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

Friday, May 29, 2009

The art of pruning transit services

On May 11, Sacramento Regional Transit's board of directors set in motion the machinery required to reduce service levels. The first look at what that machine has wrought will come Monday at the board's executive committee meeting.

The staff operate under ground rules established by the board back on Aug. 29, 2001. Bus routes have to meet certain criteria and those that fall below the standard are subject to remedial action.

Those rules worked well enough during service reductions mapped out in 2006 and 2008, but not this year.

"Using the 2001 Guidelines as the strategy for recommending reductions at this time would affect routes which currently maintain a relatively healthy ridership base, while preserving other routes that have low performance but are within their group averages," the staff explain in an issue paper. "This could leave some areas of higher ridership without access to service."

So instead of taking a chain saw and lopping off whole limbs from the tree of service, and perhaps threatening the tree's survival, the staff has set about with pruning sheers. It is deeply regrettable that any cuts are necessary, but clearly thoughtful pruning is to be preferred to the alternative.

The proposed service cuts have been split into two blocks. The first would take effect Sept. 6. The second in January. Whether the January cuts would be necessary would depend upon the state of the budget in September.

The staff's pruning has targeted for the first round of cuts those low-performing routes where alternative service is available. In addition, reducing service on routes rather than eliminating them and modifying routes to minimize the impact of changes are also guiding the pruning shears.

Even with the use of shears rather than chain saws, the preferred option would cut nearly 10 percent of bus service and displace roughly 40 drivers. An estimated 800,000 annual passengers would be affected.

Here's the proposal. Click to enlarge. Pay attention to the notes.

Eliminating the No. 9 community shuttle on Walnut Avenue in Carmichael and modifying the No. 82 to cover much of that route on every other trip will leave me with hourly bus service since I live inside the area likely to be skipped in order to cover Walnut.

The elimination of the No. 73 in Rancho Cordova will discomfort the wife's already uncomfortable bus to light rail to bus to work and back daily commute. Instead of having a choice of overlapping hourly buses -- in effect a bus every half-hour -- she'll have just one chance each hour to make her connection.

If, in September, it looks like more cuts will be needed, RT may have to pick up that chain saw and whack evening or late night and weekend bus and rail service. Alternatively, or maybe even in addition, the community bus service and the express routes could disappear.

Or maybe the board can break that 50-50 tie and finally start charging for parking. Third time's the charm, as they say.

Here's the full issue paper


Mattie said...

I'd hate to see the 36 go away. I prefer it to the stretch of light rail it parallels. It's slower, yes, but it's a nice route through some pleasant neighborhoods. Also, the 36 has always been at least half-full when I've taken it, so I'm not sure I buy the "low performing" argument.

John said...

The wife and I both prefer buses over light rail. Sure they are slower, but anyone who is really worried about speed is in a car anyway.

Taking out the No. 36, which is one of the best performing of the low-performing routes, saves a route where there is no alternative. It's a shame the No. 36 will be cut, but the whole exercise is a tragedy.

I have to give grudging thanks that the staff didn't just blindly cut from the bottom. Perhaps maybe someone there does genuinely care about the service they provide.

Mattie said...

Generally I prefer buses over light rail, too. The only section of LR I enjoy is between 65th Street and Sutter Street in Folsom. It's a long, straight stretch and I find it relaxing. I think it also follows a historic rail route.

wburg said...

The Gold Line does follow a historic rail route--the Sacramento Valley Railroad--from th 23rd Street light rail station all the way to Folsom. The portion between the 13th Street light rail station and the Bee Bridge follows another historic rail route--the Western Pacific's "Whitney Avenue" alley line. The segment on 8th Street between O and I follows the Central California Traction/Sacramento Northern interurban main line, and the segment on Arden Way runs along the Sacramento Northern's old Swanston Branch.

I tend to like light rail more than buses (I like the smoother ride and more space) but find buses more handy for getting some places like Sacramento State (it's easier to walk to a stop a few blocks away than to transfer to a bus at 65th.)

MvxzW said...

I work for the Metro in St Louis, and we've had similar problems. Earlier this year $36 million of funding was removed, so we had to cut 34% of our bus service and decrease light rail frequency. Thankfully the Missouri state government came through, but only with $12 million, allowing us to restore 30% of the cut service. Washington's stimulus bill also allocates 10% of funding to transit operations. This all helps, but it's not enough. Every route restored means one other route that doesn't, leaving many people without bus service. Hopefully transit agencies across the country can come up with sustainable sources of funding soon. If you want to share ideas I write for Metro's blog at