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

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Growing a transit lifestyle in barren soil

Riding Amtrak to Oakland today I started reading "Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking and Travel." The report on research findings was produced by the Transit Cooperative Research Program, which includes the Oakland-based Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

The document contains a number of findings applicable to Sacramento Regional Transit, none of which were particularly encouraging when one considers the state of RT service today and the dimming prospects for improvements in the near future.

For instance, the general consensus is that transit service headways of 10 minutes are ideal to support a transit lifestyle. None of RT's service runs that quickly, and only a handful of bus routes run every 15 minutes. A transit lifestyle grown in that soil will be stunted at best. Much of Sacramento's suburban expanse is a transit-oriented wasteland.

"A generally accepted service level threshold for (transit-oriented developments) is headways of 15 minutes or less during most of the day. It makes little sense to build TOD in places that receive only hourly bus service, as service is not frequent enough to make transit use convenient."
One interesting fact gleaned from the report was the finding that off-peak service improvements can improve ridership by as much as the increase in gasoline prices.
"In Portland, for instance, TriMet has pursued a strategy of improving off-peak bus service in its most dense and mixed use (i.e., TOD-like) corridors to expand its non-work trip market. From FY 99 to FY 03, TriMet improved service on 10 lines to “Frequent Service” (15 minutes or less all day, every day). On the improved lines, TriMet experienced a 9% increase in overall ridership, whereas ridership generally remained level for routes with only nominal increases in frequency. For the frequent lines, weekday ridership increased 8%, Saturday ridership increased 14%, and Sunday ridership increased 21%. Frequent bus service now accounts for 45% of weekly bus hours and 57% of weekly bus rides."
Imagine the ridership RT could have in today's high-fuel-cost environment if it had money to run buses later and more frequently. If nothing else, RT could start treating midtown as the nightspot it has become. Keeping the No. 30 and 31 running every 15 minutes all night on the weekends while extending outlying bus service past midnight would be a dream come true for people who want to leave their cars at home.

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