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Old November 17th, 2016, 11:05 PM   #1
ssiguy2
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MISC | Should low ridership transit systems shut down?

The new APTA 2nd quarter stats have been released and small wonder they delayed the release till after the election and the transit funding plebiscites.

The year-over-year decline is only 1% which is hardly traumatizing but when you look deeper into individual systems some of the stats are frightening. The only major systems to see overall ridership increases were Greater NY/NJ, SF, Houston, Seattle, Boston, and Detroit. Washington took a pounding and while Chicago & Philly sort of held their own. Most smaller systems took a huge hit except for Detroit which, although the numbers grew, the ridership level for such a large city is incredibly low.

Some systems held their own but most of the smaller systems took a pounding and have been on the decline for several years. Even systems that have opened new rail lines have still seen declines in overall ridership because all they did was bleed riders from the bus they replaced. In other words American transit riders are reverting back to the more "legacy" systems and the smaller ones especially in the South and West have more than lost all the ground they have made in the last 15 years.

Some of the ridership levels for even cities between 100k to 1.5k {ie Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham etc} are so low it makes you wonder if it's not better just to close them down and revert more of the funding to a passenger-demand system or a set fare for taxis, for example, the cost of a bus-ticket for the first 3 miles.

"Build it and they will come" has proven itself in so many cities to be an outright failure and this idea that building a streetcar will all of a sudden entice riders to a system has proven itself to be a losing proposition built more for the politicians who die for the chance of a ribbon-cutting ceremony and not providing proper transit.

For more than half the systems in the US is it time to face the reality that no matter what is built, the vast majority of even urban Americans will never step foot on a transit vehicle and start closing the systems down and looking at non-conventional alternatives for the transit dependent?
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Old November 17th, 2016, 11:45 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ssiguy2 View Post
The new APTA 2nd quarter stats have been released and small wonder they delayed the release till after the election and the transit funding plebiscites.

The year-over-year decline is only 1% which is hardly traumatizing but when you look deeper into individual systems some of the stats are frightening. The only major systems to see overall ridership increases were Greater NY/NJ, SF, Houston, Seattle, Boston, and Detroit. Washington took a pounding and while Chicago & Philly sort of held their own. Most smaller systems took a huge hit except for Detroit which, although the numbers grew, the ridership level for such a large city is incredibly low.

Some systems held their own but most of the smaller systems took a pounding and have been on the decline for several years. Even systems that have opened new rail lines have still seen declines in overall ridership because all they did was bleed riders from the bus they replaced. In other words American transit riders are reverting back to the more "legacy" systems and the smaller ones especially in the South and West have more than lost all the ground they have made in the last 15 years.

Some of the ridership levels for even cities between 100k to 1.5k {ie Indianapolis, Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham etc} are so low it makes you wonder if it's not better just to close them down and revert more of the funding to a passenger-demand system or a set fare for taxis, for example, the cost of a bus-ticket for the first 3 miles.

"Build it and they will come" has proven itself in so many cities to be an outright failure and this idea that building a streetcar will all of a sudden entice riders to a system has proven itself to be a losing proposition built more for the politicians who die for the chance of a ribbon-cutting ceremony and not providing proper transit.

For more than half the systems in the US is it time to face the reality that no matter what is built, the vast majority of even urban Americans will never step foot on a transit vehicle and start closing the systems down and looking at non-conventional alternatives for the transit dependent?
Well, public transport is public because the economical profit is not the only factor to be accounted. This idea is nearly dead in the USA (just check the crippling state of their infrastructure, some bridges are worse that ones in the Congo river basin).

Also sometimes a network is only half done and then everybody expects to be something amazing in the usage results but a line is just a line, only by having a good coverage and being able to be used with a nice money amount and in a good time amount we can say "ok, that's a good idea".

Finally there is the cultural problem. USA usually offers, especially out of the coast, the "freedom of being alone" that is living in a huge (by European standards) detached house in the middle of nowhere (but officially still in a "city") that for doing the most basic thing you need a 1h travel by car (or expects you to order all online). If large chunks of people living in the outskirts of a city don't want to be moved then the public transport is also useless and this is why what in (most of) Europe or Asia works doesn't work in (most of) USA (or Chile or Argentina or Canada).

Nowadays the big experiment (IMHO) is Denver. If that starts to work in about 10 or 20 years then this model could be exported to all the big cities in the middle states of USA.
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Old November 17th, 2016, 11:46 PM   #3
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Transit systems work the better the more extensive and integrated they are, and the opposite is the case as well. You have to make the decision if you want to have a public transportation system or not. If the answer is yes, than not low ridership should shut down lines but only if the corridor is not a necessary part for such an extensive and integrated system.

If you are not ready for that, you can scrap the entire network altogether, safe for an absolute minimum as numbers will decline ever faster as lines are shut down or made less attractive because of that.



Regarding streetcars in the US. They more often than not a failure, not because streetcars can't be a useful addition to PT but because they are usually planned completely wrong, as a gimmick not an actual means of transportation. The most important problem is the the love for loops. But a serious mode of transportation has to run both ways, not one way in a loop.
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Old November 18th, 2016, 12:58 AM   #4
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Nowadays the big experiment (IMHO) is Denver. If that starts to work in about 10 or 20 years then this model could be exported to all the big cities in the middle states of USA.
Quite possibly so. I am not an expert but I would think that the airport link is really important, especially giving how central Denver International Airport is to the cities mobility. Business visitors heading for offices or other stuff in downtown will have an attractive public option without the need for a rental car. I think that is a game changer.

I am not an expert but I could also imagine that some proper rail link to Boulder would be another big seller, with the big student population there, whenever that may come. Until then, a frequent and fast BRT link might do.

Some important connections are still missing however as far as I can see it. One of them would be Colfasx Avenue. I read they are considering a BRT line with largely exclusive bus usage during rush hour at least. Sounds like a start.
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Old November 18th, 2016, 03:28 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Slartibartfas View Post
Regarding streetcars in the US. They more often than not a failure, not because streetcars can't be a useful addition to PT but because they are usually planned completely wrong, as a gimmick not an actual means of transportation. The most important problem is the the love for loops. But a serious mode of transportation has to run both ways, not one way in a loop.
I don't think unidirectional loops separated by one block are a problem. It is more the short length and poor frequencies these streetcar systems have. Many of the starter systems it is faster to walk to any other station in the short line than to wait 10 mins for the next streetcar. I think if these loops where longer and more frequent they would be more successful.
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Old November 18th, 2016, 07:33 AM   #6
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I am not, in any way shape or form, talking about a system the size of Denver's with 330,000 daily passenger trips.

There are, however, many systems in the US which have less than 5,000 passengers a day in decent size cities. My god Oklahoma City with over 1 million people only has ridership of 11,700 a day! In most US cities under 1 million ridership doesn't even hit 1% of all trips travelled. If a system in a decent sized city isn't getting even 20,000 passenger rides a day then what's the point? Some smaller places may have lower ridership but when accounting for their small population, the ridership is at least passable and they maybe should stay but that's it.

As Faro noted above, in the US it's a cultural issue so instead of trying to change a culture why don't they change their service? In Oaxaca Mexico they have a heavily used bus system and taxis but they also have, as do many developing countries, a "collective" taxi system. It's not door to door but basically they have set stops that they serve and you can share a cab or just take it alone but at a much cheaper cost than the door-to-door type system of a regular taxi.

They should certainly keep the Handicapped services but could also entirely ditch the regular buses and revert to a collective taxi service. Effectively all the current bus stops become collective taxi stops and will take you to your desired locations nearest taxi stop. The fare, for example, would be the same as the current bus fare for maybe the first 3 miles and then calculated on a per-mile basis thereafter. With a Smart Card transit system in place it would be very easy to implement.

It would save the city a fortune in running an empty bus system, provide incredibly frequent service of possible every minute, wouldn't have the bus stigma, and be much faster and easier for the travelling public. The bus drivers and bureaucrats would bitch but by selling the buses they could be offered aa buyout. In larger cities they could maybe maintain rush-hour express commuter buses.

For 80% of Americans, transit is a non-issue because they will never step foot on any kind of transit vehicle so why not accept that reality and put the money into systems that are overcrowded and desperately in need of expansion and stop trying to spend money on a money pit.

You wouldn't keep a 100 bed hospital open to serve a village of 200 people so why keep transit running when no one is using it?
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Old November 18th, 2016, 11:14 PM   #7
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I don't think unidirectional loops separated by one block are a problem. It is more the short length and poor frequencies these streetcar systems have. Many of the starter systems it is faster to walk to any other station in the short line than to wait 10 mins for the next streetcar. I think if these loops where longer and more frequent they would be more successful.
Short lengths and infrequent services are a problem as well but loops are also a root problem. It makes lines much more complicated to understand and much less useful, because people usually need PT in two ways and not just one.

Sure, if a loop is very slim and the two ways are only separated by maybe by a 50 m block, then it is still ok, but something like the proposed LA streetcar loop looks to me like a toy and not a serious means of PT.

Cities with successful streetcar systems don have such excessive loop designs and actually try to avoid them instead of using them almost as a standard design.
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Old November 18th, 2016, 11:21 PM   #8
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I am not, in any way shape or form, talking about a system the size of Denver's with 330,000 daily passenger trips.

There are, however, many systems in the US which have less than 5,000 passengers a day in decent size cities. My god Oklahoma City with over 1 million people only has ridership of 11,700 a day! In most US cities under 1 million ridership doesn't even hit 1% of all trips travelled. If a system in a decent sized city isn't getting even 20,000 passenger rides a day then what's the point? Some smaller places may have lower ridership but when accounting for their small population, the ridership is at least passable and they maybe should stay but that's it.
Those ultralow ridership numbers are not a sign that PT systems are too big but to the contrary, that they are a pain to use and only of very limited usefulness. Changing that needs very great stamina, a big plan, lots of money and decades of change, not just building lines but changes in the very fabric of the city, ... like in Denver or LA.

If you are not ready for that, forget it right away.

Those cities which are not starting now to develop a more compact, hub and spoke, PT supported city structure will be in deep trouble in a few decades when fuel will become considerably more expensive than today. And trust me, it will. Oil exploitation will not suddenly vanish, but the easy targets are getting increasingly exploited and only the expensive ones are being left. Are you goint to prepare yourself or closing your eyes?
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Old November 18th, 2016, 11:28 PM   #9
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There are, however, many systems in the US which have less than 5,000 passengers a day in decent size cities. My god Oklahoma City with over 1 million people only has ridership of 11,700 a day! In most US cities under 1 million ridership doesn't even hit 1% of all trips travelled.
I get what you are saying, and do not disagree necessarily. However, I think a lot of people do not understand the shear size of the USA. Your Oklahoma City population is based on the metro area, which is about 95 miles across and another 95 miles long....
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Old November 19th, 2016, 08:26 AM   #10
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A huge city with such low ridership as OKC, is exactly the scenario where the system should simply be shut down except for handicapped services. Remember it's 11,000 trips a day are individual trips and not connected ones. It's probably the system only has 5,000 paying passengers a day. What's the point?

Is it a public service, yes but with such incredibly poor service it's a very bad one and damn costly. A collective taxi system with first 3 to 5 mile bus fares would provide very frequent service where no timetable is needed. Just go to your nearest taxi stop ad wait for a taxi to come by. The taxi would take you to you nearest taxi stop destination, no transfers required.

They could get rid of the massive expensive of bus drivers running empty buses, gas, bureaucracy, buying buses, repair maintenance garages and facilities, and provide a far superior service at nearly no cost. The taxis would pay a standard $1000/year to be part of the system and get paid from the fares. They could stipulate that all taxis in the system have to alternative power or hybrid to address pollution concerns.

Would a person rather wait 45 minutes for a bus and then wait another 45 minutes for a one mile transfer on a bumpy and empty bus or wait 2 or 3 minutes for a collective taxi to take you right to where you want to go at the same price?

For low ridership system the cities should stop worrying about providing a transit system and start thinking about a transportation system.
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Old November 19th, 2016, 10:19 AM   #11
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In other words American transit riders are reverting back to the more "legacy" systems and the smaller ones especially in the South and West have more than lost all the ground they have made in the last 15 years.
Ridership depends on the oil prices. When oil is expensive, people rely on public transport, when it's cheap they go by car. Oil will not remain cheap all the time, so it's good to have the public rail systems.

And there's the paradox of rail line length: short lines attract few passengers. If you extend that same line, it may start to attract huge numbers of passengers.
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Old November 19th, 2016, 01:48 PM   #12
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My opinion is not much different from the rest: illogical routes just built for prestige rather than usefulness are an eyesore to the great opportunities public transportation gives in cities. It is important to keep the user in mind: where do most potential users live, what transport do they take towards a railway/LRT station, where are the important businesses and industry, and how much time would it take relatively to a standard car trip, and the same for costs?

The problem is that indeed, with the proposed downtown loops, there is barely any benefit over other modes of transport unless one city cuts heavily in parking at all but few stations. One-way loops make it worse as travel times increase.

I take an example: my mom only takes the train because she can park for free at the train station, the train is cheaper than fuel+parking, walkability to the work location is very good and you save a lot of hassle with searching for a parking lot at a busy center. Travel time is almost the same, or only slightly longer. Service frequent and all day (twice an hour is sustainable for more than 20km, timeframe at least from 6-20 mon-fri bidirectional) Even with densities lower than 2000 inhabitants/km2 this would work.

Yes I know that Europe has much easier planning to make public transport work with the densities here, but even the USA has its possibilities.
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Old November 19th, 2016, 04:23 PM   #13
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I get what you are saying, and do not disagree necessarily. However, I think a lot of people do not understand the shear size of the USA. Your Oklahoma City population is based on the metro area, which is about 95 miles across and another 95 miles long....
This has nothing to do with the size of the continent or the country. The US is not that much larger than Europe. Instead it is about the pre-existing urban or suburban structures of the city or the larger metropolitan area. And the US has gone further down the road of car optimized city design than most other countries. But if cities could transform from a PT structure to a car optimized structure, it is weird to think that the opposite development would be impossible.

This takes time however, lots of time. We are talking here about decades. In this time frame the nature of the city can change dramtically. Look at Los Angeles for example. And this change does not mean the car oriented neighbourhoods will suddenly vanish altogether. It merely means that this sea of low density car oriented neighbourhoods will become doted by transit oriented, higher density, neighbourhoods. And those would also benefit the car oriented neighbourhoods, as they would give them back some closer sub centre which is actually a nice public place to be, instead of ugly and bland shopping malls in a sea of bitumen.

Taken a fleeting glance at Oklahoma City I would say that there is not much "urbanity" left, even in downtown (or in this specific case, there might have never been much urbanity there in first place). Oklahoma City resembles more, an edge city in its way of its functioning. It is not impossibly to transform even such a place into something more urban, transit oriented. But you have to start from almost zero. Connecting the remaining heart of downtown, some central entertainment district and the nearest major university campus is often a good start.

For car oriented neighbourhoods an integrated taxi system, halfway between bus service and taxi, a bit less flexible than a regular taxi but not more expensive than PT, would be a good idea in fact for areas that do not have the ridership for a bus line. I think there is quite some potential in combination with some internet based "service on demand" app. But I think you do not understand the real value of PT. Its not to get cars out of completely car oriented neighbourhoods. The purpose is to support a kind of urbanity that car oritented city are struggling to support but which is in high demand especially among many younger people across the country.
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Old November 19th, 2016, 07:14 PM   #14
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This has nothing to do with the size of the continent or the country. The US is not that much larger than Europe. Instead it is about the pre-existing urban or suburban structures of the city or the larger metropolitan area. And the US has gone further down the road of car optimized city design than most other countries. But if cities could transform from a PT structure to a car optimized structure, it is weird to think that the opposite development would be impossible.
Europe is bigger by area than the US (including Alaska). That aside, I totally agree that the size of the US is irrelevant; we're talking about urban transport here, not intercity.

Australia is nearly as big as the lower 48 American states and way emptier. This is no excuse for good urban public transport however and the country's five largest urban areas have pretty good public transport. Though they could certainly be better, the systems are well used. Melbourne has the largest tram system in the world for example.

Any large American city could benefit from the same quite frankly, as part of a larger strategy of urban renewal, and planning for the long term.
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Old November 19th, 2016, 09:14 PM   #15
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Europe is bigger by area than the US (including Alaska).
Well, yes, but I did not mean the area but distances. Los Angeles to NYC is about the same distance as Lisbon to Moscow. That's all I wanted to say there.

Anyway, I fully agree with you.
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Old November 20th, 2016, 09:26 AM   #16
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There is also a social aspect on public transport, that decission makers often forget. Many people can not drive a private car, even if they have the money for it. So they need to take an other kind of transportation, or they need to ask someone to drive them, or the bad option is not to travel, but that reduce your economic and social life.
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Old November 21st, 2016, 02:03 AM   #17
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My god Oklahoma City with over 1 million people only has ridership of 11,700 a day!

Some explanations of how Oklahoma arrived here:

Quote:

Even Oklahoma City -- which was named as the “worst U.S. walking city” in a 2008 study of 500 communities by Prevention magazine and the American Podiatric Medical Association -- is embarking on big plans to become more walkable.

“Bleak” is how Jeff Speck, urban planner and author of Walkable City, describes walking in Oklahoma City seven years ago. “Traffic sped too fast...for pedestrians to feel comfortable on the sidewalks...oversized traffic lanes encouraged highway speeds,” he wrote in Planning magazine.

Oklahoma City also suffered from perhaps the worst sidewalk network in America. Most other towns conscientiously built sidewalks until the 1950s, but Oklahoma City abandoned the effort as early as the 1930s, in some neighborhoods. Mick Cornett, the city’s Republican mayor since 2004, notes, “We had built an incredible quality of life, if you happened to be a car. But, if you were a person, you were seemingly combating the car all day.

“We probably were last in the country for walking,” Cornett admits.

This rock-bottom rating really stung in a community that had earlier been passed over by United Airlines as the site for a new maintenance facility because, despite the city’s generous financial incentives, the company’s CEO said he couldn’t imagine asking his managers to move to Oklahoma City.

Then, a year after the walk rankings, the city again found itself in the harsh glare of unwanted media attention. This time, Men’s Fitness magazine stigmatized Oklahoma City as the “#2 fattest city” in America. Among the country’s 100 largest cities, only Miami was more corpulent.

And even if the current situation is grim, things are changing:

Quote:

That’s all changing now. An ambitious $18-million sidewalk improvement fund was approved by voters as part of a tax increase that also included money for parks, transit, bike trails, and senior wellness centers around town. Four busy streets heading into downtown are now being narrowed, with new “smart intersections” that provide walkers more safety with “refuge island” medians in the middle of streets and clearly marked crosswalks.

“Ever since we decided to make this a great place for people to live, the jobs started coming here and young Millennials, who want to bike and walk, are arriving in numbers we’ve never seen before,” he says. “We are creating a city where your kids and grandkids will choose to stay. They used to go to Dallas or Houston.”

“It turned out that one thing people -- especially young people -- wanted was better sidewalks,” Cornett explains. That’s why the city now builds new sidewalks as part of most repaving projects and kicks in half the cost for any homeowner or neighborhood that wants them. Developers are now required to provide sidewalks in all new projects. As for the $18 million earmarked for sidewalks from sales tax revenue, “most of it goes where we know we need sidewalks, connecting schools and shopping centers with neighborhoods,” the mayor says.

However, arguments are turning in circles:

Quote:

While most people consider walking essential to a good neighborhood, there’s still a lot of opposition. “We hear from those who say, ‘We don’t need sidewalks, because no one walks here,’” Cornett says, noting that the absence of sidewalks is a big reason people don’t walk.
More specifically about public transport:

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The epicenter of walking in Oklahoma City is downtown and nearby neighborhoods, which exhibit all the signs of urban vitality: sidewalk cafes, new loft apartments, refurbished old neighborhoods with local business districts, indie shops and restaurants, nightlife, sports and entertainment venues, well-populated parks, riverside bike trails, and sidewalks alive with people of all ages walking between all these spots.

A streetcar line debuts later this year that will loop through many of these neighborhoods. Protected bike lanes, which physically separate bicyclists and pedestrians from rushing traffic, will soon appear on major arteries coming in and out of downtown.

Oklahoma City’s mission now is to widen the walkable section of the city outward. Local transit service has been improved (including new Sunday and evening buses), resulting in a sizable jump in ridership.
Read more: http://www.shareable.net/blog/oklaho...ck-on-its-feet

------------------------


The conclusions we draw are:

1. Build sidewalks. The usage of PT will be very low if people don't feel comfortable and safe walking to and from PT to their jobs, homes or other centres of interest.
-Build a pedestrian-friendly enviroment along the public transport routes and nodes

2. Offer a good frequency. A bus that comes once an hour (or worse - as the case in Oklahoma)) fails to attract any spontaneous ridership whatsoever. Only people that don't have any other alternative will bother to always check the shedule and take the great risk of getting stuck somewhere else if the bus lives earlier or fails to arrive for any reason.
-Increase the frequency up to a level where anyone can just show up and take the bus, without consulting the shedule before. It's better to concentrate on the best corridors, where decent frequencies can be offered realistically.

3. Stop concentrating only on commute to work and back when planning public transport. People feel more incentive to use if it is available also for leisure activities. Even someone who is commuting by car will use PT for a evening out or a Sunday stroll. But if PT si not available then...

Main idea: If a system have very low readership, don't close it, nor "rationalize" it by cutting frequency. Rather fix it taking into account the above conclusions!





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Old November 21st, 2016, 04:58 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by ssiguy2 View Post
A huge city with such low ridership as OKC, is exactly the scenario where the system should simply be shut down except for handicapped services. Remember it's 11,000 trips a day are individual trips and not connected ones. It's probably the system only has 5,000 paying passengers a day. What's the point?
Why is your solution to shut it down, rather than fix the horrible flaws that make the system so unpopular?

I dont know about OKC, but many similar cities have systems that shut down at 9pm, run once an hour, and have routes with illogical routing.
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Old November 21st, 2016, 07:43 PM   #19
Slartibartfas
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The coming streetcar system in Oklahoma is sadly an especially extreme example of bad streetcar routing:

This unintuitive one way loop offers few trips which make sense for someone looking for public transit based mobility rather than a tourist attraction. Those terrible loops look almost like the usability is of secondary importance at best. There seems to be a conflict of interest here as tearing the two tracks apart into a loop creates stops along a much bigger number of areas than a simple two way corridor. It is ignored that those one way stops are much less attractive because most people will be using the two ways. And in the end nothing is close two both stops. This is really damaging short term thinking as such flawed loopse are going to discredit streetcars in the US in the near future as expensive useless toy, when its not the streetcar's fault but the fault of the flowed layout. I don't know why US cities can't manage to see that?

And please, don't tell me that OKC could not manage to put two tracks onto the same streets. Those are to a large extend 4 lane streets with 2 additional parking lanes. If you can't put a 2 way streetcar line on such roads, you can't do so anywhere.

>> Streetcar map - OKC


Luckily, there are at least some cities building positive examples of streetcar corridors. Take Kansas City for example. It is a 2-way corridor connecting a number of interesting downtown. Ridership is nothing mind blowing but rock solid. The starter line is for free, which certainly helps its popularity but it is after all a bloody starter line. As such it is of course also too short. But that is nothing a reasonably priced expansion couldn't fix, unlike a bad loop design.

>> Streetcar map - Kansas city
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Last edited by Slartibartfas; November 21st, 2016 at 08:51 PM.
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Old November 22nd, 2016, 08:37 AM   #20
ssiguy2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jamesinclair View Post
Why is your solution to shut it down, rather than fix the horrible flaws that make the system so unpopular?

I dont know about OKC, but many similar cities have systems that shut down at 9pm, run once an hour, and have routes with illogical routing.
If the system has very poor ridership then yes, shut it down except for disabled services.

A city should focus on transportation and getting it's citizens around the city as cheaply and efficiently as possible and if the current transit system isn't doing it then try something better. A collective taxi service would provide FAR superior service at probably less cost. Transit should be a service not a make-work project.

Mass transit was brought about 120 years ago because of the explosive growth in our older cities. Those services are still needed but for newer cities or ones that have completely changed their urban form to a car dependent one then why not accept that reality and work with it? US cities have changed dramatically but transit options are exactly the same as they always were. People in the vast majority of the US have voted..........they want to drive their cars so why not simply accept that and offer them a car-like service?

When a city decides that the status quo isn't working they should adapt accordingly. Huston is a great example. It realized that commuting patterns have changed and they changed most of the bus route overnight to reflect that and surprise..........Houston is one of the very few large systems that say bus and overall system ridership levels increase. With small systems with next to no ridership or larger places with pathetic transit patronage, they should follow Houston's example and start fresh and if that means an entire gutting of the bus service for a more efficient alternative then so much the better.
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