SORTA Improved Advertising

Not sorta improved, quite extremely improved! I commented a few posts back on SORTA’s abuse of the concept of branding to advertise the m+. Well, either someone was listening, or I had absolutely nothing to do with it and they just got better on their own. Found pinned up in the hallways of UC’s Braunstein hall, just steps away from my little desk, I offer you Exhibit A:

poster advertising SORTA transit services

I don’t care how this looks. I don’t care about the brand colors or the consistent use of fonts. What’s great about this ad is that it tells us something. It even does it succinctly!

QUESTION: Want to go to a ballgame?
ANSWER:
Here is exactly how you can go from where you are(UC) to the ballpark.

Exhibit B:

poster advertising SORTA transit services

QUESTION: How about a movie?
ANSWER:
Here is exactly how you can go from UC to either of two movie theatres. Take your pick!

Yes! I do want to go see some movies! And I could take either of those buses to a movie theatre right now if I wanted to. I actually did not know that before I saw this ad1. This ad has offered me new information about my possibilities. My plans could actually change as a result of this.

Like I said, I don’t care about the graphics. What makes these ads unusually great for SORTA is that they tell you how you can use transit and why you might actually want to. But while we’re here, let’s talk about the graphics. They’re good. They’re eye-catching and dynamic. They’re succinct and to the point. They’re even clearly observing the rule of thirds! Whoever designed these, SORTA, please give them this person’s job.

Seriously, I hope this the result of a new hire or something, because I would like to see more of this kind of work coming out of the transit agencies.

Show 1 footnote

  1. In my case because I didn’t know about the theatres.
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Posted in: Ads
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Feedback on SORTA’s proposed 2013 service changes

SORTA recently wrapped up planning for service changes that will take effect in August and December this year. The changes they’ve proposed represent a fairly substantial(though certainly not huge) change to the shape of the network. As they work to finalize their plans, they’ve asked for feedback from the public; as a member of that group I intend to give them some, even though it’s now a little later than I might have liked.

I’ll write first about the changes themselves before going on to comment on the planning process more generally.

Basically there are a four major things changing.

There are also a number of smaller changes, but their effect is more local so I won’t go into it. You can see the complete list here.

The thing SORTA has been touting the most is the the thing I was most wary about before I attended the public meeting on the plan last week: The ‘Metro Plus‘ service, or as I’ll call it, the m+1, is to be their tentative step toward what might be called ‘bus rapid transit‘.

Metro Plus route map

Sneakily snapped from a binder left open by one of the planners. The map they’ve shared with the public is a little *ahem* …quirky. The loop at the top right is less practical and more a result of apparently not being able to find a good place for a layover.

For months it was unclear what kind of service this might provide or how fast it could be expected to go, but the rough details are now out in the open and almost all of my initial hesitation about the service has been wiped away. It will2 run from 6am to 10pm on weekdays with no weekend service, and have the surprisingly high frequency of every 15 minutes between 6am and 6pm before dropping to every half-hour for the rest of the day. That’s roughly the same level of service as the #4, #17, or #33 but for the lack of weekend and late night service.

As I understand it, it will be pretty much like every other local-running line in the system except with fewer and better-marked stops. I assume fares will be the same and will depend on the zone you’re travelling to or from.

The line will not, at least for now, have any designated rights-of-way or signal prioritization(though that one may be coming a bit later) and relies on the simple fact that it will be stopping less for any speed improvements. At the first public meeting in November, SORTA said the m+ would be about 15% faster than a comparable route with many more stops.

Metro Plus Bus

Source: SORTA
10 specially branded buses have been ordered for the line. They’ll be unusable for other services.

One thing about this service is still little unclear to me, though there may be a good justification for it: Why, if we recognize that lines in our most important transit corridors(like Mongomery Road, also served by the #4, or the others where ‘pre-BRT’ is proposed) are slowed down by too many stops, don’t we just strategically remove some of the stops thereby speeding up all service on that road? It seems like we’ve recognized a problem(too many stops in places) and rather than trying to fix it for the #4, or #17 or wherever else ‘BRT’ is planned, SORTA is overlaying those corridors with a substantially different kind of service that avoids the problem altogether. As such, we’ll eventually be getting two very distinct services on our most important corridors rather than one service that could be some sort of a mean between lots of stops and slow speed and what’s being proposed for limited-stop, faster BRT. One main line per corridor would be much easier for customers to understand. Two lines isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, but it’s not one that leaps out to me as obvious either and I’d like to hear SORTA’s reasons for it. TANK is working on strategically eliminating stops on many of their lines right now. Why isn’t SORTA doing the same even though they seem to acknowledge the same problem? What accounts for the difference in approach?

On to the next item, there’s effectively a shift in uptown service toward Vine St. This is a little hard to picture right now without a new frequency map(which will eventually be made), so I’ll do my best to explain it. In a nutshell, there are three main ways transit gets up the northern hill of the basin to the dense neighborhoods around UC: West Clifton Avenue, Vine Street, and Liberty Hill/Highland/Auburn.

Current(May 2013) routing

Current(May 2013) routing

The proposal is for the #19 to depart from West Clifton and replace the route of what’s now the #24(brick-red line above) up Liberty/Highland/Auburn before rejoining the #17 at Ludlow. The #24 and #39(brown line) would no longer go to Downtown at all, so the #19 effectively takes over for both in that neighborhood. The #51 also won’t come as far down as the Clifton Heights business district leaving Clifton Heights with just the #17 and #31. Meanwhile the m+ will be added to Vine Street with stops at the top, middle and bottom of the hill. When the m+ is combined with the #78 and #46 already going up Vine street, there will effectively be a very very high frequency of service between Corryville(East side of campus) and Downtown. Whereas now service to either side of campus is pretty evenly split, it looks like in the future it will be pretty heavily weighted to the Corryville side. This is a little inexplicable because the Clifton Heights business district at the corner of West Clifton and McMillan is currently the busiest cluster of transit stops outside of Downtown. Corryville is also a major hub for transit(fourth largest after Walnut Hills and Northside), but the cluster of activity around their business district is only about 65% of the size of Clifton Heights.

My applogies for the scribbles. This is Just to give you a rough idea of the intensity of transit ridership by neighbprhood...white to black is a linear scale and the coloured parts jump to a log scale. That means downtown is totally off the charts compared to the rest of the city.

My sincere apologies for the scribbles…for all the complaining I do about bad maps! This is Just to give you a quick idea of the intensity of transit ridership by neighbprhood…white to black is a linear scale and the coloured parts jump to a log scale. That means downtown is totally off the charts compared to the rest of the city and the brown of Clifton Heights is very significant. Exact data is here.

Corryville is also less densely populated than CUF which can probably explain most of the difference in ridership, but it’s also less well connected to places that are themselves popular transit destinations like Clifton and Northside. That factor at least will change somewhat with the changes to the #19 and certainly the addition of the m+.

I think as a result we’ll see a decline in transit use in Clifton Heights that will be nearly but not quite matched by a rise in transit use in Corryville. That in and of itself might be fine, but because of the difference in population density between the neighborhoods I suspect the distribution of service after the changes will be slightly less ‘fair’ with fewer people receiving higher-frequency service.

One of the planners at the meeting suggested the 17 could see slight frequency improvements in the future(not officially part of the plan), but I worry about the effective service cut to Clifton Heights because the #17/#19 (which I ride frequently) is already often standing-room-only.

The next big change is the merging of and additions to a few east-west running lines that do not/will not stop in Downtown. We’ll take these one at a time since there are only a few:

  1. The #24, will lose it’s downtown leg, instead ending in Fairview where the #51 currently turns around.
  2. The #51 and the #39 will merge at MLK north of UC’s main campus and lose their legs into Downtown. The new line will keep the number 51.
  3. The #41, a long low-frequency route through the northern suburbs will gain a substantial new segment and drop all the way down to the Glenway transit center.

Th first two generally seem like a pretty good idea. If people can rely on transfers to high-frequency lines running between the ends of these lines and Downtown, then there’s no need for the lines themselves to make their own foray into Downtown. That cut service will be applied to other parts of the system where it can be more useful.

Next on the list is the simplification of the routes of quite a few lines. This sort of falls into two categories. First is the elimination of what I call ‘only-sometimes’ route segments. These are portions of a route that are only used for a small minority of trips. For example the #31 currently makes 104 trips each weekday. Most of those trips are along the dark portion of the route shown in the map below,

The current #31 schedule

The current #31 schedule

but 25 of them, scattered pretty randomly(though I’m sure with intention) throughout the day, are one of four variations on that route. Effectively, this means that even if you know the basic route of the #31, you still probably can’t know exactly where you’re going unless you have a schedule on you or the ability to view the online PDF map. Such deviations are usually done for some purpose such as to serve a factory that only needs service at the end of the day, but it does make things more difficult for the general public. I’ve always found this sort of route-capriciousness extremely frustrating both as a cartographer and as a transit user. It’s exactly this sort of thing that makes people so crazy for the perception of permanence that things like streetcar tracks are supposed to provide.

But anyway, the fantastic news is that most of the only-sometimes segments are getting cut from lines for one reason or another, to be either eliminated completely or replaced by another and more consistently running line. This will of course upset some people’s daily routines but it will also make the system as a whole much easier to comprehend. Losing their only-sometimes segments are the #33, #19 and #31.

Subject to more basic simplifications are the #1, #24, #46 and #38X. Most exciting are the changes to the #1 which is now so convoluted and hard to follow that I very nearly printed t-shirts implying that the line was drunk. It will still be a little tipsy perhaps, though most certainly rideable.

route #1 simplified in december service changes

Map from SORTA

These changes are great. Let’s never go back to complex routing if a simpler route can do the same job. It’s much easier to walk an extra block than to understand where the #1 goes right now.

On to the more general comments!

There are a few things left out of these proposals that I think might well have been considered during a comprehensive review of the system.

  1. Downtown routing of pretty much everything is still a giant mess and even the new routes like the rerouted #19 or the m+ just add to the confusion rather than starting to simplify things.
  2. The new cross/around-town lines enable trips that use transfers between lines in a more meaningful way, but SORTA’s fare policy still discourages changing lines with a $0.50 fee. More clarity of direction on transfer policy is needed for future development of the system, particularly if we want more of a grid-like system with trips that rely on multiple lines.

I’d like to end by commenting on the method of feedback and community engagement itself. While I’m glad that SORTA is making a point of reaching out for feedback through public meetings, online surveys and by email and I know that they’re doing it in good faith, the information they’re providing and particularly the questions they’re asking (online at least) seem significantly less useful and informative than they might have been, both for interested citizens and transit users and for SORTA’s planners.

Similar to the way SORTA seems to think about their system generally, so in presenting route and schedule changes we’re not given a coherent picture of how these changes fit together as a network but rather a list of separate individual routes and the mostly unexplained changes each will have. I’m an urban planner and a huge transit nerd, and it’s taken even me hours of scrutiny and re-mapping work to really understand the effect of the proposed service changes. Without providing people with a bigger picture to make sense of the changes, I’m not sure how they could be expected to understand what’s going on here or to provide comments that would actually be valuable to SORTA’s planners.

The questions they’re asking feel to me kind of like a vote for your favourite route:

SORTA_survey

Does this route meet your needs?” is totally the wrong question to ask, unless you can ask it of the entire population or a representative sample. Online surveys like this have an obvious self-selection bias; you can easily imagine one person asking everyone on their block to use this form to “vote against” any particular change that they don’t like. The people reviewing the feedback, if they’re smart, will recognize that type of comment for what it is and throw most of them out so they don’t skew the results. Even if someone does manage to weed through the details available and form some valuable opinion on the changes generally, the form isn’t really set up for that kind of comment. That’s why I haven’t filled out the feedback form at all, in favour of talking with people one-on-one and writing here.

I think a great opportunity for public education about how the transit system works was really missed here with both the feedback methods and the way the changes were presented individually. The Hamilton County Budget Office for example does a great job of this. Every year they put out a public survey on budget priorities, but it’s so thick with completely necessary details that you can’t read it without coming away knowing the difference between capital and operating funds. The way that survey is set up, there’s literally no way to respond with something inane like “Don’t raise my taxes!” and “No service cuts anywhere!” just as that’s no way to balance a budget.

After a lot of research and conversation with the planners, these changes make good sense for the most part. Indeed, I’m quite happy with them and think they represent a sensible and reasonable improvement to the way the transit system will work. But I think it would have been much more valuable for everyone if the reasons behind the changes had been made clear from the beginning and this process had been a bit more open to the public. Not only would that have put these changes in context but it would have started to establish some basic standards that people would be likely to follow when talking about more publicly contentious projects or changes.

Do these changes meet your needs? By and large they should, but again that’s not quite the right question to ask.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. It’s just much nicer and shorter I think. I don’t like route names with words when all the other ones are numbers. A letter and a symbol? That’s not so bad.
  2. We’re still in the planning phases, so perhaps not. But it will probably be something very much like this.
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Posted in: Analysis | Plans | Priorities
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SORTA’s new transit plan: The Map

I’ve put together a map of SORTA’s proposed routing changes that beats the pants off any maps I’ve yet seen, at least as far as legibility is concerned. It’s here for your digestion. I’ll have a more detailed play-by-play analysis coming soon, probably tomorrow.

Map of SORTA's proposed changes

PROPOSED changes. Click for full size.

current Cincinnati ransit frequency map for comparison

Transit AS IT IS. Click for full size.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Missed opportunities, or ones well taken? Post them in the comments! I’ll use them as fodder when I write the next post.

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Posted in: Maps | Priorities
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‘BRT’ – What is it?

I’ve heard a lot of talk about Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) lately, and I’m feeling the need to start unpacking some of it. Just what is BRT? I suspect many people have a fairly vague idea, but fortunately, I found this great slideshow on SORTA’s page about the topic that actually explains everything quite clearly. From the second slide:

“[BRT is] A flexible, high performance rapid transit mode that combines a variety of physical, operating, and system elements into a permanently integrated system with a quality image and unique identity.”

Sounds good so far, no?

On the next slide we learn that “BRT is tailored to each unique corridor” and “can be implemented incrementally“. There are a variety of “alternate BRT packages”. Awesome!

The fourth slide gives us a show of how many cities are supposedly planning BRT.

BRT popularity map

Sweeping the nation like a new boy band!

Then on the next two slides we go back to how flexible BRT is.

The infinite specturm of BRT

BRT will be your everything.

Now this is actually the second time this next slide appears in the document. They really don’t want us to miss the fact that BRT is plug and play.

parts of a so called BRT

Buy the expansion pack!

Let’s pause for a moment to get real: I’m sure Parsons Brinkerhoff does some decent work every once in a while, but this slideshow looks like it was put together by a first year planning student assigned to learn about BRT.

Carrying on again: From here on out, the document spends a few slides at a time highlighting certain features of BRT one at a time. Let’s pick them apart one by one.

“Stylish Vehicles”

BRT is stylish apparently

“Environmentally compatible”: You don’t have to install any proprietary codecs?

Let’s look closer at that one in the top right.

Damn, BRT. You fine.

Damn, BRT. You fine.

That’s pretty awesome. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as excited about transportation as the emotions this picture conveys, but I have come close.

The big difference, as the next slide explains, between a BRT bus and a “regular”(?) bus is that the BRT is more “rail-like”. They even suggest retrofitting existing buses from the fleet with “front cones” and “wheel covers“.

But then of course if you don’t want any of that, BRT will be anything you want it to be. I mean, look at LA!

BRT will be anything for you

BRT is available in sizes XS -5XL

“Running Ways”

“BRT can operate in a wide variety of physical environments:
-On Street
-Bus Lane
-Bus Way…
-Guided or Non-guided
-Exclusive Lane or Mixed Traffic”

This is pretty neat. You mean to tell me it can go anywhere if we want it to? It could even have it’s own lanes?

buses frolicking in a feild

Buses frolicking in grass. Curiously, there is no sidewalk.

a variety of BRT lane types

 

Well, this is all well and good, but it amounts to little more than saying something like “Nate: with his two feet, he can go anywhere, climb stairs, even run! He’s found in the great outdoors, in bed, in coffee shops and many other physical environments. He could even fit in a hot-tub if you bought him one.” *wink, wink*

It’s simply a list of possibilities rather than requirements or standards. And it’s not unique to things called “BRT”. Trains could operate with essentially the same infrastructure. So could cars or bicycles or people or anything else that moves.

“BRT Stations”

We’re told that BRT “stations” can include such amenities as “artwork”, “customer information”, and “lighting”. That they can be “attractive and safe”, “permanent, substantial, and protected from weather”. It gives us a range of design possibilities, most of which look like¬†nice bus shelters already do.

BRT station design

What’s this bus doing here? I thought this was the train station!

Most importantly, it tells us that a typical spacing between “stations” is 1/4 to 1 mile. This is the real meat of the difference between BRT and “local service”, and it’s taken us 3/4 of the presentation to get to it.

“Branding”

Basically, yes, you can still write all over the stations and vehicles. BRT is not made of Teflon so your logos will stick just like they always have.

branding options

BRT will strut for you.

“BRT Service Plans”

This pretty much lists everything transit can be– from omnipresent frequency to peak-only, stops spaced far apart or close together, local service or express.

things transit can do

You can have BRT where and when you want.

Closing Thoughts

BRT as I understand it in theory has one critical difference from most transit lines we have in Cincinnati. Higher average speed brought about by less frequent stops and a designated transit only right-of-way.

Any other differences are imagined or branded. Indeed, this whole slideshow has amounted to very little more than an enumeration of what is possible with any type of transit. I said earlier in the post it looked like it was put together by a student researching BRT. I take that back. It looks like it was put together by a student researching transit generally and presenting to an audience who hasn’t heard of such a thing before.

If clean, safe stops are a good thing to have, why should BRT lines be the only ones to have them? If level, multi-door boarding and off-board payment are good things to have, why shouldn’t any other line have them too? If running in an exclusive right-of-way can make transit faster, why should we limit such a boon to only certain lines?

And further, if the qualities of BRT that we’ve heard make it special, that differentiate it from other lines are so flexible as to be completely optional, to be implemented one at a time as we can afford them, why can’t similar incremental improvements be made to any line as the funds are available?

It seems then like “BRT” is a brand more than anything. It’s a look to be slapped on a transit service, like the Southbank Shuttle’s¬† self-conscious ‘trolley’.

southbank shuttle

It’s a forced distinction and ultimately an ambiguous, unnecessary and possibly confusing one. It’s already resulting in maps that, like the streetcar’s, completely ignore the rest of the transit system:

BRT stands in glorious isolation.

BRT stands in glorious isolation.

That sort of cartography is indicative of a line that will itself ignore much of what already exists. Indeed, SORTA has put out some specific suggestions for BRT line routing and they seem to almost completely overlap existing ‘local’ lines:

proposed Cincinnati brt alignments

In this case the #33, #17, #78, #43, #4 & #11 but with a very, very different stop spacing:

SORTA transit proposal

This map is uglier than even yo’ mamma, and just as decontextualized as that joke.

What this means is potentially more of the same sort of confusion I’ve written about regarding TANK’s stop locations in Downtown with the shuttle stop disjunction. Where does one go to wait for the next bus in such a case? It’s not totally clear(without checking multiple schedules) whether you’re better off waiting for the #4 or the faster bus that won’t pick you up if you’re at the wrong stop.

Further muddying the waters is the complete silence on possible frequency for the new services SORTA is proposing. Since these new lines would be almost completely redundant to the main high frequency corridors, they would work best in compliment to them. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that SORTA doesn’t have the money to operate these new lines at anywhere close to the frequency of the lines they duplicate(if they did have extra, they would already be spending it. It’s annual operatin funds.). That would mean they could either make ‘BRT’ by taking buses from the existing heavily used lines to run them with limited stops, decreasing ‘local’ service, or they could operate a very low-frequency high-speed line over the still-high-frequency lower-speed line. In the former case, we would have very significant service changes ahead, and ones that people who don’t live near proposed BRT stops will not be at all happy with. In the later case, one would have to wait a reasonably long time for the higher speed line, making irrelevant much of it’s speed benefit. It’s been well demonstrated that, all else being equal, people would rather get a slow bus with little time waiting at the stop than wait a long time for a fast bus. I’ll call it the at-least-we’re-moving effect. Psychology is crazy.

But the point is that if the frequency of the ‘BRT’ service isn’t high enough(and it can’t be without sacrificing ‘local’ service somewhere) then the best option people will have in many of these transit corridors will still be to go out there and wait for the next bus. It might be a higher-speed limited-stop bus if they are near a stop, or a line like we have now. Whichever comes first will be the one they catch. I do this between Downtown and Northside. There are a number of lines I can take to get out there but the one I choose is always the one that happens to get to Government Square first.

Beyond the stops though, the other substantive difference with the idea of BRT is the designated, transit-only right-of-way that prevents cars and stop lights and squirrels from getting in the way. It’s not at all clear where if anywhere this would be found along these proposed routes. In fact, the City has been extremely reluctant to yield even an occasional parking lane for bikes. I doubt they would be friendlier to transit. It’s also not clear whether the vehicles would get priority at traffic signals. Without the assurance that they could avoid most car traffic between stops the potential for substantively higher speed is significantly diminished.

My suggestion would be to improve the high frequency lines that we have by eliminating some stops, assigning a designated right-of-way where possible, improving technology on most or all lines such as with the signal prioritization, and investing(as operating money is available) in higher frequencies and longer schedules. This would have the added benefit of keeping the maps and schedules simple. If a different line is added over the #4 for example, and I just want to get from Downtown to Norwood, I might now have to check two schedules rather than one. Or worse, a new rider may well not realize there are two lines and only check the schedule for one of them, leading to unnecessary wait.

In conclusion, I’ll point everyone to the last words in that slideshow:

don't oversell BRT

Don’t do it.

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Posted in: Definitions | Maps | modes | Technology Choices
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On Coverage vs. Expedience, or why the #24 is slow

By looking at the routing of a transit line, one can with a little study discern the motives of it’s establishment. I’ll take SORTA’s #24 as an example. The #24 is a relatively infrequent line, but one with trips evenly spanning most of the day.

The #24

The #24 goes from Anderson Township to Downtown through Mt. Lookout, Hyde Park, Walnut Hills, and Corryville.

It travels a fairly corrugated route, going, as the crow flies, only about 9 miles but taking a full 19 miles actually on the street to do it. It takes an average total time end-to-end of about 70-80 minutes, meaning an absolute end-to-end average speed of 7.2 MPH(as the crow flies) and as it actually travels on the street, closer to 15.2 MPH.

I take the #24 as an example particularly because of it’s illustrative zigzag in Mt. Washington.

#24 in Mt. Washington

The illustrative zigzag

This deviation from Beechmont Avenue takes an additional 2.8 miles over a hypothetical course that simply follows Beechmont through Mt. Washington.

possible #24 allignment

This doesn’t actually exist.

That means it accounts for about 15% percent of the surface distance of the trip. If we assume that the vehicle’s speed is roughly constant(its not getting on the highway or flying through the air at any point), we may fairly assume that the deviation also accounts for about 15% of the trip’s total travel time, 11.3 minutes, and a decrease in potential average speed(as the crow flies) of 1.65 MPH(8.9 MPH potential vs. 7.2 MPH actual).

This feature of the routing isn’t dictated by topography, nor by the necessity of of driving a large vehicle or any other purely mechanical matter. Indeed, Beechmont just carries right on and the bus seemingly can’t make up it’s mind as to whether it prefers main roads or side streets. The reason this zigzag exists it to provide access to transit. In another post I defined ‘access’ as the end goal of mobility. I also said that mobility tends, all things being equal, to enhance access. Thus the route deviates to pass directly in front of supposedly somewhat immobile people to provide them access to mobility itself and thereby access to many other things. But all things are rarely equal.

This zigzag itself introduces significant delay into the trip of anyone not stopping on one of the streets off of Beechmont to which the line deviates. That decreases their potential for mobility by substantially reducing the real distance they can travel in a given time. It also means, in a world of limited resources, that money spent here (gas, driver wages, maintenance) isn’t spent in some other part of the transit system.

Map of the #24 showing 10 minute travel distance

Here’s how much farther you can go with an extra somewhat-less-than 10 minutes.

schedule of the #24

Numerical proof of the above

For people living off of Beechmont who do have the ability to reasonably get to Beechmont, it may significantly add to travel time as well.

The zigzag, and it’s possible absence raise the question of who the line is designed to serve. In it’s current form, the line indicates a choice for closer access to transit itself for the people south of Beechmont in Mt. Washington over the expedience of those coming from or going to Anderson Township. This indicates that SORTA sees the line as serving people to whom the challenge of getting to a stop on Beechmont is greater than the cost of their time. This could include several general categories of people. People for whom the cost of traveling to a stop is high include the disabled, the elderly or people carrying small children or heavy bags. Then there are the unemployed and unattached, for whom time is of relatively little cost.

It assumes that there are people who can’t or won’t come to a stop on Beechmont and that coming to them instead is justified. This is transit as a social service. Providing easy mobility to these groups is a legitimate public goal(as is providing food to the hungry), and one among many goals that transit should strive to serve. The #24, at least by this segment then, does not as much intend to serve people to whom time is more of a cost than somewhat of a walk.

The #24 makes another important assumption. It assumes that people live where they do and will continue to do so, even if where they live comes to have minimal direct access to transit and that such access is critically important to them. It’s perfectly plausible that if the line were moved to our hypothetical Beechmont-only route that over time people who needed very close access to transit and who nonetheless want to live in Mt. Washington would move closer to Beechmont. This would give us the best of both worlds by allowing the line to directly serve people who need access to mobility and chopping about 11 minutes off the total trip time for everyone passing through. It would do so at the cost of people who need access and live somewhat far from Beechmont; they would either have to move or suffer from more limited access. However it’s important to note that the cost of delay from deviation is an ongoing one, and the cost of inducing people to relocate would be felt only once, though surely over the course of several years.

People not as well served by the #24 include able-bodied people with jobs, families and other significant time constraints, people who would rather walk a few extra blocks than wait 11.3 more minutes. SORTA seems to have recognized and compensated for this to some extent. Running an almost parallel overall course is the 30X, a rush hour only line going(mostly) toward Downtown in the morning, away in the evening.

SORTA 30X route map

Lines like this, of which there are more than a dozen in the current system almost exclusively serve people making trips to Downtown offices in the morning and home to the suburbs in the evening. The times the 30X operates, departing between 6 and 7 AM then again between 4 and 5:50PM, make it useless for almost any other type of trip.

The 30X also operates at a significantly higher speed, bypassing much of the course of the #24(including the off-Beechmont zigzag)and completing the same end-to-end distance in 30-36 minutes, less than half of the time the #24 takes to complete the same (insert lots of qualifiers…) trip. The combination of these two lines gives us a transit corridor with quite specialized, and actually bipolar goals. On the one hand, we have a service with a fairly high speed trip between Downtown and Mt. Washington(via Beechmont) and Anderson Township that almost exclusively serves downtown workers. On the other we have a slow, meandering line between the same points that seems to want to serve many people with low time costs and high travel costs, door to door with minimal walking.

Is there some middle ground? Is there some middle transit customer? Or could both goals, access to transportation and access generally for a broader group of people be met by some other configuration of transit service? More to come! And more to come even even on the subject of the #24. We didn’t even get to the unique connection with Uptown!

Sources: SORTA’s schedules and Google Map’s little ruler tool. Please check my math!

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Posted in: Access | Mobility | Simplicity
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