Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Public Transit In Slow Motion

A news story out of San Francisco regarding public forums for the MUNI Transit Effectiveness Forum points out a reason why public transit lags in responding to problems and ridership trends. One small paragraph in the news story tells a whole lot:

Line 56 was rerouted to stop at John King Senior Center when people stepped
forward to report that seniors were commonly using the line to reach the senior
center. The change took 6-9 months to implement, Straus said, after public
hearings and other requirements were completed.

To be fair to MUNI, 6 to 9 months to do a rerouting based on ridership trends is a bit faster than it is for most government public transit agencies in this day and age. To jump through hoops, cut through miles of red tape and make sure every "i" is dotted and "t" is crossed to satisfy the ridiculous amount of regulations that politicians have placed on public transit agencies usually takes a year or longer.

The problem is that 6 to 9 months is still too long to wait when it comes to adjusting for changing ridership trends. Every year the time stretches out between determining something needs to change and the change actually happening. Even just 20 years ago, minor changes such as a small rerouting of a route to accommodate ridership changes could be accomplished within a month.

The long lag time for changes is one reason public transit has problems attracting ridership. When ridership trends change, transit needs to act fast to adjust to those changes or lose ridership. Slow reaction time to ridership trends is one of the reasons many won't ride public transit.

Most systems eventually make the needed changes but by the time they do, many former and potential new riders have developed new transportation habits which doesn't involve the public transit system.

Minor changes, such as the MUNI change to their route 56 line, need to be fast tracked. When requests for service is made and the research shows the change is beneficial to the service the agency provides, it should be exempt from the multitude of rules, public hearings and other political red tape that bog down the process. That single change on MUNI route 56 should have been made within a few weeks after determining the service was needed, would be utilized and did not constitute a major service change.

Other changes, such as a new route or major extension to a route, also need to be fast tracked when the system determines the change is needed based on ridership changes. Of course, major changes will take longer but they should be done within 3 to 4 months, not a year or longer.

Various methods can be done to reroute a bus. Have certain trips handle the extension with other trips going on the existing route if the change effects too many along the line as well as just completely rerouting the route is research shows the effect on people along the line will be minimal.

The bottom line is that transit needs to run efficiently and to run efficiently you need to run trips that service the most people with each trip. This requires changing routes to meet the ridership trends in a timely manner. Yes, a few people may be inconvenienced by a route change but the changes need to favor the majority of the ridership on a route, especially in this time of tight transit funding where every penny counts. The more people a transit system can service with existing resources, the better off everyone is.

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