There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Surprise and disappointment on the bus

I worked from home for the first part of the day. I can access my work computer from home and do my job just as if I were at my office desk. The only difference is that someone has to walk the paperwork around.

At 12:30 p.m. I decided to take the bus in to the office. I was standing at the curb recognizing that the weather is going to be getting real warm real soon when the bus pulled to a stop and the doors opened.

I stepped aboard the bus, showed my pass and turned to find a seat.

I stopped and stared.

I've never seen so many people on the No. 82 bus. In the morning when I normally board -- 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. -- it's not unusual for me to be the only passenger for the next two stops. This bus route starts just a couple of miles away at American River College. On most days, there are maybe four passengers -- Sac State students and people headed to Wal-Mart on Watt.

Today was just incomprehensible. Two wheelchairs took up the front of the bus. That elminated seven seats, which made the bus look more crowded that it otherwise might have been. Even still, there was only one seat that didn't have at least one rider and nearly all of the seats had two riders.

I took the open seat and soon after a woman joined me. We kept stopping to let people off, but we were boarding more than were getting off. It wasn't long before we had people standing in the aisle.

Today, Sacramento Regional Transit posted a press release about increased ridership:

With gas prices at an all-time high, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) is experiencing a dramatic surge in bus and light rail ridership. Overall system ridership has increased by 20.2 percent, compared to the same period last year.
While this is all well and good, I'm concerned that RT's bus service continues to do poorly. RT reports that light rail now carries more passengers than RT's fleet of buses. While light rail ridership is up more than 43 percent over last year, bus ridership is up just 2.5 percent. Granted, that bus increase comes despite a 5 percent reduction in bus service, but clearly buses remain a poor cousin of a system focused on rail corridors.

RT is happy to announce, "The park-and-ride lots at the Historic Folsom, Iron Point, Glenn and Meadowview light rail stations are typically at capacity during the weekday commute." But if RT were really meeting the needs of these riders, they would be able to leave their cars at home, not at a park and ride lot.

Yes, parking and riding is better than driving all the way downtown. But commuters who find lots full end up driving anyway and pretty soon they give up trying at all. Clearly, leaving cars at home should be the goal. For that to be even be a remote goal, however, requires that RT offer better bus service.


The Derek said...

I think the problem is the absence of BRT routes. These can be effective in a shorn distance that carries a lot of people (such as watt/arden or the current rote 81)

Nthese also offer an effective light rail connector in the 'burbs, where the "spokes" are several miles apart. Cannecting these with rail is absurd, since there would be no direct right of way, limiting the speed of a rail connection. A BRT "belt" would be very effective at connecting the burbs, while letting the LRT do its job of connecting people to the core. Going from florin to folsom, for example, is much longer than it needs to be. How bout my commute to school? I shouldn't be able to take light rail into downtown, and back out again, faster than taking a bus (#81) straight there. RT insists on sticking with rail and bus routes that when drawn on a map resemble the path of a drunken tourist.

and do busses REALLY need to stop as much as they do? What benefit, exactly, is achieved by a bus (such as the #2) to stop at O AND P streets, which are maybe a 45 second walk from each other? Geez...

John said...

QUOTE: Do buses REALLY need to stop as much as they do?

I agree, and it would nice to have RT explain its reasoning.

I suspect that RT's bus routes are designed to meet the needs of the mobility impaired -- elderly, blind, etc. While that's good in principle, RTs fixation on its mobility role gives the entire system a myopic focus that can't see the greater good that could be reached by looking for ways to facilitate choice riders.

Bus beltways of BRT would be great, and the first two places to run that -- at 15 minute intervals -- would be Sunrise, from the Mall direct to the Sunrise light rail station; and Watt, from McClellan to Watt/Manlove.

295bus said...

IMHO, all bus lines should be BRT!

If the street is big enough, busses should have their own lanes (maybe share with carpoolers?).

Wherever a bus line meets a traffic signal, signal pre-emption should always be implemented.

I don't expect this to really happen (soon, at least), but we might as well at least *start* by asking for what we'd ideally really want, then scale back in the face of reality, instead of starting with a half-assed compromise and whittling *that* down into something useless.

The Derek said...

Well not all shold be BRT, let the smaller routes play the role of mobility assister, and let the rest of the public rely on the faster, higher occupancy routes.

John said...

Look at any map of Sacramento. The major thoroughfares -- in my neighborhood, Watt, Fulton, Howe, Marconi, El Camino, Arden, Fair Oaks -- should all have 15 minute service or better.

BRT should be destination driven. For instance, Rancho Cordova should be the hub of a system served by BRT spokes -- Sunrise, Watt, Hazel from the north; So. Watt, Sunrise and the eventual link to Elk Grove from the South.