Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

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MNdible
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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby MNdible » October 6th, 2015, 2:20 pm

nate wrote:If bus service improvements means implementing aBRT-like changes to many more local routes (better shelters, off-board payment, consistent/longer stop spacing, signal priority, bus lanes at bottlenecks) then I am all for it.

If bus service improvements means adding frequencies to crosstown, off-peak routes to make trips like Stevens Square to Summit Hill simpler (as suggested by the first post) , then I hope there's a great big pile of money and political will to implement the changes. That's where my suggestion that a good bike network is a better investment comes in.
Yep. Hit the nail on the head!

trigonalmayhem

Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby trigonalmayhem » October 6th, 2015, 2:47 pm

Oh there's a pile of money, but the political will is the problem. The political will is allocating that money for things like park and rides and expensive peak only express bus service to places far beyond the perimeter that should be reasonably serviced by regular bus transit (at least when such service is scarce). I'm all for commuter rail style service to the fringes, but taking the local transit funding and spending it on suburban express service is terrible.

I just don't see bikes as an adequate substitute for proper transit service. And I love bikes. But despite the overlap, they do not serve exactly the same people and any solution that relies too heavily on them is going to be bordering on discriminatory towards people with disabilities.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby HiawathaGuy » October 6th, 2015, 2:54 pm

trigonalmayhem wrote:Oh there's a pile of money, but the political will is the problem. The political will is allocating that money for things like park and rides and expensive peak only express bus service to places far beyond the perimeter that should be reasonably serviced by regular bus transit (at least when such service is scarce). I'm all for commuter rail style service to the fringes, but taking the local transit funding and spending it on suburban express service is terrible.
I think it's important to note that this is your point of view, but not necessarily fact. You can't live in a vacuum, or ignore the reality of the world around you. Met Council isn't dishing out money to build park & rides because they're looking to "screw over" urban bus riders. If you believe that, I suggest you move somewhere without a regional planning system like Met Council. You might feel differently - or perhaps, you'll stop being such a negative person.

There are not piles of cash. Period. And political will isn't merely a little thing that can be overcome by talking about it on a development forum. It can only be changed by all of us showing up at planning meetings, getting involved in local city, county and regional meetings, contacting our representatives at the State Capital, etc. But politics are a HUGE factor in all things transit - whether you believe that to be the truth or not.

trigonalmayhem

Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby trigonalmayhem » October 6th, 2015, 3:15 pm

I don't need a lecture on the realities of how politics influence transit planning. I'm all for regional planning, but not when it's generally weighted in favor of less sustainable land uses. If anything the region we have here is simply too big to be able to deliver adequate transit service to with the limited funds allocated. Or at the very least it needs to be done in a tiered manner to provide different levels of service based on density. Between the opt outs and the extremely heavy focus on 9-5 downtown commuters, the system we have provides inadequate service to the people who need it most while providing a bevy of options to those who choose to live in places not designed for transit. I sincerely doubt more than a few percent of express bus riders don't own a car. Meanwhile huge populations of people who are unable to drive are provided with a lesser quality of service and have to deal with it because they have no better choice available to them. And this shows no signs of changing with the current pipeline of transit investment being largely focused on better serving the same suburban commuters.

Basically we seem to treat transit primarily as a means of reducing auto congestion instead of as a primary means of mobility for those who need it. We already have a huge budget for highways and auto infrastructure to serve drivers, why are we spending most of our transit money on the same people? That is the crux of what I am annoyed with.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby RailBaronYarr » October 6th, 2015, 3:40 pm

EOst wrote:Stevens Square -> Summit Hill is an 8- or 9-mile trip with a lot of physical bottlenecks. I strongly doubt the structure of our bus system adds more than 10-15% on what is going to be a long ride, no matter what.

FWIW: 9 miles no transfer on the average NYC subway line takes upwards of 45 minutes. Distance is distance.
I'll mostly agree, though I don't know that 100 year old grade separated rail lines like NYC (or CTA's L trains, which also took 40-45 minutes for a 9 mile journey for me this past weekend) operating at sub-15 mph speeds is necessarily the gold standard. As we've discussed, Vancouver's SkyTrain system achieves 22-30 mph speeds.

But yes, I don't know that our bus network structure is necessarily the problem, even if I agree a more grid-like system in some places with more consistent headways would be welcome. aBRT designs should be the standard for all local routes, but we'll cross that bridge once a few of the lettered lines prove their worth. And, I'll also disagree that bike-to-bus doesn't carry a transfer penalty. You still have to wait an average of 0.5*train headway (I've missed a GL train or 94 bus bu seconds more times than I can count), it's just not as terrible as waiting for a bus with 20-30 minute headways.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby MNdible » October 6th, 2015, 4:04 pm

Can I suggest: the hub-and-spoke transit model (and this extends to the much-hated-and-much-maligned suburban express buses and the dumb SWLRT) serve to reinforce the downtown hubs as attractive places for employment, housing, entertainment, etc., and this in turn makes it easier to serve these areas with transit.

Areas with a more Cartesian transit system tend to have dispersed uses and truly terrible service.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby EOst » October 6th, 2015, 7:46 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:I'll mostly agree, though I don't know that 100 year old grade separated rail lines like NYC (or CTA's L trains, which also took 40-45 minutes for a 9 mile journey for me this past weekend) operating at sub-15 mph speeds is necessarily the gold standard. As we've discussed, Vancouver's SkyTrain system achieves 22-30 mph speeds.
Absolutely. But replacing the 2 (and whatever bus runs on Western?) with grade-separated transit at SkyTrain standards would be so far down the list that I almost don't know if it's worth discussing.
RailBaronYarr wrote:But yes, I don't know that our bus network structure is necessarily the problem, even if I agree a more grid-like system in some places with more consistent headways would be welcome. aBRT designs should be the standard for all local routes, but we'll cross that bridge once a few of the lettered lines prove their worth. And, I'll also disagree that bike-to-bus doesn't carry a transfer penalty. You still have to wait an average of 0.5*train headway (I've missed a GL train or 94 bus bu seconds more times than I can count), it's just not as terrible as waiting for a bus with 20-30 minute headways.
I've argued this here before, but I think aBRT levels on all local transit routes would be overkill; you run into decreasing returns pretty quickly. How many million dollars would you really pay to run aBRT on the route of the 9 through Longfellow? In any scenario where Metro Transit has a lot more money to spend, I have to think there's a point where that money is better spent on more express routes and greater density of local routes. Besides, a limited number of high-level branded routes increases the memorizability of the system.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby RailBaronYarr » October 6th, 2015, 8:07 pm

We could go on for days on this, and I'm not necessarily in disagreement. I think that a polycentric region from a jobs perspective isn't super-well served by a hub and spoke system. We're kind of in a tight spot in our metro with a very sprawly residential pattern but 2 major job downtowns, plus the U just far enough away and across a river, plus a few other transit-capable job clusters like Southdale, MSP/MOA, 394/100, even Uptown and Midtown. Not that this is unique by any stretch, but even taking both downtown jobs as a share of regional total is lower than peer regions.

Look, I'm the biggest booster of the core cities (and even moreso the downtowns) as economic engines of the region. I really dislike the type of internet comment sections that act as though literally hundreds of thousands of people don't migrate into Minneapolis & St Paul each day for work than leave it. I think a hub/spoke model for LRT lines & express/highway BRT buses makes a lot of sense.

But Minneapolis, St Paul, and the inner-ring suburbs of MInneapolis have fairly consistent residential and job density. I think it's a shame that so many buses in Minneapolis go fairly far out of their way to hit downtown. Yes, they serve the 160k total downtown jobs (or at least the portion of them within walking distance of stops..) and transfers to other bus routes. Just seems like a grid of local bus routes that don't necessarily go downtown but connect to aBRT, LRT, and highway BRT lines for the radial-to-downtown destinations would be a good hybrid model that accommodates trips without an origin or destination downtown. Not super duper extreme conviction on this, but I wish there were an easy way to test that hypothesis (too bad Transitmix is no longer free).

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby RailBaronYarr » October 6th, 2015, 8:21 pm

EOst wrote:I've argued this here before, but I think aBRT levels on all local transit routes would be overkill; you run into decreasing returns pretty quickly. How many million dollars would you really pay to run aBRT on the route of the 9 through Longfellow? In any scenario where Metro Transit has a lot more money to spend, I have to think there's a point where that money is better spent on more express routes and greater density of local routes. Besides, a limited number of high-level branded routes increases the memorizability of the system.
Just call them their current route numbers. Install TVMs today, and as streets are reconstructed or development occurs build new platforms. Use existing buses with card readers installed in the back and just start all-door boarding tomorrow (like SF did). Move to quarter mile stop spacing on all routes. Roll out much better signage at stops (as is planned already). Costs really wouldn't be that high, and you'd instantly speed up buses by 10-20% with those improvements. As I've argued before, this allows for higher frequencies on the same budget or simply freeing up budget for other system improvements/operations with the same service. I really can't see a reason why we wouldn't want to do these things (that are proven to drive ridership & customer satisfaction up) on every route in the system. Leave the aBRT branding for the really important routes with wider stop spacing & system legibility.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby intercomnut » October 6th, 2015, 8:48 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote: Just call them their current route numbers. Install TVMs today, and as streets are reconstructed or development occurs build new platforms. Use existing buses with card readers installed in the back and just start all-door boarding tomorrow (like SF did). Move to quarter mile stop spacing on all routes. Roll out much better signage at stops (as is planned already). Costs really wouldn't be that high, and you'd instantly speed up buses by 10-20% with those improvements. As I've argued before, this allows for higher frequencies on the same budget or simply freeing up budget for other system improvements/operations with the same service. I really can't see a reason why we wouldn't want to do these things (that are proven to drive ridership & customer satisfaction up) on every route in the system. Leave the aBRT branding for the really important routes with wider stop spacing & system legibility.
The costs would be pretty high. Each TVM costs $11k. Then you have to run the utilities to power them and connect them to the internet. Then you have to maintain all of them when they break. You also have to have armored cars replenish and collect money from each TVM and have employees refilling the tickets when they run low. Not to mention the standalone Go-To readers at the platform, which also cost a decent amount of money + utilities. And, you'd have to double the amount of Go-To readers on the bus and maintain them. And then replenish them all again when they reach the end of their lives.

Don't get me wrong: I would love it if they did this. But to say the costs aren't all that high is inaccurate, both in terms of capital and ongoing costs.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby Silophant » October 6th, 2015, 8:57 pm

Every stop might be a bit much, but if we restrict TVMs to only stops with shelters, then we've already got electricity in place. (Maybe we should just cut down the number of bus stops until we can afford to put a shelter at each?) As far as an internet connection, I'm sure they're just cell connections, so no problem there beyond the initial cost of the radio. You're right about the labor costs of money collection and ticket refilling, though.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby EOst » October 6th, 2015, 9:08 pm

RailBaronYarr wrote:But Minneapolis, St Paul, and the inner-ring suburbs of MInneapolis have fairly consistent residential and job density. I think it's a shame that so many buses in Minneapolis go fairly far out of their way to hit downtown. Yes, they serve the 160k total downtown jobs (or at least the portion of them within walking distance of stops..) and transfers to other bus routes. Just seems like a grid of local bus routes that don't necessarily go downtown but connect to aBRT, LRT, and highway BRT lines for the radial-to-downtown destinations would be a good hybrid model that accommodates trips without an origin or destination downtown. Not super duper extreme conviction on this, but I wish there were an easy way to test that hypothesis (too bad Transitmix is no longer free).
I guess my question is, which routes would you reroute to not head to one of the downtowns? Would something like the 19 be better if the bus on Penn N went straight south over the Bassett Creek Valley, and everyone headed downtown had to transfer at the Bottineau station?
Silophant wrote:Every stop might be a bit much, but if we restrict TVMs to only stops with shelters, then we've already got electricity in place. (Maybe we should just cut down the number of bus stops until we can afford to put a shelter at each?) As far as an internet connection, I'm sure they're just cell connections, so no problem there beyond the initial cost of the radio. You're right about the labor costs of money collection and ticket refilling, though.
What about stops where there isn't room for a shelter? Say westbound Franklin at Nicollet. Is there room for a TVM there without expanding the sidewalk?

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby Silophant » October 6th, 2015, 9:22 pm

Maybe not a LRT-style TVM, no, but the new, less capable TVMs they appear to be using for aBRT look to have a much smaller footprint, more like the Go-To card vending machine at Nicollet Mall Station.


Note: I swear I saw some Powerpoint somewhere that had a picture of the aBRT TVMs, but I have no idea where. So, y'know, USBank Stadium sized grain of salt with that statement.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby RailBaronYarr » October 6th, 2015, 9:37 pm

Yeah I guess I wasn't really talking about putting a TVM at every street corner, shoulda made that clear. I would like to see a harder rollout of metropasses for folks who regularly pay in cash to make this really work in all parts of the system by cutting out cash payments. But this is at least good, honest discussion about costs/tradeoffs of doing some of these things. Yes, there are ongoing labor costs to maintain equipment and collect cash ($10,000/year/TVM according to the 2012 aBRT report, wow.). There's also additional random fare checkers to pay if you roll out near system-wide PoP. Again, I'd be open to a real hard look at net operational cost increase/savings if you assume same frequencies cutting labor cost but the added expense of everything listed. The Snelling A Line was projected to have an additional $1.5m per year operating costs for station clearing, ITS/TSP, fare collection, and fare enforcement. Cut out station maintenance & ITS/TSP maintenance, and what's the gap? Is the likely additional ridership from better bus service enough to cover it? I don't know.

I guess at this point we're probably talking about a low six-figure (maybe less?) cost adder per year per route to make a random bus route better. I'm open to hearing other ideas on how to make life better for transit-reliant folks. No silver bullets, of course. This just feels, I dunno, more meaningful than $400m BRTs. Not saying those aren't important.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby Archiapolis » October 7th, 2015, 7:32 am

RailBaronYarr wrote:
EOst wrote:I've argued this here before, but I think aBRT levels on all local transit routes would be overkill; you run into decreasing returns pretty quickly. How many million dollars would you really pay to run aBRT on the route of the 9 through Longfellow? In any scenario where Metro Transit has a lot more money to spend, I have to think there's a point where that money is better spent on more express routes and greater density of local routes. Besides, a limited number of high-level branded routes increases the memorizability of the system.
Just call them their current route numbers. Install TVMs today, and as streets are reconstructed or development occurs build new platforms. Use existing buses with card readers installed in the back and just start all-door boarding tomorrow (like SF did). Move to quarter mile stop spacing on all routes. Roll out much better signage at stops (as is planned already). Costs really wouldn't be that high, and you'd instantly speed up buses by 10-20% with those improvements. As I've argued before, this allows for higher frequencies on the same budget or simply freeing up budget for other system improvements/operations with the same service. I really can't see a reason why we wouldn't want to do these things (that are proven to drive ridership & customer satisfaction up) on every route in the system. Leave the aBRT branding for the really important routes with wider stop spacing & system legibility.
I'm an architect and know nothing about "TVMs" but the rest of this sounds great.

What about altering the "Hi Frequency" lines so that (for example) every other arrival would have a "headway" arriving only at strategic corners?

You'd have (for example) the #5 down Chicago running at the same frequency but you'd have a 5a arriving at 56th Street, then 48th, then Lake St., etc...

As far as broader design, I think the "hub and spoke" breaks down when you get out to the edge...I lived in Chicago very close to the blue line but my friends and job were off of the red/brown lines which required a trip downtown, THEN a transfer north which took a long time. Buses took "about" the same amount of time but required 2 transfers...

If there were another "ring" line that connected the ends (or near the ends at high density locations) of the spokes to each other, then you are in business.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby mattaudio » October 7th, 2015, 8:39 am

Even if TVMs are $11,000, we can buy over 2,700 of them for the cost of one $30m suburban parking ramp.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby RailBaronYarr » October 7th, 2015, 9:07 am

EOst wrote:I guess my question is, which routes would you reroute to not head to one of the downtowns? Would something like the 19 be better if the bus on Penn N went straight south over the Bassett Creek Valley, and everyone headed downtown had to transfer at the Bottineau station?
Thanks for asking. Again, I haven't fully thought out what a proposal would look like. Every time I try to start I get sidetracked. But yes, in a world where Bottineau LRT, C Line, and Chicago-Fremont all provide meaningful connections to downtown from various places in North Minneapolis (the former being more radial than the latter which operate on a grid until jutting downtown), I think it might make sense for an improved local route 19 to maybe head down Penn, run over to Cedar Lake Pkwy, then continue south to France Ave. In this particular case, I think it would be worth connecting France Ave. Other ideas might inclue things like rationalizing the 2 and just have it be one long bus route with the 67. Or the 23 not connecting at Uptown TS but instead going around the south side of Calhoun and ending at a now more meaningful transit node in Excelsior & Grand. Like I said, I'm not married to the idea. The skew of our downtown grids, the river's path, a few geological oddities, and single river crossing between Franklin & Ford Parkway make things a challenge (and has shaped our system as it is today). Maybe the benefits wouldn't outweigh the loss of terminating or jutting lines in odd places. I don't know.
EOst wrote:What about stops where there isn't room for a shelter? Say westbound Franklin at Nicollet. Is there room for a TVM there without expanding the sidewalk?
On this point, maybe we need to advocate for better vending machines? The parking stands take credit cards & coins and print a small receipt (which would be all you'd need in PoP). I know I've seen similarly-sized kiosks in other cities. I just don't see this as a huge barrier, at least in the long-run.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby MNdible » October 7th, 2015, 10:11 am

RailBaronYarr wrote:But Minneapolis, St Paul, and the inner-ring suburbs of MInneapolis have fairly consistent residential and job density.
This is broadly true on the residential side, but really not true on the jobs side. There are vast chunks of these areas with job densities so low as to be effectively nill. This is the reason that it's so tough to justify robust crosstown service. Every so often, somebody asks some variant of "Why is it so hard for me to take a bus from [somewhere in South Minneapolis] to [somewhere in St. Paul]?" And the answer is because there just aren't enough people who want to make that movement to justify frequent transit service.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby masstrlk67 » October 7th, 2015, 10:14 am

Zeroing in on that idea to connect the 2 and 67 (which would save Sam a transfer on his commute), I wonder why this hasn't already happened? Maybe it would have had Twin City Lines not folded? There was a time when the Selby and Lake streetcars were two separate routes, and I think most people would agree that connecting them was a great idea. I suppose the 2's zigzag north of Franklin has a lot of ridership now, but a Metro Transit route really shouldn't be functioning as a U circulator. If we had a really unified bus network, we wouldn't have so many routes that are clearly Minneapolis routes (2, 23, 46) or clearly St. Paul routes (63, 67, 74), stopping at or near the border.

Edit: I screwed up the name of Twin City Lines in the original post.

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Re: Improving Metro Transit's urban bus service

Postby FISHMANPET » October 7th, 2015, 10:18 am

I don't see why there shouldn't be a route that connects lots of housing to a place where a lot of people work or go to school. The U is the second biggest transit node in the region, after Downtown Minneapolis (and busier than Downtown St Paul). Why wouldn't we have a route that easily connects people to that node?


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