Monday, January 22, 2007

Permanent Bus Stops

I should add a disclaimer before I comment on public transit. I have mentioned before that my mother tells me my second spoken word was 'bus' most likely trying to hail a 54C long ago. Most everyone should know by now that the Port Authority is on the verge of implementing a fairly drastic cut in public transit across Allegheny County. This is my composite of how these proposed cuts will impact across the county:
This map may have strained my mapmaking capability to its limits. While I admit it is not the clearest illustration ever, it is at least as helfpul at summarzing the proposed changes as the maps PAT put out trying to explain the difference between their existing routes and the route map after proposed cuts for regular weekday service. The red lines are routes or route segments that still exist in the proposed PAT plan. Anywhere where you see green are routes or route segments that exist now, but will not exist in the future according to the plan PAT has put out there. and yes, for the map-purists, I dont think I got the county map overlay just right because I couldn't quite figure out what projection the PAT maps were using... but it's pretty close. One way or the other you get the picture.

If you think this is important, there are a series of public hearings scheduled on the proposed cuts. Here is the Public Hearing Schedule. The first two are actually TODAY:

Monday, January 22, 2007
10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel
600 Commonwealth Place,
Downtown
&
4:00 - 8:00 p.m.
University of Pittsburgh Alumni Hall
4227 Fifth Avenue,
Oakland

What's my take on the cuts? In a sense, the cuts come from areas where public transit is least utilized. That would seem to make sense. If you live in the city, or near a T stop you are likely not going to be hurt by this too much, at least not for regular weekday service. BUT, and this is a big but, the danger to this type of minimalist strategy toward public transit is how it positions public transit in the future. If public transit only provides useful service for a concentrated urban core and some other lower income areas, it is pretty likely that popular support for public transit will erode further in the future. If you lose the middle ground, you will eventually lose all support for public funding. So this is clearly a short term strategy. What makes sense now will come back to haunt you in the future.. The ironic thing is that I bet public transit does a better job of supporting itself financially in lower income areas than it does in middle class or more affluent areas in the region. The structural inefficiency in the system is likely to come from providing service to areas with the lowest incidence of public transit usage... areas which just happen to be more affulent.

The problem is that PAT does not have much choice at the moment. These public hearings are in many ways just for show and amount mostly to preaching to the choir. PAT does not want to see these cuts any more than than do public transit riders. If there is an unavoidable structural deficit that needs public money, then this becomes an issue for the powers that be in DC, Harrisburg and to a lesser degree locally. Yet to this day I have only ever seen one legislator of any ilk actually on a bus legitimately using it for transportation and not just for show. Public transit makes for a hard sell, even among those inclined to support it.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous andrea said...

Oh map-making guru -

What are your thoughts on the rationale behind cutting routes without re-thinking the whole route structure? Looks from your map like it's pretty obvious there's a bunch of redundant service to downtown. Has anyone done any for-real analysis of what kinds of efficiencies you could gain by instituting a different hub-based route structure?

Andrea

Monday, January 22, 2007 1:24:00 PM  
Blogger Jesse said...

Why is there not some sort of river ferry service as a means of transit in Pittsburgh? Maybe there is one I'm not aware of? Also, why don't bus routes more intelligently intersect with the limited light rail lines?

The problem with Pittsburgh, and most American cities, is that the public remains ignorant and unimaginative regarding public transit.

Most people mistakenly associate subways, for example, with increases in crime. They also consider buses as legit means of mass transit. They're really not 'mass' transit.

The story of Somerville, MA is instructive. See this link.

Public transit is now fashionable amongst the young. To lack a subway and train system prevents you from becoming a "real" city.

Monday, January 22, 2007 1:39:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

River ferry service has been tried in various respects and nobody in town has really found it to be close ot breakeven money wise. River travel is slow to begin with. The rivers are not really that big, locks and dams complicate the picture and weather (to include regular flooding) makes it that much more difficult to imagine here. There also isnt the infrastructure to load and unload passengers from many places. Regulation of river transport and CG regs can be problematic unless you have really dense usage but even then it is often a bigger money loser than most PAT routes. To speed up water transport you need to do hydrofoil or other type vessels which just isnt going to happen on the navigable parts of the allegheny and Mon for many many obvious reasons, trust me.

But on Andreas question:
Some of that is just a result of the topology. At this point all the trasnportation modes follow that downtown hub pattern. And a lot of those route shunt into a few main corridors going into town but fan out beyond that. So it’s not necessarily redundant that so many routes go down 5th avenue, those routes pick up most of their riders out farther where they are distinct lines.

But the question of implemeting more hub routing is kind of the same issue. Its probably important to distinguish between the population that will use public transit because they have to.. i.e. those who have no other choice and those who have other options but choose to ride the bus. For those who have no other choice, they will ride multi-hub (i.e. multi transfer) system because they have to. However, those who have the option I bet will be far less willing to make a multi-transfer ride versus direct. Isnt it a saying that in Pittsburgh you are entitled to a one-seat ride.. for good or for bad. I suspect the elastity of demand is such that you would lose a lot of riders if you required them to transfer even once and this problem gets even worse.

That being said. This question would make more sense in almost any other city/region. The distinguishing characteristic of Pittsburgh compared to most other cities is just how large a concentration of regional jobs are indeed located in the city center… even more if you define that to include Oakland as well. So transit to that concentration makes some sense here. There have been hubs proposed in the past. In fact the Spine Line between Downtown and Oakland when last seriously considered in the early 1990’s was really based on a premise that there would be some sort of Oakland transit hub. If I recall correctly, the analysis was that 100,000 transit riders wound up traveling between oakland and town daily because of the way the routes shunted them. The payoff from a Spine line would include getting a lot of those busses off the road.

Monday, January 22, 2007 2:43:00 PM  
Anonymous andrea said...

Right - but it seems like you could get a lot of buses off the road even without the spine line rail, provided the buses themselves functioned as hub-servers. It's not topology that dictates all buses ply the 5th avenue route from whatever remote eastern or southern origin to their ultimate destination downtown -- it's history. These routes are mostly legacies of old transit agencies that operated independent lines for their local consumers, direct service into downtown.

It's a little sad to think that people would rather have no bus at all than give up their "one seat" rides. Not too many people I know ride the bus out of pure choice - most ride the bus because they have to, or because the bus is a more efficient option than driving and parking downtown or wherever. Imagine how much MORE efficient it could be if every bus weren't making the milk run down 5th avenue every 5 minutes.

I live in Oakland and work downtown -- I can catch (and will continue to be able to catch) any one of a dozen buses that stops in front of Children's Hospital on 5th Ave, and with 1 exception (the 100, that turns on Craft and drives along the Boulevard) every single one of them takes 15 minutes to get downtown along 5th avenue. Moreover, they're ALL discharging far more passengers in front of Children's Hospital than they're taking on or retaining to continue downtown. The simple fact is, most of those buses could just turn around in Oakland and head back without ever going downtown, and no one's commute would suffer.

Monday, January 22, 2007 3:43:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

I desperately want to talk about this issue, and I plan on commenting online, but I am irked that I will likely have no effect (not that I ever could have an effect...). One thing that is bothering me is that PAT likely has already ceded at least part of the fight. They are committed to “Right-Sizing” public transportation in a city based on the opinions of rural legislators. Much as it pains me, I think we need a county tax to help pay for PAT, because depending on the state will mean future cuts in funding because of the behavior of rural legislators.
The place where the cuts will have the most effect is out at the edges of the city. There are lots of green lines in between the red lines, big spaces where people would simply have to walk. Even if the routes were only run every two hours that would be better than total elimination.
The thing is, the buses from Oakland to Downtown always have people, but a lot of the peripheral routes roll around at night empty or with two people on them. If PAT reduced fares these buses might have more people on them, but since that’s not going to happen … could they switch to smaller buses in the afternoon and at night (i.e. off peak)? In addition to cutting back on the routes?
I’ll just mention the non-monetary benefits of public transportation, the reduction in pollution and traffic, the ease for others of parking. And I’ll just mention how these societal benefits increase as fares go down. That’s right-sizing.
Lastly, has anyone looked at the Port Authority’s reporting on their website? They did studies and invited public comment back in November (when we weren’t paying attention). They report the results on their website and to me, they are gibberish. Some kind of weighted (loaded) scale that is supposed to explain why certain routes should be abolished.
Oh, is it topology or topography? My dad teaches topology in the math department, and I believe for him it is the study of planes (as in flat things) and spaces, like how a doughnut and a coffee cup are alike. The other kind of topology I have heard about is how computer networks are assembled.

Monday, January 22, 2007 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

topology or topography? almost a philosophical question.

Would short running some/most/all of the 60's and 70's going down fifth avenue save money? I don't have anywhere near enough data or expertise to answer that. My presumption is that the scale of the money issues here are such that it is beyond a lot of cuts at the margin like that. but it's a good comment for them if you take Bland at his word that he is looking for ideas. I was at one of the public hearings yesterday (will comment more on that later) and it was as expected mostly an opportunity to vent.

that would be my guess as to the answer for why they dont implement the perennial suggestion to put in smaller busses onsome routes. I don't know the answer but few major metro system do that and I am sure there are routes that would seem to make sense for smaller buses. Whether its costs involved with maintaining a varied fleet I do not know.. maybe it's mostly the cost of drivers that are the economy here which would not be impacted by smaller busses.. you would think gas but remember, they buy gas a lot cheaper than we do net of taxes and wholesale.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 7:06:00 AM  

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