Thursday, April 26, 2012

Improving the Last Bus

The last bus of the night on any route is bound to see depressed ridership, regardless of when that bus runs. This is, quite sensibly, because there is no safety net if something goes wrong. Passengers have no ability to simply "take the next one" if they arrive at the bus stop late, miss a transfer, or simply lose track of time. There's no way to completely eliminate this problem, short of running 24-hour service (hmm... not a bad idea...), but it seems to me that we could at least make things better with a few operational simplifications.

As anyone who has ever used the system before knows, RTA has a few major trunk routes (1, 15, 16) that run on something approaching a reasonable frequency- 20, 40 and 30 minutes on weekdays, respectively, although 15 drops to an appalling 70-80 minutes on weekends. It also has two other types of routes: CommuterLink express routes, that run a few precious times per day, mostly during commute hours on weekdays, and the more ordinary local buses, which run roughly once an hour through much of the service area. Generally, these also shut down earlier than the trunk routes, although 22 runs surprisingly late on weekdays.

One of the troubles of taking transit is the fear of missing a transfer-- and this fear is compounded if the bus you're transferring to is the last run of the night. Sure, if everything goes right transit would work for your trip, but missing that last bus just once means an expensive cab ride, calling friends and family members for a lift, or a very long walk. And it's a fact of life that buses do run late, for whatever reason. Most of the time, they're not extremely late, but sometimes 5 or 10 minutes is enough.

So here's my proposal: The last bus of the night on each route should hold at major transfer points (Downtown terminal, Tyler mall, Moreno Valley mall) for connections from each of the trunk routes. That is, if the last #13 leaves downtown at 7:30, it should wait for the eastbound #1 at 7:15, the westbound #1 at 7:00, the eastbound #15 at 7:25, the eastbound #16 at 7:08 and the westbound #16 at 7:14. Under normal conditions, the bus would leave on time, but if any of these buses were so late as to not arrive by 7:30, it would wait until that bus arrived. Most importantly, RTA should publish this fact in the Ride Guide, providing riders with confidence that they will not miss their connections.

Would this have the effect of making the last bus of the night run light? Probably. But it's a lot better that the last bus of the night runs late than that it runs early. Is this a lot to keep track of? It sounds like it, but RTA has automated bus-tracking capability. They could likely write a computer program to do this, and alert dispatchers when holding a bus is necessary. Would this drive a little overtime? Probably, but I doubt it would drive much. Evening buses are usually on time, thanks to lighter traffic. What it would do, however, is make those last buses of the night somewhat more attractive to riders, as they could count on making their connections-- and it would likely do so at a reasonably minimal cost.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Onion In Transit

The Onion has compiled a series of their articles on transportation for a special Transit Issue. You might learn something. For example, did you know that anthropologists recently discovered that human feet were originally used for a process of self-propulsion called "walking," before evolving to their present functions of depressing automobile pedals?

My all-time favorite Onion headline is still "98 Percent of Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bear Runner on its last legs

A little history here. Prior to my moving to Riverside (although I don't know when), UCR Transportation and Parking Services used to run a night-time-only Dial-a-Ride van on campus. It ran Monday-Thursday evenings, and would take students to any point on campus or to any off-campus apartments served by the then-operating Highlander Hauler system. (At the time, this included all of the apartments in the University and Canyon Crest areas.)

For the 2004-2005 school year, TAPS did something different- they introduced the Bear Runner late-night shuttle service. Providing half-hour service, it ran essentially the present Route 53 schedule and route, but it had one serious drawback-- the gentleman who drove it thought of his job as "taking students home from campus," and would only drive the route all the way around if he picked up somebody on campus, or if he knew somebody would be waiting. I've been stranded by that policy more than once.

Needless to say, when the RTA picked up the route and actually started *running* it, it was a substantial improvement. The half-hourly service is the only public transit service between Montclair and Las Vegas that runs past 10pm. During the school year, its presence gives my neighborhood 21-hour-a-day transit service. And so, of course, RTA is going to cancel it.

The route is, admittedly, only lightly-used-- but this isn't a service whose existence is ever justified based on ridership. It's always been funded by the campus primarily as a safety service, allowing students studying late at night to avoid walking home in the dark. Sadly, it appears that UCR no longer finds it "effective" at accomplishing that goal, and will be discontinuing the subsidy. With the subsidy, so goes the route.

I doubt that anything can be done to save the route-- it exists at the pleasure of UCR, and Parking Services is notoriously un-susceptible to influence. Still, I will mourn its loss, if only for freeing my social circle from having a designated driver while bar-hopping around campus. (It really should have run on Friday nights.)

If you'd like to rail ineffectively at RTA officials in an attempt to save the only late-night bus in Riverside, there are hearing details in this article.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Reminder- CicLAvia!

It's that time again. CicLAvia, the street-closing bike-riding skateboarding stroller-pushing livable cities extravaganza, will take place this Sunday (15 April) in downtown Los Angeles. Unlike previous CicLAvias, and advantageously for us Metrolink folk, the route will extend to El Pueblo de Los Angeles, immediately across Alameda from Union Station. So you can walk right off the train and on to over 10 miles of closed streets.

Furthermore, perhaps in an attempt to alleviate the troubles I had the last time I visited CicLAvia, Metrolink will be running some trains with two bike cars on the San Bernardino Line. OC line trains will be equipped with one bike car each. And remember- a Metrolink Weekend Pass is only $10! So grab the #351 train out of Riverside-Downtown-- which will feature two bike cars-- at 6:20 on Sunday morning, and drink in the joy of CicLAvia.

You could also ride the new Amtrak California Thruway service to LA- bikes are allowed under the bus, and on the connecting Pacific Surfliner train. (And, if that's full up with bikes, your Surfliner ticket will allow you to ride Metrolink as well.)

See you on the streets of LA!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shiny new surprise!

Here's a nice surprise I found on my commute home: what I believe is Riverside's first green bike lane! It's in the southbound bike lane on Canyon Crest just before 14th, and extends across the auto path to the right-hand turn lane. I don't have any other details on the project, or whether similar facilities are planned elsewhere.

I do know that I'd really, really like to see this on the other side of this intersection though: northbound traffic on Canyon Crest travels a lot faster, and ignores bikes a lot more readily.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The New HSR Plan: Smart Move

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has released a new construction plan, proposing a "phased approach" to building HSR. Basically, this means building a high-speed railway in the Central Valley, and connecting it at the ends to existing conventional track in order to finish the trip to LA and SF. Done properly, this can mean a one-seat ride between LA and SF (with the high-speed trains running at reduced speeds along conventional track at each end). The best part of it is that the Authority has committed to building south from Bakersfield to Palmdale and the Valley before building north to San Jose. (See my earlier post for how a phased system might work, and why BFD-Palmdale matters.)

The HSR critics are shaking out of the woodwork, pointing out that this isn't the all-HSR system that voters approved under Prop 1A. Well, of course it isn't. This is the first phase of that system. Threading HSR through built-up urban areas is hard, and the phased approach is a way to give Californians a real alternative to driving I-5 or flying between our state's major metro areas BEFORE tackling the difficult task of finishing the true HSR system on both ends. Think of it this way- wouldn't you rather have a 5-hour train to ride in 2018 while waiting for the 2-hour train in 2030?