Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Semi-reprint: Methodology for determining transit expansion

The discussion in the comments section of this entry "The need for a double decker bus vs. streetcar comparison study" has ended up addressing ridership of the DC Circulator. I guess I had forgotten that there is a "dashboard" provided by the DC Department of Transportation for that system, which shows ridership, overall and by route.  Charlie helpfully provided the link.

-- DC Circulator dashboard
-- Baltimore Circulator ridership data (note that this is a free service, funded by a tax on parking lots and structures, and Baltimore has fewer people working and visiting downtown compared to DC)

DC Circulator ridership per day
High and low service months (2013 data)

Route Ridership Peak Month Ridership Low Month
Georgetown-Union Station 6,600 June 5,500 February
Woodley Park-McPherson 5,060 February 4,000 November
Union Station-Navy Yard 1,700 July 900 November
Rosslyn-Dupont Circle 2,750 July 2,550 October
Potomac Ave.-Skyland 1,650 September 1,150 November

I had no idea that the ridership of these various bus lines was so pathetic. I knew they were bad mostly, but I had no idea how low the ridership is--other than the fact that I look at every Circulator bus that I pass and judge the amount of ridership on that particular bus, and most cases, except Downtown-Georgetown and sometimes on 14th Street, the number of riders appears to be minimal.

2. Circulator expansion is a form of what I call political bus service, provided to assuage business or neighborhood groups, but not really justifiable on a cost basis, because it gets minimal ridership.

Circulator bus at a stop on 14th Street NW.  

The reason this matters is that besides "branding" the most significant element of Circulator service is frequency, ideally every 10 minutes.  But to justify that level of service cost-wise, you need high ridership, probably 9,000 to 12,000    DC's highest used buslines provided by Metrobus provide service as frequent as every 6-8 minutes during peak times, and have from 15,000 to 20,000 daily riders.

Even though DDOT makes information about the services available, they are not subject to the same budgetary pressures as the transit services offered by Metro, because the Metro budget process is much more public because their fare and route system is subject to federal regulations about how changes can be implemented, while locally-provided services don't have the same requirements.

So they evade real scrutiny.

3. This is why for many years I have advocated for the creation of an objective set of service metrics and standards for locally-provided transit service, so that decisions about what to offer or to not offer can be made in an objective, non-political, cost effective manner.

I frequently mention the service standards manual published by the King County Metro in Seattle, and I forgot about the methodology used in Orlando, which is discussed below.

Reprint from December 2010

I was at a holiday party and someone who claims he doesn't read my blog asked me why I didn't blog an entry against the expansion of the DC Circulator bus system into Anacostia/East of the River.

I told him it was a combination of (1) my giving up, because my arguments about the need for standards and metrics justifying this level of service have had no effect on expansion planning for Circulator bus service in DC, and (2) that it is possible, that like the service in Adams-Morgan/Columbia Heights, it's possible that the service is justified.

Now I have blogged a number of entries about the Circulator and neighborhood expansion. The Circulator bus service is designed to be high frequency. High frequency services are only justified when there is high ridership.

This concept is captured by a slide in the 2030 Transit (Lynx) Plan for the Orlando Metropolitan Area in Florida.

The slide lays out the three step process for determining areas where service should be provided, and where expansion is justified by travel demand. (Other slides discuss different types of transit services, the choice of which are based on capacity, speed, distance, and ridership projections.)

This is the kind of process we don't seem to have in DC, for DC-specific expenditures on transit service development and expansion. Instead, it's political, spreading around service to various wards (which is what happened with the Main Street program in its later years as well) to satisfy Councilmembers and their constituents, rather than being justified by demand and a consideration of the best use of scarce financial resources.

The Circulator bus lines serving Downtown and Georgetown have the type of higher ridership that justifies Circulator-type service.

For neighborhood services, the Columbia Heights-Adams Morgan route has closer to the kind of ridership necessary to justify high frequency, while the Capitol Hill-Navy Yard Circulator does not.
The Union Station-Navy Yard DC Circulator uses 30 foot buses
The Union Station-Navy Yard DC Circulator uses 30 foot buses, because ridership projections did not justify larger buses.

In my typology of metropolitan transit networks, there is a category for intra-neighborhood transit service (called the center city tertiary transit network), and this level of service justifies subway station and commercial district centric bus service. But that means that a Circulator in this area ought not to then go to McPherson Square, instead it should move people around the neighborhoods, the transit stations, and the commercial districts.

It could be that East of the River bus services need to be reconfigured to better serve activity centers and subway stations. That was suggested in a comment on a blog entry on this topic last January.

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At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

" But to justify that level of service cost-wise, you need high ridership, probably 9,000 to 12,000"

Again, what is the justification for this statement?

You're saying the Circulator needs to be cost-effective, yet you have no information about either cost or effectiveness. A blank ridership number without any context (or a denominator) is meaningless. 12,000 daily riders on a route means nothing without more information about the route.

You claim the Circulator needs performance metrics - they have performance metrics. They're included in the Circulator's transit development plan. Some are also indicated on the Circulator dashboard.

"High frequency services are only justified when there is high ridership."

I would disagree with your use of 'only' here.

Certainly, you need some relationship between ridership and frequency, but the entire point of the Circulator idea is that what you lose in efficiency is gained in providing a service that does not require a schedule to use.

Don't get me wrong; some of the Circulator services are totally political and some are underperforming at present. And yes, more coordination with WMATA routes is necessary.

But the eventual land use on the Union Station Navy Yard route is definitely enough to support such headways. And the problem with that route is that it doesn't run often enough - it cuts off too early in the evening, doesn't run 7 days a week. The solution there is to invest more resources into the service, not less.

Part of the goal of the Circulator was to encourage WMATA to embrace these principles in their own bus service where the ridership justifies it. They offer frequent service along many corridors, but their service plan is complex and not accessible to casual riders. Their new map is a step forward, as is Metro Extra (installed with the prodding of DC Government), but in general they could learn a lot of lessons about frequent, schedule-less, simple to use transit

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Navy Yard Circulator, not true at all. If the densities increase, which they will, people "should" probably just walk from Navy Yard or Eastern Market, depending on which end they want. Providing a service from Union Station makes no sense. Maybe having a bus from Navy Yard to Eastern Market would make sense, but I bet it will have equally low ridership.

Providing a service years in advance of higher ridership likely makes no sense either. It's not gonna make any difference in terms of patterning behavior because the future riders aren't here yet.

2. The heuristics I am using are based on tons of stuff I've read over the years.

3. As far as WMATA "learning" from the Circulator. It's true that there is nothing preventing them from recasting how they provide information on frequency for what we could call the "high frequency" bus network.

- 30s
- 70s
- X
- 90s
- S
- to some extent 50s

are the high frequency bus lines in DC, offering about 22+ hours of daily service at frequency greater than that of the Circulator. (I may have missed some; + Connecticut Ave. doesn't have a hi frequency bus line)

The Circulator idea -- every 10 minutes starting at "X" -- is not a new concept.

There are examples from other places (NYC, Montreal, Portland, Minneapolis, etc.) that they are probably aware of that precede the Circulator.

Why they don't use these ideas, I don't know. I'm sure I wrote about the Portland hi frequency bus network back in 2005...

Laying out the desire for them to use these concepts in reports and plans and the DC transpo plan may be better than "showing" because showing without defining it (I admit it is defined in the Circulator plan) isn't enough.

4. But some people like that method "every 10 minutes" while others want more specifics.

It's the difference between how some people use maps and other people don't know how to read maps.

If you want to run your service for casual users, the "every 10 minutes" way may be superior.

Regular users don't seem to prefer that method, or find it less reliable.

Accommodating both segments is a struggle.

At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

"Regular users don't seem to prefer that method, or find it less reliable."

I think this is a completely unsupported assumption.

You're saying that schedule-less, frequent bus service (like the Circulator) is useful to causal riders, but it is not useful to regular riders?

Frequent transit service is the single most important thing any transit provider can offer. And for any rider, the more frequent the service, the less need there is for schedules or real-time arrival data. 'Show up and go' transit makes it easy for casual riders, but it also makes it easy for regular riders, too.

Don't confuse the frequency of the service (which is the most important part) with the lack of a published schedule.

"The heuristics I am using are based on tons of stuff I've read over the years."

The problem isn't your reading, it's that you're using a heuristic when you're calling for a metric. And even so, a hueristic still needs some basic context. You can't throw out 12,000 riders a day without knowing the length of the line and expect that to be a useful measure of anything.

The metrics already exist, the data is already there.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

You said that the schedule-less service was better for casual riders first, I was just responding.

I guess the real question is how do people treat the high frequency bus lines that Metrobus does, which offer more service than the Circulator anyway, and would the change in marketing and presentation make a difference?

That's not a snotty comment, just a question.

2. I have written about this issue a lot, including in that other entry about sexy bus service and how some bus lines in the Uk promote service and frequency.

The Brighton & Hove buses generally have painted on the side the main destinations and the bus frequency.

and they do great marketing of transit service via the sides of buses as well

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

"You said that the schedule-less service was better for casual riders first, I was just responding."

I think it is better, so long as it's acutally frequent enough to survive without a schedule. But that doesn't prevent regular riders from using it; it's not a barrier, these are not mutually exclusive ideas.

At 6:04 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Some of the theology on Circulator 10 minute headways vs. WMATA schedules is falling apart thanks to nextbus. IN all honesty, Circulator ins't very good at the 10 minute thing. I usually find it more like 12 or 15, and it is a usual process that 2-3 other buses pull up while I am waiting for a Circulator.

What WMATA still can't do is explain where the buses go.

Glad everyone in agreement that Circulator EOTR needs to go. Navy Yard -- maybe.


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