Having seen somebody very recently and very approvingly point to this somewhat credulous piece on the Austin Post as “a breakdown” of MetroRapid, and having one of my rare crackplog opportunities (i.e. on a plane), I’ll try to make this brief and use a couple of simple examples.
First, remember: Unlike with MetroRapid on Burnet and S Lamar, MetroRapid on Lamar/Guadalupe/SouthCongress is replacing an existing limited-stop service which already runs with decently high frequencies. In other words, we live in a world where the 101 already exists. The change is not, as it is on the 3 corridor, giving up shorter walks in return for higher frequencies and higher speeds; as you will see below, you’re giving up shorter walks AND higher frequencies for no actual improvement in speed.
today’s example: a really good looking guy who happens to live near 42nd and avenue b
Example 1: Let’s call this guy “Precisely Mike Dahmus”, because he’s exactly me. Imagine I worked downtown at 6th and Congress instead of in the evil soul-sucking wasteland across from Westlake High.
If I were to walk from 42nd and Avenue B (near my house) to Guadalupe to take the 1, or 101, today, I’d have choices like this at 8:00 in the morning:
Notice that the 101 isn’t much faster than the 1, overall, because it takes 4 minutes longer to walk to 39th and Guadalupe (where the MetroRapid stop is currently under construction and where the 101 stops today) than it does to walk to 41st and Guadalupe (a 1L/1M stop, but not a 101 or MR stop). The bus is 6 minutes faster downtown if you only consider time on the bus (I used 6th/Congress for this comparison).
What’s the change when MetroRapid is added? Well, half of the 1L/1M trips at 41st/Guadalupe go away; and half of the 1L/1M trips at 39th/Guadalupe also go away (obviously). The MetroRapid route runs every ten minutes during peak times, which sounds good, but remember that the last time I explored this, I showed that the combination of 1 and 101 actually runs more often today than the future combination of 1 and MR will run. I was going to do a pretty picture here with some more screen grabs, but the internet on the plane is not cooperating well with the wordpress composition screen, so I’ll just have to spell it out:
Today, in peak hours, the stop at 41st and Guadalupe gets 5 or 6 1L’s or 1M’s every hour (varies depending on which 60 minute window you choose). The stop at 39th and Guadalupe gets the same 5 or 6 1L/1M buses and 3 or 4 101s. (The example in the link above had 5 1s and 4 101s for a total of 9 buses). Note that at this stop, today, your rational action if you care most about getting to your destination as soon as possible is to get on the first 1 or 101 that shows up because the time savings of 4 minutes (101 being 4 minutes faster than the 1) is less than or equal to the expected wait time for the next bus to arrive (whether or not it will be a 101!). Yes, even if the 101 is faster!
Of course, at 41st and Guadalupe, you’re going to get on the first 1L or 1M you see.
Now, fast-forward to when MetroRapid opens. Capital Metro has said the 101 is gone, replaced with 6 MetroRapids per hour (one every ten minutes). Either the 1L or the 1M is slated to be eliminated, so the 5 or 6 buses per hour changes to 2 or 3. At 41st/Guadalupe, your calculus is now quite different – whereas before you never had longer than 10-12 minutes to wait for the next 1, you may now have 20-25 minutes to wait; and it may make sense to walk down to 39th to pick up the MetroRapid. But this is not an improvement for old Mike! Unlike many of the people on the Burnet/SLamar corridor, he currently has a choice between the 1 and the 101 which is roughly the same – now he’s forced to walk further to the replacement to the 101 because somebody took away half the 1s. The new trip is no faster than his 101 option is today.
Don’t believe me? Look at 39th/Guadalupe in the new order. You’ve got 2-3 1s, same performance characteristics as today; and you’ve got 6 MetroRapids, same performance characteristics as today’s 101 (by Capital Metro’s own admission!):
At 39th/Guadalupe, you gave up between 9 and 11 trips per hour, which had similar overall expected time-to-destination (combination of existing 1 and 101); and you got between 8 and 9 trips per hour (2-3 1s that remain; 6 MetroRapids). And again, I don’t know how often I can emphasize this before people get it, the faster MetroRapid trips aren’t any faster than the 101s that run today.
What about truly frequent service?
One of the ways to think about this is that the time you really spend on transit is a combination of walk+expected wait+travel time, and that transit can only be truly useful when it’s frequent enough that you don’t have to look at a schedule, as Capital Metro has claimed will be the case with MetroRapid (even though, as you can see above, there are problems with this claim).
Jarrett Walker at Human Transit (somebody please remind me to link this later when I have a better connection) has said that when dealing with frequent service, as both the before and after are by Austin’s standards, you should consider the “wait” to just be “half of the headway”, i.e., if you walk out at random to the bus stop, you’re going to wait, on average, half of the scheduled time between buses. Let’s put that to the test.
Today, the Mike example above has the following choices:
Go to 41st/Guadalupe (4 minute walk).
Wait for bus (half headway rule says there are 5-6 buses per hour for a headway of 11 minutes; half headway is 5.5 minutes).
Travel on bus (19 minutes).
The total expected time for “show up and go”, which, again, is how we’re supposed to judge truly frequent service, is 28.5 minutes. Not bad compared to a car drive of 10 minutes, trying to find parking for 5 minutes, and a likely longer walk from parking than from the bus stop!
Mike’s choices at 39th/Guadalupe, if he chooses to take the longer walk to get a chance to ride the 101, are a walk of 8 minutes; a half-headway wait of 3 minutes (9-11 buses per hour); travel time of 13 minutes on the bus for a total expected time of 24 minutes. Note, actually a little faster, in the “show and go” method, compared to staying at 41st/Guadalupe! If you can hack the extra walk, this is the way to go (and this meshes with why MetroRapid is an improvement on Burnet and S Lamar, where no existing express service exists!)
Now, using same methodology for the future; “show and go” at 41st/Guadalupe changes to 2-3 buses per hour, so we get a total expected time of: 4 minutes for the walk, 12.5 minutes for the wait (headway now 20-30 minutes); and the same 19 minutes bus time, adding up to 35.5 minutes. Not a credible alternative to the car any more.
What about going down to 39th/Guadalupe? Same as two paragraphs back except half-headway changes to 3.5 minutes (8.5 trips per hour; half headway). Total expected time is now: 24.5 minutes.
But wait, you say; I’ve used the MetroRapid travel time even though I’m using half-headways that count the 1L and 1M. Yes, yes I am; if we’re doing show-and-go, that’s the way we have to do it (because as we discussed before, once a bus shows up and I’ve already waited N minutes, the rational decision is to get on it whether it’s a local or a limited – because the wait till the next one is actually longer than the expected travel time savings). Is this unfair? Yes, it’s unfair, but unfair mainly in Capital Metro’s favor, since in the equations above I’m assuming all of the buses travel as fast as the current 101!. The image below breaks it out a bit further to explain what happens in the various scenarios. “Best” means you showed up at 39th/Guadalupe and the next bus was a 101; “Worst” means it was a 1.
Hmm. A little difficult to pick out. Let’s sort from best to worst and re-display.
So even with the investment of tens of millions of dollars into MetroRapid, the hypothetical in reality exactly real me gets zero benefit from the project, even in “show and go mode”.
I’ll be back with more use cases later.
When somebody says “it’s faster”, it should probably actually be faster. In no way can you reasonably describe MetroRapid on this, by far most important, stretch of corridor as “faster”. MetroRapid may gain a few minutes if you come from the South Transit Center into downtown, which a few people actually do; and even more if you go from South Transit Center to North Transit Center, which nobody actually does, but for the key stretch (you know, the one where rail is an issue being discussed right now), MetroRapid is not any faster, at all, in any way, shape, or form.
When somebody says “it’s more frequent” (as almost everybody has), it should probably actually be more frequent. This isn’t as egregious a falsehood as the speed one, but it’s still incredibly disingenuous. Yes, MetroRapid is running a little more often than the existing 101 whose speed and reliability it will be unable to beat, but Capital Metro intends to pay for this by cutting local buses along the same route which are often a better choice for passengers. Overall frequency, counting all reasonable options, is not going up; it is going DOWN.
The existing service on Burnet Road heading southbound into downtown in the morning rush looks like this:
This basically boils down to a local bus every 22 minutes during the morning peak. Service drops slightly to 26-minute headways during the mid-day, angina and then rises back to 22 minutes during the evening peak. People from other cities may not believe this, but this actually qualifies as frequent by Austin standards. This route makes a lot of stops. Meaning it’s fairly slow, but you don’t have to walk far to pick it up (I used to use this one, occasionally, for a former work commute).
The new Rapid Bus line running on Burnet/Lamar (the second one to be built, but the first one we’re talking about) will run every 10 minutes during the morning peak, and every “12-20 minutes” during the mid-day.
Here’s a diagram of the Rapid Bus route replacing the #3 (look at the purple line). The bus will only stop at the indicated ‘stations’ (bench + sign).
An interesting aside: Capital Metro’s newest MetroRapid presentations now only include the best example of travel time improvement for each route (somewhat OK in the case of the #3 replacement; complete bullshit on the other route). Luckily, your intrepid reporter located the old presentation from which the picture below is taken
And here’s the travel time estimate improvement graphic from Capital Metro:
So we can see a pretty big travel improvement here – focusing on North Austin, a 20% or so time improvement over the #3. But where does that improvement come from? Traffic lights, or reducing stops?
Unfortunately, there’s no existing express service (limited-stop) on the corridor to compare to, so we can’t answer that question – but the results from the next post may serve illustrative on that metric. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, let’s imagine a couple of users of the current #3 and see how this affects them. Using 600 Congress for the destination here.
Allan Allandale boards the #3 bus today at a stop that will be served by the new MetroRapid service. He gets on the bus at Justin/Burnet today for his job downtown. Currently, this trip takes from 8:11 to 8:43. 32 minutes. In the new service, we’ll be completely credulous and assume the 20% time reduction from the entire “Domain to 10th St” trip applies equally here – and the new trip will take 25 minutes (32 – (20% == 7)). Allan saved 7 minutes.
But that’s not the only case. Scroll back up and notice the high number of #3 stops up there. Most of those are going away; unlike the other Rapid Bus line on Guadalupe/Lamar, the existing local bus is not just being cut; it’s being eliminated. So a person may have to walk quite a bit further to the new stop than the old one.
Suppose Allan’s friend Andy Allandale lives in a slightly different spot in Allandale and currently uses the bus stop at Burnet & Greenlawn. His extra walk from that bus stop down to Justin/Burnet will take about 4 minutes. Doesn’t seem like much, but remember Andy is only going to save 7 minutes on the actual bus ride. So the savings for Andy are actually only 3 minutes.
This pattern gets worse the closer in you get to town (and better the further out you get) – which makes sense. A 20% time savings is going to buy you more savings on the bus part of the trip the further out you are, and if the walk penalty is about the same, the suburbanite will benefit more from the service than will the urbanite. Unfortunately, this ruins the narrative that Rapid Bus is going to be great for Central Austin. In fact, Rapid Bus delivers its travel time benefits on the #3 route disproportionately to people who live very far out; people in Central Austin likely see little benefit even if they live right next to the stop; and zero or even worse conditions if they live next to a #3 stop that’s being eliminated.
Worse case scenario still: Ronald Rosedale currently boards the #3 at 45th and Burnet. The new Rapid Bus that eliminated the #3 actually moves away from Burnet here over to Lamar – the closest new stop will be at Sunshine and Lamar (or 40th and Lamar). 8 minute walk, which totally eliminates the time savings from the Rapid Bus trip.
Once we go further south than that, we’re into the territory where the lines overlap, and the #1 remains a (less frequent than before) option.
Now, what about frequency? On this corridor, all users see a significant increase in peak-hour frequency, roughly doubling the number of available bus trips per hour over current conditions. Mid-day frequency improvement is likely not significant (I’d wager the 12-20 minute citation here means this corridor is getting 20 minute headways and the other one 12; existing conditions are 26-minute headways).
So the conclusion for the #3 corridor? If you live far out of the core, but still close to a stop that will be served by the new service, you are going to be much better off. If, however,
On to Guadalupe/Lamar Rapid Bus next, likely next week.
Short epistle posted by me to a couple of neighborhood lists in response to attempts to rally the usual suspects behind an effort to enact rental registration in order to supposedly stop “stealth dorms”.
I promise I’ll get back to Rapid Bus someday.
Here’s the actual note I sent:
The attempts to tie this rental registration initiative to stealth dorms seems very similar to attempts to justify the McMansion ordinance based on a supposed “drainage emergency” (remember?).
Given that this resolution claims to be a boon for renters, unhealthy has there been any outcry, at all, from renters or people who purport to represent them, for a solution like this? As a landlord who occasionally has to bother my tenants by entering the dwelling they’re paying to inhabit for things like supervising a repair crew, I have a hard time believing they’re enthusiastic about additional mandatory visits (inspections) from people they don’t know and don’t approve.
Or has this been pushed solely by nearby homeowners against certain problematic behaviors they associate with renters, such as noise and trash? If so, why are the existing enforcement mechanisms insufficient, or if they are not, in what ways will these new enforcement mechanisms somehow succeed in discouraging the real problematic behaviors being experienced (noise, trash)?
Has the affordable housing community weighed in, at all, about the sometimes-mentioned reduction in “unrelated tenants” from 6 to 4? And on the registration fee’s impact as well? (I’ve seen a posting on another neighborhood’s list from a homeowner who rents two rooms to people to help pay his mortgage and has indicated he’ll likely have to stop, and sell, if the fees are non-trivial).
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is really about stopping properties from being rented in Central Austin in general. And I cannot support measures like that, nor do I have a lot of respect for those who would.