BaltimoreLink bus system redesign, one year later
The Baltimore Sun has a long piece, "One year of BaltimoreLink bus system: Ridership bounces back, reliability still falls short," evaluating the quantum scale changes to the Baltimore-area bus system one year later.
For many, the changes have lengthened trip times.
-- Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning: Towards a Hierarchical and Conceptual Framework
The primary network is CityLink--color coded high frequency routes offering 24 hour service; complemented by a secondary network of neighborhood-based routes called Local Links, connecting neighborhoods to multiple CityLink services.
Note that during the Ehrlich Administration MTA created a network of limited stop faster routes called the QuickBus, which was the genesis of the new CityLink network, although focused on Baltimore City as opposed to longer city-suburban routes, like the QuickBus 48 route on York Road to Towson.
According to the launch website, the system has added bus traffic signal prioritization on some routes, dedicated busways on some streets, better facilities, improvements in signage and real-time schedule displays, and connections to a richer set of "last mile connections" like bike share and car share.
The changes came with bus livery redesign, new logos, and cross-marketing of the new system on light rail and subway cars.
Immediately after the changes, ridership dropped by almost 25%. Ridership returned to the buses over time and now it's 1% fewer riders than before the change.
Given that overall transit ridership is down 5% nationally, attributed to the rise in ride hailing services as well as cheap gasoline, maybe that's a victory.
It's hard to tell if the changes have made for a better transit system.
BaltimoreLink launched in June 2017 with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new West Baltimore transfer center on Smallwood Street. Joe Andrucyk/Maryland Government.
Given that a lot of these massive overhauls of route structures for transit systems don't seem to result in significant ridership gains (see the January 2018 entry, "Improving bus service overall vs. reversing falling Metrobus ridership"), I wonder if we are focusing on the wrong things.
But what are the right things?
I have to acknowledge that maybe repositioning and rebranding bus service as premium, by switching to double deck buses, might not be enough. Although in London and other UK cities it works just fine, and more people ride buses in London on a daily basis than the entire railroad system in the UK.
-- "Marking bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012
-- Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model," 2017
The two main points of the first entry are:
1. bus service can be repositioned as a premium service by using double deck buses, which are seen as cool.
2. Introducing new buses and repositioning bus transit needs to be complemented with a series of other improvements to the provision of the service--I outlined eight categories of improvements (which is why the entry is way too long).
• Improve bus transit waiting environments
• Improve bus transit marketing
• Create a priority bus lane network in the core of the city
• Add Night Owl bus service along subway lines during the hours that the subway service doesn't run
• Improve wayfinding and transit information
• Augment on-board bus announcements and information on schedules, signage, etc., with landmark and destination information
• Create "Mobility" stores as part of transportation demand management programming
• Incorporate neighborhood history, public art elements, and transportation history interpretation into bus shelters
But MTA has incorporated many of these improvements into the BaltimoreLink program.
I think another point is pricing and other incentives. For example, in Columbus, Ohio they are introducing free transit passes to downtown workers as a transportation demand management measure ("Downtown Columbus parking issues getting partial fix as workers getting free COTA passes," Columbus Business First). That would get more choice riders onto buses.
But it's not like MTA doesn't provide a number of incentive programs for discounted transit passes, such as to colleges and employers. And the cost of a "day pass" to ride area transit (bus, subway, light rail) is cheap, $4.20/day.
Although to increase ridership but not farebox revenue, they could introduce "capping," so that low income riders paying daily for a day pass would stop paying daily once they've reached a payment equal to a monthly pass ($72).
London has capping and Edmonton is thinking about it ("Thinking systematically about bus transit service improvements: spurred by Columbia SC, Edmonton AB, and Baltimore," 2017).
David Blair, a candidate for County Executive in Montgomery County, suggests converting RideOn, one of the nation's more successful suburban bus systems, to free, given that the farebox revenue isn't that significant, about $21 million/year ("Who is Montogmery County executive candidate David Blair?," Washington Post)--that's less than a rounding error in the overall county budget.
(In Orlando, with the "new" commuter rail system, they spend more money on the cost of collecting fares than they make in fares, "SunRail ticket revenue is less than ticketing expense," Orlando Sentinel.)
I think it comes back to density, proximity of activity centers, and the relative efficiency of transit. If transit is reasonably efficient and cost effective, especially if you have to pay for parking, or the city is dense like most core center cities, you can get higher ridership. Otherwise, transit is more of a social service--at least bus service is--and your ability to grow the service is constrained.
In the Metropolitan City Era, 1920-present (Transportation and Urban Form: Stages in the Spatial Evolution of the American Metropolis," Peter Muller), where the mobility system has been built to preference if not require a car, it's difficult for transit to compete.
I am behind in writing about my UK trip, but a couple pieces will focus on transit in Liverpool and London.
Merseytravel still runs the rail commuter system, but not buses, although the mobility system shares some branding and infrastructure, which Merseytravel still plans for and markets. Some of what they do is simple, but it extends branding across transit infrastructure in visible ways. It's a lesson for US transit systems.
Note that with regard to my past writings, holding up the creation of the London Overground rail system as a way to better integrate railroad services into the Transport for London system:
-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example," 2015
the reality on the ground is even more pronounced. What a model!
You have to flash your card at a reader, but they don't use gates, although to continue your trip on the Underground, at the end of your trip you go through gates. That's what needs to be done for MARC in terms of integrating with transit systems in the DC and Baltimore areas.
London Overground platform at Highbury & Islington, where it connects to the Underground. There is a coffee kiosk on the platform, which operates during the day.
Orange is the color of the London Overground, just like red is the color of the bus system. Orange is used as an accent color on the trains and in the stations, such as the color of handrails on stairways or in trains, within the Overground roundel, etc.