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Attendees examine data about three different transit concepts during a public meeting at the DMV. (Photo by: Jackie Kruszewski)
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Scudder Wagg, a consultant with Michael Baker International, presents information about the three concepts being considered. (Photo by: Jackie Kruszewski)
About 40 people came to the DMV on West Broad Street last night for a glimpse into the decision-making and trade-offs associated with running a public transit system.
It was the second of eight meetings being held through Aug. 24 by the team behind the Regional Transit Network Plan; citizens are being asked to balance three concepts: a “familiar” model, a “high ridership” model and a “high coverage” model.
“We haven’t really invested in the transit service to any great degree in 40 years,” says Amy Inman, project leader for the city. “There have been modest changes but not system-wide changes like we’re talking about here.”
The study and plan, funded by a grant from the state, bring together the city, GRTC Transit System and consultants from Richmond and Portland. The plan is separate from, but meant to complement the Pulse bus rapid transit project expected to begin operations in October 2017.
At the meeting, data illustrations of the three concepts accompanied an interactive triangle where attendees could prioritize the changes they’d like to see with a sticker.
“The triangle is the decision space,” says Scudder Wagg, a consultant with Michael Baker International. “We’re trying to find where in that triangle is the median point of all our opinions. Then we’ll design something that is close to that point.”
A high ridership model would maximize ridership and concentrate service along populated routes in order to provide higher frequency service. Wagg calls it the “think like a business” model.
A high coverage model would prioritize some service for everyone, measured by the percentage of people and jobs connected.
Wagg characterized it as a difference between minimizing walking or minimizing waiting.
The familiar model is similar to what the system is like now, “with some key tweaks,” says Wagg. GRTC currently operates under a 50-50 split of ridership and coverage priorities.
“What we gathered from the first round [of public input] is really people are gravitating toward the high ridership model, but we’re still seeing a lot of ‘in the middle’ — give us this middle-of-the-road type thing,” says Inman.
She stressed that the implementation of the plan would be cost neutral. “We’re not assuming any more money. We’ve assumed a budget that for the first year or two would help with this implementation and then go to operations. We’re living within our means.”
The degree of changes made during implementation also depends on people’s willingness to have bus stops farther apart from one another.
“The high coverage and high ridership models both assume that we spread bus stops further apart to help speed up buses,” says Wagg. “The fundamental cost of transit is the time of the driver driving. By speeding buses up, it takes them less time, so we can spend that money doing more coverage or getting more frequency.”
He adds, “The further down the triangle you go, the further apart we have to make the stops.”
The study phase includes an online survey citizens can take on their own, but project leaders hope the remaining meetings, located across the city, will give people an opportunity to visualize the concepts and ask questions.
“It probably would be really useful if someone came to one of the meetings and then took the survey,” says Wagg.
Daniel Warshaw took the online survey before Wednesday, but seeing visual data at the meeting shifted his thinking. “It gives you a picture of what ‘access’ really means. That it isn’t just how many stops there are, or how many lines there are. If it takes you a whole lot longer to go the same distance just because you have a stop a block away, it doesn’t really mean that it’s more accessible.”
On Wednesday night, Warshaw put his sticker closer to the “higher ridership” corner of the triangle.
He lives on the city’s North Side and works in Scott’s Addition. Driving takes seven minutes, but if public transit could get him there in 30 minutes or less, he says he’d make the switch. “Being able to sit down and relax and maybe read something, that’s right in the sweet spot where it doesn’t feel like it’s taking too long.”
One audience member wondered if higher ridership would increase revenues for GRTC.
“We’re not here to try to predict how many more dollars that might mean,” Wagg says. “Any three of those [concepts] on the maps will cost the same to run. If you had higher ridership, you might potentially have a higher fare box return, but it’s very hard to predict that.”
The team will release a draft network plan in November or December. After more public outreach, January 2017 will see a final network plan. Inman says GRTC would take a resolution of support to City Council, and there would be a mandatory federal evaluation of the plan’s impact on low-income and minority bus access.
“The plan can’t happen incrementally,” says Inman. “Everything would have to change at once because it works as a system. Ideally, we’d be able to make the entire change at once. It would maybe a year to implement the whole thing.”
You can find details about the remaining meetings on the plan’s website, as well as a link to the survey, which will be available online through the end of August.