Moderating two definitions of access

This post was written in the winter of 2014, but for some reason I got distracted and never posted it. Now I’m cleaning house, and here it is! In case you were wondering why it’s about winter weather…

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About twice a week, I find myself waiting for the #17 at 13th and Main, heading up to UC for the day. The #17 works well for me since the geography department is on the west side of campus anyway, though in the winter more often than not I find myself wishing for a bus, any bus, for the love of god, when is the bus coming? My hands are freezing! I find myself here almost every day, but about twice a week, like I say, I find myself in a particular situation: passed up by a bus that’s going the same place I’m going, its clean, brightly lit, warm interior mocking me through it’s big windows. I don’t care it’s it’s going to the other side of campus. I just want on.

The M+ has just passed by. My inclination is to run for it’s next stop, but my position on 13th street denies me the option.

Too far.

Once I see the M+ coming up Main, it’s too late to run south to the courthouse stop, too far and still too late to run up to it’s next stop at Findlay market. This is why the M+ is marginally faster than the other buses. It doesn’t stop for people like me, people of course, not at it’s limited and clearly signed set of stops.

The 13th Street stop is the one closest to my house and it’s always my starting place when catching transit up to campus. I always look south when I get there, and if I don’t see anything coming, sometimes I’ll sneak toward the courthouse, stop by stop, never getting too far away in case a bus pops out of nowhere. (Sometimes I creep north, constantly looking back…do I have time to grab a baguette?!? I pay for it, already half-way out the door.) The courthouse stop, see, has better frequency toward campus since it works for both the #17 and the M+, two high-frequency lines going where I want to go. Since they don’t usually arrive at exactly the same time, their headways compound and we get some constructive interference.

But it’s more complicated than this. Because the schedules for the #17 and M+ don’t work together, aren’t coordinated, reliably interrelated, I never know which to catch, which will actually get me to Braunstein Hall first. Both are frequent enough that I wouldn’t bother looking at a schedule if I wanted either, and both are so often just a little late or early that it wouldn’t do me much good if I did. In the absence of real-time-location information…you know what? Let’s let this derailment happen. Why not?

Where the h*ll is that real-time data, SORTA? What’s the deal here? This is getting really frustrating, now that the real-time info is posted at half a dozen stops. You’ve missed at least three of your own deadlines for releasing it. Stop making excuses and get your shit together!!!! RAAAGHAHG!!!1

*Phew* OK. Back on track. Without that real-time data, I’m essentially looking to ascertain the quantum state of the buses. Buses here are both a wave and a particle. Clearly working in a regular pattern, they still come in discrete chunks which can be discovered only by measurement and then never exactly predicted.

What’s a boy to do?

Stop fussing and wait an extra minute perhaps. That would be too simple though.

A big part of my problem here is that the schedules aren’t coordinated, meaning that they overlap and interact with each other in unpredictable ways. If they were coordinated, I could decide now which stop is usually the better one and stick to that decision.

In this particular situation, there’s not a good case to be made that these ones should be coordinated since they split off from each other once they get to the hill, but my dilemma illustrates a broader problem with the way SORTA has conceived of BRT: as a fast express line mostly redundant to a slow local service. Schedule coordination is impossible where lines are running at different speeds.

And this same problem becomes more dramatic when I consider other destinations. Lets say I want to get to Norwood, or once there, even further out to Kenwood. In the first case, I would have to take a bigger risk in walking toward the courthouse stop.  The #4 turns east around the corner from the courthouse stop, meaning that I can’t even see it coming.

The best choice would necessarily be based on expected waiting times and expected travel times. A better-than-probabilistic decision can’t realistically be made during higher-frequency hours since the normal(in the non-statistical sense at least) delays, disrupt shorter and more-frequent trips more, relatively speaking. In the later case, I would most likely be presented with the same optimizing tactic that finds me sneaking south on Main Street. That is: walk to the nearest stop on Montgomery Road and once there, inch toward the closest higher-frequency stop, taking in any case whichever bus comes first. Once I know the position of one bus, the one having just arrived, I won’t typically wait around for the next since it’s position is unknown and possibly very distant. Assuming both came at once, and were both stopping, the choice would be easy: the faster one.

The problem here is one of lost potential. It’s not a bad situation by any stretch(I have two reasonably frequent-transit options! Yay!) but it could be better. Rather than having two transit lines in the same corridor running at ten-minute headways, one dramatically faster than other, we could have one line, significantly faster than what we have now, running more consistently, more frequently, and importantly: more simply.

Express lines, as SORTA have conceived them, split the baby.

Show 1 footnote

  1. real-time data DOES exist now!
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Posted in: Access | Analysis | Simplicity
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Mid-year Ridership Update

It’s October now, eight months since I first touched on annual ridership figures and it’s about time for a little update. I only have recent numbers from SORTA at the moment (and here they are) so that’s all I’ll be able to touch on for now. Overall, ridership is holding steady, fluctuating down a bit this year:

2013 cincinnati transit ridership chart

The total number of rides in 2013 is down 3.6% from the same period in 2012.(beginning of January through the end of September). If this continues to the end of the year, we’ll be about where we were in 2011, with the lowest annual ridership we’ve seen since the National Transit Database started tracking these things in 1991:  about 16.8 million unlinked trips.1

The slight decrease doesn’t seem to be related to the service changes that took place in August; The month prior to the changes (July) shows a total decrease of 4% YTD so if anything, things have been on the upswing since the shift.

A few random interesting numbers:

The M+ has made 34,791 unlinked trips2 between it’s start in mid August and the end of September. In September the M+ made 4.2 times as many trips as the #1, which was itself down 48% from the previous year due to route changes that significantly shortened it.

The #51, with significant route changes, saw a 38% increase to 44,000 trips from Sept 2012 to Sept 2013. The #41 which was similarly extended further across the city did not see significant change (-0.3%) for the same period.

SORTA was unable to provide data at the stop level.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. This is likely also the lowest ridership has been since it was still on it’s way up in the early 19th century, though I can’t say that with complete certainty.
  2. An ‘unlinked trip’ is the basic unit of measure used here and pretty much everywhere else. It is one person getting on a bus once and getting off somewhere else. Most of what actual people call ‘trips’ will consist of two or more ‘unlinked trips’: The trip there and the trip back and any transfers in between. The ‘link’ in ‘unlinked’ refers to that joining of two or more discrete data points.
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Posted in: Data
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How not to advertise transit

avertisement

Why is this the wrong way to advertise transit? Let me count the ways:

  1. What is “METRO * PLUS”? This ad does not tell us.
  2. Seriously, point #1 is a huge enough fail that I’m going to give it two points. To reiterate, this ad does not even hint at what “METRO * PLUS” might be. Is it a cell phone plan with good uptown coverage?
  3. Assuming we know it’s some sort of transit which is already a pretty big leap for suburbanites and/or foreign students or almost anyone else who would see this ad on UC’s main campus, where the hell does the thing actually go? “Connect uptown” to what exactly? When? For whom?
  4. Assuming we’re informed enough to already know what the m+ is and where it goes, let’s think critically abut the statement: “METRO * PLUS is the smart way to connect uptown.” Why would this be so? Why would the m+ be the smart way? Is the m+ the smartest way for someone living on Ludlow to get to campus? It doesn’t go anywhere near Ludlow. That would be decidedly not smart.
    map of uptown cincinnati
    The smart way? That depends on where you are and where you’re going! For a great many people, indeed, thousands a day in uptown, the #17, #78, or #46, #31, #51, or #19  seem to be the smarter way to ‘connect uptown’. These routes are going where they’re going. Taking the m+ to somewhere you don’t want to go would be one of several dumb ways to get around. The m+ is the smart way to get around uptown when you’re starting somewhere near one of the stops and ending somewhere near another one of the stops at a time when the m+ is running AND when another route couldn’t serve you better. The m+ is the worst possible way to ‘connect uptown’ on the weekends(when it doesn’t run).
  5. Finally, are we relying on a minor local celebrity to sell positive associations with an abstract concept and/or set of brand colors or are we trying to tell people about a new transit service they might actually use to get to some real, specific place? It would seem SORTA had the former in mind.

I posit that the person who made and/or approved this advertisement does not themselves use transit much nor do they understand at all therefor how it works or why people would want to use it. This ad probably makes sense to someone who has a degree in marketing, and who sees it as their job to ‘promote Metro’s brand’ or some equally bland, abstract thing. This kind of person would probably be a great fit at P&G where they could work to systematically put smiling, pretty people(potentially also wearing bowties) next to bottles of shampoo or sticks of deoderant. Such products rely on brands because they’re all essentially the same and the differentiation that makes them stand out from the competition must be almost entirely fabricated.

Transit however is substantially, even enormously different in kind from it’s potential competition. Brands  simply do not work in such a market in the same way. When products are tremendously different, like a personal car vs. a fixed-route bus, a brand or celebrity endorsement will not be the deciding factor. The facts of either option will be. Which gets you there faster? Which is cheaper? Which is better? This kind of ad tells us absolutely nothing that will help us make a decision about how to get around.

For a transit agency this kind of marketing is just nonsense.
And SORTA just keeps churning it out.

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Posted in: Ads
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New M+ Route Map

There’s a new bus in town!

M-plus Route

Check out the route, including all the stops on OSM.

I’m told by a friend who’s ridden it a few times from Downtown to UC that it’s significantly faster than the alternatives though I haven’t had a chance to verify that myself. The m+ comes about every 15 minutes Monday through Friday, early morning through almost 10pm.

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Posted in: Maps
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