Category Archives: Rapid Bus Ain’t Rapid

For the record

Here’s my recommendation for solving the Rapid Bus problem and it matches up with combinations of things suggested by Steven Knapp and Jace Deloney.

1. Make the 801s compatible. Repaint the buses. They’re just 101s. Charge the same fare as for locals. The New York subway doesn’t charge more for local 7s versus express 7s. That’s a fundamentally stupid idea. Continue to charge more for the 98x buses if you want; those have long stretches of nonstop running in the middle which make them more ‘premium’. The 801 is not a premium service. It’s just a brand-new bus.

2. Restore the #1 at its original frequency. If the 801 is so great, it will gradually make the 1s more empty, at which point you reduce frequency on that route through the normal service planning process after customers have demonstrated their preference instead of being force-marched to either incredibly crowded remaining local buses or expensive, incompatible, newer buses.

That being said? It’s too late to do this in a way that would actually help in the long-term. Even if Capital Metro really wanted to, they’re not, logistically speaking, going to be able to make these changes for months. It would have taken people taking my points about Rapid Bus seriously many months ago – and for that, please see the post before this one. Making these changes 5 months from now at the next service change window is too late for riders – they’ll either give up or move on by then, just like how the #9 riders weren’t going to sit around for a year to wait for the replacement service to show up.

MetroRapid: What you REALLY need to know

A comment I posted to this PR fluff piece by Movability:

What you need to know is that this REDUCES frequency for current 1/101 riders north of the river, because the 1L is being eliminated along with the 101. If you’re boarding at a stop served by both the 1 and 101 today, the same total number of 1 and 801 buses will stop there in the future; the mix will just change to fewer 1s. If you’re boarding at a stop served only by the 1L/1M today, you’re going to lose half your buses.

What you need to know is that this was projected to be no faster than the 101 in early plans, and now data sent to google maps actually shows it being slower than the 101 (not sure if this is legitimate or a hiccup, but it’s not a good sign).

And finally, what you need to know is that this will cost riders a lot more to ride. Despite the fact that the 1 route was quite likely the least subsidized bus route in the city before this change, fares are going up due to this change (the 801 will cost quite a bit more than the 1 did).

The FTA and last night

if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.

They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.

The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.

No sir, I don’t buy it.

No, the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.

I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.

Why shouldn’t we just say we’ll play along if they come clean about Rapid Bus?

This meme has been floating around the tworterverse. The words below were sent by me over Thanksgiving in response to an email from a CCAG member who sought insight from us (a selection of pro-Lamar/Guadalupe people) on why we thought we should pursue this corridor despite the implied conflict with Rapid Bus (a post on which I owe the community but am less motivated to do so every day – suffice to say it’s not a major improvement, and certainly not worth delaying good rail over).

The meme I refer to above is this: Project Connect is now halfheartedly threatening that if we keep pushing Lamar, who knows what might happen with the FTA? Some have responded with “prove that the FTA would punish us severely and we’ll simply give up and move on”. To that I point you to some key parts of the email below - a lot of people (myself included but by no means the most) spent a lot of time on the word of certain staff members involved in this process that urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe was IN NO WAY precluded by Rapid Bus, so we should join the team and play along and it would definitely get a fair shake. I don’t know about the rest of the gang, but now that I know my time was spent under false pretenses in order to lend some political capital to Project Connect, it’s going to take a lot to get me to not reflexively oppose whatever variant of Highlandmueller they end up crapping out.

Huge, effusive, public apologies, preceded by humble admissions of wrong behavior, would be the bare minimum it would take to even open that conversation.

The email (most of it, anyways), responding to the question “Could you please share with me your opinion of what would happen with regard to the upcoming 801 and 803 routes & resources if we try to add rail to Lamar or Burnet, and how that would affect Austin’s relationship with the FTA regarding funding the rail and other future projects?”

(CCAG member),

The simplest answer is that we don’t know – the future is hard to see.

The next simplest answer is that we were never able to get anybody who could get a reliable answer to be willing to ask the question. This is an important point; I myself spent many years arguing that we couldn’t put our first rail investment on L/G because the FTA would put the kibosh; but this becomes less of an issue as the years pass, and nobody’s willing to get a real answer. (No, this is not an answer a guy like me or even (pal) can get with any certainty, but people at the city and at Capital Metro certainly could). Why haven’t they?

(Other pal) makes a lot of compelling points, but the lack of a real desire to get a real answer from the actual people with that actual responsibility speaks volumes to me. I was a skeptic about this process at the beginning, and became somewhat less skeptical as we went along thanks to the incredible hard work of (list of pals). Those people invested a hundred times my effort, which was still substantial enough to cause me some degree of friction at home and at work. Importantly, at the beginning of this process, they were told by (staffer mentioned by name) and other PC staff that Lamar was not off the table; that Rapid Bus did not preclude urban rail there.

The problem is that they then invested that incredible time and effort, granting PC a degree of legitimacy through their own efforts and hard-earned political capital. If that contention turned out to be false, as I now believe it to be, then Rapid Bus got some free time without opposition (remember in 2006, then council members Leffingwell and McCracken voted against it precisely because they were told it would preclude urban rail!). And Project Connect got a bunch of people involved in a process which was never legitimate to begin with.

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, that last paragraph or two are not opinion; they are fact. Sad facts; facts I moved away from believing at one point, which is one reason why I found myself surprisingly ticked when the ridiculous Highlandmueller recommendation came out (unlike our mutual acuaintance (other pal) who never wavered from the cynicism and skepticism many thought I shared in equal or greater degree).

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, PC owes a lot of people a lot of apologies, and I don’t know if we can get behind whatever rail recommendation ends up happening after being used to this degree to support a process which was never open to our preferred route to begin with.

Now if rapid bus DOESN’T preclude urban rail at the FTA, then we still have some degree of working relationship to preserve. At that point we have to give Lamar/Guadalupe a fair reading, unlike the ridiculous nonsense it’s gotten so far.

So go back to why nobody wants to ask. Two possible reasons come to mind:

1. They know the FTA will say it precludes urban rail, and they don’t want to have had that answer because of what I said above.

2. They suspect the FTA might say it does NOT preclude urban rail, and they don’t want to get that answer. Why not? I’ve believed for many years that many people in the establishment here don’t want to admit what a pig in the poke we got with Rapid Bus. I still believe that now; I think this is the most likely answer.

Regards,

Mike

The outline of the speech I didn’t give

Back when I thought the order was communications, THEN decision; the speech I was going to give in outline form:

  • Introduce self, name, AURA supporter, UTC, blog
  • Mention letter from AURA & agree with points but here to talk about…
  • Is Rapid Bus really an impediment to rail on Lamar?
  • KK says so sometimes in public
  • AURA and others trusted claims made by staff of Cap Metro and Proj Connect that everything was on the table
  • Why shouldn’t rapid bus be in the way?
  • Others have made points: Depreciation, timeframe, movable ‘investment’
  • Mine based on QUALITY of improvement – all points apply only to 801 north of river
    • If you ride a 101 today:
      • No faster
      • More expensive
      • Couple more trips per hour (shift from local to express)
    • If you ride a 1 today:
      • Lose half frequency or have to walk much further & likely pay more
    • You may gain: GPS (next bus). Not that useful considering argument in favor of MR is that you won’t care about the schedule.
  • NOT BRT – refer to ITDP standards and Jace’s scoring; not even close.
  • Circle back – used Cap Metro’s OWN DATA which trumps marketing / soft features
  • Just today? Linda Watson called it “Austin’s densest corridor”.
  • Conclude

2000 words for today on MetroRapid

NAILED IT!

Top is ideal, bottom is as inevitably implemented; and how it will be on the Drag in Austin

Don’t bother clicking to embiggen. I had to make that in five seconds with PowerPoint.

Original for lower picture from StreetsBlog; I forget where I got the upper.

GAME-CHANGER, PART TWO

Imagine how useful MetroRapid will be when instead of being stuck in traffic at a red light, it’ll be able to hold a light green for a few seconds to make it through. Well, I drove northbound Guadalupe yesterday at about 6:00 PM to take my son home from a summer camp and, let me tell you, this thing is gonna rock. Click the picture to embiggen, of course.

Two green lights ahead and nobody's moving

Northbound Guadalupe, about 6:00 PM, 8/22/2013

Imagine how useful it will be to hold the light in front of you green! What’s that, you say? That light, and the next light up the street, are both green, and yet nobody’s moving? Surely this can’t be true. I’m told this is a GAME-CHANGER.

It's a game-changer, son

Image created by Jeff Crump, downloaded from Jon Henshaw

Also see: Is it a game-changer?

GAME-CHANGER Part One

(I still owe a response to Novacek’s very long comment on this post but have to decide if I want to spend the energy to format it into a table first. Dude, there’s a reason people have blogs of their own sometimes).

So Jace Deloney posted a couple of pics of what’s realistically one of the BEST MetroRapid ‘stations’ downtown. One example here:

MetroRapid, Lavaca near 3rd, taken and posted by Jace Deloney

MetroRapid, Lavaca near 3rd, taken and posted by Jace Deloney

Here’s a shot I snapped last week of a more typical one (obviously still under construction) – this is in front of Natural Grocer on northbound Guadalupe near 39th. Note the lack of room for a bike rack, and the intrusion into what’s already a very narrow sidewalk. I took this picture originally to counter a claim by a Capital Metro representative that all stations would have bike racks – which they’ve now dialed back to “unless there’s some nearby”.

MetroRapid 'station', NB Guadalupe near 39th

Compare to an existing southbound local bus stop pretty much right across the street:

Local bus stop, SB Guadalupe near 39th via Google StreetView

I don’t have pictures yet, but the northbound MetroRapid stops at UT are only a little better than what you saw at Natural Grocer. The stop at 23rd is just OK – along the lines of a good local stop – but the stop near Dean Keeton is a tiny alcove where the bike racks will block pedestrian traffic on the existing sidewalk if they get used. I will likely be urging the city to force Capital Metro to get rid of those racks as they present a safety hazard for pedestrians there; and for those of you who have known me a long time, for me to advocate against something bike-related is a big deal.

Now, just for comparison, a light rail station in Houston, in the median, of course, where it didn’t have to compete with existing sidewalk demands:

Houston MetroRail station near Hermann Park

Houston MetroRail station near Hermann Park

 

Now, if your argument is “this is going to be as good as rail for Central Austin”, you’ve got to compare to Houston’s MetroRail above, which is similar to what 2000′s light rail plan had planned for ‘stations’ – i.e. long boarding platforms in the median where they wouldn’t compete with existing sidewalk users.

If your argument is “this is going to be a signature bus service which blows through the constraints old bus service had and be ALMOST as good as rail for Central Austin”, then you have to explain the fact that the best MetroRapid stations aren’t much better than existing good local stops, and the worst are far worse. In fact, it looks like they accepted whatever scrap they could carve out of existing ROW.

But if this is too much for you, and you’re feeling kind of negative again, feel free ignore all the analysis above, plug your fingers in your ears, and chant “GAME CHANGER!”.

Game Changer graphic by Jon Henshaw

Game Changer graphic by Jon Henshaw

Note: Jace replied to me on twitter that I’m selling the new ‘stations’ short by not mentioning the arrival boards (the “next bus comes in X minutes” thing). That’s true; this particular post was referring more to the spatial aspects of the station. One thing that current bus service does not have in any way, shape, or form, is a way to know how long until the next bus gets there. This is not a selling point for MetroRapid, though, so much as it is an indictment of current bus service – because this has been technologically feasible for at least a decade. It will be nice that I can know when the next Rapid Bus will arrive, in other words, but there’s no reason I should have had to wait for Rapid Bus to get that information – I should be able to know right now when the next #1 or #101 arrives.

Capital Metro’s MetroRapid judged by the BRT Standard

At 35,000 feet, I just storified the livetweet by Jace Deloney of MetroRapid by the BRT Standard, and added a few relevant other tweets and comments. Enjoy.

Is Capital Metro’s MetroRapid BRT, and did anybody predict it correctly?

And here’s my promise: If JMVC will stop being such a passive-aggressive douche to yours truly, I will stop calling him out like this.