Back when I helped with the program for Railvolution (a kick ass conference on urban transport), I proposed a track called "Bus-ta-move" dedicated to local buses since the cities with high falutin' transit like subways and bling rapid transit (BRT) also have regular old bus lines. Chuckles ensued.
Well, vindication finally arrived last Saturday when Salon's Will Doig gave super awesome writer credence to the topic in an article entitled "It's time to Love the Bus - America needs to accept the fact that its most despised form of transport is also its hope for the future."
Among his fab points:
- As Jarret Walker says in his new book "Human Transit" - frequency is freedom
- Bus maps are crap
- Focus on streets where more than one bus route travels
- A little cash towards better design would go a long way
- Make buses cool like bikes have gotten cool
But how do we make this happen? This is a repeat from an earlier post - but worth revisiting now that Salon is on board (ahemmmm). There are five main areas that seem to be ripe for attention from smart growth and transit activists.
1) Focus on one longstanding & outstanding route for TOD or streets/intersections that host multiple routes– Yes, stops and routes can change, but most bus systems have longstanding routes and stops at job or trip generators like hospitals and universities. Establishing a focus on one workhorse route can signal to the development community you are serious about setting proverbial stakes in the ground.
2) Transfer Stations -Transfer stations offer the most promising real estate for local bus-centric TOD because a rider gets double (or more) coverage of potential places to go. It also signals more permanence since eliminating a transfer has negative impacts on multiple lines. It seems like heavy rail planners have caught onto this value more quickly and strongly than bus system planners. Here is SCAT's new transfer station - though whether Sarasota will leverage this real estate location remains to be seen.
3) Transportation Technology– Dan Sturges has a great Vimeo video (contained in this post) about installing a variety of new transportation modes in strategic suburban locations. Dan talks a lot about the concept of the station car and bike sharing.
4) Information Technology– This is the big one. Even the best apps, like PDX bus and Google transit are schedule based – not traveler based. Bus systems need to approach the next cohort of future riders as if they are tourists, not commuters. Systems can’t assume that riders know the bus line, the destination’s address, or neighborhood. If I am a tourist, I don’t want a list of sign poles planted at cross streets, I want something that combines the app AroundMe + Next bus technology+ Augmented Reality like Travel Guide with AR to see where the closest stops are + trip planner + instructions on timing + information on getting back to the trip origin. Here in the land of 60 minute headways, this last one is a really big deal. Yes frequency is freedom, but easy access to schedules frees things up a bit.
On that note - SCAT has introduced SCAT TRAC that shows where the bus is on your route. It was launched with little fanfare - and you need to know your bus route and which pole in the ground is next to you. It's a start. OK - a good start.
5) Near Term Hackathon – If I were Ray LaHood, I would go the Michael Bloomberg route and begin building apps now. Why not convene all the transit, smart growth, GIS techie, mobile marketing, app-building communities and see what you can do now with a three-venue, national hackathon dedicated to local bus service and paratransit? Code for America is great, but it looks too incremental.
6) In the near, near term (like – you can do this today), encourage local hacking, like this dude’s guerilla public information pictured below. We are at the height of season right now here on Siesta Key and there are TONS of tourists standing bewildered at poles in the ground because signs list the general County phone number and the bus line.