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More riders, fewer routes

Metro keeps moving towards its re-imagined bus service, which is aimed at increasing ridership.

Currently, Metro operates on a philosophy that half its resources should go toward high-performing routes and half to making sure everyone has convenient access to a bus stop.

By re-directing most of those resources, the same number of buses can provide more frequent service on fewer routes, which advocates say could make more people want to ride.

“It is not just about people who are riding today,” Metro board member Christof Spieler said. “It is about people who are not riding today.”

Increasing the number of buses on key routes and running faster service in fewer places could increase ridership as much as 25 percent, consultant Geoff Carleton told a Metro committee Tuesday. Refocusing 90 percent of resources on ridership areas, would leave fewer than 2 percent of current riders without a bus stop within a half-mile of where they live, he said.

The new figures, Carleton said, show Metro will see greater ridership gains for less sacrifice than estimated when discussions started in September. By adjusting some bus lines and, essentially, redrawing all the routes, planners found they could cover more area than initially thought, while keeping bus service close enough to where more riders live.

“People are willing to walk farther for faster, more frequent service,” Carleton said.

Transit officials have been receptive to more focus on ridership, but most prefer a 70-30 or 75-25 division between ridership and coverage. By putting 70 to 75 percent of its resources toward routes where ridership is likely to grow, Metro estimates increased ridership of 12-to-15 percent. That plan would leave fewer than .05 percent of Metro’s tens of thousands of daily riders without access to buses within a half-mile of their homes.

Not clear from the story if Metro is going for the 90% plan or the 70 to 75% plan. It may still be under discussion at this time. I don’t know what the sweet spot is for maximizing ridership and minimizing loss of coverage, but achieving a 25% gain in ridership in return for inconveniencing (or worse) two percent of existing riders seems like a reasonable trade. Assuming one isn’t in that two percent, of course. How Metro handles that – you can already imagine the local news stories about sympathetic people who now have to walk a mile to their bus stop – will be at least as big a determining factor in the success of this project as the ridership numbers themselves.

Spieler warned that many riders will be in for a surprise, even if their bus access stays relatively the same. They may retain bus service, he said, but more frequent buses on fewer routes means adjustments to daily schedules will have to be made.

“People are used to what they have right now,” he said. “Change is hard and we expect to get a roomful of people when we roll out the changes.”

As long as no one promises that if they like their bus route they can keep it, I guess. I carpool into downtown nowadays with my wife, but I wind up taking the bus once or twice a week because she needs to run an errand or because one of us needs to leave or arrive at a different time or whatever. The bus I take is the #40 and it runs pretty frequently – I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than ten or fifteen minutes for a bus, and it’s usually much less than that. I’m rooting for it to not change much, but we’ll see.

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One Comment

  1. Christof Spieler says:

    The METRO board is scheduled to vote on Thursday on the allocation of service to routes designed for ridership vs. routes designed for coverage. Everything from 60% to 90% ridership service has been discussed. The current system has 50% ridership.

    Key point: the likely outcome will be that every route changes in some way. This is a blank sheet redesign, not a tweaking. If we kept the current route structure, even if we cut some routes and increased service on others, we could not get this much benefit.