas en donde la gente puede acceder a menos trabajos con la Nueva Red. Cada punto en este mapa representa 100 personas.

El mapa muestra que la gran mayoría de la gente y los lugares ven un grande aumento en el número de trabajos accesibles. El promedio a lo largo de todo el condado muestra que el residente típico del condado puede acceder a 33% más trabajos en una hora de viaje con esta Nueva Red.

Estas mejoras son parte de compromisos dolorosos. Esta red enfatiza más las metas de alta frecuencia que la Red Existente. Por lo tanto, algunas rutas de baja productividad con metas de proveer cobertura se han eliminado para poder proveer más servicio en lugares que son más densos, caminables, y lineares. Aproximadamente 3% más de los residentes estarán a más de ½ milla de servicio con la Nueva Red.

La Nueva Red cuesta lo mismo que la Red Existente y es completamente implementable dentro de seis a nueve meses, pero esta red no se implementará antes de que el público, las partes interesadas, los usuarios, y otros interesados, tengan la oportunidad de revisar estos cambios y comentar. Por lo tanto, lee y dile a Transit Alliance lo que piensas.

Si estás de acuerdo que esta Nueva Red será una beneficiosa para Miami-Dade, es importante que lo digas porque mucha gente que se beneficiará con este plan no estará prestando atención y no lo dirá. Si no te gusta este plan, por favor déjale saber a Transit Alliance y a MDT como se puede mejorar. Pero recuerda, cualquier cambio se debe hacer manteniendo un presupuesto neutro. Por lo tanto, aumentar el servicio en un lugar significa que hay que quitar servicio en otro lugar. Siempre recibimos buenísimas ideas de los comentarios públicos en esta fase.

También es importante pensar más allá de los usuarios actuales y pensar en todos los otros intereses que se beneficiarán. Una expansión grande en el acceso a empleo, servicios, y comercio en el condado. Empresas pueden ver como el plan mejora el acceso a sus empleados y clientes. Finalmente, a todo el mundo que le importan los beneficios del transporte público – económicos, ambietales, o sociales – le debe importar lo que este plan puede lograr.

Finalmente, como consultores, nosotros no decimos que este es todo el servicio que el condado necesita; esto es solamente lo que el condado y las ciudades pueden pagar ahora. Claramente hay lugares donde inversión adicional en el servicio podría mejorar el acceso a miles de personas. Algunas ideas de donde se puede mejorar el servicio están documentadas en el Informe de la Nueva Red, como aumentar la frecuencia de servicio en las rutas de 20 minutos en al Nueva Red (Rutas 9, 62, 88). También, la mayoría de la red frecuente se reduce a 20 minutos los domingos. En una región con tanta actividad turística, el servicio de los domingos debe ser más como el servicio de durante la semana y los sábados.

Los Angeles: The End of the Metro Rapid?

They were red! They made fewer stops! It was so cool! (c. 2005)

When they were first rolled out around 2000, the Los Angeles Metro Rapid lines were the hottest thing, so hot that a famous system of branding (Rapid buses red, local buses orange) was developed around them.  Rapid buses run long distances along major boulevards, stopping every half mile, while local buses run alongside them stopping every two blocks.  I too was a booster of the idea at the time, and soon “rapid bus” products were appearing in many cities.

But of course, the branding distinction was about speed, which all motorists understand, as opposed to frequency, which they often don’t.

The first two Rapid lines (Wilshire and Ventura Blvds) had all kinds of great features.  There were architecturally designed shelters, and the City of Los Angeles helped with signal priority.  Then, however, the forces of envy set in.  Rapids made sense only where:

  • the agency could afford very high frequency (generally no worse than 10 minutes) on both Rapid and local buses, so that it was worth waiting for the Rapid even if the local came first, AND
  • corridors were extremely long with long average trip distances, because you have to be going some distance for the speed advantage of a Rapid to be worth any added walking or waiting that a Rapid would require.

But once the first two Rapids succeeded, there came the cries of “why does their street get this cool thing and mine doesn’t?”.  And while the two points above were good answers to that question on many streets, LA Metro was pressured to roll out Rapid lines all over the region, in places where they made sense and places where they didn’t.  Some, like Soto St, were just too short for the speed difference to be valuable to many people.  Others didn’t have the frequency needed for their speed to be useful, with some coming as infrequently as every 30 minutes all day.  Most of them had nothing like the signal priority of the initial two, nor the distinctive shelters.  The buses were red, though, so it looked like some cool thing had been spread across the region.  (For more on this political dynamic, which I call the Fishing Pier Problem, see here.)

So the result was outcomes like this:

Source: LA Metro NextGen Visual Workshop (for a trip of seven miles)

If you’re on Venice Blvd but between Rapid stops, as in this example, you could walk less and use a local bus or walk further and use a Rapid.  As this shows, the difference in travel time isn’t enough for that to make sense.  The Rapid is only three minutes faster for that distance, but you’ll spend six more minutes walking.

The upper blue bar shows that by combining the Rapid and local buses into a single line that runs twice as often (with fewer stops than the local but far more than the Rapid) the result is a shorter total trip, because of the shorter wait.  In this case, the customer walks six minutes to a single line instead of four (because the local stops are a little further apart) but then waits half as often (because the two lines are combined) and rides a trip that’s a little bit faster than the current local (again, because local stops are a little further apart).  It turns out that lots of people along these long boulevards are in this situation.

Combining Rapids and local into a single more feequent line is one of the key recommendations of the newly proposed Los Angeles metro bus network redesign, the work of our respected competitor Transportation Management & Design (TMD) working with Cambridge Systematics.  Russ Chisholm of TMD, whom I used to collaborate, actually led the planning that created the Rapids in the late 1990s, so it’s fitting that he’s also gotten to plan for their obsolescence.

Here are the outcomes.  (“Reconnect with our customers” is the no-growth redesign, the plan that reallocates existing service instead of adding new service.  “Transit First” adds bus lanes and other infrastructure, for even more improvement without adding operating cost.)

Source: LA Metro NextGen “Virtual Workshop”

The vast increase in the number of people with access to frequent service, from 900,000 to 2.15 million, is the key to why this plan is likely to succeed.   A huge share of this outcome results from combining the Rapid and local services into single lines, since many streets that formerly had both a local and a Rapid every 15 minutes will now have a bus every 7.5 minutes or so.

As always, a redesign that doesn’t add more service involves cutting some unproductive service, but here only 0.3% of riders losing walk access to transit, which is also impressive.  These are the least transit-oriented places in the region.  Still, we can expect ferocious complaints.  It may seem like 0.3% of the ridership isn’t much, but they and everyone they know, with some public relations skill, can make it sound like the plan is a disaster.  Even if nobody were losing their service, some people will be angry when you change anything.  So if you live in Los Angeles, it’s important that you engage with the plan!

That brings me to my main critique.  In exploring the website, I found the plan difficult to learn about. There’s no shortage of materials selling the plan to me, and there’s no shortage of route-by-route details, but I wish there had been a report that makes the argument for the plan and explains the thought process that led to its design.  (No, PowerPoint slide decks are not reports, because they don’t show the logical relationships between ideas; they are useful only with narrating voice attached.)  The plan’s data viewer is pretty good, especially the tool that helps people see how the plan changes where they go. We do similar things on our projects and they should be standard procedure now.

But I can’t find much on the website that seems to be speaking to non-riders, including anyone who cares about outcomes that the plan improves (congestion, climate, urban redevelopment, access to opportunity, social justice etc etc).  If you might support the plan for any of those reasons, the comment survey (a tab within the data viewer) will frustrate you.  It assumes that you’re evaluating the plan only selfishly, in terms of whether it will improve your travel.  (This also discourages feedback from non-riders who could see other selfish benefits, such as a business that gets better access from potential customers and employers, or a benefit for a friend or relative.)  Getting these plans across the line requires selling a big picture to the biggest possible audience, especially given that some angry riders will be yelling.  I hope that, in some forum that I can’t find on the website, that pitch is being made.

I wish LA Metro the best with this redesign.  It looks great.  It presents huge opportunities for better access to opportunity, more sustainable urban form, climate benefits, reduced local emissions, and safety.  It deserves to be allowed to succeed.

Kansas City: A Draft Network Redesign

About a year ago, our firm started helping the Kansas City Area Transit Authority (also known as KCATA or RideKC) on a short-term bus network redesign for the City of Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO).  While the regional agency covers a larger area, this study is only for KCMO, which pays for transit service directly from city funds.

The Draft Plan for this redesigned network was released last Friday, and you can read up on it at RideKCNext.org. If you live in Kansas City, there’s also an online survey, which you should respond to before March 16th.

This plan was not easy. Kansas City is an extraordinarily challenging place to plan transit service, a perfect storm of all the issues that beset most large US cities:

  • Low-density built environment combining hollowed-out parts of the urban core and ever-increasing suburbanization.
  • profound residential segregation by income and race.
  • some awkward jurisdictional boundaries, especially north of the Missouri River.  These matter because local funding arrangements mean we had to think about the City of Kansas City separately, which in some places can be like thinking about only the black squares on a chessboard.

At nearly 500,000 people, Kansas City, MO, is only a third of the Kansas City region by population. But this includes nearly all the region’s relatively dense, transit-oriented areas. KCMO also provides about 80% of local transit funding, and 90% of all regional transit ridership originates in KCMO.

The Good News

First, the good news. As a result of the Draft Plan, nearly 20% more KCMO residents would live near frequent service, with a bus coming every 15 minutes or better.

Weekend service would also be greatly expanded, with service every 15 minutes on Saturday, and every 20 minutes on the eight most important routes in the network.This compares to the You can see the expansion of the frequent network, and improvements in weekend service in page 11 of the plan, shown below. (Click to enlarge and sharpen)

 

Put together, these changes would go some way to address the biggest problem of Kansas City’s bus network, which is that it just doesn’t provide enough access to opportunity. If the Draft Plan were implemented, the average KCMO resident could reach 7% more jobs on weekdays, and 22% more jobs on Saturdays in 60 minutes or less using transit (including any time spent walking, waiting, or transferring), all with no new investment in service.

As you can see above, the big expansion of access is the result of an expanded frequent grid with more frequent east-west elements.  This is especially urgent because of the geography of race and income.  Kansas City (south of the Missouri River) features a north-south strip on the west side where almost all of the prosperity is, and, further east, a north-south strip that is heavily low-income and minority residents.

Job and opportunity density is concentrated in a north-south strip on the west side of the city.

Low income (and minority) residents mostly live further east.

Most existing frequent transit in the city is north-south, converging on downtown at the north end.  But low income people need to get from their homes in the east to wherever they are going on the west side of the city, not just downtown.  A high frequency grid does this.  People can travel westward more easy to connect to whichever north-south route meets their needs.  For that reason, much of the plan’s benefits arises from improvements in east-west frequency on streets like 12th, 39thand 47th/Blue Parkway.

Difficult Tradeoffs

But this good news comes at the cost of some painful compromises.  The plan is designed for fast change, and KCATA is in the midst of a parallel effort to eliminate transit fares in KCMO. So the Draft Plan assumes no new revenue is available.

That means all proposed improvements would come at the price of service reductions somewhere else. In the urban core, the plan would remove several infrequent bus routes that operate ¼-mile or less from a more frequent route. In outlying areas, the plan would entirely remove bus routes from several neighborhoods where ridership is extremely low. Overall, about 1.5% of KCMO residents would no longer be within ½-mile of any kind of transit.

Perhaps the most obvious shortcoming of the plan is that it would continue to provide very limited service in the suburban Northland, where over a third of KCMO’s population live, but densities are much lower and average incomes tend to be a little higher.

Ultimately, it’s a lot harder to efficiently invest KCMO’s very limited transit resources in the Northland. This is because relatively few people live close enough to any street where you might run a bus, the street networks make it harder to walk, and destinations tend to be far apart. And much of the Northland’s most likely transit street (North Oak) is located in enclave cities who contribute much less for service, reducing KCMO’s incentive to invest.

See below for full maps of the existing and proposed network. Because KCMO covers such a large area, you’ll be able to see these a lot better by clicking and expanding them. You can also get a detailed view of how transit service would change in each part of Kansas City by clicking here.

Existing network.

 

Proposed network.

As consultants, we make no claim that this is the best of all possible transit networks from KCMO. It’s clear to us and to KCATA that Kansas City would benefit from investing significantly more money in transit service; the plan identifies several incremental improvements that KCATA should prioritize if revenues improve. But we think this is what can be achieved with the resources currently on the table.

(with Daniel Costantino)

 

San Jose and Silicon Valley: Welcome to Your New Network

Finally, the long deferred new network design for Valley Transportation Authority — which covers San Jose and much of Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, is going live as I write this, on December 28, 2019.  The plan arises from a major study that we led in 2016.

[Implementation was delayed so long due to delays in completing the BART rapid transit extension from the East Bay into San Jose, which the plan is intended to complement.  VTA planned on the line opening tomorrow, but a last minute delay (too late for VTA to postpone their plans) has pushed that opening into the spring, so express buses will be providing that link in the meantime.]

What’s new?  A massive high frequency grid covering most of San Jose, where transit demand is highest, but also bit improvements for the “Silicon Valley” area to the west.  A new frequent north south line runs through Sunnyvale and Cupertino.  Routes are simplified and made straighter. The light rail system was redesigned at the same time, to make it more gridlike as well.  Nothing new was built, but the service pattern is also more of a grid, with a new continuous east-west line across the north side of the region that will connect tens of thousands of jobs to BART for travel to the East Bay.

Here’s the old network, with red denoting high frequency.  (Click to enlarge and sharpen.)

The old VTA network. Red = 15 minute frequency or better. Note the lack of a high frequency grid apart from the lowest-income area in the far east. Map by Jarrett Walker + Associates.

And here’s the new one, by our friends at CHK America. The style is slightly different from ours, but still, high frequency is in red, and the broad colored lines (black in our map above) are the light rail network.

The new VTA network. Red=15 minute frequency or better. Map by CHK America.

Also, an historic event about which I’ll write more:  A two-segment very low-ridership light rail segment has been closed, between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Almaden stations in southern San Jose.  I believe this is the first time that a modern US light rail segment — i.e. built since the 1950s — was permanently closed, with the exception of a single station in Pittsburgh.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong!)

And yes, some low-ridership segments disappear, though very few people end up losing all of their service.  Often, the deleted routes provided some link inside an area that already had other service, and while some of these routes were fiercely defended by locals, there was no way to justify them when they achieved neither high ridership nor unique coverage.  Another important part of that story is that many of the wealthier Silicon Valley cities have their own transit services, and while of course they would prefer that the county pay for their service, they have the option of running some of these low-ridership links themselves if they decide it is important to them.

Meanwhile, the center of gravity of the network remains in the east, not just because incomes are lower there but also because the geography is more favorable to efficient transit, with fewer barriers to walking and a more regularly gridded street network.  Google’s move into the Diridon station area of San Jose is a great first step toward bringing jobs and prosperity into a landscape that efficient transit can serve well.

All this resulted from a clear discussion with the VTA Board, and the community, about the ridership-coverage tradeoff.  The old system was about 70% justified by ridership, while the new network is closer to 90%.  Getting to the right balance of ridership and coverage goals was the result of a long conversation, in which we showed the public alternatives and got their feedback before the Board made a decision.

To all of Silicon Valley and San Jose, welcome to your new network.  It’s been a long struggle (for VTA more than for us) but you can finally go places you could never go before, and soon.