Transportation headlines, Wednesday, February 11

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Today’s Metro rider profile from Zocalo Public Square: A library in her pocket (Oxford Avenue to Watt Way)

ART OF TRANSIT: The much anticipated Speed Dating on the Red Line is almost here. Click on the photo above for more details. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The much anticipated Speed Dating on the Red Line is almost here. Click on the photo above for more details. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

To save money on building rail, spend money on marketing buses (N.Y. Times)

From a 2009 study surveying Los Angeles transit riders that concluded buses have an “image problem,” this New York Times article posits that instead of building expensive rail lines, transit agencies should often consider enhance existing bus routes with more amenities and marketing.

The 2009 FTA study used focus groups of “choice riders” — those that have an option whether to drive or take transit — in L.A. to compare perceptions of regular bus routes to the Metro Orange Line. Excerpt:

“Riding the bus carries a ‘shame factor,’ ” the researchers found. “Most of the choice riders would not consider using it, or if they did, they would feel ashamed and keep it a secret.”

But what the local transit agency marketed as the “Orange Line” — really just a bus route in the San Fernando Valley with high frequencies on a dedicated right of way — managed to gain acceptance among “choice riders.”

Focus group participants “used terms like the ‘train-bus’ or the ‘bourgeois bus’ to describe the Orange Line service,” the researchers said. The Orange Line has repeatedly beaten its ridership estimates, and nearly half its riders have access to a car, compared with just a quarter on regular local bus routes in Los Angeles. That performance shows it is possible to overcome anti-bus bias with the right amenities and marketing.

The article is written in a way that suggests it’s the latter — the marketing — that sways riders most. Though it most certainly plays a role, could it be that features commonly associated with rail like station platforms, pre-board fare payment, real-time arrival boards and a dedicated right-of-way suggest a certain level of service that make it convenient and reliable enough for on-the-fence riders to try?

The Q70 and M60 bus services in New York are used examples of routes that could be upgraded and marketed as airport connectors, since both will be faster for most than a proposed rail connection to La Guardia Airport. An L.A. iteration of this might be the LAX Flyaway bus that whisks riders to the airport from Union Station faster than a car or train and which seems to be an often overlooked airport transit option.

The article also takes a shot — perhaps deservedly — at expensive rail projects that end up providing very slow service. A couple of streetcar lines get the NYT wag of the finger, but let’s face it: not every light rail line built recently in the U.S. is setting land-speed records.

MBTA Rail Service Shut Down Tuesday for Snow Cleanup (CBS Boston)

In cold-weather news: another round of ice and snow on Monday forced Boston’s transit agency to shut down the entirety of the city’s train service yesterday. The MBTA‘s reason for the full shutdown:

“From a safety perspective, the MBTA is concerned about the risk of multiple disabled trains that would require evacuations on the tracks, potentially in the dark,” a MassDOT spokesperson said in a statement.

The region’s airports and Amtrak were also operating on limited schedules Monday and Tuesday as the governor of Massachusetts made an emergency declaration for the areas hardest hit by Monday’s winter storm. Even though the storm was just the latest in an already tough winter, there appears to be a bit of skepticism from at least a few stranded passengers:

“Although we’ve had a lot of snow, this is New England and they should be able to take care of these things,” said Tim Ferris, who took a bus to South Station from Portland, Maine, only to find there was no connection to Alewife in Cambridge.

Service resumed earlier today, albeit on a limited basis. The region is anticipating another possible storm later this week.

Don’t say “cyclists,” say “people on bikes” (CityLab)

A group of advocates in Seattle hopes to use language to reframe the discussion of complete streets and make it less of a “war” amongst drivers, cyclists and pedestrians (or “people that drive, bike and walk” ) and more of a civil discussion focused on the common humanity and interests of all users. An excerpt, quoting Seattle Bike Blog‘s James Fucoloro:

“A basic element of a street is that everyone on it is a person,” says Fucoloro. “A person-centered word forces you to ask, maybe I’m thinking about this the wrong way.”

Fucoloro says that talking about streets in a way that emphasizes the common humanity of all users, rather than dividing them into tribes with warring interests, has made a real difference in the way Seattle’s planners discuss possible changes to streets with the community.

The group, called the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, created a chart with suggested terminology:

In response to the “accident vs. collision” debate when describing auto-related incidents, Fuculoro most adequately sums up what’s behind the language shift:

Fucoloro says he understands why people default to “accidents” and similar usages. “It’s to avoid thinking about the fact that driving is the most dangerous thing we do on a regular basis,” he says. “But we need that sense of personal responsibility to make streets work.”

While acknowledging that language alone can’t change people’s attitudes, Sarah Goodyear, the article’s author, cites a 1975 experiment that suggests it can alter their perception of events.

Why I’ve just decided to sell my car (NRDC Blog)

A San Francisco based sustainable transit advocate takes us through her decision to go car-free. Going car-free in San Francisco isn’t quite the high hurdle that it is in other places, but the article is still worth a read. Excerpt:

The average American car sits parked for 95% of its life. In San Francisco, I’ll bet you that number is even higher. So when no one moves their car, parking is virtually impossible. I just started to realize that I AM A PART OF THIS PROBLEM. So, that means I could also be part of the solution by selling my car and using someone else’s car only when I need it. I really started to think that the whole notion that we all need to own our own cars, just so we have them available for the tiny percentage of the time that we actually use them, is a little crazy.

I’m not the first to realize that if we would all just share resources — use cars when we need them, move toward real-time, seamless, dynamic ridesharing so the average occupancy of cars is greater than 20%, and make point to point bikes publicly available through bikeshare programs, we could solve a lot of our congestion and parking woes.

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In the spirit of the Speed Dating on the Red Line event this Friday, I leave you with a great song about public transit and love — or more specifically some innocent PDA — from 80s alt-rock cult heroes, The Replacements.

And if you haven’t had the chance yet, make sure to give our latest podcast about finding love on transit a listen.

8 replies

  1. Our current Expo Line probably falls into the category of expensive slow rail. Published times are 29 minutes end to end 8.6 miles. In reality it often takes a few minutes longer. The Orange Line goes from Chatsworth to Balboa Station a distance of 10.8 miles in 30 minutes. In other words, much faster than Expo.

    • That’s an excellent point, and a fact that the NY Times article fails to acknowledge. The BRT mode used on the Orange Line isn’t “just a bus route” because of both the superior travel speed and the other amenities.
      Also, both the Orange Line and Expo Line have exceeded their ridership forecasts, which were based primarily on the amount of travel time and cost savings that each route can provide. This means that both services are being used by a lot of people for reasons other than their travel-time savings. The Expo Line has exceeded ridership forecasts because so many people on the West Side (such as myself) have a strong rail bias that allows them to overlook the lack of travel time saving. The Orange Line is twice as fast as a regular bus route, but it also attracts choice riders who wouldn’t consider it as a travel option, except for the fact that it has “rail-like” amenities.

  2. “The 2009 FTA study used focus groups of “choice riders” — those that have an option whether to drive or take transit — in L.A. to compare perceptions of regular bus routes to the Metro Orange Line.”

    This uses to be the case back in Singapore too, except people over there were using taxis and with multiple riders going the same direction to save money.

    But in 2010, they figured out a way to encourage people to take transit more than hailing a cab. They changed their fare structure so that shorter trips are cheaper, like $0.80 and it gradually rises until the longest trips costs $2.50. The run a tap-in/tap-off system onboard buses, you tap-on when you board, you tap-off when you alight, and the fare is deducted automatically depending on km traveled.

    So if you’re going to a shopping centre only a short ride away, instead of trying to find others to share a cab, people are now encouraged to take mass transit instead because it’s only $0.80 per person for a short trip. And it’s a better deal than before when they used to run the same price regardless of travel distance. It seems like Singapore’s mass transit is now making tons of money now this way because they’ve tapped into a market they overlooked.

    Perhaps LA can learn something like that from Singapore? I’m sure a lot more car or “choice” riders would consider switching to taking transit for shorter trips too if you make shorter trips cheaper. Think of how many people use cars for quick short trips today that can be moved to mass transit. Metro can be making tons of money by the numbers by cheap short trips.

    • Choice riders care about convenience, cleanliness, and speed more than about saving a couple of quarters. You think someone who has a car is going to walk 1/4 mile to a bus stop, wait for a bus just to take that bus a mile or so? No way and if they don’t have a car for that day for some reason, they will increasingly just take Uber X, which is more expensive, but takes half the time with door to door service and no homeless people to contend with.

      • I have to disagree. In the end, money matters more than convenience. Everyone wants to save money because the more they save, the more money they’ll have to be saved up to purchase goods.

        If there was a bus service that allows a passenger to pay between $0.80 to a cap of $2.50 depending on how far they are going and all you needed to do was tap-in and tap-out, how many people will start choosing Metro? I think a lot. People just don’t travel far, people also do travels that’s relatively a short distance away.

        As it stands today, you already have people saying paying $1.75 for a single ride no matter how far or short isn’t really working. Personally, I wouldn’t even consider using Metro and pay $1.75 for short range trips; I’d rather walk or bike instead. Basically Metro makes no money from me because I choose not to ride Metro for short trips; it’s just not worth it to pay $1.75 just to go down few blocks to visit my friends or hang out to a restaurant few blocks away. Why should I have to end up paying $1.75 each way, or $3.50 for a roundtrip, just to go eat a burger at In ‘N Out that’s only a mile away? But if it were $0.80, I would definitely ride one. Eighty cents for a short ride to grab a burger at my local In ‘N Out is more than reasonable.

        A $1.75 x 2 for roundtrips x 365 days a year = that’s a cost of $1,277.50 for a person
        The alternative is to buy a monthly pass for $100 a month, which comes to a cost of $1,200 per year.

        if I’m going to be spending $1,200 per year and all I do are short trips, I’d rather just buy a moped that gets 100 MPG instead. That’s what many people in SE Asia opt to do as their main method of transportation. In the end, Metro’s price offerings isn’t really worth it for short distance riders. It’s a good deal for long distance riders, but a very bad deal for short distance passengers. So Metro doesn’t make any money from short distance riders because they’ll just decide to walk or bike instead.

        But what if prices went down to $0.80 for the short distance market?
        $0.80 x 2 for roundtrips x 365 days a year = $584 per year
        You think it’s just saving a couple of quarters, but add it all up, it’s substantial savings to the consumer. That’s $693.50 savings per year, and that $693.50 can be saved up to purchase something else, like putting it into a college education fund.

        Now that’s a good price for short distance riders. And all Metro will need is to gain 2.1875 people doing quick, short, hop-on/off trips to match the flat rate price of $1.75 who only caters really to long distance riders.

        Multiply $584 per year in revenue by number of passengers that will gained from the short distance market, Metro is able to tap into a bigger market. The idea is working in Singapore. They have one of the best farebox recovery ratios in the world, above 100%. And that’s a feat no transit agency in the US has yet to accomplish, even NYC.

        Besides, what is the other alternative? We’re already at $1.75 per ride right now. You think Metro will be gaining more ridership from the short distance rider market as it increases to $2.00 per ride? What if prices go up to $3.00 per ride? Those numbers aren’t fake, that’s how much it costs to ride the bus in other US cities. Who’s going to ride the bus for $3.00 per ride just to go down a few blocks? It’ll still be a great deal if you’re going 20 miles or so, but people also travel 1 mile, 5 miles, and 10 miles. How fair is it that that the 1 mile rider pays the same $3.00 price as a 20 mile rider?

        It just doesn’t make any sense at all. All Metro ends up doing will be increasing fares and losing riders because people will start saying “I’m not paying $3.00 just to go from so-and-so (short distance); I’d rather walk or bike instead. But $3.00 from here-to-there (long distance), that’s ok”