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Old Posted Jul 27, 2015, 3:48 PM
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How One City Will Change Its Entire Bus System Overnight (Houston)

How One City Will Change Its Entire Bus System Overnight

By Josh Stephens via NextCity...

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The last time Houston redesigned its bus system, gas cost less than $1 per gallon. Many of those dollars went to the city’s signature corporations. They subsequently flowed into Houstonians’ wallets and got turned into lifestyle choices like cars and suburban homes — by the hundreds of thousands.

To call Houston’s 1970s-era bus system obsolete, in what has become a bustling 21st-century metropolis, is an understatement. That’s why the buses that pull into the barn the night of Saturday, August 15th, will find themselves traveling entirely different routes and following entirely new timetables the next morning, August 16th.

After three decades, Houston is revamping its entire bus network — more than 80 routes, 1,200 buses and a quarter-million daily passengers — literally overnight.

“This is going to be one of the most transformative single changes in a transit network in a given city in a while,” says Jarrett Walker, a transportation planner who consulted for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Harris County (Metro).

In the last two generations, Houston has experienced oil booms and busts, the collapse of Enron, the rise of tech and medicine, and the construction of expanding loops of ring roads and other highways, totaling 575 miles. Its metro population has nearly doubled since 1980. Centers of jobs and housing have developed all over the region, and the famously sprawling city has more than its share of residents who — by choice or necessity — do not drive. It also has one of the most popular light-rail lines in the country.

This is not your father’s oil metropolis. “Houston was such an extreme case that the center of the city had moved,” says Walker.

Consequently, many of Houston’s bus lines have been growing less effectual. “Local bus ridership has decreased by over 20 percent,” says Kurt Luhrsen, Metro’s vice president for service planning and transit reimagining. “That’s at a time when Houston’s population has grown exponentially.”

Officials at Metro concluded that the entire system had to go, all at once. They took the street grid as it is and analyzed concentrations of housing, jobs, and historical ridership. Absent a consistent street grid throughout the metro area, Metro’s planners worked to design simpler lines and better connections that would serve passengers as efficiently as possible, serving new areas and edge cities — such as Uptown and the Texas Medical Center — that collectively overshadow the city’s downtown.

“Almost a million people are going to be in walking distance within a seven-day frequent route, and also a million jobs,” says Luhrsen. “That’s almost a 50 percent increase in people and almost a 60 percent increase in jobs.”
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Old Posted Jul 27, 2015, 4:15 PM
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Cool. I wish my city would do something with its transit, but there's not enough density for anything to work realistically.
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Old Posted Jul 27, 2015, 8:31 PM
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Very ambitious. It may cause confusion at first, but this could work out very well for Houston.
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Old Posted Jul 27, 2015, 9:10 PM
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If riders are anything like people here, it will be chaos. Every route and drastic changes as well. The website for riders better function well.
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Old Posted Jul 27, 2015, 9:28 PM
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^Where are you?
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Old Posted Aug 3, 2015, 11:53 PM
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Just from my observations and personal experience, riders are much better at adjusting or adapting on a whim. Much better than drivers.

IDK how to post the vid, but please see example attached:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynzcUw9wv0E
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 3:24 AM
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Looks like a bold plan and one for the better.

This idea of trying to serve every area with transit is foolish. Almost no one in a wealthy car-rich suburb will use transit even if it came to their front door every 5 minutes. Better to serve the areas that patronize transit and take those people to the areas they work.

It is far better to serve fewer people and areas well than everybody poorly.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 3:33 AM
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Originally Posted by ssiguy View Post
This idea of trying to serve every area with transit is foolish. Almost no one in a wealthy car-rich suburb will use transit even if it came to their front door every 5 minutes. Better to serve the areas that patronize transit and take those people to the areas they work.
And it is that kind of thinking which is why transit will not succeed anytime soon in the USA as a viable travel alternative to the automobile.

You do not have a viable alternative to the automobile, if you cut off entire sections of your city and people from transit, regardless of their income levels or built form.

If serving only poor people and areas which are deemed "transit friendly" was the recipe for outstanding transit usage. Then American cities would be at the top of the list for transit usage rates. But they are not, and instead are at the bottom.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 3:25 PM
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Originally Posted by miketoronto View Post
And it is that kind of thinking which is why transit will not succeed anytime soon in the USA as a viable travel alternative to the automobile.

You do not have a viable alternative to the automobile, if you cut off entire sections of your city and people from transit, regardless of their income levels or built form.

If serving only poor people and areas which are deemed "transit friendly" was the recipe for outstanding transit usage. Then American cities would be at the top of the list for transit usage rates. But they are not, and instead are at the bottom.


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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 4:38 PM
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Originally Posted by miketoronto View Post
And it is that kind of thinking which is why transit will not succeed anytime soon in the USA as a viable travel alternative to the automobile.

You do not have a viable alternative to the automobile, if you cut off entire sections of your city and people from transit, regardless of their income levels or built form.

If serving only poor people and areas which are deemed "transit friendly" was the recipe for outstanding transit usage. Then American cities would be at the top of the list for transit usage rates. But they are not, and instead are at the bottom.
Well clearly their current idea of providing service to areas that don't warrant or even want it has been a complete failure.

When you have X amount of dollars to spend on a government program then you make sure those dollars are spent wisely and are well focused. You don't build a seniors centre in a new suburb full of young families, you don't provide daycare in a seniors community, you don't build schools in areas with a declining school enrollment, you don't build a new library when you already have a good one a block away, you don't put the welfare office in a wealthy area, and you don't provide transit in an area where no one takes it.

Where there is limited need such as only rush hour buses then great but if the area residents don't use it they loose it. You must focus your services where you get the most bang for the buck. That certainly doesn't mean only an area of very high ridership but it does mean that there has to be at least decent ridership to justify the route.

Every dollar you spend on the very low ridership routes is a dollar not spent where the services are needed. It's like this crazy idea of giving everyone a baby bonus. Giving the couple making $20k a month the same benefit as someone making $2k a month is a grotesque waste of funds which is exactly what this idea of providing service to every far flung suburb is an analogy to.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 4:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miketoronto View Post
And it is that kind of thinking which is why transit will not succeed anytime soon in the USA as a viable travel alternative to the automobile.

You do not have a viable alternative to the automobile, if you cut off entire sections of your city and people from transit, regardless of their income levels or built form.

If serving only poor people and areas which are deemed "transit friendly" was the recipe for outstanding transit usage. Then American cities would be at the top of the list for transit usage rates. But they are not, and instead are at the bottom.
Great post.

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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 9:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miketoronto View Post
And it is that kind of thinking which is why transit will not succeed anytime soon in the USA as a viable travel alternative to the automobile.

You do not have a viable alternative to the automobile, if you cut off entire sections of your city and people from transit, regardless of their income levels or built form.

If serving only poor people and areas which are deemed "transit friendly" was the recipe for outstanding transit usage. Then American cities would be at the top of the list for transit usage rates. But they are not, and instead are at the bottom.
I'll quote Jarrett Walker, from his outstanding blog, with whom I agree on this particular topic:

"Services whose purpose is not ridership are called coverage services -- or at least I've been calling them that for over a decade and the term is catching on. Coverage is an apt term because the result is usually to spread out service over a vast area so that everyone gets a little bit, no matter where they live.

However, spreading it out means spreading it thin. Any fixed service budget, divided over such a huge number of routes, yields low frequency, maybe a bus once an hour, and not many people find that useful for reasons we'll explore below. So ridership is usually low on these services, exactly as we network designers expect. But since ridership isn’t the purpose, that can be fine.

So you will not begin to make clear transit choices until you are clear, at every moment, about whether you want transit service to have high ridership. To the extent that you do, you need to tell transit agencies to think like businesses, which means deploying the service not where people feel entitled to it, or where they need it badly, but where the maximum ridership will result. On the other hand, if you do want to respond to people's expectations and needs, you need to carve out an exception to your desire for high ridership, because high ridership is not, in fact, what you're advocating.

Did you just hear me say that we should deploy transit service for maximum ridership? If so, read the last paragraph again. There is no "should" in that paragraph. There is only a description of the consequences of choices that you, and your community, are free to make.

It's not a yes-or-no question, of course. A more precise question is: “what percentage of our resources should our transit authority spend pursuing maximum ridership?” When transit authorities answer that question, then everyone knows what the purpose of the service is. The services that are trying to attract high ridership can be assessed for their ridership, and the coverage services, where ridership isn’t the goal, no longer count as failing because ridership is not what they’re trying to do. In our network redesign for Houston, for example, the Board said “deploy 80% of our budget pursuing ridership.” That’s what the plan does. We know which lines in the New Network are intended for high ridership, and those are the ones where we’ll expect that outcome. (For my peer-reviewed academic paper on this issue, see here.)"
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 9:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ssiguy View Post
Looks like a bold plan and one for the better.

This idea of trying to serve every area with transit is foolish. Almost no one in a wealthy car-rich suburb will use transit even if it came to their front door every 5 minutes. Better to serve the areas that patronize transit and take those people to the areas they work.

It is far better to serve fewer people and areas well than everybody poorly.
Houston's not that simple though. The working class part of the city sprawls pretty far out, and while there are major concentrations of wealth on the west side/west loop, those are close to major job centres and also often have more working class areas close by so buses are going to be passing through those wealthy areas as they connect the more working class areas and job centres.

As far as I know though, this re-imagining will involve little to no reductions in how much neighbourhoods are served, it's mostly just eliminating redundancies.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 9:37 PM
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The Jarrett Walker snippet makes perfect sense. The issue in my city (Regina for Fflint who asked that) is that the business purpose for the transit system is that everyone should have a similar ease of access to transit of some sort. Ease of access means a bus route within some preconceived distance. This means we serve gigantic swaths of low-population areas with twisty routes to manage the, "crap that whole section is five blocks away from transit and it needs to be four" problem.

People here are dumb when it comes to change as well. Stone dumb. I know many that take bus x rather than bus y which is more frequent and more direct to their downtown destination simply because it means walking two blocks instead of one block to catch it. And I tell them about the other bus I take sometimes and then I pass them on the way home from downtown every day and get home first even though we live the same distance to both stops.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 9:37 PM
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A quote that miketoronto would like (and has probably heard), I think from the mayor of Bogota:

"A developed country isn't one where the poor drive cars, it's one where the rich take public transportation."

That might be paraphrasing but you get the point. I agree with Mike, or at least the point I think he's trying to make, which is that as long as public transportation is considered a service for people who can't afford cars, it will be terrible (and underfunded).

And yes, the goal should be ridership, because that's the only way you get a transit system that works for at least some people, assuming (as you should) that funding is a finite resource.
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Old Posted Aug 4, 2015, 11:10 PM
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A quote that miketoronto would like (and has probably heard), I think from the mayor of Bogota:

"A developed country isn't one where the poor drive cars, it's one where the rich take public transportation."

That might be paraphrasing but you get the point. I agree with Mike, or at least the point I think he's trying to make, which is that as long as public transportation is considered a service for people who can't afford cars, it will be terrible (and underfunded).

And yes, the goal should be ridership, because that's the only way you get a transit system that works for at least some people, assuming (as you should) that funding is a finite resource.
But it's not a binary grouping of "choice riders" and "captive riders" as some say. It's a gradient, and you should be realistic, right now, many cities aren't even able to get the lower middle class/working class into using transit. "Gold plated" transit with heavy rail for every suburb is not realistic and even that might not attract the rich into using transit when the city is highly auto-oriented as many American cities are.

If you want to focus on growing ridership, changes like the ones Houston is making are a good way to do so, at least if you're a city like Houston where even the working class does a lot of driving. If these changes are able to boost ridership in Houston significantly, I think you will see support for continued improvements, even if the rich are still mostly driving.

Maybe eventually even the rich will take transit, but you should focus on incrementally growing the ridership base. Right now, you're never going to get support for what it takes to get the rich to use transit in big numbers, because you'd have to spend probably $100 billion+, and there's no way that's going to get approved in a metro area with 3% commute mode share.

Focus on where there's a good return on investment in terms of growing ridership at a relatively low cost, and you'll get support because people will see your strategy is working. If you build an expensive heavy rail land into the middle of sprawl, and don't have a supporting network of frequent transit routes, it's not going to get much use, but it'll still have cost a ton and most people will just decide that investing in transit is a waste of money.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2015, 12:57 AM
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It seems to me that the route to high ridership will eventually mean serving the maximum population. Cities with successful transit systems have wide coverage areas. The route to this is to identify key transit destinations and make sure they are served well. It is also important to get college and university students on board to build a transit culture for the future. Then design the city with transit in mind. No more conglomerations of windy streets but predesign neighbourhoods that accommodate transit. Making walkable neighbourhoods will also go hand and hand with transit. Then plan your corridors for rapid transit right out into the suburbs and plan your density and transit destinations including shopping around it. There is no excuse for continuing to build car only suburbs.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2015, 1:28 AM
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I think it is obvious: if there are gaps in a network, people who live or work in those caps cannot use the system. And yes those gaps affect the high-ridership routes as well. Routes don't exist in isolation. Routes connect to other routes. That's why it is called a network. Maximum ridership means proper coverage.

Of course, that doesn't mean that every route should have equal amount of service. MikeToronto wasn't suggesting 3 minute bus frequencies in walthy, low density, far flung suburbs just like in inner cities. It's not all or nothing. You guys are aware that different bus routes have different amount of service, don't you?

If a place can support 45 minute service, why not give it 45 minute service? It costs almost nothing compared to 3 minute service. That is less than 1/15 the amount of buses, less than 1/15 the operating cost. If it's all or nothing, then shouldn't routes that can only support 15 minute frequency be cancelled as well?

I think that is a bizarre way to look at designing transit service, to completely cancel entire routes simply because they have less ridership than other routes. You won't have much a system left if that is your standard.
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2015, 2:23 AM
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I can't speak to how heavy ridership is on Houston's system, but I'm concerned about this idea of increasing allowable peak ridership per bus. They are discussing something similar in LA and at many times of the day buses are already dangerously overcrowded. Yet Walker and his ilk want to reduce frequencies on certain lines so that the buses will be even more full. Sounds terrible imo
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Old Posted Aug 5, 2015, 2:45 AM
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My comment was not meant to give the idea that I think Houston's redesign is bad.
It was more directed as SSIGUY'S comment
"This idea of trying to serve every area with transit is foolish. Almost no one in a wealthy car-rich suburb will use transit even if it came to their front door every 5 minutes."

Clearly his comment is wrong, and Canadian, European, Australian, and most world cities, except most of the USA show that people of all incomes take transit, when a quality service is provided to them.

Studies from Toronto and Australia, and there are probably more, show that higher income workers tend to take transit to a higher degree than low income workers.
Transit is not just a service for people with no choice. And when you treat it as such a service, then you are never going to build a viable mass transit system that actually can capture market share.

Toronto, for example, did not become a post-war transit success story because it provided transit to only high density areas, and poor areas. It is a transit success story, because quality transit service was extended to low density areas, high income areas, middle class areas, low income areas, high density areas, etc. Per capita ridership and transit mode shares skyrocketed, because well over 90%(over 85% within walking distance of high frequency service) of residents have access to transit within a 5 minute walk of their homes and work places, and leisure places.

Houston's redesign is a good step in the right direction. But it is still only providing quality transit service to less than half of Houston's population in the transit service area. It is great 1.5 million people will have good transit. But lets not forget there is another 1.5 million or more who have little or not transit. You can't expect transit to be a viable travel option, when over half the city is inaccessible by transit.

One must read the Brookings reports on how little access there is to jobs by transit in American metro areas.

Good first steps for Houston. But a transit system that does not cover all urbanized built up areas is never going to be a viable travel alternative to the auto.
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